107 Facts About Pierre Boulez


Pierre Louis Joseph Boulez was a French composer, conductor and writer, and the founder of several musical institutions.

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Pierre Boulez was one of the dominant figures of post-war Western classical music.

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Pierre Boulez began his professional career in the late 1940s as music director of the Renaud-Barrault theatre company in Paris.

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Pierre Boulez was a leading figure in avant-garde music, playing an important role in the development of integral serialism, controlled chance music and the electronic transformation of instrumental music in real time .

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Alongside his activities as a composer, Pierre Boulez was one of the most prominent conductors of his generation.

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Pierre Boulez made frequent appearances with many other orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.

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Pierre Boulez was known for his performances of the music of the first half of the twentieth century—including Debussy and Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok, and the Second Viennese School—as well as that of his contemporaries, such as Ligeti, Berio and Carter.

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Pierre Boulez was born on 26 March 1925, in Montbrison, a small townin the Loire department of east-central France, to Leon and Marcelle Boulez.

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The family prospered, moving in 1929 from the apartment above a pharmacy, where Pierre Boulez was born, to a comfortable detached house, where he spent most of his childhood.

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Pierre Boulez's father hoped this would lead to a career in engineering.

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Pierre Boulez was in Lyon when the Vichy government fell, the Germans took over and the city became a centre of the resistance.

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In Lyon, Pierre Boulez first heard an orchestra, saw his first operas and met the well-known soprano Ninon Vallin, who asked him to play for her.

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Pierre Boulez was rejected but was determined to pursue a career in music.

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Pierre Boulez made such fast progress that, by May 1944, Dandelot described him as "the best of the class".

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Pierre Boulez greatly enjoyed working with her and she remembered him as an exceptional student, using his exercises as models until the end of her teaching career.

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Pierre Boulez moved to two small attic rooms in the Marais district of Paris, where he lived for the next thirteen years.

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Pierre Boulez eventually found Leibowitz's approach too doctrinaire and broke angrily with him in 1946 when Leibowitz tried to criticise one of his early works.

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In June 1945, Pierre Boulez was one of four Conservatoire students awarded premier prix.

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Pierre Boulez was described in the examiner's report as "the most gifted—a composer".

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Pierre Boulez earned money by giving mathematics lessons to his landlord's son.

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Pierre Boulez played the ondes Martenot, improvising accompaniments to radio dramas and occasionally deputising in the pit orchestra of the Folies Bergere.

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Pierre Boulez was appointed music director of the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault, a post he held for nine years.

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Pierre Boulez arranged and conducted incidental music, mostly by composers whose music he disliked, but it gave him the chance to work with professional musicians, while leaving time to compose during the day.

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Around this time, Pierre Boulez met two composers who were to be important influences: John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

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Pierre Boulez stayed at Cage's apartment but their friendship was already cooling as he could not accept Cage's increasing commitment to compositional procedures based on chance and he later broke off contact with him.

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In July 1952, Pierre Boulez attended the International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt for the first time.

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Pierre Boulez quickly became one of the leaders of the post-war modernist movement in the arts.

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In 1954, with the financial backing of Barrault and Renaud, Pierre Boulez started a series of concerts at the Petit Marigny theatre.

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Pierre Boulez proved an energetic and accomplished administrator and the concerts were an immediate success.

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Pierre Boulez remained director until 1967, when Gilbert Amy succeeded him.

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Pierre Boulez dined several times with the Stravinskys and "soon captivated the older composer with new musical ideas, and an extraordinary intelligence, quickness and humour".

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In 1959, Pierre Boulez left Paris for Baden-Baden, where he had an arrangement with the South-West German Radio orchestra to work as composer-in-residence and to conduct some smaller concerts, as well as access to an electronic studio where he could work on a new piece .

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Pierre Boulez moved into, and eventually bought, a large hillside villa, which was his main residence for the rest of his life.

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Pierre Boulez's breakthrough came in 1959 when he replaced the ailing Hans Rosbaud at short notice in demanding programmes of twentieth-century music at the Aix-en-Provence and Donaueschingen Festivals.

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Pierre Boulez conducted Wozzeck again in April 1966 at the Frankfurt Opera in a new production by Wieland Wagner.

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Pierre Boulez conducted performances of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with the Bayreuth company at the Osaka Festival in Japan in 1967, but the lack of adequate rehearsal made it an experience he later said he would rather forget.

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Pierre Boulez became its principal guest conductor in February 1969, a post he held until the end of 1971.

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Pierre Boulez first conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in February 1964, at Worthing, accompanying Vladimir Ashkenazy in a Chopin piano concerto.

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Two months later, Pierre Boulez conducted the New York Philharmonic for the first time.

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Pierre Boulez introduced more key works from the first half of the twentieth century and, with earlier repertoire, sought out less well-known pieces.

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Pierre Boulez returned on only three occasions to the orchestra in later years.

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Pierre Boulez conducted works by the younger generation of British composers—such as Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies—but Britten and Tippett were absent from his programmes.

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Pierre Boulez was chief conductor between 1971 and 1975, continuing as chief guest conductor until 1977.

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In both cities, Pierre Boulez sought out venues where new music could be presented more informally: in New York he began a series of "Rug Concerts"—when the seats in Avery Fisher Hall were taken out and the audience sat on the floor—and a contemporary music series called "Prospective Encounters" in Greenwich Village.

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Pierre Boulez's aim was "to create a feeling that we are all, audience, players and myself, taking part in an act of exploration".

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In 1970 Pierre Boulez was asked by President Pompidou to return to France and set up an institute specialising in musical research and creation at the arts complex—now known as the Centre Georges Pompidou—which was planned for the Beaubourg district of Paris.

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Pierre Boulez's model was the Bauhaus, which had been a meeting place for artists and scientists of all disciplines.

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In 1979, Pierre Boulez conducted the world premiere of the three-act version of Alban Berg's Lulu at the Paris Opera in Friedrich Cerha's completion, and in Patrice Chereau's production.

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Pierre Boulez radically reworked earlier pieces, including Notations I-IV, a transcription and expansion of tiny piano pieces for large orchestra and his cantata on poems by Rene Char, Le Visage nuptial .

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In 1992, Pierre Boulez gave up the directorship of IRCAM and was succeeded by Laurent Bayle.

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Pierre Boulez was composer in residence at that year's Salzburg Festival.

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Pierre Boulez held the post until 2005, when he became conductor emeritus.

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Pierre Boulez co-founded the Cite de la Musique, which opened in La Villette on the outskirts of Paris in 1995.

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Pierre Boulez left a number of compositional projects unfinished, including the remaining Notations for orchestra.

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Pierre Boulez remained active as a conductor over the next six years.

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Pierre Boulez's appearances became more infrequent after an eye operation in 2010 left him with severely impaired sight.

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Pierre Boulez remained Director of the Lucerne Festival Academy until 2014, but his health prevented him from taking part in the many celebrations held across the world for his 90th birthday in 2015.

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Bennett finds in the piece a tone new to Pierre Boulez's writing: "a sharp, brittle violence juxtaposed against an extreme sensitivity and delicacy".

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Forty years later Pierre Boulez arrived at the definitive version for soprano, mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra .

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Pierre Boulez linked this development to a desire by his generation to create a tabula rasa after the war.

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Pierre Boulez said that the choice of these instruments showed the influence of non-European cultures, to which he had always been attracted.

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Text of his next major work, Pli selon pli, Pierre Boulez turned to the symbolist poetry of Stephane Mallarme, attracted by its extreme density and radical syntax.

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Pierre Boulez's stated aim was to make the sonnets become the music at a deeper, structural level.

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Pierre Boulez described its sound-world, rich in percussion, as "not so much frozen as extraordinarily 'vitrified".

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Pierre Boulez wrote this twenty-five minute work as an epitaph for his friend and colleague, the Italian composer and conductor, who died in 1973 at the age of 53.

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Pierre Boulez compared the experience of listening to pre-recorded electronic music in the concert hall to a crematorium ceremony.

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Pierre Boulez was dissatisfied with both pieces and withdrew them.

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Pierre Boulez approved transcriptions of the piece for bassoon and for recorder .

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Pierre Boulez re-used some of its material in other works, including a later piece with the same name.

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Anthemes II for violin and electronics grew out of a piece for solo violin Anthemes I, which Pierre Boulez wrote for the Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition in Paris and which in turn derived from material in the original …explosante-fixe… The virtuoso writing for the instrument is captured by the electronic system, transformed in real time and propelled around the space to create what Jonathan Goldman calls a "hyper-violin".

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In later works Pierre Boulez relinquished electronics, although Griffiths suggests that in sur Incises the choice of like but distinct instruments, spread across the platform, enabled Pierre Boulez to create effects of harmonic, timbral and spatial echo for which he previously used electronic means.

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Pierre Boulez was in the process of developing Anthemes 2 into a large-scale work for violin and orchestra for Anne-Sophie Mutter and spoke of writing an opera based on Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

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When his mentor, the conductor Roger Desormiere, was paralysed by a stroke in 1952 Pierre Boulez sent scripts to French Radio in Desormiere's name so that the older man could collect the fee.

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Pierre Boulez read widely and identified Proust, Joyce and Kafka as particular influences.

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Pierre Boulez had close links with three of the leading philosophers of the time: Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes.

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Pierre Boulez was a keen walker and, when he was at home in Baden-Baden, spent the late afternoons and much of the weekends walking in the Black Forest.

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Pierre Boulez owned an old farmhouse in the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence department of France and built another, modern home on the same land in the late 1970s.

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Pierre Boulez acknowledged to Joan Peyser that there was a passionate affair in 1946, described as "intense and tormented" and which Peyser suggested was the trigger for the "wild, courageous works" of that period.

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The author and blogger Norman Lebrecht, who knew Pierre Boulez, speculated that he was gay, citing the fact that for many years he shared his home in Baden-Baden with Hans Messner, whom he sometimes referred to as his valet.

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Pierre Boulez was one of the leading conductors of the second half of the twentieth century.

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Pierre Boulez was entirely self-taught, although he said that he learnt a great deal from attending Desormiere's and Hans Rosbaud's rehearsals.

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Pierre Boulez gave various reasons for conducting as much as he did.

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Pierre Boulez worked with many leading soloists and had particularly long-term collaborations with Daniel Barenboim and Jessye Norman.

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Pierre Boulez's chosen repertoire was small and included no Italian opera.

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Later, in the mid-1980s, Pierre Boulez became vice president of the planned Opera Bastille in Paris, working with Daniel Barenboim, who was to be its music director.

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Pierre Boulez updated the action to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, using imagery of the industrial age, and he achieved an unprecedented degree of naturalism in the singers' performances.

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Pierre Boulez's conducting was no less controversial, emphasising continuity, flexibility and transparency over mythic grandeur and weight.

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Pierre Boulez worked with Chereau again on Berg's Lulu in Paris and Janacek's From the House of the Dead in Vienna .

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Pierre Boulez later turned to the German playwright Heiner Muller, who was working on a reduction of Aeschylus's Oresteia when he died in 1995, again without leaving anything usable.

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Pierre Boulez made a highly praised recording of The Rite of Spring with the Cleveland Orchestra and a number of recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, including rarities such as Berlioz's Lelio and the first complete recording of Mahler's Das klagende Lied.

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The LSO contributed to the Webern edition which Pierre Boulez supervised, consisting of all the works with opus numbers.

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Pierre Boulez produced a wide-ranging survey of the music of Schoenberg, including Gurrelieder and Moses und Aron, and less well-known works such as the unaccompanied choral music.

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From 1991, onwards Pierre Boulez recorded under an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon.

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Pierre Boulez re-recorded much of his core repertoire—the orchestral music of Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok—and oversaw a second Webern edition, including the unpublished works.

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In 2005 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra released a 2-CD set of broadcasts by Pierre Boulez, focusing on works which he had not recorded commercially, including Janacek's Glagolitic Mass and Messiaen's L'ascension.

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Pierre Boulez gave recitals of music for two pianos with Yvonne Loriod.

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Ironically, it was with a 1952 article with the inflammatory title "Schoenberg is Dead", published in the British journal The Score shortly after the older composer's death, that Pierre Boulez first attracted international attention as a writer.

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Jonathan Goldman points out that, over the decades, Pierre Boulez's writings addressed very different readerships: in the 1950s the cultured Parisian attendees of the Domaine musical; in the 1960s the specialised avant-garde composers and performers of the Darmstadt and Basel courses; and, between 1976 and 1995, the highly literate but non-specialist audience of the lectures he gave as Professor of the College de France.

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Much of Pierre Boulez's writing was linked to specific occasions, whether a first performance of a new piece, notes for a recording or a eulogy for a lost colleague.

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Pierre Boulez taught at the Darmstadt Summer School most years between 1954 and 1965.

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Pierre Boulez was professor of composition at the Musik Akademie Basel in Switzerland and a visiting lecturer at Harvard University in 1963.

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In December 2017, the Bibliotheque nationale de France announced that the Pierre Boulez estate had made a substantial donation of Pierre Boulez's private papers and possessions not covered by the Sacher contract, including 220 metres of books, 50 metres of archives and correspondence, as well as scores, photographs, recordings and about 100 other objects.

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In March 2017, a new concert hall, the Pierre Boulez Saal, designed by Frank Gehry, was opened in Berlin under the auspices of the Barenboim–Said Academy.

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Pierre Boulez's music continues to be taken up by interpreters of the next generation.

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In September 2018 the first edition of the Pierre Boulez Biennial took place in Paris and Berlin, a joint initiative by the Philharmonie de Paris and the Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim.

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Performances of Pierre Boulez's music were set in the context of works which influenced him.

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State honours awarded to Pierre Boulez included Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire ; and Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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