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Pierre Boulez

Pierre BoulezBorn: 26-Mar-1925
Birthplace: Montbrison, Loire, France

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Composer, Conductor

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Modern composer and conductor

One of the leading names in the modern classical music field, Pierre Boulez displayed a proficiency in both music and mathematics at a very young age. His musical education was initiated while attending Catholic schools in Montbrison and Saint-Etienne, where he sang in the choir and was taught piano; later, while taking an advanced mathematics course in Lyon, he took whatever opportunities he could to advance both his knowledge of musical theory and his performing skills. After completing the course in 1942, in defiance to the wishes of his father he enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire rather than moving on to the École Polytechnique to train as an engineer.

While at the Conservatoire he studied harmony under the composer Olivier Messiaen, who shared his interest in mathematics and encouraged his exploration beyond stagnant musical forms. Along with some of his classmates, Boulez rejected traditional compositional methods in favor of the new formula-based techniques of dodecaphonic (twelve-tone) and serial music -- his first published works, Notations and Le Visage Nuptial among them, being realized through such methods. In his passionate dedication to these new ideas, Boulez could display a narrow-mindedness rivaling that of the most old-fashioned Conservatoire curmudgeon, only focused in a different direction; along with his allies, he would heckle performances that did not live up to his strict standards.

Between 1946 and 1955 he served as the music director of the Renaud/Barrault theater company, launching a career as a conductor that continues to be the primary source of his fame. By his final year with the company, some of his own compositions were being used in the performances. It was with the publication of his Second Sonata in 1950 that Boulez established an international reputation, the score attracting notice from avant-garde circles in both Europe and the States. With his next work, Livre Pour Quatuor, he would extend the application of serialism towards a more all-encompassing extreme, using the technique to determine the pitch, timbre, intensity and duration of the notes used, as well as integrating some aspects of indeterminacy into the performance of the piece.

In 1955 Boulez began teaching at Darmstadt, maintaining his activity as a conductor but lessening his compositional output. Just previous to this he completed one of the landmark compositions of the modern era: Le Marteau sans Maître, a nine-movement setting for three poems by René Char. The 60s and 70s would be filled with teaching (Basel, Harvard) and conducting (Cleveland Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra) projects, culminating in an invitation by French president Georges Pompidou to create an institution dedicated to the advancement of modern music. After almost seven years of preparation, the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) was founded in 1977; Boulez remained director of the institute until 1992. In 1976 he also founded the Ensemble InterContemporain, with whom many of his recorded works have been executed.

Father: Léon Boulez
Mother: Antoinette Calabre ("Marcelle")
Sister: Jeanne Boulez

    University: Paris Conservatoire

    BBC Symphony Orchestra Chief Conductor (1971-75)
    New York Philharmonic Music Director (1971-77)
    Cleveland Orchestra Music Advisor (1970-72)
    Wolf Prize in Arts 2000 (with Riccardo Muti)
    Grammy Contemporary Classical Composition (2000)
    Léonie Sonning Music Prize 1985
    Polar Music Prize 1996


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