Frederic Rzewski

Born in Westfield, Massachusetts in 1938, Frederic Rzewski studied music at first with Charles Mackey of Springfield, and subsequently with Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and Milton Babbitt at Harvard and Princeton Universities. He went to Italy in 1960, where he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola and met Severino Gazzelloni, with whom he performed in a number of concerts, thus beginning a career as a performer of new piano music. Rzewski's early friendship with Christian Wolff and David Behrman, and (through Wolff) his acquaintance with John Cage and David Tudor strongly influenced his development in both composition and performance. In Rome in the mid-sixties, together with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum, he formed the MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) group, which quickly became known for its pioneering work in live electronics and improvisation.

Since 1977 Rzewski has been Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liege, Belgium. He has also taught at the Yale School of Music, the University of Cincinnati, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California at San Diego, Mills College, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, the Hochschule der Kuenste in Berlin, and the Hochschule fuer Musik in Karlsruhe.

Featured releases

A total of 7 'vocal' pieces for soprano saxophone and piano, some written by Jan Rzewski and some by Steve Lacy. Frederic Rzewski and Steve Lacy met in Rome in the late 60’s when both were participating in Musica Elettronica Viva. Lacy dedicated his “Cryptosphere” to Rzewski - a tune full of a kind of micro playing that would dominate Lacy's playing after his time in Rome. Lacy and Rzewski shared a fascination with poetry and language, and here Rzewski and his son Jan recall moments from two records Rzewski and Lacy made together - "Rushes" based on Russian poems, and "Packet" based on poems written by Judith Melina of the Living Theatre.  --- Frederick Rzewski / piano Jan Rzewski / soprano saxophone --- Frederic Rzewski in conversation with Evan Parker: "Steve Lacy. Well, the important thing about him was that he was a great composer. People think of him as a jazz musician, an improviser, which he was, but he was also a great composer. He wrote probably two hundred songs which nobody knows and he wrote pieces for all kinds of compositions for orchestra and so on. He wasn't just what it's fashionable to talk about, he happened to be a great artist and a great writer. He wrote tone clusters with dozens of notes. They looked like grape bunches - clusters of grapes! So, I was, you know, like any pianist - I would fake them. I would fake them, of course. What you don't learn in the conservatory but what I think any professional pianist knows is that you have to fake if you're going to play music of today, to play Steve Lacy. So I did that, but then in the rehearsal Steve would stop and he would say, "well wait a minute, that's not exactly right." Of course it wasn't right - he knew what he wrote you know. He was a serious composer and he wrote it down and he knew what he wanted to hear. And so I would have to really practice at it."  Cover photo by Fabio Lugaro.

Frederick & Jan Rzewski – 10.1.19

As the title of this piano cycle implies, these Songs of Insurrection were sung for an important purpose. That Frederic Rzewski quotes Walt Whitman on the first page of the score - "Viva to those who have fail'd!" - reminds us that the struggle is far from over. The first and second of these songs were sung during World War II, the Moorsoldaten in Germany and Katyusha in Russia where the tune originated, although it also became very popular among the partisan movement in Italy. Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around was a well-known song during the civil rights movement in the USA. Foggy Dew and Oh Bird, Oh Bird, Oh Roller respectively sonify the Easter Uprising in Ireland and the Donghak Peasant Revolution in Korea. Frederic Rzewski remains one of the very important pianist-composer-improvisers alive and active today. His continued output includes new piano works such as Amoramaro for pianist Lisa Moore and America: A Poem, based on the poem by Allen Ginsberg and dedicated to pianist Stéphane Ginsburgh. Bobby Mitchell's pianism oscillates between approaching the standard repertoire in a way that makes it sound like new music, and approaching new music with an ear grounded in the classical pianist-improviser-virtuoso tradition. Right now, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Frederic Rzewski keep him spiritually well and pianistically in shape. Artwork design and mastering by Oliver Barrett

From ‘Songs of Insurrection’ – Frederic Rzewski (Bobby Mitchell, piano)

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