Pierre Boulez

Montbrison, Loire, France, 1925

  • Composer
  • Conductor

While trained at the post-secondary level in mathematics, Pierre Boulez turned to music upon his arrival in Paris in 1942, and was admitted to Olivier Messiaen’s harmony class at the Conservatoire two years later. He later studied counterpoint with Andrée Vaurabourg, composition with Messiaen, and 12-tone techniques with René Leibowitz. Appointed stage music director for the Renaud-Barrault company in 1946, Boulez composed the Sonatine for flute and piano in the same year, as well as the Première sonate for piano, and the first version of Visage nuptial, a setting of poems by René Char for soprano, alto and chamber orchestra. These events and achievements launched Boulez’s career as a composer. By 1953, Boulez had founded the Concerts du Petit Marigny, later renamed the Domaine Musical, which he directed until 1967. His career as a conductor led him to the podium of the New York Philharmonic for the first time in 1969, and he later succeeded Leonard Bernstein as the orchestra’s director between 1971 and 1977. At the same time, he served as permanent conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra between 1971 to 1975. At the request of President Georges Pompidou, Pierre Boulez agreed to found and direct the Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique (IRCAM), which opened its doors in the fall of 1977. In 1975, state secretary for cultural affairs, Michel Guy, announced the creation of the Ensemble Intercontemporain (EIC), and conferred the presidency upon Boulez. His principal compositional achievements at IRCAM include Répons (1981-88) for six soloists, ensemble and computer, premiered in its final version at the Festival d’Avignon in 1988; Dialogue de l’ombre double (1985) for clarinet, electronic tape, spatializor; and Exposante fixe (1991-95) for flutes, ensemble and computer.

Appointed professor at the Collège de France in 1976, Boulez also writes prolifically on music, and is involved in a number of important projects geared towards the dissemination of music, such as the Opéra de la Bastille and the Cité de la musique in Villette. In 1992, Boulez resigned as director of IRCAM to concentrate on his conducting and composition. He signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and has since continued to add to his already imposing discography through recordings with major orchestras.

[Médiathèque de l’IRCAM]