Pierre Schaeffer

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Pierre Schaeffer (born August 14, 1910 in Nancy , † August 19, 1995 in Aix-en-Provence ) was a French composer and writer. In connection with the accusation that Western music closes itself off with the restriction to traditional musical instruments and the resulting restriction to fixed pitches of an important sphere, Schaeffer developed a new musical practice in the first half of the 20th century, which consists of an open access to sounds and coined the term musique concrète for it . Working with tapes resulted in the abandonment of traditional notation . In this way, Schaeffer not only questioned traditional instruments, but also dissolved the relationship between composer and interpreter .

Live and act

After the Second World War , Schaeffer, who was actually an engineer, worked for French radio. There he experimented with everyday noises, which he first recorded on record and from 1951 on tape , alienated and assembled into new sound compositions. The means of alienation were limited to the playback speed and direction. He also developed a way of playing back short sections of a record as a loop. He called the resulting experimental music Musique concrète ( concrete music ). She had a great influence on electronic music and radio drama .

Schaeffer died in August 1995 after suffering from a long history of Alzheimer's disease. His last work was in 1979.

Theoretical position

With his main theoretical work, the traité des objets musicaux , Pierre Schaeffer designed a linguistic system for the first time that enables the new musical structures of electroacoustic music to be grasped and communicated. Above all, he was reacting to a development that he himself had initiated: The musique concrète , as it had deliberately detached itself from harmonic structures without leaving any residue, required a new theoretical foundation on the one hand and a new vocabulary on the other.

As accompanying material to the Traité, Schaeffer published his solfège de l´objet sonore on three records. Through experiments with sound transformations on tape , he was able to show that there is a surprising discrepancy between the physical appearance and the perceived quality of sounds. On the basis of this finding, he developed a catalog of sound properties that was not based on physical appearance, but directly on hearing . Schaeffer, for example, commented on the discrepancy between physical time and the duration of musical events in perception as follows:

“We have to make a decision: if time, measured in tape centimeters, is a reality as a musical parameter, then all of this has a purpose; but if there is a fundamental discrepancy between this measured time and the musical duration of the sound, then it is not permissible either to pursue the analyzes based on this measured time any further or to devise musical constructions as functions of a wrong parameter. "

The theoretical dispute that flared up in the middle of the 20th century between musique concrète from Paris and electronic music from Cologne (see Studio for Electronic Music ) was often reduced to the people of Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the public eye .

The sound object, typology and morphology

The central requirement for Schaeffer's theoretical considerations was the definition of the sound object as the lowest denominator of musical experience. In Schaeffer's eyes, human perception in connection with music basically functioned through the rudimentary division into individual musical events: the sound objects. Based on this assumption, Schaeffer first developed a typology of the sound object in his Traité : Using the parameters of mass and temporal extension, Schaeffer separated between balanced (correspondingly musical) and unbalanced sounds in the existing sounds. In a second step he designed a " morphology of the sound object" divided into seven criteria (mass, harmonic timbre, grain, allure, dynamics, melodic profile, mass profile) on the one hand as an orientation for the compositional work and on the other hand as a tool for analysis .

Musical works (selection)

  • La coquille a planetes, 1943/44, INA, ADES, manuscript and 4 CDs.
  • Symphonie pour un homme seul , 1949–1950, (in collaboration with Pierre Henry )
  • Bidule en ut , 1950
  • Orphée 53 (in collaboration with Pierre Henry)
  • Solfège de l'objet sonore , 1967
  • Bilude , 1979


  • Œuvres de Pierre Schaeffer Prospective du XXIe siècle and Classique du XXe siècle , Philips, 1970
  • L'oeuvre musicale , in 3 CDs, 1998/2005, INA.


  • Pierre Schaeffer . In: INA-GRM (Ed.): Portraits Polychromes . tape 13 . Paris 2008.
  • Hermann Danuser: The Music of the 20th Century . In: Carl Dahlhaus (ed.): New handbook of musicology . tape 7 . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1984, p. 315-317 .
  • Pierre Schaeffer: Traité des objets musicaux-Essai Interdisciplines . Seuil, Paris 2002.
  • Christoph von Blumröder : The electroacoustic music. A compositional revolution and its consequences (= signals from Cologne. Contributions to the music of the time. Volume 22). Vienna 2017, ISBN 978-3-85450-422-1 .

Web links

Commons : Pierre Schaeffer  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. The Music in Past and Present, Person Part Volume 14, p. 1166
  2. ^ Baumgärtel, Tilman: grinding. On the history and aesthetics of the loop . Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-86599-271-0 , p. 53 - 88 .
  3. MusikTexte , 4/1995, p. 50
  4. Pierre Schaeffer: Note on the "time-dependent interactions". In: Gravesaner leaves . Issue 17, 1960.