Etty Mulder – The Fertile Land

Summary of The Fertile Land Two editions: in English and Dutch

‘The Fertile Land’ refers to the titles of two aquarelles that are closely related to several other works by Paul Klee, painted during and after his stay in Egypt in 1929. Pierre Boulez refers to those aquarelles in his essays on music.

The aquarelles abstract the view of the Valley of the Kings from an elevated position in the Nile region. Together with other works of Klee, these two aquarelles, ‘Le pays fertile’ [das Fruchtland] and ‘A la limite du pays fertile’’ [an der Grenze des Fruchtlandes] respectively, have been central in the works and thoughts of Boulez for several decades.

This is most clearly expressed in two large texts that he wrote and for which he used these same titles from Klee. He wrote them during the 50’s and 80’s. Their central theme is ‘fertility’, as in personal creativity, a symbolic interpretation of the germinating powers of nature that are threatened by nature in a geological-geographical sense, depicted by Klee.

Paul Klee creates a multi perspective image of the narrow strip of fertile land near the river Nile. Every Spring, those fertile banks must be fought for, so that they can be cultivated and people can live of their crops. They must be protected from infertility, which in that region is a continuous threat to the cycle of nature. It is no coincidence that here lies the source of all Western mythology, with its apocalyptical themes of creation, fear of death and impasse, personified in the deities Isis and Osiris. Klee and Boulez are interested in the metaphors of existential and creative obstruction, familiar to every artist.
In his texts, Boulez provides a hermeneutical explanation for the universal human images that are essential to all art. It can be summarized by one weighty question: which is the boundary?
Where do I reach the limits of my powers of expression; when shall I cease to be heard?
There is a connection here with the systems that had already threatened to kill or whiter the communicative powers of music, earlier in the twentieth century: twelve-tone music, seriality, and all that is related to ‘mechanisation’: electronic means in art, and especially electronic music.

The need for creative progression, the unremitting urge for innovation is characteristic of the greatness of Pierre Boulez as an artist. In an age of destruction and annihilation, his theme is fertility, the most vulnerable subject to this day. That central theme is placed in an ever exemplary and poetical context, with compositions by Stéphane Mallarmé, René Char, in movements of sound, word, tone. His sometimes hermetic main texts are presented in separate Dutch and English editions, and are the result of an intensive process towards a descriptive translation, which aims to make the texts accessible through paraphrases.

In the parallels laid bare between the works of Boulez and Klee and the connection made with these works in poetic texts, always revolving around the fate of the solitary individual, the exile
[Boulez himself], the author chooses different perspectives each time: autobiographical, narrative, comparative, semiotic. Within that domain of art theory, an attempt has been made to stay away from the traditional ‘musicological’ perspective, to which Boulez and his oeuvre were subjected time and again in the course of many years – with all the risks this entailed of a one sided view, without addressing the truly integrative powers of a work in any other way than as an accumulation or pile of already existing directions or phenomena.

This book does not offer simple answers to the questions related to scientific theory that Boulez brought up in his works and thoughts. Crucial is the question: to what extent are established methods from the individual, separated artistic sciences still usable? Of course, the methodical, academic path is not the only option. More ‘fertile’ approaches are feasible to explore the creative powers, which is central here.

The Fertile Land presents several intertextual paths that offer the reader clues to Boulez’ absolute urge for continuous renewal and internal innovation. This urge resounds in the lines written by poet Rainer Maria Rilke in which he defines the ‘task’ of each work of art: ‘Du sollst Dein Leben ändern’.
To follow this principle further, a musical framework is offered next to the texts and images in the form of substantial and in part structuralist approaches of two famous works by Pierre Boulez: Pli selon pli and Le visage nuptial, also in personal adaptation by the author.

From the individual stage parts of the project The Age of Boulez// The intermedial artwork, several lines are drawn that meet in the text of The Fertile Land.

A concrete textual parallel between Pierre Boulez and Paul Klee could be drawn thanks to Dr. Michael Baumgartner, general head of the exhibition and head of the research department at Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, who agreed to the integration and adaptation of texts used for the exhibition Paul Klee Le Théâtre de la Vie {2008, Bern, Brussels}, for which the museum invited Pierre Boulez as a guest curator.
This concerns [parts from] the important chapter Paul Klee und die Musik, partly written by Pierre Boulez and devoted to the creative connection between Boulez and Klee as a benchmark in the history of Western-European art. These fragments have been adapted and integrated in The Fertile Land.