WFIU’s featured composer for December is Pierre Boulez.
Although his father wanted him to become an engineer, Pierre Boulez decided to cultivate his skills in music rather than math when he moved to Paris at age seventeen. At the Paris Conservatoire he attended Olivier Messiaen‘s harmony class, and became a strong supporter of his music.
When Arnold Schoenberg‘s pupil Réné Leibowitz introduced twelve-tone music to the French public, Boulez readily applied to him for instruction in serial techniques. Within a year, his earliest published compositions reflected his work with Leibowitz: tthe flute sonatina Notations and his first piano sonata, Le Visage Nuptial.
Boulez began his career as the musical director of the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault in 1946, where he championed the works of Auric, Poulenc and Honegger, as well as his own compositions. His reputation as a composer was sealed with his debut pieces: the second piano sonata and Le soleil des eaux, for soprano, chorus and orchestra. The latter, which was first given as a cantata in Paris in July 1950, grew out of incidental music Boulez wrote for a radio production broadcast in April 1948. One of his later works, Livre pour quatuor, anticipated the movement toward total serialism of Anton Webern and Messiaen, and the aleatoricism of John Cage.
In the 1950s, Boulez delved further into of conducting, writing, and composing with new media. He experimented with electronic music by setting music to magnetic tape. These experiments resulted in two etudes and his Polyphonie X for 18 soloists.
He also wrote essays on technique and aesthetics, and he established the Domaine Musical Series to showcase music by contemporary composers, with work of an older composer selected to complement each contemporary piece.
Boulez continues to champion the works of modern and postmodern composers through his roles as educator, performer, and writer. In 2002 he was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for his contributions to contemporary music.
WFIU will feature the music of Pierre Boulez throughout the month of December.