11 June 2013

From the archives, Eleven Years Ago Today Edition

Dateline: 09:39am Jun 11, 2002 EST
I was asked for a clarinet solo piece in a hurry, though a short (very short) piece was wanted. Haven’t been advised just yet what time increment, exactly, a hurry means in this case.
So apart from coming up with thoughts for a new piece (because you always want to write something new), I came up with Plan B in case a hurry means right away.
When I so happily chanced to trod the cobbles of St Petersburg, part of what was going on in the Henning life was, a subtle but inexorable transformation from music student with too little discipline and too little direction to get much writing done to composer who is getting a better bead on his musical direction, though he is aware of how little discipline he commands. The laboratory in which (or, maybe, around which) this transformation had some play was, naturally, my doctoral dissertation, a sprawling 40-minute work in five movements for soli voices and symphonic band. I had composed two of the five movements while yet in upstate New York (one of the texts, Bills friends in Georgia will readily credit, toys around with the not-very-deep,-philosophically notion of a State Trooper in shades, and in a Mephistofelean cast).
The challenges to finishing the piece included my own laziness, as well as my consuming fascination with St Petersburg the place and with Russian culture. But a larger challenge, perhaps, was that, now that I was already for the most part free of the need to write music in a way that will please a composition instructor, I was learning that I wanted to write music rather differently. In writing my dissertation, I had a plan which my faculty dissertation committee had approved, and which perforce must be followed, even though, left to my own devices, I should have started all over again.
On balance, it was excellent discipline. Which, of course, I badly wanted.
But I took a while finding a balance between the need to explore where I really wanted to go, musically, and the need to get the dissertation written in a manner which (a) would not be obviously schizophrenic, and (b) would meet the approval of my committee.
Part of this “taking a while finding a balance,” was a matter of writing a large-ish number of small-scale pieces: a lot of little piano pieces, an organ piece, a short suite for solo harp, a couple of rather-more-extended piano pieces (including Gaze Transfixt, of which Tom K has said a few gracious words).
And a piece for clarinet solo.
Really, what was originally intended as the beginning of a long-ish set of variations for clarinet solo, though variations not on a theme, per se, but on a sort of ‘pitch process.’ ‘Pitch processes’ are an easy thing to invent, but then the larger question, How do I make music out of this? — remains.
Well, among those of my musical papers which traveled with me back to the states, is the fair copy of these three variations. More sketches are still over in the apartment on the Prospekt Kultury, but honestly, that fire has gone cold — and since the piece was partly a study in my transition-cum-get-the-dissertation-done-already, it belongs to the past, and there is other music to write now.
There were really only small adjustments needed, to make of this fair draught of a longer piece’s beginning, a short but complete piece. There is certainly enough for the clarinetist to do, that he should not wish, at the piece’s end, that I had written a great deal more for him ....
The piece is called Blue Shamrock.

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