24 June 2017

Making a List

This morning, Peter’s office made a request for this list. It did not take me very long to create the list. Or, the fact that it took a while to create the list underscores my cause for ongoing gratitude to Peter for his active support.

List of Henning compositions in whose premières Peter H. Bloom participated

Op.59 — Radiant Maples (2001) Flute, clarinet, harp, piano. Duration: 5'. First performance: First Church, Woburn, Massachusetts (24 June 2009).

Op.64a — Fragments of « Morning Has Broken ». (2002) Arrangement for flute, clarinet, piano. Commissioned for the First Congregational Church in Woburn (William Goodwin, music director). Duration: 4'00.
Lux Nova Press — Catalogue № LNP-0287.
First performance: Cathedral Church of St Paul, Boston, Massachusetts (12 May 2010).

Op.94a — The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword. (2008) Alto flute unaccompanied. Adapted for Peter H. Bloom. Duration: 12'. First performance: First Church, Woburn, Massachusetts (24 June 2009).
Lux Nova Press — Catalogue № LNP-0215

Opus 95 — stars & guitars. (2009) Bass flute & harp. For Duo 2: Mary Jane Rupert & Peter H. Bloom. Duration: 20'. First performance: First Church, Woburn, Massachusetts (24 June 2009).

Op.97 № 1 — Heedless Watermelon (2009) Flute & clarinet. For Peter H. Bloom. Duration: 6'30. First performance: Peter H. Bloom & the composer, Boston Public Library, West End branch, Boston (28 July 2009).
Lux Nova Press — Catalogue № LNP-0232

Op.97 № 3 — Swivels & Bops (2010) Flute & clarinet. Duration: 3'00. First performance: Peter H. Bloom & the composer, Cathedral Church of St Paul, Boston (12 May 2010).
Lux Nova Press — Catalogue № LNP-0234

Op.101 — Here You Go / Hear You Go. (2010) Flute & clarinet. Duration: 6'. First performance: Peter H. Bloom & the composer, King’s Chapel, Boston (18 May 2010).

Op.103 — How to Tell (Chasing the Tail of Nothing). (2011) Alto flute, clarinet & frame drum. Duration: 10'. First performance: The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, King’s Chapel, Boston (19 May 2011).

Op.113 № 2 — Après-mystère. (2014) Flute (or piccolo) & clarinet in A. Duration: 5'. First performed by Peter H. Bloom & the composer, King’s Chapel, Boston (7 Oct 2014).

Op.114 № 2 — Zen on the Wing. (2013) Flute & clarinet in A. Duration: 5'. First performed by Peter H. Bloom & the composer, King’s Chapel, Boston (8 Oct 2013).

Op.117 — Jazz for Nostalgic Squirrels. (2013-14). Flute, clarinet, guitar & double-bass. First performed by The 9th Ear, Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church, Somerville, Mass. (1 Feb 2014).

Op.119 № 1 — The Crystalline Ship. (2014) Mezzo-soprano & baritone saxophone. For D’Anna Fortunato. Text by Leo Shulte. First performed by D’Anna FortunatoPeter H. Bloom, Church of the Advent, Boston (14 March 2014).

Opus 120 — I see people walking around like trees. (2014) Flute, clarinet, double-bass & frame drum. Duration: 5'30. First performance by The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, King’s Chapel, Boston (15 April 2014).

Opus 122a — Le tombeau de W.A.G. (2014). Arrangement for alto flute, clarinet, double-bass & frame drum. First performed by The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church, Somerville, Mass. (6 June 2014).

Op.126 № 7 — Gabriel’s Message (Basque Carol). (2015) Flute, violin, two baritone voices, and small women's chorus unison. First performed by Peter H. Bloom, Rachel Wimmer, and members of the choir of Holy Trinity United Methodist Church, Danvers, Mass. (13 Dec 2015).

Op.126 № 3a — Variations on a Basque Carol. (2014) Arrangement for C flute unaccompanied. First performed by Peter H. Bloom, Holy Trinity United Methodist Church, Danvers, Mass. (13 Dec 2015).

Opus 129 — From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud. (2015) Soprano, flute, bass flute (doubling on piccolo), tenor recorder (doubling on soprano recorder) & horn. Duration: 14'00. Text by Leo Shulte. First performed by Barbara Hill-Meyers and The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, at King’s Chapel in Boston (27 Oct 2015).

Opus 138 — Oxygen Footprint. (2016). Fl, va, hp. Duration: 7'00. For Ensemble Aubade. First performed by Ensemble Aubade, Stamford, NY (20 Nov 2016)

Opus 138a — Oxygen Footprint. (2016). Arrangement for fl, va, pf. Duration: 7'00. For Ensemble Aubade. First performed by Ensemble Aubade, Jacksonville, Illinois (7 Apr 2017)

Opus 140 — Sound + Sight: Music to Paint By. (2016) 2 flutes, clarinet, horn & fixed media. Duration: 25'.
1. The Conquest of Emptiness
2a. Avant-subterfuge (Before the Tape)
2b. Sonic Dissemblage (Sex Tape)
3. Contemplating the Irrepressible (Happy Birthday, Carl Nielsen!)
Première performance:  Maria Bablyak, Irina Pisarenko, & The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, King’s Chapel (21 June 2016).

Opus 141a — Mistaken for the Sacred. (2017) 2 flutes, horn & fixed media. First performed by The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church, Somerville, Mass. (24 Mar 2017).

22 June 2017

From 2014 to 2017

2014 was the summer of “rescuing” the numbers already composed for my ballet-in-progress (with the frank acknowledgment, Gentle Reader, that when the pace is that slow, there is bounteous generosity in the word progress) from the enchanted cavern of Finale files which I could no longer manage. Three years ago today, I was finishing the then-new Sibelius edition of the Overture to White Nights. The summer solstice is, in fact, the time of year most apt to the task.

At times a mostly-idle thought crosses my mind: what if the Overture to the ballet ought, in fact, to be a shorter piece?  The complete ballet sans Overture will run a bit more than two hours.  My first thought, back in 2003 (!) when I first schemed the project, was that, if the audience are ready for an evening at the ballet, an 11-minute Overture is not madness.  But what if that is just wrong?

The Overture, as it is, will not stand abridgement;  should I compose a new one?  But, as it is, I like the Overture, I'm proud to own it.  I shan’t discard the piece, nor pretend that I wrote it for any occasion except to inaugurate the ballet.

Perhaps I should “go Lenore,” and write an alternative Overture, and leave the choice of which to use, to the conductor (or to those to whom the conductor answers, or whom the conductor advises)?

Well, the questions circle, slowly.  It is not any matter I need to settle, this side of actually finishing the ballet.

Which will be finished.  This year, if I can manage it.

20 June 2017

The stock-taking

Preamble:  As I may have noted erewhile in this blog, Gentle Reader, although the broad desire “to write a symphony” had slept in my back room for quite some time (perhaps for nearly as long as I have pursued composition seriously), and periodically arose from its slumber in apparent readiness to demand its breakfast, only to collapse back on its cot in a by-no-means-uneasy rest ... it was only in October of last year that I felt thoroughly motivated to embrace the task. It was not, let us charitably suppose, laziness which ‘prevented’ realization of the endeavor; but that the composer waited upon the right time. In support of that flattering interpretation, we point to the reasonable despatch wherewith the score reached completion.

Now:  White Nights has arguably been stalled at the scene in the theatre. Nastenka relates her story to the Dreamer (we may say he’s a Dreamer, but he’s not the only one), and a central event in her narrative is the evening when she and her Granny are taken to see Il barbiere di Seviglia. It is an obvious bit of business to make use of Rossini for this scene, to be sure;  and from the outset, in the first sketches for the piece, I intended an extended splice of the overtures to Il barbiere di Seviglia and La gazza ladra. Here is where my preamble appears relevant.

Because the idea is obvious enough, it needs to be done well, done right.  And, well, I do feel ready.  I’ve found all my materials, and my composition desk is cleared.

So, let’s see ....

{ Later in the day }

While in my present, ‘reimmersion’ stage, I feel right away (or, nearly right away) that I want to discard the first draught outline for the scene, and craft a fresh outline. I believe this may be a sign that I am genuinely ready for the task, that I want a better outline/plan, and that I feel no lazy obligation to take the preexisting outline as at all ... “canonic.”  The composer’s feeling is, a refreshed engagement with the source material.

The signs are good.

18 June 2017

From the vault: The Seven-Year Crocodile Itch


Enormously pleased with yesterday’s rehearsal of the cl/vn/pf trios. Eric Mazonson is, quite simply, the best pianist with whom it has yet been given to me to play; and he makes all of Night of the Weeping Crocodiles sound both musical and . . . almost easy. There is rapid arpeggiation in a 9/8 section (and apart from its rapidity, the arpeggiation is out of phase with the beat — the figure rises and falls, but the bass note only occasionally coincides with the metrical pulse). It’s not really an enormous deal, musically — but it is one of numerous “gee, this isn’t plain easy” elements to my work, which (so far as I can tell) are a factor in so few pianists getting back to me enthusiastically about scores I send them.

And Alexey is a marvelous violinist. Although the timetable suggests that I expected matters to fall out so, it is wonderful to experience how easy the piece has been to put together with these two. And they both like the music. Eric is not rehearsing this in the spirit of “This is for the 21st, and then we can put it to bed” — we will keep this piece in our repertory, and we will play as a trio again.

There was some unfounded optimism:  We never did play again as a trio.

17 June 2017

A lesser to-do list done

Gentle Reader, I can make the following provisional Report:
  • Wednesday evening, I finished the piano-&-string-quartet-accompanied adaptation of the Op.50 O Gracious Light.
  • Thursday evening, we had the first “full rehearsal” (i.e., with piano accompaniment) of the new arrangement of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, Op.142 № 9
  • Last night, I marked the handbell parts for Pavane (Memories of Packanack Lake), Op.142 № 10
  • This morning I adapted the 3rd & 4th movements of the Clarinet Sonata for flute and piano, for the use/consideration of my colleague Peter H. Bloom;  the resulting diptych (Op.136a) I have dubbed Denial of Symmetry.
And I have found my notes &c. for White Nights.

16 June 2017

Going on a bit

Gentle Reader, I’ve not yet done with talking about the Clarinet Sonata. And this is a natural part of the process ... this stage in the cycle.  I’d been at work upon, or musically considering, a large-scale chamber work for a year and a half:  it would be strange if, so soon after I reached the final double-bar, I felt I had said it all.  A composer focuses upon, lives with the task for an extended period. Given the nature of the medium, most (all, perhaps, even) of the work is nonverbal. At the end (which is, or ought to be, only the beginning) there is elation at the accomplishment, and Quality Control review, and the desire to get the work out into the world.

Into the ears of an audience.

And before there can be a performance realizing the piece, in most cases there must be talk about the piece. As the most interested (and, hopefully, best-informed) party, the composer perforce does much of the talking. And, in a curious way, since my work on the piece heretofore has been mostly nonverbal, this is a time of discovery, of considering which may be the most apt words. Why, any thing, but to the purpose.

Here’s some words.

i. Another Think Coming.  As with the earlier Viola Sonata, the piece begins according to advice recorded as marginalia by Edgar Allan Poe.  What exactly he wrote, I dare not this morning pretend to recall accurately. But it is to this effect: Begin in such a way, that there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that something is up.  With this composition, I thee shake;  I mean business, and if you think you already know everything that this Henning has to say in music, you’ve another think coming.  The movement ends in strength, and (befitting the title) whether the listener knows it or not, he’s not heard the last of it.

ii. « Boulez est mort » (Wounding Silence).  As I consider how rightly to express the relation of the two instruments in this movement, I waver between talking past one another and mutual obliviousness.  The piano is wilfully clangorous. The clarinet pursues a series of melodic objets trouvés (I promised myself that I wouldnt catalogue them, and I have pretty much kept faith). They end together. Or do they?

iii. Unanticipated Serenity.  In the original plan, this was to be clarinet unaccompanied, but the piano refused to be left out entirely. After the energetic insistence of the first movement, and the shattered disorientation of the second, here is an oasis.  Is it “the true slow movement”? Or a dance? It is not a worrisome question.

iv. Ambiguity & Overlap (Something or other, if not something else entirely). This is the scherzo. Or, the third & fourth movements together (played attacca) are conjointly the scherzo. It begins as a kind of jazzy dance, which yields (reluctantly at first) to a relaxed march & trio, although unlike most marches, there is a return after the trio.  The idea of a march came from a music forum member, at a time when I was yet at work on the second movement; so that I tentatively accepted the invitation to write a march, and had time to fold the notion into the framework of the Sonata.

v. After a reading of “The Mysterious Stranger.”  I recall, when I first read this novella as a teenager, I found it unsettling.  I knew Twain as a folksy humorist and raconteur;  I intuitively read him as at times bitterly sarcastic here.  This, and the challenging cosmology, made me uncomfortable, or perhaps it only stretched my mind a bit at the time.  A needful stretch sometimes registers as discomfort.  The movement begins with a sort of homey Americana, though the chorale (for instance) is more modern than Twain. The center of the movement reflects the magisterial ungovernability of the title character, the innocent excitement and joy which the young boys found in their powerful and at times alarming friend, and the drama of the trial episode.  The recapitulation of the opening struck me as the most suitable reflection upon Theodore’s absorption of the last remarks of the Stranger, on a final visit after his most extended absence from Eseldorf.

“He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true.”

15 June 2017

What It Has All Meant: Balance

On Facebook the other day (12 June) I wrote – and if you wish to skip the end, you have leave:

This is an “old” blog post (5 June 2017). I'm posting it here, this morning, as an expression of pleasant surprise.
As I revisit this instalment on my blog, I “discover” that, apart from the melody in mm.24-33 (which I scrawled sometime in May), I composed the fifth movement of the Clarinet Sonata in a week.
Yes, I imported/modified nine measures of piano accompaniment from the second movement, and a couple of brief passages from the first movement.  But for the most part, the 201-measure, 8-minute conclusion of the Sonata was the work of seven days.  (And I did not do much work on Friday, as I was playing in the percussion section in an Arlington Philharmonic concert that night.)
In fact, I hope my friends will forgive me if I indulge in something of a victory lap for three accomplishments over the past year:
30 June 2016:  With the completion of the Gloria, I finished the Mass Op.106 for mixed choir SATB unaccompanied.  I composed a Kyrie in 2012;  I accepted as a good-natured challenge a friend’s suggestion that it might be the first number of a complete Mass, although I was determined to take my time, and only compose each further movement when the Muse bade me.
21 January 2017:  Completion of the Symphony № 1, Op.143 (three movements, 25').  Composition of the Symphony began 8 October 2016.
11 June 2017:  Completion of the Sonata for Clarinet & Piano, Op.136 (five movements, 35').
Thus:  three substantial works, one each of sacred choral, orchestral, & chamber music, completed in the past year.  Some of my friends know exactly where this is going:  No later than Independence Day, I shall resume work on the ballet White Nights, nor will I let it go, except its completion bless me.
Anyway, I made a promise that I would not start a Symphony № 2, until I put this ballet to bed.

Something I am celebrating even above the accomplishment of the three major pieces (is a clarinet sonata a “major piece”? You go ask Mr. Brahms) is:

Like many of the composers I know, composing music is not gainful employment. Therefore, like many of the composers I know, composing music is not the only thing I do. I have full-time (non-musical) work – and thank goodness for that – and I am also the choir director at Holy Trinity United Methodist Church in Danvers, Mass. Obviously, for that choir director position to coexist with my full-time job, it is but a part-time engagement. In a sense, though, I am sometimes “on the clock” beyond the usual Thursday evening choir rehearsal and Sunday morning service commitments. It is my pleasure to report that part of what is expected of the music director at the church is, occasional fresh, pertinent compositions for use in the worship service; thus, for instance, on Tuesday evening I composed a brief piece for the church’s handbell choir to ring as part of the service on 25 June.

The triumph, then, which I celebrate is that it has been possible to find a balance of the Day Job, the Church Music Directorship, and my own (selfish) creative work so that I could get these three major pieces completed, and to my entire musical satisfaction.

(Of course, my working life is a little more complicated still, as I am a founding member of Triad: Boston’s Choral Collective, and I do try to play my clarinet now and again.)

So, if you skipped to the end (which in neighborly goodwill, I made you free to do), go on back, and read what you missed.

You know you want to.

14 June 2017

henningmusick: Sound & Sight in the works

henningmusick: Sound & Sight in the works

This time last year, we were hot on the trail of the Op.140.  What a tolerably productive little composer I do seem to be.

Light Duties

Yesterday evening I composed a brief piece (not in C Major) for our handbell choir at HTUMC (not pictured).  Ease of reading and performance are paramount, as we have just the one rehearsal after this Sunday’s service, and then it is part of the service (together with a reprise of my arrangement of America the Beautiful) on 25 June.

Also on the work slate was the easy-ish adaptation for Triad’s use, of O Gracious Light, to be accompanied by piano & string quartet.  Did a bit more than half of that yesterday, so it will likely be finished this evening.  (This will be the Op.50d.  I think.)

13 June 2017

Onward through the Nights

One take: Serious resumption of work upon White Nights depends on my locating materials, sketches, outlines, plots, organizational graphs which I know I have not yet discarded, so that I keep the Big Picture in view.

Another take: Serious resumption of work upon White Nights depends on just writing, because I know the arc of the story, I can create the music which will suit, and it is just necessary to do The Work.

Yet another take: Resumption of work upon White Nights depends on not getting hung up over The Serious.

Even though, yesterday, I thought I should “need” a respite ... I just felt like writing a tune. I wrote it down this morning, but the start of it was in my inner ear yesterday afternoon.

That is, if the music is coming to me, I'd be a fool not to get to the work.

12 June 2017


I’ve sent the Sonata (all its several five PDFs) to three pianists here in Boston, and known to me.  So . . . let us see if we can arrange a reading this summer.

I need to prepare an informatively-cued clarinet part for the second movement;  otherwise, I think the clarinet part layout fairly straightforward . . . so that the Lux Nova edition should not languish.

What now, you ask?  In the way of taking a breather before (yes! at last!) plunging back into White Nights, I do have a few light items to see to:

1. We have one more Sunday (25 June) for the handbell choir to ring at church, so I need to see to a piece for rehearsal after the service this Sunday.

2. There is talk of working with a string quartet for the second Triad concert this coming season (that is, talk of keeping with that idea, even though we had an ad hoc quartet for two pieces this last concert).  So I will adapt O Gracious Light for accompaniment by piano and SQ.

3. And the handbell choir director of an Episcopal parish in Cambridge reached out yesterday with the possibility of commissioning me to write a piece for them.

11 June 2017

Op. 136 done

So:  I’m a clarinetist, and I compose.  It was high time I wrote one.

The Henning Sonata for Clarinet & Piano runs about 35 minutes, and is in five movements:

i. Another Think Coming | Allegro (10')
ii. « Boulez est mort » (Wounding Silence) | Adagio (10')
iii. Unanticipated Serenity | Grazioso (3') — attacca
iv. Ambiguity & Overlap (Something or other, if not something else entirely) | VivoEasy MarchVivoEasy March (4')
v. After a reading of “The Mysterious Stranger” | LarghettoPoco più mossoPoco più mosso ancoraAllegroA tempo primo (8')

I composed the first movement in January of 2016 (hence the Opus 136 designation).  I started the second movement on Monday, 25 January, and set it aside in February (2016) for other tasks.  Picked the second movement back up in April 2017, and finished it;  and I have been fairly faithful to the piece since.

As a something of a divertissement, the third and fourth movements go together, I think.  They are deliberately a “retreat” from the rhetorical rigor of the first, and from the cool austerities of the second.  Because I came to see the fifth as a return (competing a kind of arch) I eliminated the attacca which I had originally meant to follow the fourth movement.

And now . . . to find a pianist . . . .

10 June 2017

Closing in!

The fifth movement, After a reading of “The Mysterious Stranger,” of the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op.136 is to be in three sections, slow-fast-slow.  Working on this movement has been a curious intersection of How I designed the movement, long ago with sudden, spontaneous inspiration.  There is nothing of paint-by-numbers here.

The opening slow section (too substantial to be labeled an introduction, I think) came to this world effortlessly, and required only minimal finishing once it had been set in fair draught.  Then, in an apparent nod to Beethoven, I found myself harking back, first, to the second movement (a passage which one sympathetic listener had told me, he would be happy to hear more of . . . we shall see if this change his tune);  and, second, to begin the fast section, I had the whimsical idea of importing a passage from the first movement (Another Think Coming) with the purpose of finding somewhere else to take it (in a way harmonious with the title, I should think).

Almost assuredly as a result of revisiting Plotting (y is the new x) this morning, I decided that the bulk of the fast section would be a kind of passacaglia, on a five-measure subject which emerges from the material borrowed from the first movement.

Contented with what I feel has been good work today, I rather think I may reach the end of the piece tomorrow.

09 June 2017

Ear Buds II

Back on 4 June, I worked on the orchestral adaptation of Ear Buds and had a very nice meeting with Orlando Cela, who likes the Symphony very much, although it will be a world of manœuvering to bring it to pass.  2019-20 season at the soonest.  But/and the orchestral Ear Buds may prove a good first step.

On 5 June, I finished the arrangement of Ear Buds for orchestra  This fresh, substantial visit with the piece has been highly gratifying; and it even surprises me, a little, just how natural a fit the piece is for orchestra.

08 June 2017

henningmusick: A start, or, a second start

henningmusick: A start, or, a second start: I remember drawing up the start of a melody, oh, I dunno, three-four weeks ago.

I don't say it's at all impossible to scare up that leaf of paper.

Just a note that, in fact, that leaf of paper has been found, and the material gratefully incorporated.

07 June 2017

More on the Op. 136

My original outline for the Clarinet Sonata was as follows:

i. Another Think Coming [ Allegro ]
ii. Boulez est mort [ Adagio ]
iii. Ambiguity & Overlap (Something or other, if not something else entirely) [ Vivo ]
iv. Unanticipated Serenity [ Allegretto grazioso ]
v. After a Reading of “The Mysterious Stranger” [ AndanteVivace assaiAndante ]

The third movement was meant from the start — well, from the start of work on the second movement, which begins with an extended piano solo — to be clarinet solo.  However, as I started composing the material for the third movement, my marking was Grazioso.  So:  movement 3 became instead Unanticipated Serenity, and a further change is that there light, very light, piano (with a preference expressed for plucking the strings).

One change was, a friend had requested a March, and having music of such character runs athwart the idea of Vivo in the fourth movement.  (We may observe that it arguably jars with Allegretto grazioso, as well, so some adjustment in The Plan was already indicated.)  The March was a welcome idea, additionally, because given the space I wanted the fourth  movement to occupy, and its recasting as the Vivo movement, making it a hybrid Vivo + March was both an excellent solution to my time requirements, and lo! fit very nicely the subtitle upon which I had long ago settled (Something or other, if not something else entirely).

The state of the outline on 25 April was:

i. Allegro (9:45)
ii. Grave (9:45) [as in the original plan, the two movements of roughly the same duration]
iii. Grazioso (2:30) – attacca
iv. Vivo Marziale ma amabile (3:45) – attacca
v. AndanteVivace assaiAndante (6:45)

I have since struck the attacca after the fourth movement, and composition of the third & fourth movements (quite within expectations) overshot the timing plan slightly.

06 June 2017

Trio Lite

On Facebook, every now and again there will be an alert that someone has looked at the page for The 9th Ear. Over the latest “Triad weekend,” Charles Turner indicated that he has noticed, as well, and it has surprised him. (There has not actually been a 9th Ear event for almost three years.)

Parenthetically, a chap here at the office is part of a sort-of-jazz-ensemble which has had an online presence (YouTube, e.g.) for some years, and the cumulative hits have by now resulted in a kind of demand for them, and they are getting gigs. So there is no reason to suppose, just because The 9th Ear have been dormant all this while, that they’re dead.

Charles has spoken of doing something in the summer. On the chance, I have composed a new piece for clarinet, guitar & double-bass, a mere bagatelle really, called Nun of the Above.  I finished the piece on 15 April.

05 June 2017

In the way of clarifying (post-dated post)

I composed this post on 23 Jan 2017, but the blogger app on my phone is – oh, let’s do be polite – buggy, so it hung out in cyberlimbo all this while.  Posting it today, because I find it an interesting snapshot at this remove, four months later and the second, third & fourth movements of the Op.136 now in the can. ]

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 theSymphony 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.

A start, or, a second start

Spent some of lunchtime sketching the piano part at the beginning of the fifth movement of the Clarinet Sonata. I remember drawing up the start of a melody, oh, I dunno, three-four weeks ago.

I don't say it's at all impossible to scare up that leaf of paper.

I like both the character of today's sketch, and the possibilities for Places to Go.

Tonight:  to (quite likely) wrap up the orchestral version of Ear Buds. It should not really surprise me that the new ensemble environment suits the piece very well.

04 June 2017

Four out of five

Finished (probably finished) the fourth movement—Ambiguity & Overlap (Something or other, if not something else entirely)—yesterday afternoon. I must have been re-charged by the vacation: I had not touched, in any sense, the fourth movement since 17 May, and yesterday I just wrapped it up.

I already have a sketch started up for the fifth movement.

The Plan:

1. Finish the Clarinet Sonata
2. Decide whether or not to do an orchestral version of Ear Buds
3. Get back to work on White Nights, and finish by year’s end

The new music choral ensemble Diamonds From the Dust gave the première of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me (this is version 3) last night in Worcester; very well received.

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.

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.

20 January 2017

Ready for Roll-Out

Gentle Reader, last night I finished the Symphony.

To recapitulate:  the idea for the piece is that, by both scale and technique, the music should be executable by a good community orchestra, and in a musical language rigorous enough that no professional orchestra should scorn it.

The Symphony is in three movements, with a total duration of ca. 25 minutes.
  1. Allegro molto
  2. Larghetto
  3. Vivo assai
In about three weeks, I wrote the first movement in October 2016.  I made an immediate start on the second movement, and the first 27 measures (which would, a little to my own surprise, remain intact) were done by the end of October.  The holiday season (and preparations thereunto) then intervened;  I did not resume work on the second movement until after Christmas.  Nevertheless, the movement was complete by year's end.

I made a more than merely symbolic point of beginning work on the third movement, promptly on New Year's Day.  And, well, now—just shy of three weeks later—the piece is done.

There is no immediate prospect for the piece's performance.  Rather than have that seem anything like a complaint, my meaning is actually that there was no external constraint on performing the work of composition as (if I may say so without immodesty) efficiently as I did;  and the important matter (not that these two considerations are at all irreconcilable) is that I made no compromises in the musical content or quality in order to meet any external deadline, but have written the piece just as I wished, and have written every bit as good a piece as I require.

It is possible that I am historically the oldest composer at the time of writing a Symphony № 1 . . . I have not researched the question at all well.  Bohuslav Martinů was 50 or 51 when he wrote his first symphony.  Hey, this may just be a marketing angle.

And for the moment, that is all to be said for the Henning Opus 143.

19 January 2017

Is you is, or is you ain't?

Gentle Reader, in reporting on the latest progress with the (to give it its full and proper title) Symphony № 1 (more on which below), Opus 143if I am to be completely truthfulI am faced with something of an apparent contradiction.  The third movement is not finished—there remains a (little, a very little) bit of work to do—but I can relate with pleasure that the composition is now complete, that I (and most of the orchestra) have made it at last to the final double-bar. “Most of the orchestra,” while I am still finalizing just what I want the oboes to play here, the bassoons there, but the movement is now decidedly 262 measures of music, the whole running (let us say) five and a quarter minutes.  The remaining work will not, probably, take long, but the composer does have activities this evening and next which may put off the work;  I pray you, do not ascribe the delay to laziness, or otherwise any lack of application.

There is a certain seeming of presumption, I know, in setting out to write the piece, and at the outset designating it #1.  In my defense, and unlike numerous times in the past when the general thought , Gee, what if I write a symphony? sauntered into my mind, when I set out to compose this piece in the first week of October, I felt immediately that this was the musical task I wanted to undertake, and that I was determined to bring it to fairly rapid completion.  Also, I reasoned that if I could (as I had every intention of doing) actually finish a symphony in good order now, it is no great stretch to assert that I should later write another.

18 January 2017

18 + 18 + 18

And so, with (so to say) 45 seconds remaining of my outline to be composed through, I have become intrigued with the idea of sculpting the ending of the third movement, 18 bars per day. Allowing for my day off for HTUMC choir rehearsal tomorrow evening, that projects a finish to the movement (and the Symphony) on Friday. (Or, a kind of finish, subject to refinement, of course, of course — “the outline be damned” can be the path to the final musical result.) Yesterday afternoon, I drew up both verbal plans, and some notes;  and last night, I composed my “allotted” 18 measures.  Considering the rapid progress over the holiday weekend, 18 mm. feel like restraint, but that is where the sculpting comes in:  more ideas are coming to me, as I take time to reflect, and I thus have the benefit of selecting what I think are the very best of a good crop of ideas.

Another activity this weekend was, I sent The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth to a call;  and yes, we all know that this will likely come to nothing.  I suddenly remembered, last night, that I have also sent the first movement of the Symphony to a call.  And although here, too, nothing may come of it, I felt anew what very good music I feel the first movement to be.

At the least, I enjoy the satisfaction of feeling that I am putting my best musical foot forward.