05 February 2017

Karl’s Anthology of Alternative Literature


  1. Elgar’s Enema Variations
  2. Janáček’s Catalytic Mass
  3. Britten’s Rejoice in the Clam
  4. Ives plays Fenway—Three Bases in New England (courtesy of Joe Barron)
  5. Puccini’s tender Madame Butterball
  6. Debussy’s hesitant Prelude to an Afternoon on the Phone (courtesy of Barry Coleman)
  7. Puccini’s La Spatula del West
  8. Joh. Strauss Jr.’s toe-tapping Beautiful Blue Banjo
  9. Haydn’s illuming The Cremation
  10. Mozart’s probiotic Don Chobani
  11. Wagner’s Tristan und Ebola
  12. Messiaen’s primal Ourangoutangalîla
  13. Boulez’s immovable Le marteau sans Métro
  14. Bartók’s refined Miraculous Margarine
  15. Reich’s Music for Eighteen Beauticians
  16. Glass’s mesmerizing Coin-Operated Chotchkie
  17. Cage’s well-planned Sonatas & Interludes for Prepaid Piano
  18. Copland’s devotional Oblation Spring
  19. Jn Adams’s fishery-conscious On the Transmigration of Sole
  20. A truly different train—Pärt’s Caboose in memoriam Benjamin Britten

03 February 2017

henningmusick: The self-evident truths we hold

henningmusick: The self-evident truths we hold

It is at last official that Out From the Unattended Baggage (flute, clarinet & bassoon) was not selected by the trio who placed the call.

Perhaps the title was too incendiary . . . .


27 January 2017

Done? or, not done?

Now here’s a bit of a conundrum . . . and on the lines of being ready to throw out The Outline when musically appropriate.  When I sketched the Grand Plan for the Clarinet Sonata, I “allocated” 12 minutes for the second movement.  (I had likewise “allocated” 12 minutes for the first, which in the event runs about 9 minutes and a half.)  But as I review the present state of the second movement, at the seven-minute mark, I am more than half-wondering whether the movement as is, may not be done (done, provided I make a few adjustments/additions earlier on).  I feel that the cadence I’ve just written in mm.58-61 is a most appropriate final cadence;  that the movement has already enjoyed convincing ‘half-cadential’ pauses at mm.20-21, and m.49 (which means I’ll probably nudge that double-bar to the end of m.49)

Musically, I have written the second movement just as I intended:  When the clarinet plays, all the material is “found material,” recontextualized, as a nod to Ives.  (We might say, Boulez has gone to where this cannot vex him . . . for this movement could only bring him pain . . . .)

– When Ives quotes Beethoven, or a turn-of-the century hymn or popular song, one hears it;  and my experience of listening to Ives use this method is, as if he and I were winking at one another.  Not to say anything against Ives for this (it is part of his style, and of his charm, I think), but I have felt that I should not write my second movement quite like that.  For only one thing, it would likely invite the criticism, “This is what Ives did, only he did it better.”  Ives could do what he did, when he did it;  here in the 21st century, I cannot pretend that all this time has not passed, and I can somehow do “just as Ives did.”  I even doubt that I should yield a list of the sources for the clarinet line, lest the shared knowledge invite the wink.  So I rather believe this must remain . . . an enigma

Well, I have reached a point in the second movement where I do not feel I can just go on in the same vein for the remaining five minutes of the allotment (–although, maybe tomorrow I shall feel that there is five minutes more to be written–) but neither do I want to write an internal contrast within this movement, waiting for the contrast of the third movement (which will be clarinet unaccompanied, as a kind of answer to the extended piano solo beginning of the second).  Or, maybe it is better to say that, as I review the second movement as is, I feel it is more or less complete.

So, this is the puzzle I am presently turning in my mind.


25 January 2017

That spread-too-thin feeling

Monday evening was the initial/organizational meeting of an experimental music group organized by Pam Marshall (a k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble stalwart) and fellow composer Charles Turner (also of Triad).  Experimental scores, frequently a kind of guided improvisation, it was all fun, as I had anticipated;  and probably everyone who took part felt it was worthwhile.  All things running even, I should be happy to become a part of the endeavor, if not much beyond musical rehearsal and performance is required of me.

My Problem is, I already have Thursday evenings out for HTUMC choir rehearsal, and (at least 20 weeks out of the season) Monday evenings dedicated to Triad.  I am not at all looking for a third weeknight where I am out – three nights taken away from my own creative work, plus the interference with my beauty rest before I need to report to work for The Man, is more disruption in my routine than I can consent to.

This is the Voice of Experience speaking not without a note of regret.  In October-November last year I was a sub in the Cantata Singers;  and while it was undeniably a musically gratifying time, the additional strain for those weeks was a bit wearing.

On that theme, Monday night’s rest was sufficiently curtailed, that yesterday was more of a Zombie Tuesday than I quite like, partly for the downstream effect of my having no juice last night for work on the Clarinet Sonata. (I did, however, get some nominal work on a piece for my handbell choir, because I do need to have at least two new pieces in their folders for our Back-to-Work rehearsal after church this Sunday coming.)

So tonight I have finished the arrangement for the handbell choir, and got a little work done on the Op.136.  I am keen to restore the right sort of momentum.



23 January 2017

In the way of clarifying

Gentle Reader, my conscious is mildly pricked at the thought that, in my post of 21 January the discussion of daily (or, more accurately daily-ish) work habits gave more of a “heroic” cast to my work than is really justifiable.  Because the recently completed Symphony is not simply a result of “a little work each day.”  Well, that was quite possibly true of the first movement;  but an honest review of the remainder (and simple majority) of the score shows that I wrote almost 85% of the Larghetto second movement while I was out of the office on PTO the week after Christmas, and that the lion’s share of the heavy lifting on the Vivo assai third movement, I performed over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.

Nevertheless, a combination of putting the time off from the full-time job to good musical account, and having good compositional work habits around the ‘inconvenience’ of the gainful employment situations, is what made possible the completion of the Symphony in good order.

What now?  The composer is ready (and indeed keen) to apply these methods to completion of the current large-scale works-in-progress, the Clarinet Sonata and (yes, really) White Nights.  I am inclined to begin with the Sonata, since prospects for its performance are more apparently immediate.

It is that time of year, when I need to have some music in the folders of my handbell choir (rehearsal to resume this Sunday), and I do have an arrangement in mind, which will occupy me somewhat this week;  but I believe I can also begin getting my mind back inside the second movement of the Cl Sonata.



22 January 2017

Chance meeting

This is a fun story (even if nothing should come of it).  Early Thursday, when the Symphony was nearly done, I wrote to Stephen Symchych, a violinist who has played some Henningmusick in times past, to share the (imminent) news, and to ask if he knew any conductor(s) who might be interested.  He mentioned two (one of whom has decamped to the west coast).

Friday night, the Greater Boston Choral Consortium had a "Speed Dating" networking event, and I had registered to attend as a member of Triad.  Early Friday, I thought, I don't know just whom I might meet at this event;  would it not be on the pathetic side if, when I say, "You know, I've just written a symphony," and the other party says, "Really? May I see it?" . . . on the pathetic side, if I don't have a copy with me?

So I brought two hard copies, not really expecting that there would be anyone to give either of them, but not wanting to be empty-handed.  And lo! whom should I meet there, but the very conductor yet in the Boston area whom Stephen named in his message of Thursday.  So, he was impressed by the fact that I had just written a symphony, and possibly further impressed by the fact that I had a score to pass across the table to him.  He leafed a bit through it as the conversation went on, his face was not easy to read.  When the bell rang to announce the next stage of the "Speed Dating," he closed the score respectfully, and started to proffer it towards me, but I welcomed him to take it with him and examine at his ease.

I followed up with an email message to the address available at his website.  And . . . we shall see.

In chat with Charles Turner (the other Triad member there) immediately after, he said, Fortune favors the prepared.  You were ready with that score.

21 January 2017

Symphony Afterglow

Practically all of the composers I know personally (and the great majority of American composers from Ives on) have written pieces, and then wondered when, if ever, they will be performed.  And, sure, I wonder when my now-new Symphony will be performed.

I am not writing here to say, it doesn’t matter to me when it actually gets performed.  But I wrote my Opus 143 principally because I felt I had to, and because I wanted simply to write the best music I could;  so I am really just filled with elation at having brought it to fruition. I’m proud of the piece I have written, and proud that I set to it on my own initiative, and in complete liberty of spirit.

Also, I chuckle a little at some parts of the process, such as this sheet of paper:



Probably I started this outline on 2 January, having already composed the first twelve measures (though not with all the detail presently in the score for those measures) on New Year’s Day.  I did, indeed, prepare like outlines for each of the first two movements, but not as filled out as this, for the third movement.  Why?  Why more detail for the outline of the shortest of the three movements?

My plan at the outset (from early October, that is) was for the whole Symphony to run about 25 minutes:  if I can succeed in interesting the director of a good community orchestra in the piece, the fact that it will not occupy all of a program (nor all of the band’s rehearsal time) will be a point in my piece’s favor.  So I planned on three movements, on the time-honored fast-slow-fast model, with durations of 7-and-a-half, 12, and 5-and-a-half minutes, respectively.

Now, this is not a film score, so I am not obliged to keep “cues” to an inflexibly exact time to fit frames of celluloid;  and I did not set these timings in stone.  And the outlines I sketched for each movement provide a suggestion of order, linear and “global,” and are not any memo from Procrustes;  whenever I use such a tool in writing, I make entirely free to disregard the outline in the artistic interests of the unfolding work.

In just such a way, the first movement came to run “too long” by just about a full minute, so (without committing myself inflexibly to the new timings, either) I figured on “making that up” by shaving half a minute from each of the successive movements.

So, the third movement needed to be about five minutes long, not a duration apt to overstay its welcome (though, this can be done, I suppose);  and I wanted it to be the liveliest movement of the three, a sort of combination scherzo and finale.  I used the outline both as an aid to keep myself true (or truer) to the given goal of a five-minute movement, and as a tool just to keep at the work faithfully.  I am in the habit of getting my creative work done around other things (a full-time job;  directing a church choir;  conducting and singing in Triad).  The busy schedule is not fatally inimical to getting creative work done, but it helps a great deal (that is, I find myself more consistently successful) when I have a good idea formed of what I am doing in a given composition.

There is also the Every Day method suggested to most budding composers:  yes, some days you can focus all day on composing, and you can get a slew of work done, but it is a mistake (and self-defeating) to consider a day when you cannot focus for hours on composing, as “lost time.”  No time is lost unless you elect to lose it.  On almost any day, no matter how busy one is with other tasks, it is possible to (say) compose ten measures of music.  (Two wonderful examples to me, are Irina and Maria, artists who never complain about “no time to work,” they just get to work.  When there is a complaint, it is too little time to devote to a given task, but that is a slightly different matter.)  In just this way, I thought, I am setting to write a five-minute piece—if I can compose 15 seconds of music every day, the piece will be done in three weeks.  The detailed outline for the last movement, then, basically kept in view what I needed to compose for a given day’s 15 seconds of work.

One good thing about, both the modest manageability of the daily composition requisite, and the fact that I am already, with several years’ experience of working on these lines, imbued with good work habits, is that maybe there is the odd day where I take a sabbatical break;  maybe there is a day where I not only write the fresh 15 seconds of music, but take some time to improve the work of the previous day (even by this method, it is not necessary to fall into the trap of accepting the work you have done on any given day, as immune from improvement);  and certainly, there are days where I get much more work done than the day’s modest allotment.

And because I am in the habit of spending at least some time each day with my head inside the piece, I am warmed up and each day’s work has a fair chance of being at peak artistic efficiency.

One can see by the scratches on the page above, that I modified as I went on.  And I even see one word which I am not sure I understand myself, though mine is undeniably the hand that scrawled it.

And lo!  I got it done.