Composer, Architect, Engineer, Mathematician (1922 – 2001)
Iannis Xenakis was one of the most important Greek philosopher-composers and architects of the 20th century. A pioneer in electronic music, he expressed the universe through music by transforming mathematical and physical laws into music. In this way, Xenakis founded what is known as stochastic music.
Born in Romania, Xenakis studied architecture in Athens and continued his studies in music in France, where he also worked for most part of his life. As most pioneers on their field, Xenakis was almost self-taught in music and would frequently be a subject of opposition by the mainstream composers of his time; few could see the potential he had within him, one of them being Olivier Messiaen, who encouraged him to take his own path, saying that he had the privilege of being an architect, having knowledge of applied mathematics and being a Greek.
Xenakis revolutionized the world of music by introducing the philosophy of unification of mathematics, music, physics and Greek philosophy. He applied at least 15 mathematical laws that govern the natural world to music in order to create what he would call stochastic music. Among these were the set theory, theory of probabilities, Boolean algebra, thermodynamics, game theory and the theory of numbers, the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden ratio. The fist of this genre was Metastaseis, composed in 1954. It marked Xenakis’ starting point in his music career.
With the term stochastic, Xenakis attempted to convey a philosophical meaning, that the transfer of mathematical laws and probability systems in music can allow expression of mass phenomena. It was a means of decoding the music that was hidden inside mathematics. To compose his music he began using an electronic computer, thus becoming one of the first composers to inaugurate its use in the composition of music worldwide. He combined his music with sounds of man and nature, such as the sound made by a cicada in summer or the rustle of a fallen autumn leaf, conferring to music a whole new energy. In all of his compositions, the ancient Greek spirit is present. Works like Herma, Oresteia, Persephassa, Pleiades, Psappha, Mycenes, Nomos all derive their names from ancient Greek mythology and denote Xenakis’ passion with the ancient Greek philosophy, from where he drew inspiration. As such, many did not hesitate to refer to him as a Neopythagorean philosopher.
Throughout his long-lasting career, Xenakis composed a staggering number of compositions, ranging from electronic music to orchestrals and opera, which earned him international recognition as a pioneer in music. His career in architecture did not fall behind not least; he had collaborated with Le Corbusier in France in a number of projects, the most well-known being the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958, which he himself designed and for which he received universal acclaim.
Xenakis’ last composition, Omega, signified the end of his highly productive career in 1997. By then, he had been made professor in many universities in Europe and the United States. He taught in the University of Sorbonne, founded the School of Mathematical and Autonomic Music in 1966 as well as the Center of Contemporary Music Research in Athens, published several books and was honoured with numerous international accolades.
- Ιάννης Ξενάκης 1922 – 2001. Σαν Σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. February 9, 2019. Web.
- Κιούση, Βάσω. Ο «νεοπυθαγόρειος» Ιάννης Ξενάκης, η ζωή και το έργο του: από τη «στοχαστική» στη «συμβολική» μουσική. Fractal Η γεωμετρία των Ιδεών. Fractalart.gr. July 20, 2016. Web. February 9, 2019.
- Ιάννης Ξενάκης: Ἔνας «Νεοπυθαγόρειος» συνθέτης. TVXS. Tvxs.gr. February 4, 2011. Web. February 9, 2019.