Born in Westfield, Massachusetts in 1938, Frederic Rzewski studied music at 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. Rzewski's early friendship with Christian Wolff and David Behrman, and (through Wolff) 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, an esthetic which was shared with other experimental groups of the same period (e.g. the Living Theatre and the Scratch Orchestra).
The experience of MEV can be felt in Rzewski's compositions of the late sixties and early seventies, which combine elements derived equally from the worlds of written and improvised music (Les Moutons de Panurge, Coming Together). 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 (Le Silence des Espaces Infinis, The Price of Oil), while much of the work of the eighties explores new ways of using twelve-tone technique (Antigone-Legend, The Persians). A freer, more spontaneous approach to writing can be found in more recent work (Whangdoodles, Sonata). Rzewski's 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).
Rzewski has recorded The People United; North American Ballads, and Squares; and the Sonata and De Profundis on hat ART records (CD 6066, 6089, & 6134); Four Pieces on Vanguard; and Bumps, Andante con Moto, and The Turtle and the Crane for Newport Classic. The People United has also been recorded by Ursula Oppens (Vanguard), Stephen Drury (New Albion), and Yuji Takahashi, and the Ballads by Paul Jacobs on Nonesuch. Song and Dance is recorded on Nonesuch, Coming Together on both Hungaroton and Opus One, and Antigone on CRI. Mayn Yingele is recorded by Oppens for Music & Arts. Wails, Spots, and Crusoe are recorded by the Zeitgeist group for 00 Records.
Since 1977 Rzewski has been Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liege, Belgium. He has also taught at the Yale School of Music, the University of Cincinnati, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California at San Diego, Mills College, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, the Hochschule der Kuenste in Berlin, and the Hochschule fuer Musik in Karlsruhe.
© New Albion Records | 22 Friendship St., Tivoli NY 12583 |