Pierre Henry - Biography
Although Pierre Henry is a prolific French composer who’s scored films, ballets and other pieces in a variety of styles, he’s most known for his pioneering role in the development of musique concrète.
Pierre Henry was born December 9th, 1927 in Paris, France. As a child he was of feeble health and therefore received his schooling at home. In his youth, he developed a particular affinity for the music of Richard Wagner. In 1937, he enrolled in the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris where he studied piano and percussion under Félix Passerone, composition with Nadia Boulanger and harmony with Olivier Messiaen. In 1949, he received his first commission, for the television documentary, Jean-Claude Sée’s Voir l'invisible (1950), produced by Radiodiffusion-télévision française.
It was at the television studio that Henry was approached by Pierre Schaeffer, part of the RTF’s Club d'essai, and the two formed the Groupe de Recherche sur les Musiques Concrètes (GRMC) as a vehicle for what the electroacoustice music they termed “musique concrète.” Their first piece was Symphonie pour un Homme Seul (1950). It was followed by their musique concrète opera, Orphée (1951), which was choreographed by Maurice Béjart and several collaborations followed. In 1952, the score for Astrologie ou le miroir de la vie, became the first use of musique concrète to appear in a commercial film. 1954’s Spatiodynamisme was used at an exhibition by famed kinetic sculptoy, Nicolas Schöffer. In 1958, Henry left RTF. Much of his work from the period has been collected and released as Les Années 50 (1991 Mantra Records).
On his own, Henry formed his the studio, Applications de Procédés SOnores en Musique Électroacoustique (Apsomé). In 1962, he returned to working with Maurice Béjart and scored his ballet, Le Voyage (1963 Mercury), which they premiered on April 25, 1962 in Cologne. The following year, Henry composed Variations pour une porte et un soupir (1970 Prospective 21e Siècle), still very much in the musique concrète mold. In 1967, however, he collaborated with Michel Colombier to create “jerks electronique” and released Les Yper-Sound (1967 Fontana) a decidedly psychedelic work with pronounced electronic elements. It sold 150,000 copies and brought Henry mainstream fame. He and Colombier collaborated on the score Messe pour le temps present (1967 Philips), another psychedelic-leaning work, for a ballet of Maurice Béjart’s. L'Apocalypse de Jean (1968 Prospective 21e Siècle) was followed by a collaboration with British rock band, Spooky Tooth, which led to Ceremony — An Electronic Mass (1969 Island).
Messe de Liverpool (1970 Philips) was the result of another commission and was relased the same year Henry completed Mouvement-Rythme-Étude (1972 Philips), composed for Béjart's ballet, Nijinsky, clown de Dieu, which premiered October 8th, 1971 in Brussels. That year he also released a set of live improvisations recorded at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, Mise En Musique Du Corticalart De Roger Lafosse (1971 Prospective 21e Siècle). Machine Danse (1973-Philips) despite the disco ball on the cover, was unlikely to pack any dance floors. That year’s Cortical Art III (1973 Philips) was again made up of live improvisations, recorded at the Abbaye Saint-Victor in Marseille at the opening of the 8th International Conference of electro-encephalography and clinical neurophysiology in September. Musiques Pour Une Fête (1976 Philips) used music from a spontaneous concert performed in 1971 at Fête de l'Humanité that was danced to at Fête aux Tuileries in 1975 by Maurice Béjart and his Ballet du 20e siècle. In October, Henry’s performed at a tribute to Luigi Russolo a piece called Futuristie (1980 Philips) at Théâtre national de Chaillot. 1977’s Dieu (1978 Philips) was inspired by Victor Hugo's poem, "Dieu." Henry closed out the decade with 1979’s Dixième symphonie, his hommage to Ludwig van Beethoven (1986 Philips).
In the 1980’s, Henry composed Les Noces chymiques, rituel féerique en 12 journées (1980), the Marcel Proust-inspired Pierres réfléchies (1982) [dedicated to his old partner, the late Pierre Schaeffer] before collaborating with Gilbert Artman’s Urban Sax to release the record, Paradise Lost (1982 Philips). Other releases included 1984’s La Ville. Die Stadt (1994 WERGO) and 1988’s Le Livre des Morts Egyptien (1994 Mantra Records). In 1993, Henry composed L'Homme à la caméra (1994 Mantra Records), a new score for Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film, ??????? ? ????????????? (Man with a Movie Camera).