30 November 2010

At rest yet

Music was invented to deceive and delude mankind.
— Ephorus, 4th century B.C.

Compositionally, I’ve found myself enjoying an unexpected sabbatical. I mean, there are pieces I plan to write, some of which in fact are already begun (not sure I’m allowed to say they’re “works-in-progress” when I am not at present contributing to their progress). But mentally I am enjoying a true vacation.

And, mentally, I must be getting close to rested up, because I do find composition-oriented thoughts creeping up on me with increased frequency. Not yet the Cantata, nor even the completion of Tempus fungus . . . but last night I found myself remembering that Paul Cienniwa asked me for a harpsichord version of Lost Waters. (The thought was, I suppose, prompted by Lance’s selection of the harp suite as part of this Saturday’s broadcast.)

I still haven’t set a back-to-work date. But when I do get back to work, I may start with the light duty of that adaptation.

Lebrecht is moaning over Louis being awarded the Grawemeyer Prize, I see. Ho-hum, Lebrecht.

First of Three

On Fair Warning, first movement of the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 102:

In the first movement, you hear the shadow of Alban Berg in the Viola: a mysterious yearning arises from a kind of struggling non-tonal tonality. Note that even in the first bar, in the 5:4 figure of 16ths, one hears a kind of tonality in the broken D# (= Eb) Bb (= A#) Eb (= D#) chord, and then again in bar 2, note the broken up D major scale in the 5:4 figure, nearly emphasized by the accent mark on the D after the 16th Bar 3 has the little march figure which again has an aroma of traditional tonality (F minor, starting with the C-F figure at the end of bar 2), and tells us that maybe the Viola has been wanting to be in F minor from the start, but cannot decide. The seeming chaos in the piano, with its B/A# and D/C# in the bass, and similarly wide-spaced dissonances in the treble, would apparently not be involved, but listen carefully to the odd E major in the piano in bars 3 and 4, which the Viola picks up in its partially contrary figure at the beginning of bar 4. rest.

The chord at the end of bar 4, with its open fifths in the piano and the Viola’s minor second G#/A stubbornly refusing to accept the engagement ring from either suitor, will become very important motivically, as it is paralleled in bars 28-31, and in bars 203-205, repeated nearly verbatim in bar 41, and paralleled again in the conclusion. The minor second in the Viola can of course be heard as a variation on the major 7ths in the piano’s bass at the beginning. This idea is reinforced in bar 7 in the piano, where the bass ascends from Bb to Bb to G#, while the treble and the Viola hold an A.

Lest ye think that the little minor second is just a moment’s hesitation, let me send you to bar 14, where for a moment both instruments play G#, but then the piano plays F#2/G# on the last beat, and to the Meno mosso section at bar 45, where things are seemingly in accord, with a unison on B in both instruments, but immediately we get a disagreement (Bb in the piano/A# in the Viola), followed by a C/Db and then in bar 46 we hear that G#/A, resolved into a unison to be sure, but then note the minor seconds in bars 49 and 50 (nicely played in the performance). This is one of the more comically poignant, or poignantly comic parts of the work.

The Più mosso section at bar 59 shows a variation on the 5:4 motif from the opening melody. The motif is now legalized with a time signature of its own (5/16), but does return in the piano for a moment in bar 64. Of interest rhythmically and motivically are bars 66-72: the music struggles upward through major and minor seconds for a while. In bar 69 the 5:4 figure in the piano sets the stage for an erratic ascent from B to C, with a minor ninth crescendo in bar 72.

The delicious Slow (but with life) part (bars 83-108) shows variations on the previous motifs (bar 86 develops the 5:4 figure, and the double open fifths in bar 87), and I like how the wide leaps in the piano presage the sudden drop in the Viola in bars 97-98. Octaves abound, but not for long, as the music fragments to a kind of pointillism in bars 109-132. The open-fifths-vs.-minor-second debate is heard in the piano in bar 122, just to make sure you are paying attention, and that 5:4 figure now appears as a 5:6 in the base.

And then my favorite part: the completely schizoid Più mosso ancora! (Bars 133-176) The section continues to play with items already established, e.g. hear the bass part of the piano continue the minor/major 2nd/7th/9th patterns, while the treble plays around with the motifs introduced back in bar 95ff. and 106-107. Listen to how they contrast with the melodic line in the Viola, with trills (136-137), emphatically accented 16ths, the 5:4 and new 6:4 figures, while the piano obediently avoids such rhythmically complexities, allowing only some syncopations. And I must remark upon how well the premiere performance handled this section!

In bars 177 the music develops the earlier Più mosso (bars 59-82) and drives toward a climax where a variation of the opening is proclaimed beginning at bar 201. During this drive, note again the presence of those minor/major 2nd/7th/9th patterns: bars 189 and 194-195 are especially impressive here, the latter two bars show a minor second expanding to a third and then a fourth, leading to the open fifths in the treble in the next two bars.

As mentioned earlier, those Beethovenian chords from bar 4 return in bars 203-205. We then hear a brilliant, condensed, and varied recapitulation of the most important parts of the entire movement (e.g. listen to the piano in bars 212-214 and in the bass only to 218 and compare it to bars 95-102), while above one hears a near apotheosis of the 5:4 figure interspersed with continual variations on it: check out e.g. bar 219 where the Viola plays an eighth-note triplet with a duplet, as well as the bass part in the piano in bars 220-221. Bar 221 is particularly fascinating with the way motivic and rhythmic elements coalesce in the piano, before our Beethovenian chords put an end to this serious yet playful and highly expressive movement!

— Leo Schulte

Here reproduced with the author’s permission.

29 November 2010

Shuffle on

1. Beethoven, Symphony № 7 in A, Opus 92, i. Poco sostenutoVivace (Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [933/1172]
2. Prokofiev, Visions fugitives, Opus 22, № 11 Con vivacità (Béroff) [1095/1172]
3. Bartók, Piano Concerto № 2, i. Allegro (Géza Anda, Berlin Radio Symphony, Fricsay) [357/1172]
4. Ravel, Piano Trio in a minor, i. Modéré (Nash Ensemble) [629/1172]
5. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act I Scene ii, № 21 Romeo & Juliet’s Love Dance, Andante (BSO, Ozawa) [51/1172]
6. Jethro Tull, “Cheerio” from The Very Best of Jethro Tull [202/1029]
7. Shostakovich, Symphony № 4 in c minor, Opus 43, ii. Moderato con moto (Chicago Symphony, André Previn) [938/1172]
8. Ibert, Escales, № 3: Valencia (Detroit Symphony, Paul Paray) [367/1172]
9. Shostakovich, Concerto № 2 for Cello & Orchestra, Opus 126, ii. Allegretto (Jiří Bárta, Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [379/1172]
10. Vivaldi, Le quattro stagioni, L’inverno, ii. Largo (Gidon Kremer, Kremerata Baltica) [486/1029]
11. Wuorinen, A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky – Coda (London Sinfonietta, Knussen) [1149/1029]
12. Astor Piazzolla, Tanguedía III from Tango: Hora Cero [960/1172]
13. Prokofiev, Le pas d’acier, Opus 41, Scene i, L’orateur (Cologne West German Radio Symphony, M. Jurowski) [490/1172]
14. Shostakovich, Prelude & fugue in G Major, Opus 87 № 3 (Tatiana Nikolayeva) [412/1172]
15. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Oh, No” from Weasels Ripped My Flesh [584/1172]
16. Hindemith, Konzertmusik for piano, 10 brass instruments & 2 harps, Opus 49, iii. Sehr ruhig. Variationen (Siegfried Mauser, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Werner Andreas Albert) [467/1172]
17. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 13 in b-flat minor, Opus 138, Adagio (Emerson String Quartet) [860/1172]
18. Shostakovich, Symphony № 14, Opus 135, ix. O, Delvig! Delvig! (Peter Mikulas, Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [718/1172]

To air 4.xii.2010

Lance Hill invites:

On Saturday, December 4, 2010, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, I will present a tribute to Boston composer and clarinetist KARL HENNING. Born on October 6, 1960, Karl has an impressive background with his education having a double major in composition and clarinet performance for his bachelor's degree from the College of Wooster in Ohio, his master's degree in composition from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and his doctorate in composition from the University at Buffalo. His teachers included Charles Wuorinen and Louis Andriessen. Karl has also served as a choral director in the Boston area. Among his premiers is his 40-minute unaccompanied choral setting of the St John Passion, first performed in Boston. Karl has over 100 compositions with opus numbers at this time. He also spent time in Russia. It would be safe to say that he no doubt acquired much inspiration for his choral works after hearing the famous Russian choirs. Karl Henning is also a noted clarinetist and has performed in many venues playing his music and that of others. His own works are diversified and are given unique titles. Karl is a long-time member of CMG and contributes many erudite articles to our site.

The music of Karl Henning will include the following repertoire:

♫ Lost Waters, Op. 27, Nos. 1-4 (complete) with Mary Jane Rupert, harpist ["Irving's Hudson," "Thoreau's Walden," "Whitman's Ontario," and "Carlos Williams' Passaic"
♫ Three Things that Begin with 'C' [Cats, Clouds, and Canaries], Op. 65a with Karl Henning, clarinet, and Peter Lekx, viola
♫ Murmur of Many Waters, Op. 57 with Gordon Stout leading the Ithaca College Percussion Ensemble
♫ Castelo dos anjos (Castle Angels), Op. 90 with Boston vocal ensemble Tapestry ♫ Pascha nostrum, Op. 52a, Choir of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston, Mass., Karl Henning, director
♫ Song of Mary, Op. 39b, Choir of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston, Mass., Mark Englehardt, director

I offer information about Karl Henning at the outset of the broadcast.

Click on this link to take you directly to the broadcast:


The program can be heard anywhere in the world if your computer is equipped with speakers and you adjust your time schedule to equate to 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. My usual descriptive dialogue about the artist or subject matter precedes the musical content.

I hope you will enjoy the program on Saturday, December 4, 2010, which is now heard across our great planet. I look forward to your comments, especially from those who hear the broadcast via the Internet. I am very pleased to know the program is being heard around the world including the entire United States. ♪

28 November 2010

Nearly an Update

From 8 Sept 10

Wound up burning discs to send to a chap in upstate New York who proposes to do a radio show featuring my music. (I mean, he does a weekly hourlong show, and some fine Saturday a few weeks hence, my music will be the topic.) Scrambled to get that done last night . . . .


Still don’t know when the show may go on. In fairness, though, the chap has been waiting for me to furnish him more text. And (apart from program notes to this past June’s concerts, which I sent him right away) I only set to serious verbiage — serious by volume, rather than by content — yesterday.

27 November 2010

Postcard from England

Our favorite Tuplet Nester (Fourth Degree) writes:

The Advent service is tomorrow (which is also my birthday — halfway to my three score and ten...) but the pre-service rehearsal will be over in a rush and doubtless a little stressful for reasons I shouldn’t go into here! So I popped over to school just now and unlocked the church just to refresh my memory of the organ there and so on. Every year it’s the same as this service approaches, though it’s earlier than usual this year — it’s an idyll: an English country church set in beautiful grounds, the air bright and clear and cold, but sunny. Today there is snow covering the churchyard, too. It all feels....right! A vision of Olde England, or something. And I sat there at the organ in the cold church, shivering as I tried to remember how to use the pedals (no chance!) and felt rather peaceful for the first time in who knows how long. Certainly my favourite event of the year, this one, and the girls are singing so nicely that I’m not nervous about my own piece this time round, though perhaps that’s a bad sign. Plus, now that my kids are at the school too, my daughter is in the choir/chamber choir, which makes tomorrow extra special.

The [Lizard] King’s English

A note pinned to the tomb of Jim Morrison at Père-Lachaise: It should be “... ’til the stars fall from the sky for you and me.” — for you, for me — for you and me.

No wonder they buried you in France.

25 November 2010

Thanks for

A friend — indeed, the writer of one of the texts to be set — wrote (among other neighborly remarks) to inquire of the Cantata. I replied:

The Cantata . . . I haven’t finished Tempus fungus yet. Fact is (and I was talking about this with Alan in our brief phone chat) I’ve found that mentally I am enjoying the sabbatical. I haven’t really deliberately downed tools, compositionally, since once “finding my discipline,” you might say . . . so, for maybe 12 years or so. It’s true that it’s largely the external variable of the increased work schedule which ‘drove’ me to it, but I’m finding I am simply enjoying the rest.

Not only that, but . . . normally in the past, when the external schedule has interfered with composition, I’ve always had some idea of I can take work back up at such-and-so a date. This time, a bit unusually . . . I’m just looking back with content at the pieces I’ve written these past 2-3 years. Alan said something about a Gestalt cycle, where after accomplishment, you (ideally) have a period of enjoying the accomplishment. Generally in the past, I have sort of elided that with getting to work on the next thing.

I know I’ll write again, I have these pieces which I want to write, and which I’ve designed . . . but I’m really enjoying this novel experience of just relaxing, compositionally, and not knowing (or caring much) when I actually get back to work. Strangely, I don’t mind not having a push-pin in the calendar when I “know” I’ll get back to work.

I have not “broken the sabbatical” yet — but the other night I did dream of some three distinct movements for flute choir. There are musical ideas ready to flow, when I find that I wish to re-open the tap.

23 November 2010

On the naming of the movements

By request:

There was a year when I was in Oklahoma and a good friend of mine was in Finland. Out of the Baltic blue he sent a care package including one of the recordings made by Astor Piazzolla’s own quintet, Tango: Hora Cero. Of course, even before this I knew Stravinsky’s tangos (one for piano; another, one of the characteristic dances in L’histoire du soldat) . . . but the combination of Stravinsky’s somewhat refracted reinterpretation of popular dance, and the earnestness of Piazzolla’s modernist-complected tango compositions, was a seed that was a long while germinating. This is the deep background to Tango in Boston, the original sketch which has since become the third movement of the Viola Sonata. The subtitle, Dances with Shades, employs shades in the sense of spirit-beings, and alludes to the tango’s nostalgic

A great many of the occasional pieces I have written over the years have been for musicians whose technical comfort level I had to take care not to over-tax. When Dana asked for a Viola Sonata, it was immediately apparent to me that here was an opportunity to make technical demands of an order seldom available to me. So it is a fusion of a vigorously freewheeling sound-world, and a high level of technical demand, of which the first movement gives Fair Warning.

The second movement I thought of as serving as a bridge (not a great stretch of the imagination); and my thoughts were of a calm, tensile buoyancy which suggested a Suspension Bridge. At about the time that I started actual composition, a virtual acquaintance of mine from Minnesota named Dave created a forum-within-a-forum, a Shed of Contemplation, which is Dave’s Shed of the subtitle.

15 November 2010

Blast from the Past

... Your opinion about Mozart, whose greatness is inarguable, is balderdash. I marvel that your mind cannot embrace the idea that your likes or dislikes do not determine any composer’s greatness.

Separately . . .

That string trio [Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian & Yo-Yo Ma] looks nice. Must have been Yo-Yo Ma when he was still into plain solid work.

One of my favorite lines in yesterday’s broadcast of an event at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, with Condi Rice, was when she frankly stated that she had the opportunity to play with Aretha Franklin and Yo-Yo Ma (I am guessing, separate occasions) not by virtue of her musical talent, but because she had once been a Secretary of State.

at rest

For a sustained time, I've been trying, trying, trying. Yet appear to be going nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.

Yet I remain artistically convinced of the worth of my work. More than that, even: I simply like the music. So, nonetheless — I write, write, write.

Always, always patience.

13 November 2010

Three for Four

Ireland banned Life of Brian, Meaning of Life, and another film I had made, about a prostitute, called Personal Services. They had only ever banned four films in Ireland — and I’d made three of them. I was rather proud of that. I thought, “Well . . . you can’t do much better than that.”
Terry Jones

07 November 2010

Very Nearly a Zappa Title

№ 1. The Naval Preventive Calliope Music
№ 2. Half a Dozen Provocative Scots
№ 3. The Duke Regains His Chips
№ 4. Weasels Ripped My Mesh
№ 5. Bubble Every Day
№ 6. A Pound for the Brown Shoes That Didn’t Make It Onto the Bus
№ 7. Baby Cakes
№ 8. Lonesome Metallurgist Burt
№ 9. Chunga’s Resort
№ 10. The Adventures of Piggly Wiggly
№ 11. Freak Up!
№ 12. Bwana Nick
№ 13. Who Are the Brain Cadets?
№ 14. Fifty Habits
№ 15. I Have Been Anew
№ 16. Yes, Now
№ 17. Uncle Matt
№ 18. Willie the Chimp
№ 19. The Talk-Show Never Stops
№ 20. Help, I’m Iraq