Frederic Rzewski is among the major figures of the American musical avant-garde to emerge in the 1960s, and has since then been highly influential as a composer and performer. Born in Westfield, Massachusetts, he earned his BA in music at Harvard, later receiving an MFA from Princeton, where he studied with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt. A Fulbright scholar, he traveled to Florence in 1960 to study with Luigi Dallapiccola for a year, and has resided in Europe almost exclusively since then.
As a performer, he first came to public attention as a performer of new piano music, participating in the premieres of groundbreaking works such as Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke X (1962). In 1966 he founded Musica Electronica Viva (MEV) with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum, an ensemble dedicated to experimenting with combinations of free improvisation, written music, and electronics. This experimentation in creating with hybrids of improvisational playing and classical forms can be seen in many of Rzewski’s most important works, including Les moutons de Panurge, a so-called “process piece” that combines notated material and written instructions with spontaneous improvisation. In the 1970s, political events began to significantly influence Rzewski’s music, resulting in works such as Attica, which includes the recitation of an inmate’s letter from prison, and The People United Will Never Be Defeated, a Grammy-nominated series of virtuosic piano variations based on a revolutionary anthem from Pinochet’s Argentina. Rzewski has taught at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, Hochschule der Kunste in West Berlin, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in the Netherlands, and the Conservatoire Royal de Musique at Liège, Belgium. He currently resides in Brussels, and continues to compose and perform for audiences worldwide.