Birthplace: Braila, Romania
Location of death: Paris, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Composer, Mathematician
Executive summary: Avant-garde composer
Born in Romania, Iannis Xenakis was the son of a Greek shipping merchant, raised primarily by a series of governesses after the death of his mother when he was only five. At the age of ten he was sent to a boarding school on the island of Spetsai, and he later attended the Athens Polytechnic as an engineering student, where he would first begin to develop an interest in music. His academic pursuits were interrupted by World War II and the fascist invasion of Greece, compelling him to join the underground resistance of both the German and subsequent British occupation. He sustained severe injuries and the loss of one eye during a clash with British troops in 1944, and was later imprisoned for political views. The imposition of a compulsory draft finally forced him to emigrate to France, resulting in a sentence of death being placed upon him in his absence.
After settling in Paris, Xenakis began a career in architecture, working as an assistant to Le Corbusier throughout the remainder of the 1940s and the entirety of the 1950s. Eventually he was able to continue his musical pursuits with the help of teacher and composer Olivier Messiaen, and his first work -- Metastasis, whose composition was patterened after his design for the Philips Pavilion in Brussels -- premiered in 1955 at the Donaueschingen Festival. Largely disinterested in the prevailing trends in modern music at the time, Xenakis pursued his own vision, utilizing mathematics and probability theory to create works oriented more towards sonic textures than melodic or conventional compositional development. He would later come to refer to his method of composing through the use of probabilities as Stochastic music.
As a natural extension of his methods, Xenakis began using magnetic tape (and eventually computers) to realize his compostions, begining with the piece Diamorphoses in 1957. In the 1960s he founded a number of mathematical and computer oriented music organizations, including the Centre d'études de Mathématiques et Automatique Musicales in Paris and the Center for Mathematical Automated Music at the Indiana University, as well as creating a graphic-oriented computer system for sound generation (UPIC). Amongst a number of other teaching actvities the composer would serve as a professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris between 1972 and 1989.
Xenakis remained active as a composer well into the 1990s, in the end forced to abandon his work by memory loss and persistant illness. His final composition, O-Mega, premiered at the Huddersfield Festival in 1997, and was performed by percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the London Sinfonietta.
Father: Clearchos Xenakis
Mother: Fotini Pavlou
Wife: Françoise Gargouil
University: MS Engineering, Athens Polytechnic (1947)
Kyoto Prize 1997
Missing Eye 1944
Risk Factors: Smoking
Author of books:
Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1963, music)
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