French rage: Michel Legrand accuses Pierre Boulez of ‘acting like a Fascist’

French rage: Michel Legrand accuses Pierre Boulez of ‘acting like a Fascist’


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2015

France’s most successful film composer has accused its dominant musical modernist of shutting him out of the nation’s concert halls. In an all-out attack on France Info, Legrand said:

Pendant quarante ans Boulez et sa famille ont fermé toutes les possibilités pour tous les compositeurs d’être joués. Il a décidé qu’on allait oublier tout le passé de la musique jusqu’à aujourd’hui et qu’on allait repartir à zéro. Il a fermé la porte à tous les autres compositeurs. Les compositeurs comme moi ne pouvaient pas vivre puisqu’on n’avait pas accès à la salle de concerts.

‘For 40 years Boulez and his ‘family’ have closed all possibilities for all other composers to be performed. He decided that the musical past would be wiped out and we would start from scratch. He shut the door to all other composers. Composers like me could not have made a living because we had no access to the concert hall.’

Legrand added: ‘Il a agi, et c’est très grave, comme un fasciste. Il y a sa musique et rien d’autre. He has behaved – and this is very serious – like a Fascist. There is his music, and nothing else.’

Legrand, 83, is the grand old man of French cinema music.

Boulez, 90, was a power-broking modernist. He is presently in poor health and is unlikely to respond to the charges.

michel legrand vspierre-boulez-540x304



  • John Borstlap says:

    Well…. what a choice to have to make, between film music and sonic art, as if there is no other (serious) music being written today. This bitter scream looks like a distorted echo of the ‘affaire Ducros’ in 2012 when the french pianist Jerome Ducros delivered an amusing and ironical lecture at the Collège de France in which he criticized modernist totalitarian thought, a lecture which gave birth to a flurry of reactions in the media, showing that music still has some kind of value in France:

    Interestingly, state-established half-modernist composer Dusapin, a XXXREDACTEDXXX with the oldfashioned long sixties hairdo, wrote to the College’s director to complain: objections to the orthodoxy should NOT be allowed. The contempt from the state-funded, self-appointed ‘right’ composers towards different opinions mirrors the attitude ot the former Soviet-Union…. and this is something built-in in modernist ideologies: march forward! and who disagrees: to the guillotine!

    And who would doubt the totalitarian orthodoxy of the Boulezbian postwar ideology? Fortunately there are now in France composers like Nicolas Bacri, Karol Beffa, Quillaume Connesson and Richard Dubugnon who seek other, more musical solutions for the ongoing crisis of comtemporary music.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:


      Dusapin’s complaining is typical of the brainless left (yes yes, I know, pleonasm). The self-appointed guardians of the moral high ground/common good/consensual thought cannot stand opposing views. Basically, the worse it sounds, the better it is. This is progress and we are not to question it.

      By the way, is Dusapin another one of those believers in free speech as long as the views tally with is own? Plenty of those in his political camp…

      • JayPee says:

        “brainless left (yes yes, I know, pleonasm)”

        Could you spare us with your childish insults?
        I don’t think right-wingers have any reason to brag nowadays…

  • ruben greenberg says:

    Legrand is/was a great composer of film music, pop music and many great songs that have been used in jazz, but his concert pieces are too weak and undistinguished to have stood the test of performances in the concert hall. Boulez can’t be blamed for this. This sounds a bit to me like geriatric sour grapes.

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    That’s nasty, spiteful stuff from LeGrand. But as written above, Boulez is unlikely to rise to the bait. Incidentally, does anybody have any news about Boulez ? Although very frail, is he perhaps composing or writing ?

  • Simon S. says:

    I’ve just won the bet with myself that the first comment on this post would be by John Borstlap. 😀

    • John Borstlap says:


      I have been waiting anxiously, together with my family, the nanny and 7 neighbours, for Mr Osborne to make it first, but the cake was running-out so I just gave in to my weakness.

  • william osborne says:

    It’s true that the hold high modernism has on the European new music scene is absurd, destructive, and unjust. It would be a mistake, however, to directly link this to state funding systems. Bavaria, for example, with its strongly traditionalist, anti-modernist ethos, never allowed modernists to control its state funding for new music. Already in the 80s, Munich had a well-known concert series called “A-De Vant Garde” which presented both modernist and more traditional forms of new music. The Munich Biennale has followed a similar principle. The Bavarian approach illustrates that public funding systems can be organized in ways that allow for stylistic pluralism.

    The United Kingdom has also been successful in using its public funding to support a wide range of style.

    Even though the USA does not have a public funding system for the arts (or only a nominal one), it suffered from the same sort of totalizing modernism for about 40 years. This began to change in the 80s when significant portions of the new music establishment openly rebelled against it. The challenge for Europeans is not to eliminate state funding for new music, which would destroy an enormous infrastructure for the support of new music, but to eliminate the monopolistic control high modernists have on it, and to create new systems of administration that prevent stylistic orthodoxies from taking control.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I fully, entirely, and wholeheartedly agree. So, maybe Bavaria is not so ‘conservative’ as word has it. Maybe the mountain air merely keeps the brain fresher than in the isolated cellars of the Parisian Institut Ridicule de Conservation de l’Appauvrissement Musical, beneath the Centre Pompeuxdou.

    • Hilary says:

      The distinctions between the conservatives and the avant-garde are not always as they seem. For example, both Dutillex and Boulez are essentially marred by overly good taste. Rich orchestral tapestry concealing a void.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Under Dutilleux’ colourful surface there is substance, however problematic, and more than a touch of Middle-European expressionism – in spite of his living at the Ile St Louis. Boulez never wanted there be something under his surfaces, that is why he got so popular with composers who had nothing more than surface to offer.

    • william osborne says:

      The danger is that many anti-modernists are just as much “true believers” as the modernists. In any funding system, the orthodoxy of both must be guarded against.

    • Bevan Manson says:

      What you say is true and perceptive; however, in the USA there are still large pockets of powerful and intolerant ‘orthodoxy’ who control much of the funding for new music. Some of these pockets are accidental, caused by locals coincidentally banding together. But too many are of course in the hands of various influential academics, musicologists, or commentators who still subscribe to a totalitarianism, perhaps mildly modified by a grudging acknowledgement of John Adams and others, but a totalitarianism still ‘armed’ by a general rejection of anything with a relationship to traditional melody, a pulse, and general tonality. Part of the problem is that the internet has allowed for much musical criticism and commentary by those with little or no experience as musicians. That is, whereas in the trenches of musical life in America, many professional musicians pay dues of playing in various situations ranging from orchestras to wedding gigs, commentators have little visceral familiarity with the joys or drudgeries of playing in such ensembles, of getting the job done, of any kind of musical practicality. That side of it-the craft side, as perhaps not being part of their life, it is easy for them to worship at the pedestal of constant novelty. The sad thing is that the musical details pass them by. Hence it is easy for them to find the latest and youngest emperor, who often has no clothes. In contemporary music this is often disguised with texture, but upon examination the textures often offers little other than episodic variations of texture, as opposed to musical flow. When this is all that is offered, it feels unsatisfying, in the same way one is duped by ever-present deceptive advertising.

  • Patrick Schönbach says:

    Well, composers like Berthold Goldschmidt have described this already 15-20 years ago. And, Goldschmidt was indeed for many decades a victim of this fascism:

    • John Borstlap says:

      A fantastic and touching video.

    • ruben greenberg says:

      With a bit of luck, in a hundred years-provided that the planet survives-Goldschmidt will be played, but Boulez regarded as a period phenomenon; somewhat like the dadaïstes.

  • Musicmatters says:

    It’s a good thing Boulez had a talent for conducting, because he would have starved if he had tried to live off of his compositions. A genius he certainly is, but he’ll never have such a large audience for his music as Mr. Legrand has.

    • muslit says:

      Talent for conducting? Expression is not in his vocabulary.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed…. Boulez ‘performs’ the notes, not the music. Often he gives the impression, while conducting, of utter boredom, while the hands correctly make the right movements.

  • Frankster says:

    No space here but the history of 20th Century music is dominated by the mostly successful effort of composers of the Second Viennese School atonalism to dominate the musical high ground combined with their constant effort to minimize the compositions of others. They captured the major seats of power and the budgets and systematically excluded others. The vivid name-calling of Henze and Penderecki when they moved away from the orthodoxy was only one example of the anguish they inflicted on any who did not subscribe to their religion. Most of them are gone now and their disciples laughed off the stage but for decades after WW II, their rule continued. One of my memorable moments was attending a conference where old Boulez was obliged to share the stage with both Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux, both composers identified by him and his allies as oddball mediocrities. His music was already rare on stage while there stars were, late in their lives, soaring. Now younger French composers brag that they have actually never been in Boulez’ IRCAM, a government funded major electronic center for new music. Times change.

    • Hilary says:

      The survivors of the so called Avant-Garde generation will be the less dogmatic ones: Stockhausen, Xenakis, Ligeti. There’s a range to their work which Boulez can’t match. As with Dutilleux (superficially very different) Boulez is marred by excessive good taste. Give me the early set of ‘Notations’ over the lavish reworking for orchestra anyday.

      • M2N2K says:

        Cannot agree with you about Dutilleux who to my ears was one of last century’s most wonderful composers.

  • Kevin Scott says:

    In 1965, Bernard Herrmann was approached by Francois Truffaut to score his cinematic adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” after being fired by Alfred Hitchcock over his score for “Torn Curtain.” Before Herrmann officially accepted the commission, he asked Truffaut, “Why me? You’re a great friend of Boulez, Stockhausen and Messiaen. Why not ask one of them to score the film?”

    “Because,” Truffaut answered, “they will give me music of the 20th-century, and you’ll give me music of the 21st.”

    After describing what kind of score he would compose for the film, Herrmann remarked, “I’m tired of all this whoopee stuff being called the music of the future. To me it’s the music of the past.” And since Herrmann’s death in 1975, some have called his remarks to be quite visionary and accurate.

    Legrand’s concert music may not be memorable, but he raises a point – composers who chose to write in a tonal and melodic, albeit contemporary, idiom have been shunned by Boulez and his disciples as the “music of the past,” but with the exception of their guru (who really is an excellent composer), how many of Boulez’s minions will be remembered for their work in fifty years? You’ll still have many people humming music from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, not to mention composers studying Herrmann’s music for the cinema. And I know there are some who will say that film music is not a serious art. Herrmann would argue with you on that one as well.

    There is room for Boulez and the modernists, and there is room for Legrand and composers who write in a very romantic, melodic idiom. Common ground will be found in France, as it will everywhere else.

  • Geoffrey Alvarez says:

    When I hear the words ‘Sonic Art’ I reach for my gun.

  • Alexander Strauch says:

    Thanks to Mr. Osborne to make a mention for aDevantgarde. For the right chronological order: Munich Biennale started in 1988, aDevantgarde in 1991. Both are still existing. This days the 13th aDevantgarde-festival takes place and it’s similar progressive and retrospective as in its beginnings. And do not underestimate the differences between the CSU-Bavaria and the mainly SPD-reigned capital: the municipal administration enabled what the state disabled and in other fields viceversa! So you could say, with a little blur, the antagonism between communal capital and the state-government in this city reflects the positive aspects of the reluctant energies of the German federalism. Yes, we know the old blaming about the excluding contemporary music-scene in the old Neue-Musik-Mekka Donaueschingen remembering Henze’s final departure from there in the sixties. But in the end the German contemporary music living is in the big as little facets more different allowing than the strict organized scene in France. And so you meet Lachenmann-pupils as movie-composers on the aDe-festival 2015 positive talking about Boulez and Dusapin: send the old squabblers in the Elysian fields of the blessed oblivion…

  • Balancement says:

    Boulez has been the very definition of monstre sacré-it doesn’t hurt him to get slapped around a little.

    • JayPee says:

      Of course. Especially now that he is 90, retired, very weak and in no condition to answer back.
      Michel Legrand is, of course, a very talented musician. But he just showed that class doesn’t come with talent… Very disappointing. Very cheap. Very “mesquin”…
      And, sorry, but I still prefer “Rituels” to “Les parapluies de Cherbourg”.

      • Edward Top says:

        You mean exactly like Boulez writing the Schoenberg est mort article after Schoenberg was in “no condition to answer back”?

        • JayPee says:

          Schoenberg was indeed in no condition to answer back since he died in July 1951 while the article “Schoenberg est mort” was published in February 1952. Despite legends to the contrary, It was never presented earlier in Darmstadt as a lecture.

  • Fred says:

    Legrand is right, so right!
    And his music also concert music is of far better quality than boulez and his adapts ever produced. Le grand is a musical genius, blouez and his crowd silly imposters, just my two cents

  • John says:

    Why is everyone trashing Boulez over some uncreative traditionalist loudmouth who thinks his overused empty tonal progressions are worth hearing? Boulez’s own compositions are complex, but richly colored, and have a great deal of depth and beauty, and are infinitely revealing. His later compositions have developed a kind of thematism which does not give everything away all at once, but is in the middle of recognizable and unrecognizable, making them an infinite labyrinth of beauty and wonder, which reacts with the listener. His earlier works lacking thematism, like Structures I, portray a sparkling brilliance which dense, but attractive. His orchestration is amazing and his sense of form amazing. As a conductor, he is precise and comes at scores with an analytical approach, but in the end wrests spontaneity and emotion from his orchestras, though not overwrought. He is not a populist and is highly genuine. As for his character, he is not ferocious and egotistical, but he is modest, generous, and approachable. By though way, for those who think that his scores and conducting lack emotion, are narrow minded and forget that emotion is not the only thing expressed by music, and music does not need to specifically express emotion, but Boulez conducts there is emotion when it is necessary, for example in his Mahler recordings. He has a highly diverse repertory. He has also made radical statements only to get others to realize the evident truth that progression and going forward as an artist comes before the past, and should not stand in the way of the past. His revolutionary outlook on music is truly refreshing. As a composer he is a genius and will forever be one of the greatest and most revolutionary composers alongside Beethoven, Wagner, and Schoenberg. As a conductor his performances of many works not just modern are unparalleled by many. Truly a luminary among the world!
    As for Legrand, his last name says it all, a small man who hinds behind his pomposity and glorified image of himself. I can’t say much about him because there is simply not much to say. How can a puny film/pop composer expect to be performed by someone who is trying to Familiarize audiences with seminal twentieth century repertoire? That would have been a weakness on boulez’s part to perform such degenerate music, but as usual he did not succumb and stood by his word. Legrand composes uncreative music in a style which is totally irrelevant to our time. He may as well be dead, and while he rots away in the grave along with all of the dead history he represents, Boulez will live on as an immortal. Last I looked all of the music books talk about Boulez and all of his innovations and do not wast there time with any of Legrand’s regressions. More conductors should follow Boulez’s example because Legrand and his ilk are an enemy to music. Instead of waisting your time listening to Legrand, why don’t you revisit some of Boulez’s Mahler recordings and then tell me they are dry and unemotional.