Photo © Jerome de Perlinghi

Frederic Rzewski (born Westfield, Massachusetts, 1938) studied music first with Charles Mackey of Springfield, and subsequently with Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and Milton Babbitt at Harvard and Princeton Universities. He went to Italy in 1960, where he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola and met Severino Gazzelloni, with whom he performed in a number of concerts, thus beginning a career as a performer of new piano music. His early friendship with Christian Wolff and David Behrman, and his acquaintance with John Cage and David Tudor, strongly influenced his development in both composition and performance.

In Rome in the mid-sixties, together with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum, he formed the MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) group, which quickly became known for its pioneering work in live electronics and improvisation. Bringing together both classical and jazz avant-gardists (like Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton), MEV developed an esthetic of music as a spontaneous collective process. The experience of MEV can be felt in Frederic Rzewski's compositions of the late sixties and early seventies, which combine elements derived equally from the worlds of written and improvised music.

During the seventies he experimented further with forms in which style and language are treated as structural elements; the best-known work of this period is The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, a 50-minute set of piano variations. A number of pieces for larger ensembles written between 1979 and 1981 show a return to experimental and graphic notation, while much of the work of the eighties explores new ways of using twelve-tone technique. A freer, more spontaneous approach to writing can be found in more recent work. His largest-scale work to date is The Triumph of Death (1987-8), a two-hour oratorio based on texts adapted from Peter Weiss' 1965 play Die Ermittlung (The Investigation). Since 1983, he has been Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liege, Belgium.

 

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