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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical > Composing > Documentary > ­Boulez, Carter, Glass, Messiaen, Pärt: 5 Films on the Greatest 20th Century Composers (Juxtapositions/Medici Arts DVD Box Set)

­Boulez, Carter, Glass, Messiaen, Pärt: 5 Films on the Greatest 20th Century Composers (Juxtapositions/Medici Arts DVD Box Set)


Picture:     B-     Sound:  B-     Extras: C     Film:



Disc One: Pierre Boulez  B

Eclat, A Lesson by Pierre Boulez, Sur incises


Disc Two: Elliott Carter  B

Labyrinth of Time


Disc Three: Philip Glass  B+
Looking Glass


Disc Four: Olivier Messiaen  B

La liturgie de cristal


Disc Five: Arvo Pärt  B+
24 Preludes for a fugue




There is so much material on the great composers of all time, yet very few on modern composers, especially composers from the 20th century.  That all changes though with this terrific box set that includes 5 discs dedicated to some of the most prominent and important: Boulez, Carter, Glass, Messiaen, and Pärt.  That alone makes this box set highly valuable as we get a film dedicated to each composer that are in-depth, informative, and interesting.  The entire set runs a whopping 10+ hours, which means that 2 hours is dedicated to each artist.  This entire production was created by Frank Scheffer, whose contributions to the world of music documentaries is forever stamped by terrific collections such as this, his work in producing and overseeing projects such as this are world renown and it’s evident to see why, his earlier film Zoetrope People documented the studio of Francis Ford Coppola along with Wim Wenders, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, and singer/songwriter Tom Waits. 


What becomes apparent through watching these films on each composer is that each of them have a truly deep passion for music, not that they ‘love’ music, but they think music, continuously.  Music for them is not just a part of their life, but a fiber of their being.  Each of them have contributed a wealth of material into the 20th Century, but more than just their contributions, they have inspired, innovated, and turned the world on it’s side by doing things that were never thought of before.  They redefined what was thought to be impossible to do, they not only took cues from their past, their influences, but looked beyond themselves and extended the vocabulary of modern music, modern compositions, and conducting. 


Pierre Boulez, a math genius, questioned tradition early on in his life and was inspired by none other than Olivier Messiaen where he was a student under the masters’ analysis classes.  In the late 1940’s he became well known for his serialization technique, this is highly explored within this set and gives a greater appreciation not only for the contributions to the 20th Century world of composition, but to the world of music in general. 


Also included inside this terrific set is a booklet that details each of the films, plus it includes a breakdown of the material, recommends recordings that are key for each composer, and has insights from the directors as well, which all make for a fine addition to this set and allow new listeners and followers to get a glimpse of what the entire set delivers, plus offers the recordings to track down for each composer to familiarize even more so with their body of work. 


Each film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen formatted at 1.78 X 1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.  The footage varies in quality from time to time, mostly because much of the technique explored here is to capture the footage in a raw, unpolished, natural setting.  The result of this is a more lackluster transfer that seems more like home video footage at times, especially the Philip Glass segments, other times the footage is more vibrant and professional in nature.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 is fair, but it would have been great to have at least a 5.1 setting of some sort, especially since there are moments of musical activity, although not nearly as much as if this were a concert disc.  Perhaps in the future when this set arrives to Blu-ray other audio options can be explored, until then this set is satisfactory.



-   Nate Goss


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