Remembering Modern Music Icon Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

January 6, 2016, 1:39 PM · French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, modern music icon of the 20th and 21st century, died Tuesday at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. He was 90.

Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez, 1968.

As a composer, his works were distinctly abstract and modern; as a conductor he led orchestras all over the world and was known for his intellect and meticulous attention to detail. He was a tireless advocate for modern music, working to establish it in the repertoire of orchestras and as an institution, through his establishment of the Paris-based Institute for Music/Acoustic Research and Coordination (IRCAM).

As a student at the Paris Conservatoire in the 1940s, Boulez was heavily influenced by Olivier Messiaen. He also studied 12-tone composition with Rene Leibowitz. Known for his avante-garde compositions of the mid-20th century, his seminal work was arguably the serial-based Marteau Sans Maître (1955). He continued to compose throughout his life, with compositions including Pli Selon Pli; Second Piano Sonata (originally pronounced "unplayable," then recorded by Maurizio Pollini); Alongside Rituel -- and for violin, Anthèmes 1 (commissioned by the 1991 Menuhin Competition) and Anthèmes 2 (for violin and live electronics).

His conducting career began in the 1950s, and in 1971 he succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a post he kept for six years. He also was chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London during the 1970s. From 1991, he had regular residencies and guest conducting posts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which in 2006 named him conductor emeritus.

Boulez was also the founder and former director of the Paris-based Institute for Music/Acoustic Research and Coordination (IRCAM), in institute for the science of music, sound and electro-acoustical art music. Throughout his long career Boulez won 26 Grammy awards.

Here is a sampling of tributes to Pierre Boulez from around the world:

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Violinist Michael Barenboim performs Pierre Boulez' Anthèmes 2 in 2012 at the BBC Proms:

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