Pierre Boulez: A truly great artist

Pierre Boulez Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pierre Boulez was an epoch-defining 20th-Century French intellectual

World-famous French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez has died at the age of 90.

Boulez was a truly great artist who ranks - in my book - alongside the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Jean Prouve and Albert Camus as an epoch-defining 20th-Century French intellectual. He was not easy. He could be enormously charming and utterly horrible - sometimes to the same person in the same conversation.

Music was his art form, agitation his style. He had no time for the status quo, and even less for the days of yore. He was a modernist - a man who sought to make some sense of the absurdities of the world in which he lived through the medium of music. It was a new age with new problems that he believed demanded a new sound.

The flowery, romantic classical cannon didn't resonate in his mechanised Parisian infrastructure full of hard edges and cold steel. Something sharper, less melodic and altogether more complex was required.

He championed the original modernist avant-garde of Stravinsky, Bartok, Berg and Messiaen (his tutor), while also supporting pioneering peers such as Ligeti, Birtwistle and Stockhausen.

His own compositions, which were relatively few in number, have come to be highly regarded. If I were to choose one work it would be Notations, his 12 pieces for piano. It is spiky, difficult, unpredictable, poetic, and unsurpassable. Just like the man himself.

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