Pierre Boulez

1925 - 2016




Pierre Boulez is a French composer, conductor, writer and pianist and is one of the leading and most influential composers and thinkers of his generation. He was born in Montbrison, Loire, France on 26th March 1925 and began piano lessons as a child, showing ability in both music and mathematics early on. After briefly studying the latter in Lyon, Boulez attended the Paris Conservatoire and studied with Olivier Messiaen and Andrée Vaurabourg (wife of Arthur Honegger). Messiaen introduced Boulez to twelve-tone technique and using this Boulez began to compose atonally in a post-Webernian style. His works and writings pushed the previous boundaries of abstraction and experimentation to new levels. 

After taking his serialist ideas to their absolute limit in Structures, book I for two pianos, among other works, Boulez received much criticism about the work. Boulez felt that the language was limited in its expressive capability and that combined with the negative reception led Boulez to rethink his compositional language. The music that followed was less strict in its serialism but more gesture based and expressively flexible. The first particularly ground-breaking work in this new style was Le marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master) for ensemble and voice. 

Following this work, Boulez became much more experimental, working with improvisatory music and leaving aspects of the music such as the ordering of movements or sections of pieces to be chosen by the performer on the night of a performance; this was likely influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ideas of polyvalent form and aleatoric (chance) music. Boulez has also had a significant career as a conductor, having conducted a large range of world-class ensembles.


1st January 2025

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Antonio Pappano
Barbican Centre, London, United Kingdom