Boulez, Pierre

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Boulez, Pierre

Pierre Boulez (pyĕr bōōlĕz´), 1925–, French composer and conductor. 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, electronics, 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), for voice and chamber ensemble; Pli selon pli (1957–62,) for voice and orchestra: 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 work includes Memoriales (1973–75), Dérive I (1984), and Dérive II (1988). Since the early 1960s many of his works have been revisions of earlier compositions.

Boulez was 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. He has conducted throughout the world and has published several works in French. He was music director and conductor (1971–77) of the New York Philharmonic. He founded the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), part of the Beaubourg in Paris, serving as its director from its opening in 1977 until 1992. That year Boulez was appointed composer in residence at the Salzburg Festival.

In more recent years 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 ongoing composition Répons (1981–), scored for chamber orchestra, instrumental soloists, and electronic devices. He has continued to conduct a modernist repertoire of his own and other 20th- and 21st-century works, leading several orchestras, notably his own Ensemble InterContemporain and the London Symphony Orchestra.

See his Boulez on Music Today (tr. 1971), Relevés d'Apprenti (tr. 1968), and 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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