Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mario Davidovsky (born March 4, 1934) is an American composer. Born in Argentina, he emigrated in 1960 to the US where he lives today. He is best known for his series of compositions under the name Synchronisms which during live performance incorporate both acoustic instruments and electro-acoustic sounds played from a tape. (electro-acoustic music is also called electronic music.)
Davidovsky was born in Médanos , Buenos Aires Province, Argentina; a town nearly 600km southwest of the city of Buenos Aires and close to the seaport of Bahía Blanca. He is a first generation Argentinian, his family having emigrated there from Lithuania. Along with the surrounding South American culture including a strong agrarian economy and Catholic faith, his family's European values and Jewish history shaped his growth and education. At seven he began his musical studies by learning to play the violin. At thirteen he began composing. He studied composition and theory under Guillermo Graetzer at the University of Buenos Aires where he eventually graduated.
In 1958, He studied with Aaron Copland and Milton Babbitt at the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center ) in Lenox, Massachusetts. Through Milton Babbitt, who worked at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and others, Davidovsky developed an interest in electro-acoustic music. Copland encouraged Davidovsky to emigrate to the United States, and in 1960, Davidovsky settled in New York City where he was appointed associate director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
During the early 1960s, he established himself internationally as a pioneer in electro-acoustic music with his three compositions under the name Electronic Study and the first few of his ten compositions under the name Synchronisms for which he is best known. His Synchronisms No. 6 would win him the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. While the Electronic Studys were purely electro-acoustic, each of the Synchronisms is performed by one or more musicians playing traditional instruments while a tape machine plays back recorded electro-acoustic music previously created in the laboratory. The live performer partially serves to warm the audience to the electro-acoustic side of the composition. The performer also adds a certain vitality to the piece since a purely electro-acoustic piece is never truly performed.
Many of the people working in electro-acoustic composition survived by the medium's novelty. Davidovsky did not work this way, and an extended quote from George Crumb adds much to the discussion:
- "Perhaps we might now review some of the specific technical accoutrements of our present music and speculate on their potential for future development. The advent of electronically synthesized sound after World War II has unquestionably had enormous influence on music in general. Although I have never been directly involved in electronic music, I am keenly aware that our sense for sound characteristics, articulation, texture, and dynamics has been radically revised and very much affects the way in which we write for instruments. And since I have always been interested in the extension of the possibilities of instrumental idiom, I can only regard the influence of electronics as beneficial. I recently participated in a discussion with Mario Davidovsky, who, in my opinion, is the most elegant of all the electronic composers whose music I know. Davidovsky's view is that the early electronic composers had a truly messianic feeling concerning the promise of this new medium. In those euphoric days of intense experimentation, some composers felt that electronic music, because of its seemingly unlimited possibilities, would eventually replace conventional music. Davidovsky now regards the medium simply as a unique and important language at the disposal of any composer who wants to make use of it, and as a valuable teaching tool for the ear. In any case, it is obvious that the electronic medium in itself solves none of the composer's major problems, which have to do with creating a viable style, inventing distinguished thematic material, and articulating form." (see References)
Davidovsky worked to solve the "composer's major problems." The electronic medium gave new means to control the primal elements of sound: attack, sustain, and decay—aspects that had not previously played a major role in music. Working in the lab, Davidovsky would literally cut up recordings with razor blades, and piece them back together in various ways with the aim to control these aspects of the sound. He used his ear as a test of the quality of each new creation, and working in this way, he built a vocabulary to be used in composition.
In addition to his own work, Davidovsky worked as Edgar Varèse's technician who also worked at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Varèse would describe the sounds that he was looking for, and Davidovsky would help him configure the equipment in the lab to produce those sounds. Varèse and Davidovsky became close friends, and when Varèse died in 1965, Davidovsky dedicated his Electronic Study No. 3 to him.
Davidovsky continued to compose electro-acoustic music until the mid 1970s when he turned to writing music to be played solely on traditional instruments including voice. As noted by Crumb, electro-acoustic music has had an effect on the greater tradition, and certainly in Davidovsky's non-electronic music the effects are clear: there is much attention given to quality of attack, sustain, and decay of the instruments, requiring a greater skill by the performer. Except for Synchronisms No. 9 composed in 1988 and Synchronisms No. 10 composed in 1992, Davidovsky has continued to compose for non-electronic music.
However, Davidovsky's association with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center continued, and from 1981 to 1993 he was the lab's director as well as professor of music at Columbia. In 1994, he became professor of music at Harvard. During his career, Davidovsky has also taught at many other institutions: University of Michigan (1964), the Di Tella Institute of Buenos Aires (1965), the Manhattan School of Music (1968-69), Yale University (1969-70), City College of New York (1968-80).
Davidovsky has received numerous awards, fellowships, and commissions:
- Pulitzer Prize (1971)
- Brandeis University Creative Arts Award
- Aaron Copland-Tanglewood Award
- American Academy of Arts and Letters Award
- National Seamus Award (1994)
- Naumburg Award
- Peggy Guggenheim Award (1982)
- Koussevitzky fellowship (1958)
- Rockefeller fellowships (1963,1964)
- Guggenheim fellowships (1960,1971)
- Williams Foundation Fellowship
- Walter Channing Cabot Fellowship
- String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
- Concertino for Percussion and String Orchestra (1954)
- Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (1955)
- Suite Sinfonica Para "El Payaso" (1955), orchestra
- Three Pieces for Woodwind Quartet (1956)
- Noneti for Nine Instruments (1956)
- String Quartet No. 2 (1958)
- Serie Sinfonica 1959 (1959), orchestra
- Contrastes No. 1 (1960), string orchestra and electronic sounds
- Electronic Study No. 1 (1961)
- Piano 1961 (1961), orchestra
- Electronic Study No. 2 (1962)
- Synchronisms No. 1 (1962), flute and electronic sound
- Trio for Clarinet, Trumpet, and Viola (1962)
- Synchronisms No. 2 (1964), flute, clarinet, violin, cello and tape
- Synchronisms No. 3 (1964), cello and electronic sound
- Electronic Study No. 3 (1965)
- Inflexions (1965), chamber ensemble
- Junctures (1966), flute, clarinet, and violin
- Synchronisms No. 4 (1966), chorus and tape
- Music for Solo Violin (1968)
- Synchronisms No. 5 (1969), percussion players and tape
- Synchronisms No. 6 (1970), piano and electronic sound
- Chacona (1971), violin, cello, and piano
- Transientes (1972), orchestra
- Synchronisms No. 7 (1974), orchestra and tape
- Synchronisms No. 8 (1974), woodwind quintet and tape
- Scenes from Shir ha-Shirim (1975), soprano, two tenors, bass soli and chamber ensemble
- String Quartet No. 3 (1976)
- Pennplay (1979), sixteen players
- Consorts (1980), symphonic band
- String Quartet No. 4 (1980)
- Sting Trio (1982), violin, viola, violoncello
- Romancero (1983), soprano, flute (piccolo, alto flute), clarinet (bass clarinet), violin and violoncello
- Divertimento (1984), cello and orchestra
- Capriccio (1985), two pianos
- Salvos (1986), flute, clarinet, harp, percussion, violin and cello
- Quartetto (1987), flute, violin, viola and violoncello
- Synchronisms No. 9 (1988), violin and tape
- Biblical Songs (1990), soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano
- Concertante (1990), string quartet and orchestra
- Simple Dances (1991), flute, two percussion, piano, and cello
- Synchronisms No. 10 (1992), guitar and electronic sounds
- Shulamit's Dream (1993), soprano and orchestra
- Festino (1994), guitar, viola, violoncello, contrabass
- Concertino (1995), violin and chamber orchestra
- Flashbacks (1995), flute (piccolo and alto flute), clarinet (bass clarinet), violin violoncello, piano and percussion
- Quartetto No. 2 (1996), oboe, violin, viola, violoncello
- String Quartet No. 5 (1998)
- Quartetto No. 3 (2000), piano, violin, viola, and violoncello
- Cantione Sine Textu (2001), soprano and chamber ensemble
- Sefarad: Four Spanish-Ladino Folkscenes (200?)
- Synchronisms No. 6. Fred Bronstein, Piano. New World Records, New World 80412-2. Release date: December 8, 1992.
- Divertimento. Fred Sherry, cello; Riverside Symphony, George Rothman conducting. New World Records, New World 80383-2. Release date: December 8, 1992.
- Flashbacks; Festino; Romancero; Quartetto No. 2; Synchronisms No. 10; String Trio. Speculum Musicae; The New York New Music Ensemble; Susan Naruki, soprano; Peggy Pearson, oboe; Bayla Keyes, violin; Mary Ruth Ray, viola; Ronda Rider, violoncello; David Starobin, guitar. Bridge Records, Bridge 9097. Release date: June 27, 2000.
- Shulamit's Dream; Scenes from Shir ha-Shirim; Biblical Songs. Susan Narucki, soprano; Riverside Symphony, George Rothman conducting; Parnassus, Anthony Korf conducting. Bridge Records, Bridge 9097. Release date: July 30, 2002.
- String Quartet No. 5. Mendelssohn String Quartet; BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1264. Release date: September 9, 2003.
- Simple Dances; Cantione Sine Textu; Quartetto; Salvos; String Trio. Empyrean Ensemble; Susan Narucki, soprano. Arabesque Records, Arabesque Z6777. Release date: January 6, 2004.
- Electronic Study No. 3, In Memoriam Edgar Varèse - An mp3 file of the entire piece.
- Cole Gagne and Tracy Caras, Soundpieces : interviews with American composers, Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1982
- Eric Chasalow, Mario Davidovsky: An Introduction, AGNI 50
- George Crumb, Music : Does it have a future? - a slightly revised article, originally appearing in The Kenyon Review, summer, 1980.
- liner notes to discs Bridge 9097 and Bridge 9112 (see Discography)
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