The Iannis Xenakis Day Thread

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) was a Greek-French architect, composer, musical theorist, and engineer.

His studies cut short by the Italian invasion of Greece in 1940, and the German invasion the following year, Xenakis joined the Greek People’s Liberation Army, the armed wing of the leftist National Liberation Front (EAM). As the Axis occupation ended, civil war broke out between EAM and right wing forces backed by Great Britain. Xenakis suffered an almost fatal injury when he was struck in the face with shrapnel from a British tank, being blinded in his left eye.

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Xenakis finished his studies in civil engineering in 1947, and was almost immediately targeted for arrest because of his association with EAM. He fled to France with the help of his father. The Greek government sentenced him, in absentia, to death. He was not able to return to Greece until the fall of the right wing Colonels’ junta in 1974.

In Paris, Xenakis, an undocumented immigrant, got a job as an engineering assistant in the workshop of famed architect Le Corbusier. He quickly made himself invaluable to the studio, and soon became a design collaborator with Corbu.

Between 1947 and 1959, Xenakis worked as an architect but also began studying music theory and composition. After a few false starts with other teachers, in 1951 he began to study under Olivier Messiaen, the noted French modernist composer (and ornithologist). He was joined in his classes by Karlheinz Stockhausen, another rising star in modern classical music.

Xenakis reached a new height when, in 1958, he both designed the Philips Pavilion for Expo 58 and produced a musique concrete piece to be played in the pavilion.

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Over the course of the next four decades, Xenakis would write numerous experimental musical compositions, including some works for multiple percussionists playing instruments designed by Xenakis himself.

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Now recognized as a unique talent and a leading light of the Modernist movement in classical music, Iannis Xenakis is a composer whose works are worth the challenge, both for audiences and for performers.

Have a good Monday, and be careful out there folks.