Frederic Rzewski
Rzewski in 2011
Frederic Anthony Rzewski

(1938-04-13)April 13, 1938
DiedJune 26, 2021(2021-06-26) (aged 83)
Montiano, Italy
  • Composer
  • Pianist
  • Academic teacher
Known for
Notable workList of compositions

Frederic Anthony Rzewski (/ˈʒɛfski/ ZHEF-skee; April 13, 1938 – June 26, 2021) was an American composer and pianist, considered to be one of the most important American composer-pianists of his time.[1][2] His major compositions, which often incorporate social and political themes, include the minimalist Coming Together and the variation set The People United Will Never Be Defeated!,[1] which has been called "a modern classic".[2]

Early life and education

Rzewski was born on April 13, 1938, in Westfield, Massachusetts, to parents of Polish[3] and Jewish descent,[4] and raised Catholic.[5] He began playing piano at age 5 and attended Phillips Academy, Harvard, and Princeton, where his teachers included Randall Thompson, Roger Sessions, Walter Piston, and Milton Babbitt. In 1960, he went to Italy on a Fulbright grant, a trip which was formative in his future musical development. In addition to studying with Luigi Dallapiccola in Florence on a Fulbright scholarship[6] he began a career as a performer of new piano music, often with an improvisatory element.[7]


In 1966, Rzewski co-founded Musica Elettronica Viva with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum in Rome. Musica Elettronica Viva conceived music as a collective, collaborative process, with improvisation and live electronic instruments prominently featured. In 1971, he returned to New York from Italy.[7]

In 1977, Rzewski became Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liège, Belgium, then directed by Henri Pousseur. Occasionally, he taught for short periods at schools and universities throughout the U.S. and Europe, including Yale University, the University of Cincinnati, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California, San Diego, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, and Trinity College of Music, London.[7]

Many of Rzewski's works were inspired by secular and socio-historical themes, show a deep political conscience and feature improvisational elements. His better-known works include The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (36 variations on the Sergio Ortega song "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido"); Coming Together, a setting of letters from Sam Melville, an inmate at Attica State Prison, at the time of the riots there (1972); North American Ballads (I. Dreadful Memories; II. Which Side Are You On?; III. Down by the Riverside; IV. Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues) (1978–79); Night Crossing with Fisherman; Fougues; Fantasia and Sonata; The Price of Oil, and Le Silence des Espaces Infinis, both of which use graphical notation; Les Moutons de Panurge; and the Antigone-Legend.[8] Rzewski's later compositions include Nanosonatas (2006–2010) and Cadenza con o senza Beethoven (2003), written for Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Rzewski played the solo part in the world premiere of his piano concerto at the 2013 BBC Proms.[9]

Personal life and death

In 1963, Rzewski married Nicole Abbeloos; they had five children.[10] While Rzewski never divorced Abbeloos, his companion for about the last 20 years of his life was Françoise Walot, with whom he had two children. He also had five grandchildren.[11] Rzewski died of an apparent heart attack in Montiano, Tuscany, Italy,[12] on June 26, 2021, at the age of 83.[11]


Nicolas Slonimsky said of Rzewski in 1993: "He is furthermore a granitically overpowering piano technician, capable of depositing huge boulders of sonoristic material across the keyboard without actually wrecking the instrument."[13] Michael Schell called Rzewski "the most important living composer of piano music, and surely one of the dozen or so most important living American composers".[1]

In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau reviewed Coming Together/Attica/Moutons de Panurge, an album recorded with vocals by performance artist Steve Ben Israel and released in 1973 by Opus One Records. "The design of 'Coming Together' is simple, even minimal", Christgau said. "Steve ben Israel reads and rereads one of Sam Melville's letters from Attica over a jazzy, repetitious vamp. Yet the result is political art as expressive and accessible as Guernica. In ben Israel's interpretation, Melville's prison years have made him both visionary and mad, and the torment of his incarceration is rendered more vivid by the nagging intensity of the music. The [LP's] other side features a less inspiring political piece and a percussion composition, each likable but not compelling, but that's a cavil. 'Coming Together' is amazing."[14]

Selected discography

As composer

As pianist



  1. ^ a b c Schell, Michael (April 19, 2018). "Frederic Rzewski at 80: Directions Inevitable or Otherwise". Second Inversion. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Swed, Mark (July 15, 2020). "Listen to Rzewski's 'People United' and hear protest music that stirs the soul". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  3. ^ Gilmore, Bob (September 30, 2011). "Frederic Rzewski". Retrieved June 26, 2021.
  4. ^ Kim, Sujin (2011). "Understanding Frederic Rzewski's North American Ballads". p. 19. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
  5. ^ "Frederic Rzewski interview". January 14, 2010. Retrieved June 26, 2021.
  6. ^ Robin, William (June 27, 2021). "Frederic Rzewski, Politically Committed Composer and Pianist, Dies at 83". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 28, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "Frederic Rzewski", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980.
  8. ^ Murray, Edward (2001). "Rzewski, Frederic". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.24218. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved June 30, 2021.
  9. ^ "Prom 50: White, Barry, Rzewski, Feldman". BBC. August 19, 2013. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  10. ^ Rzewski, Alexis (April 26, 2023). "Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  11. ^ a b Page, Tim (June 27, 2021). "Frederic Rzewski, 'daredevil pianist' and iconoclastic composer, dies at 83". Washington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  12. ^ Assante, Ernesto (June 27, 2021). "È morto Frederic Rzewski, temerario pianista di 'El pueblo unido'". la Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved June 28, 2021.
  13. ^ Slonimsky, Nicolas (1994). The concise edition of Baker's biographical dictionary of musicians (8 ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. p. 857. ISBN 0-02-872416-X. OCLC 28710250.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: R". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 12, 2019 – via
  15. ^ "Paul Jacobs Plays Blues, Ballads & Rags". Nonesuch Records Official Website. Retrieved June 26, 2021.
  16. ^ "American Dissident". American Dissident. Retrieved January 9, 2023.
  17. ^ "The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Stephen Drury, piano". New Albion Records, Inc. Retrieved June 26, 2021.
  18. ^ "Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!". Hyperion Records. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  19. ^ "Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!". Redshift Records. July 2015. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  20. ^ "RZEWSKI, F.: De Profundis / 5 North American Ballads (Which Side Are You On?) (Moore) - CA-21014". Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  21. ^ "Chamber Music - RZEWSKI, F. / RIMBAUD, R. / IELASI, G. / PASSARANI, M. (Main Drag) (Alter Ego)". Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  22. ^ "fred: Music by Frederic Rzewski | Classical". Cedille Records. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  23. ^ "RZEWSKI, F.: 4 Pieces / ADAMS, J.: Phrygian Gates (Arciuli)". Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  24. ^ "RZEWSKI, F.: People United will never be Defeated (The) (van Raat) - 8.559360". Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  25. ^ "Rzewski & Bach: Variations". paladino music. March 29, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  26. ^ "RZEWSKI, F.: 4 Piano Pieces / Hard Cuts / The Housewife's Lament (van Raat, Lunapark, Marinissen) - 8.559759". Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  27. ^ "RZEWSKI, F.: People United will never be Defeated (The) / Four Hands (Oppens, Lowenthal) - CDR90000-158". Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  28. ^ "Igor Levit: Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski Album Available via Sony Classical on October 30, 2015". Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  29. ^ "COV 92021 – Frederic Rzewski: Songs of Insurrection". Coviello Classics. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  30. ^ "Imani Winds: Bruits". Retrieved December 12, 2021.
  31. ^ "Retro Americana". Retrieved February 25, 2022.
  32. ^ "Vintage Americana". Retrieved February 25, 2022.
  33. ^ "Sub Rosa". Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  34. ^ "Anthony Braxton Catalog". Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  35. ^ "Capriccio Hassidico". Igloo Records. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  36. ^ We Sing For The Future! by Frederic Rzewski, retrieved June 27, 2021
  37. ^ Johnson, Tom, Hour for Piano, retrieved June 27, 2021
  38. ^ Pousseur, H., Aquarius-Memorial, retrieved June 27, 2021
  39. ^ Henri Pousseur, Vincent Bouchot & Frederic Rzewski, Pousseur: La Guirlande de Pierre, retrieved June 27, 2021
  40. ^ Christoph Caskel, Max Neuhaus & Frederic Rzewski, Stockhausen: Zyklus / Klavierstück X, retrieved June 27, 2021
  41. ^ "Nonesuch Records Rzewski Plays Rzewski: Piano Works, 1975-1999". Nonesuch Records Official Website. Retrieved June 27, 2021.

Further reading