CATALOG > ARTISTS > Dane Rudhyar
Dane Rudhyar was born in Paris, on March 23, 1895. At age 12 a severe illness and surgery disabled him and he turned to music and intellectual development to compensate for his lack of physical agility. He studied at the Sorbonne, University of Paris (graduating at age 16) and at the Paris Conservatoire. His early ventures into philosophy and association with the artistic community in Paris led to his conviction that all existence is cyclical in character.
His music led him to New York City in 1916, where he composed some of the first polytonal music performed in the United States. He also met Sasaki Roshi, one of the early Japanese Zen teachers in America, who led him in the study of Oriental philosophy and occultism. His interest was further stimulated by his association with Theosophy, which began when he was asked to compose music for a production at the society's headquarters in Los Angeles in 1920. Rudhyar became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1926. He stayed in California (often commuting to New York) through the 1920s and in 1930 married Marla Contento, secretary to independent Theosophist Will Levington Comfort. Comfort introduced Rudhyar to Marc Edmund Jones, who in turn introduced him to astrology.
Rudhyar learned astrology during a period when he was also studying the psychological writings of Carl G. Jung, and he began to think in terms of bringing astrology and Jungian psychology together. The marriage overcame some basic problems of astrology, including its deterministic approach to life and the trouble of designating an agreeable agent to produce the astrological effects. Rudhyar postulated that the stars did not cause the effects seen in human life but were pictures synchronistically aligned to human beings. They detailed psychological forces working in individuals, but did not override human freedom in responding to those forces, he said. At first he called his new interpretation "harmonic astrology" and as the ideas matured renamed it "humanistic astrology," the subject of his monumental volume, The Astrology of Personality, published in 1936. A friend, Theosophist Alice A. Bailey (the person who invented the term New Age), encouraged the development of his thought and published his book on her press, Lucis Publishing.
Over the next two decades Rudhyar continued to write and lecture on astrology, but while he was honored within the astrological community he was little known outside of it. It was not until the 1970s, as the New Age movement emerged, that major publishing houses discovered him and began to publish his writings: among the first was The Practice of Astrology, published in 1970 by Penguin Books.
In 1969 Rudhyar founded the International Committee for Humanistic Astrology, a small professional society that would work on the development of his perspective. He began one of the most fruitful periods of his life, turning out several books a year for the next decade. He began to absorb the insights of transpersonal astrology, which concentrated on exploring altered and exalted states of perception, and by the mid-1970s had moved beyond humanistic astrology to what he termed "transpersonal astrology." He also began to reflect upon the New Age movement and wrote several of the more sophisticated volumes on planetary consciousness and New Age philosophy.
Dane Rudhyar wrote extensively on music as well, producing such books as Claude Debussy and His Work (1913), Dissonant Harmony (1928), Rebirth of Hindu Music (1928), The New Sense of Sound (1930), and The Magic of Tone and the Art of Music (1982).
Rudhyar's own compositions tend to employ dissonant harmony, emphatically not of a systematic variety such as Charles Seeger's—Rudhyar was philosophically opposed to such a rigid approach. His musical thought was influenced by Henri Bergson and theosophy, and he viewed composers as mediums, writing that "the new composer" was "no longer a 'composer,' but an evoker, a magician. His material is his musical instrument, a living thing, a mysterious entity endowed with vital laws of its own, sneering at formulas, fearfully alive." Rudhyar's most distinctive music is for piano, including his Tetragram (1920–67) and Pentagram (1924–26) series, Syntony (1919–24, rev. 1967), and Granites (1929). His works are almost all composed of brief movements—he felt that length and its attendant structural demands led to abstraction and away from the sensuous physicality of sound. He influenced several early-twentieth-century composers including Ruth Crawford and Carl Ruggles, members of the group centered around Henry Cowell known as the "ultra-modernists." Cowell paid homage to him with a solo piano piece, A Rudhyar (1924).
Late in his life, Rudhyar's musical work was rediscovered by the composers James Tenney and Peter Garland, who declared that Rudhyar's "best works occurred in the 1920s and...1970s!!!"
Dane Rudhyar died September 13, 1985, in San Francisco, California.
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