Born in Belfort, in 1963–65 he studied at the Trossingen Conservatoire in Germany before enrolling in Olivier Messiaen’s class at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris (1968–72). He graduated with honours for piano accompaniment, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and composition. During this period, he also attended Henri Dutilleux’s classes at the École Normale de Musique (1968), as well as summer schools at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena (1969) and the Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt with György Ligeti, Karheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis (1972).
He was awarded a scholarship at the Villa Médicis in Rome from 1972 to 1974, and in 1973 founded a group called L’Itinéraire with Tristan Murail, Roger Tessier, and Michaël Lévinas, later to be joined by Hugues Dufourt. His Dérives,Périodes, and Partiels were among the first works of spectral music. In 1974–75, he studied acoustics with Émile Leipp at the Paris VI University, and in 1980 became a trainee at the IRCAM. In the same year he went to Berlin as a guest of the DAAD, and afterwards le for Berkeley, where he was appointed professor of theory and composition at the University of California (1982–86). After returning to Europe, he taught composition at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris from 1987, and held numerous composition seminars in France (Centre Acanthes, Lyon, Paris) and abroad (Darmstadt, Freiburg im Br., Milan, Reggio Emilia, Oslo, Helsinki, Malmö, Gothenburg, Los Angeles, Stanford, London, Moscow, Madrid, and so forth).
Gérard Grisey died in Paris on 11 November 1998.
Selected works: Initiation for trombone, double bass and baritone (1970), D’Eau et de pierre for two instrumental groups (1972), Vagues, chemins, le souffle for clarinet and orchestra (1972), Dérives for two orchestras (1974), Périodes for seven musicians (1974), Partiels for 16 or 18 musicians (1975), Prologue for alto and live electronics (1976), Modulations for 33 musicians (1977), Sortie vers la lumière du jour for electric organ and 14 musicians (1978), Tempus ex machina for six percussionists (1979), Jour, contrejour for electric organ, 13 musicians and four-track tape (1979), Transitoiresfor large orchestra (1981), AnubisNout, two pieces for contrabass clarinet (1983, version for two saxophones, 1990), Les chants de l’amour for 12 voices and tape (1984), Épilogue for four horns and large orchestra (1985), Les Espaces acoustiques, six pieces for a growing number of performers (1974–85), Talea for violin, cello, flute, clarinet and piano (1986), Accords perdus, miniatures for two horns (1987), Le Temps et l’écume for four percussionists, two synthesizers and chamber orchestra (1989), Le Noir de l’étoile for six percussionists surrounding the audience, tape and retransmission of astronomical signals (1989–90), L’Icône paradoxale for two female voices and large orchestra in two groups (1994), Vortex temporum I–III for piano and five instruments (1995), Stèle for two percussionists (1995), Wolf Lieder, orchestration of songs by Hugo Wolf (1996), Quatre Chants pour franchir le seuil for soprano and chamber orchestra (1998).