Composers Datebook®

Boulez and Jarre

Composer's Datebook - October 17, 2023


Today’s date in 1946 marks an important moment in Parisian theatrical history with the debut performance of a legendary acting company created by husband-and-wife actors Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud. Their opening production was Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a French translation by André Gide, with incidental music by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger. To play Honegger’s score, Barrault hired two young musicians at the start of their careers.

The first, 21, was to play the eerie electronic sounds Honegger scored for the Ondes Martinon, evoking the elder Hamlet’s ghost. That young musician was a composition student named Pierre Boulez, who would remain associated with Barrault’s company for a decade before becoming a famous conductor and composer of avant-garde scores of his own like Le Marteau Sans Maître.

The second musician Barrault hired was a 22-year old percussionist, who brought Hamlet to a dramatic close with timpani crescendos evoking Fortinbras’ final line in the play, “Go, bid the soldiers shoot.” That young musician, Maurice Jarre, would also become a famous composer, taking quite a different career path than Boulez. Jarre devoted himself to film scoring, composing several famous ones, such as Dr. Zhivago for British film director David Lean.

Music Played in Today's Program

Pierre Boulez (1925 - 2016) – Le Marteau Sans Maître (Orchestre Du Domaine Musical; Pierre Boulez, cond.) PCA 101

Maurice Jarre (1924 - 2009) – Lara’s Theme, from Dr. Zhivago (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Maurice Jarre, cond.) Sony 42307

On This Day


  • 1892 - British composer Herbert Howells, in Lydney, Gloucestershire;


  • 1837 - German composer and pianist Johann Nepomuk Hummel, age 58, in Wiemar;

  • 1849 - Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, age 39, in Paris;


  • 1727 - J.S. Bach: "Trauerode" (Funeral Cantata), at a memorial service for Electress Christiane Eberhardine (who died on Sept. 4);

  • 1761 - Gluck: ballet, "Don Juan," in Vienna;

  • 1831 - Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in g, Op. 25, in Munich, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1905 - Glazunov: Violin Concerto, with soloist Mischa Elman, at Queen's Hall, London;

  • 1941 - Wm. Schuman: Symphony No. 3, by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1944 - Copland: "Letter from Home," on a radio broadcast;

  • 1958 - Stravinsky: "Epitaphium in memory of Prince Max Egon zum Fürstenberg, at the Donaueschingen Festival in Germany;

  • 1988 - Christopher Rouse: “ Artemis” for brass quintet, at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., by The Brass Ring;

  • 1991 - Wayne Peterson: "Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark" for orchestra, by the San Francisco Symphony, David Zinman conducting; This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1992;

  • 1996 - Peter Lieberson: "Fire" at New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

  • 2000 - John Tavener: "The Bridegroom," at the South Bank Centre in London, by Anonymous 4 and the Chilingirian String Quartet;


  • 1707 - Johann Sebastian Bach (age 22) marries his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach (age 23);

  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in e, Op. 6, no. 3 (Julian date: Oct. 6);

  • 1978 - President Jimmy Carter presents the Congressional Medal of Honor to singer Marian Anderson

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®