Philippe Boesmans

Belgian composer, pianist and radio producer Philippe Boesmans was born in Tongeren on 17 May 1936 and studied piano with Robert Leudiran and Stefan Askenase at the Conservatoire royal de Liège. As a composer, he was mostly self-taught, but took courses at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse and was influenced by Pierre Froidebise and by the Liège Group of composers.

From 1961, he worked as an assistant and then as a producer at the public broadcaster Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Française, working with the radio orchestra and deepening his knowledge of composition and orchestration.

His first compositions were serial in nature, but, finding serialism too restrictive, he developed his own colourful and very personal trompe l'oreille (tricking the ear) style based on melodic elements, recurring rhythms, consonance, clear structures and gestural quotations, which was based on his need to communicate in a meaningful way with his audiences.

He first came to international notice in 1971 when Upon La-Mi for horn and voice won the Prix Italia.

La Passion de Gilles (1983), Boesmans' first opera, was commissioned by La Monnaie, where, from 1985 he was composer in residence, collaborating with Luc Bondy on four operas - Reigen (1993), Wintermärchen (1999), Julie (2005) and Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne (2009). Boesmans is best known for his operas, which also include Poppea e Nerone (2012), Au monde (2014), Pinocchio (2017) and On Purge bébé (2022).

His works have been performed at various contemporary music festivals, including those in Avignon, Brussels, Darmstadt, Metz, Montréal, Paris, Royan, Warsaw and Zagreb.

He was bilingual in French and German and is remembered for his generosity, humour and humanity. From 1965 he was a member of the Communist Party of Belgium.

Philippe Boesmans died in Brussels on 10 April 2022, aged eighty-five, following a short illness.