Xenakis ~ Composer ABCs

Scientific approaches to music do not tend to lend themselves to the comment of enjoyable or interesting but it certainly can be labeled interesting. This is the case with today’s composer – Iannis Xenakis. This 20th century composer has an architectural background and thus this influence on his music is very specific.

Xenakis was born in Eastern Europe to Greek parents. After his mother died (he was 5), he had a difficult childhood, resulting in being sent to Greece to attend boarding school. At this school, he participated in the choir and studied many composers. Learning notation and solfege (do, re mi, etc) was also included in his music education at this school. He moved to Athens and began university studies in 1938 but the ensuing wars cut his studies short. (The Greco-Italian War, WWI, and a civil war all took place within the next decade.) He became involved with a communist group, fighting street battles, and was severely injured, losing sight in one eye. He was sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to 10 year and then finally, fully lifted in 1974 after yet another group took over leadership of the country.

In 1947, Xenakis fled to Paris illegally and remained there, eventually becoming a French citizen. When he reached Paris, he sought employment in an architecture agency. He was a talented architect and quickly rose from apprentice to working side-by-side with the owner of the agency, Le Corbusier. He designed many well-known buildings. This background bled into his music and composition.

He sought to learn many times and from many people but found it difficult to get instruction. He had quite unique ideas about music and finally found some encouragement from Messiaen. Xenakis’ music was methodical, mathematical, and rhythmic. It is considered minimalistic and I personally find it difficult to listen to. But, it is truly a scientific form of music as he applied formulas to composition to create some of his works.

One of his most recognized pieces is Anastenaria (1953–54): a triptych for choir and orchestra based on an ancient Dionysian ritual. The third part of the triptych, Metastaseis, is generally regarded as the composer’s first mature piece. It is often performed as a stand-alone piece.

Serialism in music, the use of musique concrète, or utilizing recorded sounds as raw musical material, applying mathematical formulae to composition, electronic music – these are all advanced 20th century composition techniques that Xenakis excelled at.

Lori, At Home.

Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson
B – Bernstein, Bizet, Bax
C – Copland
D – Debussy and de Meij
E – Elgar
F – Fauré
G – Grainger and Ginastera
H – Holst
I – Ives
J – Joplin and Janacek
K – Kern
L – Liszt
M – Mussorgsky
N – Nelson
O – Offenbach
P – Palestrina and Prokofiev
Q – Quilter
R – Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Ravel
S – Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Still, Smetana, Sibelius
T – Tavener & Tchaikovsky
U – Ustvolskaya
V – Vaughan Williams and Villa-Lobos
W – Whitacre & Willson

Featured Last Week for the Letter W:
– Every Bed of Roses chatted about Writing Cursive
– Our Homeschool Notebook showed a lego World
– Homeschooling Highway included a set of Homeschooling Tips: W

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7 thoughts on “Xenakis ~ Composer ABCs

  1. Ellen October 4, 2021 at 10:23 am Reply

    Interesting life story and interesting style. Not one of my favorites either. It seems dark, certainly not uplifting. But, I’ve never heard of this composer before, so thank you for the introduction!

    • 3gigglygirlsathome October 4, 2021 at 1:31 pm Reply

      Even when I don’t care for the music, I find it interesting to learn about new composers.

  2. Yoshimatsu ~ Composer ABCs | At Home October 5, 2021 at 5:51 pm Reply

    […] Composer ABCs in this series:A – Leroy AndersonB – Bernstein, Bizet, BaxC – CoplandD – Debussy and de MeijE – ElgarF – FauréG – Grainger and GinasteraH – HolstI – IvesJ – Joplin and JanacekK – KernL – LisztM – MussorgskyN – NelsonO – OffenbachP – Palestrina and ProkofievQ – QuilterR – Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, RavelS – Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Still, Smetana, SibeliusT – Tavener & TchaikovskyU – UstvolskayaV – Vaughan Williams and Villa-LobosW – Whitacre & WillsonX – Xenakis […]

  3. Annette Vellenga (@athomepets) October 13, 2021 at 1:41 pm Reply

    this composer didn’t work for me at all. I started listening and then felt ick inside so simply stopped. Different style than the others you’ve done.

    • 3gigglygirlsathome October 13, 2021 at 1:44 pm Reply

      I totally understand that. He is not my favorite, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is good to be exposed to new things, even if just to remind yourself why you don’t care too much for something.

  4. […] by Chareen at Every Bed of RosesX if for FluXX: ABC Games by Desiree at Our Homeschool NotebookXenakis: Composer ABC’s by Lori at At Home: Where Life […]

  5. Zimmer ~ Composer ABCs | At Home October 15, 2021 at 11:59 am Reply

    […] – UstvolskayaV – Vaughan Williams and Villa-LobosW – Whitacre & WillsonX – XenakisY – […]

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