Xenakis, Yannis

Xenakis, Yannis or Iannis

(yän`ĭs zānä`kĭs), 1922–2001, Greek-French composer, b. Brăila, Romania. Xenakis studied civil engineering in Athens (1940–47) and was active in the anti-Nazi resistance. He fled Greece when he was sentenced to death by the postwar royalist government and worked as an architect in Paris (1947–59) with Le CorbusierLe Corbusier
, pseud. of Charles Édouard Jeanneret
, 1887–1965, French architect, b. La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Often known simply as "Corbu," he was one of the most influential architects of the 20th cent.
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. He was also a composition pupil of Arthur HoneggerHonegger, Arthur
, 1892–1955, Swiss-French composer, studied at the conservatories of Zürich and Paris. One of the group of Parisian composers called Les Six, he wrote music ranging from satire to intensely religious works that are marked by incisive rhythms and sharp
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, Darius MilhaudMilhaud, Darius
, 1892–1974, French composer. Milhaud studied at the Paris Conservatory. In Brazil (1917–19) as an aide to Paul Claudel, poet and French minister to Brazil, he became acquainted with Brazilian folk music.
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, and Olivier MessiaenMessiaen, Olivier
, 1908–92, French composer and organist, b. Avignon. Messiaen was a pupil of Paul Dukas at the Paris Conservatory. He became organist of La Trinité, Paris, in 1931 and taught at the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique
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. He returned to Greece after the fall of the junta (1974). Xenakis used both Greek folk elements and twelve-tone technique in his music. He also developed a "probabilistic" technique of composition, based on the mathematical probability of the recurrence of notes and rhythms. Despite its highly intellectual theoretical basis, his extremely original music has been described as raw and wild. He also developed "polytopes," multimedia events combining electronic sound, performance, light, and his own temporary architectural constructions. His compositions include Métastasis (1953–54) for orchestra, Pithoprakta (1955–56) for strings, and Achorripsis (1958) for 21 instruments. In 1958, Xenakis collaborated with Edgar VarèseVarèse, Edgard
, 1883–1965, French-American composer. In Paris he first studied mathematics and science but became more interested in music. He then studied composition with Roussel and D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum and with Widor at the Conservatory.
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 on the Poème Electronique. His later compositions often include electronic sound, as in Bohor (1962) and Polytope de Cluny (1972), or virtuoso percussion, as in Psappha (1975), the complex string quartet Tetras (1983), Rebonds (1988), and his last piece, O—Mega (1997). He was a founder of the Centre d'Etudes Mathématiques et Automatiques in Paris and of the Center for Mathematical and Automated Music at Indiana Univ. Xenakis wrote several treatises explaining his various theories, e.g., Formalized Music (1971, tr. 1972, repr. 2001).


See interviews by M. Bois (1967, repr. 1980) and B. A. Varga (1996); J. Harley, Xenakis: His Life in Music (2004), I. Hewett, Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary (2010), and S. Kanach, ed., Performing Xenakis (2010).