Cornelius Cardew

Cornelius was the second of three sons born to Michael and Mariel Cardew. His father was a pioneer potter, his mother an artist. The family moved to Cornwall a few years after his birth and it was from here that he was accepted as a pupil by the Canterbury Cathedral School which had evacuated to the area during the war because of the bombing. Cornelius began musical life as a chorister.

From 1953-57 he studied piano and 'cello with Percy Waller and composition with Howard Ferguson at the RAM and won a scholarship to study electronic music in Cologne for a year before becoming Karlheinz Stockhausen's assistant (1958-60), collaborating with him on Carre.
"As a musician he was outstanding because he was not only a good pianist but also a good improviser and I hired him to become my assistant in the late 50s and he worked with me for over three years. I gave him work to do which I have never given to any other musician, which means to work with me on the score I was composing. He was one of the best examples that you can find among musicians because he was well informed about the latest theories of composition as well as being a performer".

As a musician and concert organiser he was responsible for many first performances including Boulez's "Structures " with Richard Rodney Bennet at RAM; as well as the music of Cage, Stockhausen, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Wolff, Rzewski, etc, etc. In London he took a course in graphic design and worked intermittently as a graphic artist/researcher throughout the rest of his life.

He studied with Petrassi during 1965 on a bursary from the Italian GovernmentIn 1966 he was elected Fellow of RAM and was appointed Professor of Composition there in 1967. He was also an associate at the Centre for Creative and Performing Arts at theState University of New York during 1966-67.
He was a member of AMM free improvisation group.

1966-71. While teaching an experimental music class at Morely college (1968) Cornelius, Howard Skempton and Micheal Parsons formed the Scratch Orchestra a large experimental group which operated for several years giving performances all over Britain, also abroad. It was during this period that the whole question of `art from whom' was hotly debated and Cornelius became more directly involved in politics.

1973 was spent in West Berlin on an artists grant from the City where he was active in a campaign for a children clinic.

On returning to London he became part of Peoples Liberation Music group with Laurie Scott Baker, John Marcangelo, Vicky Silva, Hugh Shrapnel, Keith Rowe and others, which was developing music to serve the people's movement participating musically in many of the current issues of the day.

At the same time he was analyzing with other scratch members writing articles looking at the state of music and what he had been doing previously which were put together in a criticism of his own work together with that of Stockhausen and Cage in a book, Stockhausen Serves Imperialism.
"I had been part of the 'school of Stockhausen 'from about 56-60, working as Stockhausen's assistant and collaborating with him on a giant choral and orchestral work. From 58-68 I was also part of the 'school of Cage' and throughtout the sixties I had energetically propagated, through broadcasts, concerts and articles in the press, the work of both composers. This was a bad thing and I will not offer excuses for it..."

He was working as a researcher and also running a class, Songs for Our Society at Goldsmiths, together with lecturing both in Britain and abroad. During this period he became more involved and active politically, was active in the formation of the Progressive Cultural Association in 1976 from many artists, musicians and actors. He became its secretary.

He was a founder member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) 1979. He had just initiated work in Britain on the Second International Sports and Cultural Festival which was held during 1982, and had begun a Masters Degree in Musical Analysis at King's College London when he was tragically killed on the 13th December 1981 by a hit and run driver near his home in Leyton, East London.

Cornelius was widely known in Britain and throughout the world not only for his avant-garde compositions but also as a political composer and for his position in contemporary music.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1964 Material 3.50 stars LP
Leo Brouwer - Guitar
1971 The Great Learning 3.50 stars  LP
The Great Learning Comments:
Part of the Avant Garde 1971 edition. Cassette with 6 records by Deutsche Grammophon. Very German oriented, so think Darmstadt or Donauesschingen.

The Scratch Orchestra cond. Cornelius Cardrew (Brian Eno was a one time member)

Life is dangerous in the fast lane:
The Hoxhaite group to which Cardrew belonged (and was one of the founders), the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), remains convinced that his death, caused by his being hit by a motor down the Mile End Road, was the result of a plot by the British state. The RCPB(M-L) also managed to lose its General Secretary John Buckle in an aeroplane crash; this too was seen as the responsibility of the British state.
(Quoted from here)

From a website:
'The Great Learning' is a composition with 7 parts. On the record are only part 2 and 7, each about 20 minutes long. It was recorded in Feb. 1971. One of those parts was inspired by the following story:

It is said that Buddhist monks in a certain part of Asia have a special way of practicing their voice. They go to a very high waterfall and then they start singing there. Their aim is to make their voices so powerful that their chanting will be stronger than the noice produced by the waterfall, which they will eventually reach. Now, on this record by Cardew one can hear a lot of drums (instead of the waterfall) and then there is a chorus of around 40 people and they have to sing against those drums. In the course of the record their singing becomes stronger and louder and finally they succeed over the drums.

I don't remember how the other part sounds like which means that it was obviously less impressive. Eno was (according to Tamm's book etc. - as there are no names mentioned on Cardew's record) a member of the chorus. You can imagine that it is somewhat difficult to identify him among those 40 singers, though. Cardew's record was released by Deutsche Grammophon as part of a box set with records by contemporary composers (Nono, Fortner, etc.) titled AVANTGARDE MUSIC. I think there were about 4 such box sets in total. Thus, anyone who spots such a box set should check first whether it's really the one with the Cardew record inside.