Friday, August 11, 2017

René Leibowitz (1913–1972)

No. 255 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s Blog and Podcast features music by Polish-born and French-naturalized composer, conductor, music theorist and teacher René Leibowitz.

Training early as a violinist, Leibowitz studied composition and orchestration with Maurice Ravel during the early 1930s in Paris, where he was introduced to Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-note technique by the German pianist and composer Erich Itor Kahn. Many of the works of the Second Viennese School were first heard in France at the International Festival of Chamber Music established by Leibowitz in Paris in 1947. Leibowitz was highly influential in establishing the reputation of the Second Viennese School, both through activity as a teacher in Paris after World War II (in 1944 he taught composition and conducting to many pupils, including Pierre Boulez (composition only), Antoine Duhamel, and Vinko Globokar) and through his book Schoenberg et son école, published in 1947.

As a composer, René Leibowitz adopted the 12-tone method of composition, becoming its foremost exponent in France. The two works retained, but most especially his piano concerto, are fine examples of this.

Leibowitz studied conducting in Paris with Pierre Monteux, and made his debut as a conductor in 1937 with the Chamber Orchestra of the French Radio in Europe and the USA. Meanwhile, he continued to conduct whenever he found time - though his podium activities were interrupted by the war. It was during this period that he wrote several books concerning the music and techniques of the Schoenberg school. Also, during the war he was an active member of the French resistance against the Nazis. Upon the conclusion of the war, he returned to conducting - reluctantly at first. He felt that in his five-year enforced retirement he might have lost his touch as a maestro. This proved to be totally untrue. Soon after his return to the conducting world, he became one of the most sought-after directors in Europe. Attesting to his international success is the fact that his list of recordings is well over the hundred mark.

One of his most circulated and most notable recordings is a set of Beethoven's symphonies made for Reader's Digest; it was apparently the first recording to follow Beethoven's metronome markings. Leibowitz also completed many recordings as part of Reader's Digest's compilation albums. The first work in our montage, an arrangement of Bach’s Passaglia and Fugue for two orchestras and the closing Beethoven’s 8th come from this period.

I think you will love this music too

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