Tudor, David, 1926-1996

Alternative names
Birth 1926-01-20
Death 1996-08-13

Biographical notes:

American composer and performer of piano, multi-media and electronic music. By 1950 Tudor established his reputation as the leading exponent of the piano music of the American and European avante-gardes.

From the description of David Tudor Papers, 1943-1989 (bulk 1950-1965). (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 80965755

David Tudor was an American pianist and electronic music composer.

From the description of Recordings of David Tudor performances [sound recording] 1950-1959. (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 85167804

American pianist and electronic music composer.

From the description of David Tudor papers, 1884-1998 (bulk 1940-1996) (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 81150994

Biographical/Historical Note

Born in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1926, David Tudor studied composition and analysis with Stefan Wolpe, organ and theory with H. William Hawke, and piano with Irma Wolpe Rademacher. He began his professional work at 17 as an organist, and in 1950 established himself as a formidable talent in avant-garde music when he gave the American premiere of the Second Piano Sonata by Pierre Boulez. Until the late 1960s, Tudor gave first or early performances of works by Earle Brown, Sylvano Bussotti, Morton Feldman, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Christian Wolff, Stefan Wolpe, and La Monte Young. His virtuosity and imagination inspired many of these composers to write pieces for him, involving complex graphic notations and performance problems which they felt only Tudor could solve.

During the 1950s, David Tudor held positions as Instructor and Pianist-in-Residence at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and at the Internationale Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik, Darmstadt. He expanded his performance activity to include the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and John Cage's "Project of Music for Magnetic Tape."

In the late '60s, Tudor gradually ended his active career as a pianist. He had begun to experiment with the electronic modification of sound sources in the late 1950s, departing from the then common practice of fixing music on magnetic tape beforehand. By the end of the '60s, Tudor became fully involved in "live electronic music," producing his own compositions which introduced a new form of "sound art." Many of Tudor's electronic works were associated with collaborative visual forces: light systems, dance, television, theater, film or four-color laser projections. For example, Bandoneon!, composed in 1966 for the E.A.T. performance series 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, called for lighting and audio circuitry, moving loudspeaker sculptures, and projected video images, all actuated by the bandoneon. As a core artist invited to collaborate on the design of the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion for Expo' 70 in Osaka, Tudor worked with two sculptors and an environmental artist, and conceived and performed new electronic pieces for the pavilion space. Tudor's sound installation Rainforest IV (1973) involved collaboration with the video artist Bill Viola, who credits Tudor with helping him develop his approach to sound in video.

Tudor had been affiliated with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company since its inception in the summer of 1953. When John Cage died in August 1992, Tudor succeeded him as Music Director. The company commissioned many works from Tudor, including Rainforest I (1968), Toneburst (1975), Forest Speech (1976), Weatherings (1978), Phonemes (1981), Sextet for Seven (1982), Fragments (1984), Webwork (1987), and Virtual Focus (1990). Tudor's electronic piece Soundings: Ocean Diary (1994) comprised the electronic portion of Cage's last composition, Ocean, a work for dancers and large orchestral forces positioned around the audience.

  • 1964: Fluorescent sound (for Robert Rauschenberg piece Elgin Tie), Moderna Museet, Stockholm, September 13
  • 1966: Bandoneon! (with projected video images by Lowell Cross), 9 evenings: Theater & Engineering, New York, October 14 and 18
  • 1968: <title>Reunion</title> (with David Behrman, John Cage, Lowell Cross, Marcel Duchamp, Teeny Duchamp, and Gordon Mumma), Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Toronto, March 5 <title>Rainforest</title> (for Merce Cunningham: <title>RainForest</title>), 2nd Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today, March 9 <title>Video III</title> (with Lowell Cross), University of California, San Diego, May 10 <title>Assemblage</title> (with John Cage and Gordon Mumma), a production of KQED-TV film group, San Francisco, October-November
  • 1969: Video/Laser I (with Lowell Cross), Mills College Tape Music Center, Oakland, California, May 9
  • 1970: <title>Video/Laser II</title> (with Lowell Cross, Carson Jeffries), University of California, Berkeley, January-February; installed at the Pepsi Pavilion, Expo '70, Osaka, Japan <title>4 Pepsi Pieces</title>: <title>Pepsibird</title>, <title>Anima Pepsi</title>, <title>Pepscillator</title>, <title>Microphone</title> (for the Pepsi Pavilion), Expo '70, Osaka, Japan, March/April <title>First week of June</title> (John Cage and Gordon Mumma), Paris, France, June 5
  • 1972: <title>Melodics for Amplified Bandoneon</title> (for Merce Cunningham: <title>Events</title>), February <title>Rainforest 3</title> (with John Cage: <title>Mureau</title>), Radio Bremen, Pro Musica Nova, Bremen, May 5 <title>Untitled</title> (with John Cage: <title>Mesostics re merce Cunningham</title>), Radio Bremen, Pro Musica Nova, May 8 <title>Monobird</title> (with John Cage: <title>Birdcage</title>), Musik/Film/Dia/Licht Festival, Munich, August 30
  • 1973: <title>Free Spectral Range I</title> (with Lowell Cross), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio, February 16 <title>Free Spectral Range II</title> (with Lowell Cross), University of Iowa, Iowa City, June <title>Microphone (1 to 9)</title>, research project in multitrack recording, Center for Contemporary Music, Mills College, May <title>Laser Bird</title> Center for new Performing Arts, University of Iowa, Iowa City, June 12-14 <title>Laser Rock</title> Center for new Performing Arts, University of Iowa, Iowa City, June 12-14 <title>Rainforest IV</title> (group composition), New Music in New Hampshire, Chocorua, New Hampshire, July
  • 1974: Photocell Action with light composition by Anthony Martin (for Merce Cunningham: Event)
  • 1975: Toneburst (commission for Merce Cunningham: Sounddance), Detroit, Michigan, March 8
  • 1976: <title>Free Spectral Range III</title> (with Lowell Cross), 4th Cervantino Festival, Mexico City <title>Pulsers</title>, Festival d'Automne, Paris <title>Forest Speech</title> (for Merce Cunningham: <title>Event</title>)
  • 1977: <title>Free Spectral Range IV</title> (with Lowell Cross), World Music Days, Bonn <title>Video Pulsers</title> (collaboration with Viola Farber and Robert Rauschenberg: <title>Brazos River</title>), a production of KERA-TV, Dallas, Texas
  • 1978: <title>Pulsers 2</title>, New York University, New York City <title>Forest Speech 2</title> (group work), The Kitchen, New York City <title>Weatherings</title> (commission for Merce Cunningham: <title>Exchange</title>), New York City, September 27
  • 1979: <title>Laser Concert</title> (with Lowell Cross), Xenon, New York City (This work evolved from Video/Laser III, first performed by Cross, William Hibbard and Carson Jeffries at Hancher Auditorium, University of Iowa, November 29, 1972) <title>Audio Laser</title> (with Lowell Cross), videotape produced by Composers' Forum, New York City
  • 1981: Phonemes (commission for Merce Cunningham: Channels/Inserts), New York City, January
  • 1982: <title>Likeness to Voices/Dialectics</title> (commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation and realized at the Metz Centre Europeen pour la Recherche Musicale) IRCAM, Paris <title>Sextet for Seven</title> (commission for Merce Cunningham: <title>Sextet</title>), Paris, France, October 27 (N.B. in Cunningham chronology as Quartet)
  • 1983: Sea Tails (collaboration with Jackie Monnier and Molly Davies), three-channel video installation produced with a grant from the French government, June
  • 1984: <title>Dialects</title>, Mills College Concert Hall, October 5 <title>Fragments</title> (for Merce Cunningham: Phrases), Angers, December 7
  • 1985: <title>Hedgehog</title>, Mobius, Boston, September 28 &amp; 29 <title>Web, for John Cage</title>, WDR, Cologne, April
  • 1986: <title>Electronics with talking shrimp</title>, Clocktower, New York City, April 25 <title>Sea tails (sound totem version)</title>, Whitney Museum at Philip Morris, New York City, September 17 <title>9 lines reflected</title> (with Jackie Monnier), Whitney Museum at Philip Morris, New York City, September 17 <title>Line &amp; cluster</title>, Munich, November 17
  • 1987: <title>Web for John Cage II</title>, Munich, October 17 <title>Webwork</title> (for Merce Cunningham), New York, March 4 <title>Five stone</title> (with John Cage), Berlin, June 16
  • 1990: Virtual focus (for Merce Cunningham: Polarity), New York City, March 20
  • 1991: <title>Coefficient I</title> <title>Coefficient: frictional percussion and electronics</title>, S.E.M. Ensemble, Paula Cooper Gallery, February 26
  • 1992: Neural network plus (for Merce Cunningham), November
  • 1992 - 1994 : Neural Synthesis nos. 1-9
  • 1994: <title>Untitled (1975/1994)</title> (for Merce Cunningham, based on <title>Toneburst</title>, Lyons, France, November <title>Soundings: ocean diary</title> (for Merce Cunningham), Bruxelles, Belgium, May 17
  • 1996: Toneburst: maps and fragments (with Sophia Ogielska), Wesleyan University, September

From the guide to the David Tudor papers, 1884-1998 (bulk 1940-1996), (The Getty Research Institute Special Collections 1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100 Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688 (310) 440-7390)


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  • Fluxus (Group of artists)--Scores
  • Music--20th century
  • Aleatory music
  • Musical sketches
  • Sonatas (piano)
  • Electronic music
  • Sonatas (Violin and piano)
  • Avant-garde (Music)
  • Music--Interpretation (Phrasing, dynamics, etc.)
  • Concerts
  • Composers


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  • United States (as recorded)