Mario Davidovsky

Mario Davidovsky

Mario Davidovsky (born March 4, 1934) is an Argentine-American composer. Born in Argentina, he emigrated in 1960 to the US, where he lives today. He is best known for his series of compositions called Synchronisms, which in live performance incorporate both acoustic instruments and electroacoustic sounds played from a tape.



Davidovsky was born in Médanos, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, a town nearly 600 km southwest of the city of Buenos Aires and close to the seaport of Bahía Blanca. He is a first-generation Argentinian, his family having emigrated there from Lithuania.[citation needed] Along with the surrounding South American culture, including a strong agrarian economy and Catholic faith, his family's European values and Jewish history shaped his growth and education.[citation needed] At seven he began his musical studies on the violin. At thirteen he began composing. He studied composition and theory under Guillermo Graetzer at the University of Buenos Aires, from which he eventually graduated.

In 1958, he studied with Aaron Copland and Milton Babbitt at the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center) in Lenox, Massachusetts. Through Babbitt, who worked at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and others, Davidovsky developed an interest in electroacoustic music. Copland encouraged Davidovsky to emigrate to the United States, and in 1960, Davidovsky settled in New York City, where he was appointed associate director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

During the early 1960s, he established himself internationally as a pioneer in electroacoustic music with his three Electronic Studies and the first few of his twelve Synchronisms. Synchronisms No. 6 would win him the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. While the Electronic Studies were purely electroacoustic, each of the Synchronisms is performed by one or more musicians playing traditional instruments while a tape machine plays back recorded electroacoustic music previously created in a laboratory. The live performer partially serves to warm the audience to the electroacoustic side of the composition. The performer also adds a certain vitality to the piece since a purely electroacoustic piece is never truly performed.[citation needed]

Many of the people working in electroacoustic composition survived on the medium's novelty. Davidovsky did not work this way; in the words of George Crumb:

The advent of electronically synthesized sound after World War II has unquestionably had enormous influence on music in general. Although I have never been directly involved in electronic music, I am keenly aware that our sense for sound characteristics, articulation, texture, and dynamics has been radically revised and very much affects the way in which we write for instruments. And since I have always been interested in the extension of the possibilities of instrumental idiom, I can only regard the influence of electronics as beneficial. I recently participated in a discussion with Mario Davidovsky, who, in my opinion, is the most elegant of all the electronic composers whose music I know. Davidovsky's view is that the early electronic composers had a truly messianic feeling concerning the promise of this new medium. In those euphoric days of intense experimentation, some composers felt that electronic music, because of its seemingly unlimited possibilities, would eventually replace conventional music. Davidovsky now regards the medium simply as a unique and important language at the disposal of any composer who wants to make use of it, and as a valuable teaching tool for the ear. In any case, it is obvious that the electronic medium in itself solves none of the composer's major problems, which have to do with creating a viable style, inventing distinguished thematic material, and articulating form.[cite this quote]

Davidovsky worked to solve the "composer's major problems."[cite this quote] The electronic medium provided new means by which to control the primal elements of sound: attack, sustain, and decay—aspects that had not previously played a major role in music.[citation needed] Working in the lab, Davidovsky would cut up tapes with razor blades and piece them back together in various ways to control these aspects of the sound. He used his ear to test the quality of each new creation, and working in this way, built a compositional vocabulary.[citation needed]

In addition to composing, Davidovsky worked as Edgard Varèse's technician. Varèse would describe the sounds that he was looking for, and Davidovsky would help him configure the equipment in the lab to produce those sounds. Varèse and Davidovsky became close friends, and when Varèse died in 1965, Davidovsky dedicated his Electronic Study No. 3 to him.[citation needed]

Davidovsky continued to compose electroacoustic music until the mid-1970s, when he turned to writing music to be played solely on traditional instruments, including voice. As noted by Crumb, electroacoustic music has had an effect on the larger tradition, and certainly in Davidovsky's non-electronic music the effects are clear: much attention is given to the quality of attack, sustain, and decay of the instruments, which requires special skill of the performer.[citation needed]

Most of his published compositions since the 1970s have been nonelectronic. His only published electroacoustic compositions since that time are Synchronisms No. 9 (1988) and Synchronisms No. 10 (1992). However, Davidovsky has received a commission by a group led by SEAMUS to compose two more electroacoustic works in the Synchronisms series. No. 11 and No. 12 premiered in 2007 at the SEAMUS National Conference in Ames, IA.

Davidovsky's association with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center continued, and from 1981 to 1993 he was the lab's director as well as professor of music at Columbia.[1] In 1994 he became professor of music at Harvard.[1] During his career, Davidovsky has also taught at many other institutions: University of Michigan (1964), the Di Tella Institute of Buenos Aires (1965), the Manhattan School of Music (1968-69), Yale University (1969-70), City College of New York (1968-80).[1]

In 1982, Davidovsky was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[2]

Davidovsky has received numerous awards, fellowships, and commissions:



  • Koussevitzky fellowship (1958)
  • Rockefeller fellowships (1963,1964)
  • Guggenheim fellowships (1960,1971)
  • Williams Foundation Fellowship
  • Walter Channing Cabot Fellowship


  • String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
  • Concertino for Percussion and String Orchestra (1954)
  • Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (1955)
  • Suite Sinfonica Para "El Payaso" (1955), orchestra
  • Three Pieces for Woodwind Quartet (1956)
  • Noneti for Nine Instruments (1956)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1958)
  • Serie Sinfonica 1959 (1959), orchestra
  • Contrastes No. 1 (1960), string orchestra and electronic sounds
  • Electronic Study No. 1 (1961) Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center
  • Piano 1961 (1961), orchestra
  • Electronic Study No. 2 (1962)
  • Synchronisms No. 1 (1962), flute and electronic sound
  • Trio for Clarinet, Trumpet, and Viola (1962)
  • Synchronisms No. 2 (1964), flute, clarinet, violin, cello and tape
  • Synchronisms No. 3 (1964), cello and electronic sound
  • Electronic Study No. 3 (1965)
  • Inflexions (1965), chamber ensemble
  • Junctures (1966), flute, clarinet, and violin
  • Synchronisms No. 4 (1966), chorus and tape
  • Music for Solo Violin (1968)
  • Synchronisms No. 5 (1969), percussion players and tape
  • Synchronisms No. 6 (1970), piano and electronic sound (won 1971 Pulitzer Prize)
  • Chacona (1971), violin, cello, and piano
  • Transientes (1972), orchestra
  • Ludus 2 (1973), flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano
  • Synchronisms No. 7 (1974), orchestra and tape
  • Synchronisms No. 8 (1974), woodwind quintet and tape
  • Scenes from Shir ha-Shirim (1975), soprano, two tenors, bass soli and chamber ensemble
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1976)
  • Pennplay (1979), sixteen players
  • Consorts (1980), symphonic band
  • String Quartet No. 4 (1980)
  • String Trio (1982), violin, viola, violoncello
  • Romancero (1983), soprano, flute (piccolo, alto flute), clarinet (bass clarinet), violin and violoncello
  • Divertimento (1984), cello and orchestra
  • Capriccio (1985), two pianos
  • Salvos (1986), flute (piccolo, alto flute), clarinet, harp, percussion, violin and cello
  • Quartetto (1987), flute, violin, viola and violoncello
  • Synchronisms No. 9 (1988), violin and tape
  • Biblical Songs (1990), soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano
  • Concertante (1990), string quartet and orchestra
  • Simple Dances (1991-2001), flute (piccolo, alto flute), two percussion, piano, and cello
  • Synchronisms No. 10 (1992), guitar and electronic sounds
  • Shulamit's Dream (1993), soprano and orchestra
  • Festino (1994), guitar, viola, violoncello, contrabass
  • Concertino (1995), violin and chamber orchestra
  • Flashbacks (1995), flute (piccolo and alto flute), clarinet (bass clarinet), violin violoncello, piano and percussion
  • Quartetto No. 2 (1996), oboe, violin, viola, violoncello
  • String Quartet No. 5 (1998)
  • Quartetto No. 3 (2000), piano, violin, viola, and violoncello
  • Cantione Sine Textu (2001), soprano and chamber ensemble
  • RecitAndy (2001), cello
  • Duo Capriccioso (2003), piano and violin
  • Sefarad: Four Spanish-Ladino Folkscenes (2004), baritone voice, flute (piccolo, alto flute), clarinet (bass clarinet), percussion, violin and cello
  • Quartetto No. 4 (2005), clarinet, violin, viola and cello
  • Synchronisms No. 11 (2005), contrabass and tape
  • Synchronisms No. 12 (2006), clarinet and tape
  • Piano Septet (2007)


  • Works by Martin Brody, Mario Davidovsky, Miriam Gideon, Rand Steiger, Chinary Ung, New World Records, New World 80412-2. Release date: December 8, 1992.
    • Synchronisms No. 6; Fred Bronstein, Piano.
  • Korf: Symphony No.2/Davidovsky: Divertimento/Wright: Night Scenes, New World Records, New World 80383-2. Release date: December 8, 1992.
    • Divertimento; Fred Sherry, cello; Riverside Symphony, George Rothman conducting.
  • Flashbacks: Music by Mario Davidovsky, Bridge Records, Bridge 9097. Release date: June 27, 2000.
    • Flashbacks; The New York New Music Ensemble.
    • Festino; Speculum Musicae.
    • Romancero; Susan Narucki, soprano; Speculum Musicae.
    • Quartetto No. 2; Peggy Pearson, oboe; Bayla Keyes, violin; Mary Ruth Ray, viola; Rhonda Rider, violoncello.
    • Synchronisms No. 10; David Starobin, guitar.
    • String Trio; Speculum Musicae.
  • Mario Davidovsky: 3 Cycles on Biblical Texts; Susan Narucki, soprano; Riverside Symphony, George Rothman conducting; Bridge Records, Bridge 1112. Release Date: July 30, 2002.
    • Shulamit's Dream.
    • Scenes from Shir ha-Shirim.
    • Biblical Songs.
  • Harvard Composers, Mendelssohn String Quartet, BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1264. Release date: September 9, 2003.
    • String Quartet No. 5.
  • Salvos: Chamber Music of Mario Davidovsky, Empyrean Ensemble; Susan Narucki, soprano. Arabesque Records, Arabesque Z6777. Release date: January 6, 2004.
    • Simple Dances.
    • Cantione Sine Textu.
    • Quartetto.
    • Salvos.
    • String Trio.
  • The Music of Mario Davidovsky, Vol. 3, Bridge Records, Bridge 9171. Release date: September 1, 2005.
    • Synchronisms No. 5; The Manhattan School of Music Percussion Ensemble, Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor.
    • Synchronisms No. 6 Aleck Karis, piano.
    • Synchronisms No. 9; Curtis Macomber, violin.
    • Chacona; Curtis Macomber, violin; Eric Bartlett, cello; Aleck Karis, piano.
    • Quartetto; Susan Palma Nidel, flute; Curtis Macomber, violin; Maureen Gallagher, viola; Eric Bartlett, violoncello.
    • Duo Capriccioso; Curtis Macomber, violin; Aleck Karis, piano.

Notable students


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