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Claude Ballif

French composer born 22 May 1924 in Paris; died 24 July 2004 in Poissons, Haute-Marne.

Claude Ballif was born in Paris in 1924. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Noël Gallon and Tony Aubin. In 1954, he traveled to Berlin to study with Boris Blacher and Josef Rufer, and then to Darmstadt, where he studied with Luigi Nono, Bruno Maderna, Luciano Berio, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1955, he won first prize for composition in the Concours de Genève for his orchestral work Lovecraft and his first Quatuor à cordes. In 1956, he published Introduction à la métatonalité (Introduction to Metatonality) in the journal Revue Musicale.

Upon his return to France in 1959, he worked as an assistant at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), where he remained until 1963. It was during this period that he met Iannis Xenakis, François Bayle, and Ivo Malec, and wrote two tape music pieces, Etudes au ressort (1961) and Points, Mouvements (1962). The bulk of his work remained instrumental, hoever - notable pieces from this period include the orchestral work A Cor et à Cri, which premiered in 1965 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, conducted by Hermann Scherchen.

Claude Ballif helped to found Université de Paris VIII in 1968; that same year, he published a book on Berlioz. The winner of numerous prizes and awards, he taught analysis and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1971 to 1990, and then at the Conservatoire de Sevran. In 1984, the Paris Festival Estival selected him as their showcase composer of the summer, and organized a series of concerts and performances of his work.

He was named Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in 1984; in 1986 he was awarded the SACEM Grand Prix de la Musique Symphonique; in 1991 he was named an Officier in the Ordre National du Mérite, and a Commandeur in 1994. He was awarded the French Grand Prix National de la Musique in 1999.

Ballif was the author of numerous publications on music, including Introduction à la Métatonalité (Richard Masse, Paris 1956); Berlioz (Seuil, Paris 1968); Voyage de mon oreille (in 10/18, Union Générale d’Édition, 1979); Économie Musicale (Méridiens-Klincksieck, Paris 1988); and L’habitant du Labyrinthe: Entretiens avec Alain Galliari (Pro Musica 1992). A special issue of the journal Revue Musicale was devoted to him in 1968.

A prolific composer and author, Ballif always stood apart from schools and systems of thought. His work hewed to the same aesthetic from the very beginning, committed to the use of an atonal (though not serial) writing style and the use of micro-intervals to create music whose emotion flowed and rippled just beneath the surface. A committed Catholic, he also wrote several works inspired by his faith.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2004

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