1922-2001 International Composer

Lived in Romania for 10 years, he was influenced by folk traditions and the Greek Orthodox Church. 1932, Moved to Greece, educated at a private school, introduced to art music for the first time, from Ludwig van Beethoven to Johannes Brahms. 1945, While studying mathematics and engineering at the Athens technic Institute, became secretary to the Resistance groups at the school. Was wounded in the face in a battle, lost the sight in his right eye. He was captured and condemned to death. 1947, Escaped Greece, settled in Paris. Met Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Olivier Messiaen. 1948-59, Worked with architect Le Corbusier. 1951, Attended classes at the Paris Conservatory. Took courses in analysis and musical aesthetics with Messiaen. Messiaen encouraged him to use his tools developed from mathematics in composing.

In 1954, he began experiments in stochastic music. Composed Metastasis. 1957, Received the Prize of the European Foundation for Culture. 1958, Designed the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels's Exposition. 1963, Received the Manos Hadjidakis Prize, the Grant of the Ford Foundation and the Berlin Senate. 1965, Received the Grand Prix du Disque from l'Académie du disque francais. 1966, Founded Equipe de Mathématique et d'Automatique Musicales, dedicated to research in music theory. 1966-72: Taught part time at Indiana University. Founded the Center for Musical Mathematics and Automation.

Xenakis has received many other awards throughout his career. He is also a very prolific composer and writer. Perhaps his most famous written works are his articles, "The Crisis of Serial Music", and "In Search of a Stochastic Music" and his books, Formalized Music and Sciences. Alliages, his doctoral thesis in letters and humanities.

Music and Theory:

Xenakis was one of the few European composers who was not interested serialism. Rather, he preferred formalization, that is, using a model as the basis of a composition. He used models from mathematics as models in his compositions (and buildings). He mostly used laws of probability:

  1. aleatory distribution of points on a plane (Diamorphoses).
  2. Maxwell-Boltmann law (Pithoprakta).
  3. minimal constraints (Achoripsis).
  4. Gaussian distribution (ST/1O, Atrés).
  5. Markovian chains (Analogiques).

He also used game theory (Duel, Stratégie), group theory (Nomos alpha), and set theory and Boolean algebra (Henna, Eonta).

Xenakis describes his reaction to serialism in "The Crisis of Serial Music": Linear polyphony destroys itself by its very complexity; what one hears is in reality nothing but a mass of notes in various registers. The enormous complexity prevents the audience from following the intertwining of the lines and has as its macroscopic effect an irrational and fortuitous dispersion of sounds over the whole extent of the sonic spectrum. There is consequently a contradiction between the polyphonic linear system and the heard result, which is the surface or mass. this contradiction inherent in polyphony will disappear when the independence of sounds is total. In fact, when linear combinations and their polyphonic superpositions no longer operate, what will count will be the statistical mean of isolated states and of transformations of sonic components at a given moment. The macroscopic effect can then be controlled by the mean of the movements of elements which we select. The result is the introduction of the notion of probability, which implies, in this particular case, combinatory calculus. Here, in a few words, in the possible escape route from the "linear category" in musical thought.

This leads to his development of stochastic music. Stochastic music is characterized by masses of sounds, "clouds" or "galaxies", where the number of elements is so large that behaviour of individual elements cannot be determined, but the behaviour of the whole can be. The term "stochastic" is derived from Greek, meaning stretching sistibly towards a goal. For musicians, it means that music is indeterminate in its details, yet it tends towards a definite goal.

Xenakis elaborates on stochastic music in his book, Formalized Music: But other paths also led to the same stochastic crossroads--first of all, natural events such as the collision of hail or rain with hard surfaces, or the song of cicadas in a summer field. These sonic events are made out of thousands of isolated sounds; this multitude of sounds, seen as a totality, is a new sonic event. This mass event is articulated and forms a plastic mold of time, which itself follows aleatory and stochastic laws. If one then wishes to form a large mass of paint-notes, such as string pizzicati, one must know these expression of chain of logical" reasoning. Everyone has observed the sonic phenomena of a political crowd of dozens or hundreds of thousands of people. The human river shouts a slogan in a uniform rhythm. Then another slogan springs from the head of the demonstration; it spreads towards the tail, replacing the first. A wave of transition thus passes from the head to the tall. The clamor fills the city, and the inhibiting force of voice and rhythm reaches a climax. It is an event of great power and beauty in its ferocity. Then the impact between the demonstrators and the enemy occurs. The perfect rhythm of the last slogan breaks up in a huge cluster of chaotic shouts, which also spreads to the tail. Imagine, in addition, the reports of dozens of machine guns and the whistle of bullets adding their punctuations to this total disorder. The crowd is then rapidly dispersed, and after sonic and visual hell follows a detonating calm, full of despair, dust, and death. The statistical laws of these events, separated from their political or moral context, are the same as those of the cicadas or the rain. They are the laws of the passage from the complete order to total disorder in a continuous or explosive manner. They are stochastic laws. Perhaps the most famous composition of Xenakis is his first stochastic piece, Metastasis of 1954 for a 61 player orchestra. This piece is based on the continuous displacement of the straight line. This model is represented in the music as continuous glissandi. It is also represented in the architectural design of the Philips Pavilion from the 1958 Brussels's Exposition. It that structure, there are no flat surfaces. Perhaps the best illustration of stochastic music can be seen in measures 309-17. It begins with two massed attacks on chromatic clusters, first in the lower strings, than in the upper strings. There are individual glissandi that ascend and descend, respectively, to a middle cluster centered on c# and d. Other instruments use glissandi to move back to the original outer clusters. The contraction and expansion of the register and density through continuous motion, are illustrations of stochastic laws.

Again, Xenakis provides the most eloquent explanation for his philosophy:

  1. The normal orchestra is divided in the extreme: 61 instrumentalists play 61 different parts.
  2. Systematic use of individual glissandi from the whole mass of strings of an orchestra; glissandi, the angles of which are calculated individually. These glissandi create sound spaces which continually evolve, comparable to regulated surfaces and volumes. It is precisely these glissandi which led the author, a few years later, to the idea of the architecture of the Pavilion Philips for the 1958 Brussels Exhibition, for Le Corbusier.
  3. The structures of intervals, the length of dynamics and tones are combined, using geometric progressions, particularly the golden section, ideas analogous to those applied by the author in drawing the facades of the Convent de la Tourette near Lyons.
  4. Correlation of the sound events "in rows", the first stage towards the calculation of probabilities.
  5. It was also an attempt to prove at the time that the human orchestra was capable of outclassing, in new sounds and finesse, the new electro-magnetic devices which claimed to render it obsolete.

Works (chronologically):

  • 1953-4: Metastasis, for orchestra of 61 instruments.
  • 1955-6: Pithoprakta, for orchestra of 50 instruments.
  • 1956-7: Achorripsis, for ensemble of 21 instruments.
  • 1957: Diamorphoses, 4-channel electronic tape
  • 1959: Duel, game for two orchestras, Syrmos, for 18 or 36 string instruments, Analogiques A & B, for 9 string instruments and 4-channel electronic tape.
  • 1960: Orient-Occident, 4-channel electronic tape.
  • 1960-1: Henna, for solo piano.
  • 1956-62: ST/4, for string quartet, ST/10, for 10 instruments, Morsima-Amorsima, for piano, violin, cello and double bass, Atrées, for 10 instruments, ST/48, for orchestra of 48 musicians, Strategie, game for two orchestras.
  • 1962: Polla Ta Dhina, for children's chorus and orchestra, Bohor, 8-channel electronic tape.
  • 1963-64: Eonta, for piano and 5 brass instruments.
  • 1964: Hiketides, stage music for women's chorus and instrumental ensemble, Instrumental Suite for 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and strings.
  • 1964-5: Akrata, for 16 wind instruments.
  • 1965-6: Oresteia, stage music for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra, Concert Suite for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra, Terretektorh, for orchestra of 88 instruments scattered among the audience.
  • 1966: Nomos alpha, for solo cello.
  • 1967: Polytope of Montreal, light and sound show with music for four orchestras, Nuits, for 12 mixed voices a cappella, Medea, stage music for men's chorus and instrumental ensemble.
  • 1967-8: Nomos gamma, for orchestra of 98 instruments scattered among the audience.
  • 1968-9: Kraanerg, ballet music for 4-channel tape and orchestra.
  • 1969: Anaktoria, for octet, Synaphai, for piano and orchestra, Persephassa, for 6 percussionists encircling the audience.
  • 1969-70: Hibiki-Hana-Ma, 12-channel electronic tape for sound and light show.
  • 1971: Charisma, for clarinet and cello, Aroura, for 12 string instruments or other multiple, Persepolis, light and sound show with 8-channel electronic tape, Antikthon, ballet music for orchestra, Mikka, for solo violin.
  • 1972: Linaia-Agon, for horn, tenor trombone and tuba, Polytope of Cluny, sound and light space with 7-channel electronic tape.
  • 1973: Eridanos, for 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 tubas and strings, Evryali, for solo piano, Cendrées, for mixed chorus of 72 voices and orchestra.
  • 1974: Erikthon, for piano and orchestra, Gmeeorh, for solo organ, Noomena, for large orchestra.
  • 1975: Empreintes, for orchestra, Phlegra, for 11 instruments, Psappha, for solo percussion, N'shima, for horns, 2 trombones, 2 mezzo-sopranos and cello.
  • 1975-6: Theraps, for solo double bass.
  • 1976: Khoai, for solo harpsichord, Retours-Windungen, for 12 celli, Epeï; for six wind and brass instruments, Mikka "S", for solo violin, Dmaathen, for oboe and percussion.
  • 1977: Kottos, for solo cello, Akanthos, for soprano and instrumental ensemble, The Legend of Er, 7-channel electronic tape for the Diatope, sound and light environment, A Colonne, for men's chorus, horn, trombone, double bass, Jonchaies, for large orchestra of 108 instruments.
  • 1978: Ikhoor, for string trio, Mycenae A, stereo tape realized with UPICA computer, Pleiades, for 6 percussion.
  • 1979: Palimpsest, for ensemble of 5 instruments, Anémones, for orchestra and chorus of 80, Dikthas, for violin and piano.
  • 1980: Mists, for solo piano, Ais, for baritone, solo percussion and orchestra.
  • 1981: Nekuia, for chorus and large orchestra, Serment-Orkos, for mixed chorus: text of Hippocreates, Mists, for solo piano.
  • 1982: Pour les Baleines, for large string orchestra, Pour les Paix, for mixed chorus, electronic tape and narrators.
  • 1983: Shar, for large string orchestra, Chant des Soleils, for mixed chorus, children's choir, brass, percussion, Khall Perr, for brass quintet and percussion, Tetras, for string quartet.
  • 1984: Naama, for harpsichord, Lichens, for orchestra.
  • 1985: Thallein, for orchestra.

He won the 1999 Polar Music Prize.

Related nodes:

  • 20th Century Classical Music
  • Minimalism in Literature and Music
  • OHM: The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music

    Sources: http://www.rogerreynolds.com/xenakis1.html http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/Computer-Music-Journal/Documents/Contents/html/mc-24-2.html http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/isast/spec.projects/Xenakisbib.html Last Updated 05.20.03

  • What can one add to such a write-up? With trepidation I offer a few personal details, taken from his obituary in The Independent.

    He was born in Braila, Romania, on 29 May 1922, though his birth certificate was lost in the War and some relatives have said he was born in 1921. He was the eldest of three brothers. His mother was a proficient pianist, who died when he was five. His father had a passion for opera, and took the family to Paris and Bayreuth for it.

    Living in Paris in 1950 he was invited to make a fourth for dinner, and met Françoise Gargouil. They lived together thereafter. In 1953 her employers, disapproving of their "concubinage", threatened to dismiss her, and they were married in a simple ceremony. It was a very happy marriage. They had one daughter.

    In 1992 his seventieth birthday was celebrated across the world, and his work was being performed somewhere every day of the year.

    Iannis Xenakis, Greece's greatest composer, died yesterday, 4 February 2001, in Paris.

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