Olivier Greif


After studying the piano and composition in the Paris Conservatory, my brother Olivier went to New York City in 1969 and 1970 to hone his skills with Luciano Berio, who taught composition at Juilliard School. He became his student, then his assistant.
Back in France, Olivier composed a few well-received works, which are still played and recorded today.
Unhinged by the illness and death of his mother (in 1978), he found solace in meditation and the teachings of a New York-based Indian guru. After composing a “Requiem sonata” celebrating the memory of his mother and a small opera, “Nô”, he stopped writing classical music altogether during ten years or so. He became his guru’s composer-in-residence. He founded choirs of disciples in France and other European countries, wrote pieces for the choirs based on his guru’s words and tunes, went on tour with the French choir around the world, taught meditation, opened a bookstore where he sold “spiritual” books and records as well as incense and such stuff.
Around 1990, he felt like composing classical music again. Several of his new works evoked the Holocaust. We often talked about it, since the same theme ran through the novels I was beginning to write. He had gone to India and America as if he could find answers there to the big unanswerable questions. He might as well have stayed at home and meditated on the mysteries of the human condition and God’s unsettling silence by staring at the blue number etched on his father’s arm.
He had always liked to compose music for singers. He wrote a wonderful cycle of songs on poems by John Donne, George Herbert and other metaphysical poets. In 1996, he discovered a poet who brought him closer to Auschwitz: Paul Celan. He put his poems to music in his Symphony with voice (1997) and in a great chamber music work, “L’office des naufragés” (1998).
He neglected the disciples’ choirs, the meditation center and the bookstore, not only because he worked at his music, but also because he was seriously ill twice. In 1998, he divorced from his guru.

He died suddenly on May 13, 2000, aged fifty. The autopsy didn’t reveal the cause of his death.
Michel (my other brother) and I, with the help of Olivier’s closest friends, founded an Olivier Greif society to publish, play and record his music. The society has eighty members or so today. Michel and I have given over the music rights to the society. Adding the rights to the members’ dues and a few subventions, we can finance concerst, recordings, the editing of scores, etc.
We have also created a web site (see below). It includes a list of current concerts, a complete list of concers since 1957, a biography, a detailed catalog of the music, a list of records,photographs, a form for joining the society.
To see the web site (in a new window): http://www.oliviergreif.com