30 September 2010

The month that was

I sent Dana the completed last movement, and final emendations to the first and second movements, of the Viola Sonata on 31 August. And two days ago, Dana and Carolyn played the piece. Very happy with this month of September, I am.

29 September 2010


Dana Huyge & Carolyn Ray's performance last night was simply a joy for the ears to drink in. On top of that, that they were playing a piece of mine — words fail.

Dana's teacher, George Taylor, spoke kindly of the piece. 'It's long," he said, "but always interesting." He is considering the piece for performance himself, which I take as a great compliment.

Carolyn is originally from Boston, and there is a plan to bring the piece to Boston. The piano writing is apt to entangle the fingers, so I am especially gratified that Carolyn should like the piece.

Dana's dad is both a jazz saxophonist and a school band director, and the two of us spoke at some length at the reception after the concert. I was deeply impressed by the warmth of his response to the sonata, even while we both agreed that the nature of the piece is such as to almost require repeat listenings.

This morning I'm taking a relaxing cup of Sulawesi at Java's, the very place where, long since, I once perused the classifieds, and found an ad for native speakers to teach English in St Petersburg and the Baltics …

28 September 2010

Return to Rochester

I am finding it all astonishingly hard to believe, really. Music which I only started plotting in July, and quite challenging technically (my friend Luke chid me for understatement there), Dana is going to play to an audience tonight.

All the travel has been smooth; and I am for all practical purposes in a state of bliss.

Seen on the web

I don’t go with the idea of classical music being an addiction — it’s a gateway to enlightenment, understanding, compassion and a sense of the world.

27 September 2010

Pre-Viola Sonata Travel Shuffle

Today, to clear the palate before tomorrow evening’s event:

1. Shostakovich, Passacaglia, Intermezzo from Ledi Makbet Mtsenskovo Uyezda (Cologne West German Radio, M. Jurowski) [421/1172]
2. Nielsen, Symphony № 5, Part II (LSO, Schmidt) [896/1172]
3. Beethoven, Symphony № 3, Sinfonia eroica, i. Allegro con brio (Leipzig Gewandhausorchester; Masur) [906/1172]
4. Debussy, Hommage à Rameau, Images pour piano, Book I № 2 (Kocsis) [9/1172]
5. Ginastera, Variazione giocosa per flauto, from Variaciones concertantes, Opus 23 (Magdalena Barrera, pf; Granada City Orchestra; Pons) [1075/1172]
6. Mannheim Steamroller, “Good King Wenceslaus” (from some or other Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album) [322/1172]
7. Shostakovich, Symphony № 7 in C Major, Opus 60, Leningrad, i. Allegro (Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [741/1172]
8. Bartók, Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion, Sz. 110, iii. Allegro non troppo (Kocsis, Ránki, Cser, Rácz) [805/1172]
9. Nielsen, Symphony № 4, Det uudslukkelige, Opus 29, FS 76, iv. Allegro (LSO, Schmidt) [893/1172]
10. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 15 in eb minor, Opus 144, v. Funeral march: Adagio molto (Emerson String Quartet) [819/1172]
11. Bartók, Divertimento, Allegro assai (LSO, Doráti) [255/1172]
12. Bartók, The Miraculous Mandarin, Opus 54, The curtain rises on a shabby room (LSO, Doráti) [255/1172]
13. Prokofiev, Ten Small Pieces, Opus 12, ii. Gavotte (Eteri Andjaparidze) [963/1172]
14. Bartók, Piano Concerto № 1, Sz. 83, ii. Andante (Anda, Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, Fricsay) [381/1172]
15. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 4 in D Major, Opus 83, iii. Allegretto (Emerson String Quartet) [876/1172]
16. Zappa, “The Black Page (1984)” (You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. IV) [975/1172] 17. Elgar, Cello Concerto in e minor, Opus 85, iii. Adagio (Navarre, Hallé Orchestra, Barbirolli) [199/1172]
18. Prokofiev, Ten Small Pieces, Opus 12, iv. Mazurka (Eteri Andjaparidze) [965/1172]
19. Stravinsky, Agnus Dei from the Mass (Westminster Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia,Jas O’Donnell) [524/1172]
20. Genesis, “Riding the Scree” (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) [671/1172]
21. Shostakovich, Ophelia’s Song, from Music for Hamlet, Opus 32 (Liudmila Shkirtil & Yuri Serov) [331/1172]
22. Zappa & The Mothers, “The Duke of Prunes” (Absolutely Free) [269/1172]

26 September 2010

Music in Literature

There aren’t anywhere near enough references to Schoenberg in modern fiction. Glad to see that T.C. Boyle addressed that cultural impoverishment in East Is East:

. . . he laid his aquarium woes on Clara Kleinschmidt, talking to hear himself talk—and to pay her back, in small measure, for Arnold Schoenberg. (p.179)

Arnold makes a couple of other appearances through the novel, but that’s my favorite . . . even though the implication is that Saxby finds the discussion of Schoenberg a bore. Saxby’s a grown-up looking for an albino fish, in a boat called Pequod II, fer chrissake.

Boyle casts Carl Nielsen’s cameo in a somewhat more favorable light:

. . . and so while the meal cooked and Jeff swirled his half a can of warm beer round a plastic camp cup, the angst-ridden strains of Carl Nielsen floated out over bog, hammock and wallow, tempering the mindless twitter of the birds and tree frogs with a small touch of precision. (p.275)

A family of three are on a camping/canoeing trip in the Okefenokee Swamp, and Jeff, Jr, aged ten, has brought his clarinet along, to keep it in practice. It would take some musical precocity for a ten-year-old to manage Nielsen. Not saying it’s impossible—but it feels like a stretch.

Chances are the climate of the swamp is none too good for the instrument. Just saying.

25 September 2010

Odd bits for a Saturday

The contested history of the whoopie pie:

. . . cookie historian Nany Beckett believes whoopie pies originated in the 1920s in Boston . . .

Who knew there was such a thing as a cookie historian, anyways?

Roald Dahl, the Irascible:

Waspishly opinionated, frequently offensive, a hard bargainer with publishers and a prima donna with editors, reclusive, family-focused and outrageously funny, Dahl struck me then as the Evelyn Waugh of children’s literature. One could almost imagine the savage author of Black Mischief and A Handful of Dust writing “The Twits” or “Matilda.”

Anthony Tommasini Article about Glenn Gould in the New York Times:

Guerrero was an advocate of a technical discipline known as finger tapping. Apparently, the idea came to him while watching a young boy dancing in a Chinese circus.

24 September 2010

On the calendar

Here is the event whereon the Viola Sonata Opus 102 will be featured.

23 September 2010

Notes for a Sonata

Viola Sonata, Opus 102

In the fall of 2006, I was still serving as a chorister at the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston, where I had been singing for perhaps six years. One of the new singers brought in by the then new music director was Peter Lekx, who (I soon learnt) was enrolled in a Master’s program at Boston University in viola performance. Early on in our acquaintance, I set to work on (what at the time I was considering a single-movement work) Tango in Boston for viola and piano. When the piece reached about the 60-measure mark, I set the sketch aside — Pete was quite musically busy, and in large part he was engaged in early music projects. Most practically, probably: at the time I did not know any pianist who would be capable of the piece as I was conceiving it.

At the time, though, I had mentioned the piece to several on-line acquaintances, including Dana Huyge. And late in June this year Dana got in touch to ask about the feasibility of completing a viola sonata for a September recital. Although I had thought of Tango in Boston as a stand-alone piece, the invitation to write a multi-movement sonata fired my imagination; I decided immediately that the existing sketch would serve as the basis for the third movement, and set to work on the first & second.

With Fair Warning, I set to write a piece bristling with energy, accumulating such momentum that the charged air would continue to drive the piece even in passages where the surface tempo has relented. In short, I wanted to open the Sonata with an eight-minute spitfire which would not quit. (A clarinetist myself, I wrote the whole Sonata, really, with the thought What would I have fun playing, if the piece were for myself?) I started writing essentially with that thought, and before concerning myself with specifics of the pitch-world. Before long I found that the material I had thus spontaneously generated, hinged readily upon a kind of octatonic scale which (in a curious geographical coincidence to this performance) I first employed in my doctoral dissertation at Buffalo. In terms of sonata design, Fair Warning takes indirect cues from Shostakovich, whose first movements generally referred to the tradition (often the Tchaikovskyan tradition of a Motto, apart from the Principal and Subordinate Themes), without mapping neatly onto the tradition. So with Fair Warning, I had in view the ideas of Exposition, of how a Development might proceed, of Re-transition and Recapitulation; and although I mention Shostakovich (and Tchaikovsky), I did not take them as direct “models,” as such a tack strikes me as violating their own spirit of sonata ‘discovery’. There are passages of ‘refracted unison’ which are a loose homage to the Massachusetts-born composer Alan Hovhaness. And there are pitch ‘corkscrews’.

I knew the middle movement would be called Suspension Bridge some time before I considered how I should approach it musically. The overall movement is governed by an underlying rhythmic pattern — an irregular and long-breathed pattern, which often fights against an out-of-phase “local” pattern in any given passage. It is that sense of rhythmic ‘process’ which I thought of as the suspension. The pitch world of the piece is a lark I drew up one day, a symmetrical scale which runs a perfect 15th, but in the center of which there is no perfect 8ve. In a sense, I feel that what sustains the movement, is the tension between its grand ‘skeleton’, and the spontaneity with which I approached its succeeding sections. Through the course of the movement I had in mind partly an idea of succeeding variations, partly the idea of an imbalanced arch. Truth to tell, I had no idea that the movement would begin with unaccompanied viola until I sat down one evening and started writing it. (As for Dave’s Shed, it is a place of contemplation, and yet it is no place; it is Walden Pond in Minnesota, if you like.)

My loose model for the completion of Tango in Boston was Chopin’s second piano sonata, whose Presto finale seems to fly by before you’ve drawn two breaths. That is, while on one hand I wanted an energetic movement at the other end of the “Bridge” from the first movement, I approached it more with a sense of lightness than of Grand Finale. The movement incorporates a couple of artifacts from the master of the tango, Astor Piazzolla; and also hearkens back to the two earlier movements, at one point superimposing disparate passages from the first and second one upon another.

22 September 2010

Second Republic

Back-of-the-envelope remarks on last night’s listen (Listen № 2) to De staat:

Not mad about the bleached-tofu concept of choral singing. I suppose it was something in the air at the time (in the period —after initial enthusiasm —when I wasn’t sure whether I liked The Desert Music, probably my ear’s complaint was largely the tone of the choir . . . it gets dull after a while).

That said, I think Louis creates a good balance between the presence of the choir, and the purely instrumental passages.

I understand the last note, and it’s a good note; I’m not sure that I am convinced that it’s an ending of the piece. Not that the piece need be any longer; it’s the right point at which to close the piece. The last note, though, feels to me like a hinge to a subsequent section (although, since the piece closes, there isn’t any subsequent section . . . and it’s a sonic cliff).

A couple of the busier sections feel too clunky to me. In the liner notes, Louis talks about be-bop rather than traditional orchestral writing; but the sections I am talking about lack the grace and flight of be-bop. Could well be what he wants.

Again: off-the-cuff thoughts which are more a matter of how I think differently; not presuming to send Louis back to the drawing-board.

Overall — I like it; Compositional endorsement rating — 80%.

21 September 2010

Blast from the Past

Last night, for the first time in decades, I listened to Louis Andriessen's De staat. I am planning to listen to this once a day for three days, and yesterday was the inaugural.

The piece has nice sentimental value for me; it was probably the first piece to which I listened (score in hand) in the Music Library of the University at Buffalo. I had just enrolled in the doctoral program in composition, basically not knowing with whom I might actually be studying; the head of the Graduate Composition program informed me that there would be two visiting composers teaching, Charles Wuorinen and Louis, that I should be taking individual lessons with Charles, and that there would be a weekly composers seminar led by Louis.

Since at the time, Louis' name was completely new to me, I wanted to listen to some of his music for orientation. I found De staat immediately likeable . . . though perhaps I was predisposed to like it . . . one piece which was then a recent obsession for me was Steve Reich's The Desert Music. The prospect of working with Louis thus struck me as eminently agreeable.

So, how do I hear it now, after so large a buffer of time? I still like it, find it largely well done. Some of the hocket technique of the two groups (sort of the same game that the composer plays in Hoketus, only with more musicians) comes across as a little clunky. The low brass "answer" to the opening oboe invention, a little clunky and blatty, too. The final note had me thinking, that's the end? The repetition strikes me as well paced and proportioned, I like the balance between the largely (or quasi-) unison passages and the block chords.

Part of my exercise in listening these three days in a row will be to observe unfiltered reactions on my own part. So, from last night: Overall - I like it; Compositional endorsement rating - 85%

words, words, words

Not any matter of difficulty of the task, only of finding time. But I should almost prefer writing another half hour of music, to generating a page of program notes about this.

(Oh, wait — and this is a blog, too.)

18 September 2010

Something of a Nod to Igor Fyodorovich

It seems befitting in a summer which sees hurricanes named both Igor and Karl . . .

Last year I sent the recording of the Noise in the Library concert to Michael Karman, editor of Asymmetry Music Magazine. Recently he wrote to me:


I had lost this immediately after listening to it only once, when my chief impression was “late Stravinsky.”

Then I found it right before leaving for a two month trip to Europe.

Now I’m back, and I’m listening to it and liking it all very much. I haven’t heard anything that’s really reminded me of late Stravinsky any more. It’s not reminding me of anything, really. I suppose it was the combination of serial-ish licks and warmth that reminded me of late Stravinsky the first time through. Now, I’m most taken with the emptiness. The space around the notes and the lines. The silence that you never really disturb — the notes never sound like they’re interrupting the silence. And as that’s become a rather favorite thing of mine (Sachiko M, Mattin, Hannifin and several others), it was nice to hear it in Henning, too, even though your aesthetic (and the actual sounds) are very different from those people.

Anyway, that’s what I think and what it is, too.


By seeming chance, today I ran across these kind remarks from composer Luke Ottevanger, as I rummaged through some messages:
As for your disc — for which thanks again - I have only been able to listen to the first half or so. There is lots to say — all positive — and I will try to get it all in order soon. The most striking impression — given that I’d never heard any Henning before, but ‘know’ you to an extent from your posts — was that your interest in Stravinsky seems to shine through, although in a personal way. No question of a simple aping of Strav’s mannerisms, naturally! Those two trombones, so powerfully linear and solemn-toned, gracefully finding a balance between independance and interactivity... within seconds I couldn’t help but remember the Canticum Sacrum, which must be one of my favourite late Strav works. And yet your music is very different in all details, of course. It’s a matter of similar tone, similar approach — and so in that sense, certainly, I’d say you have succeeded in striking a similar balance yourself.

Luke wrote in July of 2006, in response to the Evening Service in D.

15 September 2010

End of the Day

Soon I must see to program notes for the Viola Sonata, Opus 102.

Our parakeets (Trisha & Grusha) respond very interestingly, one might even say flirtatiously, to the high tweety notes Jeff Beck plays at the end of “Angel (Footsteps)” on the Live at Ronny Scott’s album.

This was the summer of rediscovering where Shostakovich: A Life has been shelved all this time.

You sometimes see “Opus 77” appended to the First Violin Concerto, sometimes “Opus 99.” Happily, Laurel Fay clarifies:

The Violin Concerto was initially assigned opus no. 99, corresponding chronologically to its date of first performance. It was subsequently reassigned opus no. 77, reflecting the actual date of composition. Opus 99 was assigned to the film music for The First Echelon.

Thanks to the as-yet-mysterious person in Italy who has ordered the string orchestra version of the Canticle of St Nicholas ! I confess to some curiosity as to when a performance may possibly ensue . . . .

A Taste of Spaine in Maine

Dr Paul Cienniwa playing the de Falla Harpsichord Concerto this past August, at the VentiCordi Festival in Kennebunk, Maine:

12 September 2010


Houston Dunleavy writes of a particularly good week:

Apart from this, and as if that weren’t enough . . . .

Cannot go wrong with a simply stupendous choir; here’s wishing Houston many such weeks more!

Stuart Simon, on Deliberateness:

Good question. “The math on that is in counting two beats and putting the five notes in as equally as you can. You have to feel this just as you have to anticipate the metronome’s next click.”

All too few musical blog posts, perhaps, include the observation, She looked at me with murder in her eyes. But there’s the math of it, and there’s just acquisition of the experience of it. If music waited on math, there’d be much less music in the world, and much less variety of it.

11 September 2010

Deep Night

Around a quarter to four, I lay awake. Thought about popping in the disc of the MIDI ‘realization’ of the Viola Sonata. As I turned that thought over in my mind, remaining prone, I tried to remember (and succeeded in remembering) what music I had listened to last.

Decided against cuing up the Opus 102. For it would not have lulled me to sleep, it would have engaged my mind for the full 26 minutes.

Some more work done (in spite of a long couple of days) on Tempus fungus.

About to send off a disc of Gaze Transfixt to a friend in Brooklyn.

06 September 2010

Viola Sonata Missive

Dear N—,

I trust you’ve had an enjoyable summer!

I have an idea that I’ve already sent you the first two movements of the Viola Sonata . . . so for completeness’ sake, here I clutter your in-box with the third and final movement.

This movement actually includes the first of the music I ever wrote for the piece. Four years ago, on meeting violist Peter Lekx (who has become a great friend), I began (what I thought a the time would just be a single-movement work) Tango in Boston. I wrote a chunk of it, and then as I saw (a) how generally busy with various musical projects Pete was, (b) that half (and maybe more) of his attentions were at the time focused on early music, and (c) at the time, I still did not know a pianist who would be capable of the piece I was scheming . . . I set it aside.

At the time, though, I had talked about this beginning trunk of the piece with some on-line friends, including Dana Huyge, who was about to enroll at the Eastman School. I think I’ve told you the rest: that after a long interval, Dana pinged me with the suggestion that I finish “the viola sonata” for performance in a recital this fall.

— As I say, at the time I started sketching Tango in B, I wasn’t thinking multi-movement work . . . I think that Dana must have remembered “viola & piano,” and in the back of his mind, the piece became a viola sonata. I am glad that was the case, though, because I was electrified by the idea . . . immediately felt that the completed Tango would serve well as a third movement, and started into the first two movements.

So . . . the 2006 “fossil” of this movement is found in the first 70 measures of the now-completed piece. Though (to work backwards) for mm. 49-70, I had only the basso ostinato in the piano, and knew I wanted to add quite a bit “against” it; mm. 33-48 is largely intact from the old MS., for the most part the only re-composition is that I adjusted the RH; mm. 1-32 is most nearly “intact” . . . the adjustments there were mostly on the order of adding a couple of more overt tango-ish touches.

Well, there it is.


05 September 2010

Carl Stalling (Not Karl Stalling)

The genius of Carl Stalling, and the wonderful ways in which it dovetailed with the rest of the team at Termite Terrace, was often revealed in subtle throw-aways. Daffy Duck (as Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century) reports to the Secretary of the Stratosphere, who announces that “the world’s supply of Illudium Phosdex, the shaving-cream atom, is alarmingly low.” In the score, Stalling quietly answers that line with two notes in the contrabassoon, an alarmingly low woodwind.

The Viola Sonata has been finished for almost a week now.

For the Ensemble: Périphérie call, I was starting to think of an arrangement (and it still strikes me as a good alternate scoring for Counting Sheep). I am more and more inclined to write something new entirely, though.

Thoughts on the Cantata still percolate on a back burner, and I need to get together with Héloise, and get acquainted with her battery of recorders.

04 September 2010

Just saying

In so many people’s minds there is this ethereal “Live the Dream” . . . and too little QC.

03 September 2010

Time Past

The second Chicago song I ever remember hearing, is “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

Ironically, the very first Chicago song I ever remember hearing, is “25 or 6 to 4.” (A song whose title betrays a concern with what time it is.)