Born on March 26, 1925 in Montbrison, France; son of Léon Boulez and Marcelle Calabre; Education: Paris Conservatoire Addresses: Office IRCAM, 1 Place Igor Stravinsky, 75004 Paris, France.

Modernist conductor and composer, Pierre Boulez jolted the world of classical music into the twentieth century with his sophisticated compositions and his presentations of both early and modern classics. For over 50 years, Boulez founded, co-conducted, and directed world-class musical organizations on two continents. Boulez is a recipient of many honors, including Commander of the British Empire, and a member of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He holds a fistful of honorary doctorate degrees along with a Nobel Prize for Music. The recipient of 19 Grammy Awards and a host of other honors, Boulez distinguished himself as the composer of over two dozen major works of modern music. He possessed the poise and confidence prerequisite to the creation of new artistic genres.

A student of Messiaen and Leiowitz, and an admirer of Mondrian and Klee, Boulez flashed his modernist approach and affirmed his rejection of all things past. He personally likened his musical styles to a severed umbilical chord, yet for his modernist character Boulez remained always a slave to theory. Nothing in his style discounted structure. He is in fact widely acknowledged for the extensive organization displayed in the rhythms, dynamics, and other aspects of his music, which is further characterized by his use of clusters and extremes of register. His Pli selon Pli and Structures clearly display those particular characteristics of Boulez. At times controversial and, by his own admission, not always easy to listen to, Boulez established for himself a position of respect and authority at major concert halls and opera houses worldwide. He further earned recognition as the author of five French publications on the subject of contemporary music.

Pierre Boulez was born on March 26, 1925 in Montbrison in France, the son of Léon Boulez and Marcelle Calabre. In 1942, Boulez moved to Paris, where he enrolled at the Paris Conservatory (Conservatoire) in 1944. He studied under Olivier Messiaen, graduated in 1945, and went on to study privately with Andrée Vaurabourg-Honegger. In 1946, Boulez studied classic 12-tone technique under the guidance of René Leibowitz. As a student and afterward, Boulez assigned a great deal of admiration to modern artists of many disciplines, including Mondrian, Klee, Becket, and Joyce. Musically his favorites included Messiaen, Debussy, and Stravinsky; and Boulez freely acknowledged their influence upon art his art.

Professional Career

In 1946 at age 21, Boulez assumed a position as the music director of the Jean-Louis Barrault Theater Company. He remained in that capacity for ten years, during which time he aided in the founding of the Concerts Marigny in 1953, along with Barrault and Madeleine Renaud Barrault. Concerts Marigny became renowned for its modern repertoire and presentations. Marigny evolved over time to be called the Domaine Musical of Paris, a leading presenter of French avant-garde music. Boulez came to international prominence in 1955 with a composition called Le Marteau sans Maître. The chamber work, which Boulez revised in 1957 received praise from critics and musicians worldwide. Stravinsky lauded the work as a superlative example of modern composition.

In time Boulez came to appreciate the great artistic power of the orchestral conductor, at which point his career soared rapidly. He earned praise for his credible interpretations of the works of the Second Viennese School, including such composers as Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. He earned further acclaim for his operatic productions, which encompassed works by Wagner, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Bartók, and Stravinsky. Boulez was invited in 1959 by Southwest German Radio to move to Baden-Baden where he conducted the Südwestfunk throughout the 1960s. During that decade his stature as a conductor took him beyond the confines of Germany and throughout Europe, where he conducted orchestras in London, Amsterdam, and Rome. He led orchestral festivals throughout Germany and taught at both Darmstadt and Basel. From 1962-63 he spent time as a visiting professor at Harvard University. He accepted a position as a professor at the Collège de France in 1976.

Cleveland and Los Angeles Orchestras

In March of 1965, Boulez spent time in Cleveland at the invitation of the Cleveland Orchestra's renowned conductor, George Szell. There, Boulez led the Cleveland Orchestra in the performance of his own composition, Figure-Double-Prisme, for the first time in the United States. Boulez's relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra, as with many world class groups, endured for decades. Together he and the Cleveland Orchestra taped award winning recordings, most notable among them were the works of Stravinsky, Debussy, and Messiaen. He served with the orchestra for five years as a guest conductor, and stepped into a position as the fist principal guest conductor in 1970 following the death of Szell. He remained as a musical advisor to the group during the 1971-72 orchestra season. From 1967-72 Boulez was credited with performing over 100 works with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Boulez fostered similar affiliations with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in January of 1969, performing Webern, Berg, and Bartók. In 1970 at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) he collaborated with that same orchestra in a "Contempo" concert, which they repeated later at the Ojai Festival. He worked with the group again on numerous occasions, including a performance of Carter's Concerto in February of 1975, and again at UCLA and at the Ojai Festival in 1984. His collaborations with that orchestra spanned nearly two decades, from Los Angeles, to Paris, to Salzburg, Germany. They were reunited in March and October of 1987 and again in 1992-94, and 1996. Their many memorable performances included pieces by Bartók, Berg, Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern. Boulez conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in productions of his own works as well, including the U.S. premiere of Livre Pour Cordes at Festival Boulez at UCLA in May of 1989.

Between 1971-75, Boulez served as the principal conductor of BBC Symphony Orchestra. For much of the 1970s, Boulez stepped in as the musical director of the New York Philharmonic, behind the eminent Leonard Bernstein. The early 1970s marked a self-imposed exile on the part of Boulez from his homeland of France. His extended absence, in protest for greater government sponsorship of the arts, ended in 1974, at which time he accepted a commission by then President Georges Pompidou to establish a musical research institute in Paris. The center, which was originally designated the Center Georges Pompidou, came to be called the Institute de Recherches et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM). In 1975, Boulez took over the directorship of IRCAM, and under its auspices formed the Ensemble InterContemporain. As conductor and president of the ensemble, he brought that group to Los Angeles in 1976 where they performed Boulez's own composition, Rèpons, at the Philharmonic New Music Group series and at UCLA. Boulez took the group to the United States on other occasions in 1986, 1991, and in 1993. He remained in the directorship of IRCAM until early 1991 when he resigned from his active duties, but retained the title of honorary director of the institute.

A Man of Many Honors

The numerous affiliations throughout Boulez's career effected a barrage of award-winning performances and recordings over the years. He was first nominated for a Grammy award in 1966. He failed to win that year, although between 1967-97 he won an impressive 19 Grammys, including nine conductor's awards for Best Orchestral Performance. Those award-winning recordings included his Debussy recordings with the (Cleveland) New Philharmonia in 1968 and 1969. Other Grammy awards bestowed on Boulez included six for Classical Album of the Year, for the opera Wozzeck in 1967, Concerto for Orchestra in 1973, Lulu in 1980, The Wooden Prince in 1993, Concerto for Orchestra in 1994, and Debussy in 1995. In 1996, Boulez and the Ensemble InterContemporain won the Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance for a rendition of "Explosante-Fixe" as performed on the album Boulez Conducts Boulez.

Boulez received further honors in the form of doctorate degrees from universities at Cambridge and Bâle in 1980, from Los Angeles in 1984, Oxford in 1987, and Brussels in 1988. In 1989, he received the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association. Boulez received a special honor in 1996 when King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presented the Nobel Prize of Music (the Polar Prize) jointly to Boulez and folksinger Joni Mitchell.

During the late 1980s and through 1991, Boulez served as the vice-president of the Opéra Bastille. In 1989, he signed an exclusive recording contract with the Deutsche Grammophon label, and in 1991 he returned to Canada after a prolonged absence of 20 years. That year he served as the guest artistic director of the Scotia Festival. In 1992 Boulez took the Welsh National Opera on a European tour performing Pellisande et Mélisande. That same year at the Salzburg Festival he performed as a guest conductor with the Ensemble InterContemporain, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Vienna Philharmonic. In 1995, after eight residencies with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he was honored by an appointment as the principal guest conductor of that organization. Boulez was only the third conductor ever to receive that distinction. His most memorable presentations with the Chicago Symphony included numerous performances of the works of Bartók.

From 1976-80, Boulez spent five seasons with the with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra performing Wagner's operatic trilogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen. He and the orchestra recorded that work on the Philips label in 1981. Additionally, Boulez co-founded Citè de la Musique, which opened in Paris in 1995. He is the respected author of five published authoritative papers and essays on new music.

by Gloria Cooksey

Pierre Boulez's Career

Director of Music at Jean-Louis Barrault Theatre Company, 1948; founded Concert Marigny (later the Domaine Musicale of Paris), 1953; principal guest conductor, Cleveland Orchestra; principal conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra, 1971-75; music director New York Philharmonic, 1971-77; director, IRCAM, 1975-91; honorary director, IRCAM, 1992; professor, Collège de France, 1976; vice-president, Opéra Bastille, 1985-91; principal guest conductor, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1995.

Pierre Boulez's Awards

Praemium Imperiale, Japan Art Association, 1989; Opera Production of the Year, International Classical Music Awards, London, 1992; Record Academy Award, 1994; Cannes Classical Award, 1995; Artist of the Year, Gramophone Magazine, 1995; Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, 1995; Commander of the British Empire, Knight of the Order of Merit; Federal Republic of Germany; Grammy Best Opera Recording, for Wozzeck, 1967; for Lulu, 1980; for Der Ring des Nibelungen, 1982; Best Classical Performance, Orchestra, conductor's award, for Debussy, 1968; for Debussy Volume 2, 1969; for Le Sacre du Printemps, 1970; for Concerto for Orchestra, 1973; for Daphnis et Chloé, 1975; for The Wooden Prince, 1993; for Concerto for Orchestra, 1994, for Debussy, 1995; for Symphonie Fantastique, 1997; Classical Album of the Year, for Wozzeck, 1967; for Concerto for Orchestra, 1973; for Lulu, 1980; for The Wooden Prince, 1993; for Concerto for Orchestra, 1994; for Debussy, 1995; for Best Small Ensemble Performance, for "Explosante-Fixe," 1996; Polar Prize (Nobel Prize of Music), shared with Joni Mitchell, 1996.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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