Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Avant-garde composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski studied with many of the best-known names in 20th century music: Randall Thompson, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Elliott Carter. Rzewski studied at Harvard and Princeton and taught at schools including the Royal Conservatory of Music at Liege and Yale. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 1960 and co-founded Musica Elettronica Viva in Rome in 1966.
A virtuoso pianist, much of Rzewski's music is written for piano, including what is arguably his best-known work, the politically driven "The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (36 variations on "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido")" (1975), which pushes the extreme of both instrument and pianist.
Rzewski has written works that explore timbres in not only the piano, but also in electronics and incorporating spoken word. An example of this type of experimental voicing is "Coming Together," written for speaking voice and instrumental octet, commemorating the uprising at New York's Attica State Prison. The text comes from a prisoner involved in the riot who later died and the combination of emotional text with instrumental work employing extended techniques, silence, and unique instrumental sounds allow for a unique type of emotional response to the music itself.
Although Rzewski's exploration of a multitude of techniques, sounds, and styles is impressive, but doesn't allow for very much work in any one area. However, his music will continue to serve as an example of exploration in these different styles.