jump to navigation

Greek Composer and Architect Iannis Xenakis January 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Music Life Classical.

Iannis Xenakis is the only composer of any note whose name begins with the letter X. Not surprisingly, he is Greek, though born in Romania. Xenakis’s life is unbelievably fascinating.

Trained in mathematics and architecture, Xenakis dropped everything to join the Greek Resistance and fight against the Nazis during the Second World War. It is very unusual for a 20th century composer to fight against Nazis, because composers generally try to stay out of the line of fire and wait for things to blow over, but also because some composers were themselves Nazis.

Xenakis fled Greece in 1947, under threat of execution by the appalling people who were running the country. Xenakis is the only serial music composer ever sentenced to death by a junta, though this is probably because there are not that many composers working in that idiom, not because the junta members are running low on writs of execution.

Coming late to music, Xenakis studied under the great composer and theorist Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen, who often used bird sounds in his compositions, is one of the few brazenly innovative composers of the 20th century whose works are still performed. For a while (the late 60s, the early 70s) this was also true of Xenakis, whose short, somewhat brutish compositions were known to turn up on programs in otherwise strait-laced communities like Philadelphia.

This was largely because the pieces were so short that conductors could put them on the program in a cunning ploy to establish their bona fides as cutting-edge innovators, but still get the entire performance wrapped up while the audience was out having a smoke or visiting the loo or telephoning the nursing home to ask what time the jitney was coming back to pick them up. Then the conductor and the orchestra could get back to the really serious task of playing Tchaikovky’s Piano Concerto or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

For many years, Xenakis worked with the famous architect LeCorbusier, only writing music on the side. LeCorbusier did not like musicians, but apparently made an exception in this case. Xenakis’s work is a complex fusion of serial music and the music of chance, fused with many, many mathematical concepts. It is music that is much more fun to talk about than to listen to, though Xenakis himself did not like talking about it.

Xenakis loved to give his compositions titles like Metastasis, Terretektorh and Nomos Gamma and was fond of pieces that required scattering an entire orchestra throughout the audience to keep everyone on their toes. He died in 2001 and is sorely missed.

Ianis Xenakis Death Reaction > 04/02/2001 
Noted composer and architect Ianis Xenakis died on Sunday at the age of 78 in Paris, his adopted hometown for several decades, following a long illness.

Born into a wealthy Greek family of Romania, Xenakis fought with the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Greece (1941-44), losing an eye during battle. He was expelled from Greece in 1947 for his political views at the height of the Greek Civil War and sought refuge in France, becoming a naturalised French citizen in 1965.

In a brief statement on Sunday, Greek Culture Minister praised Xenakis’ work, saying,”Ianis Xenakis represents with his work one of the most advanced chapters in the history of music”. “Xenakis identified himself with modernity and research, that is, with two basic components of cultural creation. His talent, his profound and multi-faceted culture and his cosmopolitan spirit fascinated and will fascinate people. His death is a great loss but in no way does it signal the end of a work which has been and will always be ‘open’,” the minister said in a statement.

Xenakis developed a new composing technique using computers, based on the mathematical probability of the recurrence of notes and rhymes.

%d bloggers like this: