Pierre Boulez was a groundbreaking composer, acclaimed conductor, outspoken campaigner and tireless champion of new music and young musicians. He was born on 26 March 1925 in Montbrison. In 1943 he enrolled to the Conservatoire in Paris, where he entered the class of composer Olivier Messiaen, ‘without whom I would never have become what I have’. Even so, he embarrassed his teacher by being at the forefront of those booing Stravinsky’s Norwegian Moods in a festival of that composer’s music, which had been declared ‘degenerate’ during the Occupation, along with much else. As Boulez later said, you learn quickly when you’re primed to do so, and his short piano pieces Notations from 1945 show him following the 12-note path of Webern, who was to remain one of his favourite composers. Like the ‘Les Six’ group of French composers after the First World War, though in very different terms, he was set on striking out along new paths, and it was no accident that his key Stravinsky pieces were The Rite of Spring and Les noces. Between 1946-56 he found congenial employment with the Jean-Louis Barrault theatre company as musical director, which involved some writing of incidental music but also conducting of other composers’ scores. Boulez was far from happy with the general standard of Paris music-making, and the repertoire in Paris too was restricted, and it was not until 1958 that Boulez heard Mahler for the first time, in Germany.
Boulez was far from happy with the general standard of Paris music-making,