René Leibowitz

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René Leibowitz (French: [ʁəne lɛbɔwits]; 17 February 1913 – 29 August 1972) was a Polish, later naturalized French, composer, conductor, music theorist and teacher born in Warsaw, Poland. He was historically significant in promoting serialism and the New Music in Paris, France after World War II.


Leibowitz studied violin from the age of five, and had begun composing by the age of eight. Between 1921 and 1926 he gave violin recitals in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna and Berlin, but his father then interrupted his performing career, wishing him to have a more normal life. However the boy continued with daily practice, and he began to conduct while a young student in Berlin. It was after hearing a performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire that he resolved to become a composer.[1]

During the early 1930s, Leibowitz studied composition and orchestration with Maurice Ravel in Paris, where he was introduced to Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-note technique by the German pianist and composer Erich Itor Kahn. (Despite his own assertions, Leibowitz did not study with either Schoenberg or Anton Webern).[2] Many of the works of the Second Viennese School were first heard in France at the International Festival of Chamber Music established by Leibowitz in Paris in 1947. Leibowitz was highly influential in establishing the reputation of the School, both through teaching in Paris after World War II and through his book Schoenberg et son école, published in 1947 and translated by Dika Newlin as Schoenberg and his School (US and UK editions 1949). The book was among the earliest theoretical treatises on Schoenberg's 12-tone method of composition, wherein Leibowitz (and Humphrey Searle) were among the first theorists to coin the term "serialism". Leibowitz's advocacy of the Schoenberg school was taken further by two of his pupils, Pierre Boulez and Jacques-Louis Monod, each taking different paths in promoting the music of Schoenberg, Webern and the development of serialism. His American students included the composers Will Ogdon and Janet Maguire, the conductor David Montgomery, and the avant-garde film director-animator John Whitney.

As a conductor, Leibowitz, who studied in Paris with Pierre Monteux, completed many recordings. One of the most widely circulated is a set of Beethoven's symphonies made for Reader's Digest; it was apparently the first recording to follow Beethoven's metronome markings. In choosing this approach, Leibowitz was influenced by his friend and colleague Rudolf Kolisch. Leibowitz also completed many recordings as part of Reader's Digest's compilation albums.

He also wrote for Les Temps modernes, applying existentialist ideas to musicology.


  • Piano Sonata op.1 (1939)
  • 10 Canons for wind trio op.2 (1939)
  • String Quartet no.1 op.3 (1940)
  • Symphony op.4 (1941)
  • Double concerto for violin, piano and 17 instruments op.5 (1942)
  • 6 Songs for bass and piano op.6 (1942)
  • Tourist Death, concert aria for soprano and chamber orchestra (T: Archibald MacLeish) op.7 (1943)
  • 4 Piano Pieces op.8 (1943)
  • 3 Songs for soprano and piano (T: Pablo Picasso) op.9 (1943)
  • Chamber Concerto for nine instruments op.10 (1944)
  • Wind Quintet op.11 (1944)
  • Sonata for violin and piano op.12a (1944)
  • Sonata for flute and piano op.12b (1944)
  • Empedokles for mixed a cappella chorus (T: Friedrich Hölderlin) op.13 (1944/45)
  • Variations for orchestra op.14 (1945)
  • L'explication des Metaphores/Explanation of Metaphors (T: Raymond Queneau) op.15 (1947)
  • Chamber Concerto for 12 instruments op.16 (1948)
  • La Nuit Close, music drama in three acts (T: Georges Limbour) op.17 (1947–50)
  • 4 Songs for soprano and piano (T: Michel Leiris) op.18 (1949)
  • 3 Piano Pieces op.19 (1949)
  • Piano Trio op.20 (1950)
  • L'Emprise du Donné op.21 (1950)
  • String Quartet no.2 op.22 (1950)
  • Duo for cello and piano op.23 (1951)
  • Perpetuum Mobile: The City - A Dramatic Symphony for Narrator and Orchestra (T: William Carlos Williams) op.24 (1951)
  • 5 Songs for soprano and piano op.25 (1951)
  • String Quartet no.3 op.26 (1951)
  • Fantasy for piano op.27 (1952)
  • 6 Short Piano Pieces op.28 (1952)
  • 5 Pieces for clarinet and piano op.29 (1952)
  • La Circulaire de Minuit, opera in three acts (T: Georges Limbour) op.30 (1953)
  • 6 Orchestral Pieces op.31 (1954)
  • Concerto for piano and orchestra op.32 (1954)
  • Träume vom Tod und vom Leben - Eine Symphonie für Soli, Sprecher, gemischten Chor und Orchester (T: Hans Arp) op.33 (1954–55)
  • 4 Songs for soprano and piano (T: James Joyce) op.34 (1954)
  • Concertino for viola and chamber orchestra op.35 (1954)
  • Rhapsodie Concertante for violin and piano op.36 (1955)
  • La Notte (T: Angelo Poliziano), Epigramma (T: Torquato Tasso) and A se stesso (T: Giacomo Leopardi) for mixed chorus op.37 (1955)
  • Serenade for baritone and eight instruments (T: Friedrich Hölderlin, Clemens Brentano) op.38 (1955)
  • Symphonic Fantasy for orchestra op.39 (1956)
  • The Renegade for mixed chorus and instruments (T: Lionel Abel) op.40 (1956)
  • Capriccio for high soprano and nine instruments (T: Friedrich Hölderlin) op.41 (1956)
  • String Trio op.42 (1956)
  • Sonata quasi una Fantasia for piano op.43 (1957)
  • Humoresque for six percussionists op.44 (1957)
  • String Quartet no.4 op.45 (1958)
  • Trois Poèmes de Georges Limbour for soprano and six instruments (T: Georges Limbour) op.46 (1958)
  • Concertino for piano duet op.47 (1958)
  • Overture for orchestra op.48 (1958)
  • Damocles, song cycle for soprano and piano (T: Michel Leiris) op.49 (1958)
  • Concerto for violin and orchestra op.50 'dedicated to Ivry Gitlis' (1958)
  • 3 Bagatelles for string orchestra op.51 (1958)
  • Art for Art's Sake - A Fantasia for Jazz Orchestra op.52 (1959)
  • Concertino for trombone and orchestra op.53 (1960)
  • Marijuana - Variations non sérieuses op.54 (1960)
  • Sinfonietta da Camera op.55 (1961)
  • Fantasy for violin solo op.56 (1961)
  • Introduction, Funeral March and Fanfare op.57 (1961)
  • Concerto for cello and orchestra op.58 (1962)
  • String Quartet no.5 op.59 (1963)
  • Les Espagnols à Vénise - Opera buffa in one act (T: Georges Limbour) op.60 (1964)
  • Quatre bagatelles for trombone and piano op.61 (1963)
  • Toccata pour piano op.62 (1964)
  • Symphonic Rhapsody for orchestra op.63 (1965)
  • Trois Ètudes miniatures for piano op.64 (1965)
  • String Quartet no.6 op.65 (1965)
  • Suite for violin and piano op.66 (1965)
  • 2 Songs for soprano and piano (T: Aimé Cesaire) op.67 (1965)
  • A Prayer - A Symphonic Cantata for mezzo-soprano, male chorus and orchestra (T: James Joyce) op.68 (1965)
  • Sonatina for flute, viola and harp op.69 (1966)
  • Trois Caprices for vibraphone op.70 (1966)
  • Two Settings after William Blake for mixed chorus (T: William Blake) op.71 (1966)
  • String Quartet no.7 op.72 (1966)
  • Trois Poèmes de Georges Bataille for bass and piano (T: Georges Bataille) op.73 (1966)
  • Motifs for speaker and instruments (T: Georges Limbour) op.74 (1967)
  • Petite Suite for piano op.75 (1966)
  • Deux Poèmes for soprano and piano (T: Michel Leiris) op.76a (1966)
  • Chanson Dada, three melodramas for treble and instruments (T: Tristan Tzara) op.76b (1966)
  • Sonnet for soprano and five instruments (T: E. E. Cummings) op.77 (1967)
  • Rondo capriccioso for piano op.78 (1967)
  • Capriccio for flute and strings op.79 (1967)
  • 4 Songs for bass and piano (T: Carl Einstein) op.80 (1967)
  • Suite for nine instruments op.81 (1967)
  • Legend for soprano, piano and orchestra (T: Hart Crane) op.82 (1968)
  • String Quartet no.8 op.83 (1968)
  • Saxophone Quartet op.84 (1969)
  • Labyrinthe, music drama in one act (T: René Leibowitz after Charles Baudelaire) op.85 (1969)
  • 4 Songs for bass and piano (T: Paul Celan) op.86 (1969)
  • Tre Intermezzi per pianoforte op.87 (1970)
  • Laboratoire Central - Short Cantata for speaker, female chorus and instruments (T: Max Jacob) op.88 (1970)
  • Scene and Aria for soprano and orchestra (T: Georg Heym) op.89 (1970)
  • Clarinet Sextet op.90 (1970)
  • Todos Caeràn, opera in 2 acts and 5 tableaux (T: René Leibowitz) op.91 (1971)
  • Trois Poèmes de Pierre Reverdy for vocal quartet and piano (T: Pierre Reverdy) op.92 (1971)
  • String Quartet no.9 op.93 (1972)

Discography (selection)[edit]


  • Leibowitz, René. 1947 Schoenberg et son école: l'étape contemporaine du langage musical. [Paris]: J.B. Janin. (English edition, as Schoenberg and His School: The Contemporary Stage in the Language of Music. Translated by Dika Newlin. New York: Philosophocal Library, 1949).
  • —. 1948. Qu’est-ce que la musique de douze sons? Le Concerto pour neuf instruments, op. 24, d’Anton Webern. Liège: Éditions Dynamo.
  • —. 1949. Introduction à la musique de douze sons. Les variations pour orchestre op. 31, d'Arnold Schoenberg. Paris: L'Arche.
  • —. 1950a. L'artiste et sa conscience: esquisse d'une dialectique de la conscience artistique. Préf. de Jean-Paul Sartre. Paris: L'Arche.
  • —. 1950b. Scènes de la vie musicale américaine. Liège: Éditions Dynamo.
  • —. 1950c. Arnold Schoenberg ou Sisyphe dans la musique contemporaine. Liège: Éditions Dynamo.
  • —. 1951. L'évolution de la musique, de Bach à Schoenberg. Paris: Éditions Corrêa.
  • —. 1957. Histoire de l'opéra. Paris: Buchet Chastel.
  • —. 1969. Schoenberg. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
  • —. 1971. Le compositeur et son double: essais sur l'interprétation musicale. Paris: Gallimard. (Ed. augm., version définitive. Paris: Gallimard, 1986.)
  • —. 1972. Les fantômes de l'opéra: essais sur le théâtre lyrique. Paris: Gallimard.

Notes & References[edit]

  1. ^ Notes to The Nine Symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven (RCA/Reader's Digest 1961/2), p. 18.
  2. ^ Nicole V. Gagné, Historical Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Classical Music. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2012, p. 158.
  3. ^ RCA/Reader's Digest RDM 20-26, rec. London 1961.
  4. ^ VOX VBX 204 (3 discs), rec. 1951.

External links[edit]