30 December 2012

From the vault


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

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


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

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

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

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

In praise of Jack

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

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

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

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

On Augie, on Edgar, on Donner & Blitzen

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

28 December 2012

Careening into 2013

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

24 December 2012

Oh, what a pudding

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

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

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

23 December 2012

3mm per day

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

22 December 2012

Grey morning

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

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

20 December 2012


Yesterday, I coined the word angloiserie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 December 2012

Slow but steady

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

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

17 December 2012

Paging Sisyphus, White Courtesy Telephone, Please

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

Aiming into 2013

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

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

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

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

I mean, buried even more than it presently is.

14 December 2012


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

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

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

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

Status report

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

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

12 December 2012

The Bloom of Youth, and Wishing for the Ark

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

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

11 December 2012

Here’s a thought

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

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

06 December 2012

Damn (yawn)

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


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

29 November 2012

Thinking of a new piece

I could see the title driving the three movements:

1. Eritis sicut Deus...
2. ...scientes bonum...
3. ...et malum.

I think I must keep the Organ Sonata simple to a degree. I made a point to write a challenging organ work, in the Toccata, a piece which has in effect gone nowhere.

In fact, Mark Engelhardt (whom I originally had in mind when writing the piece) considered (yet again) preparing the Toccata for his recital this past fall, but (I am paraphrasing here) it was again just too much effort.

If an organist asked me to write a heavens-storming organ sonata, I'd lay to like a butcher. (And the fact is, I wrote the Viola Sonata at such a high technical level, because Dana pretty much invited me to, and we both agreed upon that goal for the piece.) If I were to write such an organ sonata, it might never get performed; not that this means I should never write such a piece, but there's no reason for that to be a priority this year.

So I take the cue both from the contemporary pieces which Mark did select for his program (written by organists in both cases), and from the few pieces of mine which Paul Cienniwa has (flatteringly) kept in his ready repertoire . . . and in this instance, I shall write on the model of the "church sonata," three movements of modest scale and only mid-throttle technique, which can either serve easily to interleave a sacred service, or be fairly readily folded into a recital.

Mysterious Mountains

Meseems that the inherent danger in a thematic Hovhaness CD, centering on mountains, is the risk of playing into the hand of the It all sounds the same, doesn't it? block. As a consequence, in order to do the composer some modicum of justice, I never listen to this CD in its entirety, but visit it for a single work now and again. Without wishing to seem to put Hovhaness on any par with Monet, one could argue that in any of the French master's great series — the Cathedral at Rouen, the bridge in his Japanese garden, e.g. — it's just the same painting, done two dozen times.

So, viz. Hovhaness, perhaps I am trending towards agnosticism. Maybe half his catalogue is the same piece, written 175 times. Or, maybe there is actual value added in the many shades of a handful of musical packets. I'll listen a while yet, ere I feel at all obliged to find any ruling.

27 November 2012

Whoop de doo

Another fooferaw over an artist painting a “crucifixion” canvas depicting a current celebrity.
Let’s say for the sake of discussion that the painting really is rubbish.  The people who are protesting, were they born yesterday?  Welcome to a herd of kneejerk rabble, happy to live into the observation that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.  Their protests are the best publicity which a (we are saying for the sake of argument) talentless, unimaginative, unknown artist could wish for.
I don’t actually remember the protests which greeted Monty Python’s Life of Brian (which, A. is a brilliantly funny movie, and B. even Christians will tell you, is not blasphemous) here in the states.  But the protests, the press events, the placards, all contributed to the film’s initial commercial success.  (Its artistic quality merits that success, but let that slide at present.)  It was far better advertising than the Pythons themselves might have arranged for their own film.
The film of The Last Temptation of Christ.  A photography exhibit including the image of a crucifix immersed in what we were invited to regard as urine.  An “icon” of the Savior done in elephant manure.  The artistic article being protested varies widely in actual cultural merit, but in every case, the protests serve as publicity.  And in the case of those bits of “art” which are of no particular cultural value, the protests themselves are money in the charlatan artist’s bank account.  “Look,” the artist says to those institutions which fund artistic endeavor, “these protests show that my work is Vital, Meaningful, Important!”
You unthinking nitwits, expressing pointless outrage over a meaningless picture:  the unimaginative artist is only half the problem. You, the mass of enablers:  you are equal partners in the sham.
And for every unimaginative, talentless hack whom your protests accord fame and recognition, there are ten genuinely talented artists whose work has nothing to do with controversy, and who will die, unrecognized. Because your orchestrated outrage is enriching the pot-stirrers.

25 November 2012

Gleaming proboscis

Memo to Rudolph, Reindeer Red of Nose: Being a permanent fixture on late-November US radio is not at all the same as going down in history.

Revisiting Tusk, Episode 4

I close my eyes softly. ’Tis a line sweet enow. But if there’s another way to close one’s eyne, I’ve not mastered it.

26 October 2012


If you came here expecting a blog post, this may disappoint you.

12 October 2012

Who knew?

Repeatedly, the star sonic entertainment on the sound system at a local Thai café is Israel "Iz" Ka'ano'i Kamakawiwo'ole singing "Hawaiian Superman" (the only words in English throughout the song, by the way) to a sadly overdriven reggae beat.

06 October 2012

Thursday shuffle

Too busy to-day, so this was the shuffle from two days ago, when I was too busy to post . . .

1. Henning: Sonata for Viola & Piano, Op.102 – ii. Suspension Bridge (In Dave’s Shed) (Dana Huyge, Carolyn Ray)

2. Vaughan Williams: Sancta Civitas – v. Rejoice over her, O Heavens (David Willcocks, &al.)

3. Haydn: Baryton Trio in D, Hob.XI/97 – v. Adagio – vi. Minuet – vii. Fuga: Presto (John Hsu, David Miller, Fortunato Arico)

4. Zappa: “Oh-Umm” from Civilization Phaze III

5. Zappa: “Outside Now” [original solo] from Guitar

6. L. Couperin: Le tombeau de M. Blancrocher (Richard Egarr, hpschd)

7. The Beatles: “A Hard Day’s Night” [monaural] from A H. D.’s N.

8. JS Bach: Brandenburg Concerto № 3 in G, BWV 1048 – i. Allegro moderato (English Chamber Orchestra, Johannes Somary)

9. JS Bach: Prelude & Fugue in f# minor, BWV 883 (Christiane Jaccottet, hpschd)

10. Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin – The curtain rises on a shabby room in the slums (Doráti, BBC Symphony)

11. Shostakovich: Symphony № 14, Op.135 – i. De Profundis (Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Sergei Aleksashkin)

12. Shostakovich: Fugue № 3 in G, from Op.87 – Allegro molto (Mustonen)

13. Dowland: The Battle Galliard (Nigel North)

14. Langaard: Symphony № 6, Det Himmelrivende – vii. Variation 5: Coda (Dausgaard, Danish National Radio Symphony)

15. Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in Bb, Op.8 № 6, La caccia – i. Allegro (I Solisti Veneti, Claudio Scimone)

16. Chopin: Prelude in f# minor, Op.28 № 8 (Martha Argerich)

17. Brahms: Fugue WoO 9 (Hermann Schäffer, org)

18. Prokofiev: Piano Sonata № 6 in A, Op.82 – ii. Allegretto (Ann-Marie McDermott)

19. Shostakovich: Six Japanese Lyrics, Op.21 № 3 An Immodest Glance (Ilya Levinsky)

20. Beethoven: Piano Sonata № 4 in Eb, Op.7 – iv. Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso (Friedrich Gulda)

21. Stravinsky: Le chant du rossignol – ii. Marche chinoise (Doráti, LSO)

22. Debussy: Children’s Corner Suite – i. Dr Gradus ad Parnassum (Michel Béroff)

23. Chávez: String Quartet № 3 – iii. Allegro (Cuarteto Latinoamericano)

24. Skryabin: Prelude in f minor, Op.11 № 18 – Allegro agitato (Lettberg)

25. Debussy: Nocturnes pour orchestra, № 2 Fêtes (Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra)

26. Devo: “Step Up” from Something for Everybody

04 October 2012


Just now, how amusing to watch — with the sound off, that condition is crucial — four men seated in armchairs in a television studio, discussing sports.

Mere moments later, I saw the poster for an orchestral program including John Cage's 4'33. Coincidence?


At Jordan Hall, waiting for the Callithumpian Consort to come in and do their thing.

Putting it into practice

The self-critical faculty is one of the artist's most valuable tools.

Wait a minute — no; strike that.

24 September 2012


1. King Crimson:  "Sharks' Lungs in Lemsip" from Great Deceiver
2. Schnittke: Symphony № 4 (USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony, Rozhdestvensky)
3. Rameau:  Gavotte from Pièces de clavecin, premier livre (Jan-Pieter Belder)
4. Prokofiev:  Suite from Romeo & Juliet, Op.64ter № 2 "The Young Juliet." Vivace (Cleveland, Levi)
5. Stravinsky:  L'oiseau de feu, Lever du jour (Stravinsky conducting the Columbia Symphony)
6. Vivaldi:  Concerto for two violins, RV530, i. Allegro (Monica Huggett, Raglan Baroque)
7. Chopin:  Piano Sonata № 3 in b minor, ii. Scherzo. Molto vivace (Leif Ove Andsnes)
8. Stravinsky:  Pulcinella Suite, vii. Vivo (NY Phil, Boulez)
9. Georg Böhm:  Suite in c minor, ii. Allemande (Leonhardt, hpschd)
10. Schoenberg:  Concerto for string quartet (after Handel) iii. Allegretto grazioso (Schoenberg Quartet, Arnhem Philharmonic, Roberto Benzi)
11. Rameau:  Quatrième Concert, ii. L'indiscrète (Jan-Pieter Belder, Musica Amphion)
12. de Falla:  El sombrero de tres picosDanza final (NY Phil, Boulez)
13. Stravinsky:  L'oiseau de feu, L'apparition de l'oiseau de feu (Stravinsky conducting the Columbia Symphony)
14. Rameau:  1ère et 2ème Sarabandes from Pièces de clavecin, premier livre (Jan-Pieter Belder)
15. JS Bach:  Toccata in f# minor, BWV910 (Christiane Jaccottet, hpschd)
16. Eric Dolphy:  "Gazzelloni" from Out to Lunch
17. Vivaldi:  Concerto for flute in G, RV436, i. Allegro (English Concert, Trevor Pinnock)
18. Stravinsky:  The Flood – v. The Comedy (The Gregg Smith Singers, Columbia Symphony, Robert Craft conducting, 28-31.iii.1962)
19. Muffat:  Suite in G – iv. A second one for the same (La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken)
20. Mahler:  Symphony № 2, "Resurrection" – from v. Langsam, misterioso (Ileana Cotrubas, Christa Ludwig, Vienna State Opera Choir, Vienna Phil, Mehta)
21. JS Bach:  French Suite № 6 in E, BWV817 – ii. Courante (Christiane Jaccottet, hpschd)
22. Vivaldi:  Concerto for violin in c, Op.11 № 5 RV202, i. Allegro non molto (Juan Carlos Rybin, I Solisti Veneti, Claudio Scimone)
23. Messiaen:  Sept Haïkaï – i. Introduction (Yvonne Loriod, Les percussions de Strasbourg, Orchestre du Domain Musical, Boulez)
24. Stravinsky:  Le sacre du printemps, Introduction to Part II, Grand sacrifice (Cleveland Orchestra, Boulez)
25. Prokofiev:  Piano Sonata № 8 in Bb, Op.84 – ii. Andante sognando (Yakov Kasman)

16 September 2012

Perhaps they'll build . . .

. . . a shopping mall there instead? Neat-o!

Charles Ives house has been sold. Demolition may follow.

15 September 2012

A few isolated notes

This morning's tea I took to the exquisite counterpoint of a Scarlatti sonata indoors, against some low-powered thunder outdoors.

Driving music this morning was the Kyrie and Gloria from Haydn's Theresienmesse.

On the Red Line train, I got some more work done on my own Credo.

14 September 2012

Shuffle me this

1. Henning: Preface to the Phos hilaron, Op.87 № 3 (Dylan Chmura-Moore, tenor trombone; Chris Monte, bass trombone)
2. Shostakovich: Violin Concerto № 1 in a minor, Op.77 – ii. Scherzo. Allegro (Mullova)
3. JS Bach:  Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott, BWV602 (Helmut Walcha)
4. JS Bach:  Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV1080 – xviii. Mirror Fugue (Leonhardt, hpschd)
5. Frank Zappa:  "Zoot Allures" (live), Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa: A Tribute
6. Chick Corea:  "La Fiesta" (live), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea in Concert
7. Stravinsky:  Les noces – Scene 4, The Wedding Feast (Karel Ančerl & al.)
8. Schuman:  Symphony 8 – i. Lento sostenuto (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)
9. Haydn:  Piano Trio in Bb, Hob.XV/38 – i. Allegro moderato (Van Swieten Trio)
10. JS Bach:  Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV711 (Leonhardt, org)
11. Sibelius:  Symphony № 1 in e minor, Op.39 – ii. Andante (ma non troppo lento) (Helsinki Phil, Berglund)
12. Pink Floyd:  "Flaming" (monaural version), The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
13. Stravinsky: Petrushka, from Scene 4 – Dance of the Wet-Nurses (CBSO, Rattle)
14. Vaughan Williams:  Symphony 5 in d minor– iv. Passacaglia. Moderato (London Phil, Haitink)
15. Lionel Hampton:  "Central Avenue Breakdown" (Jackson Pollock Jazz)
16. Ravel:  Ma mère l'oye – ii. Petit poucet (Martha Argerich & Mikhail Pletnev)
17. Stravinsky:  The Rake's Progress, from Act II, Scene 2 – "Anne! Here!" (the composer conducting)
18. François Couperin:  Book III – Dix-neuvième ordre pour clavecin seul La muse-Palantine (Olivier Baumont)
19. Haydn: Die Jahreszeiten, Hob.XXI/3, from Winter – Nun senkt sich das blasse Jahr (Gewandhaus Kammerchor, Leipzig Kammerorchester, Morten Schuldt-Jensen & al.)
20. Howells: Howells' Clavichord, 4 "Dart's Sarabande" (Jn McCabe)
21. Hindemith:  Ludus tonalis, 11 Interludium V. Moderate (Bernard Roberts)
22. Debussy:  Études 11, Pour les arpèges composées (Michel Béroff)
23. Debussy:  Images, Book I, 2 Hommage à Rameau (Zoltán Kocsis)
24. Haydn: Symphony 97 in C (Hob.I/97) – iv. Finale. Spiritoso (Cleveland Orchestra, Szell; recorded October, 1957)
25. Simon & Garfunkel:  "The 59th Street Bridge Song" (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme)

09 September 2012


Just sang a most enjoyable service in the FCB choir under the direction of Paul Cienniwa, some Giuseppe da Palestrina, some Tomás Luis de Victoria, and we heard the ladies of the choir sing one of Gustav Holst's Hymns from the Rig-Veda.

Incidentally, one of the choir members remarked that for yesterday's rehearsal, they sang Love is the spirit (the motet I wrote for Paul and this choir); and he complimented me anew on what a good piece he finds it.

Separately, I hear that an order for 34 copies of the Song of Mary was shipped to a distributor. So: thank you, whoever you are who ordered the piece, and God bless you and your choir.

06 September 2012

Objets trouvés

As sometimes (usually?) happens when I set the shuffle loose, there are wonderful segues which I don't imagine I should ever have dreamt up on my own. Two especially delicious instances here:
henningmusick: Shuffle into the Labor Day Weekend

The live performance of Zappa's "Drowning Witch" (with that rap-before-rap-quite-was vibe) giving way to the Lyke-Wake Dirge in the Stravinsky Cantata.

And then: the Frescobaldi Recercar, melting into King Crimson's "B'Boom," in turn yielding to the Rameau Sarabandes: fabulous.

Just a (cinematic) note

Had an enjoyable chat with a buddy about the Star Wars saga, the Lord of the Rings movies, and The Hobbit.  But this post is about none of those.

In Quantum of Solace (a title I still cannot pretend to understand) — a movie which I perhaps like a bit better than the average critic — M upbraids 007 for the death of Fields. "She worked in an office, collecting reports." That so, why did M send her on the assignment? Why is this an indictment of Bond, rather than of M (or her delegates)?

05 September 2012


… getting back into the groove after a splendidly non-producing holiday weekend. Wrote a bit of the Credo. Not much, but it's composing again.

31 August 2012

Shuffle into the Labor Day Weekend

1. Stravinsky: The Great Chorale from L'histoire du soldat (Columbia Chamber Ensemble, the composer conducting, February 1961)
2. Stravinsky: Concerto "Dumbarton Oaks" – iii. Con moto (Ensemble InterContemporain, Boulez)
3. Shostakovich: Symphony 9 in Eb, Op.70 – i. Allegro (Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, Oleg Caetani)
4. Vivaldi: Sonata per violin e basso continuo in F, Op.2 4 – iii. Sarabanda (I Solisti Veneti, Claudio Simone)
5. Zappa: "Buffalo Drowning Witch" (Buffalo)
6. Stravinsky: Cantata, Postlude – "A Lyke-Wake Dirge" versus IV (Gregg Smith Singers, Columbia Chamber Ensemble, the composer conducting, 10.ii.1966)
7. Thelonious Monk: "Four in One" (Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 2)
8. Chopin:  Mazurka in Bb, Op.17 1 (Garrick Ohlsson)
9. Zappa & The Mothers: "Mom & Dad" (We're Only In It For the Money, UMRK remix)
10. Thelonious Monk: "Evonce" [alternate take] (Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1)
11. Copland: Four Piano Blues – iii. Muted and Sensuous (Paul Jacobs)
12. Frescobaldi: Ricercar decimo obligo la fa sol la re from Fantasie Book I (Sergio Vartolo)
13. King Crimson: "B'Boom" (VROOOM VROOOM, Disc 2)
14. Rameau: Pièces de Clavecin premier livre1ère et 2ème Sarabandes (Jan-Pieter Belder)
15. JS Bach: Sonata 3 in C for violin solo BWV1005 – 1. Adagio (Arthur Grumiaux)
16. JS Bach: Aria "Willkommen! will ich sagen" from Cantata BWV27 (Gustav Leonhardt & al.)
17. Boulez: Commentaire I de « Bourreaux de solitude » from Le marteau sans maître (the composer & al.)
18. Saint-Saëns: Caprice andalous Op.122 (Ruggiero Ricci, Philharmonia Hungarica)
19. Beethoven: Piano Sonata in d minor, Op.31 2 – i. Largo – Allegro (Friedrich Gulda)
20. JS Bach: Partita 2 in d minor for violin solo BWV1004 – 1. Allemanda (Christoph Poppen)
21. Thelonious Monk: "Ask Me Now" [alternate take] (Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 2)
22. Bridge:  Oration for cello solo & orchestra – viii. Lento (Isserlis, & al.)
23. Tom Waits: "Time" (Rain Dogs)
24. Thelonious Monk: "Suburban Eyes" (Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1)
25. Prokofiev: Symphony 5 in Bb Op.100 – ii. Allegro marcato (Atlanta Symphony, Yoel Levi)

30 August 2012


Along with progress in the actual MS., with which I am entirely pleased — ideas for ensuing sections are coming in at an agreeable pace. At first I was thinking something like what am I going to have the piece do for twenty minutes? Which is a shadow-question … as I've carved such a block of time into engaging music more than once. As usual, I've just needed quietly to listen.

I was asked last night, "Where do you get your inspiration?" I took a second to check my channels, confirmed that the answer remains in force, and said, "Everywhere."

28 August 2012

And yet, later…

… we enter the world of Simply Unsuccessful Arrangements … "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" … "Come Together" …

Wait for it

Honestly, I thought that the string quartet arrangement of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" was the lamest thing I'd heard all year.

Until they started playing "Isn't She Lovely?"

Observing syntax failure

It's just a blip on a small screen in an elevator, I know. There is a "learn a new word" module, and it just looks bad when the people (or, the bots) who presume to teach you a word, misuse it themselves.

The word is distrait, and there on that tiny screen there was room for them both to correctly denote it as an adjective, and to furnish an "example" sentence which incorrectly used it as a noun.

25 August 2012

Moon Man

I fancy that I remember the day when Armstrong set foot on the moon (or, the day following). Always admired the man; although I never wanted to do the same thing (even at a tender age, I was overwhelmed with a sense of the dangers), Armstrong was one of my first real-life heroes.

Separately ... at an earlyish age, too, I had to concede that the Russians’ neologism (cosmonaut) was better sense.


What should it matter to me if someone, with whose politics I disagree, likes some of the same music which I like?

Chipping away

Largely pleased with the page which appears in a curiously blurry pic in the When least expected post. C'est à dire, entirely pleased with the idea. Execution is not bad (this is not a good-or-bad binary question), but I want it to be better still. This morning, then, my work was on the lines of refashioning (tweaking, better) the subject. The overall idea is a texturally busy Klangfarbensatz.

24 August 2012

Actual dialogue

Heard in a (Boston) store:

Cashier: Are you a local college student?
Customer: Yes.
Cashier: Where do you go to school?
Customer: Wisconsin.
Cashier: Now — let's think about this a minute…


Perhaps they need remedial US geography in that Wisconsin school…

23 August 2012

When least expected

First of all, I probably have my friend Lee to thank. We had exchanged email messages earlier in the evening yesterday, and I hinted that such a thing was possible. Even at the time, I had a mental flash that I was setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I knew that I should feel quite tired, getting out of the museum. But the composer also knew that there is only negligible effort in opening the notebook, and casting a glance over both the score so far, and pages of sketches.

The apparent benefits of being tired were that I felt under absolutely no obligation to get anything done, and I was relaxed. So that when I did put pen to paper, I composed freely. Indeed, it was a thought which came to me completely fresh; but inspired by a couple of measures which I had already composed. So the new passage has the twin virtues of complete freshness of expression, and organic unity with what is already composed.

Indeed, the new passage strikes me as quite likely the best part of the piece so far. Which seems to suggest that I ought not at all to be shy of trying to compose under such circumstances. Even more, I see myself in future much more really motivated to just do it.

Fresh off the train

22 August 2012

Three Bs, plus

Last night at the Old West Church here in Boston, Mark Engelhardt played a typically outstanding recital, on the C.B. Fisk Opus 55. In introductory remarks from the organ loft, Mark variously likened the program to a rondo and to a club sandwich.  First a Bruhns Præludium in G; then a Suite Breve by our mutual friend and colleague Carson Cooman (which may, a bit wryly, have been the single longest musical item); a Canzonetta in G by Buxtehude whose brief duration (in spite of its fair disclosure as a song-ette) seemed almost to take the audience by surprise; the Sonata in Sea by another estimable mutual f. & c., James Woodman; and ending (bien sûr) with the roisterous C Major prelude & fugue, BWV 547.

Mark was in strikingly good form, working well with an instrument which can be unforgiving of a performer less flexible. Both contemporary pieces sounded very nicely. In the Cooman Suite, the Sortie stood out for its assured brilliance. And while it was not the first time that I heard Mark play the Woodman Sonata (as I was telling the composer) it felt much like the best yet I had heard the piece performed.

20 August 2012

Studio continuing

Getting gradual work done on the new "mighty winds" piece. It's taking interesting turns … I may say that it astonishes me, the passages which are emerging … though on t'other hand, the materials are right there, in my sketches. The piece is about at the 3½-minute mark.

An interesting "architectural" notion struck me, just this evening. One which I like very well — but which will want considering. Done right, it would be exquisite, I think.

17 August 2012

Non-Sieved Valuta

Sometime ago I fetched in the Lumpy Money project/object, largely for the sake of the ultra-tasty mono remaster of We're Only In It For the Money. The second disc in this set is the infamous UMRK “tweaked” versions of both Lumpy Gravy and We're Only...
Despite an æsthetic predisposition to dislike them “on principle” ... I have got to admit, they are fun and intriguing. I like them! But ... I should likewise probably have found them (to use a Lumpy Gravy word) “distraughtening” if they were the only version available (or if I had bought them, expecting them to be “genuine reissues”).

15 August 2012

In transcendent error

Because I had heard it long before reading it (and knowing it for slang appropriation) ... I've always mistaken knackered (implying "sent off to the works to be reduced to pasty adhesive") as nacred (meaning "having acquired a pearly lustre").

Probably related to my artsy background, aspirations, labors & ongoing dreams. I like to make a mistake, when the result is exquisitely right.

The period at the end of an astonishing sentence

Listening to Calling All Stations.

It's a pleasant enough album, but I should be astonished if anyone considers this album essential Genesis. (Okay, that was a strawman, I see that.) Kind of feels like Tony Banks, riffing, because he doesn't know quite what else he should do. Of the eleven tracks, fully four run longer than seven minutes. Longer than seven and a half minutes, even. In the Genesis reunion videos, Banks is occasionally self-effacing about his tendency towards (shall we say) breadth. In the communal environment of Genesis, there was a refining process of which Banks seems to have been pretty consistently in need.

So . . . probably I should think more charitably of the album if I disregard it as a Genesis album, and think of it in light of a Tony Banks solo project. And in that bucket, the album is a significant advance on A Curious Feeling.

Still, the 67-minute CD has a curiously padded feeling, and I fear that this is a negative which came downstream from We Can't Dance. Which album may benefit in my ears from having listened to most of Calling All Stations first.

Back when there was still a Borders, I remember seeing this CD in the rack. From a distance. Even the cover art seemed not to beckon me.

13 August 2012

Less had been more

Items in the London closing ceremonies which I wouldn't have minded if they'd been skipped:

The Spice Girls
Annie Lenox (not all the costumes or props could redeem this)
Beady Eye
The big polyethylene octopus and its attendant musicians
Jessie J (sorry)
The song from Willy Wonka
The Bowie collage (just never a fan, sorry)

12 August 2012

The on-screen start

Have been puttering with pen and paper for a week or more; the time came to start messing about in the Sibelius environment.  Feels like a good start has gotten been.

To roll back the video tape: In the Artist’s Studio (There’s a wide world in there) is a scored (or, is in the process of being scored) for Eb sopranino clarinet, three oboes, alto flute, English horn, Bb tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, four horns, two tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba & harp.

Although I have some mental flexibility, and am willing to go wherever the material seems to want to take me . . . at present I am thinking of a 20-minute piece.  When you’ve a new piece, and a large-ish ensemble, a certain critial mass of rehearsal time is demanded.  My feeling is that if you have a large group of people sweating to realize a new score, they deserve more of a musical payoff than a five-minute squib.

Having said that: no, offhand I do not know of anyone who will “need” the piece, of anyone who will even necessarily read it.  It is the piece I want to write, now.  That, Gentle Reader, is artistic freedom.  And the fact that I write the music out of my own motivation, and in a condition of perfect freedom (which is to say, I myself determine what if any limits the composition must abide by) is a flame which will burn in the heart of the piece, so that its very integrity will be one of its attractions.

11 August 2012

At it some more

Scribbling a bit on the N° 134 bus, more "pre-score" puttering for In the Artist's Studio. Found a pitch-level at which I like how the basic 2-voice canon works out. (Two tries last night on the train yielded what I consider duds. I don't think this is a train-VS.-bus thing, though.)

I also sketched through an idea which occurred to me last night, and pretty well like the result: an augmentation of both rhythmic profile, and of successive intervals.

In the shell of a nut, I am remembering (honoring the recollection in activity, is better put) that if I get even just a hair bit of work done, each day — and a good many days I shall do a great deal of work more — then after a month or two of the persistence, of living mentally in the score, and the accretion of actual work on the page … in no more than two months, I can have even quite a substantial score not simply finished, but in a state which does the composer not the least discredit.

Sez you

Here was a Respectfully Opposed response to a virtual neighbor who “remembered Foxtrot being one of the best Genesis albums” :

Well, some bits (at the least) of the lyrics to “Supper’s Ready” are near flat-out goofy, and not only the “Willow Farm” interlude. Now, in a sense, I think you’re perfectly right: “Supper’s Ready” is long, but it’s not one long compositional whole the way that the first movement of a Mozart piano concerto (which probably runs about as long) is . . . “Supper’s Ready” is basically on the Abbey Road side 2 model, of a bunch of bits strung together, musically, with some incidental back-references tucked in later on in the piece for good measure. So I think Foxtrot “significant” for [Genesis] (a) because Hackett is now well integrated into the ensemble, and (b) for the nerve of trying something as large-scale as “Supper’s Ready.” And there is a lot of “stuff” in “Supper’s Ready” which is mighty impressive. On the whole, though, [Foxtrot] strikes me as rather a rough-cut album (though “Watcher of the Skies” is a strong opener IMO) . . . and there followed a process of musical digestion, I think, from which Selling England by the Pound benefits in an impressive degree of assurance.

10 August 2012

No title, please

Continued "pre-composition" of some material for In the Artist's Studio; some rhythmic canons.

Interesting snippets I've read. In dipping back into Harlow Robinson's bio of Prokofiev (a book I bought at the Eastman School bookstore back when), a curious story about "the Bearer of Chinese Currency."

And a humorously snooty remark Astor Piazzolla fielded from an Italian orchestral musician.

Rain to-day in Boston.

Built a three-hour playlist of energetic pop tunes on the Archos.

In many ways, ready for the week-end.

09 August 2012

An observation

This is about two-ply toilet paper.

At times, the paper is torn in such a way that the two plies are not torn together. And one ply will get rolled and torn, and there is the mild visual curiosity of the perforations of the two plies being misaligned.

To be clear, I am not saying that this bothers me (which it probably does not). But one notices.

I am not proposing any sort of government regulation, on either the producers of two-ply bathroom tissue, nor on the (so to say) end user.

What has this to do with music? someone may well ask. One does not necessarily know. So many of the connections in life are subtle. And the use to which an artist may put such a thing, may well remain to be seen.

08 August 2012

The late John Mayurnik in recital

Mr Mayurnik was my very first music teacher (and one of very few teachers who educated all seven Henning children).  He must have worked hard at this recital;  and I am charmed at the thought of his performing Hindemith.

Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

In the Artist's Studio

Started writing, not the score itself, but matter for the piece.

Remembering Mr Mayurnik

Word just in that our beloved music teacher from Union School (sister Kate informs me, one of only a very few teachers who taught all seven Henning children), John Theodore Mayurnik, has shuffled off this mortal coil.  I found a wonderful snippet from his college newsletter announcing his senior recital;  will post a pic anon.
No easy matter finding traces of him in the ether!  But there is this fascinating snapshot:
John Mayurnik from Waldwick NJ (14 Nov 2009 response to WQXR blog post, Your First Classical Concert in New York)
I had been attending concerts with my parents since early childhood. My first one in NY was a piano recital by Mora Lympany in Carnegie Hall in 1957. By the way, I was there at the famous Bernstein-Gould performance of Brahmss 1st piano concerto . Quite a night. Gould out with the full score and there was a glass of water on the piano that he would sip during tuttis. There were equal bravos and boos at the end.

07 August 2012

Have not done one of these in a while

Shuffle to-day:

1. Miles Davis & Jn Coltrane: “Two Bass Hit” from Best of . . . .
2. Nielsen: Humoreske-bagateller, Op.11 № 2, Snurretoppen (The Spinning Top) (Herman Koppel)
3. Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony, Op.83a – ii. Andantino (Barshai, conducting)
4. Beethoven: Symphony № 8 in F, Op.93 – i. Allegro vivace e con brio (Harnoncourt, conducting)
5. Hindemith: Ludus tonalis, № 17 – Interludium. Very fast (Jn McCabe)
6. Frank Zappa & The Mothers: The “Dog Breath” Variations from Uncle Meat
7. JS Bach: Flute Sonata № 2 in Eb, BWV 1031 – iii. Allegro (Paula Robison & Kenneth Cooper)
8. Mompou: Música callada vol. II, № 13 – Tranquillo. Très calme (the composer playing)
9. Schoenberg: String Quartet № 2 in f# minor, Op.10 – « Entrückung », sehr langsam (The Schoenberg Quartet & Susan Narucki)
10. 10cc: “Lazy Days” from How Dare You!

About to plunge

Thinking of adding alto flute, tenor saxophone & harp to the imminent winds score.

Postcards from the edge

In the order received:
  • A disinterested flutist reports that technically, everything is smooth and susceptible to easy preparation in Airy Distillates.
  • There is a recording of Angular Whimsies. It’s coming. Don’t know just when yet.
  •  Moonrise has been read (privately) by a quintet on the west coast.  They may at some point perform it.

06 August 2012

Seen in the blogosphere

“I should totally Kickstarter this idea.”

05 August 2012


The Day of Sending Forth These Unlikely Events, in the unlikely event that some one among the addressees takes that degree if interest in the piece, to bring it to an audience.

04 August 2012

Quiet for a Saturday

A string quartet here in Boston has said they will include It’s all in your head (not that’s a bad place for everything to be) in their study rep.

And I am now back in touch with a dear Wooster classmate.

It’s all getting better.

Although I left Mystical Adventures at the office yesterday . . . .

03 August 2012

A walk in the park

… and word just in from Dana, the intrepid violist who brought you the Henning Op.102. The new quartet has landed. And efforts are ongoing towards a reprise of the Viola Sonata!

Finished and nearly finished

Après-lullaby, which began its life as a cello ensemble in four parts, is now a string quartet. Thus the Op.96a n° 3 is complete. Hoping (and not unreasonably) that in this form, it actually reaches the ears of an audience! Certainly, some players have graciously consented to look it over.

Having found at last my MS. of These Unlikely Events n° 4, I realize there is yet some detail to add to p.3 ... musically, though, it's solid.

02 August 2012

Just to be clear

From Tim Page's introduction to The Glenn Gould Reader:

"… he liked to sing along—loudly—while he played. Gould apologized for this quirk: 'I don't know how anyone puts up with my singing, but I do know that I play less well without it.'"

Perhaps elsewhere Gould apologizes, per Mr Page. But the Respectful Opposition point out that I don't know how anyone puts up with x, is not apologizing for x. It's a concession that x is objectionable.

01 August 2012

Kicking back

The musical mind is resting. And I see this artwork, and I think of the University of Rochester, home of the Yellow Jackets…

Satori in Boston

Just realized something wonderfully applicable to Après-lullaby. The repeating C chords in the opening section, I can re-voice, with double- or even triple-stops, for grander sound and yet better suitability to a string quartet.

So an extra day to consider has been to the music's benefit. More upside from Airy Distillates.

What happened last night

Originally I had planned to spend yester evening on the duos of These Unlikely Events (I need to fling № 4 into Sibelius — a software whose survival seems now imperiled — and to lay out parts for № 5, and check on parts for the earlier ones . . . maybe just one, 3) and on Après-lullaby (sorting out the conversion from cello ensemble to string quartet). But (per last night's post) instead I concentrated on chopping out a flute solo piece.
I began scribbling on the 17:10 train out of North Station . . . obviously stopped the pen while driving home, picking up some groceries (needed some flounder fillets, tinned peas, butter, &c.) and eating dinner (a lovely roast chicken) . . . and had the score ready for delivery at 21:30.
As I took up the pen on that train, I had in my notebook a few pages of sketches for a number of other pieces; and I freely drew on motifs there 'available'; so this flute solo is a kind of commentary on a couple of other pieces.  Thus the title is Airy Distillatesairy for the flute, distillates for the derivation of materials.
There is even a Twitter pun in the piece's scheme.
Separately: I've been living with King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of FZ for a few days (mostly I've been composing or otherwise working on my own music, so I've been a little lazy with the CD player at home).  Kind of nice, but a little . . . smoothed-out, overall. At the very least, though, worthwhile for the Ur-text of Music for Electric Violin and Low-Budget Orchestra.  Not entirely a bad thing, but the general feel of the album strikes me as, Zappa gone easy-listening.  Interesting alternative readings, though the brevity of "King Kong" (which I perforce remember as a massive suite of variations on the fourth side of the double-LP Uncle Meat) I find intrinsically slight.  It has, however, piqued my curiosity to revisit a Ponty album which I used to have on cassette tape, back when:  Mystical Adventures.
It's a momentous day!  Young Helen brings the Cello Sonatina in to her lesson to-day. I'm on tenterhooks . . . .

Imitative finish

This morning, I had a good look at the closing 28 measures (Largamente assai) of Après-lullaby, and I believe I have found the solution. The whole movement up to that double-bar will fit the string quartet scoring, untransposed. But, that last flourish of imitation, no.  I have not wanted to transpose the first 126 measures of the piece, in order to accommodate the closing 20%.

The chord in m.126 is a stack of fifths (though not voiced so plainly): G, D, A, E. The E is in the bass, which then resolves up a semitone to begin the point of imitation on F.

It is an easy matter to re-voice that chord in m.126 so that the A is in the bass, resolving up a semitone to B-flat — and if I transpose that section up a perfect fourth, it will work fine — at one point Vn II and Va will need to swap parts II & III, and I'll want to broaden the overall range by raising the violins an octave for a few measures … but the conversion will be smooth.

The result may, indeed, be an arguable improvement upon the original.

31 July 2012

A lark, really

I just learnt to-day that a flautist whom I follow on Twitter was calling for scores, and that the deadline is — to-day.

Now, I am certain that this was not the first time she announced the Call.  But until quite recently, I was on a kind of composition sabbatical;  and chances are that my glance fell upon the Tweet of Call, but I thought, Interesting, but not for me, as I am not composing at present.

Well, I saw the Call (as I say) to-day, and I thought, Why not?  Well, but the deadline is this very day, the Voice of Reason indicated.  The spec is any piece less than ten minutes in duration, I countered.  Could not I write a brief piece in the space remaining of this day?  I supposed that I could.

I suppose that I did.  Maybe my piece will not be selected — well, that could be true even of a piece I might spend a week, or a month, writing.  But perhaps it will be selected.

Let me state for the record that I think it a fairly good piece;  and that if, coldly looked at, the piece struck me as unfit to bear my name, I should never have sent it in.  Without making any claim that it is The Great Unaccompanied Flute Piece of the 21st Century, I do think it a piece worth playing, and worth the listening.

So: we shall see.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Forking paths

It is a while (probably four years, in fact) since last I looked at Après-lullaby. On its surface, it seems the easiest of the three movements to convert to string quartet: for almost the whole of it, the upper parts are within the respective range of violin or viola (with just a few, easy-peasey displacements down to the sole remaining cello line).

Except for the closing chorale.

What to do? I think that's the game for me to play to-night.

In a discussion of compositions lost, destroyed, or proposed but not composed

My Master's thesis at UVa was a (10'?) composition for chorus and wind ensemble, the first part of a projected five-movement cantata of sorts.  Musically, I don’t think that first part worth recycling, let alone performing as it stands;  nor do I intend taking up the ‘greater project’, which I think was just my own private grandiosomania of the time.
[Most nearly] notably, one result was . . . my doctoral dissertation.  Having learnt how tough a sell is such a piece as was my Master’s thesis, to any prospective chorus-master, my work-around (the history of my study of composition could be boiled down to a series of work-arounds, couldn’t it? Oh, I can talk about it, now . . . .) was to lose the chorus, and write for three soli voices (and, again, wind ensemble).  The dissertation piece is a five-movement, 45' affair (so, a large-scale fulfillment, where the Master’s thesis had been the first essay in a pipedream).
Musically, there is much that I own in the doct. diss., but for other reasons, I am happy simply to destroy it.  Rather than fuss over salvaging anything that I like in that piece, I should sooner just write a fresh piece, which I will like much better.
For the record, there are pieces even earlier than either of these, which I continue to perform (some of them, published, even).  So my overall feeling about the epoch is:  I knew how to compose even at the time;  these projects, though, were a valuable exercise, and if perhaps not worth preserving as artistic efforts, were an important step for my musical development.

No pen!

Although I was fixin’ to work a bit on the winds piece on the train (and I certainly brought the notebook), I left my pen at home.

A. Found N° 4 last night!

B. Oh, did I say that already? It has a spareness which contrasts nicely with both the motoric repetition of N° 3, and the freewheeling bop of N° 5.

C. Chuffed that I'm converting It's all in your head for string quartet at last.

D. The process (to some extent, necessarily fruitless) of sending new pieces to people, most of whom don't need it, has begun. We shall see who out there possesses that rare combination of excellent taste and musical nerve!

30 July 2012

Rolling on

Re-wrote the ending of These Unlikely Events № 5, which is now even smokinger.

Found the MS. of № 4!

Adapted Lutosławski’s Lullaby for the Sereno String Quartet.

Bed-time . . . .

Let's pretend …

There is (this is not pretend) material I was thinking of for the close of Th U Ev #5, but in my wind-up to the finish I neglected it.

With the ending as it is, I'm reasonably happy. But let's pretend I am not, and that I have a go at bringing on board the neglected material.

That is my program this evening.

29 July 2012

Marginalia, again

Marginalia (of which I sneaked in another arrangement, for flute, clarinet & harp, earlier this year) has crossed over to string-quartet-dom.  I had an amusing misadventure in Sibelius (which, I freely disclose, would not have been a problem if I had saved a copy of the file early on) . . . I took the original cello ensemble file, made the sundry adaptations needed for a straightforward string quartet (primarily, though not solely, a matter of transposing up a perfect fifth). I had completed the conversion; but then I realized I hadn’t saved the original file in its unaltered form. So I needed to ‘undo’ back to the Ur-text to revert to & save the original. Once that was done, though, in trying to ‘re-do’ back to the string quartet work I had laid in, I managed to crash Sibelius.

The only bad news, though, was that I had to re-create that work.  Against the two bits of good news, that I had not goofily ‘lost’ the Ur-text, and the work to be done over was a matter of a scant ten minutes.  At that scale, it is not wasteful repetition, but only a useful exercise.

Apart from a fondness for the piece (for I wrote it in Bethesda while visiting with my old Wooster mate Moondi), Marginalia strikes me as a lovely, poignant miniature.  It played very well as a trio.  This week coming, I think I am apt to examine the other two movements from the Opus 96, and strategize how to convert them to standard string quartet.

Although I felt to-day that I was quite strongly pleased with it as it stands, I may just possibly ‘re-open’ These Unlikely Events № 5. There is an idea which was buzzing around as I was working on the piece, for which I never quite found an insertion point; but as I mull over the last page, either I shall decide to leave it as is, or I shall find where the ‘forgotten’ material has a home.

This work, which has long needed doing, of wrapping up the Cello Sonatina, the clarinet duos, &c. has (predictably, really) clarified numeration:

These Unlikely Events, Op.104
Cello Sonatina, Op.105
Kyrie, Op.106 № 1 (leaving the possibility of the complete Mass open)
The Artist’s Studio (There’s a Wide World In There), Op.107, work-in-progress (the new big chamber work for winds)
Cantata, Op.108, work-in-progress (for which I have renewed hope)
Mystic Trumpeter, Op.109, work-in-progress (which in a sense I ought to go back to now . . . but in more ways, I am happy to hold off on, at present)

Done again

As I reported to my buddy Lee, I feel roughly 96% certain that These Unlikely Events № 5 is done.  The idea for the ending (while it does spring from the earlier material) came to me while ringing some postcards at the cash register of the MFA gift shop.  If one is alive to the Muse, she'll whisper to you wherever you may be.

So, if indeed № 5 is a wrap (near enough, really) all that is wanted is for me to find the MS. of № 4, so that I can plug it into Sibelius, and then These Unlikely Events will be completely clear of my desk.

Sara in Nashville is such a sport to have read the cello part of the Sonatina, that she is shaming me into following through on an old promise to send her music for her string quartet.  For ages, I have entertained the likelihood that the three-part suite for cello ensemble in four parts, It's all in your head (not that that's a bad place for everything to be) should adapt readily for regular string quartet.  I shall start stress-testing this theory with adapting the middle piece, Marginalia, this afternoon.

28 July 2012

Missed connection

Utterly amused to report that I got so involved with writing the clarinet duo, I missed my stop on the Red Line. Nor did I just miss my stop, but it was four stops down the line that I pulled my head out of my music, and realized that I needed to get off the train and head back. (In my defense, the automated announcements on the train's P.A. system were mis-timed, so my ear filtered them out early on.)
Rattlin' pleased with how the duo is shaping; so I am in that rare, enviable position of having missed a train, and not caring in the least, for joy in the art I'm making.

These Unlikely Events #5, in progress


On Facebook, I see a Sponsored Ad for “Guerilla Opera.” Probably my editor’s eye, but I feel that the impact of the idea is diminished by the single r. Consider the power of Guerilla Operra!

26 July 2012

Dry morning

There is an undeniable temptation to generalize about Thursday mornings, when this morning (which I believe was a Thursday) found me with too little motivation to carry on with work on the duo. But I am not certain that to g. about Th. would genuinely serve the quest for truth. So I'm just going to consider this morning, a morning.

And after all I have the evening free, and I can log in some work. 'Twill not be an idle day.

No one is in a hurry to read the Kyrie. Which actually signifies nothing artistically. Oh, there is perhaps the temptation (quite possibly a genuinely vicious temptation) to think, why do I bother? But if I do not find the answer to that question in the very music which I myself have written, I really should pack it in. The piece will be sung: of that I feel certain. Even if, for any number of reasons, the conductor I have sent it to now elects never to program the piece, somewhere someone will sing it. I know that the piece sings, so to speak. It is the nature of the piece, which is the reason to have written it.

I've been in touch (at last, and again) with my old buddy, Jeff, because it occurs to me that the Cello Sonatina is particularly suited to dancing. Did I notice this as I was writing it? Quite probably.

Anyway, I have long been keen to renew a dancing collaboration with Jeff. Just a matter of logistics.

25 July 2012


The fifth of These Unlikely Events continues, as is likely. I should have known how unlikely it would be, when I speculated that I might complete it in one day. (It is possible, only — given my weekly routines — unlikely.)

This last piece of the five remains true to the mission of just being fun to play.  I figure if the players are having fun performing the piece, there's a good chance the audience will find fun in the listening.

This picture shows the morning sun shining on my morning's work, in the train.

24 July 2012


Hope revives. Work on the Cantata has been hanging upon the question of the accompanying ensemble; and we just may be slightly nearer a fork in the path to the solution.

Worked a bit more on These Unlikely Events N° 5, while seated at a small table in the lobby of South Station. The readiness is all.

Moving along

The train, a fun place to compose, even if the traveler seated beside you appears largely to resent removing personal belongings in order to vacate your seat.

(This picture was taken later, far from the commuting crowds.)

Clarinet duo N° 5, on the move…

Done, and some

Found the solution which was wanted, and so the Cello Sonatina is done, and delivered.  One cellist has confirmed that the part is written for a higher intermediate to advanced student, which may be a notch above the young dedicatee.

Maria has further requested a contrabassoon for In the Artist’s Studio (There’s a Wide World in There), which is a delicious suggestion.

Ideas flowing for the last of These Unlikely Events, and the idea of wrapping that project up is too attractive to ignore.  Could well compose it all to-day, and then over an evening or two I can get the lot done up in Sibelius.

23 July 2012

Notebook in hand

Will probably proof the Cello Sonatina, as a solution to the software conundrum feels nigh.  May also scribble some notes for the new piece.

Temporarily lost in this present rush of activity, is the duet setting of Mystic Trumpeter.  But I've not completely lost sight of that work-in-progress, either.

Status Quo

Before this recent conclusion of the Kyrie, the last piece I had finished was one of the (as yet unperformed) clarinet duos (These Unlikely Events), which I completed in MS. while cavorting in Puerto Rico this past February. It's been a healthy sabbatical, and I'm enjoying the return to on the job composering.
(These Unlikely Events have not yet been performed as clarinet duos;  two of the five numbers have been performed as trios for alto flute, clarinet and harp.  Four of the five duos are complete.  More about 5 presently.)
Apart from additional detail, and the technical hurdle (not enormous, but …) of sorting out the Sibelius score, yesterday saw the completion of the Sonatina for Cello and Piano.  It is not the first piece I've attempted to write for a student player;  and I rather half-fear that in the tradition of Three Things That Begin With 'C', I may have ended up by writing a piece rather beyond the young cellist's present abilities.  The question then is, whether the piece is on the order of something achievable as the student necessarily wins improved technique over time, or whether I've just written 'the wrong piece'.  The composer has the partial consolation, modest in scale though it be, that he likes the piece which has resulted.  Possibly illusory, but I have the feeling that everything in the Sonatina is related to two or three other passages in the piece, so that (even though it is not strictly a rhetorical composition in the Sonata tradition) it coheres quite snugly.
Now, apart from probably seeing at last to the final clarinet duo in the set of five, I begin to ponder a wind piece by request of Maria, who has asked for a piece broad and spacious after the spirit of Out in the Sun (really one of my hits, I should think).  I am thinking (bottom to top) tuba, bass tn, two tenor tns (I do dig that foundation, so to speak), four horns, bass clarinet, English horn, three oboes and sopranino clarinet. The Artist's Studio (There's a Wide World in There).  I was cautious in sharing this tentative title with her yesterday, but it seems to meet with approval.
As with Out in the Sun, I am here thinking a group weighted towards a lower tessitura, generally. Although, with all these oboes (and a sopranino clarinet) the new scoring has more instruments of higher frequencies. Part of the inspiration there must be my recent(-ish) revisitation of the Shostakovich Op.43, with that famous keening-oboes passage.
In walking around the pond yesterday, I began to hear the piece . . . it's going to start with the world's first English horn and sopranino clarinet duet.  Well, I haven't done the research, so I don't know that it will be the very first.  But, the first great English horn and sopranino clarinet duet, that's certain.
Wonderful to find that more than one erstwhile colleague has expressed warm interest in seeing the Cello Sonatina (yet another reason to wrap it up entirely this week).  Both pianist Scott Tinney, whom I first knew back in Buffalo (currently teaching in Peru, and beginning to negotiate the vagaries of life with a smart-phone), and cellist Sara Richardson Crigger, who used to sing with the St Paul's choir here in Boston (now working in Nashville).
A bit of a footnote touching on that now-ancient work, the Evening Service in D which I composed for St Paul's long erewhile:  Stuart Forster, m.d. and organist at Christ Church Cambridge (Massachusetts, that is), leads his choir in a weekly Evensong.  Long ago (as now it seems) we had a cup of coffee and a chat, and I asked him if he might have use for the Preces, Responses &c. which I composed as the 'utility' component of the Evening Svc.  He made me welcome to send . . . however, it was a case where, with the vagaries of electronic storage (where did I put that file?), I was insufficiently organized to follow through with any timeliness.  Whether at the last, he may actually find any use for it, I do not as yet know;  but yesterday, I did finally send the material along.
Viz. the Kyrie . . . loose plans to continue with other parts of the Ordinary, eventually to complete an unaccompanied Mass for mixed four-part choir (how quaint, I know, I know – but we odd composers, you know, write as the Muse bids us).  Certainly no hurry, unless some as-yet-unforeseen demand may arise.
Hoping to sort out the question of accompanying forces for the Cantata, another work which seem already to have a small but ready audience.  Hoping to sort this out, oh, anytime this summer, really.
Living into a highly sentimental return to both Hot Rats and Uncle Meat, which were the first two Zappa albums I found on vinyl in a used record shop on Route 23 in northern New Jersey, back in the day (way back).  I have the CD reissues, to be sure, and generally listen to them on headphones.  But this weekend, I came to play them both on a CD player, listening to them in the space (so to speak) . . . and that experience cued an agreeable type of nostalgia.  That said (not that I can determine the question at all scientifically), these albums sound better, richer on compact disc than I remember them sounding as LPs.
Thinking back to that time, I had a friend or two who were apt to praise the first three Mothers album (Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, and We're Only In It For the Money) above all else, so naturally I was curious to find those albums – which by the time I had heard of them, had been long out of print (thus explaining my quest for used record shops).  I never did find used (let alone new) copies of these albums in long-playing record form;  and at first I bought Hot Rats, Uncle Meat and Burnt Weenie Sandwich with a feeling of Oh well, I guess these will have to do.  As it turned out, though, these three albums got right in amongst me, and have worn very well over time indeed.  In fact (and contrary to the Received Wisdom of Rolling Stone), I actually think more highly of these albums than of the first three (which have been enshrined in 'the rock press' as eternal faves – not that they are bad albums, at all, bien sûr).