Europe's radical composer and conductor has died aged 90
Pierre Boulez has died aged 90. Le Monde reported that the French composer and conductor died on Tuesday 5 January at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. An ardent purveyor of the 12-tone technique – a compositional method devised by Arnold Schoenberg – the revolutionary composer later developed a freer style of writing music.
Boulez was born in Montbrison in the Loire region of France in 1925. Growing up in St Etienne, as a child he sang in the Catholic school choir and began taking piano lessons. He went on to study in Lyon, but in 1942 dropped his plans to study engineering and moved to Paris to study music at Paris Conservatoire, taking lessons from Olivier Messiaen and Schoenberg pupil Rene Leibowitz. In 1946 he composed his first 12-tone composition, First Piano Sonata. Focusing on sounds as they occur and the listener experience, he advocated listening to the sounds as they decay before introducing new elements. Later on he worked with methods of improvisation, controlled chance and electronic music. At the beginning of the 1970s, he was invited by French president Georges Pompidou to open up a centre for research and music. It led to Boulez founding IRCAM – the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, which opened in Paris in 1977. During his lifetime Boulez was a prolific conductor. He was appointed as the first Principal Guest Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra in 1969, and in 2014 he received the eighteenth annual Cleveland Orchestra Distinguished Service Award. Following his New York Philharmonic conducting debut in March 1969 with Debussy’s Jeux and La Mer and Varèse’s Intégrales, Boulez held the position of music director with them from 1971–77. He was also principal conductor of The BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1971–75.
“To watch Boulez conduct Edgard Varèse or Olivier Messiaen or, best of all, one of his own masterpieces, such as Le Marteau Sans Maitre (1955), Pli Selon Pli (1962), Eclat-Multiples (1965) or Repons (1981) is to observe someone whose physical presence is dedicated to realising sounds that have never before been brought forth. His arm shoots out and a cascade of dizzyingly varied percussion results, as if a musical Jackson Pollock is throwing paint across the auditorium,” stated Ben Watson in his article about Boulez in The Wire 84.