Originally a composition pupil of Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez is now more widely known as a conductor of the world's leading orchestras.
Pierre Boulez at 70 (Gramophone, March 1995) by Stephen Plaistow
Boulez studied with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire and then with Andrée Vaurabourg (Honegger’s wife) and René Leibowitz. He developed an interest in 12-tone composition. Major early scores include Le visage nuptial and Le soleil des eaux, and his Second Piano Sonata of 1948. Soon Boulez was developing the concept of the 12-tone technique to embrace all of music’s armoury (dynamics, mode of attack, organisation of pitch). In the 1950s he came into contact with Stockhausen, with whom he became a leader of the European avant-garde, teaching at Darmstadt from 1955 to 1967. A key work from this period is Le marteau sans maître (1954), for contralto with alto flute, viola, guitar and percussion.
In the mid-1950s Boulez took up conducting and instituted a concert series, the Domaine Musical, to provide an outlet for new music. By the mid-1960s he was widely known as a conductor, becoming chief conductor of the BBC SO (1971-74) and the New York PO (1971-78). His performing career necessarily limited the time he could devote to composition and his output reduced. Pli selon pli for soprano and orchestra (1962) is an important work from the early 1960s though Boulez has returned to it to revise repeatedly.
Since the mid-1970s Boulez has been director of the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), a studio in Paris where his main work has been Répons for orchestra and digital equipment. As a conductor he continues to work with the world’s greatest ensembles, and records prolifically.
Gramophone Club members now save £81 per year on their subscriptions.
Click here for details on how to join.
Subscribe today via iTunes
Read about the artists who changed the world of classical music.
Gramophone is brought to you by Mark Allen Group Gramophone is part of MA Business and Leisure About Mark Allen Group | International licensing