Pierre Boulez

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Boulez, Pierre

(pyĕr bo͞olĕz`), 1925–2016, French conductor and composer of modernist classical music. He studied at the Paris Conservatory with Olivier MessiaenMessiaen, Olivier
, 1908–92, French composer and organist, b. Avignon. Messiaen was a pupil of Paul Dukas at the Paris Conservatory. He became organist of La Trinité, Paris, in 1931 and taught at the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique
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 (1944–45) and studied twelve-tone technique with René Leibowitz (1946). A consistent leader of the avant-garde, Boulez in his early compositions applied the techniques of serial musicserial music,
the body of compositions whose fundamental syntactical reference is a particular ordering (called series or row) of the twelve pitch classes—C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B—that constitute the equal-tempered scale.
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 not only to pitch, but also to duration (rhythm), dynamics, and attack. In his later work he moved on from serialism in all its aspects to such approaches, techniques, and forms as improvisation, the exploitation of chance, developing equipment for the electronic manipulation of musical sound, and world music.

Among his compositions are Le Soleil des eaux (1948), for voice and orchestra; Structures, Book 1 and Book 2 (1952, 1961), for two pianos; Le Marteau sans maître (1954), a setting of poems by René CharChar, René
, 1907–88, French poet. His writing reflects both his Provençal origins and his years of active participation in the French resistance. At first attracted to surrealism, Char soon went his own way, constructing a verse marked by extreme stylistic
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 for voice and chamber ensemble, which became a milestone of modern music; Pli selon pli (1957–62) for voice and percussion-rich orchestra, with text from MallarméMallarmé, Stéphane
, 1842–98, French poet. Mallarmé's great importance is as the chief forebear of the symbolists; the influence of his poetry was particularly felt by Valéry.
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; the Piano Sonata No. 3 (1957, unfinished), in which aleatory processes are explored (see aleatory musicaleatory music
[Lat. alea=dice game], music in which elements traditionally determined by the composer are determined either by a process of random selection chosen by the composer or by the exercise of choice by the performer(s).
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); and Éclat (1965), for 15-piece chamber orchestra. His later works include Memoriales (1973–75), Répons (1981–84), for orchestra and electronic sound, Dérive I (1984), and Dérive II (1988). Many of his works after the early 1960s were revisions of earlier compositions.

Early in his career Boulez spent 10 years as director of music for Jean-Louis BarraultBarrault, Jean-Louis
, 1910–94, French actor and director. A pupil of Charles Dullin, he joined the Comédie Française in 1940. After World War II he organized his own company at the Théâtre Marigny with his wife, actress Madeleine Renaud.
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's theater in Paris, and there he founded the Concerts Marigny and the Domaine Musical to present avant-garde works. Making his debut as a concert conductor in 1956, he subsequently conducted orchestras throughout the world and published several books in French. He succeeded Leonard BernsteinBernstein, Leonard
, 1918–90, American composer, conductor, and pianist, b. Lawrence, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1939, and Curtis Institute of Music, 1941. A highly versatile musician, he was the composer of symphonic works (the Jeremiah Symphony, 1944;
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 as music director and conductor (1971–77) of the New York Philharmonic and also was (1971–75) music director of London's BBC Symphony. Returning to Paris, he founded the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), part of the BeaubourgBeaubourg
, popular name for the Georges Pompidou National Center for Art and Culture
, museum in Paris, France; the popular name is derived from the district in which it is located.
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, and served as its director from its opening in 1977 until 1991. That year Boulez was appointed composer in residence at the Salzburg Festival.

In the latter part of his life he devoted much time to the development of sophisticated electronic equipment for the production, generation, and modification of musical sound. This work is exemplified by his composition Répons (1981–84), scored for chamber orchestra, instrumental soloists, and electronic devices. He also continued to conduct a modernist repertoire of his own and other 20th- and 21st-century works, leading several orchestras, notably the Ensemble InterContemporain (which he founded in 1976) and the London Symphony Orchestra, into his eighties.


See his Boulez on Music Today (tr. 1971), Relevés d'Apprenti (tr. 1968), and Music Lessons (tr. 2019); his correspondence with John Cage, ed. by R. Samuels (1993), biography by D. Jameaux (1990); studies by A. Goléa (1958) and P. Griffiths (1978).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Boulez, Pierre


Born March 26, 1925, in Montbrison, department of the Loire. French composer and conductor.

Boulez first studied at the Paris Conservatory in O. Messiaen’s harmony and composition classes and then with R. Leibowitz. He is one of the leaders of modern avant-gardism in music. Between 1954 and 1968 he held annual concerts of modern music (called Domaine Musical) in Paris in which works by A. Schoenberg and A. Webern were performed, as well as works of such modern avant-garde composers as K. Stockhausen and L. Nono. From 1960 to 1963, Boulez taught music analysis at the Basel Academy of Music. The best-known of his works are a piece for contralto and six instruments; The Hammer Without a Master (1955), based on verses by the surrealist poet R. Char, Structures, a piece for two pianos (part one, 1952-56; part two, 1961); and three piano sonatas. He toured the USSR in 1967.


Shneerson, G. Frantsuzskaia muzyka XX veka. Moscow, 1964.
Goléa, A. Rencontres avec P. Boulez. Paris, 1958.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.