A French composer born in 1926 in Paris.
A pianist and choir member initiated into the music of the Renaissance, counterpoint and harmony by Paul Boepple, Betsy Jolas obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree at Bennington College (Vermont, USA) before continuing her studies with Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. In charge of programming for the radio (1955-1970), Jolas subsequently became Olivier Messiaen’s assistant (1971-1974) before succeeding him as teacher of analysis (1975) then of composition (1978-1992) at the Paris Conservatory. A teacher also in American universities, notably Yale, Harvard and Berkeley, she was elected member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences (1995).
An independent figure, Jolas has followed side-paths and experimented with many techniques.Her musical thought, fed by her experience of everyday life, constantly refers to a double line comprising her own production and the greater part of the history of music, notably Roland de Lassus, Claudio Monteverdi, Claude Debussy and Robert Schumann. Vocality is found at the heart of her whole output and gives her music declamatory and poetic expression.
Jolas composes for all instrumental and vocal formations, from soloist to chorus and the orchestra. Her works include Quatuor II for soprano and string trio, first performed by Mady Mesplé and the Trio à Cordes Français at one of the concerts of the Domaine Musical in Paris (1964); D'un opéra de voyage for 22 instruments, first performed by the ensemble du Domaine Musical conducted by Michael Gielen, at the festival of Royan (1967); Le pavillon au bord de la rivière, chamber opera first staged at the festival of Avignon (1975); Tales of a summer sea for orchestra, first performed by the Orchestra of the Berkshire Music Center conducted by Gunther Schuller in Tanglewood (1977); Épisode huitième for double bass, first performed by Joëlle Léandre at the festival Manca in Nice (1984); Schliemann, opera first staged by the Maîtrise, the Chorus and Orchestra of Lyons Opera conducted by Kent Nagano at Lyons Opera (1993); Concerto-Fantaisie "O night, oh..." for piano concertante and mixed chorus, first performed by Jay Gottlieb and the chorus Accentus conducted by Laurence Équilbey at the festival Musica in Strasburg (2001); Ravery, pour Pierre en ce jour for cello, first performed by Marc Coppey at the Cité de la Musique in Paris (2015); Musique d'autres jours for cello and organ, first performed by Sonia Wieder-Atherton and Bernard Foccroulle at the festival Présences of Radio France (2020).
Her career has been marked by numerous prizes and distinctions: these include the Prix de l’ORTF (1961), the Grand Prix National de la Musique (1974), the Grand Prix of the Sacem (1982), and the Prix du Président de la République of the Académie Charles Cros for her music as a whole (2012).
In 2021 Betsy Jolas was named Composer of the Year at the Victoires de la Musique Classique.