Born: 1925

Died: 2016

Pierre Boulez

Originally a composition pupil of Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez was also widely known as a conductor of the world's leading orchestras.

Explore Boulez's life and music...

Face-to-face with Pierre Boulez: ‘Acquire and destroy, acquire and destroy, then go further’

Philip Clark's revealing interview with the composer and conductor from 2010... Read more

Review: Boulez's Complete Works

Complete? Well, almost. Philip Clark evaluates the collected DG recordings of a towering figure in the music of our time... Read more

Pierre Boulez interview

Alan Blyth speaks to the composer for Gramophone in 1967... Read more

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 was a director of the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), a studio in Paris where his main work was Répons for orchestra and digital equipment.

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