28 February 2011

Preface to the Nunc dimittis, out there

So much space, let there be more music.


I just don't understand those sudden organ things during the first chorus in the beginning. But otherwise very beautiful.

Say what?

The kilocycles, the kiloHertz,
They’re coming back just to iron their shirts.
From New Delhi to Hong Kong,
They won’t be holding up the bathroom long . . . .

I’m not at all sure I am remembering it quite right, what Brian Eno sings on “King’s Lead Hat.”

27 February 2011

Out of the past

It’s a long time since last I did so . . . tonight I am listening to the recording of the première of the Evening Service in D, Opus 87, from almost exactly five years ago (19 March 2006). Probably goes without saying, but I’ll go ahead and say it:

1. I wish that first performance — not without its merits, to be sure — had been better still. Two notches better, at least.
2. I wish that there were some prospect of a new performance of it. (But then, sometimes my music is too easy — sometimes, too difficult.)

The good news is: I entirely own every note of the piece.



Mechanics of influence are hard to trace. Writers tend to think that the way they write was influenced
by literature, and of course scholars make a living by following that same assumption.
But a writer’s ideal of a properly built sentence might just as well have been formed
when he was still in short pants and watched someone make an unusually neat sandcastle.
— Clive James
Perfectly (and simply) true. Might it upend an industry?

26 February 2011

An old leaf

The first page of work I did on the St John Passion, and thus, still reflecting my earliest idea of the piece, employing those members of the St Paul’s choir who played instruments, in their instrumental capacity. Musically, I almost do not remember this page . . . immediately after, I got to earnest work on setting the text.

Even at that point, though, I likely fancied yet that we would employ that light, eclectic instrumental consort . . . as with Pascha nostrum, I wanted to get the treatment of the voices established in my ear.

In the event I abandoned the instruments, and for two reasons. One reason was practical: I had a premonition that rehearsal of the piece would not be budgeted any great deal of time — and if not, better to “streamline” the piece.

The second reason was musical, as I realized while I was making my way through my largely chantified version of the start of the narrative, that towards the end I wanted to divide the choir into as many as seven parts, so our choir-members would not be available to play their instruments — all hands would be needed to sing, so to speak.

Beautiful nights in Symphony Hall

Ligeti, Mozart and Dvořák at Symphony:

[ link → review ]

Not at all surprising, I found myself humming bits of the Dvořák for days.

And: Mussorgsky, Beethoven and Prokofiev, in the same acoustically wondrous place:

[ link → review ]

The Prokofiev Sixth had not rung out at Symphony Hall for 14 years — and on that occasion, it was a substitute, the result of a change in guest conductor. (Originally programmed, I was told, was Shostakovich Fourth, to have been led by Haitink.)

25 February 2011

The wrong time to quote Macbeth's "Weird Sisters"

Why it took me so long, who knows? But the fair to which I refer here has a web presence. I do not expect anything as any direct result, but there may be a few more people who know my name henceforth.

Oh, and the Flourishes were a bust, too. So not even knowledge of my name means much, in that instance.

Because that is my way

Just the music; no gimmicks.

23 February 2011

All aboard

Now (and in good time) I have heard from all the players (some of whom are dulcet singers) who kindly consent to participate in some May Henningmusick.

Now, to take thought for rehearsal (ample, and some of it quite early, to allow for the 'interruption' at Easter) … and to write a new trio.

The new trio may or may not be related to music meant for accompaniment to an animated film.

Minor notes

The Flute Fair is today Saturday, and I am told me that there will be not only The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword (in both C flute and alto flute guises) but also one of the many variants of Danby, one I scarcely remember, for soprano, flute & organ. No idea how I came to toss that one together.

Another bit of news, almost completely out of the blue, is that a pianist in New York (formerly in Boston) is planning to include Gaze Transfixt in a concert he is to play this summer.

And, last night I whipped together parts for the Flourishes on Easter Hymn for brass quintet & timpani for use in Pittsburgh.

22 February 2011

Bad times, good times

What hurt Monk most, however, was the reminder that for all his hard work, for all the press he had received, for all the gigs he had cobbled together, for all the recording sessions and requisite rehearsals, for all the sidemen too green or too lazy to play his music correctly, he was broke and Dizzy was rich. The article reported that Dizzy’s combined income for 1948 [when Monk was 31 years of age] was expected to exceed $25,000, and that over the past eight years he had earned $20,000 in royalties from recording.
— from p. 142 of
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
by Robin D.G. Kelley

On the 4th of July, 1957, Monk began what turned out to be a six-month stay at the Five Spot Café. Working six nights a week, four sets a night, Monk earned $600 a week, $225 he kept for himself and the rest he paid his three sidemen. It was his first long-term engagement as a leader and it was his first regular paycheck since working for Coleman Hawkins over a decade earlier. He was now thirty-nine years old.
— op.cit., p. 225

Ah well

Well, just call me the man who, seeing some eggs, counted them for chickens.

Sometimes my music is not performed because it is too demanding; other times, because it is too simple. Pascha nostrum has been turned down for the latter reason.

This post is not a gripe. I understand the idea well enough. Back when I worked with Mark Engelhardt, whenever I showed him organ music of mine, it had been music written for an organist of more modest abilities (and with limited rehearsal time). The music did not engage Mark, because it was (for him) too simple.

And in fact, that is why I wrote the Toccata, why I wrote it as I wrote it. I thought, This will be an organ piece, and the last thing in the world anyone will say of it, will be that it is too easy.

Of course, that piece is so thunderously difficult, it has only been performed in public once.

And so, I conclude that I shall write music the way I wish. And let whomever perform it who wishes to.

21 February 2011

Rooting about the electrons

An amusing footnote to the recent request for Pascha nostrum is: I was also asked for Flourishes on Easter Hymn for brass quintet and timpani. So, the m.d. has taken the time to pore through my site! Most gratifying.

That little bit of occasional music, though, has lain unused, and who knows in just what form, for twelve years. In my musical output, it’s just a squib, really . . . a brass intro to the hymn, little skirls punctuating the verses . . . but the reason I added it to my “catalogue” is, hey, there must be other church m.d.’s with brass available on Easter Sunday who would find just such a squib of use.

In what form? Well, obviously a Finale file. But where have I put it? Is there already a PDF file? Probably not, as this was done probably the first year I was using Finale, and I didn’t have any PDF utility at the time. &c.

Does anyone remember floppy discs? I’ve got probably 16 floppies (which with a little organization, I could probably consolidate into a single flash drive, and then, with space to burn) . . . so I am poking through all these floppies the night before last, hoping (a) that the piece is on one of those discs, and (b) that the floppy disc it is on, is not one of the corrupted discs.

The odd incomplete snippets of music which I have been finding on all those floppy discs astonish me . . . most of them worthless, I’m sure, but it’s an amusing snapshot of a time when I was sort of throwing off sketches by starting a score in Finale.

And I did find the disc with the Flourishes on it. Or rather, I’ve found a score, so now I need to re-learn/remember just enough Finale to generate parts.

Hospice of Cultural Institutions

Map of what might have been:

A gallery of the cultural morgue:

There were once grand plans for new, exciting buildings to be built on or around Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, the long strip of land that was created out of the Big Dig.

However, due mostly to financial woes, the projects are dead, with the YMCA of Greater Boston becoming the latest in a series of nonprofits to cancel plans for a facility on the edge of the downtown park system.

Of course, at the very least, that unsightly elevated highway has been laid to rest.

20 February 2011

Part of the Tale of the Opus 62

Can it really be as recent as 2002 that I composed Pascha nostrum? It feels so much older a piece, somehow. Well, all right . . . for that inaugural performance for the Easter service at the First Congregational Church in Woburn, I don’t think I quite had the time to prepare a vocal score. The scoring is choir SATB, brass quintet and organ, and (again, IIRC) the small choir read from full score. What a nuisance that must have been! For some reason I had the parts (as I learn from puttering with the Finale files last night) laid out to legal size paper. The choir writing, while stylistically straightforward (and strongly reminiscent of a Russian Orthodox liturgical style), was rather demanding (mostly in its being true four-part writing) of the small and musically modest choir at First Church; for that reason, I have the choir part ghosted in the organ manuals, to reinforce the choir ad libitum. The brass parts are toothsome, often brilliantly fanfarish and amply endowed with my characteristic rhythmic ‘tricks’. The quintet hired by music director Bill Goodwin were professionals, we had all worked together some few times before, and we made sure that they had the parts well ahead of time. Still, more players than not were reading the music for the first time on Friday’s rehearsal (or did we rehearse Saturday that year?) . . . so, to be sure, not all the moving parts were interlocking as smoothly, ahead of the actual performance, as the composer might have wished in a perfect world.

The performance went . . . tolerably well. The piece was very warmly received. There is no document of it, though.

Years go by. I try as I may to shop the piece around — I have this idea, you know, that for such a piece, there may be some demand, and that it is the sort of piece which makes friends of its hearers — but, nothing.

In late 2005 when I was appointed Interim Choir Director at Boston’s Cathedral Church of St Paul, I already formed the idea of ‘extracting’ the choral writing of Pascha nostrum, and presenting it as an a cappella work for Easter 2006 (this is the Opus 62a). In a way this is a simple rediscovery of how I composed the piece — I wrote out the choral setting of the entire text, and then went back and added the instrumental ‘environment’. About half of the choir at St Paul’s in those days were professional singers, so naturally the choral performance was a step above the première. Not a perfect performance, but very good, and a lot of verve. A fair recording exists of the event.

At this point, I have given up trying to shop the piece around. Two years later, though, I was elated to receive an e-mail inquiry after the piece from Steven LeGall, music director at St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. Could the brass component be performed by a quartet instead (paired trumpets and trombones)? Thus was born the Opus 62b for Easter of 2008. I imagine that it was for this occasion that I hunkered down to prepare a vocal score; I don’t believe that I took the time to prepare an actual full score with the modified brass parts. No document of this performance.

Now, I am yet more pleased at another e-mail inquiry for Pascha nostrum, from a choir director in Pittsburgh. Fact is, the message was sent mid-January, yet it was a couple of weeks before I saw it. My heart sinks at such a chance (someone is actually interested in a piece of yours — but you haven’t responded for weeks — what should he think but the message evaporated in cyber-space). But happily contact has been established. Per the first paragraph above, I spent some time last night modifying the brass parts so that they fit letter sized sheets.

Now . . . we shall see.

19 February 2011

Rely on the Magic

An interesting array of observations by Daniel Wolf:

A “death of classical music” will happen everytime classical music ceases to be an experience extraordinary to the music which otherwise dominates our everyday experience of listening.

The reliable extraordinariness of classical music and art: I like that.

Seen and Unseen

18 February 2011

No Ives

For all his mathematical savvy Hans’s abiding interest was in music, for which he displayed prodigious and phenomenal talent. At four years old he could identify the Doppler effect as a quarter-tone drop in pitch of a passing siren; at five, he flung himself to the ground in tears crying “Wrong! Wrong!” as two brass bands at opposite ends of a long carnival procession played, simultaneously, two marches in different keys.
— Alexander Waugh,
The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War
pp. 24-25

Could be

There may ring out this Easter a new performance of Pascha nostrum.

15 February 2011

Meanwhile, Bach in Chicago . . . .

Rachel Barton Pine, baroque violin, and Paul Cienniwa, harpsichord, perform the concluding Presto from the Sonata No 2 in A Major, BWV 1015, by JS Bach as part of a performance of Bach’s complete sonatas for violin and harpsichord live on Chicago’s WFMT, 1 Nov 2010.

14 February 2011


I’ve had word from most of the performers to whom I had initially given 18 May as the St Paul’s recital date. (I’ve been asked if I can bump to the 19th.) Hoping to put on the first complete performance of Castelo dos anjos … with some crack singers, one of whom is partner unto an intrepid percussionist. And, yet happier still, my friend Shauna is on board to record the date.

For the rest of the half-hour program, I’m fixin’ to write a trio for alto flute (the ever-reliable — and equally intrepid — Peter Bloom), clarinet & (beginner-ish) cello.

Separately … a new-ish acquaintance is an animator, shortly to be graduated from Mass Art, and we’re plotting Henningmusick for a three-minute animation she’s working on.

Sure of it

At some date in future, these will be remembered as the Dark Ages of the Grammies — the epoch before Henningmusick took residence in the Classical categories.

13 February 2011


All the novelty of a goat cheese pizza. Where do I remember that from?

12 February 2011

Butter and gravel

. . . eight remarkable measures ... surrounded by a half-hour of banality.
— Glenn Gould

I am given to understand that this is Gould’s summation of the great Mozart Symphony in g minor, K.550. (It is part of a virtual neighbor’s signature, a chap who fondly imagines that it “confirms” the “fact” that Mozart is “overrated” — but that’s a separate fallacy.)

I wonder what someone who is not particularly sympathetic to Gould’s style of performance would say about his work?

Aye, I wonder.

Separately: Started season 3 of The Twilight Zone last night. Could never have imagined, unaided, a two-actor script starring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery. (The latter making a curious attempt to pronounce a single Russian adjective.)

11 February 2011

Funny Business

. . . no longer young enough to pillage the night to make up for the deficit of hours in the day.
— J.R.R. Tolkien

Funny business, though far from actual rannygazoo . . .

I’ve been taking thought for my St Paul’s date, Wednesday, 18 May. Hoping to be able to organize the second performance (first performance of the complete piece, really) of Castelo dos anjos. With the fine singers I’ve fortunately chosen, I should transpose it by the interval of a third, to make it a bit easier on the alto . . . so there’s a task wants doing.

I’m also starting to think about a trio for alto flute, clarinet & cello . . . which, whenever I actually get to work on it, will be the first composing I shall have done since either late October or early November.

But, I’ve been asked by St Paul’s if I can change my date. So, no sooner had I gotten four people to agree to the 18th, than I find myself asking if they’d much mind the 19th, instead. Which is no catastrophe . . . just an exercise in repositioning a mobile, with the kind graces of fine colleagues.

10 February 2011

Meanwhile, Back Up In Space

Soundtrackly use of I Sang to the Sky, & Day Broke

08 February 2011


The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand.
— Lewis Thomas

Curiously, I had a dream in which I was working on material for a flute choir, an ensemble for which I have never yet composed.

06 February 2011


Just spent about an hour proofing both the alto flute and the C flute version of The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword. I blush to find that it needed some editing, since a couple of flutists have actually performed from those (slightly) erroneous scores. Well, erroneous is something of an overstatement . . . most of my corrigenda tonight have been a matter of cautionary accidentals or misleading parentheses.

05 February 2011

Divers bits

Preparing The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword for publication (C flute and alto flute versions).

Finished reading a fascinating bio of Thelonious Monk, and now better than half finished with Alexander Waugh’s marvelous The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War.

And just back from Symphony where the BSO played a phenomenal Prokofiev Sixth.