Like so many French composers of the latter third of the twentieth century, Gérard Grisey began more or less as an academic-style twelve-tone composer but found, as he moved through his twenties, that only a complete change of musical scenery -- a break from the ways of serialism and the embrace of what was to him a more instinctive approach -- would enable him to achieve his goals as a musician. The result of his new path was a kind of music-making that eventually became widely known as "musique spectrale," an exploration into the fundamentals of pitch, harmony, and musical time that exerted a heavy influence on the next generation of composers (French ones in particular); but the father of this new musical syntax was one of the first to have to abandon it -- Grisey died of an aneurysm in 1998, aged just 52.
Born in Belfort, in 1946, Grisey studied at several eminent French and German institutions: Trossingen Conservatory, the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, l'École Normale Supérieure de Musique, the Paris Conservatoire, IRCAM, and the Darmstadt Summer Courses, all at various times between 1963 and 1974. While working as a freelance composer, Grisey co-founded the ensemble L'Itinéraire for the purpose of promoting and playing new music. From the mid-1970s on, he was active as a teacher as well, first at the Darmstadt Summer Courses (1976 - 1982), then on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley (1982 - 1985), and finally at the Paris Conservatoire (from 1987 until his death).
According to contemporary scholarship, Grisey's most significant music is concerned, is contained in a large multi-piece cycle called Les espaces acoustiques (1974 - 1985). Although the components this work were composed separately for diverse ensembles and can be played independently of one another, the music is meant be performed in its entirety. Throughout Les espaces acoustiques Grisey inserts tonal elements (harmonies, gestures) into an essentially atonal atmosphere, and by virtue of carefully planned repetition, allows the raw sonic substances involved to develop on terms that seem as much theirs as his.