Iannis Xenakis

Born 29 May, 1922

Died 4 February, 2001

Born in Romania

Iannis Xenakis was born to a Greek family in Brăila, Romania, and moved to Greece at the age of 10 to study at a boarding school. Although he had an interest in music and took a few classes on solfege and notation, he was mostly drawn to the sciences due to his love of mathematics and physics. To pursue his passions, Xenakis enrolled in the National Technical University of Athens to study engineering and architecture… with harmony and counterpoint lessons on the side, of course! Unfortunately, his education was interrupted by WWII as Italian troops began invading Greece in 1940, leading to the Axis occupation of his country. The next decade was full of hardships as Xenakis participated in protests, demonstrations, and even armed resistances as his nation weathered WWII, and the Greek Civil War soon after.

Fearing for his life, our composer fled to France in 1947 where he began writing music in order to honor his fallen friends and country. Every composition teacher that he reached out to for mentorship turned him away until his unique talent was recognized by composer Oliver Messiaen, who told him this: “you have the good fortune of being Greek, of being an architect and having studied special mathematics. Take advantage of these things. Do them in your music.” Heeding his advice, Xenakis would go on to write interesting pieces inspired by mathematical and physical concepts such as game theory, statistical probability, molecular motion, and many other ideas. Channeling his love of architecture, he would also design and build architectural spaces made specifically for certain pieces of music to be heard in, as well as write music for existing spaces.

By connecting all of his great passions with one another, Xenakis developed a unique, natural, improvisatory, and modern compositional voice. He even invented a music style called Musique Stochastique, where music is composed via electronic computers running mathematical probability systems. Due to his innovations, he is remembered as a revolutionary voice in the world of electronic music.