Although pianist Alain Planès has demonstrated a natural affinity for the French repertory, with an especially fine sense for the music of Debussy, Satie, and Chabrier, he has more often been associated with the works of Schubert and Haydn, two composers he has devoted much time to both in the concert hall and recording studio. His vast repertory also includes the outputs of Chopin and Scarlatti, and he is a champion of compositions by Boulez, Berio, Ligeti, and Stockhausen. Planès has made numerous recordings, mostly for the Harmonia Mundi label.
Planès was born in Lyon, France, on January 20, 1948. At age five, he began playing the piano, and at eight, he appeared in concert with an orchestra. Young Alain inherited his mother's love for the arts, divulging not only a prodigious keyboard talent but an affinity for poetry and painting. At 12, he won first prize in a competition at the Lyon Conservatory, then enrolled at the Paris Conservatory shortly afterward for studies with Jacques Février. Planès engaged in further music study in the U.S. at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, where his most important teachers were Menahem Pressler, Franco Gulli, William Primrose, and György Sebök. Planès soon became a regular partner in chamber concerts of cello virtuoso Janos Starker.
After his return to France, Planès served for a time as the pianist for Pierre Boulez's Ensemble InterContemporain. In 1981, he left this post to launch his international career as a soloist and chamber player. Throughout the 1980s, he built his reputation on a mixture of solo and chamber appearances, and soon his recordings began to draw notice as well. His initial effort for Harmonia Mundi was the 1991 collaboration with cellist Lluís Claret in cello sonatas by Chopin and Richard Strauss. A string of other recordings followed, including an eight-disc series of Schubert sonatas and solo works, as well as a substantial series of keyboard sonatas by Haydn.
In the new century, Planès remained busy as a soloist and chamber player, appearing with the leading orchestras and at many festivals, including the Marlboro, Aix-en-Provence, and Montreux. Among his recordings are a 2006 release of Debussy's Children's Corner Suite, and Chopin chez Pleyel, on a period instrument. Planès was the subject of the 2016 documentary Alain Planès, l'Infini Turbulent, by Dominique Lemonnier. In 2020, Planès was heard on a Harmonia Mundi album of Liszt's transcriptions for piano of Beethoven's symphonies.