Universal Edition - Pierre Boulez – Biography

Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez


Born in Montbrison/Loire on 26 March 1925; Pierre Boulez was a composer, conductor, thinker, a motor of international musical life, an emblematic figure in post-war European, indeed, world culture.

He was a living classic. Ever since the 1950’s, composers around the world followed with curiosity what he was writing, to see if they could adapt his ideas in their own music or to reject them in their search for an idiom they could call their own. In 1957, György Kurtág arrived in Paris with the goal to compose something he could show to Boulez (in the end, he left without a work worthy of being presented). The music the French composer has written ever since the late 1940’s was a conscious act of rebellion against tradition as represented by Schönberg or Stravinsky but also his teacher, Messiaen, whose influence has nevertheless left its mark on Boulez’s music.

In his compositions but also in his writings, Boulez was initially an angry and rebellious young man (see his scathing obituary Schönberg est mort). With the passage of time as he became an established figure, with France inviting him back to found IRCAM and the Ensemble Intercontemporain and his career as a conductor also taking off, there has probably been less to rebel against and Boulez has mellowed and broadened his horizons to conduct a wide range of repertoire including Bruckner and Mahler.

Boulez also was a highly influential teacher. In Lucerne he passed on his immense knowledge to fledgling conductors at the Festival Academy.

Pierre Boulez died on 5 January 2016 in Baden-Baden.

1925 – born on 26 March in Montbrison, Loire, France
receives first piano lessons; attends high school in Montbrison, later in Saint Étienne

1941 – takes prepartory mathematics courses in Lyon for the entrance examination of the École Polytechnique in Paris

1942 – decides to pursue a profession in music; moves to Paris

1944 – participates in Olivier Messiaen’s harmony class at the Paris Conservatory

1945 – takes lessons in counterpoint with Andrée Vaurabourg-Honegger, in composition with Messiaen, and in twelvetone technique with René Leibowitz

1946–1955 – responsible for stage music at the Renaud/Barrault Theatre Company

From 1950 – compositions performed in Paris and in Donaueschingen

1954 – founds the "Concerts du Petit-Marigny" under the patronage of the Renaud/Barrault Company, renamed "Domaine Musical" in 1955

1955–1960 – gives analysis courses at the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt

1955Le Marteau sans Maître première conducted by Hans Rosbaud in Baden-Baden

1957 – performs his Troisième Sonate for piano in Darmstadt

1958 – première in Hamburg of two Improvisations sur Mallarmé; together with Improvisation III, Tombeau and Don they comprise the orchestra work Pli selon pli - Portrait de Mallarmé, completed in 1962

From 1960 – gives analysis and composition courses in Basel

1963 – guest professorship at Harvard University; increased conducting activity

1966 – first conducts in Bayreuth (Parsifal); conducts Tristan and Isolde in Japan

1967–1972 – regularly conducts the Cleveland Orchestra; Gilbert Amy takes over leadership of the Domaine Musical concert series

1969–1975 – principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra

1970–1977 – principal conductor New York Philharmonic Orchestra;
plans the IRCAM in Paris

1976 – founds the "ensemble intercontemporain" in Paris
conducts Wagner’s Ring cycle in Bayreuth directed by Patrice Chéreau (till 1980)

1977 – IRCAM opens its doors, which Boulez directs until 1991

1979 – première at the Paris Opera of Alban Berg's Lulu as completed by Friedrich Cerha; Ernst von Siemens Music Prize

1980 – French National Award of Merit

1989 – Ring of Honor of the City of Vienna

1991 – honarary doctorate from the University of Frankfurt

1992 – Theodor W. Adorno Prize of the City of Frankfurt

1996 – Ring of Honor of the City of Vienna

1997 – world premiere of Anthèmes 2 at Donaueschingen

1998 – Honorary Doctorate from Connecticut College;
world premiere of sur Incises in Edinburgh

1999 – world premiere of Notations VII in Chicago

2000 – Numerous concerts throughout the world in honor of his 75th birthday (London, New York, Paris, Vienna);
Winner of the 2000 Grammy Award Category "Classical Contemporary Composition" for Répons;
Israeli Wolf Prize for the Arts

2001 – Wilhelm Pitz Prize of the City of Bayreuth

2002 – Composer-in-residence at the Lucerne Festival
World Première of Dérive 2 with Ensemble Intercontemporain on 14 September in Lucerne

2004 – Artistic Director of the Lucerne Festival Academy (until 2007)

2009 – receives 2009 Kyoto Prize his lifetime achievements

2011 – receives Giga-Hertz-Award for electronic music

2012 - awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the Venice Biennale

2013 – receives the Frontiers of Knowledge Award of the BBVA in the Contemporary Music category
honoured with the Cleveland Orchestra Distinguished Service Award

2015 – becomes honorary citizen of Baden-Baden
awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
receives the Bach Prize 2015 of the city of Hamburg

2016 – Pierre Boulez passes away on 5 January in Baden-Baden