2009Arts and PhilosophyMusic
Pierre Boulez photo

Pierre Boulez

  • France / March 26, 1925-2016
  • Composer, Conductor
  • Honorary Director, Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic/Music (IRCAM)

A Musician Who Has Consistently Set Trends through His Composition, Conducting, Writing, and Organizational Operation

Mr. Boulez, as a composer, has greatly contributed to the contemporary music with his innovative works by advancing the musical style of serialism and then by utilizing electroacoustic technique. In addition, he has acted in a broader field of music as a conductor, a writer and an organizer. He has demonstrated a high degree of stimulating creativity and influence in each aspect and led the world of Western music after World War II.


Brief Biography

Born in Montbrison, France
Studied at the Paris Conservatory; Participated in Olivier Messiaen's harmony class (1944-1945)
Music Director, The Renaud-Barrault Theatre Company
Founding Director, The "Concerts du Petit Marigny" (renamed "Domaine Musical" in 1955)
Professor, The City of Basel Music Academy
Principal Guest Conductor, Cleveland Orchestra
Chief Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Music Director, New York Philharmonic
Director, IRCAM
Professor, Collège de France
President, L'Ensemble InterContemporain
Honorary Director, IRCAM
Principal Guest Conductor, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Selected Awards and Honors

The Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung
Praemium Imperiale for Music, Japan Art Association
Großes Verdienstkreuz, Federal Republic of Germany
The Polar Music Prize, The Stig Anderson Music Award Foundation
The Wolf Foundation Prize in Arts (Music), Wolf Foundation
The Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, University of Louisville
The Glenn Gould Prize, The Glenn Gould Foundation

Selected Works


Sonatine pour flûte et piano


Deuxième Sonate pour piano


Structures pour deux pianos premier livre


Le Marteau sans maître


Pli selon pli






Notations I-IV




Anthèmes II


A Musician Who Has Consistently Set Trends through His Composition, Conducting, Writing, and Organizational Operation

Mr. Pierre Boulez is among the most notable musicians to have led the world of Western music after World War II. A man of versatile talent, he has demonstrated a high degree of stimulating creativity and influence in everything he has attempted, including composition, conducting, writing, and organizational operation, thereby helping to change the contemporary scene over several decades.

Born in France in 1925, Mr. Boulez contributed to both the theoretical and practical advancement of the then emerging musical style of serialism, accomplishing major achievements as the “greatest composer of serial music”. His musical works from the 1950s, including Le marteau sans maître, not only further developed the methodologies of Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz, under whom he had pursued musical studies, but also created a strong link among some of the major musical trends forged in the first half of the 20th century by the likes of Claude Debussy, Anton Webern, and Igor Stravinsky.

In the 1960s, he suggested future musical directions, which he then followed up with a series of works including Pli selon pli. These works adopted the concept of “aleatory.” During this period, he also published stimulating and thought-provoking literary works. As a conductor, he founded the Domaine Musical and developed his repertoire out of 20th-century music with precise and lucid performance. From the late 1960s, his conducting repertoire began expanding to include classical music and romantic music. He also conducted the operatic music of Wagner at the Bayreuth Festival and the world premiere of the three-act version of Bergfs Lulu at the Paris Opera. On these occasions he delivered revolutionary performances and his interpretations of these works set models for contemporary artists to follow.

In the 1970s, Mr. Boulez assumed directorship of the Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic/Music (IRCAM) at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where he devoted himself to the development of both software and hardware for computer-based real-time sound processing; thus playing a pioneering role in the development of computer music. He caused a sensation among creative circles when he himself made full use of this technique to render his major workRépons. Meanwhile, he also founded and directed the Ensemble InterContemporain chamber orchestra. At the recommendation of Michel Foucault, he became a professor at Collège de France, exchanging his views with leading philosophers in France.

Today, in his mid-eighties, Mr. Boulez continues to actively record and perform music as a conductor of leading orchestras around the world. As part of his commitment to the future of musical culture, he also provides lessons on contemporary music for younger generations of musicians at the annual Lucerne Festival.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2009 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Mr. Pierre Boulez.


Abstract of the Lecture

Abstract of the Commemorative lecture Labyrinth of Ideals

The poet Stéphane Mallarmé, in response to a question put to him towards the end of his life about the ideals of youth, wrote: “Whether happy or in vain, the will I had in my youth has remained intact.”

I have begun with what I should probably have finished with, since if it is already difficult to sum up a life, it is impossible to foresee it or direct it as one wishes. However, it is possible to say that self-discovery takes place at the same time as self-formation. Ideals, strictly speaking, emerge from the more or less hazardous encounters, to which you react intentionally while repeating the process of accepting one thing and rejecting another.

Having instinctively grasped modernity, I wished to make it accessible to myself, to master it and understand it. At the same time, I was fully aware that I was not equipped with the tools to do so; that is, I had no mastery of language, grammar or style. So I definitely had to begin at this learning stage.

This necessity for learning has resulted in a line of action for me which was initially rigid but has gradually become flexible.

All this has, of course, happened through an indispensable given material: sound, and at a time of confrontation between traditional materials and resources expanded by electronics.

Questions continue to emerge, and to find autonomous answers to them, it is necessary to embrace a strong ideal. Can this ideal be expressed in exact words? Impossible. It is really impossible to answer. If you knew the answer, how could you then write or produce anything? Anyway, my motivation is the unknown that is inside of me and that cannot be known exactly until it is given shape. The path of ideals is thus constructed by successive provisional steps.

I would like to close by citing once again Mallarmé’s response to the question about ideals of youth: “I was faithful enough to myself to ensure that my humble life has maintained a meaning.” I would like to add that “humble” is not just a word, but it is a very realistic observation, considering the difficulty and scale of the project undertaken.

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Boulez in Kyoto

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Kyoto Concert Hall
Seiji Choki [Member, Kyoto Prize Selection Committee; Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo]
Supervisor of Practice
Isao Matsushita [Professor, Performing Arts Center, Tokyo University of the Arts]
Ichiro Nodaira [Member, Kyoto Prize Selection Committee; Composer, Pianist]
In collaboration with Tokyo University of the Arts
Supported by Kyoto Prefectural Government, Kyoto City Government, and NHK
With the cooperation of Alban Berg Gesellschaft Japan, Japan Society for Contemporary Music, Kyoto City Music Art Cultural Promoting Foundation, The Musicological Association of Japan


Opening Address and Introduction of Laureate Seiji Choki
Workshop Workshop on Boulez: Sur Incises (1996-1998)
Open Rehearsal
Pierre Boulez
Cond: Ken Takaseki
Pf: Shinji Urakabe, Ami Fujiwara, Yusuke Kikuchi
Hp: Shino Kataoka, Eri Shinoda, Keiko Nobukuni
Perc: Takafumi Fujimoto, Mitsuyo Wada, Kousuke Nakayama
Composer Commentary
Pierre Boulez (the Laureate in Arts and Philosophy)
Interviewed by Ichiro Nodaira