Comparing Style, Technique and Compositional Approach Between Works of Xenakis

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‘Compare style, technique and compositional approach between an early and a late work by Xenakis.’ Xenakis was a forward thinking composer of the 20th century who progressively developed his own ideas of composition. This essay compares the style, technique and compositional approach between two pieces written by Xenakis: Metastasis (1953) and Tracees (1987). With both pieces being orchestral, comparing the pieces will show Xenakis’s true development. During his studies with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, Xenakis was given the advice “You have the good fortune of being an architect and having studied special mathematics… Take advantage of these things. Do them in your music.”1 Following this advice, Xenakis began to incorporate his parallel interest in architecture into his musical compositions and in 1953 he produced his first published composition, Metastasis. Xenakis himself said, “Metastasis, that starting point in my life as a composer, was inspired not by music, but rather by the impression gained during the Nazi occupation of Greece.”2 When Xenakis witnessed an anti-Nazi demonstration in Athens, he listened to the sounds of the mass crowds marching, shouting slogans alongside the rumbling sounds of Nazi tanks and machine guns being fired. He could hear the sounds of each individual as part of one mass event and commented, “I shall never forget the transformation of the regular, rhythmic noise of a hundred thousand people into some fantastic disorder.”3 Xenakis used this inspiration to develop the sound masses heard in Metastasis. Xenakis states how he “used complete divisi in the strings which play large masses of pizzicati and glissandi. In other words, I do not use

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C. Fox, ‘Iannis Xenakis: sites and sounds’http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/nov/17/iannisxenakis-huddersfield-contemporary-music (Accessed 21/11/11) 2 B. Varga, Three Questions For Sixty-Five Composers, (U.K 2011), 237 3 loc. cit.

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the term “mass” in a sociological sense.”4 This marked a turning point between traditional (and more recently serialist) music and ‘formalised music’ as Xenakis rejected serialism by formatting his own structure of pitch, timbre, duration, tempo, dynamic and spatial setting. Xenakis’s methods of formalising music in Metastasis, although pulling away from serialism, still have elements of the serialistic style whereas over the years his compositional style matures and develops into something completely original. Therefore the style in which his later orchestral piece Tracees is written is characteristic of Xenakis’s own methods.

Metastasis illustrates a connection between mathematics and music, modelled upon the design of the Philips Pavilion architecture. In his 1954 article "Les Metastaseis," Xenakis describes the likeness as "the sonorities of the orchestra are building materials, like brick, stone and wood... the subtle structures of orchestral sound masses represent a reality that promises much."5 Xenakis took a visual approach to his composition and wrote the initial score as graphical notation, plotted upon the same graph paper used for designing buildings. The initial score was made up of crossing curves, outlining massed string glissandi with pitch dictated on the y-axis and time on the xaxis (see figure 1)6. (Figure 1)

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C. Fox, ‘Iannis Xenakis: sites and sounds’http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/nov/17/iannisxenakis-huddersfield-contemporary-music (Accessed 21/11/11) 5 M. Zografos, ‘Iannis Xenakis: the aesthetics of his early works’ http://www.furious.com/perfect/xenakis.html (Accessed 21/11/11) 6 R.Difford, Iannis Xenakis-Composing with graphs, http://wag.myzen.co.uk/thepolytechnic/?p=239 (Accessed 1/12/11)

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(Figure 2)

In the score it is clear that Metastasis is divided into four separate sections all contrasting in style (see figure 2)7. Unlike Metastasis, Tracees is split into many different sections separated by a range of different tempi. Towards the end of the...
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