Boulez, Pierre

Boulez, Pierre pyĕr bo͞olĕzˈ [key], 1925–2016, French conductor and composer of modernist classical music. He studied at the Paris Conservatory with Olivier Messiaen (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 music 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 Char 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 Mallarmé; the Piano Sonata No. 3 (1957, unfinished), in which aleatory processes are explored (see aleatory music); 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 Barrault'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 Bernstein 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 Beaubourg, 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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