Iannis Xenakis

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Updated: May 18, 2002

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On his music

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Short Biography

Iannis Xenakis was born on May 29, 1922 in Braîla (Romania) as a son of Clearchos Xenakis and Fotini Pavlou. Around the age of five, he settled, with his father, in Greece. From 1947 he started studying at the Polytechnical Institute in Athens, where he was also part of the anti-fascist and later anti-English underground movement. Because of these activities he was sentenced to death in 1947. The same year he fled to France where he started working as an architect, being an assistant of Le Corbusier. He continued working with Le Corbusier until 1960. In these years he realized a.o. the Couvent de La Tourette (1955) and the Philips Pavilion at the Expo in Brussels (1958).
His first musical studies were around 1948 with Arthur Honegger, Nadia Boulanger and Darius Milhaud. In 1949-50 he studied with Olivier Messiaen, who encouraged him to develop his musical ideas.
In 1953 he married Françoise Gargouil. In 1965 Xenakis founded the Centre d'études de Mathématiques et Automatique Musicales (CEMAMu) in Paris. Between 1967 and 1972 he was Music Professor as well as founder of the Center for Mathematical automated Music (CMAM) at the Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. From 1972 to 1989 he was Professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris and in 1975 he was Professor of Music at the City University of London.
Xenakis received many awards and titles such as the Manos Hadjidakis Prize in Athens (1963), the Nippon Academy Award (1971), Officier de l'Ordre National du Mérite in Paris (1985) etc.etc.

Iannis Xenakis died on Sunday, February 4, 2001. He is survived by his wife Françoise and his daughter Makhi.









On his music

After writing some early works in the late 1940s, Xenakis' first mature work is Metastasis. At its premiere in 1955 it caused a scandal because it did not deal with serialism, incorporating sound blocks and masses of glissandi instead. This composition is the first where Xenakis, still intuitively, uses mathematical calculations as the basic musical material.
In later works Xenakis started to introduce the probability theory, leading to his so calle Stochastic music.
But he continues searching for new roads and possibilities, resulting in compositions like Duel and Stratégies, based on game-like strategies or Evryali, a composition using aborescences, tree-like branching curves.
From early on and throughout his compositional career, Xenakis composed tape music. His first work is Diamorphoses from 1957 and his most recent composition is S.709 of 1994. In his later tape works he uses computers as well. A fine example of his tape music is Concret PH, composed in 1958 as an overture to Varèse's Poème électronique in the Philips Pavilion at the Expo in Brussels. Part of many of his large scale instrumental and electronic works is the use of light effects, slide shows and laser projections. Examples of these works are his Polytopes, Diatope and Mycènes alpha.
Even though the use of all mathematical theories, which is a method for Xenakis to avoid putting emotion in his music, it definitely is music with beauty, power and character. The brutal sound-blocks of Cendrées and Nomos Gamma, the sweeping rhythms of Psappha and Kottos and the screaming glissandi of Metastasis and Mikka S nevertheless bear emotions that grow on further listening. It definitely isn't easy music, but being a world in itself, it is extremely rewarding.







Links

Ircam - list of works with extended info on certain compositions
Cdmc - extended list of works, biography, bibliography
Classical music pages - short biography
Catharton Musicians - more links
Boosey & Hawkes - biography, list of works (in preparation)
Nice Music - biography, info on electronic works
Leonardo on-line Iannis Xenakis Bibliogrpahy - Great site with extensive biography, bibliography and discography