Mario Davidovsky, 1934-2019


Edition Peters joins the world of music in mourning the loss of pioneering composer Mario Davidovsky. Born 1934 in Médanos, Argentina, a small town in Buenos Aires Province, Davidovsky traveled to the United States to study with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood in 1958, before settling permanently in New York City in 1960 to pursue his interest in electronic music at the newly formed Columbia-Princeton Music Center.

Davidovsky's best-known contributions to the field of electronic music were a series of pieces entitled Synchronisms, begun in 1963. These Synchronisms, pieces for performers and fixed media, helped move avant-garde tape composition out of the realm of abstract, disembodied sound and give it a live, corporeal focus, and in the process marked Davidovsky as a leader among American composers. Synchronisms No. 6, for piano and tape, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1971, and in 1980, Davidovsky took over from Vladimir Ussachevsky to become director of the Columbia-Princeton Music Center. The final entry—Synchronisms No. 12, for clarinet and prerecorded electronics—was composed in 2006.

Davidovsky brought the same rigor and sense of exploration to his purely acoustic music as he did to his electronic experiments. In an email to Peters, cellist Fred Sherry—a friend of Davidovsky's since 1966—fondly recalls working with the composer in the preparation of his wealth of adventurous and vividly colored instrumental music, in particular his Divertimento for cello and orchestra, his Oboe Quartet, his Piano Septet, and his chamber work Festino. Sherry writes:

There is something arresting and pleasing about his music even when it is rough and coarse; he liked those words and urged string players to throw themselves into the scratchy sound of playing fortississimo on the bridge. Describing a long, expressive line he would encourage the player with vivid language (memorable but difficult to describe). Mario loved instrumental virtuosity and there is a group of fine performers who take every opportunity to play his pieces.

In addition to his electronic and instrumental works, Davidovsky created vocal music that underlined the lyrical affect of his musical language and frequently explored his Jewish heritage, in pieces ranging from 1975's Scenes from Shir ha-Shirim—a setting of the Hebrew Song of Songs—to his Ladino Songs of 2012.

As a professor at Columbia and Harvard, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a teacher at many of the most prestigious institutions in the United States and Argentina, Davidovsky leaves behind a legacy that extends beyond even his own compositions, including such outstanding students as Du Yun, Chinary Ung, and Zhou Long.

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