One of the towering figures of the American avantgarde,
Frederic Rzewski (born in 1938 in Massachussetts), educated at Harvard
(1958) and Princeton (1960), studied in Roma (1960) and Berlin.
In Rome, he formed Musica Elettronica Viva with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum, the improvising collective that performed his
monumental Spacecraft (1967).
His own work focused on choreographing agit-prop texts
(Coming Together, 1972; Attica, 1972)
and free improvisations
(Free Soup, 1968; Sound Pool, 1969).
His aesthetics, influenced by John Cage and David Tudor, that bridges
compositional indeterminacy and jazz improvisation, expressed itself also in
Les Moutons de Panurge (1968) for any number of melodic instruments,
the monumental piano variations of The People United Will Never Be Defeated (1975), inspired by Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, which almost sounds like a stochastic exercise on a touching Chilean theme,
Moonrise with Memories (1978) for bass trombone and any six soprano-range instruments,
and the four evocative North American Ballads (1979) for piano, melodic fantasias inspired by protest songs (including Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues and Down by the Riverside),
Antigone-Legend (1982), a Brecht poem set to twelve-tone music (voice and piano).
Ballet pieces included What Is Freedom (1974) and Song And Dance (1977).
No Place To Go But Around (Finnadar, 1976) documents his early solo-piano compositions: Variations on "No place to go but around", P-JOS..4K-D, and the three-movement Third Sonata.
In 1978 Rzewski played with the Laboratorio della Quercia, a large Italian-based ensemble documented on Laboratorio Della Quercia.
Rzewski later turned to more conventional compositions:
Le Silence des Espaces Infinis (1980) for female choir, any solo instrument, seven orchestras and electronics;
The Price of Oil (1980) for two vocal ensembles, eight amplified pipe ensembles and any two similar ensembles;
Rzewski even turned to large-scale works with
the theater piece The Persians (1985),
the oratorio The Triumph of Death (1988),
the Scratch Symphony (1997).
Music for solo piano included
The Turtle and the Crane (1988),
Mayn Yingele (1988),
Sonata (1991), which closes with a geometric set of variations on the
L'Homme Arme' theme,
the virtuosistic De Profundis (1992), in which the pianist must also hum, whistle and beat the instrument,
the colossal, seven-hour The Road (the first four parts were ready in 1996, the fifth premiered in 2002, the seventh also in 2002 being a summation of all possible piano techniques, including noises made while playing), which stands as Rzewski's Well-Tempered Clavier (again, the pianist is also in charge of whistling and making assorted mouth noises),
In addition, Rzewski also took on composing chamber works for complex ensembles:
Whangdoodles (1990) for violin, hammered dulcimer, piano and mallet instruments ad libitum;
Family Scenes (1995) for flute, three saxophones, French horn, three trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, piano and double bass;
Trio (1998) for violin, cello and piano;
When the Wind Blows (1996) and
Cradle Rock (1999), both scored for flute, three saxophones, flugelhorn, trombone, guitar, piano, double bass;
Pocket Symphony (2000) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion.
Piano Works: 1975-1999 (Nonesuch, 2002) is a seven-disc anthology.
Like The People United, Bring Them Home too consists of
a set of variations on a theme: a 17th-century Irish anti-war song (Siuil A Run). It was recorded by Toca Loca and released on their album Shed (2010).
Symphony No 106 (may 2016) documents a reunion of Musica Elettronica Viva's founders Frederic Rzewski (piano and vocals), Richard Teitelbaum (keyboards and computer) and Alvin Curran (keyboards, computer and shofar).
Frederic Rzewski died in 2021.
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