solo cello and 6 cellos

Pierre Boulez composed his Messagesquisse for the 1977 La Rochelle cello competi-tion. The work was dedicated to Boulez’s friend, Paul Sacher, the president of the IRCAM Foundation and a committed supporter of contemporary art. Dedications are often simply sym-bolic gestures, but in this case Sacher is—quite literally—woven into the piece in several ways. In a scheme where letters of the alphabet become note names, his name generates the work’s referential collection of pitches. This collection provides a succession of intervals which are inflected by transposition and inversion to generate further pitch materials. The Morse code for each letter of “Sacher” provides a series of rhythmic figures (of between one and four pulses, in some combination of long and short). Finally, the number of letters in Sacher’s name—six—corresponds to the number of ensemble cellos for which Messagesquisse is scored. It also corresponds to the number of formal sections that constitute the work.

The first is a brief exposition where the solo cello states the “Sacher” pitch series over a sustained pianissimo chord by the ensemble. Three variations then follow. The hushed chord of the exposition becomes a tremolo in the first, from which clearly defined rhythmic gestures gradually emerge as each of the ensemble cellos gives the Morse-code rhythmic figures for each letter of “Sacher,” while the solo cello spins melodic material from the interval series. The second variation is a jagged and relentless perpetuum mobile. The third variation is a long decrescendo that combines the textures of the preceding two: jagged melodic flourishes in the solo cello punctuate six sustained, trilled chords. When the last of these has faded away, the work’s penultimate section, a cadenza for the solo cello, follows. Finally, the coda plunges back into the perpetuum mobile idiom of the second variation and gathers steam right until the end.

A Deruchie