Frederik  Rževski

Frederic Rzewski (USA, 1938). American composer and pianist. He studied composition at Harvard (1954–8) and Princeton (1958–60), where he also attended courses in philosophy and Greek. In 1960–61 he studied with Dallapiccola in Florence on a Fulbright scholarship. Throughout most of the 1960s he was active as a pianist and teacher in Europe. He gave the first performance of Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X (1962) and was a founder member of Musica Elettronica Viva, a group of composer-performers in Rome. His work with them became increasingly political (Coming Together, 1972) and remained so after he moved to a style absorbing avant-garde details into a grand confluence with the piano virtuoso tradition (The People United will Never be Defeated!, 1975). Since the mid-1970s he has divided his time between Europe and the USA. He became professor of composition at the Conservatoire Royal, Liège in 1977; in 1984 he was visiting professor of composition at Yale University. He has also taught at the universities of Cincinnati, SUNY, Buffalo, California (San Diego), the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and the Berlin Hochschule der Künste. His later works include a setting of Oscar Wilde’s De profundis for speaking pianist (1992) and The Road (1995–2003), a four-and-a-half-hour ‘novel’ for piano. He has participated as pianist and conductor in some of the recordings of his compositions, and as pianist in recordings of works by Boulez, Eisler and others.

Marriage, by the US composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski, belongs to his 2003 cycle The Road, a Novel for Piano. The work primarily stands out on account of its performing forces – it is intended for a speaking pianist. The piece is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata, which Rzewski achieved in the work by notating the spoken text above the staff. Rzewski was inspired by Tolstoy’s original concept of The Kreutzer Sonata as a dramatic monologue. By borrowing individual sentences (or parts of sentences), the composer found an effective way to reshape the form of the novella and emphasise some of the basic ideas pursued in the original. The very title of the work – marriage – is one of the themes that Tolstoy examines, pointing to its distortions in late 19th-century modern society. Dislocating the “accents” that permeate the novella, Rzewski’s order of presentation sets up a musical dramatisation of the text.