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René Leibowitz (Conductor, Composer, Arranger)

Born: February 17, 1913 - Warsaw, Poland
Died: August 29, 1972 - Paris, France

René Leibowitz was a noted Polish-born French composer, conductor, music theorist and teacher. His musical career began with the study of the violin at the age of 5. Between the ages of 9 and 13 he gave violin recitals in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna and Berlin, but his father decided to end his premature concert career, since he wanted his son to lead a normal life and not that of a child prodigy. On no account, however, did this diminish young Leibowitz's interest in music. His family sttled in Paaris in 1926. From 1930 to 1933 he studied composition in Berlin with Arnold Schoenberg and in Vienna with Anton Webern. He continued his daily practice and began to conduct as a young student in Berlin. Eventually he made Paris his home. There he studied composition and orchestration with Ravel (1933), and conducting with Pierre Monteux.

René Leibowitz 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 - theoretical works which are classics of their kind" (Readers Digest). 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..

René Leibowitz's repretoire as a conductor spanned virtually everything, including opera, from the Baroque to the most modern 20th century composers. Stamped by the spirit of the Viennese school, he considered faithfulness to the music as the highest standard of interpretation, a principle which must have collided head-on with the romantic ideals of contemporary concert practice. His achievements as a conductor were unique because of the uncompromisingness with which he expressed the modernity of the classical composers as well as the roots of modern composers in the traditions of the past. As conductor, Leibowitz was active in many recording projects. One of the most widely circulated and most notable is a set of the L.v. Beethoven symphonies made for Reader's Digest Recordings; it was apparently the first recording of the symphonies to follow L.v. Beethoven's original metronome markings. In choosing this approach, Leibowitz was influenced by his friend and colleague Rudolf Kolisch. Leibowitz likewise made many recordings for Reader's Digest in their various compilation albums.

As a composer, René Leibowitz adopted the 12-tone method of composition, becoming its foremost exponent in France. 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 ecole, published in 1947 and translated by Dika Newlin as Schoenberg and his School (USA and UK editions 1949). This was among the earliest theoretical treatises written on Schoenberg's 12-tone method of composition. Leibowitz's advocacy of the Schoenberg school was taken further by his two most gifted pupils, each taking different paths in promoting the musics of Schoenberg, Webern and the development of serialism, namely Pierre Boulez and Jacques-Louis Monod. His American students include the composers Will Ogdon, Janet Maguire, and the avant-garde film director-animator John Whitney.

Leibowitz was also known as an orchestrator. His arrangement and recording of J.S. Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (BWV 582) for double orchestra is just one of the unique achievements of his in this area. His most famous orchestration is his re-orchestration and recording of Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain. Apparently the maestro had reservations regarding several aspects the famous Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov version. He even made a special trip to Russia to study all the available manuscripts before creating his own rendition. Leibowitz completely eliminated the fanfares, as well as implemented many other orchestral and musical changes. RL's version ends with a huge crescendo, and is quite powerful.


La Nuit Close, music drama in three acts (T: Georges Limbour), Op. 17 (1947-50)
La rumeur de l'espace (1950)
Ricardo Gondolfano (1953)
La Circulaire de Minuit, opera in three acts (T: Georges Limbour), Op. 30 (1953)
Les Espagnols à Vénise - Opera buffa in one act (T: Georges Limbour, Op. 60 (1964)
Labyrinthe, music drama in one act (T: René Leibowitz after Charles Baudelaire), Op. 85 (1969)
Todos Caeràn, opera in 2 acts and 5 tableaux (T: René Leibowitz), Op. 91 (1971)

Symphony, Op. 4 (1941)
Double concerto for violin, piano and 17 instruments, Op. 5 (1942)
Chamber Concerto for nine instruments, Op. 10 (1944)
Variations for orchestra, Op. 14 (1945)
Chamber Concerto for 12 instruments, Op. 16 (1948)
Perpetuum Mobile: The City - A Dramatic Symphony for Narrator and Orchestra (T: William Carlos Williams), Op. 24 (1951)
6 Orchestral Pieces, Op. 31 (1954)
Concerto for piano and orchestra, Op. 32 (1954)
Concertino for viola and chamber orchestra, Op. 35 (1954)
Symphonic Fantasy for orchestra, Op. 39 (1956)
Overture for orchestra, Op. 48 (1958)
Concerto for violin and orchestra, Op. 50 (1958)
3 Bagatelles for string orchestra, Op. 51 (1958)
Concertino for trombone and orchestra, Op. 53 (1960)
Concerto for cello and orchestra, Op. 58 (1962)
Symphonic Rhapsody for orchestra, Op. 63 (1965)

10 Canons for wind trio, Op. 2 (1939)
String Quartet No. 1, Op. 3 (1940)
Wind Quintet, Op. 11 (1944)
Sonata for violin and piano, Op. 12a (1944)
Sonata for flute and piano, Op. 12b (1944)
Piano Trio, Op. 20 (1950)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 22 (1950)
Duo for cello and piano, Op. 23 (1951)
String Quartet No. 3, Op. 26 (1951)
5 Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op. 29 (1952)
Rhapsodie Concertante for violin and piano, Op. 36 (1955)
String Trio, Op. 42 (1956)
Humoresque for six percussionists, Op. 44 (1957)
String Quartet No. 4, Op. 45 (1958)
Marijuana - Variations non sérieuses, for violin, trombone, vibraphone & piano,, Op. 54 (1960)
Sinfonietta da Camera, Op. 55 (1961)
String Quartet No. 5, Op. 59 (1963)
Quatre bagatelles for trombone and piano, Op. 61 (1963)
String Quartet No. 6, Op. 65 (1965)
Suite for violin and piano, Op. 66 (1965)
Sonatina for flute, viola and harp, Op. 69 (1966)
String Quartet No. 7, Op. 72 (1966)
Capriccio for flute and strings, Op. 79 (1967)
Suite for nine instruments, Op. 81 (1967)
String Quartet No. 8, Op. 83 (1968)
Saxophone Quartet, Op. 84 (1969)
Petite Suite for Clarinet Sextet, Op. 90 (1970)
String Quartet No. 9, Op. 93 (1972)

Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1939)
4 Piano Pieces, Op. 8 (1943)
3 Piano Pieces, Op. 19 (1949)
Fantasy for piano, Op. 27 (1952)
6 Short Piano Pieces, Op. 28 (1952)
Sonatquasi una Fantasia for piano, Op. 43 (1957)
Concertino for piano duet, Op. 47 (1958)
Fantasy for violin solo, Op. 56 (1961)
Trois Ètudes miniatures for piano, Op. 64 (1965)
Toccata pour piano, Op. 62 (1964)
Trois Caprices for vibraphone, Op. 70 (1966)
Petite Suite for piano, Op. 75 (1966)
Rondo capriccioso for piano, Op. 78 (1967)
Tre Intermezzi per pianoforte, Op. 87 (1970)

6 Songs for bass and piano, Op. 6 (1942)
Tourist Death, concert aria for soprano and chamber orchestra (T: Archibald MacLeish), Op. 7 (1943)
3 Songs for soprano and piano (T: Pablo Picasso), Op. 9 (1943)
Empedokles for mixed a cappella chorus (T: Friedrich Hölderlin), Op. 13 (1944/45)
L'explication des Metaphores/Explanation of Metaphors, for speaker, 2 pianos, harp, and percussion (T: Raymond Queneau), Op. 15 (1947)
4 Songs for soprano and piano (T: Michel Leiris), Op. 18 (1949)
5 Songs for soprano and piano, Op. 25 (1951)
Träume vom Tod und vom Leben - Eine Symphonie für Soli, Sprecher, gemischten Chor und Orchester (T: Hans Arp), Op. 33 (1954-55)
4 Songs for soprano and piano (T: James Joyce), Op. 34 (1954)
La Notte (T: Angelo Poliziano), Epigramma (T: Torquato Tasso) and A se stesso (T: Giacomo Leopardi) for mixed chorus, Op. 37 (1955)
Serenade for baritone and eight instruments (T: Friedrich Hölderlin, Clemens Brentano), Op. 38 (1955)
The Renegade for mixed chorus and instruments (T: Lionel Abel), Op. 40 (1956)
Capriccio for high soprano and nine instruments (T: Friedrich Hölderlin), Op. 41 (1956)
Trois Poèmes de Georges Limbour for soprano and six instruments (T: Georges Limbour), Op. 46 (1958)
Damocles, song cycle for soprano and piano (T: Michel Leiris), Op. 49 (1958)
2 Songs for soprano and piano (T: Aimé Cesaire), Op. 67 (1965)
A Prayer - A Symphonic Cantata for mezzo-soprano, male chorus and orchestra (T: James Joyce), Op. 68 (1965)
Two Settings after William Blake for mixed chorus (T: William Blake), Op. 71 (1966)
Trois Poèmes de Georges Bataille for bass and piano (T: Georges Bataille), Op. 73 (1966)
Motifs for speaker and instruments (T: Georges Limbour), Op. 74 (1967)
Deux Poèmes for soprano and piano (T: Michel Leiris), Op. 76a (1966)
Chanson Dada, three melodramas for treble and instruments (T: Tristan Tzara), Op. 76b (1966)
Sonnet for soprano and five instruments (T: E. E. Cummings), Op. 77 (1967)
4 Songs for bass and piano (T: Carl Einstein), Op. 80 (1967)
Legend for soprano, piano and orchestra (T: Hart Crane), Op. 82 (1968)
4 Songs for bass and piano (T: Paul Celan), Op. 86 (1969)
Laboratoire Central - Short Cantata for speaker, female chorus and instruments (T: Max Jacob), Op. 88 (1970)
Scene and Aria for soprano and orchestra (T: Georg Heym), Op. 89 (1970)
Trois Poèmes de Pierre Reverdy for vocal quartet and piano (T: Pierre Reverdy), Op. 92 (1971)

L'Emprise du Donné, Op. 21 (1950)
Art for Art's Sake - A Fantasia for Jazz Orchestra, Op. 52 (1959)
Introduction, Funeral March and Fanfare, Op. 57 (1961)

Schoenberg et son école (Paris, 1946; English translation, N.Y., 1949)
Introduction à la musique de douze sons (Paris, 1949)
L'Artiste et sa conscience (Paris, 1950)
L'Evolution de la musique, de Bach à Schönberg (Paris, 1952)
Histoire de l'opéra (Paris, 1957)
with J. Maguire, Thinking for Orchestra (N.Y., 1958)
with K. Wolff, Erich Itor Kahn, Un Grand Représentant de la musique contemporaine (Paris, 1958; English translation, N.Y., 1958)
Schönberg (Paris, 1969)
Le Compositeur et son double (Paris, 1971)
Les Fantômes de l'opéra (Paris, 1973)
He also wrote for Les Temps modernes, applying existentialist ideas to musicology

Source: Rene Leibowitz tribute page (based parly on articlec in Readers Digest); Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2009)

René Leibowitz: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Rene Leibowitz (1913-1972) - a tribute page

René Leibowitz (Wikipdia)



J. Maguire, "Rene Leibowitz," Tempo (February and March 1980)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
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