30 December 2012

From the vault


Yesterday, I spent perhaps forty minutes leafing through David Hurwitz’s Shostakovich Symphonies and Concertos - An Owner’s Manual at the School Street Borders.  As the spirit of the title promises (and, to be sure, as one expects from Hurwitz), this is a book oriented not to experienced musicians, but to the amateur trying to make sense of It All.  It really isn’t bad, all in all;  though there is the odd attitude, and the occasional trotting out of an idée reçue which prompts one, not to want to strangle Hurwitz (which would be distastefully extreme), but to leisurely bung some rotten fruit at him.  Against that, he’s made some earnest attempt at illustrating the form and musical content of many of the works, which is a matter entirely different to the shallow rantage customary in many of his recordings reviews.  In some respects, really an interesting read, though from this senator’s standpoint, a book I might browse at the bookstore, but not one I need on the shelf at home.

Of course, that was a time when there was yet a Borders on School Street.


Hush, little baby, dont say a word;
Papa’s gonna sing you a major third.
And if that third mis-tuned comes forth,
Papa’s gonna sing you a perfect fourth.

If that fourth is wider than reckoned,
Papa’s gonna sing you a minor second.
And if this song is strange I
ve crooned,
Papa’s whole octave needs re-tuned.

Admitted, that to rhyme forth with fourth is a bit of a clunker.

Separately: Although to my own knowledge (that non-definitive pool) Lunar Glare may possibly be the first piece for clarinet in A and harpsichord, of course the combination of bass clarinet and harpsichord goes back at least to Vic Muzzy’s characteristic music for The Addams Family.

In praise of Jack

While Santa was making his rounds, Jack Klugman shuffled off this mortal coil on Christmas Eve.  In his memory, last night I watched two of the episodes of The Twilight Zone in which he starred.

In “A Passage for Trumpet,” Klugman played a jazz trumpeter fallen from his own better self, who finds himself in a middle place (“between reality and shadow”) where an archangel in impeccable evening dress, and with expertise in a certain brasswind, rekindles his soul, and he realizes that in fact he does not want to throw his life away. “Somewhere along the line, I just forgot all the good things.”  There is an earnest, gritty intensity in Klugman’s performance, which makes the story touching rather than sentimental.  In a curious way, truly a Christmas story.

Jonathan Winters (who was reputedly nervous about the project on set) co-stars with Klugman in “A Game of Pool.”  Klugman’s character will soon learn that trying to be the best at anything carries its own special risks, in or out of The Twilight Zone.

These performances in particular marked Klugman for one of the very best. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

On Augie, on Edgar, on Donner & Blitzen

Dear L—,
I have resumed regular reading of ACotU, a little bit each day. I meant to write yesterday (or possibly the day before) to tell you afresh (for I am sure I had commented on this chapter earlier) how poignant and rich the whole A— D— episode is, and seeing it in part through T—’s experience of the wayward marble and the shattered glass of the door. Guilt, Death, Art — it’s all in there. 
I’m already at the point where Uncle P— aborted his road trip on reflecting that he’d never had anyone tell him he’s the best before. That rings even truer, for its not sinking in until he’d already initiated his ritual migration. 
I’m on the Orange Line now. While on the 134 bus just now, I very nearly resisted the impulse to compose. That is, I’ve got my folder with me, had in fact brought it specifically so that I might fulfill my “elective obligation” … still there was something of a special mental effort needed. Perhaps it is only a matter of being a little tired. The important thing is that I conquered the inertia. 
Yesterday I had composed perhaps four measures of melody only, to begin setting Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” At the time, I don’t know that I felt I’d gotten anything done, particularly. Yet (and again, in spite of even the act of composing having hung in Fate’s balance) more work flowed to-day, almost without effort. It’s all just tune so far, and I’ve yet to concentrate on the vocal quartet arrangement, but I’ve finished the first two stanzas. 
Partly this is a mystery alien to my planning, springing from ancient familiarity with the poem. With “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee” is about the first poem I ever read (with the awareness that I was reading poetry — ties in curiously with concurrent reading in ACotU about the telephone pole poet). 
With all my composition experience since, one might think that I might be in danger of “over-thinking” the piece. But with this tune I’ve been smithying I’ve tapped into a kind of ballad lilt which is the way I’ve always felt the poem, from those earliest days. I probably shouldn’t go so far as to call it a therapeutic process … but there’s certainly a corner of my mind that feels as if a window has been thrown open. A sense of sunshine and a fresh breeze. A kind of sacred renewal … and to think I almost missed experiencing that, this morning, if I hadn’t drawn my folder from the sack.

28 December 2012

Careening into 2013

Got an official start on Annabel Lee. Listening (still) to the Shostakovich string quartets. A lot. To-day, listened for the first time to both Dukas's Polyeucte Overture, and Schnittke's Peer Gynt.

24 December 2012

Oh, what a pudding

Even as I maintain a course of ongoing progress with both the Organ Sonata and the Credo — and with a steady eye on their timely completion — there is fresh and most happy occasion to revisit two other scores.

These twain we should call the middle-grade unfinished … I cannot have done any work on them in a year or more, yet they are fresher "trunks" than my iconic as-yet-incomplete score of the ballet.

Unlike the ballet, there are prospects for 2013 performance, so: onward!

23 December 2012

3mm per day

The ruse is a great success, really, because if I can press myself to compose this weekend, then I can compose any day at all, truly.

22 December 2012

Grey morning

After steady work on the Organ Sonata, this morning I've taken a fresh look at the Credo. If it were the sort of thing to be governed by planning, I'm not sure I would have planned to set the text Crucifixus etiam pro nobis to-day, but questions of the composer's intent aside, this is the appointed day, and feels like entirely the right day.

Doesn't feel especially like Christmas. The garish musical "cheer" blaring for a backdrop to the inevitable Salvation Army "Santa" at North Station seems like a tawdry parody. Between the horror in Connecticut, and the criminal Congressional buffoonery when a national fiscal crisis looms, the strains of pop music Christmas jive sound tinnier and emptier than ever.

20 December 2012


Yesterday, I coined the word angloiserie.

If you're in the market for the 5-CD Sony reissue, Boulez Conducts Schoenberg I, there's someone on Amazon selling a used copy for $2,140.79. It's good, I may even say excellent; but personally, I should never pay that much for it.

In Hollywood, casting has begun for The Man Behind the Mash: The Jack Daniels Story.

A kind soul was listening recently to Night of the Weeping Crocodiles, and enquired after the title . . . Europeans in the 14th century or so took the notion that crocodiles weep while eating (or even to snare) their prey; and so crocodile tears became an idiom for feigned sorrow.

At the time when I adapted this piece for instrumental trio (it was originally the setting of a Wilde poem), the artists in my life were involved with a group of people who meddled in, and at times outright obstructed, some architectural/design projects, but who made a great show of being "nice," "friendly" people.

I found the experience not merely touching, but inspirational . . . .

On one head, a response came in which was was timely, polite and professional.

And boils down to I have no use for your music.

Probably most importantly, I am keeping true to the 3-a-day drill.

19 December 2012

Slow but steady

Spent part of yesterday unraveling a delicious musical puzzle, not purely for the intellectual pleasure (though I might have done). You will have guessed, Gentle Reader, that I shall bend the results to my own musical will. How wonderful are the apparently infinite sources of artistic inspiration.

Separately, I heard at last yesterday from a fellow clarinetist.

17 December 2012

Paging Sisyphus, White Courtesy Telephone, Please

I've also sent another (probably equally fruitless) message to the director of a new music ensemble here in the area.  Whenever I make the acquaintance of new music people, there is an initial hopefulness;  but soon I am given to understand that my work is just not 'sexy' enough.  If they cannot dig my music for what it is, to hell with them.

Aiming into 2013

May have initiated a course of events which will conclude in a March première of the Organ Sonata. Watch This Space.

Hm, time to enquire whether the Pastoral from White Nights is still in a certain hopper.

Which in turn reminds me of three or four other people with whom I should follow up.

You see, my music gets nowhere now, when I am alive to try to manage things.  Once I am dead and there's nobody to do the dogsbody work, my music will get buried.

I mean, buried even more than it presently is.

14 December 2012


Per the new 3-a-day plan, to which I have remained faithful, good gradual progress on the first movement of the organ sonata.

My idea for this movement (not that it’s anything utterly new) . . . as the incipit for the movement is Eritis sicut Deus... . . . well, how can I put this so it’s not a tangle?

A. God is Changeless
B. We creatures are not
C. Our understanding of God, communally and as individuals, alters over time

The proof of the pudding will remain in the eating, but my notion of writing this movement is, a gradual moving on, endless alteration, no recapitulation.

Status report

It ain't much, but it's progress: per my post earlier this week, I am maintaining a daily regimen of composing at least a wee bit.  It's not been much more than a wee bit, but a wee bit is a great improvement on nought.

In addition to The Shostakovich String Quartet Gala this month (on which, more later), I find that my ears have been seized afresh by a hankering for Schoenberg.  Love it.

12 December 2012

The Bloom of Youth, and Wishing for the Ark

A juicy typo on an otherwise excellent CD gives Liszt's dates as 1881-1886. Which would make him roughly two years old when his son-in-law Richard Wagner died. In theory, his ward could have had him adopt Cosima as a present on his first birthday, and it would all more or less work out . . . .

And the New England Journal of Medicine publishes a finding that a significant contributor to a sharp uptick in adult-onset diabetes has been Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor's ultra-gooey adaptation of "Here Comes the Sun," a recording which makes all feeling people wish for another 40 days of rain.

11 December 2012

Here’s a thought

Not at all a new thought, but a fresh application of an old, old thought.
The old, old thought is, get even a little work in, each and every day. That is (and at times I need it about this obvious), don't not do any work, just because you haven't a two-hour block of time to dedicate to creative work.
As she is apt to do periodically, Masha recently asked me what I was working on. Well, the honest answer had been, nothing, really.  Some few days had passed since I had set pen at all to paper.
I have accumulated some three unfinished projects – that is, three fairly fresh unfinished projects, as distinct from a number of longer-lived unfinished projects, White Nights, e.g.  And the query together with the response provoked reflection on the fact that (again: nothing new) if I do something rather than nothing, each day, there will be some progress made, some art created.
So I christen this morning's commute The Three-Measure Train Ride.  Three measures is entirely manageable on even the busiest, least wiggle-roomy days.  It's about time I shamed myself into even this modest amount of work, for the fact is, I've carried my notebook every day for probably the whole year. So many days I've carried, and not even opened it.

And in fact, this morning, I drew up some three and a half measures, continuing the first movement of the Organ Sonata.

06 December 2012

Damn (yawn)

another year my music didn't make NPR's "50 favorite albums"…


Point to the excellence, indeed exult in it. But for pity's sake and out of sheer decency, lose the unctuousness.