Del Sol String Quartet

Frederic Rzewski

photo credit: Michael Wilson

I was born in Westfield, Mssachusetts, in 1938. At age 5 I began piano lessons with Gertrude Goldberg, then from age 7 to 14 I studied piano, harmony, and counterpoint with Charles Mackey of Springfield. For two years I attended Philips Academy in Andover, where I met my lifelong friend David Behrman. Among my classmates were the artists Hollis Frampton, Frank Stella, and Carl André. I then studied for four years at Harvard, where, my teachers were Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. I was also deeply influenced by the philosopher Jacob Taubes, who introduced me to Herbert Marcuse and Susan Sontag, and to the work of Theodore Adorno. I went to Darmstadt in the summer of 1956, where I met Stockhausen, Boulez, and others of their generation who played an important part in my life as a pianist over the next decade, as well as Christian Wolff, who also became a lifelong friend. I did two years of graduate study at Princeton, where my teachers were Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt, and the musicologist Oliver Strunk. I then went to Italy in 1960 with a Fulbright scholarship to study with Luigi Dallapiccola.

It was in Europe that both my career and family life began. I met my wife Nicole Abbeloos there, with whom I had four children over the next twenty years. I had played the Boulez Sonatine the year before with the flutist Severino Gazzelloni, who found me in Florence and invited me to the Venice Biennale. I played many concerts with him over the following years. I also did the first performance of Stockhausen’s revised Klavierstück 10. Stockhausen invited me to teach at his newly founded Kölner Kurse für Neue Musik in Cologne. Elliott Carter asked me to join him in Berlin in 1964 and 1965 as part of the Ford Foundation’s residency program there, where I met Alvin Curran, at that time a Carter student. I also worked for several months at the experimental studio in East Berlin, where I made my electronic composition Zoölogischer Garten.

In 1966 several Americans in Rome, including myself and Alvin, Richard Teitelbaum, Allen Bryant, and Jon Phetteplace, formed the group Musica Elettronica Viva, partly inspired by the Living Theatre and the recent work of John Cage and David Tudor. Until that time, electronic music was mostly produced in laboratory conditions in expensive studios. There were several other, similar groups, formed at around the same time, like the Sonic Arts Union (which included my friend David Behrman). The idea common to all of these groups was that experimental music need not be élitist, but could be produced with simple materials available to anybody living in a large city. Coupled with this idea was the newly awakened interest in free improvisation, and a loose connection with revolutionary politics as the spontaneous expression of a mass movement against war and capitalism. This idea still continues to have a certain influence: this year is the 50th anniversary of M.E.V., which now consists of the trio of myself, Alvin, and Richard.

In 1971 I moved back to New York, but failed to find a permanent position in the U.S. In 1977 Henri Pousseur offered me a job teaching at the Royal Conservatory in Liège, Belgium, where I taught for 25 years. In 1983 I met the actress Françoise Walot, with whom I had two children. During these decades I have been a nomad, living as a composer and pianist, occasionally teaching in various universities and conservatories in the U.S. and Europe. I have also been able to produce a large number of compositions for orchestra and various instrumental groups, as well as piano solo. My music theatre pieces The Persians and Triumph of Death have been produced in various theatres in Europe.

In 2009 I received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liège. I am a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Akademie der Künste Berlin.

Frederic Rzewski

© Del Sol Performing Arts Organization • Photos by RJ Muna