David Schiff MM (Manhattan School of Music, 1974), DMA (Juilliard, 1979) labels him mathematician:

I would propose a different model of Boulez's career: the typical trajectory of a mathematical genius. Like many mathematicians, Boulez had his great ideas in his early twenties, when he burst onto the Parisian musical scene as a radical composer and a scathing polemicist who intended to rewrite the history of twentieth-century music to justify his own innovations.

Wikipedia doesn't specify how much math he studied.

The following year he took classes in advanced mathematics at the University of Lyon with a view to gaining admission to the École Polytechnique in Paris. His father hoped this would lead to a career in engineering.[6]

Ostensibly lacking any music degree, Damien Thompson (BA in History, Oxon. PhD in sociology of religion, LSE) wrote on 2011 Sep. 24:

I mustn’t mock, though, because after listening to his music in preparation for Exquisite Labyrinth, a Boulez festival at the Southbank Centre next weekend, I think I take him at his own estimation: i.e., he’s a genius. Alas, it’s hard to explain why in terms that he would find intellectually satisfactory. I have a CD of Boulez’s breakthrough piece, Le marteau sans maître (1955), played by his crack-shot Ensemble Intercontemporain, which comes with ‘helpful’ liner notes. Helpful if you have a degree in applied mathematics and/or linguistics, that is.


Schiff is making a comparison between Boulez's career arch and that of a mathematician, not claiming he actually was a mathematician.

  • By an amusing coincidence, I took music theory from Schiff a few years before he wrote this article, with a class that had more math than music majors--maybe that primed him to look for connections! I do question whether his characterization of the typical mathematician's career is accurate. Mar 19 '18 at 1:31
  • Also just to point out - bits of math that might be relatively moot in engineering or physics can lead to radical new ways of writing music. Babbit, Cage, and Xenakis are all great examples of mathematical (or other math-related) concepts applied to musical composition yielding ground-breaking results (according to theorists and musicologists, of course).
    – LSM07
    Mar 19 '18 at 1:46
  • @BruceFields: in mathematics, it is certainly a widespread belief that researchers produce their best work before 40. Although I do not know about the accuracy of this belief, it seems to be sufficiently close to truth not to be outright discarded. See for example this post for an inquiry to its accuracy. (The specific number '40' seems to be related to the age cut-off of the Fields medal.)
    – Remy
    Mar 19 '18 at 2:52

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