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Excerpts from Xenakis’ works


3' 05"

Keqrops (weaving), written in 1986, is the composer’s third piano concerto. It is a massive, powerful work written for the Australian pianist Roger Woodward, the New York Philharmonic and their conductor, Zubin Mehta. The orchestra is in fours, with the addition of a harp, although the percussion is composed solely of membranophones. The formidable piano part is often notated on four staves,  and sometimes even six, so that it is hardly less demanding than Synaphaï, written out on ten staves (one per finger). Although the piano has barely a dozen bars solo, the performer has no rest since the piano plays for more than three-quarters of the entire score.
Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon.


4' 36"

Tétras (1983) is dedicated to the famous Arditti Quartet. It is one of the most spectacular works in the entire string quartet repertoire, but over and above its athletic qualities it is powerful and dense, worlds away from the traditional method of airy quartet writing, and thus much closer to Xenakis’s own style. The Greek title naturally refers to the figure four, but in fact a reading of the score shows the four bows to be but one.
Courtesy of Naïve Records.


3' 38"

In 1984 the London Sinfonietta commissioned a second work from Xenakis, Thallein. The title means “budding”, and the instrumentation is that of the fourteen players of the British ensemble: four woodwind, three brass, strings, piano and a percussion who, in addition to the usual membranophones (bongos, toms-toms  and the bass drum) also tackles five woodblocks, four pairs of maracas, one large gong and a vibraphone. The work lasts seventeen minutes, and is one of Xenakis’s most highly developed ensemble works.
Courtesy of Vandenburg.


2' 12"

Kyanya was conceived in 1990, the same year as the brief Tuorakemsu presented to Toru Takemitsu on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. Both compositions require the same number of musicians, namely ninety players, including four of every wind instrument and a single tuba, piano and strings. The score lasts twenty-five minutes, and was first performed on December 7th, 1990, by the Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra in their home city, the capital of the “Langue d’Oc”, conducted by Zoltan Pesko.
Courtesy of Yuji Takahashi, New Japan Philharmonic and Fontec. Inc.


4' 34"

N’shima, a rough, guttural and even austere duo, is based on a dozen Hebrew words selected for their phonetic and semantic value, and was commissioned by the Testimonium Festival of Jerusalem in 1975. The title, which means “breath” or “spirit” in Hebrew refers to the two mezzo-sopranos whose warm peasant voices rise from the throat, full, rounded and homogeneous but definitely not trained, and without vibrato. They are accompanied by two horns, two trombones and a cello.
Courtesy of Col Legno Records.


9' 53"

The cornerstone of Xenakis’s output is Jonchaies, written in 1977 in a very subjective style, as Xenakis himself would be the first to qualify. It calls for one hundred and nine musicians, with four flutes, oboes and bassoons, six clarinets and six horns, four trumpets and four trombones with a tuba, along with seventy strings massed against the wind and percussion. Although the strings are thus perfectly audible, Xenakis allows them no rein for sensuality or sentimentality, and forbids all vibrato; in fact, many of the parts are headed with a global warning against vibrato. The title Jonchaies (strewn branches) has no botanical allusions but refers to the structure of the piece and its densely interwoven polyphony which fluctuates like rushes spread out upon the ground.
Courtesy of Col Legno Records.


4' 40''

The first purely vocal score from Xenakis’s pen, Nuits, was written for the twelve mixed voices in 1967, and today is considered as a classic of the 20th century. It is based on Sumerian, Assyrian, Achaen and other phonemes, and was first performed at Royan Festival on April 7th, 1968, by the soloists of the Radio France Choir, under the direction of Marcel Couraud.
Courtesy of Musidisc-Universal.


4' 55''

The monumental ensemble work Persephassa, dating from 1969, was written for a set of six percussionists, an instrumentation which was to be mirrored ten years on in Pleïades. Both works were written for Les Percussions de Strasbourg and in them Xenakis concentrated all his desire to represent relativity in space and time. Six percussionists, standing in a circle, each play a variety of percussion instruments, hooter and whistles. Following the rules of riddles, the beats are systematically displaced within further riddles, leading to great complexity of crossed rhythms, phrases which run into one another, altered accents and density.
Courtesy of Col Legno Records.


2' 27''

It was in 1975 that Xenakis composed Phlegra (in reference to the Phlegrean fields, the site of the battle between the Titans and the new Olympian gods) for eleven instruments (woodwind, brass and strings, but no percussion) for the London Sinfonietta at the request of the Gulbenkian Foundation. Xenakis reminds us in his preface that in this piece his procedures include the organization of structures, principally melodic arborescence, aleatory devices (or “Brownian movements”) , and repeated notes according to the dynamic rules. Unusually for Xenakis, Phlegra is a joyful and lively work, full of colour.
Courtesy of Musidisc-Universal.

A l’île de Gorée

2' 33''

In A l’île de Gorée, the solo instrument, the harpsichord, no doubt dictated the reduced instrumental ensemble. It was written in 1986 for Elisabeth Chojnacka, to  whom Xenakis had already dedicated two long harpsichord solos, Khoaï and Naama, as well as a duet for harpsichord and percussion Komboï. As Xenakis explains, the island of Gorée, off the coast of Dakar in Senegal, was formerly a world market for the Atlantic slave trade. This piece was thus written in homage to those Africans who, although they were taken by force from their homeland and deported to certain so-called civilized countries for the barbarous practice of slavery, rose above their privations to achieve prominent positions. The ensemble, composed of four wind instruments, three brass and strings, turns its back on percussion, although the amplified harpsichord plays almost continuously. The string and woodwind often use harmonics, which allows them to accompany the solo instrument without covering it.
Courtesy of Erato Records.

La Déesse Athéna

3' 26''

Spyros Sakkas and the Athens Radiotelevision Ensemble, directed by Michel Tabachnik, gave the first performance in Athens on May 3rd, 1992, of La Déesse Athéna for baritone and an ensemble of eleven musicians. It was taken from the incidental music that Xenakis composed for Aeschylus’s Oresteia (1966, later completed in 1987 with the scene Kassandra). In fact, Xenakis undertook the composition of this vast score, destined  to be played at certain points during the performances of the antique trilogy Agammemon, Choephoroi and Eumenides, at the request of the little town in Michigan, Ypsilanti, whose inhabitants wished to celebrate their Greek ancestors.
Courtesy of Naïve Records.


5' 19''

Dox-Orkh, composed in 1991 for solo violin and eighty-nine musicians, was the result of a commission from the Festival Musica de Strasbour for Irvine Arditti, the first violin of the Arditti Quartet, who gave the first performance on October 6th, 1991, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Tamayo.
Courtesy of BIS Records.


5' 02''

The Ensemble Intercontemporain commissioned Jalons in 1986 for their tenth anniversary, and it was first performed the following January under the baton of Pierre Boulez. The work is written for fifteen players, with the flute doubling on the piccolo; oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet (doubling on the contrabass clarinet), horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp and strings, to the exclusion of all percussion. Jalons is a harsh, rough piece, massive and uncompromising; it has no polar centre with the exception of a minute number of bars.
Courtesy of Erato Records.


;5' 49''

Idmen (1985) was commissioned by the Ministry of Arts for the European Music Festival in Strasbourg, and although it is in two parts, these may be performed either separately or together. The first, Idmen A, is for a large mixed choir in thirty-two real parts (eight per group), and can  be performed by any multiple of thirty-two singers. There are also four keyboard percussion instruments. Idmen B is for the six players of the Percussions de Strasbourg, and the brief choral passage may easily be omitted when this second piece is played separately. The usual percussion instruments are augmented by the use of the sixxens (sets of metallic plates tuned in thirds of tones and invented by Xenakis himself), which were used for the time in Pleïades.
Courtesy of Erato Records.


3' 14''

Ioolkos was composed by Xenakis for the 75th anniversary of the Donaushinger Musiktage. In 1996, More than fourty years after Metastaseis (1954), the composer explores again the relationship between music and architecture, one of the main inspirations of his work.
Courtesy of Col Legno Records.