French composer and conductor. He was the founder and director of IRCAM, a music research studio at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, France, that opened in 1977. His music, strictly adhering to ideas of serialism and expressionistic in style, includes the cantatas Le Visage nuptial (1946–52) and Le Marteau sans maître (1953–55), both to texts by René Char; Pli selon pli (1962) for soprano and orchestra; and Répons (1981) for soloists, orchestra, tapes, and computer-generated sounds.
Boulez was born in Montbrison, France, on the River Loire. After abandoning studies in mathematics, he studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory, and in 1946 took a course in serial technique with René Leibowitz. Also in 1946, he worked for the Renaud-Barrault theatre company and in 1953–54 founded the ‘Domaine Musical’ with Jean-Louis Barrault, which specialized in new music. As a composer he belonged to the avant garde, writing in a style which has its roots in Debussy and Webern, and also in the ideas of James Joyce and Stéphane Mallarmé. He was one of the pioneers of integral serialism, but later introduced freer elements into his music. Boulez was also a leading conductor of advanced new music. He was principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra 1971–75, and of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra 1971–77, giving notable performances of works by Berg, Bartók, Stravinsky, and members of the Second Viennese School, including Schoenberg's Moses und Aron in London, England, in 1974. He conducted Wagner's operas Parsifal at Bayreuth, Germany, in 1966, and The Ring in 1976, and gave the first complete performance of Berg's opera Lulu in Paris in 1979.
His early works (including Flute Sonatina (1946), Le Visage Nuptial, and the first two piano sonatas) are preoccupied with developments and extensions of Webern's serial technique. Structures (1952) for two pianos is a turning point in his development, taking account of the concepts of a series of durations, intensities, and timbres first proposed by Messiaen. Later works, such as Le Marteau sans maître, the third piano sonata, and Pli selon pli develop these ideas with greater flexibility, eventually leading to the use of open forms (as in the third piano sonata) in which the order of musical material may be decided by the performer. Since the 1960s he became prominent as a conductor of international standing, and in 2001 he was named conductor of the year at the Royal Philharmonic Society awards in London. He wrote Boulez on Music Today (1971).
WorksOrchestral ... explosante fixe .. (1971–73); Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (1974–75); Répons for 24 players, six instrumental soloists, and computerized electronics (1981).
VocalLe Soleil des eaux for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra (after Char); Le Marteau sans maître for alto and six instruments (after Char; 1953–55); Pli selon pli for soprano and orchestra (after Mallarmé, 1962); Cummings ist der dichter for 16 solo voices and 24 instruments (1970, revised 1986).
Instrumental three piano sonatas (1946, 1948, 1957); Livre for string quartet (1948, revised for string orchestra 1968); Eclat for 15 instruments (1965, expanded as Eclat/Multiples for 27 instruments, 1966); Dérive for small ensemble (1984); Dérive II for 11 instruments (1988); Message esquisse for cello.
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