Charles Trenet, Legendary French Singer, Dies at 87
Courtesy of Reuters
February 19, 2001 - PARIS -- Singer-composer Charles Trenet, who captured French hearts for more than half a century, died in hospital overnight, a spokesman said on Monday.
Trenet, age 87, was rushed to hospital with a stroke last Tuesday, having suffered a first stroke in April 2000.
"He was the symbol of a smiling and imaginative France, a familiar figure, close to all," President Jacques Chirac said in a tribute, describing Trenet as "a magician with words and an inventor of rhythms...a rare poet.''
Trenet wrote almost 1,000 songs including the haunting classic ``La Mer'' (The Sea), which captured the sadness of the defeat of France early in World War Two.
"Douce France" (Gentle France), a sentimental tribute to the country he loved, acquired a status rivalling that of La Marseillaise, the national anthem.
With a blend of American jazz phrasing and zany lyrics, Trenet was one of the first French entertainers to take advantage of radio as a mass medium in the years before World War Two.
When he appeared live he was mobbed by fans in a way that foreshadowed the Beatlemania of the 1960s. His popularity endured and in November 1999 he briefly came out of retirement for three sell-out concerts in Paris. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and bandleaders Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong recorded versions of his songs.
A NOVELIST AS WELL
Trenet also wrote novels and ballads including the poignant "Que Reste-t-il de nos Amours?" (What is left of our love) and "Romance de Paris" (Paris Romance).
Trenet's popularity was rooted in a mixture of Gallic charm and innovative, even eccentric, talent.His flamboyant homosexuality, penchant for jazz and friendship with Jewish artists made him a marked man during the 1940-1944 Nazi occupation when the collaborationist press attacked him as a bad influence on the young.
The vitriolic pro-Nazi daily Je Suis Partout alleged that Trenet was an anagram for Netter, a common French Jewish name.
But the fact that he performed in Paris during the Nazi occupation resulted in his being banned from the boards for 10 months after the Liberation of France.
Between 1947 and 1955 his career took an international turn and he toured the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and the Soviet Union.
The advent of rock 'n roll in the 1950s and 1960s sidelined him as a performer and he returned to writing novels. Playwright Sacha Guitry had recommended his first novel, "Dodo Manieres," written in 1939, for the prestigious Goncourt literary Prize.
Trenet was born in Narbonne, southern France, on May 18, 1913.
His childhood home has been turned into a museum devoted to his career and mayor Raymond Chesa said on Monday he believed Trenet had asked that his ashes be spread over the countryside of his youth.
Iannis Xenakis, Composer Who Built Music on Mathematics, Dies at 78
By Paul Griffiths, courtesy of The New York Times
February 5, 2001 - Iannis Xenakis, the Greek-French composer who often used highly sophisticated scientific and mathematical theories to arrive at music of primitive power, died yesterday at his home in Paris. He was 78.
He had been in poor health for several years and lapsed into a coma several days ago, said Charles Zacharie Bornstein, a conductor who has championed his music.
By training, Mr. Xenakis was an engineer and architect; his musical education came late. This enabled him largely to ignore conventional techniques of composition. He rejected the idea of intuitive or unreasoning randomness in composition, for example, and by constructing his works on laws and formulas of the physical sciences, he sought to control his music at every instant. He once said, "This is my definition of an artist, or of a man: to control."
At first he depended on the use of mathematical models of disorder. By using calculations derived from, say, the numbers of different-sized pebbles on a shore, Mr. Xenakis could determine the pitches of notes or their placements in time. In this way he could create music with chaotic inner detail but a decisive shape or impulse. Typical examples of such partly randomized effects in a Xenakis composition might include a bundle of nonaligned upward slides on orchestral strings.
Once computers became available to him in the early 1960's, Mr. Xenakis was able to work much faster. And however far removed he was from the tradition of Western classical music, he inevitably began to create a tradition of his own in composing so abundantly.
Iannis Xenakis (pronounced YAHN-nis zen-NAHK-ess) was born into a prosperous family of Greek origin on May 29, 1922, in the Romanian town of Braila. His mother died when he was 6, and he was sent to the Greek island of Spetsai to be educated at a British-style boarding school.
His musical studies began at the age of 12, and even then he intended to study both science and music. In 1938 he moved to Athens to prepare for admission to the Polytechnic School, where he enrolled in 1940 and graduated in 1947 as a civil engineer.
He lived in Athens during the Italian and German occupations of World War II. For much of this time he was a member of the Communist resistance, which was directed at first against the Germans and Italians and then, when they were defeated, against the British. In 1945 he was struck by a shell fragment from a British tank and lost an eye and part of his cheek, leaving the left side of his face deeply scarred.
"In Greece, the resistance lost, so I left in 1947," he once recalled. He moved to Paris ("In France, the resistance won"), where he found a job in architecture at Le Corbusier's studio. He was there from 1947 to 1959, and contributed to some of the studio's most important projects, including the pavilion for the Philips electronics company at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels. He always maintained that the Philips Pavilion was entirely his own design, and certainly its simple but strikingly original geometry of curves and planes is worked out on principles very similar to those he had used in his first published composition, "Metastasis" for orchestra (1953-4).
"Metastasis" came at the end of a period in which he studied with some of the leading composers in Paris. But he was a mature student, and perhaps all he could learn at this stage was how to avoid banality.
His alternative was the extraordinary busy textures and clean shapes of "Metastasis." He showed this score to the conductor Hermann Scherchen, who became a fervent supporter. The first performance of "Metastasis," however, was led by Hans Rosbaud at the 1955 festival in Donaueschingen, Germany, one of the important meeting places of the European musical avant-garde.
"Metastasis," largely built on glissandi of rising volume that could recall an airplane rising during takeoff, caused a sensation. Many young composers were impressed by Mr. Xenakis's sense of music as pure sound, but other musicians, notably Pierre Boulez, detected a lack of craftsmanship. Mr. Boulez was eventually persuaded to commission a score from Mr. Xenakis for his Domaine Musical concerts in 1963. He was rewarded by one of Mr. Xenakis's strongest pieces, "Eonta" for brass quintet and piano. But the antipathy between the two remained.
Mr. Xenakis did not lack champions, however. Mr. Scherchen conducted the premiere of "Pithoprakta" for trombones, percussion and strings in 1957 and the premiere of "Achoripsis" for small orchestra the next year. A little later Gunther Schuller gave the composer his first American performance. George Balanchine stiched together two of his scores to create the ballet "Metastasis and Pithoprakta."
Like other of his works, "Metastasis" and "Pithoprakta" were regulated by Poisson's Law of Large Numbers, which implies that the more numerous the phenomena, the more they tend toward a determinate end - as in flipping a coin. "I have tried to inject determinism into what we call chance," said Mr. Xenakis, who used the scientific word "stochastic" to give a name to this idea of probability in music.
As the 1950's drew to an end, Mr. Xenakis started working in the electronic music studio of French radio, producing "Concret PH" for the Philips Pavilion. In 1961 he visited Tokyo for the first time and met the pianist Yuji Takahashi, for whom he wrote "Herma," a work of cascading complexity for solo piano. In 1963 came his first trip to the United States, to teach at Tanglewood.
A Ford Foundation scholarship enabled him to spend 1964-65 in Berlin, and in 1966 he founded his own studio in Paris, the Equipe de Mathematique et Automatique Musicales.
After that he focused his activities on Paris, while returning to the Greek islands for summer holidays and traveling the world to lecture and attend performances.
His work with electronic music continued, notably in "Bohor" (1962) and in various projects combining electronic sound with laser projections. One of these was "Polytope de Cluny" (1972), devised for the Roman bathhouse in Paris. It was a good match. Rugged in construction, his music went well with ruins.
In other works, he combined his music with literary ruins - texts from the Greek plays or other classical sources. One powerful example is "Ais" for amplified baritone, percussion and orchestra (1979), on lines from Homer and Sappho. Another piece in the same mode, "The Goddess Athena" (1992), for baritone and chamber ensemble, was performed late last month by the Met Chamber Ensemble at Weill Recital Hall. But Mr. Xenakis could also create a feeling of ancient drama, ceremony and intensity when using voices without words, as in "Nuits" for chorus (1967).
That same feeling often persisted in the instrumental works that form the bulk of Mr. Xenakis's output: solo pieces of extreme virtuosity, chamber music, compositions for the standard modern-music ensemble and works for symphony orchestra.
Percussionists enjoyed Mr. Xenakis's music for its vitality and drama, and the solo pieces "Psappha" (1975) and "Rebonds" (1988), as well as the sextet "Pleiades" (1978), became classics of the genre. His last work was a piece for percussion and ensemble, "O-mega" (1997).
Mr. Xenakis became a French citizen and married a Frenchwoman, the writer Francoise Xenakis, who had been decorated for saving the lives of resistance fighters. He is survived by his wife and by his daughter, Mahki.
He wrote several books and essays on mathematics, architecture, town planning and music. These writings show how deeply he based his music on mathematics and logic.
He rejected criticism that he wrote "a species of desensitized music." Asked once if he composed without sentiment, he answered: "Yes, if you mean that kind of traditional sentimental effusion of sadness, gaiety or joy. I don't think that this is really admissible. In my music there is all the agony of my youth, of the resistance," as well as "the occasional mysterious, deathly sounds of those cold nights of December '44 in Athens."
"From this," he added, "was born my conception of the massing of sound events."
Harold Rhodes, Inventor of an Electronic Piano, Dies at 89
By Jon Pareles, courtesy of The New York Times
January 4, 2001 - Harold Burroughs Rhodes, who invented an electric piano that became indispensable to jazz, funk and pop musicians, died on Dec. 17 in Los Angeles. He was 89.
Mr. Rhodes's instrument, which was manufactured by Fender as the Fender Rhodes piano, used a pianolike keyboard, responsive to the player's touch, to have hammers hit small metal tines, which were then amplified by electromagnetic pickups. Its pure, tinkling tone could be used on its own or run through effects devices; its sound could shimmer between speakers in a stereo- vibrato effect, or bite like a wah-wah guitar. The gleaming sound of the Fender Rhodes was ubiquitous in the 1970's; it has been inseparable from music by Herbie Hancock, the Doors, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder. Acid-jazz producers and funk revivalists like Erykah Badu and D'Angelo have also embraced the Rhodes sound.
Mr. Rhodes was born in the San Fernando Valley and became interested in music and architecture. He received a scholarship to study architecture at the University of Southern California but in 1929, as the Depression began, he dropped out to support his family. He began teaching piano when he was 19, and developed his own method that was designed to bridge classical piano instruction, with its reliance on written music, and jazz improvisation. The Rhodes Method was picked up across the United States.
During World War II he joined the Army Air Corps, where he gave lessons to fellow servicemen and entertained wounded airmen. To bring a small, portable piano to bedridden patients, in 1942 he built a 29-note keyboard using aluminum tubing from a B-17 to make a xylophone-like instrument, called the Army Air Corps lap model piano. After the war, he founded the Rhodes Piano Corporation, which built what he called the Pre-Piano in 1946.
Leo Fender, the electric guitar pioneer, bought Mr. Rhodes's company in 1959 and began manufacturing the Piano Bass, a keyboard instrument with the bottom 32 notes of a piano. The Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, was one of the most prominent musicians to use the Piano Bass; he also gave the later Fender Rhodes piano a showcase in the song "Riders on the Storm." (Yawn. Ðed.)
CBS bought Fender's instrument company in 1965. Working for CBS, Mr. Rhodes introduced the 73-note Fender Rhodes Suitcase Piano, which combined a keyboard, amplifier and speaker cabinets. In 1970, the company started making the Stage Piano, without the speakers, which could be transported more easily and plugged in to amplifiers or sound systems. Full, 88-key models were also made. Soon, the Fender Rhodes tones were heard everywhere.
The Rhodes company was sold in 1983 to William Schultz, formerly with Fender Rhodes, and Mr. Schultz then sold the Rhodes name to the Roland Corporation, a Japanese instrument manufacturer, in 1987. Mr. Rhodes was not informed, Mrs. Rhodes said. Under the Rhodes name, Roland made keyboards that included a digital version of the Rhodes piano sound. Mr. Rhodes disapproved. "He wouldn't have one in the house," said Mrs. Rhodes.
Mr. Rhodes continued to promulgate the Rhodes Method of teaching piano, and in 1991 made a video version financed by a music-store owner, Joe Brandstetter, who started a chain of Rhodes Method piano studios.
Mr. Rhodes suffered a stroke in 1996, and in 1997, Roland returned the rights to his name to Mr. Rhodes after Mr. Brandstetter paid Roland $10,000, said Mr. Rhodes's wife, Margit. The trademark is currently under legal dispute in Los Angeles, claimed by the Rhodes family and by Mr. Brandstetter. Since 1997, there have been consistent rumors that a new Rhodes electric piano, returning to the original approach, will be made. "It is our intention to manufacture a piano," said Harold Rhodes Jr. Meanwhile, Rhodes instruments from the 1970's and the early 80's are cherished by collectors, producers and working musicians.
In addition to his wife and son Harold, Mr. Rhodes is survived by a brother, John; another son, David; three daughters, Carol Newman, Jan Wylie and Linda Rhodes; and six stepdaughters, Karlyn McCarroll, Mona Lumtin, Karlyn Hale, Jorjann Mohr, Robyn Smith and Merrilyn Herrera.
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