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Richard Teitelbaum, Electronic Composer and Improviser, Dies at 80 | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Richard Teitelbaum, Electronic Composer and Improviser, Dies at 80

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At Yale University, where Mr. Curran was his roommate, Mr. Teitelbaum studied composition with Mel Powell and theory with Allen Forte, earning a master’s degree in music in 1964. That year he attended the Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany, where he worked with the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Ligeti and Milton Babbitt.

Mr. Teitelbaum then moved to Rome on a Fulbright fellowship to study composition with Goffredo Petrassi. Lingering the next year for private lessons with the composer Luigi Nono, he was reunited with Mr. Curran, who introduced him to Mr. Rzewski, a kindred spirit Mr. Curran had met in Berlin. Together, they began to envision what would become Musica Elettronica Viva.

Joined initially by the soprano Carol Plantamura and three more improvising composers — Allan Bryant, Jon Phetteplace, and Ivan Vandor — MEV pursued a mode of improvisation that was structured yet flexible.

The group performed widely in Europe, often erasing the boundary between performers and spectators by inviting audience members to perform. A high-profile engagement at the Actuel Music Festival of Jazz, Rock and New Music in Amougies, Belgium, in October 1969 introduced Mr. Teitelbaum to Mr. Braxton, Mr. Mitchell and other members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

Mr. Teitelbaum also pursued an abiding interest in non-Western musical practices. In 1970, while studying ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, he formed the World Band, which he envisioned as an MEV-style collaborative of musicians from Indian, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern and North American disciplines.

Awarded a second Fulbright fellowship in 1976, he spent a year in Tokyo studying shakuhachi (bamboo flute) with the master musician Katsuya Yokoyama, a relationship that culminated in a recorded collaboration, “Blends” (1977). In the multimedia operas “Golem” (1989) and “Z’vi” (2003), Mr. Teitelbaum employed elements of Jewish musical styles to illuminate subjects drawn from mystical traditions.


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