Elizabeth Jolas (born 5 August 1926) is a Franco-American composer.

Elizabeth Jolas
Betsy Jolas in 2006
Born5 August 1926 (1926-08-05) (age 97)



Jolas was born in Paris in 1926. Her mother, the American translator Maria McDonald, also studied singing. Together with Betsy's father, the poet and journalist Eugene Jolas, she founded and edited the magazine transition,[1][2] which published over ten years most of the great names of the interwar period.

Her family settled in the United States in late 1940. While completing her general studies in New York, then specializing in music at Bennington College, she joined the Dessoff Choirs, thus discovering notably Renaissance music which was to have a lasting influence on her work.[3]

After graduating from Bennington College, Jolas returned to Paris in 1946 to continue her studies at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique, notably with Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. From 1971 to 1974 she served as Messiaen's assistant at the Conservatoire and was appointed herself to the faculty in 1975. She has since then also taught in the United States, at Yale, Harvard, Mills College (D. Milhaud chair), the University of California (campuses at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego), Tanglewood, and the University of Michigan.[4]

Jolas is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1983) and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1995).[4]

Her numerous works (she has been composing steadily since 1945) are written for a great variety of combinations and have been widely performed internationally by artists such as Kent Nagano, Anssi Karttunen, Claude Delangle, William Christie, Håkan Hardenberger, Antoine Tamestit, Nicolas Hodges, and Sir Simon Rattle, and leading ensembles and orchestras including the Ensemble intercontemporain, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Among Jolas's notable students is the composer Robert Carl.[5]



Descriptions of Jolas’s individual style note her early experience of 16th-century polyphonic vocal music of Western Europe (in particular, the works of Orlando di Lasso), continual exploration of vocality encompassing both vocal and instrumental works, and pursuit of a flexible but steady flow free from the conventional stresses of metric pulse.[3][6][7] Though drawn to some aesthetic aspects of the serialism of close contemporary Pierre Boulez and others, Jolas has steadfastly remained an independent figure who never adopted serial technique.[3][7]

Personal life


Jolas married the physician Gabriel Illouz in 1949; the pair had three children. She retains dual U.S./French citizenship.[8]

List of major works



  • Le Pavillon au Bord de la Rivière (1975), chamber opera in 4 acts
  • Schliemann (1982–83), opera in 3 acts
  • Le Cyclope (1986), chamber opera in 1 act


  • D'un opéra de voyage (1967) for chamber orchestra
  • Quatre Plages (1967) for string orchestra
  • Well Met (1973) for string orchestra
  • Tales of a summer sea (1977) for orchestra
  • Cinq pièces pour Boulogne (1982)
  • B Day (2006) for symphony orchestra
  • A Little Summer Suite (2015)
  • Les Belles Années (The Good Years) (2023) (World premiere 14 June 2023, LSO, Barbican, London, as a gift to Sir Simon Rattle on elevation to Conductor Emeritus of the LSO)

Solo works with orchestra or ensemble

  • Points D'Aube (1968) for viola and ensemble
  • Musique d'hiver (1971) for organ and small orchestra
  • Trois Rencontres (1973) for solo string trio and symphony orchestra
  • Stances (1978) for piano and orchestra
  • Histoires vraies (2015) double concerto for trumpet and piano
  • Side Roads (2017) for cello and string orchestra
  • b Tunes for Nicolas (2021) piano concerto for Nicolas Hodges and BBC Symphony Orchestra[11]

Works for large ensemble

  • Figures (1965) for 9 instruments
  • J.D.E. (1966) for 14 musicians
  • D'un opéra de poupée en sept musiques (1982) for 11 instruments
  • Préludes, Fanfares, Interludes, Sonneries (1983) for wind band
  • Sonate à 8 (1998) for cello octet

Chamber music

  • Quartet Nos. 1–6 (1956–1997)
  • O Wall (1976) for wind quintet
  • Quatuor VII (Afterthoughts) (2018) for trumpet, violin, viola and cello
  • Episode No. 1–9 (1964–1990) for various solo instruments
  • B for Sonata (1973) for piano
  • Musique de jour (1976) for organ
  • Signets, hommage à Maurice Ravel (1987) for piano
  • Femme le soir (2018) for cello and piano


  • Mass (1945) for choir, soloists and orchestra
  • Motet I–IV (1947–2002) for various voices, chorus, orchestra, ensemble
  • Enfantillages (1956) for women's or children's choir in 3 equal voices
  • L'oeil égaré dans les plis de l'obéissance au vent, cantate radiophonique (1961) for soprano, contralto, baritone, mixed choir and orchestra
  • Dans la chaleur vacante, cantate radiophonique (1963) for choir and orchestra
  • Autres enfantillages (2000) for children's or women's choir with clarinet ad libitum


  • Mots (1963) for soprano and ensemble
  • Quartet No. 2 (1964) for soprano and string trio
  • Liring Ballade (1980) for baritone and orchestra
  • Sigrancia-Ballade (1995) for baritone and orchestra
  • L'Ascension du Mont Ventoux (2004) for soprano, narrator, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and harp


  • Officier de la Légion d'honneur (2006)
  • Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros pour l'ensemble de son œuvre (2015)
  • Officier de l'Ordre du Mérite (2003)
  • Berlin Prize (2000)
  • Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (1985)
  • Prix International Maurice Ravel (1992)
  • Grand prix de la SACEM (1982)
  • Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris (1981)
  • Prix National de la Musique (1974)
  • Koussevitzky Prize (1974)
  • Copley Foundation award (1954)


  1. ^ McDowell, Edwin (7 March 1987). "Maria Jolas, 94, A translator and Paris Magazine Founder". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Eugene and Maria Jolas Papers, GEN MSS 108". General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  3. ^ a b c Jeremy Thurlow, "Jolas, Betsy", Grove Music Online, accessed 24 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b ""Berlin Prize Fellow – Class of Fall 2000", American Academy in Berlin
  5. ^ Biography, Robert Carl
  6. ^ "Jolas Betsy". Centre de documentation de la musique contemporaine. 17 February 2010.
  7. ^ a b Ramaut, Alban. "Betsy Jolas : œuvre". IRCAM.
  8. ^ "Betsy Jolas Papers, MSS 106". Gilmore Music Library. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  9. ^ "Betsy Jolas (biography, works, resources)" (in French and English). IRCAM.
  10. ^ "Music Sales"
  11. ^ "BBC Proms 2022: Premieres and performances". Wise Music Classical. 26 April 2022. Retrieved 8 July 2022.


  • J. Briscoe: "Betsy Jolas: Plupart du Temps II", Contemporary Anthology of Music by Women (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1997)
  • J. Briscoe (2011/2012) "Jolas, Betsy". Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed. 2012. Oxford Music Online.
  • D. Henahan: "Betsy Jolas Winning Recognition in the USA", The New York Times (30 August 1976)
  • B. Jolas: Molto espressivo (Paris, 1999) [collected writings]
  • V. Perlis: "Recordings in Review: Betsy Jolas", The Yale Review (1995), 179–185
  • B. Serrou: "Betsy Jolas. D'un opéra de voyage". Foreword by Henri Dutilleux, Edition Cig'art, 2001.