Frederic Rzewski

Frederic Rzewski

Frederic Anthony Rzewski (born April 13 1938 in Westfield, Massachusetts) is an American composer and virtuoso pianist.


Rzewski (pronounced zheff-skee) began playing piano at age 5. He attended Harvard and Princeton, where his teachers included Randall Thompson, Roger Sessions, Walter Piston and Milton Babbitt. In 1960, he went to Italy, a trip which was formative in his future musical development. In addition to studying with Luigi Dallapiccola, he began a career as a performer of new piano music, often with an improvisatory element. A few years later he was a co-founder of Musica Elettronica Viva with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum. Musica Elettronica Viva conceived music as a collective, collaborative process, with improvisation and live electronic instruments prominently featured. In 1971 he returned to New York. ["Frederic Rzewski," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980.]

In 1977 Rzewski became Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liège, Belgium, then directed by Henri Pousseur. Occasionally he teaches for short periods at schools and universities throughout the U.S. and Europe, including Yale University, the University of Cincinnati, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California, San Diego, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and Trinity College of Music, London. (ibid)

Many of Rzewski's works are inspired by secular and socio-historical themes, show a deep political conscience and feature improvisational elements. Some of his better-known works include "The People United Will Never Be Defeated!" (36 variations on the Sergio Ortega song "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido"), a set of virtuosic piano variations written as a companion piece to Beethoven's Diabelli Variations; "Coming Together", which is a setting of letters from Sam Melville, an inmate at Attica State Prison, at the time of the famous riots there (1971); "North American Ballads"; "Night Crossing with Fisherman"; "Fougues"; "Fantasia" and "Sonata"; "The Price of Oil", and "Le Silence des Espaces Infinis", both of which use graphical notation; "Les Moutons de Panurge"; and the "Antigone-Legend", which features a principled opposition to the policies of the State, and which was premiered on the night that the United States bombed Libya in April 1986 (ibid). Between his most recent compositions, the most interesting are the two sets of "Nanosonatas" (2007) and the "Cadenza con o senza Beethoven" (2003), written on the Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto.

Nicolas Slonimsky (1993) says of him in "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians": "He is furthermore a granitically overpowering piano technician, capable of depositing huge boulders of sonoristic material across the keyboard without actually wrecking the instrument."

Catalogue of Works

STAGE: The Persians – Les Perses – Die Perser (music theatre work, libretto by the composer, after Aeschylus), 4 soloists, 5 actors, bass clarinet (+ contrabass clarinet, sopranino saxophone), trombone, double bass (+ bass guitar), piano, 2 percussion, 1985; The Triumph of Death (staged oratorio, text by Peter Weiss), 4 voices, string quartet, 1987-88

ORCHESTRAL: Nature Morte, small orchestra (winds, French horn, trumpet, harp, violin, cello, piano, organ, 5 percussion), 1964; A Long Time Man, piano, orchestra, 1979; Satyrica, guitar, double bass, piano, synthesizer, vibraphone, percussion, symphonic band, 1983; Una Breve Storia d'Estate, 3 flutes, orchestra, 1983; Scratch Symphony, 1997; Movable Types, 1999

CHAMBER MUSIC: Speculum Dianae, any 8 improvisational players, 1964; Selfportrait, any player, 1964; Prose Pieces, improvisational ensemble, 1967-68; Les Moutons de Panurge, any number of melody instruments, 1968; Last Judgment, trombone/any number of unison trombones, 1969; Second Structure, improvisational ensemble, 1972; Song and Dance, flute, bass clarinet, double bass, vibraphone, 1976; Thirteen Instrumental Studies, variable ensemble, 1972-77; Moonrise with Memories, bass trombone, ensemble (any 6 soprano-range instruments), 1978; Three Pieces, soprano saxophone, trombone, piano, 1979; Aria, flute, 1981; Pennywhistlers, recorder, 1981; Wails, bass clarinet (+ sopranino saxophone), piano, 2 percussion, 1984; Lost and Found (player also speaks), percussion, 1985; To the Earth (player also speaks), percussion, 1985; Spots, any 4 players, 1986; Don't Have it Today (player also speaks), double bass, 1986; The Lost Melody, clarinet, piano, 2 percussion, 1989; Roses, flute, clarinet, trumpet, tuba, violin, cello, accordion, percussion, 1989; Aerial Tarts, flute, clarinet/saxophone, violin, cello, piano, 2 percussion, 1990; Whangdoodles, hammer dulcimer (+ mallet instruments ad libitum), violin, piano, 1990; Shtick, clarinet/soprano saxophone, 1990

CHAMBER MUSIC: Knight, cello, 1992; Holes, any 4-8 players, 1993; Crusoe, any 4-12 players, 1993; Histories, 4 saxophones, 1993; Whimwhams, marimba, string quartet, 1993; Family Scenes, flute, 3 saxophones, French horn, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, double bass/bass guitar, piano, 1995; When the Wind Blows, flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, flügelhorn, trombone, guitar, double bass/bass guitar, piano, 1996; Spiritus, 4 recorders, percussion, 1997; ForHanns, flute, clarinet, cello, piano, 1998; Trio, violin, cello, piano, 1998; Main Drag, any 9 players, 1999; Cradle Rock, flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, flügelhorn, trombone, guitar, double bass/bass guitar, piano, 1999; Pocket Symphony, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion, 2000; 96 (canon), 5 players, 2003

CHORAL: Requiem, Part 1, speaker, male chorus, Jew's harp, piano, organ/electronic simulation, tubular bells, bull-roarer, woodblock, radio, 1963-67; Struggle Song, mixed chorus, 1973 (version by Gregory Rose of vocal work); Le silence des Espaces Infinis, female chorus, any player, 7 orchestral groups, tape, 1980; Stop the War!, mixed chorus, 1995; Stop the Testing!, mixed chorus, 1995

VOCAL: Jefferson (text by Thomas Jefferson), voice, piano, 1970; Freud, voice, 1970; Coming Together, speaker, variable ensemble, 1971; Attica, speaker, variable ensemble, 1972; Struggle Song, voice, variable ensemble, 1973 (also version by Gregory Rose for mixed chorus); The Price of Oil, 2 voices/vocal ensembles, 8 amplified pipe ensembles, any 2 similar ensembles, 1980; Snacks, voice, mixed chorus ad libitum, any ensemble ad libitum, 1981; Antigone-Legend (text by Bertolt Brecht [translated by Judith Malina] ), voice, piano, 1982; Songs, voice, piano, 1973-83; Mayakovsky, speaker, piano, string quartet, 1984; Mary's Dream, soprano, contrabass clarinet, cello, piano, percussion, 1984; Force, 2 speakers, any 1-2 wind instruments, any 1-2 plucked instruments, 1-2 noisemakers, weigher ad libitum, 1985; The Waves, speaker, variable ensemble, 1988; Tinkleberries (collection of ditties), voice, any number of players, 1980-90; The Burghers of Rostock, voice, piano, 1992; Snippets, speaker, piano, 1994; Logique (text by Paul Verlaine), voice, flute, cello, piano, 1997

PIANO: Chain of Thought, 1953;
Tabakrauch, 1954;
Preludes, 1957;
Poem, 1958;
Introduction and Sonata, 2 pianos, 1959;
Study 2 (Dreams), 1961;
Falling Music, 1971 (also version for amplified piano, tape, 1971);
No Place to Go but around, 1974;
36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!', 1975;
Four Pieces, 1977;
Squares, 1978;
North American Ballads, 1978-79 (each of its four sections may be performed separately: Dreadful Memories; Which Side are You on?; Down by the Riverside; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues; also version of Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues for 2 pianos, 1980);
A Machine, 2 pianos, 1984;
Eggs, 1986;
Steptangle, 1986;
The Turtle and the Crane, 1988;
Variations on 'Mayn Yingele', 1988;
Fantasy, 1989;
Bumps, 1990;
Ludes, 1990-91;
Sonata, 1991;
De Profundis, 1991-92;
Andante con Moto, without a theme by Beethoven, 1992;
A Life, 1992;
Night Crossing with Fisherman, 2 pianos, 1994;
Fougues, 1994;
The Road:
** Part 1 -- "Turns" (1995);
** Part 2 -- "Tracks" (1996);
** Part 3 -- "Tramps" (1997);
** Part 4 -- "Stops" (1998);
** Part 5 -- "A Few Knocks" (1999);
** Part 6 -- "Travelling with Children" (1999);
** Part 7 -- "Final Preparations" (1999-2002); and
** Part 8 -- "The Big Day Arrives" (2002-03).("The Road" is one of the longest non-repetitive piano pieces ever written. A complete performance of "The Road" at Trinity College of Music, London, on May 8, 2006, featuring a wide range of pianists including Rzewski himself, had a duration a little under 10 hours.)
Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier, 2003;
Cadenza con o senza Beethoven, 2003;
Dust, 2003

Rubinstein in Berlin, written for pianist Hong Xu for his debut recital at the Wigmore Hall, London Nov. 7th, 2008.

HARPSICHORD: The Housewife's Lament, 1980

ELECTROACOUSTIC: Zoologischer Garten, tape, 1965

TV PRODUCTION: Chains (12 TV operas), voice, 6 players, 1986


Composed By Rzewski

36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!'. Ursula Oppens, piano (Vanguard Classics: 8056, 1993)

North American Ballads. Kathleen Supové, piano (CRI: 653, 1993)

Coming Together; Attica. Group 180 (Hungaroton: 12545, 1993)

36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!'. Stephen Drury, piano (New Albion: 63, 1994)

Spots; Wails; The Lost Melody; Crusoe. Zeitgeist (OOdiscs: 15, 1995)

De Profundis; Four Pieces (excerpt); Sonata; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. Anthony de Mare, piano (OOdiscs: 16, 1995)

Moonrise with Memories. David Taylor, bass trombone; Louise Schulman/ensemble (New World: 80494, 1996)

To the Earth. Evelyn Glennie, voice, percussion (BMG: 68195, 1996)

Jefferson; Antigone-Legend. Carol Plantamura, soprano; Frederic Rzewski, piano (CRI: 747, 1997)

Night Crossing with Fisherman; Ludes; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (version for 2 pianos). Ursula Oppens, Frederic Rzewski, pianos (Music and Arts: 988, 1997)

Turns (The Road, Part 1); Tracks (The Road, Part 2); Whangdoodles; To the Earth. Frederic Rzewski, piano; Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio (Music and Arts: 1000, 1997)

Scratch Symphony. Michael Gielen/SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg (Col Legno: WWE 3CD 20026, 1999)

36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!'; North American Ballads (excerpts). Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Hyperion: 67077, 1999)

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. Emanuele Arciuli, piano (Stradivarius: STR 33555, 2000)

Turns (The Road, Part 1) (excerpt). Marcel Worms, piano (NM Classics: 98014, 2000)

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. James Lent, piano (The Orchard: 8575, 2001)

Down by the Riverside. Lara Downes, piano (Postcards: 2002, 2001)

Coming Together. Frederic Rzewski, speaker; Talujon Percussion Quartet (Capstone: 8681/88, 2001)

36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never be Defeated!'; Turns (The Road, Part 1); Tracks (The Road, Part 2); Tramps (The Road, Part 3); Stops (The Road, Part 4); Fantasia; Sonata; Mayn Yingele; Fougues; A Life; North American Ballads; The Housewife's Lament; De Profundis. Frederic Rzewski, piano, harpsichord (Nonesuch: 79623, 2002)

North American Ballads. Lisa Moore, piano (Cantaloupe Music, 2003)

North American Ballads. David Jalbert, piano (Endeavour: END 1001, 2004)

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (version for 2 pianos). Quattro Mani (Klavier: 11106)

36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!'. Yuji Takahashi, piano (ALM Records: ALCD 19)

Mayn Yingele. Ursula Oppens, piano (Music and Arts: 4862)

36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never be Defeated!'. Frederic Rzewski, piano (Hat Hut: ART 6066)

North American Ballads; Squares. Frederic Rzewski, piano (Hat Hut: ART 6089)

Sonata; De Profundis. Frederic Rzewski, piano (Hat Hut: ART 6134)

Four Pieces. Frederic Rzewski, piano (Vanguard Classics)

Bumps; Andante con moto; The Turtle and the Crane. Frederic Rzewski, piano (Newport Classics)

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. Christina Petrowska Quilico, piano (JLH: 1002)

The Turtle and the Crane. Christina Petrowska Quilico, piano (Welspringe Productions: WEL001)

North American Ballads. Paul Jacobs, piano (Nonesuch)

Song and Dance. (Nonesuch)

Coming Together. (Opus One)

To the Earth. Steven Schick, voice, percussion (unknown)

Four Pieces (no. 4). Lisa Moore, piano (Sony Classical)

Played By Rzewski

* "Capriccio Hassidico" (1991)
* Musica Elettronica Viva - "United Patchwork" (1977)
* Musica Elettronica Viva - "Leave The City"
* Musica Elettronica Viva - "Spacecraft"
* Musica Elettronica Viva - "Live 7" (Recorded live at Philgena Oakland CA 1994)
* Cornelius Cardew - "We Sing For The Future!"
* Tom Johnson - "An Hour for Piano" (1985)
* Henri Pousseur - Aquarius-Memorial
* Henri Pousseur - La Guirlande de Pierre
* Stockhausen - Klavierstück X (Wergo LP)


*Frederic Rzewski "Nonsequiturs - Writings & Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and Interpretation. Unlogische Folgerungen - Schriften und Vorträge zu Improvisation, Komposition und Interpretation." Edition Musiktexte, Cologne, 2007. ISBN 3-9803151-8-5


* "Frederic Rzewski," in "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2.
* "The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians", 8th ed. Revised by Nicolas Slonimsky. New York, Schirmer Books, 1993. ISBN 0-02-872416-X.


External links

* [ New Albion Artist: Frederic Rzweski]
* [ Perfect Sound Forever: Interview with Frederic Rzweski] by Daniel Varela (March 2003)
* [ Interview with Frederic Rzewski] by Bruce Duffie (January 1995)


* [ Steve Lacy, Irene Aebi, and Frederic Rzewski] featuring tracks from "Packet"
* [ Art of the States: Moonrise with Memories]

heet music

* [ Zen-On Music Company Ltd] Published his "People United ..." and "Squares, North American Balades"
*IckingArchive|idx=Rzewski|name=Frederic Rzewski
*Several [ Frederic Rzweski Scores] are distributed by Frog Peak Music (a composers' collective).
* [ Jenny Lin has some scores of Rzewski to download. Here you will also find Rzewski's comment on copyleft.]

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