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Cornelius Cardew

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Cornelius Cardew (b. Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, May 7, 1936; d. London, December 13, 1981) was an English avant-garde composer, and founder (with Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons) of the Scratch Orchestra, an experimental performing ensemble.

His musical career thus began as a chorister. From 1953-57, Cardew studied piano, cello, and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1957, he performed in the British premiere of Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître (having learnt to play the guitar for the occasion as no professional guitar player was available). 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.

Cardew died on 13 December 1981, the victim of a hit-and-run car accident near his London home in Leyton. The driver was never found.
Musician John Tilbury, in his book Cornelius Cardew—A Life Unfinished suggests that the possibility that Cardew was killed because of his prominent Marxist-Leninist involvement “cannot be ruled out”. Tilbury quotes a friend of Cardew’s, John Maharg: “MI5 are quite ruthless; people don’t realise it. And they kill pre-emptively”.
A 70th Birthday Anniversary Festival, including live music from all phases of Cardew’s career and a symposium on his music, took place on Sunday, 7 May 2006, at the Cecil Sharpe House in London.

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