Born in 1925 in Bucharest, Marius Constant was precociously musical, to the point of winning the Enesco Prize at the age of twenty. Thanks to a bursary from the French government, he went to France in 1946 to complete his training, first at the Paris Conservatory with Olivier Messiaen and Tony Aubin, and then privately with Nadia Boulanger and Arthur Honegger.
He had a long career with Radio France: between 1952 and 1954 he worked in the Musique Concrète Studio; in 1954, he co-founded the radio station France Musique, which he directed until 1966; finally, in 1963, he created then directed the instrumental ensemble Ars Nova, the public equivalent of the Domaine Musical in other creative æsthetics.
At the heart of Marius Constant’s creativity lay an almost visceral preoccupation with stage music – opera and ballet, in which the composer raised to exceptional heights an aptitude for being at one with the ensemble of his performers, both musicians and dancers. His stage works are multifarious, as can be seen from the variety of librettists and literary sources: Jean Tardieu, Pierre Bourgeade (based on the Marquis de Sade) or a medieval play, not forgetting his reformulation, thanks to Peter Brook, of two operas that made their mark on him as a youth: Carmen (La Tragédie de Carmen, in 1981) and Pelléas et Mélisande (Impressions de Pelléas, in 1992). As for his dance music, this resulted from his responsibilities as dance music director for Roland Petit and his Ballets de Paris (from 1958) and later for the Paris Opera (between 1973 and 1978). A further crucial aspect of Constant’s art lies in his orchestral output, where he demonstrates a knowledge that has led to his recognition as a master of tone-colour.
He taught orchestration and instrumentation at the Paris Conservatory from 1978 to 1988, as well as composition in various American and European institutions. In his chamber music, his flair for the dramatic takes on a narrative structure, percussion and vigorous rhythmic writing being preponderant here. Until his last breath in May 2004 Marius Constant always acted with a sense of “honest curiosity”. Preferring risk to boredom, his experiments were multiple: mixed electro-acoustics, music with tape, paradoxical nomenclatures, instruments foreign to classical music (electric guitar, accordion, barrel organ), jazz, sound spatialisation and aleatory writing. All these talents and activities led in 1993 to him being elected to the French Institute in the place of his venerated teacher and friend, Olivier Messiaen.