30 September 2009

Liszt per arpa

Harpo Marx plays Liszt (with the odd jazz touch here and there) on a harp found amid Nazi loot in a hotel in Casablanca (no, really):

29 September 2009

Temporarily Sidelined

James Levine to Undergo Back Surgery, Cancels Performances.

Update 3:54 p.m. The conductor James Levine will undergo surgery for a herniated disk in the next few days, forcing him to cancel his performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall’s season-opening gala.

28 September 2009

Jeu d’eaux

Apart from what the composer has already said about Lost Waters, it is apparently also an overall crescendo through the four numbers: this is how the waves look in Audacity:

[ click for larger image ]

Back to Ghana & Ludwig van Taffy

An old friend returns to Ghana. It was in Scott DeVeaux’s seminar at UVa that I learnt what I know of African drumming, an experience which has had a seminal impact on some of my composition ever since. And here, Scott’s going back.

Beethoven goes ambient:

9 Beet Stretch is Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony
stretched to 24 hours, with no pitch distortions.
Stretching the Opus 125 is a beautiful thing; call it Heaven in D Minor.

Take-away from the weekend: Practically anytime I have heard scorn poured on others for their alleged distaste for change, the words came from someone quite visibly comfortable in his own worn routines.

Reinforced lesson from long-ago: Walk a mile in the other fellow’s moccasins, first.

More feedback

Word in from the West Coast:

      Current listening

      A recital disk,
      Noise in the Library, featuring the work of one Karl Henning. Ive only listened to the first two pieces, Heedless Watermelon and Irreplaceable Doodles, so far. First off, let me say that this performance of the Doodles is far and away the most convincing yet. I confess that the first few times I listened to the Doodles (in other renditions), they seemed more doodling than irreplaceable (sorry, Karl!); but all of a sudden, the work is not only making structural sense, but revealing its beauties. Heedless Watermelon, for flute and clarinet, is a delight; it also takes Karl down some hitherto unexplored harmonic labyrinths. Im eager to listen to the rest of the CD, later today.

26 September 2009

Ink barely dry

My blogging is not quite keeping pace with my musical activity. This page (practically all of it) was written Thursday morning; I snapped the picture on the train last night; and only posting this Saturday morning.

[ click for larger image ]

. . . and in fact on that train last night (whose departure was not at midnight, and which did not leave for Georgia), I finished out the piece. It is a brief (four minutes) companion to the flute-clarinet duet Heedless Watermelon, written to fill out the April date at King’s Chapel.

Originally I had planned to do a clarinet/organ recital on that occasion, as it’s been a spell since my cl/org material has had an airing. But the recital’s timing is immediately after Easter, and the organist pleaded extenuating circumstances. He’s a good chap, and we’re not savages ’ere, so the cl/org program will enjoy a further respite.

Fresh from the triumph at the library, my thought directly turned to a fl/cl program . . . give the Heedless Watermelon another whirl, and I shouldn’t mind another lash at the Studies in Impermanence. That leaves about four minutes to fill out the half-hour’s program preferred at King’s Chapel — hence the new fl/cl duet, All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage.

Severe economies of line, apparent restriction of activity (I think I want the whole piece played piano, for but one instance) . . . the title and a scheme for the music came to me at about the same instant.

24 September 2009

Appearing in Boston

The celebrated Aardvark Jazz Orchestra will open its 37th season at Scullers with a show entitled “All Blues,” painting the many shades of blues in jazz from Miles and Duke to Mingus and Basie to boogie and funk originals by Aardvark founder/music director Mark Harvey.
September 30, 2009
Show: $18
Add Dinner for: $38
Show: 8pm

Early music ensemble Cascata in Cambridge:

October 27, 2009
Love's Virtuosity
Vocal music on the subject of love juxtaposed with instrumental virtuosity, both from the rich repertoire of early seventeenth century Italy. Music by Monteverdi, Marini, Strozzi and more...

University Lutheran Church
66 Winthrop Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts
$20/10 st, sr
A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter

23 September 2009

First returns

This is freak’n awesome…

The entire (and verbatim) response
of the first person (other than the composer)
to listen to the cd of the 17 Sept recital.

(And I have the e-mail to prove it.)

22 September 2009

Waiting for the hard drive to be defragmented

I don’t normally take the train home in the late afternoon, but yesterday, I did; and as a result, chanced upon an old friend and fellow instrumentalist, Eric Dewar. Eric played trumpet in various pieces written for the First Congregational Church in Woburn, going back near ten years, I suppose; a couple of pieces also included his wife, Greta, a bassoonist. Very pleasant to catch up with him.

Close to the end of the “Emma Peel Megaset” of The Avengers. In the last couple of episodes, the scoring has been a bit more apt to allude to snippets from the literature. The scene for “Murdersville” is a quiet country village, and the apt echo there is material soaked in the brief introduction to Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on “Greensleeves”. An episode or two earlier, there was a solo flute quietly ruminating on the four-note descending motif from Stravinsky’s L'oiseau de feu.

Not a huge story, but true

Get just a little more sleep than what I am accustomed to run on, and (curiously) the creative batteries get fully recharged.

In strange ways, sometimes.

I was dreaming, and there was a clerk in a shop (a shop which later became the office of a service station, but never mind) who was always on the phone (quite possibly a cell phone, as he was moving around all the time, but I did not closely mark the device he held to his ear), and at intervals one of the words that kept cropping up in his talk on the phone was “Tibet.”

When the shop had somehow changed over into the office of a service station, there appeared two customers who were tailing him as he walked about on his mysterious phone call, and the three of them would variously mutter “Tibet,” or “not Tibet.”

(Why am I suddenly thinking Ernst Lubitsch?)

All the repetition of the word Tibet had my dream-brain (do I have a brain? in my dreams) toying with the idea of a limerick. And as I heard the speech of the roving trio getting more animated, in hopes of keeping the tone light, I decided that I would complete the limerick, and share it.

Since it was a dream, one of the odd happenings was, that any piece of paper I found for the purpose of writing my limerick down, was large enough to accommodate only a single line. At the last I had found five slips of paper, had written the five lines, and arranged the five slips in order on the counter:
Out East where the first sun is settin
Lives a rare and athletic Tibetan
She speed-meditates
On her saffron ice-skates
She’s the Tibetan Mary Lou Retton.
Paradise Lost, it is not; ’tis only the stuff made out of a dream (and, why yes, I did recently watch The Maltese Falcon).

Of course, it will be pointed out that Ms Retton was a gymnast, not a skater; but the poet was somnolent, and in such circumstances, will not be held accountable for inaccuracies in matters of athletics.

Some erstwhile publicity

There I am (or, was): billed below “Glam Thursdays.”

Thanks to my friend & fellow composer Bruno for pointing this out!

21 September 2009

Comparative Listening

This past weekend (at last) I did load Trout Mask Replica onto the Sansa Fuze player, and listened to some of it on the morning train ride (train was less noisy than I thought it might be).

Later this morning, on an elevator, another passenger was listening to an mp3 player.  Loud.  Loudly, anyway.  The most readily discernible element of the music in such passive circumstances tends to be the drumbeat, and by the drumbeat at first I mistook it for a They Might Be Giants song (which surprises me more than anyone, since I hardly know their work at all). 

In fact, though, as the singing floated into a state of near-comprehensibility, a much firmer guess came to be Glass Onion from The Beatles.  I may not own any Beatles, but I am just Beatles-snobby enough not to call it The Wh. A.

The Beatles are in the air.  One new product available at the MFA gift shop is bowls of various shapes (for chips, for a tossed salad, &c.) made from vinyl records.  Come to think of it, I guess tossed salads wont work, since the attraction of the items seems to be the circular label around the spindle-hole (that quaint artifact from the LP-era).  Oh yes, Beatles in the air.  So a young lady bought one such bowl the other day, and she was very excited because it was record two of the 1967-1970 compilation.  Which I should not necessarily have known, as I had only glanced and noticed that track 1. was Back in the USSR, and I had mistaken it for The Beatles.

The young ladys newly-acquired bowl in turn drew a neighborly comment from a distinguished-looking gentleman on the monaural reissue box.

And while this conversation was in progress, I thought, and Ive just loaded Captain Beefheart onto my mp3 player I had a powerful sense of the profound harmony of the universe.

19 September 2009

Moonwalk of 1941

In The Maltese Falcon, Peter Lorre was Michael Jackson before there was Michael Jackson.

Check out Joel Cairo’s hair when he first walks into Spade’s office. And when he’s knocked out and slumped into the armchair — one hand is gloved.


Then again, perhaps Mozart really means four whole-notes in a row.

(I must have missed the memo advising us composers that a whole-note gives the performer license to riff.)

It’s been years since I have played the Mozart Concerto — and yet I knew right away the sequence of whole-notes the delicatessen clerk referred to.


Stop Right There Dept.

Cuban dissident punk rocker Gorki Aguila
Rumor has it that this is a stage name. He was born Fawn Knudsen.

Scott Deveaux discovers flamenco.

Most agreeable rumor reaches us that youth detective thriller Why Begins With W may be hot off the press come Thanksgiving. And we shall give thanks!

What Did the Composer Listen to, the Day After? Dept.

Robert Fripp, Exposure
Tallis, Lamentations of Jeremiah (The Tallis Scholars)
The Talking Heads, Remain in Light
Chopin, Preludes, Opus 28 (Andrei Nikolsky)

18 September 2009

Library Echo (The Noise That Was)

First, we should start with visual aids, methinks: [ link ]

The composer is enormously pleased with how the concert went last night.

Before the concert as we were getting set up in the library’s rec room (choose a fish, any fish) , harpist Mary Jane Rupert asked me if the Lost Waters suite is published; two of the numbers would make excellent teaching pieces (she said).

Flautist Peter Bloom joined in, “What you should do is write a review of the piece and its pedagogical uses for the harp journal.”

“But,” Mary Jane responded, “they have to be published first, right?”

Which was as cheerful a reminder as a composer could wish, that I had a conversation to resume with Lux Nova, for getting Lost Waters in the pipeline.

Heedless Watermelon: At each of the two July performances, things went a little funny with the piece, in unexpected ways. Heck, it’s a tricky piece, and the experience of those two performances just bore out the fact that there’s no substitute for rehearsing a piece so many times , that you know it cold. Simply put, last night it went the best we’ve ever played it.

Irreplaceable Doodles: This, too, I probably played as well as ever I’ve played it, last night.

The Angel &c.: This is the third time Peter has played this one in public, and he’s really settled into it nicely. I understand some of my colleagues’ objections to solo wind instrument pieces that cross the magic 5-minute threshold; but I really felt, as I listened to Peter’s traversal of the piece yesterday, that one is aware only of the music, and not of the passing time. The composer feels that he has learnt well the lessons Messiaen, Cage & Feldman have taught him.

Lost Waters: This is only the second time Mary Jane has assayed the suite, and as was true in the June Woburn program, she carried the whole suite very musically: a lovely performance, and the most ‘approachable’ music on the program (apart from the closer, perhaps).

Studies in Impermanence: The two preceding pieces gave my chops a good rest before tackling this, which as always, is not so much a technical challenge (though there is that), as a matter of endurance. There was a gap of at least two years since I had played this one to an audience; although The Mousetrap from last year is more demanding (one result of sharing duties with a second playe). Last night, the Studies had the benefit of insouciance. I was completely relaxed about the changes in tempo from section to section – I don’t mean that the tempi were relaxed (or, more relaxed than they ought to be), but that mentally I was relaxed . . . I played in Don’t worry, be happy mode , which is a great help in tackling solo music of such monstrous proportions.

I haven’t mentioned applause yet; it was warm and fulsome after every number, but I was especially grateful for the applause after the Studies.

And the Tropes on Parasha’s Aria is a bon-bon which I don’t think any audience could dislike.

There’s the just-the-facts wire. What else transpired?

I think there were ten in the audience. Before the concert, Helen (the librarian) greeted me very enthusiastically, because someone came in, who hadn’t known of the concert, but who met someone on the street who told her about the concert, and told her she should come. Helen was the only one on duty at the library last night, so she couldn’t sit in the audience, but afterwards she said, every now and then when there was some tension on the job, she would bend her ear to the door of the room where we were playing, and she thought, “How nice!” and her work was no longer a burden.

An especial pleasure it was to see again a fine local clarinetist after the concert. While playing the concert, I saw him seated, but didn’t recognize him until we spoke together afterward. He is an excellent freelancer here in Boston, subs with all the heavy-hitter groups, and here I am blushing inside (and pleased beyond words) at so esteemed a colleague greeting me with “Incredible pieces, great playing.” He asked me incredulously, “Were you getting tired at all? You didn’t sound it in the least.”

On this score alone, I consider the evening something of a personal triumph.

Exterior Sonics Dept.: The Library is on Cambridge Street, not far from Mass General (and Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, and a fire station) . Not far into the Studies (yes, my nice, quiet sustained tones), I begin to hear the wind-up of a siren. It actually didn’t get so loud as to ‘enter’ the space, it was at a sonic distance; and honestly, I just smiled inwardly.

Towards the end of the Studies (and more in the Tropes) I noticed someone taking photographs, with quite a serious camera. Et ma fin est mon commencement.

Sundry Angels

Whatever else may be said of my music, it seems to require just a little bit extra of even a very fine performer. The demands of Heedless Watermelon and of The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword notwithstanding, flautist Peter Bloom appears genuinely to like both pieces, even to the extent of his wishing to continue to find more occasions to play the music. He even suggested a version of the duet for flute and alto flute. So the rigors of trying to get all of the Watermelon’s moving parts just right, have not blunted Peter’s affection for the music.

The trumpet original of The Angel … has required some reflection. My thought has been to provide ossia passages wherever Chris O’Hara has objections. Peter Bloom’s several outings with the alto flute version of the piece — (should I just call it an alto flute piece, and write something else for unaccompanied trumpet?) — confirm me in ownership both of the composition as it stands, and particularly of its duration.

The other day, I had an excellent talk with Chris on the phone. His objections, in brief:

1. The two-octave leap to high C, which vexatiously returns again and again.
2. The duration of the piece:
a. As the piece runs its course, to sustain that high note gets more problematic.
b. The piece is sufficiently demanding, that at 12 minutes, Chris advises me that if he programs the piece, that’s all he would play . . . that it would therefore have to be a concert shared with other performers.
3. One frenetically rapid passage of three and a half measures for which he begs succor.

Technically, I should have added a 2c., as Chris generally spoke against any unaccompanied wind instrument piece longer than 5 minutes. As above, though, I consider the piece to wear its duration fine.

(However: a composer-sanctioned optional ‘short version’? An idea I shall play with.)

(— Separately: In the interval between the June and July recitals, Peter Bloom very discreetly voiced concern that stars & guitars might, just possibly might, be a shade too long; and this was a concern which I was apt, with regret, to give ear to, since a bass flute is a boat-load of plumbing to ask a fellow to hold up on the air for 20 minutes. However, a week later, Peter got back to me gleefully to say that he had discovered that he was playing his solo cadenza markedly slower than my suggested tempo . . . and that, with that adjustment, he is perfectly happy with the length of the piece. Gotta love it when the composer is found to be right, after all. — )

In advance of the phone-call, in thinking about alternate passages to address what I then knoew of Chris’ concerns, I composed a solution to the high C’s; and in talking it over with Chris, he sounded happy with my proposal. We are not far from having the piece in a form which Chris may consider performing . “Timing has been good,” he even added. “I am giving a talk at UNH in November on special challenges for trumpet players with new music, and I can use Angel to demonstrate some of the things I’ll be speaking about.” Which I’ll take as a good thing.

Melon Notes

. . . to reflect Peter’s & my working with the piece these past three performances . . .
  1. At the Lo stesso tempo (m. 21ff.) Peter ‘conducts’ the beats . . . with the switch from unison to the ‘freely’ different rhythms between the two parts that starts at m.21, having the beat marked helps keep things in order.
  2. m.50ff. takes a lot of ironing; the combination of 1. the flute being rhythmically all over the place, 2. the clarinet providing nearly a moto perpetuo backdrop, and 3. the rapid tempo, has meant that we worked that section out many times, in hopes of ensuring that we reach the unison at the double-bar at m.63 together.
  3. After so much unison writing, the close canon beginning with the final eighth-note of m.81 requires a little extra ‘awareness’.
  4. For the most part, the section beginning at m.86 falls readily into place; the 11/8 of m.88 is a little tricky.
  5. Same note as note (3.), viz. m.124ff.
  6. Material from note (2.) returns at m.194
  7. The last bar should last the equivalent of about five measures ‘in time’ . . . Peter & I have been holding the forte steady for three bars’ worth, and then decrescendo-ing (which must be a duplicate present participle) for two bars’ worth.

17 September 2009



Noise in the Library
The Exquisite Sonic Disturbances of Karl Henning

Heedless Watermelon, Opus 97 (2009) flute & clarinet
Irreplaceable Doodles, Opus 89 (2007) clarinet solo
The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, Opus 94a (2008) alto flute solo
Lost Waters, Opus 27 (1994-95) harp solo
Studies in Impermanence, Opus 86 (2005) clarinet solo
Tropes on Parasha’s Aria from White Nights, Opus 75, the ensemble

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

Thursday, 17 September 2009
West End Branch, Boston Public Library
151 Cambridge Street
Free & Open to the Public.

Just try to shush em.

Possibly the only post on this blog ever to include the word 'zombies'

Last night, I finished reading the book in the BFI series on Night of the Living Dead.

was good. Detail:

1. I enjoyed reading the book.
2. I got the impression that I know the movie
(reasonably), without the inconvenience of watching it.
2a. “Inconvenience,” in this case, because I don’t think I’d
really enjoy watching the movie.
2b. Others may enjoy it, and I am delighted for them (it would be a funny world if we all liked the same things).

3. In general, I read rather guardedly when there is a lot of verbiage about a movie (as I do when there is verbiage about music).
3a. Especially, I tend to be suspicious when there is a lot of high- (or even mid-)
falutin’ philostofy about what is, at the end of the day, a 90-minute movie.
3b. Made on a low budget.
3c. About zombies.
3d. In a western Pennsylvania farmhouse.
4. That all said, see (1.) above.

Program Notes

About the Music

Heedless Watermelon  ::  This is one of a small number of pieces which I have written as a musical thank-you.  Mary Jane Rupert, Paul Cienniwa, Peter Bloom & I played a recital on 24 June;  and in the elated aftermath, I started composing, for my Muse bade me draw up a diverting duet for flute and clarinet.  My method of composition can be quickly summarized:  There is no method.  No, that is not (cannot be) quite true;  but doing something different I frequently find a reliable tack.  After the extended musical canvases of my opp. 92-95 (about an hour and three-quarters of music total), I have lately trended to brevity.  (I composed Marginalia for cello ensemble in the space of two days, while powering down in Bethesda, Maryland.)  Musically, this piece is an intuitive blend of fructose, sunshine, sanssouci and electricity.  Theres even a canon on a modified Frank Zappa melody thrown in.  Toujours de laudace.  Optional entertainment, forsooth.

Irreplaceable Doodles  ::  Earlier I had composed a brief-but-demanding piece for unaccompanied clarinet (Blue Shamrock);  and while the composer did not at all repent of the technical demands he made in Shamrock, it seemed to him something of a pity, that a clarinetist put forth all that preparatory effort for so brief a musical space.  Thus, I launched upon a course of composing more expansive works for solo wind instrument.  One of my customary activities is, to compose while being conveyed hither or yon by the MBTA;  and far the greater part of Doodles was written on a bus traveling on I-93.  Loosely, the piece hangs upon the Classical model of the sonata-rondo.  The opening (A) material makes frequent returns, sometimes with modifications (and for those who like to keep track of such things, the initial measure is 11/8).  The architecture of the piece is perhaps too discursive to map neatly onto any template, but there is also a B section which returns at the transposition of a fifth (something, again, rather sonata-rondo-ish).  Irreplaceable Doodles is by turns fancifully dance-like, and lyrical.

The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword  ::  This piece I originally composed for trumpet solo, for Chris OHara.  I knew it would be a demanding trumpet piece (a schoolmate in high school, Steve Falker, was a trumpet virtuoso, and his playing has been a persistent benchmark for meto the despair of many another trumpeter).  When I had finished composing the piece, and was fine-tuning the graphic layout, I realized that (with judicious transposition) it would work effectively for flute solo.  When I showed the piece in that form to Peter Bloom, he suggested a further transpositional adjustment, to suit the piece to alto flute.  The piece has some elements of Ego vox clamantis in deserto (as John the Baptist explained himself in the Gospel).  The sword of flame is in the hands of an Angel posted by the Most High to bar the return of errant man to Paradise;  and, in part, this piece meditates on that Angels sorrow.

Lost Waters  ::  Each of the four numbers in this suite Irvings Hudson, Thoreaus Walden, Whitmans Ontario & Carlos Williams Passaic draws variously upon literary inspiration, upon the writers association with a particular body of water, and upon my own impressions looking at and hiking about each river, pond or lake.  The four pieces overall form a kind of progression, from the first (in which all twelve chromatic tones of the octave are used) to the last (for which there are no pedal changes at all).  That gradual simplification of pitch-world is complimented (inversely) by a stepped increase in the complexity of the rhythmic profile of each succeeding piece.  The composition of music as a sort of contemplation of American literary figures was the result of my writing the suite while in St Petersburg.  I spent almost four years in Estonia and Russia, where in fact I had gone first as an English teacher, so I had brought both a collection of Carlos Williams poems, and Whitmans Leaves of Grass.  I am deeply grateful to Mary Jane Rupert for undertaking the long-delayed première of the suite;  and it is gratifying to report that the delay was not any matter of musical impracticality for when Mary Jane met with me privately to read the pieces earlier this year, it appeared that no musical adjustment of any substance was necessary.

Studies in Impermanence  ::  This is one of a number of compositions which I have written, essentially because I wondered if I could.  Wondered if I could, and if I dared.  There are not many single-movement, 20-minute compositions for unaccompanied wind instrument out there in the repertory;  and it was a challenge which I enjoyed tackling, as both composer and performer.  An additional challenge in writing the piece turns on the question of repetition in music:  on one hand, repetition assists the listener in perceiving both the content and the musical shape (form) of a piece (and this seems especially desirable in a new composition);  on the other, there are few things as trivial and inartistic as over-repetition.  The question is like a mobile, with moving parts which can balance in different ways, and whose particulars are bound up with the weight and volume of materials I dont imagine that there is only one right answer (and indeed I approach the question in different ways in different pieces).  In the case of these Studies, I set out with the exploratory intention of writing a piece in which there was no literal repetition;  none of the music would repeat later note-for-note, but nonetheless, I wanted to try to make every event flow out of the preceding music.  Now the fact is, I knew when I started writing the piece, that I wanted it to last about 20 minutes;  and here I have set out on the musical journey, with a sort of constitutional principle of non-repetition.  And the process of writing the piece flowed very satisfactorily.  I reached a point in the writing, when the larger part of the music had taken shape, had assumed a definite character (or, we might say, a definite series of related character), when I decided musically that I could cast aside the guiding principle of non-repetition.  In truth, I was playing with the idea of bringing back material from earlier in the piece, but in such a way (because of its unfolding, repetition-resistant fabric) that the repetition would not be apparent;  an effect, if you like, of bringing back material which the listener has heard before, but because of the linear flow of the piece, even this old material will appear new.  Goethe made a famous remark about music being “frozen architecture,” which is a beautiful image, and poetically apt for certain musical styles and genres;  but the fact is, that music is much freer than architecture, and the gravitational forces which music must take into account are very different.  At any rate, casting aside the mold of non-repetition which had formed the majority of the piece was a compositional act which did not cause the overall piece to dissolve into chaos, and in fact it gave an appropriate direction to the end of the piece, whose signature is the repeated interval of a tritone.  And if the piece begins with the idea of non-repetition, only to change ideas somewhere in the middle, perhaps this is one instance of impermanence which the music studies.

Tropes on Parashas Aria  ::  This is one brief episode in the course of an extended scene in a ballet I have been writing, after Dostoyevskys novella “White Nights.”  The narrator sits down to introduce himself properly, and in one paragraph, makes a variety of literary allusions (some of them exotic);  musically, I took this as an occasion for a series of brief characteristic dances, in something of a miniaturized homage to Act II of The Nutcracker.  One item the narrator mentions is Pushkins verse-comedy, The Little House in Kolomna, which itself was later the source of a one-act opera buffa composed by Igor Stravinsky.  The aria which Stravinsky wrote for Parasha at the beginning of Mavra has a special sentimental significance for me;  I heard Rostropovich play once in St Petersburg, and at the end of the program he played Parashas aria for an encore, introducing it simply as “an old Russian song.”  In between iterations of the original melody, I have interleaved quasi-improvisatory glosses’.

14 September 2009

Slonimsky’s Age of Absurdity

Nicolas Slonimsky, émigré from the realm of the Tsars, speaks of his friend, Frank Zappa:

Just saying

It has been more than a week now.

13 September 2009

Catching a breath

Lux Nova are preparing an imprint of my Hodie Christus natus est (choir SATBB with clarinet in A), whose imminent availability coincides very neatly with an inquiry via e-mail late last week for this very piece — with the interesting twist of proposing to adapt the clarinet part for a Lithuanian folk instrument, the birbyne.

Preparing for this Thursday’s recital.

Another query after Bless the Lord, O My Soul, happily.

08 September 2009

Melon On!

First day back at work after a v e r y restful three-day weekend, good-night.

Very good rehearsal this evening of Heedless Watermelon. Hope we can do this one down in Atlanta in November.

07 September 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I feel an almost magnetic repulsion from the thought of calling them Three Pieces.

On the other hand, there is a fell attraction to the title It’s all in your head (not that that’s a bad place for everything to be).

(Which is probably overkill.)

(Though that might not be a bad thing.)

Coming 17.ix.09

Noise in the Library

The Exquisite Sonic Disturbances of Karl Henning

Heedless Watermelon, Opus 97 (2009) flute & clarinet
Irreplaceable Doodles, Opus 89 (2007) clarinet solo
The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, Opus 94a (2008) alto flute solo
Lost Waters, Opus 27 (1994-95) harp solo
Studies in Impermanence, Opus 86 (2005) clarinet solo
Tropes on Parasha’s Aria (from White Nights, Opus 75) flute, clarinet & harp

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

Thursday, 17 September 2009
West End Branch, Boston Public Library
151 Cambridge Street, Boston
Free & Open to the Public.

Just try to shush ’em

06 September 2009

A Nod to Sisyphus

After a long period of neglect (the length assisted in part by the fact that there is a separate e-mail address dedicated to this routine), I had some 883 new messages in the choralnet folder, which I finally sliced through yesterday.

I’ve written quite a lot of sacred choral music — not a lot compared to JS Bach, I don’t mean, of course. But a respectable fraction of my own oeuvre is taken up with music written for church use. And, even allowing for the fact that the demand for new sacred music is to some degree fragmented, and that there is a large swath of ‘users’ who won’t much require the sort of music I have written, I still feel that my music ought to be ‘moving’ a lot better out there.

It is a situation where (one would think) the existence of a high-volume network such as choralnet ought to furnish ample opportunity for mutually beneficial musical transation. In fact, in my experience, even with my (at times diligent) response to specific calls for a type of music which various works of my own seem apt to fill, interest is slight. I should curl up and die, if my musical identity depended on recognition in the sacred choral music sphere.

It is a network in which I have been a participant for (it must be) a decade and more, yet in all that time I can immediately remember only one significant instance of a music director returning my e-mail, with interest, and a chain of events being set in motion which resulted in an actual performance.

To all appearances, it is a waste of time.

But . . . you never know.

So, of all the 883 messages, there were two — two! — which were calls for pieces, for which I have music in the can, which would suit the occasion and (as far as I can tell from the description of the call) serve as practically a perfect musical fit.

Probably, no counter-response will come back.

04 September 2009


Facts just twist the truth around.
Facts are living, turned inside-out.
David Byrne (Talking Heads),
Crosseyed and Painless from Remain in Light

And the first one said to the second one there,
I hope youre having fun.
Paul McCartney (Wings),
title track from
Band on the Run

Isnt it just too damned real:
One white duck on your wall.
Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull),
One White Duck from Minstrel in the Gallery

Write what you want to write, for whatever reasons please you.

Not every poll is obliged to embrace unlimited possibilities.

Tim the Enchanter famously misidentifies The Rabbit as a rodent.

Some Arte Nova cut-outs came in at the shop, so I fetched in Andrei Nikolskys recording of Rakhmaninov:

c# minor Prelude, Opus 3 № 2
Preludes, Opus 23
Sonata № 2 in b minor, Opus 36
Variations on a Theme by Corelli, Opus 42

Bus and rebus

Lettuce doesnt kill: Rabbits do.

Cant hear you with those acorns stuffed in your cheeks!

In your dreams, Moonbeam.

First listen to this recording:

Symphony № 4 in A Minor, Opus 63

Helsinki Philharmonic

The second movement (
Allegro molto vivace) has more a graceful lilt than I am used to. Very nice character. There was sort of a “startled oboe” tone at one point near the end of the final movement (he recovered for subsequent phrases). The performance on the whole has such character and is of such fine quality, that I readily forgive these momentary lapses of reed-dom.

“You just made a ‘yummy’ noise . . . .”

After I Add Band Members, I shall be 47% complete!

Pity there are no Band Members to Add . . . .


02 September 2009

Pop Sandwich

I played baritone sax and flute on some of the tunes up there

[James William Guercio’s Caribou Studios in Nederland, Colorado,
at 8,000-ft elevation], which was really difficult at that level.
And it was god-awful cold. I don’t know how the hell we did
those albums up there — double- and triple-tracking the horns,
going until three in the morning. Sure, we did have oxygen,
but I think it was really just because we were younger,
and when you’re young you just can do things like that.

So no matter what Guercio said about how idyllic it was up there,
and about how we could commune with the elk and things like that,
it was pretty demanding, especially for the horn players. To tell the truth,
we’d stay up for a short time, and I’d have to head down the hill,
to Boulder, to suck some carbon monoxide.

— Walter Parazaider, woodwinds player for Chicago

What we started learning in the ’70s, was the fact that the state
of rock ’n’ roll wasn’t going to allow us to do the sort of extended tunes
that we did in the early days. When we did, it often resulted in people
getting up and going to the bathroom.

— Lee Loughnane, trumpeter for Chicago

Current preoccupations: finishing Après-lullaby, getting in practice for 17 September, mulling ideas for a quartet, half winds half strings.

Separately, it hardly gets more quintessentially ’60s than Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (sic) and Frank Zappa, each pretending to be the other:

01 September 2009

On the Library Calendar