Iannis Xenakis

Composer, architect, civil engineer, Iannis Xenakis was born on 29 May 1922 in Braila (Romania).

Resistant WWII and sentenced to death, he was a political refugee in France since 1947 and became a French citizen since 1965.

He studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Athens before embarking on studies Gravesano musical composition with Hermann Scherchen, then at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with Olivier Messiaen. From 1947 to 1960 he was assistant of Le Corbusier as an engineer and architect.

Inventor of musical concepts masses, stochastic music, music symbolic introduced with the probability calculus and set theory in music composition intrumentales, he was one of the first to use the computer to calculate of musical form.

Also a pioneer in the field of electro-acoustics, author of more than a hundred works for all training, he now appears as one of the most radical avant-garde, who invented the most compositional techniques characteristic of the music after 1945, but also one of the few designers whose vitality has never denied, and which, moreover, gained a large audience.

Architect of the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 and other architectural achievements such as the Convent of La Tourette, he composed Polytopes - sights, sounds and lights - for the French Pavilion at Expo of Montreal, for the show Persepolis, mountains and ruins of Persepolis, for Polytope of Mycenae ruins of Mycenae, Greece, for Diatope at the inauguration of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

He was founder and president of the Centre for Mathematical and Automatic Music (CEMAMu) of Paris and founder of the Center for Mathematical and Automated Music (CMAM), Indiana University, Bloomington. 

Text: ©Editions Salabert

Nouritza Matossian

about “Nuits”

It is worth remembering that as Xenakis was working on Nuits (and Medea) in 1967, his country, Greece, was plunged into the darkness of dictatorship by military junta. He, too, had been a political prisoner as a student in occupied Greece and, still under death sentence by military tribunal, was living in exile. He sought to bring attention to the plight of political prisoners in his own country and elsewhere, heading the score with the following dedication:




Xenakis has synthesized the text from Sumerian and ancient Persian in phonemes and syllables. This is a language freed from semantics, where phonology is everything. The carriers of meaning are the shapes and gestures of the voices themselves. The a cappella soprano voices burst into keening quarter-tone melodic plaints which are neutralized by the basses, altos and tenors. The vocal elements are set in constant opposition, as if different parts have to fight for survival. It is a work of agon (“contest”), with a basic armoury of phonic elements which range from high shrill to open vowels treated rhythmically in polyphony. Xenakis is able to produce interference beats and purely “orchestral” timbres with voices. He seems determined to strip them of linguistic connotation, just as the prisoners to whom he has dedicated the work had been deprived of free speech, their words stripped of meaning and reference. Nonetheless, the expressive medium of disjointed bits of words and their emotional deployment, discharges a highly combustible message with great depth and tragic dimension, eschewing long-sung phrases.








To you, unknown political prisoners—Narcisso Julian (since 1946), Costas Philinis (since 1947), Eli Erythriadou (since 1950), Joachim Amaro (since 1952). And for you, the thousands of the forgotten whose very names are lost.

All sketches: Iannis Xenakis – Nuits
(Collection Famille Xenakis)

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