Pierre Henry

Born Dec. 9, 1927 .


Pierre Henry is a French composer, considered as one of the fathers of electroacoustic music. He started studying music at the age of seven and, at ten, he entered the Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris, where he studied the piano and percussions with Félix Passeronne, and attended the classes of composing with Nadia Boulanger and studied harmony with Olivier Messiaen.

In 1949 he meets Pierre Schaeffer at the RFT (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française), with whom he composes the first work belonging to the category of the concrete music, the Symphonie pour un homme seul, mixing the piano with different sounds, from voices and breath to unidentified mouth noises and sounds of steps. Then, in 1951, Henry and Schaeffer write Orphée, the first “concrete opera”, presented at the Donaueschingen Festival in 1953. In the same years, Pierre Henry leads the works of the Research Group on Concrete Music (GRMC) of the RTF, and his musical conceptions, focusing on sounds recorded by the microphone, gradually prevail on electronic music. For his first independent project, Pierre Henry refers to his music as “electroacoustic”: the APSOME, the first independent recording studio in France, stands for “Processes Applications SOund in Electroacoustic Music.

From 1955 he meets Maurice Béjart, with whom he begins a collaboration culminating, in 1967, with the CD Jerks électroniques, a work originally composed for the Béjart’s choreography Messe pour le temps présent , that dominated the hit-parade of classical music for two years. This long collaboration with Maurice Bejart will not be exclusive, as other choreographers, such as Carolyn Carlson, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine and Maguy Marin, will also bring in Pierre Henry for their work. Moreover, between 1963 and 1967 he composes almost entirely for ballets, films, stage works and CDs, defining himself as a filmmaker or a sculptor rather than a composer. That’s why in his journal Journal de mes sons he writes:

I never liked the notes. I need qualities, reports, forms, actions, characters, materials, units, movements [...]. It is impossible to work with notes. The notes are only good for composers.
Pierre Henry, Journal of my sons - Prefaces and manifest, Actes Sud, 2004.

In 1968, his electroacoustic experiments bring him to the production of Apocalypse de Jean, played for the first time at the Théâtre de la Musique and followed by a concert of twenty-six uninterrupted hours, which represents a major event in the history of music. Then, in the seventies, Pierre Henry continues working on the mixture of sounds, including animal sounds, but also excerpts from other musical works, stage works, films, and works in progress. In La dixième symphonie de Beethoven, for example, he mixes together some extracts from nine symphonies of the German composer.

In the 1980s he works again on the radio, composing a series of radio works. In addition, in these same years, the research in electroacoustic music reaches important goals, notably through his Association SON/RE (Sound and Electroacoustic Research), for which he obtains the financial aid of the Ministry of Culture and the City of Paris.

Commissioned by the French government, he records Intérieur/extérieur, a CD containing the concert series "Pierre Henry chez lui" (At Pierre Henry’s) organized by the Festival d'Automne in Paris in 1996. On that occasion, the composer turn the concert into a true exhibition of his work place, with thousands of tapes containing the sounds he uses in his creations on the walls of his house. The CD is also available in a remix version titled Antagonismes IV.

A similar yet more ambitious project is the world-wide creation of "Paroxysms," a concert which, once again shows the composer at his home in Paris, surrounded by very exclusive visual creations. The distribution of the event starts from Tasmania, where the MONA FOMA (MOFO) 2012 – the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) Festival of Music and Art – broadcasts it on giant screens, before the world-wide webcasting via the platform medici.tv.

Among the many awards that Pierre Henry received during his career, we cite the "Grand Prix National de la Musique" (1985), the "Grand Prix SACEM" (1987), the "Victoires de la Musique" (1988), the "Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris" (1995) and the "Grand Prix de la SACD" (1996). He also obtained the titles of "Officier de la Légion d'Honneur" (Officer of the Legion of Honor), "Commandeur des Arts et Lettres" (Chief of Arts and Letters) and "Officier de l'Ordre National du mérite" (Officer of the National Order of Merit).

All of his works is held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Pierre Henry on medici.tv

Pierre Henry, The Art of Sounds
Franck Mallet, Éric Darmon- 2006
Watch the documentary
Pierre Henry, The Art of Sounds
Franck Mallet, Éric Darmon- 2006
Watch the documentary
Pierre Henry, Paroxysms
Jan. 15, 2012, 11 a.m.
Watch an excerpt