Who was Iannis Xenakis?

Composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) was a revolutionary in every sense of the word, had a turbulent life and came to music relatively late.


Born in Romania, Iannis Xenakis spent his formative years in Greece, where he trained as an architect and engineer.


Passionate about his country, he served in the Greek resistance movement during the Second World War and sustained injuries that nearly killed him.

His part in the troubles of that period led to his exile and a death sentence, should he ever return.

It was in Paris where he settled, finding work as an architect before embracing composition seriously in his 30s.

His ideas around composing were, to many at the Paris Conservatoire, more than a little leftfield and he struggled to be taken seriously by the likes of Darius Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger.

Olivier Messiaen, however, saw something in him and encouraged his composing, suggesting he look to his experience of engineering and mathematics to aid his music.

This he did and he went on to blaze a trail in experimental music, inspired by game theory, architecture and computer algorithms, establishing the School of Mathematical and Automatic Music in 1966.

He shared his passion with students on both sides of the Atlantic, establishing free lectures at Gresham College in London and a centre for mathematical music at Indiana University in the US.

Selected Works

Metastasis (1954)
Pithoprakta (1956)
Achorripsis (1958)
Polla ta dhina (1962)
Akrata (1964)
Polytope of Cluny (1972)
Cendrées (1974)
Psappha (1975)
Jonchaies (1977)
Pléïades (1978)
Pour les Paix (1982)
O-mega (1997)