31 October 2009

Canonical Rhythms

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Alleluia in D at Harvard

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29 October 2009

Blue Shamrock emendations

From: Henning, Karl
Sent: Friday, May 16, 2008 7:42 AM
Lux Nova Press
Subject: RE: Blue Shamrock

The change is this: The original m.121 is 5/16, beginning with a sixteenth-rest. Change this to 7/16, adding an eighth-rest before the sixteenth-rest. Small chunk of extra time by the clock, but crucial breathing-space (literally) which is value-added.

[ Added 29 Oct 2009: ]


The other necessary change (again, doesn’t have to be now, as I’ll just play it ‘corrected’, anyway) is an ossia for the first measure of the last system (there’s ample space, happily). Fact is, it feels like I’ve played it differently forever, and I wonder how early a version of the Finale file I must have sent you, back in the day, that this measure is unchanged.

Anyway: the way I have (practically) always played that last quintuplet, I’ve played the B-flat two octaves higher, and the E one octave higher (so that the entire gesture is a descending arpeggio). I don’t mind leaving the figure as printed, for an alternate version, though.


Over the past two-three years, an idea has phased in and out of my favor, of modifying the metronome markings. (Would other clarinetists be more apt to take a look at the piece, if slower tempi were ‘authorized’? And hasn’t the composer himself taken the piece under tempo at need?) I’m a little surprised that I didn’t suggest specifics at the same time as my meter change advisory, above. At this point, I don’t have strong feelings either way; a little inclined to leave the markings be. (Let the marking indicate the composer’s wishes, and some players will take it somewhat slower anyway, right?)

In case you feel that we might as well, though:

· The dotted-quarter at the opening Vivo can be marked 124-138

· And the quarter-note at the Poco meno mosso at the bottom of p.5 can be marked 110-124

All that said: I still think this is one firecracker of a piece. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing it.


26 October 2009

5 November in Ann Arbor

Symphony Band Chamber Winds

Time: 8:00 PM  Location: Walgreen Drama Center  Room:  Stamps Auditorium

Michael Haithcock, conductor; Rodney Dorsey and John Pasquale, guest conductors. Stephen Shipps, violin. “Mix and match with a violin attached.” Standard and unusual combinations of instruments are utilized in small groups to offer a program of varied yet familiar repertoire. One of Mozart’s most popular works is the gateway for the chamber winds tradition as explored with sounds old and new by an eclectic mix of composers following in the master’s footsteps. PROGRAM: Mozart - Serenade No. 11 in E-flat; Henning - Out in the Sun; Orff - Der Mond; Weill - Concerto for Violin and Winds

Cost: Free - no tickets required

25 October 2009

First tea on Sunday

The Atlanta event is taking clearer shape, a promising venue has been found.

Trying to arrange for a new airing of some of my Christmas music. No one said it’s easy.

I should really enquire after a performance (unscheduled last I heard) of Bless the Lord, O My Soul here in Massachusetts (west of Boston). (Of course, so very much of Massachusetts which is not Boston, is west of Boston.)

Turns out that it’s JS Bach who is the reason I haven’t heard yet from my cellist. The bewigged bully.

And Paul Cienniwa is taking this program down to New Bedford for a second concert later the same day. Two Henning performances on the same day (different events): Is the world ready?

Discreet Erasures ticker: 49mm / 1'50 at 12:00 AM Sunday, 25 October

24 October 2009


Still no word viz. the cello pieces, so at present it really is all in my head.

Discreet Erasures ticker: 26mm / 0’54 at 12:00 AM Saturday, 24 October

23 October 2009

News and otherwise

Levine on the mend.

El Sistema comes to the New England Conservatory.

And URL soteriology:

Sheet upon sheet

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Most of this page has sketches from the beginning of the score; but I worked on material for the “hazy chorale” on the bottom two staves.

I began work on this passage by constructing the chord . . . wanted a rich (but ‘gauzy’) chord for (mostly high) winds. Hearkening back to work on my doctoral dissertation (Uncondyssion’d Ayres), I decided to construct it as a ‘spiral’ of interval classes (1,2,1,2,3,2,3,[4…]) . . . thus on the penultimate staff, from the bottom: B [interval class 1] C [i.c. 2] D [i.c. 1] E-flat [i.c. 2] F [i.c. 3] A-flat [i.c. 2] B-flat [i.c. 3] D-flat.

A spontaneously whimsical (maybe) decision was to make the full chord a mirror of itself; so on that same staff, working downwards from above the staff: D [i.c. 1] C# [i.c. 2] B [i.c. 1] A# [i.c. 2] G# [i.c. 3] F(-natural) [i.c. 2] E-flat [i.c. 3] C.

‘By ear’ I thought I should prefer some other pitch content, so further to the right on that staff are two transpositions of the top ‘octachord’, first up a minor third from the D, and then up a further major second to G, which produced the 16-note chord which I want.

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On this scrap, I jotted down the rhythmic pattern of reiterations of the notes of the chord; the result (in this application) is a subtle pattern of “glowing” pulses. I had decided on a five-measure stretch, so the first line ‘states the obvious’ in breaking those measures down into component sixteenth-notes. My concern was simply with a pattern which does not fit within the regularity of the 4/4 meter. On the third line I dispense with the plus signs as taking up space I require for other purposes . . . as with the construction of the chord, I decided to apply a ‘mirror’ to the rhythmic values. Thus, the durations ‘radiate’ from the underscored ‘3’ . . . after the retrograde, though, I ‘build’ the pattern by accretion, in adding the underscored ‘1’, &c.

The second line as a parallel pattern, a free-ish spin-off of the first; and below I have assigned eight winds each to the two patterns.

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This is the application, in rhythmic notation, of the two rows of figures in the page before; together with indications of which instruments to repeat their pitches where.

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Around the actual compositional work, I draw up little ‘grocery lists’ like this, as a peg on which to hang musical ideas for ready reference later. The pages above are one application of what I’ve written about mid-page as ‘I. non-homorhythmic “chorale” in winds’.

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And this is the ‘realization’ on MS. of all the non-notational scribblings of the top three sheets.

Discreet Erasures ticker: [current data not available] 12:00 AM Friday, 23 October

22 October 2009

Baby steps

On the screens of all the ATMs, and on the bank lobby windows, you see:

Think football? Bank football

You never see an advertising campaign that goes, Think classical music? Bank classical music.

Laid in work on the hazy chorale section of Discreet Erasures. As is happily typical, while I am at work on one section, musical ideas arrive for further on in the piece.

Word comes of a date change for one of the Passion performances in March; Sine Nomine will sing the piece on the 19th and 21st.

A friend in Maine writes:

For some reason, I most enjoy your music in the wilderness or taking a long walk with the dog. I understand that its not programmatic music but theres something about the instrumental combinations that is often not unlike an inner dialogue.

It is rewarding in a higher sense when anyone listens with such sensitivity to ones work.

Discreet Erasures ticker: [current data not available] 12:00 AM Thursday, 22 October

21 October 2009


A brass fanfare at the start notwithstanding, the opening is rather quiet and specific. Even on these few opening pages I am having fun with the process (already well broken-in) of writing some material on the bus, knowing that I will want to ‘enhance’ here or there, and generating those enhancements on the fly while I am folding the MS. into the Sibelius software environment.

Thus, the following material is all on paper from the bus-ride:

1. The tp/hn/tn fanfare of m. 1
2. hp/cl/bsn of m. 2
3. fl/ta of m. 3
4. strings + contrabassoon of mm. 4-6

The clarinet duet of m. 7 I had in my head from ‘pillow-composing’ Monday night.

But, the following additions I added spontaneously last night:

1. The English horn elision from m. 1 to 2
2. The vibraphone ‘rattle’ from m. 2 to 3
3. The little ‘Stravinsky imitation’ in the violins, mm. 2-4 (Why start with the seconds? Sort of on Tallis’ model . . . here the alto enters before the soprano. Also, they’ll be a little extra-alert . . . seconds are so accustomed to riding along with others.)
4. The harp ‘plink’, m. 5

More recent ‘history’ which is making this piece quite easy to write, is that I have been listening not only to Martinů, but to
Agon. Neither of them completely new to me, of course, which is another removal of pressure.

Anyway . . . I am very pleased with this start. Had to make a start last night, as today and tomorrow are long days. I can now do more sketching at the odd free moment, and my work is a bit easier (or, continues easy) because I got my first sketches folded into Sibelius. Partly, I find it a help to have hard copy (even if it is not necessarily the most recent hard copy – though in this case it is) on the side as I continue sketching. Last night’s spade-work means that work can continue even today and tomorrow . . . I’ve got my pen and MS. paper.

Discreet Erasures ticker: 8mm / 025 at 12:00 AM Wednesday, 21 October

20 October 2009

Frescoes, a Caprice, Dancing in the Sun & Hell

That’s a full working night . . .

[ link → review ]

From the Buckeye State

      You have read my comments in the past years . . . about how chamber music is not my favorite thing, in general, although there are exceptions: Borodin’s and Ravel’s quartets, the Bartok Sixth,  the frustrated symphony in the Bruckner Quintet, and Bernard Herrmann’s Echoes are the main ones.  You join this august group with no problem: the Germans say that no answer is an answer: if I did not care for the works, I would not reply and stay regretfully silent, which would still be a review!

      Heedless Watermelon shows an abundance of imagination: one measure of a work’s worth for me is how much did it surprise me, e.g.  could I guess the next note(s)?  Heedless Watermelon was a fun maze to hear, always intriguing and expressive.  Irreplaceable Doodles – I might have mentioned before – strikes me as being more meditative and serious than its title, and therefore on the CD led nicely into  The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword.  Since a flute always has a certain slight melancholy in its timbre, I wonder if the instrument does not express the idea behind the work even better than a trumpet.  Studies in Impermanence must by definition show a meditative nature: mysterious, ebullient, sad, and almost every other mood appears.  I find the work a Gregorian Chant summary of life.  Lost Waters is a perfect work for solo harp: the music contains an Americana flavor and provides the image from and for its inspiration without clichés.  (Carlos Williams Passaic was particularly dramatic in a subtle way.)

      And the Tropes on Parasha’s Aria from White Nights – although under 3 minutes long – must enthuse every listener to want the completed ballet performed!  To paraphrase Rex Harrison’s Pope Julius to Charlton Heston’s Michelangelo: “When will you make an end of it, Karl?”

19 October 2009

Thinking to Christmas

On the opus 68: The original was for rather a modester choir; the opus 68b has expanded writing for a proper choir. If you engage instrumentalists, I think the piece could be made to accommodate any grouping.

On the opus 52: Possibly textually unsuited to FCB, though this is an original setting of a text which I found that Gustav Holst had set.

The unaccompanied Introit I send just for your own bemusement; utterly unsuited to FCB.

I may have another potential candidate to hand, if so will send separately.




The Delaware Valley Chorale (DVC), an adult community chorus based in Wilmington, Delaware, announces the 2010 Choral Composition Competition for young composers. The winner of the competition will receive a $500 cash award and the opportunity to hear the composition performed by DVC during the 2010-2011 concert season.

Eligibility: The competition is open to applicants who will be 30 years old or younger as of March 1, 2010.

Award Criteria: The winning composition will be selected by a jury. Submissions must be original compositions of 3-8 minutes duration. The composition may be in any style, a cappella or accompanied by piano, and should be primarily for four parts (SATB). Arrangements or harmonizations of existing works will not be considered.

Application Deadline: Applications must be received by March 1, 2010.

Announcement of Winner: Winner will be notified by May 1, 2010 and publicly acknowledged at the DVC concert on May 16, 2010. Application form, instructions and timeline can be obtained beginning October 10, 2009 from our website www.delawarevalleychorale.org or by contacting Elizabeth Rhoads, DVC Competition Committee Chair, at 610-388-2626 or erhoads@dgrhoads.com.

17 October 2009

Petite suite

Armed with his contrabass, my friend Allan played in recent concerts with CityMusic Cleveland, very nicely reviewed here.

Belatedly, the order of service for last week:

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The composer’s choice of text met with written protest.

Decided that what I needed for Jump at This Dead Hour was a negotiable outline:

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That actually post-dates this page, which I reserve the right just to pitch entirely out:

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I’ve since composed more which is more solidly in; but the work goes on, so everything may change, in service of the result.

And this was on Washington Street a few weeks ago.

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14 October 2009

Two hot nights, early in the season

Although Levine has been indisposed, his assistants Julian Kuerti & Shi-Yeon Sung do us proud . . .

[ link → review ]

Scorning mere fireworks, Petrenko lights a bonfire in Boston . . . .
[ link → review ]

13 October 2009


At some point, I should write a flurry of a finale, to follow Heedless Watermelon and All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage. The overall Opus 97 will probably go by the workaday title Duo Sonata for Flute & Clarinet.

In keeping with the first two components, I am concocting a title first, and finding the music afterwards to fit. I’ve been listening again to Remain in Light, so part of the title will be either Swivels & Bops or Bounces & Hops.

I had in mind a parenthetical subtitle. For a day and a half I was kicking around (The Illusion that Everything Feels Fine) . . . but I only half-liked it. Too clunky, potentially whiny.

Today, I discovered the much more elegant (Illusory Euphoria).

Now that the ossia trumpet passages are done for The Angel... and the parts are done (save for a possible typographical tweak or two) for It’s all in your head (not that that’s a bad place for everything to be) (which is still my working title for the three pieces for cello ensemble, Opus 96), I am thinking music for a piece I have long promised Maria, for clarinet, cello & piano.

Now that I know a cellist, Maria has become quite insistent.

I’m taking some MS. paper with me on the bus tomorrow.

12 October 2009

Forward Into the Past

Into the smog: Firesign Theatre Reignites for 40th Birthday.

The opus 34 go to M.I.T.

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Two new directors, and their reviews

Alex Ross on Alan Gilbert at the NY Phil:

For two drowsy decades, the New York Philharmonic played it safe: a pair of grand-old-man music directors (Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel), redundant festivals of canonical composers (Brahms, Tchaikovsky), the usual parade of soloists (when in doubt, Yo-Yo Ma). Attendance figures were generally good and finances mostly stable, yet the Philharmonic made few waves. Even last year, when a visit to North Korea generated headlines, the itinerary drew more notice than the music-making. It takes some effort to remember that this orchestra used to be a fairly wild group. In the nineteen-fifties, Dimitri Mitropoulos confronted audiences with twelve-tone music and had them dancing in the aisles, albeit toward the exits. His successor, Leonard Bernstein, passionately promoted American composers, dabbled in avant-garde happenings, and tried to convince schoolkids that Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” gave a better high than LSD. Pierre Boulez, for his Rug Concerts series of the seventies, had the seats removed from Philharmonic Hall and seduced shaggy-haired crowds with far-out sounds of Varèse and Ligeti. As recently as the nineteen-eighties, Zubin Mehta held festivals titled Horizons, exploring diverse modern fare.
A great warm-up, and then he pulls a wicked head-fake with his curtain-line to this rant:

In other words, the Philharmonic once put its virtuosity in the service of ideas.
Oh, so those are the “other words” that aptly encapsulate all that musical activity?

And Mark Swed on “the G-man” at the LA Phil.

11 October 2009

This morning’s sing

The composer was very pleased. We sang my Exaltabo Te, Deus (I served as a substitute tenor this morning) when the basket was being passed . . . but it is also a somewhat longer anthem than the choir normally sing for the First Church Boston service. The m.d. told me that the last two minutes of the piece, the congregation had settled nicely into the piece, and their attention was glued. “Magical,” quoth he.

I had to duck away right at the end of the service, but Paul texted me shortly after, saying, “Everyone RAVED about your piece!” Which was especially gratifying, as it is not the sort of piece typically served up at this parish.


So we’re driving down Boylston on our way home, still tingling with the sensory feast from a terrific program at Symphony Hall (on which, more later). We’re all talking excitedly, especially about the Shostakovich (Opus 93), underneath our conversation the car radio is tuned to WCRB (the ‘safe-as-milk classics’ station).

At some point, Maria impatiently asks, “What is this?”

“No idea,” I rejoin, “only it sounds pointedly unimaginative compared to the marvelous program we just heard, doesn’t it?”

This was unanimously endorsed.

Not even going to tell you whose music it was. There is a reason these mediocrities get buried under the sands of Time.

10 October 2009

Change in Philly

At The New York Times, opinion is offered on the proposed expansion/relocation of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

A Strange Angel

Well Karl, I’ve listened to the whole CD twice through and have decided I need to be more focused in my approach. I thought I might do better with some visual assistance, and decided to concentrate on The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, which I’ve now listened to four times. I was sure Blake must have drawn or engraved the subject somewhere, and was surprised to discover that he hadn’t — but no matter; I have a pretty good idea of how he would have depicted it.

So I’ve tried to hold that imagined image while listening, and it definitely made a difference to how the music made me feel. Some of the inconsolable woe seemed to come through — a kind of loneliness. I couldn’t figure out how the more cheerful, chirrupy bits fitted in though. Maybe the angel had mood swings! What worries me a bit is that although I can pick up some of the feeling, I don’t feel that I'm responding to it as music; rather, I'm responding to it as ‘sounds’. So I think I’m probably indulging in a bit of Blakean/Miltonic daydreaming, while you provide a kind of soundscape to that. I’m not at all sure that you’d be happy about that, really. I’m quite concerned that my response is probably a
non-musical one; I’m not aware of any pattern to the notes, or of any sense of musical structure - I’m just riding along with the sequence of sounds. I think that might be a terribly unsatisfactory response, seen from your point of view.

So it’s an interesting thing that I’m doing with it; but I think I may be doing my own thing, rather than what the composer intended. Forgive me for that, if so. Remember I’m an Elgar/Massenet/Handel sort of chap who’s pretty lost without a strong tune to hang on to.

I think the easiest one to come to terms with — because it sounds gentler, and generally easier on the ear — is
Lost Waters. But again, am I responding to the music, or just the sound of a harp? I truly don’t know. So I’m not sure how much of this kind of listening I could do — it seems like pretty hard work, and I end up in an awkward, rather insecure place — but I’ve certainly been interested by what I’ve done so far. So thank you — I really am grateful, because I’d never have attempted this kind of thing without the external nudge that you provided. And I shall keep listening. And if anything interesting happens, you’ll be the first to know.

Wonderful Blake tale you tell, and I completely approve.

On one hand, I did not have any specific program in view for The Angel; the title was sort of a ‘guiding spirit’, and I wrote the music as music (as ’twere).

Having said that, though: certainly that sort of image of a powerful, pure spiritual agent resonates readily with Blake. And as I have tried to interest various trumpeters (it was originally a piece for trumpet solo) and flautists in the piece, I have perfectly frankly described it as “mad, mad” — which likewise, strikes chords with Blake.

So: it is not quite my window onto the piece, but it strikes the composer as a perfectly apt window. I am delighted that you have found such — and, especially, I am touched by your kindness in sticking with the disc, whose musical idiom (I
know) is not your beaten path. Thank you!

And, I encourage you not to get caught back over your response being ‘non-musical’; there is a range of musical response — hardly anyone responds to the music quite the way I do, as the fellow who wrote it, and I think I should be foolish to expect that of, well, almost anyone. My music relates to various idioms of the past, but for the most part my pieces do not readily fit into well-established ‘shelving’; many of my listeners (a small group, but musically varied) respond somewhat guardedly to this or that piece. I am grateful that you have had the patience to pursue repeated listenings; and, it is indeed the only way to get a bead on my general musical world. Hopefully, once the spadework is done, later pieces will not be so much labor!

09 October 2009

New deal

Felt like a fresh go at this game:

1. Zappa, “Purple Haze” (The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life)
2. Wuorinen, v. Reliquary (A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky)
3. Zappa & The Mothers, “King Kong (The Gardner Varieties)” (Uncle Meat)
4. Bonzo Dog Doo/Dah Band, “Are You Having Any Fun?”
5. Prokofiev, Visions fugitives, Opus 22 № 14, Feroce
6. de Victoria, Agnus Dei from Misa O magnum misterium (Oxford Camerata)
7. Piazzolla, Spring in Buenos Aires (Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica)
8. de Victoria, Kyrie from Misa O quam gloriosum (Oxford Camerata)
9. Robert Fripp, “Häaden Two” (Exposure)
10. Murat Işbilem, “Gülümcan” (Istanbul Lounge)
11. Prokofiev, Temptation: Prestissimo fantastico, from Four Pieces, Opus 4 № 4
12. Debussy, iii. Final: Très animé from Sonata for violin & piano (members of the Nash Ensemble)

For the birds

Severe economies of line, apparent restriction of activity (I think I want the whole piece played piano, for but one instance) . . . the title and a scheme for the music came to me at about the same instant.

My glance chanced to fall upon the cover of the slim Taschen volume on Mondrian; and the sudden reminder of open, geometrical canvases whose space is defined by a spare grid of lines at right angles, gave me the musical answer to a question which (really) I don’t think I had formally asked myself yet.

(Nor am I one to stand on formality, where asking myself artistic questions is concerned.)

The birds, of course, come from the flute and clarinet playing together. Their lines would be strictly governed (‘caged’); indeed, at first I thought they should play the entire piece in rhythm together.

The governing of the lines is a matter of intervals. The idea struck me as a novel departure, but then, so many people have done so many ‘new musical things’ that I neither flatter myself by imagining that it is any ‘new discovery’, nor really care. But the idea is this:

The series of pitches in a twelve-tone row is apparently designed on the principle of non-repetition of pitch; but functionally, it is the series of intervals between the pitches of the source-set which are the governing force.

I wanted to borrow the idea of a series of ‘governing intervals’, but I wanted to restrict their powers slightly. In a twelve-tone series, the intervals determine sequences of pitch (and can be used, for instance, harmonically as well as ‘melodically’).

In All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage, there is a series of intervals which governs the harmonic relation between flute and clarinet, but I elected not to use it in any pitch-determining application. So far as I can tell, for the where to go? pitch-wise, I went ahead and used my ear (or, my inner ear, since I drew the MS. on the bus).

The overall duration of the piece was the first compositional given; and when I had settled on a tempo and general rhythmical profile, well, that was the block of stone, and my task was to chisel the artwork out of it.

Along the lines of not worrying to find profound reasons to drive compositional decisions, I had written through to the bottom right corner of the first sheet of MS., and as I ruled the top two systems of the second sheet for employment in the piece’s end, I felt that this was a good point at which the two wind instruments should become gradually independent rhythmically. Chances are, I realized that this was the easy, organic, ‘eco-friendly’ solution to how to write an ending that will feel like an ending to a piece which in its genesis was a compositional ‘process’.

07 October 2009

Advisory, and instructions for use

This coming Sunday (11 October), the choir of First Church Boston will sing my Psalm setting, Exaltabo te, Deus.

So far, so good.

Even those who are not in Boston can listen!

Here’s how:

The service at FCB begins at 11:00 am (Chowder Time) and is broadcast live and online on 88.9 FM WERS (Emerson College Radio).

Please listen. Please tell me what you think.

Comment from abroad

I have just listened to Noise in the Library and I want to thank you once again for offering me the privilege of hearing your music. One could not but be impressed and gratified with the clever inventiveness and vitality of these works. I must confess that they were not as difficult to understand as I had expected and that is no reflection on their content but rather a compliment on how easy on the ear they were (even when the music is intellectually challenging).

I also note that great care and due regard was given to the sound recording and the engineer responsible should take great credit.

You must be very proud of the disc and I for one will treasure it.

05 October 2009


Back when the idea first arose, of providing new music for an ensemble of cello students, somehow I wanted right away to make a suitable arrangement of Lutosławski’s Lullaby. Then, I went back and forth between thinking such an arrangement possible, and finding it hopeless. (Of course, the hopeless end of the pendulum swing was simply insufficiently imaginative.)

All the same, I wanted to compose new music for the project, as well. From the outset, then, it would be necessary to ‘unify’ new work, and an idiomatic re-working of a toccata written 15 years earlier. The title Après-lullaby is both a ‘personal’ allusion to this ‘historic perspective’ built into the piece, and poetical suggestion.

One fanciful notion which arose, was to try to write a piece based on a single chord. I knew I should give up the idea; sometimes it is more artistic to make temporary use of an idea, than to insist on its consistent application. It’s a fun idea — if you only use one chord, how do you create any sense of musical motion? (Then again, there are the famous Beethoven codas, which repeat only the tonic chord, whose motion seems incapable of finding its rest.)

Or it may be that I soon altered the ‘rule’ to two chords. The opening of the piece largely bears this out, though at some later stage of ‘shaping’ the passage (both for itself, and for the passage’s relation to later events) there is already an intrusive F#:

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Perhaps the passage really was in some part a sort of inversion of Beethoven . . . a circular obsession with tonic and dominant chords, serving as a (relatively) slow introduction. For months, the shift to a faster tempo had been a sudden matter; the scalar accelerando in Cello I leading to the Poco più mosso was an idea which came to me only this past week, I think:

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To the extent that the faster section is also a harmonic obsession with tonic and dominant chords, it is an extension of the introduction. The repeated-note rhythmic pattern is ‘against’ the meter, and is asymmetric of itself. As I work this idea, at first the four parts are all in the same rhythm; then, the upper two parts begin to separate into suggestions of more sustained material.

The goal, though, is the passage where at last (a) the four parts are rhythmically independent (though in imitation), and (b) the imitation yields an enriched harmonic profile which, obviously, contrasts with the mostly two-chord game of the piece thus far:

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In the history of my writing the piece, though, the fact is that I had first composed the contrapuntal ending of the piece (and therefore of the set of three pieces):

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. . . a passage which itself was a musical allusion to the counterpoint of the second piece, Marginalia.

As I was ‘tooling’ the rhythm games of the Poco più mosso section, I had the happy thought of taking the counterpoint of the ending, transposing it up a fifth, and applying to it the prevailing rhythmic profile.


Other new music for clarinet & voice.

Joe Fear’s blog.

And I think I’ve discovered the solution to the unwanted system-dividers.

04 October 2009

Angelic alterations

Of late, I’ve been listening a good deal to the recordings of the June, July & September recitals. For one thing, as a performer, I take note of where I ought to have played better (and at times, just the right notes would have been better).

Well beyond that, though, it has been a delight to listen comparatively to Peter H. Bloom’s three ‘takes’ of the alto flute version of The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword. I enjoy the life he finds in the piece, in the apparently impromptu variations of momentary interpretation from performance to performance.

It is time to consider how to make the trumpet original of the score practical for the player for whom I wrote it. First off, had to think about diminishing the evil of those leapt-up-to high C’s.

When I proposed to Chris that those high notes be approached via arpeggiation, I got the go-ahead. From that point, compliance with Chris’ request was not labor, for the ‘solution’ to this initial instance was in my musical view directly:

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(My not-quite-expertise in Sibelius is apparent in the unnecessary system-divider marks which I unwittingly created as a by-product of my ossia passages. Will fix those later.)

A little afterward, I aggravate my offensive leaps with an up-&-down figure . . . here again, having ‘lived with’ the piece a goodish while, now, the “easeful arpeggiation” figures seemed to me to write themselves:

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There follows a Più mosso section with rapidly brilliant figuration, some of which just reached the point of exasperating the trumpeter.

The solution here was also quite easy, a reduction in the rhythmical rate, without ‘notching down’ to a regular subdivision . . . i.e., maintaining an impression of some rhythmical ‘urgency’ by using an irregular subdivision, in this case, septuplets:

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The last of my work tonight, was another instance of a wide leap to high C at a soft dynamic:

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Mind you, I think my work now is done, but we await the player’s further input. This has been a collaborative project a little unusual for me; but then, this is a perfectly foreseeable aspect of presuming to write an unusually challenging piece for an accomplished instrumentalist.

My musical work seems always highlighted by amusing flashes . . . in this case, it was the happenstance of doing this work of revision on the 4th of October, and finding when I got to the end of the source score, that it is dated the 3rd of October from last year.

On change

My friend Ray in Winnipeg writes:

I must say I’m very surprised at the aversion and dislike to Tchaikovsky’s music (several people). To each their own, of course. Nevertheless, I’m still surprised.

For what it’s worth, there was a time that I could not stand his music either. I found the beginning of the 4th symphony incredibly annoying, and it completely put me off on beginning exploring his symphonies for a few years. Also, I could not stand
The Nutcracker (COULD NOT STAND IT!). Now, I absolutely love it!
To which my friend Brian at Rice replies:

I went through an anti-Tchaikovsky phase too. My specific bane was the Fifth Symphony; the Fifth Symphony seemed so shallow to me, so strung-together. It wasn’t a symphony; it was one thing after another, and it was loud and the silly-grin happy ending really bothered me. Spent several weeks trying to find something to like about it, but to no avail. So I set it aside for a while; specifically, I set it aside for two years. At the end of those two years, during which I grew as a (teenage) person and evolved as a listener, it just so happened one day that, looking at my music collection, I thought, “I should find the CD that I have listened to least,” and by golly, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth (Ormandy, Philadelphia) was the one that had gone unplayed for the longest time.

And, for whatever reason, that day it all changed. It’s been only a few years, four at most, since I rediscovered that symphony. Now I’d count Tchaikovsky’s Fifth in my top dozen personal favorite symphonies, and I own no less than 12 separate recordings of the piece. It’s still the same music. But the listener changed.
. . . illustrating again that it is not the art which changes, it is we who change in our relation to the art.

A few days ago, I watched The Great Dictator for the second time. A bout half a year had passed since the first I’d seen it. That first time, I liked it all, but felt that it ran somehow rather longer than need be.

Watching it the second time, I felt no such thing . . . I think the film wears its duration very well.

Indeed, one aspect of that second viewing took me completely by surprise, in a pertinent way. After watching it that first time with Maria & Irina, it was decided that we should buy a copy for home (that copy had been checked out from the Boston Public Library).

So, with that authorization, I bought the DVD . . . not very surprisingly, it has rested on the shelf all this time. Chancing upon it the other day, I found it still sealed in shrink-wrap; so I opened it, simply to pop it in, look a little bit, make sure it plays. I had not at all intended to sit and watch the whole thing; but as I started watching, I was engrossed.

In the afternoon

Almost goes without saying, that I had fun playing; but it was a non-event in curious ways.

On the earlier occasion, too, when I was invited to play as an additional performer at a domestic concert, I was not listed in the handout, but people remained seated and attentive; I was treated as a musical performance.

In this instance, that was more difficult (herding cats is the expression which comes to mind), as the pianist had played the first part of the program downstairs, and mine host had decided that I would play upstairs: there was no transition of attentive audience from floor to floor to coincide with a clarinetist playing.

In the grand scheme of things, no matter, I enjoyed myself playing, and there were perhaps half a dozen people in the room who paid me heed. In the event, though, I was glad that the other instrumentalist whom I was thinking of bringing along for the event, had another engagement arise for yesterday. I don’t mind the treatment of myself, but I should have thought it a discourtesy to him.

The pianist, by the way, (Shuann Chai) played a lovely program: a Fauré Prélude, the Prélude from Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, Debussy’s L'isle joyeuse, a Chopin Nocturne and the Opus 60 Barcarolle, and the monumental Bach-Busoni Chaconne. I should gladly have stayed to hear the second part of her program, only the concert started much later than had been planned, and I had to make my way back to Boston to hear a concert at Symphony Hall.

Also, it was a delight to refresh my acquaintance with Kathy Matasy, an excellent freelance clarinetist, who will be playing in a November performance of Elliott Carter’s Poems of Louis Zukofsky for soprano and clarinet.

01 October 2009

. . . “two bits” (Brahms in the chair)