updated 7 December 2007

André Boucourechliev

French composer and musicologist born 28 July 1925 in Sofia, Bulgaria; died 13 November 1997 in Paris.

André Boucourechliev was born in 1925 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He began studying music at the conservatory there in 1946, and by 1948 had begun his career as a virtuoso pianist, winning the Grand Prix in Bulgaria’s national musical performance competition. This in turn garnered him a fellowship from the French government to study in Paris, where he moved in 1949. He settled there and adopted it as his home, becoming a naturalized French citizen.

He continued his musical studies in France at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, studying piano and harmony, as well as counterpoint with Andrée Vaurabourg. In 1951 he earned a concert degree from the Ecole Normale de Musique and began teaching there, a position he held until 1958. In 1955, he took a master class with Walter Gieseking in Sarrebrück.

After this time, he devoted himself to composition and to teaching, as well as to his own, highly personal thinking on the nature of musical language.

Alongside his instrumental pieces, such as Musique à trois (1957) and Sonate pour piano (1959), Boucourechliev also composed works for tape during stays in Milan at the RAI’s Studio di fonologia de la RAI, as well as a stint with the ORTF’s Groupe de recherche musicale: Texte 1 (1958) and Texte 2 (1959). At the GRM in Paris, he also composed Thrène, based on an unfinished poem by Mallarmé (1974).

Invited by Pierre Boulez to showcase his early work at the Domaine Musical, Boucourechliev premiered Signes (1961) and Grodek, based on Georg Trakl’s poem by the same name (1963). Shortly thereafter, these pieces were performed again at the Darmstadt Summer Course.

Although not a serialist, Boucourechliev nevertheless made a place for himself in the musical avant-garde of the time, primarily with his open works, including the Archipel series (1967 to 1970), composed for various musical formations, which won him international acclaim. After Ombres for string orchestra, Faces, and his Concerto pour piano (1970-1975), he composed an opera titled Le nom d’Œdipe (1978), then Lit de Neige and Le Miroir, both for voice and orchestra (1984 and 1987, respectively).

Boucourechliev’s oeuvre also includes numerous pieces for piano, including his Six études d’après Pianèse (1975), and chamber music - including three quartets (1968-1989-1994). Trois fragments de Michel-Ange (1995) for soprano, flute, alto flute, and piano, was his last work.

Boucourechliev taught as the deputy of Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire de Paris (CNSMDP) before being appointed as a lecturer on contemporary musicology at the University of Aix-en-Provence (1978-1985) and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (1985-1987).

Boucourechliev wrote books on Schumann, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Chopin, and Debussy, which were translated into several languages, as well as an overview of his research on Musical Language (Le Langage Musical, published by Fayard, 1993). He also wrote many articles chronicling the musical world of his era and many radio and television broadcasts, and continued his own profound and highly personal thinking on music.

He was awarded France’s Grand prix national de musique in 1984, and was Chevalier de la Légion Honneur and Commandeur de l’Ordre des arts et lettres.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2007


  • Site du compositeur, « Les amis d’André Boucourechliev » ;
  • Association Entretemps.

André Boucourechliev. Pianiste, écrivain de musique et compositeur.

By Jean Ducharme

André Boucourechliev was born on 28 July 1925 in a culturally rich, music-loving, Francophile milieu. His father practiced law; his mother and maternal grandfather, with whom they lived, studied literature. From a young age, André was educated in French schools. His aunt, Dora Boucourechliev, was a Dresden-trained pianist and would be his only piano teacher until after the Second World War, when he went to study with Panka Pelischek at the conservatory in Sofia. At that point, he was appearing regularly before the public: he founded a “concert brigade,” and his virtuosic performances (often in working-class settings) soon earned him a medal as “first-rank shock worker.”1 In 1948, he won a national competition in musical performance organized by the government. These achievements allowed Boucourechliev to convince the Minister of Culture that he should be granted permission to complete his studies in France rather than in the USSR. He would not return to his homeland until 1993.

Boucourechliev arrived in Paris in March 1949 and pursued his studies with Reine Gianoli at the École normale de musique. In 1951, he was awarded a licence de concert by a jury presided over by Alfred Cortot. Boucourechliev then went on to become the assistant to Jules Gentil and to teach at the same institution. He also attended Walter Gieseking’s masterclass in Saarbrücken. He recalled:

[Gieseking’s] personality was such that we felt truly connected to him, he had a mastery of music and a mastery of souls. The link with Gieseking kept my pianistic drive alive, and to be honest, it was only after his death [in 1956] that I felt free to change my skin, to become a composer.2
Boucourechliev’s knowledge of the piano, of piano repertoire, and of the role of the performer would profoundly influence his work. He published his first writings and had his first compositions premiered at the Domaine musical.

Even as he repeatedly returned to the works of the old masters — in particular, Schumann, Stravinsky, Chopin, Debussy, and Beethoven — Boucourechliev was an ardent defender of his own era, engaged in his generation’s combats. Most of his early writings concerned contemporary composers (principally Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen), the Domaine musical, electronic music, and serialism. As a gifted communicator, he remained attentive to the works, composers, and performers of his time. Also among his preferred topics were notions of unity in the musical work, program, difference, theme, and variation. Over four decades, his writings (in particular for the journals Esprit, La Nouvelle Revue Française, Preuves, and Réforme) gave the listeners for whom he wrote an essential role in the musical process.

In 1956, when Boulez’s Troisième Sonate and Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke XI had just been composed, Boucourechliev wrote about the links between serialism and indeterminacy:

In place of the formerly singular trajectories of the musical work toward its inexorable conclusion, we now have aleatoricism, a musical time open to a thousand possible outcomes. If yesterday serialism was an implacable system of organization, today it has become a form of thought, a way to experience time in its discontinuity and its absence of finality for just long enough to glimpse the elusive constellations of a work…3
He befriended Umberto Eco and helped spread the latter’s The Open Work in France.

Around this same time, Boucourechliev was also interested in electronic music, both as a critic and a composer. In 1956, Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna hosted him at Radio Milano’s Studio di Fonologia, where he produced a short Etude pour bande magnétique. Two years later, he would return there to work on his Texte I. Maderna and Berio — whom he assisted in the composition of Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) — were his only composition teachers.

However, it was a different work that Boucourechliev chose to open his catalogue in April 1958. Musique à trois for flute, clarinet, and harpsichord, with its “thoughtful Webernian allure,” along with its omnipresent chromaticism and “network of concerted actions mutually conditioning one another,” displays some of Boucourechliev’s major compositional preoccupations. So do his other early works: Text I (for magnetic tape, 1958) is made up of components in constant motion and evolution. The Sonate pour piano (1959), full of contrasts and violence, leaves it to the performer to determine durations and speed of delivery. The score for Texte II (for two magnetic tapes, 1959) proposes various possibilities for asynchronous beginnings, creating various possible alignments. Boucourechliev stated his intentions clearly in a note accompanying Signes (a 1951 work he later withdrew from his catalogue). He describes

a free encounter between the composer and the performers in the realm of musical time. Time, which oscillates between rigorous and flexible—by turn imposed, suggested, or freely chosen—is sometimes transmitted by one of the performers and other times created in moments of collective understanding.

The free elements (durations and dynamics) of Musiques nocturnes (1965) would soon lead Boucourechliev toward his work Archipels.

Boucourechliev’s works from this time were regularly played at the Domaine musical. He also visited Darmstadt and Venice. A long stay in the United States (1963-1964) would be crucial for his work. There, he became fascinated by the ideology of Gordon Mumma, Robert Rauschenberg, and the ONCE group. “It’s not just a matter of aleatoricism, but of the fleeting, the instantaneous, that which cannot be repeated. And I believe that Archipels came from my contacts in the United States. Without them, I would not have written Archipels.”4

The influence of Earle Brown was decisive: “With Brown,” Boucourechliev wrote, referring to Brown’s Available Forms I and II,

the performer must listen to their partners and is called upon to react freely to what they hear, by way of elaborating the musical material…. The performers are thus not so much “masters of a form” as stakeholders in an unpredictable formal process, experienced as necessary. It is in this general direction that Archipels followed and developed.”5
This series of five works written over 1967 to 1971 “would have been inconceivable without my experience in America, but also without my lived awareness of the legacy of Webern and Debussy.”6

With this work, we arrive at the center of Boucourechliev’s oeuvre, the heart of his poetics, prefigured by his prior compositions over 1958 to 1965 and reflected in his subsequent work. His notion of mobility, which until then he applied to chamber ensembles, was now scored for a soloist and extended to the orchestra.

Archipelis an exploration of open forms, variable from one performance to the next. And yet, chance has nothing to do with it, because each performance is a product of decisions made in the instant, by free and responsible performers guided by constant reciprocal listening. This denial ofaléa, and this commitment to relations between consecutive moments, distinguishes Boucourechliev’s poetics from that of, say, John Cage. The work’s unity relies upon links established through detailed and rigorous conception. Inspired by the idea of genetic material dictating the potential behaviors of the music, Boucourechliev defined with extreme precision all the elements he offered the musicians. Each realization, though unique, had already been envisaged by him.

In dividing the structures from their presentation, Boucourechliev offered performers a powerful tool for open-endedness. The score designates pitch-based elements, which Boucourechliev carefully selected for the harmonic and melodic intervals they introduce, the registers they traverse, and the lines they trace. The score also offers the performer a selection of schemas, or rules, for the other parameters aside from pitch: dynamics, density, speed and flow, phrasing, timbre, etc. The performer realizes the music by spontaneously associating schemas and pitches. Archipel 4 (for piano solo, 1970), for example, proposes fourteen raw pitch elements and no fewer than 111 schemas. Nearly all may be used multiple times, yielding an enormous number of possible associations and orders. The split between schema and material thus allows for reappearance without redundance: anything may be reused, but nothing may be repeated.

Most of Boucourechliev’s open works also include parts with traditional staff notation, though even these elements are susceptible to modification. Complete rigidity is an exception. A second level of openness exists regarding the order in which structures may be played and juxtaposed, which can create something quite novel, especially when multiple musicians are involved. Each moment becomes unique. Yet Boucourechliev sometimes directs the musicians to come together, around a dynamic, a register, or a polarized note, for example. He is not completely against directing the process or imposing certain elements.

In these ways, he oversees, more or less strictly, the course of the work and its overall form. While the fourth Archipel, consisting entirely of schemas and a bank of materials, constitutes his most open piece, Ombres, from the same year, has fixed notations and a closed form, with only two “archipelic” passages. Years later, works like Lit de neige (1984) and his last two string quartets (1989 and 1994) would also be characterized by open-ended stretches.

Boucourechliev’s considerations regarding form allow for his work to be divided into three phases. In the earliest works (1958-1965), form remains closed. In the second phase — from the first Archipel (1967) through Six Etudes d’après Piranèse (1975) — the compositions are for the most part decidedly open. And finally, from Nom d’Œdipe (1978) through Trois Fragments de Michel-Ange (1995), Boucourechliev directs the trajectory of his works, without entirely renouncing stretches of openness and the unpredictability of certain details.

For the entirety of his creative output, he remained committed to indeterminacy — which he used in a way that was perfectly compatible, in his view, with closed forms and which achieved sounds that could not be generated through fixed notation. Openness, moreover, provided him with a means to escape the inexorability of development, as well as the pitfalls of rhetoric. In the end, it yields to no one.

More personal themes appear in the titles Boucourechliev used and are perceptible in the works’ construction: multiplicity, expedition, vision, and blindness. Many of his titles refer to Greek mythology.

Haunted by an eternal return, Boucourechliev’s music oscillates between resemblance and difference, selfsame and other. He once observed that the note D appeared “strangely” throughout many of his pieces. So did recollections of Beethoven, most notably the Holy Song of Thanksgiving from the String Quartet No. 15, op. 132, heard in Ombres (Homage to Beethoven) and in the three quartets. Initially chromatic in the extreme, his music turned in the 1980s toward diatonicism, due in part to recurrent melodic figures.

Repetition was a limit he constantly came up against. At its purest, it could seriously alter the course of the work, or end it altogether. Such was the case in his first work, and it would be the case in his last Fragment de Michel-Ange, A l’alma stanca

André Boucourechliev died in Paris on 13 November 1997.


1. [Translator’s note: The title of shock worker was an official distinction the Soviet Union awarded to productive citizens and exemplary workers.] 
2. Catherine DAVID, “La leçon de musique” (interview with Boucourechliev), Le Nouvel Observateur/Arts et spectacles, 1285, 22-28 June 1989, p. 109. 
3. André BOUCOURECHLIEV, “Qu’est-ce que la musique sérielle?,” France Observateur, 591, 31 August 1961, p. 17. Reprinted in A l’Ecoute, Paris, Fayard, 2006, p. 38. 
4. Interview with the author, 1993. 
5. André BOUCOURECHLIEV, “La musique aléatoire: une appellation incontrôlée,” Analyse musicale, 14, January 1989, p. 40. Reprinted in Dire la musique, Paris, Minerve, coll. “Musique Ouverte,” 1995, p. 193. 
6. BOUCOURECHLIEV, Dire la musique, p. 182. 

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2007

  • Solo (excluding voice)
  • Chamber music
    • Musique à trois for flute, clarinet and harpsichord (1957), Inédit
    • Signes for flute, piano and two percussions (1961), partition retirée du catalogue
    • Musiques Nocturnes for clarinet, piano and harp (1966), Inédit
    • Archipel 1 for 2 pianos and 2 percussions (1967), Universal Edition
    • Archipel 2 for string quartet (1968), Universal Edition
    • Archipel 3 for piano and six percussions (1969), Alphonse Leduc
    • Anarchipel for six-instrument ensemble (1970), Alphonse Leduc
    • Tombeau in memory of Jean-Pierre Guézec, for clarinet in A and percussion or piano (1971), 10 mn, Alphonse Leduc
    • Ulysse for flute and percussion (or accompaniment flute) (1980), Transatlantique
    • Nocturnes for clarinet and piano (1984), 12 mn, Salabert
    • Miroir II five pieces for string quartet (1989-1990), 18 mn, Salabert
    • Quatuor III for string quartet (1994), 13 mn, Salabert
  • Instrumental ensemble music
    • Ombres Hommage à Beethoven, for string orchestra (1970), Alphonse Leduc
    • Amers for 19 instruments (1972), 15 mn, Alphonse Leduc
    • Faces for two orchestras (1972), Alphonse Leduc
    • Orion II for piano, 5 brass and 2 percussions (1982), 20 mn, Salabert
    • La Chevelure de Bérénice for instrumental ensemble (1987-1988), 20 mn, Salabert
  • Concertant music
    • Concerto for piano and orchestra (1974-1975), 21 mn, Salabert
  • Vocal music and instrument(s)
  • Electronic music / fixed media / mechanical musical instruments
    • elec Étude 1 for magnetic tape (1956), 3 mn, pas d'éditeur
    • elec Texte 1 for magnetic tape (1958), 6 mn, pas d'éditeur
    • elec Texte 2 for 2 magnetic tapes (1959), 5 mn, pas d'éditeur
    • elec Tic Tac for magnetic tape, music for the film Tic Tac by Laloux (1959), 9 mn, pas d'éditeur
    • elec Thrène for magnetic tape (1974), 31 mn, pas d'éditeur
  • 1995
  • 1994
  • 1990
    • Miroir II five pieces for string quartet, 18 mn, Salabert
  • 1988
  • 1987
    • Le Miroir for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, 20 mn, Salabert
  • 1984
    • Lit de neige for soprano and nineteen instrumentalists, 20 mn, Salabert
    • Nocturnes for clarinet and piano, 12 mn, Salabert
  • 1982
    • Orion II for piano, 5 brass and 2 percussions, 20 mn, Salabert
    • Orion III for solo piano, 10 mn, Salabert
  • 1980
    • Ulysse for flute and percussion (or accompaniment flute), Transatlantique
  • 1979
    • Orion I for organ, 17 mn, Salabert
  • 1978
  • 1975
  • 1974
    • elec Thrène for magnetic tape, 31 mn, pas d'éditeur
  • 1972
    • Amers for 19 instruments, 15 mn, Alphonse Leduc
    • Faces for two orchestras, Alphonse Leduc
  • 1971
    • Tombeau in memory of Jean-Pierre Guézec, for clarinet in A and percussion or piano, 10 mn, Alphonse Leduc
  • 1970
    • Anarchipel for six-instrument ensemble, Alphonse Leduc
    • Archipel 4 for piano, Alphonse Leduc
    • Ombres Hommage à Beethoven, for string orchestra, Alphonse Leduc
  • 1969
    • Archipel 3 for piano and six percussions, Alphonse Leduc
    • Grodek for soprano, flute and three percussions, 8 mn, Universal Edition
  • 1968
    • Archipel 2 for string quartet, Universal Edition
  • 1967
    • Archipel 1 for 2 pianos and 2 percussions, Universal Edition
  • 1966
  • 1961
    • Signes for flute, piano and two percussions, partition retirée du catalogue
  • 1959
    • Sonate for piano, Inédit
    • elec Texte 2 for 2 magnetic tapes, 5 mn, pas d'éditeur
    • elec Tic Tac for magnetic tape, music for the film Tic Tac by Laloux, 9 mn, pas d'éditeur
  • 1958
    • elec Texte 1 for magnetic tape, 6 mn, pas d'éditeur
  • 1957
  • 1956
    • elec Étude 1 for magnetic tape, 3 mn, pas d'éditeur


  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Á l’écoute, textes choisis et présentés par J. Ducharme, Paris : Fayard, 2006, ouvrage publié avec la participation de la Sacem.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Debussy. La révolution subtile, Paris, Fayard, coll. « Les Chemins de la Musique », 1998.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Regard sur Chopin, Paris, Fayard, coll. « Les Chemins de la Musique », 1996.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Dire la musique, Paris, Minerve, coll. « Musique Ouverte », 1995.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Le langage musical, Paris, Fayard, coll.  « Les Chemins de la Musique », 1993.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Essai sur Beethoven, Actes Sud, 1991.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Igor Stravinsky, Paris, Fayard, coll. « Les Indispensables de la Musique », 1982.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Beethoven, Paris, Seuil, coll. « Solfèges », 1963.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Schumann, Paris, Seuil, coll. « Solfèges », 1956.
  • Alain POIRIER, André Boucourechliev, Fayard, 2002.


  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Les Archipels : Archipel I (I) ; Archipel II (II) ; Archipel III (III) ; Archipel IV (IV) ; Anarchipel (V), Roland Auzet, percussion (I, V) ; Jean-Pierre Drouet, percussion (I, V) ; Akon Austbö, piano (I) ; François-Frédéric Guy, piano (V) ; Claude Helffer, piano (I, III) ; Georges Pludermacher, piano (IV) ; Elisabeth Chojnacka, clavecin (V) ; Françoise Rieunier, orgue (V) ; Brigitte Sylvestre, harpe (V) ; Ensemble de percussions Les Pléïades (III) ; Quatuor Ysaÿe (II),1 Cd MFA - Radio France, 1995, MFA 216001, réédition 2002.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Orion II ; Orion III ; Trois fragments de Michel-Ange ; Grodek, Ensemble Télémaque, 1 Super Audio Cd hybride Lyrinx, 2003, LYR 2209.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Quatuor III ; Miroir 2 ; Archipel II, Quatuor Ysaÿe, 1 Cd aeon, 2001, AECD 0102.
  • André BOUCOURECHLIEV, Thrène : comprenant : Thrène ; Texte I ; Texte II ; Concerto pour piano, Claude Helffer, piano, Orchestre national de France, Ivo Malec, direction, coproduction : « Les amis d’André Boucourechliev », 2004, 1 Cd GRM - INA C 2025*.*

Lien Internet

(lien vérifié en novembre 2011).