France Music

By | January 14, 2022

According to, the teaching of O. Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory (harmony, since 1942; musical analysis, aesthetics and rhythm, since 1947) is of the highest importance for the development of French music in the second half of the century. Spiritual successor of R. Leibowitz – the first to introduce Webern’s dodecaphony in France -, he lays the foundations of the new music in a 1949 text, Quatre Etudes de rythme (in particular in the second, Mode de valeur et d’intensités), a model for those who referred to the post-Webernian style. At his school, and directly or indirectly at the school of Leibowitz, the major representatives of the avant-garde of the 1950s are formed in France, the most important of which is P. Boulez (see in this Appendix).

Alongside the works of Boulez of these years, the first compositions of Messiaen’s other pupils must be placed, including the Sonata for piano (1952) and Séquence pour voix et instruments (1950-55) by J. Barraqué (1928-1973), then arrived at the compositional principle he defined as the ” proliferating series ”; Le cercle des métamorphoses (1953) for orchestra, by M. Le Roux (b. 1923); the Mouvements for chamber orchestra (1958) and the Cahier d’epigrammes for piano (1964) by G. Amy (b.1936), who succeeded Boulez (1967) in the direction of the Domaine Musical and more recently arrived at a personal style in works such as Chin’amin Cha’anamin (1979); Paraboles (1964) and Cérémonie (1969) by P. Mefano (b. Basora, ῾Irāq, 1937), who was a pupil of Boulez himself in Basel and founder in 1972 of the musical animation group Ensemble international 2E 2M of Champigny.

Other students of Messiaen, including S. Nigg (1924-1960) and J.-L. Martinet (b.1912), adhere to the serial experience rather in a negative function with respect to tradition, quickly arriving at new experiences. Nigg in particular investigates a new universal language respectful of the communicative aspect of musical discourse: the renunciation of the dodecaphonic theory is already in the Concerto for piano and orchestra (1954) and in the Concerto for violin and orchestra (1957). Among his best works, the symphonic poem Jerome Bosch Symphonie (1960).

Outside serialism are H. Dutilleux (b. 1916), author of a Second Symphony in 1959 ; M. Constant (b. 1925), of which 14 Stations (1970) for 6 percussion instruments must be remembered; B. Jolas (b. 1926), who composed Musique de jour pour orgue (1975), a tribute to Bach and Monteverdi, and Stances for piano and orchestra (1987), with references to Chopin and Debussy.

The first reaction to post-Webernian serialism under the influence of J. Cage’s aleatory music dates back to the mid-1950s. Even Boulez, at first highly critical, with some works from these years heralds the overcoming of serial structuralism.

The aleatory music develops in France in the sixties, through composers not comparable to each other, such as A. Boucourechliev (b. Sofia 1925), author in 1967 of Archipel I for 2 pianos and 2 percussions; and the younger J.-C. Eloy (b.1938), who was a pupil of Boulez in Basel, author of Equivalences for 18 instruments (1963) and recently influenced by oriental music in Kamakala (1971), Gaku-Nô- Michi (1977) and Yo-In (1981).

The theoretical and compositional experience of C. Ballif (b. 1924), in charge of musical analysis at the higher conservatory of Paris, also belongs to post-serial research: he defined a writing system based on an eleven-note scale (metatonal). Among his most recent major works, Coup de dés (1979-81). Instead, M. Ohana (b. Casablanca 1914) turned to microtonalism with Sacral d’Ilx (1975) and Office des oracles (1975); and A. Banquart (b. 1934) who in 1976 composed A la mémoire de ma mort.

With the founding in 1948 of the Groupe de recherches de musique concrète of Paris by P. Schäffer (b.1910) with funding from the French radio, an address in electronic experimentation is established, destined to take on characteristics different from those of other European addresses in the same sector.

Aimed at the reproduction and reworking of sounds and noises existing in reality, Schäffer collaborated in those years together with P. Henry (b.1927) on the first significant elaborations of concrete music, such as the Symphonie pour un homme seul (1949-50) and the he opera Orphée, performed with a certain fanfare in Donauschingen in 1953. However, the most accomplished work of concrete music is for the first time with Deserts, for 7 instruments, 5 groups of percussion and magnetic tape (1950-54), by the French-American E. Varése (1883-1965), recorded at the Parisian center between 1954 and 1955. After Henry’s departure, who dedicated himself independently to electroacoustic music, Schäffer began a period of more rigorous experimentation at the end of the 1950s, also through the collaboration of younger composers, such as L. Ferrari (b. 1929), author in 1981 of Presque rien n. 2, broadcast by a loudspeaker orchestra; France-B. Mâche (b. 1935), which in 1979 presented Amorgos at the Metz Festival; and I. Maleć (b. Zagreb 1925), one of the most significant French composers in this sector, author of Cantate pour elle (1966) and of Vox, Vocis, France (1979).

One of the brightest figures in contemporary French music is that of the composer, as well as architect, philosopher and mathematician of Greek origin I. Xenakis (b. Brăila, Romania, 1922), who passed through the experience of concrete music working at the Schäffer center (Diamorphoses, 1957; Concret PH, 1958; Orient-Occident, 1960), therefore through a reworking of the principles of the alea by introducing the calculation of probabilities in the compositional procedure (“ stochastic music ”: Syrmos for 18 strings, 1959 ; Atrées (Hommage à Pascal) for 10 instruments, 1958-62); after the foundation in 1966 of the Equipe de mathématique et d’automatique musicales (Emamu) at the Ecole des hautes études in Paris, he turns his attention to the use of information technology.

Particular emphasis must be given to the work carried out in recent years by Boulez, especially through the foundation in 1976 in Paris of the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique / Musique (IRCAM) at the Center Georges Pompidou and the creation of the Ensemble intercontemporain for performing contemporary music. In 1977 the IRCAM organized an important series of concerts (Passage du XX e siècle) with works by contemporary French and foreign authors: among others, P. Barbaud (b.1911), author of an ” algorithmic music ” ‘entrusted to the computer; M. Decoust (b. 1936), author of the electronic composition Interphone ; V. Globokar (b.1934), head of the instrument and voice department of IRCAM.

Grisey (b. 1946), founder in 1973 of the avant-garde group Itinéraire, belong to the younger generation ; T. Murail (b.1947), M. Levinas (b.1947) and H. Dufourt (b.1943).

France Music