The Kennedy Center

Tristan Murail


A French composer born on March 11, 1947 in Le Havre, Tristan Murail received degrees in classical Arabic and Maghrib Arabic from the National School of Living Oriental Languages as well as a bachelor's degree in economic science and a degree from the Paris Institute of Political Studies. He entered Olivier Messiaen's class at the Paris Conservatory in 1967, and studied ondes Martenot with Jeanne Loriod (Messiaen's sister-in-law) and Maurice Martenot himself. In 1971 received a first prize in composition, and that same year, was awarded the Rome Prize and spent two years at the Villa Médicis. During his formative years, he was inspired by aesthetics that sought to create global movements of masses, volumes or sonic textures, as well as electronic music: including works by Iannis Xenakis, Giacinto Scelsi and above all György Ligeti.

After returning to Paris in 1973, he joined his colleagues Michaël Lévinas and Roger Tessier, in founding the musical collective L'Itinéraire , which became a valuable laboratory for his research in the domain of instrumental composition, the use of live electronics, and computer assisted composition. That same year, he composed La Dérive des continents and Les Nuages de Magellan, which are typical of his first style with pieces incorporating an uninterrupted sonic magma, where thematic development is replaced by the notion of continuous metamorphosis. Over the next several years, with pieces like Sables (1974) and Mémoire/Erosion (1975-1976), Murail's music gradually moved toward increased refinement and complexity.

In 1980, the composers from L'Itinéraire took part in a computer music workshop at Ircam. As he had begun on his own using computers to increase his understanding of acoustical phenomena, this experience had a decisive impact on the evolution of Tristan Murail's music. In 1982-1983, he composed Désintégrations, his first piece to mix instrumental and synthesized sounds (which was to become a hallmark of his music). With Serendib (1991-1992) and other works from that period (L'Esprit des dunes, La Barque mystique), his music began to to integrate high degrees of juxtaposition, articulation and unexpected developments.

Between 1991 and 1997, he collaborated with Ircam, teaching composition and participating in the development of the « Patchwork » program - a program dedicated to computer assisted composition. He also taught at numerous festivals and institutions, including the  Darmstadt Ferienkurse, the Abbaye de Royaumont and  Centre Acanthes courses in France, the Young Nordic Music Festival in Copenhagen, and recently the New Music Week in Shanghai. Since 1997, Tristan Murail has been a professor of composition at Columbia University.

In recent years, Murail has become one of the best known and most influential living composers, he has been the featured guest of many music festivals all around the world. Recent examples include the Ars Musica festival in Brussels, the Morelia New Music Festival in Mexico, the Zagreb Biennale, the 2010 "Composium" in Tokyo, etc... In 2009, the BBC dedicated one of its "Total Immersion" festivals to Tristan Murail's music and in 2010, Tristan Murail was the "sole juror" for the Takemitsu Prize in Tokyo.

His most recent piece "Les Sept Paroles" for choir, orchestra, and electronics, commissioned by NPS ZaterdagMatinee, Radio France and Ircam, was premiered at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with the Netherlands Radio Choir and Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop, and later performed by the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and the Radio Netherlands Choir at Radio France in Paris, conducted by Pascal Rophé.

Updated: March 7, 2011

Tristan Murail


  • Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire... in memoriam Olivier Messiaen