One of the most influential composers of the past century, Pierre Boulez, has died aged 90 at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. The French composer was one of the most important and dominant figures in composition, at the forefront of contemporary music for over fifty years.

His family announced his death saying, “For all those who met him and were able to appreciate his creative energy, his artistic vigour… will remain alive and strong.” Born in the Loire region of France in 1925, Boulez trained at the Conservatoire in Paris where he studied with Olivier Messiaen, who introduced the talented young Boulez to the twelve-tone serialism pioneered by Schoenberg.

Boulez exploded this ordered method of composition to its most extreme limits, and thus forged a new level of avant garde expression that paved the way for countless other composers in the 20th and into the 21st century. This was most potently expressed in the early 1950s with the composition of Le marteau sans maître, a work that embraced multiple musical influences including jazz, serialism and several ethnic practices including Balinese Gamelan, African and Japanese music.

Boulez was closely involved with many of the most important composers of the modern era including Berio, Cage, Nono and Stockhausen. Together they would remake humanity’s expectations of music, pushing its boundaries to extraordinary places never before explored by the art form. He was also an early pioneer of electronic and computer music, using computer analysis to explore the hidden world of spectralism.

In addition to his inestimable contribution and influence on the course of contemporary composition, Boulez was also a renowned conductor, commentator, writer and a gifted pianist. He was the head of the Paris Philharmonic and the primary instigator for the construction of the French capital’s newest venue, the magnificent Philharmonie de Paris.

His renown as a composer was global but he was acutely aware of his personal responsibility to foster and promote the compositional talents that would follow him. As such he was the founder and former director of the Paris based Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, otherwise known as IRCAM, which has become one of the most hallowed centres for the development of cutting edge contemporary and electronic music in the world.  

In 1976 he also founded the elite contemporary music group, Ensemble InterContemporain, which to this day is considered to be the most fiercely talented exponent of modern music anywhere in the world.

As a conductor, Boulez was equally lauded and in-demand, holding many prestigious directorships across his lifetime. He was chief conductor of the the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1971 – 1975), the music director of the New York Philharmonic (1971 – 1977), and music director of the Ojai Music Festival on eight separate season from 1967 to 2003. Among his conducting engagements were performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Bayreuth Festival and the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls paid tribute to Boulez on Twitter saying, “Courage, innovation, creativity, this is what Pierre Boulez meant to the world of French music, of which he made a beacon of light throughout the world.” His legacy as both a composer and an unparalleled advocate for new music will be felt for generations to come.


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