30 May 2009

Come Sunday Morning

[ To repeat ] At First Church in Boston (Marlborough & Berkeley Streets), the choir will sing Bless the Lord, O My Soul under the direction of Paul Cienniwa tomorrow, Sunday May the 31st. The service begins at 11:00am (Chowder Time), and streams live on WERS 88.9FM (Boston).

No Cigar

This past Thursday, I was driving back to Cambridge to fetch my wife from her work. Typical day, really. I tuned into WCRB on the car radio, and heard the announcer advise that next up was a complete Vanhal symphony (a Symphony in F, played by the Salieri Chamber Orchestra). No news there, either. But the next and unusual step, was my own.

Normally, on hearing a work by, say, Vanhal announced on WCRB (and if you, Gentle Reader, should be an ardent Vanhallian, I apologize to you in advance), I tend to retune the radio dial to another station. But that afternoon, I decided to listen, and listen to the whole thing, primarily because I had recently heard the eccentric suggestion that it was “actually” Vanhal who composed works “attributed” to Mozart. All right, I thought; setting aside all questions of history and documents, let us consider if the composer of the work I am about to hear, could plausibly have composed mature Mozart.

I am going to consider three questions, and the comparison of that day was made all the easier by the fact that I had been listening to so much authentic Mozart all week. (And I do apologize to our neighbors who enjoy Vanhal; I hate to seem to run down a ‘grade-B’ contemporary of Mozart, who was grade-triple-A fit to beat all grade-As.)
  1. Scoring (use of the orchestra). I am afraid that on this head, the Vanhal symphony struck me as staggeringly unimaginative, on the whole. On the plus side, there were some lovely solo-string passages (which modestly recalled the early Haydn symphonies I have been listening to). But the use of the winds was witheringly dull. There was not a single point at which the flutes, oboes or horns ‘broke free’ to play even a single independent measure; all of the wind writing (without fail) was simply a slavish doubling of something already being covered in the strings. The piece could have been composed for string orchestra alone, in other words, and the winds just added as an afterthought as a coloristic highlight. I needn’t tell anyone who has read any Mozart score, that the Salzburger could never be accused of such a paint-by-number approach to writing for the winds.
  2. Harmony. There is a scatologically amusing exchange in Peter Shaeffer’s Amadeus, in which Mozart is overheard saying, Have you heard his [i.e., Salieri’s] latest opera, The Chimney Sweep? Dog-shit. Dried dog-shit. Tonic-and-dominant, tonic-and-dominant, tonic-and-dominant — not one interesting modulation in the entire piece.” Subtract the tone of stagey scorn, and we have something close to a description of the Vanhal Symphony in F. All of the harmony, all the chord sequences, all the harmonic motion of every phrase, is dutifully correct, and unexceptional. There is nothing of the harmonic deftness and agility which can be found in practically any Mozart score which he composed past the age of 20. He had already milled out all that dutiful harmonic broadcloth as a youth, you see; so his compositional ear demanded flashes of inspiration. The difference (if you like) between a square dance, and the tango (harmonically speaking). The Vanhal is a thoroughly pleasant piece, mind you, but harmonically, it’s Mozart as a 15-year-old.
  3. Composition/phrasing. Essentially the same quarrel as (2.) above. Nice work, but two orders of creativity beneath the mature Mozart.

In good conscience, then, I can only report that, based purely on musical considerations, what I have heard of Vanhal takes him completely out of the running as any possible “ghost-writer” for Mozart.

Which, of course, cannot be any surprise to most anyone. We should not normally punish these ‘workmen’ composers for merely doing their work stylishly and characteristically; it is in comparison to the fiery creative spirits such as Haydn and Mozart that their works pale.

A Mere Curiosity, To Be Sure

Dubious Documentation, Just Yesterday Division

From the composer’s notes to Naxos’ Elliott Carter 100th Anniversary Release:

Rhapsodic Musings (1999) for solo violin.
Rhapsodic Musings is a present to Robert Mann on his eightieth birthday. It is a small tribute to his extraordinary, devoted advocacy of contemporary music. As is well-known, with other members of the Juilliard Quartet he gave such pioneering and commanding performances of quartets by Bartók, Schoenberg, and many others, including my own, that many of these works became part of the performers’ repertory. His teaching and other activities brought these scores to the attention of students. Using his initials R.M. in the title of this short violin solo and in its main motive — re, mi (D, E) — this piece tries to suggest some of his remarkable human and artistic qualities. It was composed in June, 2000, in Southbury, Connecticut.

It is apt to sneak by us, but Carter tells us he wrote the piece in 2000; this appears to have eluded the Naxos editor of the booklet, though, who gives the date of the piece’s composition as 1999.

27 May 2009

I’ll repeat that

Whenever isthmustangle harbinger goes a-whisky portabello, agley aglow hurdy-gurdy spindle burn stump oracle pincushion. Urge blithely rectangular. A hutch may plinth corduroy chin-guard Bournemouth portcullis aerosol, in total budgerigar froth pert thimble stocked ocular inch beribboned. Tout de suite. Hairpiece airplane famed incontinent thirsting mickle coachwright shipboard spill maugre igloo blunderbuss. Achtung my dear rannygazoo horticulture urn gingham harelip Rouen nipple pond burglary embolism archer penury with ping nary any marigold. Pig in boots aple Savannah boutique bucket of sip slip spat tincture erudition in urchins. Hogwash laborer pillbox zigzag charabanc blancmange under separate easels pending tonnage. Orange incest over tempestuous choric Thirroul ambulatory cornbread piled upon amortized Thespians. Devil-may-care carrot athwart socketed jonquils hardly abating sanctimonious argon ruffians. Amplify my mournful tie-pin, Königsberg. Woody tinny sinecure feckless purge their fairly unguent crop in re drizzle deselected arugula. Mandibular & bulbous. Starlight lichen lightens her contentious insincerity shake, shake, shake. Hot damn, Mississauga. Artful archbishoprics plummet upticks downwind the bankrupt buns of genetically truncated ballrooms. A chicken to measure it. Finito. Bury the enchilada, hatch her masher.

26 May 2009

That which cannot go into the form of cogs and compasses

John Ruskin, from “The Nature of Gothic” (courtesy of Laura Goodin):

Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves. All their attention and strength must go to the accomplishment of the mean act. The eye of the soul must be bent upon the finger-point, and the soul’s force must fill all the invisible nerves that guide it, ten hours a day, that it may not err from its steely precision, and so soul and sight be worn away, and the whole human being be lost at last—a heap of sawdust, so far as its intellectual work in this world is concerned: saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into the form of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten hours are over, into fireside humanity. On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his dulness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also, and we know the height of it only when we see the clouds settling upon him. And, whether the clouds be bright or dark, there will be transfiguration behind and within them.

Anatomy of Sonic Sentimentality

Our Intrepid Soprano Jaya tells us more about “Kum-Ba-Ya” than some of us will find it possible (or, advisable) to bear . . . .

25 May 2009

Marginalia from an Underground Classic

. . . Beefheart was creating more headaches for Zappa. “Ordinarily, a singer goes in the studio, puts earphones on, listens to the track, tries to sing with it and away you go,” Zappa explained. “[But] Don couldn't tolerate the headphones. He wanted to stand in the studio and sing as loud as he could—singing along with the audio leakage coming through the three panes of glass which comprised the control-room windows. The chances of him staying in sync were nil—but that’s how the vocals were done.” Beefheart couldn’t fathom what Zappa was so upset about. “I was playing—just like the whales,” he told Zig Zag. “I don’t think there is such a thing as synchronization . . . that’s what they do before a commando raid, isn’t it?”

Kevin Courrier, Trout Mask Replica (pp. 97-98)

That goes to show you what a moon can do.

Don van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), “Moonlight on Vermont”

24 May 2009

A May Inconsequentiality

The middle letter of both Fauré & Requiem is u.

21 May 2009

And Back to the Weed

Exceptionally clement day in Boston today. For my lunch break this afternoon, I went across the street to the park, sat on a bench, and read for half an hour: The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth.

— I had read up to p.534, who knows how long it’s been (my bookmark is the Borders receipt, and I purchased the book 4 Apr 08). I read:
“In plain English,” remarked the Captain, “ye was her pimp.”
No surprise (for it is a delightfully circuitous and rollicking narrative), I am completely lost . . . so I back up to the start of the chapter. Reached a point where I was tired of reading, but I still had time of my own before I had to be back in the saddle . . . so I grab a few cushions and lie out on the sunny grass . . . came close to nodding off, too. A little slice of heaven, in the middle of the work-day.

Originally read The Sot-Weed Factor decades ago, and (probably), appropriately enough, in upstate New York. At that time, I had an already-yellowing copy I had found at a used bookstore. So the desire to re-read the book, after all these long years, came with the need to scare up a fresh copy.

(“Ye was” can’t be right, can it?)

To be sung in the Back Bay

At First Church in Boston (Marlborough & Berkeley Streets), the choir will sing Bless the Lord, O My Soul under the direction of Paul Cienniwa on Sunday May the 31st. The service begins at 11:00am (Chowder Time), and streams live on WERS 88.9FM (Boston).

19 May 2009


Over at listen:

18 May 2009

Objection Sustained

“One needs a searchlight to find ritardandi in Stravinsky’s music,” wrote Louis Andriessen & Elmer Schönberger in The Apollonian Clockwork (p. 175).

Within easy reach, though, and without even checking to see if the batteries in the flashlight are still live:

Low-hanging fruit, really: the final page of L’oiseau de feu. Immediately to hand, and it was an obvious place to look. Au pied de la lettre, of course, I haven’t answered the claim! Here the marking is not strictly ritardando (slowing down) but poco a poco allargando (getting broader, little by little). Having played clarinet in the Suite, though, it does not take much further searching to turn up ipsissima verba:

m.354, un poco rit.

To be sure, the authors will feel that sharp practice has been turned upon them: Here I’ve selected a piece still under the influence of Igor Fyodorovich’s great teacher, Nikolai Andreyevich. If the reader allows the authors to funnel him on their garden path, yes, in much of Stravinsky’s later work, these characteristically Romantic fluctuations of tempo are one of the elements quite deliberately pruned away. There is a truth underneath the flip bon mot. And that, too, arguably, is in harmony with the great subject of the book.

One Bunny Stew, Coming Right Up

And if it wasn’t for her powder and all her store-bought paint,
That St Louis gal wouldn’t look like what she ain’t.

— from “The St Louis Blues” as sung by Doc Watson

The other day, I expanded my Boston-area horizons somewhat. Various routines are apt to keep me to a small repertory of well-beaten paths, but Saturday night I headed out to Brighton, for it was high time I broke bread again with a friend who, in the days ere I knew him, migrated to Boston to kick the St Louis blues. (Just rhetorical flourish, of course; I’ve never heard him speak a word against Missouri.)

One component of the overall experience that day was, new surroundings to ogle while waiting 40 minutes for an MBTA bus.

More amusingly (much, much more), however: I saw — when the bus had finally arrived, and we were trundling through Brookline Village — that a movie house in Coolidge Corner is holding a “Holy Grail Quote-Along” (and later this week as it turns out). I should not actually go, of course; but part of me is delighted simpy at the thought that they are doing such a thing . . . .

15 May 2009

Heard on Abbey Road

At his site, Jack Gallagher announces that the program of his music recorded by JoAnn Falletta and the LSO is slated for a Naxos release in late 2010. Program includes the Diversions Overture, the Sinfonietta for string orchestra, a Berceuse, and the Symphony in One Movement: Threnody. There have not been a great many Naxos releases that I’ve snapped up immediately upon release; but this will be one!

14 May 2009

Bucking the Trend

Delighted to read this of Haitink:

At age eighty, Bernard Haitink defies the truism that conductors with advanced age adopt more expansive tempi, the resulting interpretive extremes to be retroactively justified by appeals to mysticism or other pseudo-intellectual theories. No, good old Bernie would have none of that! He sticks to the same youthful brash tempi he favored in his younger years . . . .
This courtesy of Misha on Tonic Blotter.

Supplement to Clockwork

Just realized, not only what a lovely article het is, but that it is an anagram for the.

Not only an anagram, but — appropriately for the composer who is the ostensible subject of the book (and, not that this is anything but mathematically likely with a three-letter word) — het is a rotation of the.

13 May 2009

Q & A

A virtual neighbor asks (generally):

So why do you composers compose? That's not a flip question, but a sincere inquiry into the nature of the creative impulse. Is it something you just like to do because you do it well, or something you feel compelled to do (as Hans Sachs says to Stoltzing, "The bird sings because it must.")? What is your creative process? Do you say to yourself, "I think I'll write a string quartet," and so you sit down and write it, or do you hear "string quartet" sounds in your head? Does the music flow on the first draft, like Mozart, or is it a laborious process of writing and re-writing and trial and error? As someone who couldn't compose music to save his life, I'm fascinated by this.
I reply:

Not to seem to offer a flip answer, but yes to nearly everything. Most of what you’ve written has an echo in my own experience. I like to compose, it’s an activity in which I take pleasure for its own sake; once I found that I felt I could do it well, that was an immediate additional layer of pleasure . . . and the driver for can I write the next one better still in some way(s)?

I find it difficult to settle on quite the right way to express the compulsion angle. Dale Moore, a voice teacher at Wooster, would tell his students frankly how difficult it would afterwards be to build a career in music; so that if they felt at all that they could be happy majoring in something (anything) else, they should — that they ought not to major in music unless that was the only course of study they would be happy pursuing. In my case, I went to Wooster to the sole end of studying music, three years after I had been graduated from high school. I went with the thought of studying clarinet performance, because that was most of my musical experience until then. I had puttered with a few sketchy compositional notions (and I had done quite a chunk of arranging for school musicals and marching band), but I had not had any opportunity to pursue any directed study of composition . . . and the thought really did not occur to me, until Jack Russell (my first-year theory teacher, and also the director of the Wooster Chorus) made the suggestion. But once I set to studying composition, I was engaged . . . and I came to feel that this was pretty much what I was made to do. Anything else I might do, could probably be covered by any of a hundred other people on the planet . . . .

As to specifics, any and every variant happens on a case-by-case basis. After the November Evensong, I was so pleased and grateful to the St Paul’s choir, that I set to writing a choir-plus-clarinet setting of a specific text. Or, at times I hear a fairly ‘abstract’ musical idea, and later ‘attach’ it to specific instrumentation. Likewise with the flow . . . there’s a range from the just splurge out onto the page experience to knock it around again and again until it’s gotten right. Nor would the listener necessarily be able to twig which method was walked through, judging by the sounds of the musical result.

Lovely mini-reunion with old Wooster pals this week. I fear I may have given too thoroughly negative an impression of Buffalo days, so as an emendation to the minutes:

There’s a piece I am very pleased and proud to have written, I felt it was a fine musical success at the time — though the score I have long since lost, or, there was no score as such, the piece was largely improvisational, and there was no score, there were only the six parts. I had written, I forget, maybe twenty-thirty brief musical excerpts for each player, and left the order in which to play them up to the performer; I had different excerpts for a beginning, middle and ending section; and finally, I had brief, composed passages for the very start, and the very end. The piece was called Ambiguous Strategies.

A dear old Wooster friend, Jeff Wallace, pursued dance studies after Woo (or, mostly post-Woo); and we had a semi-unspoken agreement in principle to do some sort of collaboration. Cutting to the chase, Jeff came to Buffalo to perform an interpretive dance to Ambiguous Strategies. The performance went well, and was well received.

Happily, Jeff made a videotape of his performance, so there is (somewhere) a document of the piece. I am very pleased that it happened, and I am curious to view the video . . . it would theoretically be possible to ‘recreate’ the piece from the video, I suppose, but I do not really have much interest in doing quite that.

I had rather write something new.

Reading (the English translation of) Het Apollonisch uurwerk. In many ways, impressive and enjoyable. I am apt to wonder, though, if just perhaps, when Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger write of Nadia Boulanger that she had a brilliant mind and an overbearing character, there may be some slight degree of the p. calling the k. black.

12 May 2009


A recording is now out of the long-mislaid Hindemith concerto for the left hand (one of a number of such works commissioned of famous composers by Paul Wittgenstein). But the pairing is the puzzling Dvořák “New World”. May just wait for the post-premiere recording . . . .

(Well, nothing puzzling about the Dvořák symphony, only about the combination of those two works. Whether on the disc, or on an actual program.)

An old friend from Wooster is in town, for a radiology conference. Suit me up!

Our man in the Manhattoes is hold up well in the midst of the Mahlerama, though he must be looking forward to the seventh-symphony stretch.

The recording of the premiere of Mark Simon’s Silver Spring is a delight to listen to. Fans eagerly await Movement II.

10 May 2009

By Request: Take a Trip Back with Father Tiresias

Genesis, Chapter I

In hindsight, I must actually have heard “Follow You, Follow Me” on the radio first of all; but the first Genesis I ever heard, in knowledge of the band’s name, was likely The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Probably “Back in NYC”; I distinctly remember counting it out in seven, as well as the deep thudding-but-slightly-squishy bass notes accenting the downbeat of each measure.

I had already known for a few years that the head of Pink Floyd’s “Money” is in seven [and, a bit amusingly considering my much-later relocation to Boston, my first encounter with “Money” was at a high school dance on Cape Cod while on a band exchange]; but as the Floyd tune is closely tied to R&B roots, “Back in NYC” struck me very freshly as seven with a difference . . . and then (unlike the Floyd number, which breaks into four at the middle) the contrasting bits were also in seven . . . and the reckless guitar fuzz bursting in for “No time for romantic escape,” the return to the A section . . . “so I’ll burn it to ash,” and the subtle velvety glissando which plunges down to deep bass on ‘ash’. This was pop music as I had never heard it, nor even imagined it might be; and I liked it mightily.

The three LPs of The Lamb and Selling England by the Pound, I came very quickly to know every note of (and if the septuple meter of “Back in NYC” caught my attention, I found yet more of it, and with various creative subdivisions, in “The Battle of Epping Forest” & Tony Banks’ solo in the middle of “Cinema Show,” e.g.). An old mate from high school had the post-Gabriel live double-LP Second’s Out, including numbers from Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, at that time out of print in the states . . . at some point, I found import copies of each. I found something of a difference in tone between the first pair of ‘the classic quintet’ albums, and my favorite Selling England and Lamb, but I found them all engagingly creative.

(I may possibly be bucking consensus in preferring Nursery Cryme to Foxtrot . . . I find the dystopian “Get ’Em Out by Friday” just a shade hectoring, and there’s the odd line in “Supper’s Ready” — “And even though I’m feeling good, something tells me I’d better activate my prayer capsule” — whose eccentricity seems clunky.)

Of the post-Gabriel quartet albums, A Trick of the Tail is a strong favorite (especially “Ripples”). A by-now crusty memory is of comparative disappointment with Wind & Wuthering, but it’s time to revisit that.

By good chance (meseems) the first new Genesis release during my awareness of the band, was Duke. Without side-tracking into reasons why, I’ll just say at present that this is my clear favorite among Genesis albums. That preference was (I think) already established (though possibly still to some degree beneath the surface) when a friend of mine who was working at Warner had an extra ticket for their Madison Square Garden date on the Duke tour.

Duke on cassette (as well as The Lamb) was playing in the car as I drove out to my freshman year at the College of Wooster. Soon after my arrival (though not as any result thereof) Abacab was released. The apparent confusion of the following items is no doubt related to my having applied myself to some reasonable extent to my studies as a freshman: a. I immediately very much liked the title track (yes, even the pared-back vamp at the end); b. I managed to go to the Cleveland date on the promotional tour; c. to this day, I’m not at all sure that I’ve actually heard the entire album.

Back at home one of the summer breaks from Wooster, I found a vinyl EP (or a single, I don’t quite recall) with “Keep It Dark” (from Abacab) and “Naminanu” (until the recent box reissue, so far as I know, not particularly available otherwise). “Naminanu” is perhaps an unlikely track over which to contract an obsession . . . but, I just liked it a great deal from the start.

Over the next few years, I let my turntable pass out of my life, and as a necessary result, the vinyl (all that vinyl) slipped gradually out of my musical awareness. At the advent of the compact disc, although I did begin partly by ‘reclaiming’ even pop music which I had ‘lost’ through lack of vinyl-playing capacity, Genesis remained obscurely off in the wings.

So it is, I have ‘discovered’ the boxed Genesis remasters after decades of neglect. And the tale to be told must wait for another entry.

09 May 2009

from the Archives

Unusual density of activity recently. I like it.

Last week I observed the two rehearsals of Out in the Sun, which went very well. It’s a technically demanding piece, but musically rewarding as well – I don’t take my own word for it, but at least three of the ten players very kindly made a point of thanking me for the piece, and telling me how they enjoyed playing it. The actual performance on Thursday evening was marvelous (and there was even some audience); I heard someone shout “Bravo!” from an area of the house where my invited guests were not seated. I had refined the composition painstakingly before letting it out to the conductor; and I knew that I liked the piece. I had seen and heard the piece in rehearsal, and so it was no surprise to me that the NEC players made such a great presentation of the piece. So, while of course I hoped that the audience might like the piece, and I knew that the performance was as flattering a delivery of the music as a composer might wish, I must say that the force of the audience’s positive response to the piece, as people approached me at the intermission, really touched me. Of course, I might like the piece (and this might be eccentric of me), but I never feel that I can take that as a guarantee that the audience will quite take to it. It was an even richer pleasure that everyone that I spoke to had been so favorably impressed by the music.

In memory, the power of this evening’s impression still overshadows an even recenter performance. Yesterday the St Paul’s choir sang a piece of mine for the first time since my designation as Composer-in-Residence, the Alleluia in D (the same piece which the Atlanta Young Singers of Callanwolde will be including in their Christmas-and-after programs this season). A couple of moments when a stray singer came in early . . . the counting is tricky, and in fact we did not even read this piece until last Wednesday, so (a) the choir roster has changed so, that I think only two choristers have sung this in performance before, and (b) the many people who are new to the piece, haven't “lived” with it enough to feel entirely at ease with the rhythmic quirks. No matter, those little slips did not appreciably ‘damage’ the overall impression of the piece . . . there are these little motifs which keep chasing themselves . . . so our tenor Brian (who has sung the piece many times before) said to me afterwards, “There were a couple of false entrances, but the way it’s written, no one noticed.” “Yes,” I agreed, “this is one of my rare train-wreck-resistant pieces.”
[ 13.xi.06 ]

Lame First Lines Dept

“I’ve listened to the whole song through, and for perhaps the hundredth time, Elton; and, no: there doesn’t seem to be anything even the least bit funny. I hope you don’t mind.”

07 May 2009

Rome, Genesis & the Voice of a Master

NC Woman Returns Fragment Taken From Rome — 25 Years After Husband Found It Near Colosseum [ link ]

Gone are the days when a tourist could casually snaffle some rubble from la città eterna.

The mood in Genesis was such a contrast to the chaos of Yes, where nobody could agree what day of the week it was and any time anyone said, “Shall we make a record?,” everybody would start arguing. It was hopeless. How we in Yes ever got anything done, I still don’t know.

Bill Bruford, in Genesis: Chapter and Verse

And: the voice of Bartók [ link ]

06 May 2009

A Couple of Doors Too Many

The Mingei Museum in San Diego publishes some prints on the theme of Bartók's opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle; whereof Dr Peter Czipott writes. [ link ]

05 May 2009

Te Deum vitae

A Briton comes to Boston, to conduct music by a Frenchman, written the year after he visited Russia [ review ]

(Even better than when de Burgos led the Grande Messe des morts, I might add.)

Really enjoying the Sibelius software. There are some aspects of Radiant Maples which will make it tricky playing; but cues in the parts will help . . . and those are very easy in Sibelius.

I find the most curious things in old folders on the PC . . . including this outrage of an autobiography:

When I was graduated from high school, my parents informed me that my academic underperformance had so disgraced them, that they were obliged to sell me to the Juilliard school as an indentured servant.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that their compensation consisted of original-cast recordings of Fiddler on the Roof and Mame. And the right to groom Michael Jackson’s pet monkey.

I worked in the kitchens of Juilliard for three months, until my skillful shelling of peanuts, and highly fashionable ill-humor, earned me the admiration of the dean of the Flageolet Department. My success was short-lived, however. I was expelled when it was discovered that I was secretly reading the “Heard on the Street” column from the Wall Street Journal when I ought to have been analyzing the scherzi from the Schubert string quartets.

I was exiled to Louisiana, where I was forced to spend two years listening to the song of Spanish moss. My hair color changed to jet black, I was made to dress in synthetic fabrics, I was forbidden the use of umbrellas, coffee was provided to me only in chewable form, and at last, I had succeeded in distilling the sound of Spanish moss into a twenty-minute tone poem for nose-flutes and giant rubber band which captured the imagination of Rolling Stone. Jan Wenner wrote, “You can hear the moss and feel the okra.”

I was then taken on as a sonic lichen advisor in the Carter administration. The political analysts say that the hostages in Iran were Carter’s downfall. This was an elaborate deception to spare the country embarrassment over the true reason for the collapse of government: my $2.3-billion failure to make good on a promise to carpet Isfahan with singing Spanish moss.

My subscription to Better Homes and Lichens was cancelled without pro-rated reimbursement.

I was drinking Great Bluedini with George Lucas in The Space Bar in Bakersfield, where I invented the word wookie, which Lucas swiped and paid me hush money. Lucas always secretly despised John Williams, and hired me to sabotage all the f-sharps in the “Cakewalk of the Adolescent Ewoks” while the parts were on the stands at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade.

The footprints on R2D2 in the unretouched release of The Deodorant of the Jedi were my doing. I do not have shoes that match them, but I produced the prints with stencils and a mixture of whole-milk organic yoghurt and squid ink.

The market demand for whole-milk yoghurt was the inspiration for the evolution of several otherwise promising violists from the Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields into strikingly photogenic cows. My job was tuning the cowbells so that their vibration would render the milk resistant to bacteria without irradiation.

I returned in triumph to the Juilliard school, moss and yoghurt in hand. Through a combination of the fact that the music library was now entirely on-line, together with a disaffected Canadian’s web expertise, my proficiency in squid-ink calligraphy and some just plain lucky breaks, I was able to convince the academic musical community that the nine symphonies which were traditionally considered the work of Beethoven were in fact written by me over a series of summer vacations on Aruba, and had not really existed before 1986.

The great advantage is all the royalties on the hundreds of recordings made of ‘my’ symphonies by the world’s major orchestras every year. The down-side is, I have to make sour faces and pretend I’m deaf.

There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that my middle name was changed to Prescott from Prosciutto.

(Standard disclaimers apply: I don’t work for the Lipton Co.,
nor does any of my family or friends, to my knowledge.
I just drink a lot of tea.
Most of it distributed by cos. other than Lipton, actually.)

04 May 2009

Funny Feeling

That a composer, struggling for any kind of recognition, writes in the 21st century to review a performance of Berlioz . . . of a piece which, though it was performed in Boston as early as 1888, the Boston Symphony did not ever play until 1954 . . . and Berlioz himself struggled for recognition in his own day, and had to resort to writing reviews to earn his bread . . . .

I suppose it may be possible by an effort of the will to keep the flesh from creeping.

I drew up a “to do” list on Saturday; made a good start on it, too. One task got a bit involved.

[ click &c. ]

Back when I met with Mary Jane Rupert to read Lost Waters, I also brought the harp part for Radiant Maples. One of the take-aways from that meeting: although repeated notes are idiomatic to and manageable on piano and guitar, they are less so with the harp. There are not many passages of repeated notes in the harp part of Radiant Maples (which is one reason, I suppose, that the subject did not come up when the piece was read by Brave New Works in November of ’07), and those passages would be easy to emend . . . and I wanted to bring the score into the Sibelius environment.

So, I opened the Finale file, exported it as an XML file (an older version of XML than Sibelius 5 would prefer, but there it is). Just a few measures or so in Maples came out wonky in Sibelius. One was a measure of 2/4 in the flute in which the first beat was nested triplets . . . i.e., triplet eighth-notes, of which the first two eighth-notes are subdivided into triplet sixteenth-notes. The second beat is divided also into an eighth-note triplet, of which the first eighth is subdivided into triplet sixteenth-notes, the second is subdivided into 32-notes, and the last is just an eighth-note tied into the downbeat of the next measure. The state of the XML file import was such that it was impossible to ‘fix’ that measure in the flute; but I found an easy work-around: I built the measure correctly on the clarinet staff, pasted it into the flute part (over-writing the ‘unworkable’ measure), and then deleted the clarinet measure (where there needs to be a measure’s rest, anyway).

The other measures were in the harp; it may be considered unnecessary layout fastidiousness, but there are many 10:8 decuplets in the harp and piano, and in two measures as imported into Sibelius, the “10:8” marking over the beam was askew, i.e. not parallel to the beams. Just looked bad; and, well, the point of Sibelius (or Finale) is that the music should look good. Work-around was similar to the flute measure, only easier, since I could copy a ‘clean’ decuplet, paste it over the ‘bad’ one, and transpose it to the correct pitch.

An e-mail query comes in regarding O Gracious Light (Opus 50, choir accompanied by strings and harp). Could be the first performance of the work in that original scoring (I adapted the accompaniment in two different ways, for the Jefferson Ave Presbyterian Church in Detroit, and the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston, respectively).

03 May 2009

Shining Sub

Susanna Mälkki leads the BSO in a program of Ravel, Stravinsky & Debussy [ link ]

Tangentially (via keywords Debussy and arrangement), WCRB played Debussy’s arrangement of Satie’s Gymnopédie last night. Beautiful in its simplicity, of course, and any composer might wish to write something so lovely. This is the recording WCRB always plays, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields. Strikes me as almost painfully slow (and I’m a fellow likes his Morton Feldman, too). That’s all.

02 May 2009

Bullish Upticks (II)

Bullish Upticks (II)

The Irrationally Exuberant Music of Karl Henning

The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, Opus 94a (2008) alto flute solo – Premiere
Irreplaceable Doodles, Opus 89 (2007) clarinet solo
stars & guitars, Opus 95 (2009) bass flute & harp – Premiere

Peter H. Bloom, grand flutes
Mary Jane Rupert, harp
Karl Henning, clarinet

Tuesday, 28 July 2009
King’s Chapel
Corner of School & Tremont Streets, Boston
Freewill donation.

When the going gets tough, the tough get composing.

Bullish Upticks (I)

Bullish Upticks (I)

The Irrationally Exuberant Music of Karl Henning

Blue Shamrock, Opus 63 (2002) clarinet solo
Lost Waters, Opus 27 (1994-95) harp solo – Premiere
stars & guitars, Opus 95 (2009) bass flute & harp – Premiere

The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, Opus 94a (2008) alto flute solo – Premiere
Fragments of « Morning Has Broken », Opus 64a (2002) flute, clarinet & piano
Radiant Maples, Opus 59 (2001) flute, clarinet, harp & piano – Premiere

Peter H. Bloom, flutes of divers varieties
Paul Cienniwa, piano
Mary Jane Rupert, harp
Karl Henning, clarinet

Wednesday, 24 June 2009
First Congregational Church in Woburn
322 Main Street
Freewill donation; all proceeds to benefit Organ Restoration Fund.

When the going gets tough, the tough get composing.