PIERRE BOULEZ (1925 – 2016)
A pioneering figure in every sphere of musical activity
It is with deep regret that Deutsche Grammophon announces the passing of Pierre Boulez. A pioneer in every sphere of musical activity and a thinker of profound and penetrating originality, Boulez was a figure of vast influence and significance from the 1950s until the end of his life, a man whose name became a byword for intellectual integrity and searching musicality. DG was and is proud to have accompanied him on his journey for more than four decades and to have documented much of his most important work as both conductor and composer.
During the 1950s, the influence of Boulez’s musical thinking was felt most powerfully in the context of the international summer courses for new music in Darmstadt in Germany, at which the leading currents in contemporary music were explored and developed. At the beginning of the 1960s he also taught at the Basel Academy of Music, but conducting soon became his principal activity. He made his Bayreuth debut in 1966 with a landmark account of Parsifal, returning to conduct the same work in the following two seasons, and in 1970, when it was recorded by DG. He was engaged at Bayreuth again in 1976, for the centenary production of The Ring, in Patrice Chéreau’s epoch-making staging, which was filmed in 1980 and released on DVD by DG in 2005. In 1979 he conducted the world premiere of the completed version of Berg’s Lulu at the Paris Opéra, and the DG recording made at IRCAM in conjunction with the production won a Gramophone Award that same year.
In 1989 Boulez signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, becoming an exclusive artist on the yellow label in 1992. During the 1980s and 1990s he made extensive recordings of the music of Ravel (with the Berliner Philharmoniker), Debussy (with the Cleveland Orchestra), Stravinsky and Bartók. The Welsh National Opera production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande directed by Peter Stein that Boulez conducted in 1992 was filmed and released on DG, and his disc of the Ravel piano concertos played by Krystian Zimerman won a Gramophone award in 1999. In 1995 he was named Gramophone’s “Artist of the Year”, and in the same year, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, he was honoured by the French “Victoires de la musique classique”.
Five years later, as well as undertaking an extensive concert series to mark his 75th birthday, he also made new recordings for DG of his own music, including the avant-garde classics Pli selon pli and Le Marteau sans maître. The recording of Répons was awarded a Grammy that year; the disc of Anthèmes 2, Messagesquisse and Sur Incises won a Gramophone Award in 2001; and in 2005, his DG Le Marteau sans maître earned him yet another Grammy – his 26th. At the 2015 Grammy awards in February, he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
It was a measure of Boulez’s openness to change that his thinking on music in general and on particular works and composers evolved over time. These developments were captured in many DG discs, with accounts of the Mahler symphonies and orchestral songs, Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony (with the Wiener Philharmoniker), and, to mark his 85th birthday, a CD of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto and Third Symphony (“Song of the Night”) and a second version of the Ravel piano concertos (on this occasion with Pierre-Laurent Aimard). At the same time, he continued to record 20th-century classics, by Varèse, Ligeti, Messiaen and himself. In February 2015, to mark his forthcoming 90th birthday, DG issued a 44-CD box set of his complete 20th-century music recordings for the label – an aspect of his work that lies at the heart of his unparalleled achievements.
Dickon Stainer, President & CEO of Global Classics at Universal Music Group, has said, “Pierre Boulez was one of the giant artistic figures of our time, one who was equally important as a composer and as a conductor, from his iconoclastic statements on opera, to the broad range of repertoire that he conducted in performances that were always fascinating. Pierre Boulez was also a great mentor of artistic talent from all areas of music and so his legacy will live on in a myriad of different ways that is arguably unmatched. We are deeply proud that Deutsche Grammophon captured his work as composer and conductor for decades, bequeathing to posterity a record of artistic achievement that will be drawn upon for centuries to come.”
Clemens Trautmann, President of Deutsche Grammophon, paid the following tribute: “We are in mourning for the loss of a great composer and conductor, a man who never faltered in his championship of contemporary music and who thereby continually set his stamp on the current scene. His unending desire to create new music – coupled with his meticulous knowledge of the scores and highly focused work with his ensembles – also characterised his recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, which still sound as fresh, clear and groundbreaking as the day they were made. Spanning a period of over 40 years, those recordings enriched our catalogue beyond measure, and revolutionised the way an entire generation heard Stravinsky and Bartók in particular. By reducing music to its essence, Boulez transformed the way we listen to the great works and facilitated our encounters with the avant-garde repertoire. We shall always be grateful for the work he did with us and consider it a privilege for Deutsche Grammophon to be allowed to play a part in safeguarding his artistic legacy.”
When Boulez was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in April 2012, Pierre-Laurent Aimard wrote an appreciation of the man and his art in which he listed his greatest qualities: “His lucidity (the result of paring away the unnecessary), his craft (which balances great respect for the score with total liberation), his genius for organization. But, above all, his strangely rarefied originality, his poetic otherness. His conducting, concentrated to its essence, is the personification of economy, and the effacement of ego in the pursuit of his supreme goal: to serve the music.”