Cornelius Cardew


Cornelius Cardew was an influential English avant-garde composer.

Cardew was born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. From 1953-57, Cardew studied piano, cello, and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Having won a scholarship to study at the newly established Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, Cardew served as an assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1958 to 1960.

In 1958, Cardew witnessed a series of concerts in Cologne by John Cage and David Tudor which had a considerable influence on him, leading him to abandon post-Schönbergian serial composition and develop the indeterminate and experimental scores for which he is best known. In 1966, Cardew joined the free improvisation group AMM. Performing with the group allowed Cardew to explore music in a completely democratic environment, freely improvising without recourse to scores.

In 1968, Cardew, along with Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons formed the Scratch Orchestra - a large experimental ensemble, initially for the purposes of interpreting Cardew's work The Great Learning. Following the demise of the Orchestra in 1972, Cardew became more directly involved in left-wing politics and abandoned avant-garde music altogether, adopting a populist though post-romantic tonal style. During the 70's he produced many songs, often drawing from traditional English folk music.

Cardew died on 13th December 1981, the victim of a hit-and-run car accident near his London home in Leytonstone. The driver was never found.

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