updated 15 November 2021
© DR

Jean-Pierre Guézec

French composer born 29 August 1934 in Dijon; died 9 March 1971 in Paris.

Jean-Pierre Guézec was born in Dijon on 29 August 1934. At the Grand Théâtre de Dijon he would listen to operas and operettas, and his first musical memory was a concert by the French violinist Jacques Thibaud. At the age of six, Guézec took up the violin, but ten years later his studies were interrupted by bouts of rheumatic fever. He enrolled in the Conservatoire de Paris, taking classes from Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, and Jean Rivier. Until 1963, Guézec remained at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he attained a high level of technical mastery, which he considered a condition of liberty. With Messiaen, he studied the great operas, from L’Orfeo to Wozzeck, with a focus on their technical and aesthetic attributes. He also studied Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s use of accentuation and the keyboard literature from Domenico Scarlatti to Pierre Boulez. Milhaud had an influence on Guézec’s work, as is apparent in the Concert pour violon principal et quatorze instruments (Concerto for Principal Violin and Fourteen Instruments) (1960), which draws inspiration from the instrumentation of Milhaud’s Concertino de printemps (Spring Concertino) (1934). The influence of Béla Bartók, whose Suite op. 14 for solo piano Guézec orchestrated, is also noticeable during his compositions from his years at the Conservatoire, particularly in his use of strings, piano, percussion, and the golden ratio.

In 1963, Guézec was awarded the music composition prize at Tanglewood Music Center in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where he studied with Iannis Xenakis. The next year, three movements from his Suite pour Mondrian (Suite for Mondrian) (1963) for orchestra were performed in Carnegie Hall in New York, before Ernest Bour conducted the full premiere the following year at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The score is divided into seven eloquently titled sections: Moving lines and rhythms; Rhythms, lines, and colors; Entangled lines; Variations on one color; Dots, spots, and lines; Rhythms, lines, and colors; and Moving rhythms and lines. “[Piet] Mondrian is formally stimulating,” Guézec said. “These small surfaces, all assembled and interwoven in different ways, in which different colors and materials play. I seek this transposition in time, in the form of my music.”

From then on, in addition to music for stage works by the Argentine writer Copi, the Polish playwright Witold Gombrowicz, and William Shakespeare, Guézec focused on vocal and instrumental works, solo, chamber, ensemble, choir, and orchestra pieces, and occasionally concertos. These works were refined, sometimes short, and full of contrasts in light and color. Guézec transposed the techniques of modern and contemporary painting into music, presenting a more formal musical interpretation of color than Messiaen’s synesthesia. The most evident examples of such pieces are Architectures colorées (Colorful Architectures) (1964), Ensemble multicolore (Multicolored Set) (1965), Reliefs polychromés (Polychrome Reliefs) (1969), and Forme-Couleurs (Form-Colors) (1969).

“I am an artisan who spends his whole life doing the same work,” Guézec said. “I am trying to perfect it.” He skillfully modeled complex textures through juxtaposition, superposition, vertical and horizontal tiling, complete and partial overlapping, and their combinations. Through these techniques, Architectures colorées drew further equivalences to Mondrian’s paintings. “The structure of the piece, through its juxtaposed homogenous surfaces, is reminiscent of Mondrian’s style,” wrote André Boucourechliev. “It is pure, intellectually rigorous, but also limited. It is a prior formal conception, a rigorously defined structural image that subdues the sound material without making any concessions to it.” Seven continuous parts, which Guézec calls “frames,” are played in three distinct registers. In the odd-numbered frames, Guézec plays the registers against one another through juxtaposition and superimposition, while in the even-numbered frames only one register is played. “Architectures colorées is composed of seven different frames in which ‘ranges’ of different qualities of sound evolve,” Guézec said. “Each of these ranges develops a certain type of duration, tempo, pacing,1 intensity, attack, and timbre.” In the first section of this piece, Guézec presents the listener with dots, sliding lines, veils of harmonics, struck sounds, sharp bursts, and contracted resonances. In the second, he moves to a low register, without vibrato. In the third, he provides counterpoint in all three registers. In the fourth, Guézec moves to the middle register and stays on a single G note, varying the attack, intensity, duration, and pacing. In the fifth, he establishes a dialectic between ranges of increasing instrumental density with fixed pitches, and ranges of fixed instrumental density with indeterminate pitches. The sixth section begins as a block of sound in the high register, which slowly transforms. Finally, in the seventh section he juxtaposes, superimposes, and tiles ranges of sound.

In an interview with the journalist and poet Martine Cadieu, Guézec evokes three dominant notions at play in his work: feverishness, balance, and precision. He uses feverishness to provoke an extreme mobility in the sound material, in the face of the disquiet of the world. His expression of agitation — in the tradition of Claudio Monteverdi’s stile concitato, Mozart’s agility, or the erratic rhythms and harmonic virtuosity of Frédéric Chopin — generates an eventful music that the listener will discover little by little. According to Guézec, “for a work to live for a long time, it must not reveal its secrets all at once.” He uses the notion of balance among the parameters of sound. And as for precision or, to use Guézec’s words, the “poetry of exactitude,” this links back to a rigorous philosophy that came out of serialism, that of determining a growing number of dimensions of discourse.

In 1968, Guézec was awarded the SACEM Grand Prix for symphonic music. The following year, only six years after leaving the Conservatoire de Paris, he was named professor of music analysis, replacing Messiaen. He was, at the time, the youngest teacher at the establishment.

Guézec was an affable, discrete, open-minded man. As a musician, he was humble in the face of his art, which he practiced in solitude by choice. He wrote various articles and concert notes, notably for the Domaine musical concert society. Guézec’s health was always fragile, to the point that, according to Jean-Claude Eloy, he lived “with the perpetual presence of death in his consciousness.” On 9 March 1971, Guézec suffered a fatal heart attack in Paris at the age of thirty-six.

1. Translator’s note: The French word is allure, which has no exact translation into English. 

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2021


  • Marie-José Chauvin, « Entretien avec Jean-Pierre Guézec », Le Courrier musical de France, 23 (1968), p. 164-172.
  • Martine Cadieu, « Entretien avec Jean-Pierre Guézec », Les Lettres françaises, 19 février 1969, p. 16-23 ; repris dans Martine Cadieu, À l’écoute des compositeurs, Paris, Minerve, 1992, p. 187-192.
  • Patrick Butin, Jean-Pierre Guézec. Vers une esthétique des formes combinatoires, Paris, Université de Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne, 1999.


  • Jean-Pierre GUÉZEC, Successif-Simultané, Orchestre de chambre de Toulouse, sous la direction de Louis Auriacombe, LP EMI, 2 C 061-11316 (1971) ; CD EMI, CDC 7 49904 2 (1989).
  • Jean-Pierre GUÉZEC, Reliefs polychromés, Solistes des chœurs de l’ORTF, sous la direction de Marcel Couraud, LP Erato, STU 70537 (1973).
  • Jean-Pierre GUÉZEC, Architectures colorées ; Textures enchaînées ; Ensemble multicolore ; Concert pour violon principal et quatorze instruments ; Concert en trois parties, Régis Pasquier (violon), Ensemble Parcours 27 XXI, sous la direction de Jean-Claude Bernède, CD Salabert Actuels, SCD9104 (1992).
  • Jean-Pierre GUÉZEC, Trio à cordes, trio recherche, CD Kulturforum Witten, WD 96 (1996).

Liens Internet

  • « Archives Jean-Pierre Guézec », Le concert de 20h par Arnaud Merlin, France Musique, 11 avril 2021. (lien vérifié en novembre 2021).