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Iannis Xenakis: WFIU’s Featured Contemporary Composer

WFIU's featured contemporary composer for January is Iannis Xenakis.

Xenakis

Photo: Image courtesy of Friends of Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis in 1975

WFIU’s featured composer for January is Iannis Xenakis.

Iannis Xenakis originally trained as an architect—he even worked as such at a firm in Paris for some time—but his interest in music stayed with him during the turbulent first half of the twentieth century.

Xenakis fled Greece for Paris in 1947 and attempted to study with many prominent composition teachers, including Nadia Boulanger, Arthur Honegger, and Darius Milhaud. Yet all of these teachers held the same opinion: His works could not be considered music. Xenakis finally found a supporter in Olivier Messiaen, who saw a unique set of skills in Xenakis’ background in Greek folk music, familiarity with experimental composers, and extensive knowledge of math and physics.

His first major work, Metastaseis, written for orchestra, recounted his experience with the Greek civil war and incorporated theories of Einstein and the Fibonacci sequence. By 1954, Xenakis was accepted into a group of composers dedicated to electronic and other experimental music.

As his reputation increased, his works gained a larger audience. Xenakis began to experiment further with electronic music, trying to control both sounds and notes through complex computer programs.

While interested in contemporary techniques, he was also preoccupied with ancient stories. He composed musical reinterpretations of the plays of the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: the Oresteia, Kassandra, and La déesse Athéna. He revisited his work with electronic music during his years at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he established the Center for Mathematical and Automated Music.

Xenakis wrote a great deal of theory about form in music, the most important being Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition, which was translated into English during his time at IU.

WFIU will feature the music of Iannis Xenakis throughout the month of January.

Anna Pranger

Anna Pranger moved to Bloomington in 2009 to pursue a degree in music librarianship. Before this, she worked on a degree in music history at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio. She serves as both an assistant producer for Harmonia and the Music Library Assistant for WFIU.

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