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René Leibowitz

René Leibowitz was born on 17 February 1913 in Warsaw (Poland). He studied violin from the age of five, and had begun composing by the age of eight. René Leibowitz moved during his childhood first to Berlin and in 1929 to Paris, where he made his baccalaureate. In 1936 René Leibowitz met Rudolf Kolisch and Erich Itor Kahn at a concert of the Kolisch Quartet, a far-reaching incident for his life and work. Erich Itor Kahn became the teacher of René Leibowitz and he began to study dodecaphonic compositions and also to compose in this technique. He also worked as a music editor for the journal "Esprit" where he convincingly wrote about dodecaphony and their main composers like Arnold Schönberg or Anton von Webern. In 1936 René Leibowitz met conductor and composer Paul Dessau who taught him conducting.
With the outbreak of World War II René Leibowitz fled to the region of St. Tropez, but returned to Paris in 1943 and took part of the resistance against the Nazi occupation.
Since 1945 René Leibowitz exchanged ideas with Arnold Schönberg about the twelve-tone technique, translated many of the German texts into French and promoted the understanding and development of dodecaphony through his books "Schoenberg et son école", "Introduction à la musique de douze sons" and "Qu’est-ce que la musique de douze sons?" as well as with his many articles in journals like "Esprit", "Les Temps Modernes" or "Critique". He also taught twelve-tone technique privately to students like Pierre Boulez, Vinko Globokar, Hans Werner Henze, Diego Masson or Serge Nigg and organised performances of dodecaphonic works in Paris especially in the time around 1950, for example he founded the chamber music festival "Hommage à Schoenberg". He also worked as a conductor, most famous are his recording of the complete symphonies by Beethoven and the first French performance of "Gurrelieder" by Arnold Schönberg. And finally René Leibowitz composed in twelve-tone technique, his oeuvre comprises nearly 100 opera numbers from all genres including an opera, a symphony, concertos for violin, piano, cello, chamber and vocal music.
In its entirety the work
- but in first place his writings (and not his compositions) - made him a main figure in the world wide history of dodecaphony. His book "Schoenberg et son école" (published 1947) was the first overall view on the works of Schönberg, Webern and Berg, the successors "Qu'est ce que la musique de douze sons?" (1948) and "Introduction a la Musique de douze sons" (1949) provided first analyses of Schönberg and Webern's dodecaphonic compositions. Without his fierce and passionate fight for twelve-tone music dodecaphony wouldn't had become such a successful path in 20th century classical music.

René Leibowitz died on 29 August 1972 in Paris.

In my possession are the complete documents of Rene Leibowitz from the archive of the "Edition Dynamo", the Belgian publishing house of Pierre Aelberts. Pierre Aelberts published several of Rene Leibowitz early writings. My archive contains:

1) Qu'est ce que la musique de douze sons?


On 7 May 1947 Rene Leibowitz presented a lecture and concert at the Societe de Geographie in Paris. The idea of this occasion was the following: First Rene Leibowitz conducted a performance of Anton Webern's "Concerto for nine instruments op.24" (which actually was the French premiere), he than gave a lecture with an detailed analysis of the composition, and finally the work was performed again. From this lecture Rene Leibowitz later wrote the book "Qu'est ce que la musique de douze sons? (Le concerto pour neuf instruments op. 24 d'Anton Webern)" which was published through Edition Dynamo in 1948.


In my archive are the autograph manuscripts of the introduction and all musical examples included in the book. In addition there are three typescripts of the complete book in different phases of completion. A first typescript with heavy annotations by Rene Leibowitz and two later versions with less corrections. Also included are a copy of the printed musical examples for proofreading (and small marks by Rene Leibowitz) and an advertising poster of the College Philosophique with an announcement of the concert at the Societe de Geographie on 7 May 1947.


2) Introduction a la Musique de douze sons


The book "Introduction a la Musique de douze sons - Les Variations pour orchestre op. 31 d'Arnold Schoenberg" was published in 1949 by the publishing house L'Arche in Paris. Curiously the archive of Pierre Aelberts contained the handwritten text of the introduction to this book. It is a text of 7 pages, the first part was written in Saint Tropez in May 1943, a postscriptum in October 1948.

This original version differs to the preface in the printed book in 1949.



3) Un traite inconnu de la technique de la variation


9 handwritten text pages with 1 page music paper with handwritten music examples corresponding to the text. The text was published in 1950 through the Editions Dynamo.



4) Le canon enigme


The book "Le canon enigme" was planned to be published through the Editions Dynamo. But it seems that the publication was not realised, although the text was completed by Rene Leibowitz. My archive holds a short handwritten text of 7 small pages and 49 handwritten musical examples, that should have corresponded the text. For further investigations by other scholars I have published all the documents in my possession connected to the book "Le canon enigme":


René Leibowitz and Le canon énigme


the surviving parts and documents

of the lost book

"Le canon énigme" by René Leibowitz


The ebook can be downloaded free of charge here:

PDF-Dokument [48.9 MB]

4) Andre Souris


16 pages typescript of an article titled "Andre Souris - Ou le chevalier de la table rase dans la musique contemporaine" with heavy annotations and corrections by Rene Leibowitz. The article was published in November 1950 in the journal "Critique" under the title "Le Musicien et la table rase".


5) Pour la Musicologie Vivante


Handwritten text of two pages titled "Pour la Musicologie Vivante".



6) Reviews


Handwritten text of two and a half pages titled "L'Edition Musicale" on works by Guillaume de Machaut and Anton Webern, published through the Editions Machabey.


7) correspondence


More than 100 mostly handwritten letters and postcards by Rene Leibowitz to his publisher Pierre Aelberts. Given their singular musical and historical value, I have transcribed the letters from this archive and make them available here for the first time to the general public in my ebook:


René Leibowitz to Editions Dynamo


The 114 letters of René Leibowitz

to the Editions Dynamo of Pierre Aelberts

between 1947 and 1951


The ebook can be downloaded free of charge here:

PDF-Dokument [15.6 MB]



8) contracts


Included are several contracts between Pierre Aelberts and Rene Leibowitz about different publications, which were in detail:

  • "Qu'est ce que la musique de douze sons - Le concerto pour neuf instruments op.24 d'Anton Webern", 25.03.1947
  • "Significations de l'Opera (Monteverdi - Mozart - Schoenberg)", 15.09.1947
  • "Les cinq melodies pour chant et orchestre d'Alban Berg op.4; etude critique et analyse par Rene Leibowitz", 01.07.1948
  • "Significations des musiciens contemporains", 30.03.1949
  • "Le Canon Enigme, des origines a nos jours", 30.03.1949
  • "Un traite inconnu de la technique de la variation", 30.03.1949
  • "Laudate Dominum (etude et transcription instrumentale)", 30.03.1949

9) published books


The following books - all published by Editions Dynamo - are part of my archive:


  • Qu'est-ce que la musique de douze sons?
    N0.17 of 25 of the limited edition on "Velin de Lana"
  • Anton Webern: Concerto pour neuf instruments op.24
    (the full score that accompanies the theoretical book "Qu'est-ce que la musique de douze sons?")
  • Arnold Schoenberg ou Sisyphe dans la musique contemporaine
    No.7 of 11 of the limited edition on "Madagascar"
  • Le secret de Chopin
    No.7 of 11 of the limited edition on "Madagascar"
  • Un traite inconnu de la technique de la variation (XIVe siècle)
    No.7 of 20 of the limited edition on "Madagascar"
  • Scènes de la vie musicale américaine
  • Possibilites de l'opera - Reflexions sur la musique dramatique sub una specie
    one of the 26 copies on "Grand velin d'Arches"
  • Sibelius - le plus mauvais compositeur du monde
    one of the 40 copies on "velin blanc"


10) biography


My archive also contains a handwritten biography of Rene Leibowitz which he wrote most likely in February 1947. I would like to publish the text of this autograph biography here, because details about the early days of Rene Leibowitz are in some parts dubious and a few information from this biography don't match with later facts and so are of historical interest. Here is the transcription of the autograph:


"René Leibowitz: Né à Varsovie en 1913. Habite la France depuis 1926. Séjour en Allemagne et en Autriche de 1930-33. Les premièrs oeuvres que Leibowitz considéré comme achevées datent de 1937. Ce sont:


Sonate pour piano - op.1

Dix Canons pour Hautbois, Clarinette, Basson - op.2

Quatuor à Cordes No.1 - op.3

Symphonie - op.4

Concerto pour Violon, Piano et 17 instruments - op.5

Six Melodies pour Voix de Basse et Piano - op.6

Tourist Death, Air de Concert pour Soprano and Orchestre - op.7

Quatre Pièces pour Piano - op.8 (Edition Universal, Vienne)

Six Melodies pour Soprano et Piano - op.9

Concerto de chambre pour 9 instruments - op.10 (Edition Universal, Vienne)

Quintette pour Instruments a Vent - op.11

Sonate pour Flute et Piano - op.12

Quatre Pieces pour Choeur à Capella - op.13

Variations pour Orchestre - op.14


écrites toutes dans la technique de douze sons.


Il travaille actuellement a plusieurs oeuvres: l'Explication des Métaphores (sur un poème de Raymond Queneau) pour Récitant, Quatuor à Cordes et Piano, un Opéra (sur un livret de Georges Limbour), un deuxième quatuor à cordes (dédié à la mémoire de Webern) et une Symphonie de Chambre pour 12 Instruments


Leibowitz et aussi l'auteur des ouvrages théoriques suivants:


Schoenberg et son Ecole (Ed. Janin, Paris)

Introduction à la Musique de Douze Sons (Ed. Gallimard, Paris)

Signification des Musiciens Contemporains (en préparation)


Depuis la libération Leibowitz a groupé autour de lui un grand nombre d'élèves et, ayant formé les premièrs compositeurs "dodécaphonistes" francais, il est consideré maintenant comme le chef de la jeune école de musiciens de douze sons parisiens.

Il a aussi dirigé plusieurs concerts consacrés aux oeuvres de Schoenberg et de ses disciples et tout recemment (25 et 29 Janvier) un Festival International de Musique de Chambre Contemporaine un hommage à Arnold Schoenberg, où furent jouées des oeuvres de quantité de jeunes compositeurs de divers pays. A Bruxelles le 28 Février Leibowitz dirigea un concert consacré à des oeuvres de ses élèves, de lui même et de Webern."



Interesting differences to later facts:

  • The op.9 is nowadays titled "Trois melodies", so it seems that three songs were omitted
  • There is no mention that the op.12 is splitted into a "Sonate pour violon et piano op.12a" and a "Sonate pour flute et piano op.12b"
  • The final instrumentation of "L'Explication des Metaphores" (op.15) became differingly: narrator, 2 pianos, harp and percussion
  • The String quartet No.2 (op.22) was not dedicated to Anton Webern, but to "Ellen"
  • Instead the Chamber symphony for 12 instruments (op.16) was dedicated to Anton Webern
  • The book "Introduction a la Musique de Douze Sons" was published differingly at Editions L'Arche.
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