In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pierre Boulez

  • Introduction
  • Encyclopedia Entries and Catalogues
  • Biographies and Bibliographies
  • Monographs
  • Multiauthored Books
  • Dissertations and Theses
  • Critical Editions of Works
  • Poetics of the Open Work
  • Studies of Le marteau sans maître and Multiplication
  • Analyses of Earlier Works
  • Scholarship in English
  • Scholarship in French

Music Pierre Boulez
Jonathan Goldman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0182


The literature on French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (b. 1925–d. 2016), one of the major figures of the postwar avant-garde, is overwhelmingly vast—a published bibliography of writings on Boulez spans sixteen dense pages in a scholarly journal (see Fink 1972, cited under Biographies and Bibliographies), and that was in 1972, the year that Boulez was named principal conductor both of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony, gaining him international recognition and marking the point at which scholarly interest in his music really began to gather steam. His death at age 90, on 5 January 2016 may well spur even greater scholarly attention. Perhaps the reason for the far-reaching and sustained interest in Boulez’s compositional oeuvre lies in the fact that his personal development mirrors the history of Western concert music in general: he is an incontrovertible figure in the history of artistic modernism and is perceived as a leader of the post–Second World War musical avant-garde. Having studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, as well as counterpoint with Andrée Vaurabourg-Honegger and twelve-tone composition in private lessons from René Leibowitz, Boulez gained an international reputation with the success of his work Le marteau sans maître (1955–1957), still his best-known title. A sustained interest in the ways electronic sound can be used in conjunction with more-traditional instrumental resources led Boulez to found IRCAM, the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, in the early 1970s, as well as to compose a number of major works that exploit the technological resources developed at that institution. A considerable number of book-length scholarly publications on Pierre Boulez have been published over the decades, starting with Antoine Goléa’s Rencontres avec Boulez (Goléa 1958, cited under Monographs). Research on Boulez can therefore benefit from a wealth of secondary sources, only a fraction of which are discussed here. This article focuses more on Boulez the composer than the conductor and puts most of the emphasis on secondary sources from the late 20th century onward. Although publications are listed here in French, German, Italian, and other languages, the emphasis is placed on English sources.

Encyclopedia Entries and Catalogues

The many lengthy encyclopedia entries on Boulez provide a variety of ways to begin research on him. Hopkins and Griffiths 2001, an updated article on Boulez from Grove Music Online, is the standard point of ingress in English, but those who read German should not neglect Bösche 1995. The catalogue of the Boulez Collection at the Paul Sacher Foundation, Piencikowski and Noirjean-Linder 2008, is essential, particularly for navigating through the complicated question of the dates of composition of Boulez’s oft-revised works. Goldman 2007 offers a “path” (parcours) through some of the major works rather than a traditional encyclopedia entry.

  • Bösche, Thomas. “Boulez, Pierre.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed. Vol. 3, Bj–Cal. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 530–545. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1995.

    Bösche’s Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart entry contains a useful biographical overview and a truly formidable work list and bibliography.

  • Goldman, Jonathan. “Pierre Boulez.” IRCAM–Centre Pompidou, 2007.

    Boulez entry in the composer database of IRCAM (the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, founded by Boulez himself in the early 1970s), one of the main French-language sources for information on 20th- and 21st-century composers. Presents a parcours (“pathway”) through a representative selection of Boulez’s works. The biography, located on the adjacent tab, is succinct and organized in a clear chronological manner.

  • Griffiths, Paul. Boulez. Oxford Studies of Composers16. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

    The concise (sixty-one small pages) overview of Boulez’s compositions by the eminent music critic remains useful, covering works up to and including Rituel, and can be read in one sitting. Notably suitable for undergraduates (the abundance of score excerpts, always commented intelligently, may preclude appreciation by the general public).

  • Hopkins, G. W., and Paul Griffiths. “Boulez, Pierre.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Anna-Lise Santella. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Entry originating in the 1980 edition of Grove, updated in 2001 and taken over into Grove Music Online. Still an indispensable reference, particularly the second and current version, in which the original article by Hopkins was supplemented by Griffiths. The three broad headings, “Compositional Career,” “Conducting,” and “Compositional Style,” provide a succinct overview, and the musical examples study motivic development in several key works. Available online through subscription.

  • Piencikowski, Robert, and Michèle Noirjean-Linder, eds. Sammlung Pierre Boulez: Musikmanuskripte. Paul Sacher Stiftung. Mainz, Germany: Schott, 2008.

    The catalogue of the manuscript holdings in the Boulez Collection at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland, is also an essential reference for the years of composition of different versions of Boulez’s works.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.