Mario Davidovsky is a leading American composer, particularly noted for compositions combining the live musical instruments with pre-taped electronic music.
He came from a devout Jewish family in Buenos Aires. He studied violin as a child, and started composing when he was thirteen. He had lessons with Teodoro Fuchs, Erwin Leuchter, and Ernesto Epstein. His principal teacher in harmony, theory, composition, and music history was Guillermo Graetzer. He intended to pursue a degree in the law, but found himself more interested in music. He founded the Argentine Society of Young Composers
In 1958 he came to the United States to hear his Noneto be played at Tanglewood and to study at the Berkshire Music Center with Milton Babbitt. He met Aaron Copland, who advised Davidovsky to make his career in the United States.
Davidovsky returned to the USA permanently in 1960, and began work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, becoming its assistant director in 1964. He married Ellen Blaustein in 1961.
His earliest electronic music attracted favorable attention for its inventiveness and exuberance, and possessing for tight musical logic. Among them were the Three Electronic Studies of 1961-1965. His best-known series of compositions is ten or more Synchronisms. These separate works have appeared over a thirty-year period. They combine "classical" instruments with pre-recorded electronic sound. These are tightly composed works and all require the performer to use unusual performing techniques to create sounds that blend with and comment on the tape sounds. Davidovsky cautions that he is not interested in the "sound effects" aspects of these works, but in "continuity and expression." Synchronisms no 6, for piano and tape, won the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1971. He also wrote a work for string orchestra and tape in 1962, called "Contrasts."
Other prizes and awards he has received include two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Rockefeller Fellowships, a Koussevitzky Fellowship, the Brandeis Creative University Creative Arts Award, and an American Academy of Arts & Letters award.
His electronic music is very "busy." This density of expression is intended to overcome the problem that arises from the fact that tape music never achieves new interpretations, due to its fixed nature. Due to the large number of events that take place in a Davidovsky piece, the listener generally finds himself noticing something new or different on subsequent rehearings.
He is by no means primarily an "electronic music composer." On his list of compositions the pieces for standard instruments outnumber those with electronics. He was greatly influenced by Anton Webern's serialism, but as time went on he adopted a wider range of techniques and styles.
In 1964 he moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, as an instructor at the University of Michigan, returned to Buenos Aires for a year of teaching at the Di Tella Institute. He has also taught at the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University, and City College of the City University of New York. In 1981 he returned to Columbia University, also becoming director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.