29 September 2017

Part pas-de-deux, part jeu-d'esprit

Enjoyed the greatest of times at the Library of Congress yesterday witnessing two legends of comedy performing an act which jeopardized their Executive Washroom privileges.  The protein—I meant, protean stage-&-mic talents Philip Proctor and David Ossman (What’s Left, that is, of The Firesign Theatre) regaled us with the History of Radio, from Wireless, to Wired, to Wireless again, with many pertinent diversions into the classic Firesign grab bag, from Ralph Spoilsport and Police State, to the never-satisfactorily-explained nose injury at a great sandstone building.  The hall was packed.  We all wondered where Ruth was.  We held our breath upon learning the origin of the Porridge Bird conundrum.  We learnt anew that all we had to fear, was he.

If you get a chance to see them, shift on your sanitary pedestals and run, do not walk, nor hesitate to sit on those antique cheese logs.

My spirit celebrated this morning by composing the clavichord bagatelle I had half-promised David Bohn, the no-more-than-100-notes-thank-you-very-much call for scores.  My brand-new piece is titled, The last man to come to the vineyard to work.  Partly because the name Zappa somehow emerged when Eric and I were catching up yesterday, I wrote the piece with the thought of what kind of keyboard piece might be a hidden bonus track on the Uncle Meat album.  I do not say it is in the style of Zappa, but in a style compatible with that of the Bard of Cucumonga.

(Photo by Doug Krentzlin.)

28 September 2017

Prelude to DC, remembering Admee

Two years ago today was the first rehearsal of From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud, a monodrama for soprano & four winds. It's the score which scotched what had promised to be a budding collaborative relationship with the talented soprano who performed so beautifully in the première of The Mystic Trumpeter—the text was too intense.

This afternoon I fly to Washington, to meet with an old friend, and together to witness Philip Proctor & David Ossman, late of The Firesign Theatre, performing at the Library o' Congress. Buzzy Coathanger will be there.

27 September 2017

henningmusick: Ink barely dry [26.ix.2009]

henningmusick: Ink barely dry

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

On the bus this morning (as ever, really) and passing the silhouetted Bunker Hill obelisk, and reflecting on the birth of All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage. Which of course immediately becomes an occasion for renewed gratitude to my excellent colleague and longtime collaborateur-provocateur, Peter H. Bloom, with whom I have performed the piece any number of times these several intervening years. And, the piece remains fresh.

This morning I sent some minor, oh so very minor, corrigenda for the Gloria to Lux Nova.  Also, the Sibelius files for the Op.28 organ pieces.

They Might Be Giants (student shown for scale)

It was before my time, so the student in the photo would not have been Henning, anyway.  Still, given the accompanying text, rather glad I was not there.

Of course, it is but an alumni magazine, so it is probably unfair to insist on so stern an interpretation of the sentence.  Allow me, for old times’ sake, to play Devil’s Advocate with a tendentious excision:  Each of the men pictured here (except the student, second from right) . . . helped shape contemporary music in his own way.  Bad luck, Wm Appleby, for being the one party in the photograph who shaped no contemporary music.

There you are, basking in the light of the Great Men, though.

26 September 2017

Dreams of Schoenberg

First of all, we know that none of this is historically true.  But, that is not the standard we apply to what happens in dreams.

There was a brick house in which Schoenberg (supposedly, per above) lived while he was in residence here in the United States, and I went to visit this – as we might call it – pilgrimage site.

It was an architecturally unexceptional two-story brick home.  Ranged at intervals along the front lawn were signs reading “Opus 29,” “Opus 30,” on through “Opus 33,” the idea being that, Mad Tea Party-like, Schoenberg composed each piece in that corresponding part of the building.  It was a design error in my dream that there were three signs reading “Opus 33.”  Or maybe it meant that the work took Schoenberg so much effort, he worked on it in three different locations in the house.

The dream then moved to a concert hall where a violinist whose acquaintance I made recently was playing the Schoenberg Violin Concerto (Opus 36), only in the dream this Concerto involved dramatized extended techniques, such as drawing the violin across a bamboo pole held by the violinist’s husband, who assisted.

Must have been all that sea air Sunday.

23 September 2017

Thoreau A-Go-Go

Revisited (at apparent random—only apparent, I suppose—a chap made a request on a Facebook group for “some of your favorite non-standard pieces for clarinet”) Thoreau in Concord Jail.  Overall, I am happy with my performance (and I think that any of the various quibbles I might make, with my take at this concert, would be ironed out with a month of sustained practice);  I am entirely pleased with the piece as a composition;  and I even enjoy (in that peculiar, Cageian way) the occasional intrusion of street noise as a kind of counterpoint.

Even as my practice of composition does not operate in a chamber hermetically sealed against the winds and weather of the world without, it feels suitable, that my performance of this just-the-lonesome-clarinet piece interacts by apparent chance with events in the community without.

22 September 2017

Studies and Tropes

From the Archive :: 22 Sep 2009

One or two borderline quackly moments in the performance of the Studies [i.e., the Studies in Impermanence] . . . but overall, I am very pleasantly surprised at how well I managed to play the piece. (Yes, that means that I shall need to try again to better it, but still . . . .)

One thing is, I didn't feel that I was 'lagging' at all through the course of the piece; nor that any pause was 'trending pregnant'. Pace felt good, and I felt that the audience was 'with' me. Bottom line, though, is that the performance ran just over 24 minutes.

Tropes on Parasha's Aria from White Nights, though, got to a strangely deliberate start. It works, but it feels a little dirge-ey.

Little-known fun fact: I used (i.e., sang) the Tropes on Parasha's Aria for an audition for the Trinity Church Choir once. (It was fun, finding the text from Stravinsky's Mavra, to plug it into my adaptation.) So, I do not think the piece intrinsically funereal.  The above was my report at the time of a performance in the West End branch of the Boston Public Library.

This composer needs to inquire a bit more actively after possible venues for The Band to play, well, all the music which we essentially already have tamed. Not genuinely tamed; never genuinely tamed. But near enough, that refreshing them will not require an extensive rehearsal schedule. So, I have sent a message; and I need to follow up with a query yet elsewhere.

Separately, I am dizzy—not literally, of course not literally—at the realization that less than a week from now I shall attend a performance of Those Legends of the Firesign Theatre, at the Library of Congress.

The Dream Limerick [henningmusick: Not a huge story, but true — 22.ix.09]

henningmusick: Not a huge story, but true:
At the last I had found five slips of paper, had written the five lines, and arranged the five slips in order on the counter:

    Out East where the first sun is settin
    Lives a rare and athletic Tibetan
    She speed-meditates
    On her saffron ice-skates
    She’s the Tibetan Mary Lou Retton.

Paradise Lost, it is not....

In fresh news (such as I have got, Gentle Reader) the passages of the Gloria which we have rehearsed these past two weeks with Triad have proved very encouraging.  I can say more than that:  each week a different singer warmly praised the piece.  When a piece is in rehearsal, of course it makes all the difference that the musicians believe in the score.

This week is the first that Thos Stumpf and I have seen one another, since I inundated his email inbox with the Clarinet Sonata, and when he has some capacity, read it we shall, meseems.

And last night, my doughty church choir revisited I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, with all its myriad, tricky read-me-or-be-shamed rests.

19 September 2017

Refreshing the slate


Sleepyheads, Wake Up! — good prospect for a reading, should really wrap it up

White Nights — still a work purely on spec, can in principle aim for completion 1Q18

New stuff:

[the HTUMC Christmas Concert] . . . should think about some pieces with harp accompaniment

Flute duo for Carol and Peter . . . working title, Gym Bags in the Dark

Concertante piece for cello and orchestra . . . working title, Sleepwalking to Olympus

17 September 2017

henningmusick: Recital [17.ix.2009]

henningmusick: Recital:
TODAY!! [i.e., eight years ago]
Noise in the Library
The Exquisite Sonic Disturbances of Karl Henning
Heedless Watermelon, Opus 97 (2009) flute & clarinet
Irreplaceable Doodles, Opus 89 (2007) clarinet solo
The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, Opus 94a (2008) alto flute solo
Lost Waters, Opus 27 (1994-95) harp solo
Studies in Impermanence, Opus 86 (2005) clarinet solo
Tropes on Parasha’s Aria from White Nights, Opus 75, the ensemble
Peter H. Bloom, flutes
Mary Jane Rupert, harp
Karl Henning, clarinet
Thursday, 17 September 2009
West End Branch, Boston Public Library
151 Cambridge Street
Free & Open to the Public.
Just try to shush ’em.
Eight years ago tonight.  I am not sure we have ever made so much noise in any library since.

This morning is my church choir’s first Sunday of the season “on duty.”

The beat goes on.

15 September 2017

One Twilight Realm

“You have a choice.”
—one theme in both Minority Report and Hellboy, neither of whose screenplays (probably) was written by a Calvinist
Any number of times over the years, and in many different contexts, I have repeated, no doubt in paraphrase (even allowing for English translation) a witty and illuminative distinction made by a 19th century German critic (named, I believe, Kraus—but don’t hold me to it) between the two German-speaking capitals. In Berlin, he wrote, they describe the situation as “serious, but not hopeless”; but in Vienna, “hopeless but not serious.”

More about hopeless but not serious in a moment.

Over the past twelvemonth (and not to the exclusion of other composition) I have 1. composed my first Symphony (there may seem to be a degree of hope implicit in the use of the ordinal number first, which I neither confirm nor deny); 2. completed (i.e., composed the bulk of) a major Clarinet Sonata; and 3. resumed significant work on the full evening’s ballet, White Nights. These three pieces are, without rival, my major instrumental works. They have not yet been performed (—in fairness, the Symphony is still warm off the press, so a performance as early as now, while by no means impossible, would only have been a wild chance—) nor is there as yet any prospect of a performance.

We might say there is (at present) no hope of their being performed.  So often when the word hopelessness is used, there is an implication of permanency, of a compulsion upon the individual to resign himself to an absence of hope.

Right at the moment, it seems hopeless. So what?

At the moment (and, all right—it’s been a long moment) I write a lot of music that is not performed. And, it ought to be conceded, I am (though by no means a dotard) rather past the age one might normally think of for an up-and-coming composer. Maybe the Symphony will someday be played in my hearing. Maybe in my lifetime. Maybe not.

But the hopelessness is not a fixed element. It may be only, that there is no hope at present.

This, Gentle Reader, is all just reflection, just thoughts.  No decision is being made, no resolution taken, this day.

My state of mind remains, so far as I can tell, unchanged. I compose, not because I am paid to do so, nor really because I have any expectation of being paid to do so in the future; I compose, because I enjoy doing so. I compose the music which I should like to hear, and which I should like to know the thoughts of listeners, should it be given them also to hear. I compose because, when I have completed a given piece, I find the arc of activity gratifying, I find the musical result, the fact that there is a finished musical object, gratifying.  I dig the resulting music, as (I believe) any real gone cat would.

While I am not at all suggesting that I would be anything other than much better pleased for the music to be performed for an audience, and for the audience to register and express their enjoyment of, delight in, the music—I enjoy, indeed to a degree I exult, even in this twilight realm, where there are completed compositions which sleep awhile, sleep for centuries it may even be, before they are awakened unto an audience.

My lot, then, is hopeless, but not serious.

When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something.
—Dmitri Shostakovich [ note to self: try to confirm ]

14 September 2017

Auspicious beginnings

Monday evening, Triad made a good start with rehearsing the Gloria. Then, Tuesday evening, Carol Epple, Peter H. Bloom and I read through the Tiny Wild Avocadoes, the first time the wind version has sounded out, causing actual air molecules to vibrate.

The performances will be in October and November, and they will be excellent, if I do say so myself (as, I suppose, I just did).

henningmusick: Commuting here, commuting there

henningmusick: Commuting here, commuting there:
No actual writing yet today. Read through Nicodemus some three times, and also through the present state of just what everyone was expecting once. [14.ix.2012]
There was a time when just what everyone was expecting was still being written?  In a state when even the composer was expecting something?

Got together with an old friend to catch up over a nice dinner last night (the Great British Beer Company, in fact).  How pleasant for the composer, in bringing his friend up to date on musical activity over the last twelve months, to list (and tell the background stories of) the First Symphony, the Clarinet Sonata, and the revivification of the White Nights.

12 September 2017

And, next

Triad rehearsal last night.

k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble rehearsal tonight: the first try of the wind Avocadoes.

What thoughts I have this morning, Johannes, about the opening of your F Major symphony, and a piece in 6/4 which was conducted in 3/2, ostensibly for clarity, but which sucked all the musical life out. The Flattest Brahms in the Universe.  Something for which no conscionable musician would ever wish to be responsible.


Something I read this morning: “...150 previously-unreleased tracks....”

What I immediately thought: “Man, all 150 of those must be sooooo good....”

Dear composers,
Thank you for your patience. I’m sorry to say we were not able to program your piece this season. Choosing 15 from 750+ pieces was very hard, but I’m excited about the world of new music after having seen a slice of what you are doing. We’ll be announcing our season shortly, and we hope you will keep in touch and share your work with us again. 
Thank you and all the best!

11 September 2017

Checking in

Triad auditions yesterday;  first rehearsal of the season this evening.

Still awaiting word on the call which was to have been announced on the first (but for which we got the nice courtesy message).

The Cantata Singers invite me to sub for a spring concert, but I need to consider whether I really want all those late weeknights for so sustained a time.

09 September 2017

Knick knack, Packanack

Excellent rehearsal of the as-yet-not-world-renowned k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble tonight. Kurosawa’s Scarecrow sounds lovely, as does the flute duet, Neither do I condemn thee. We rehearse the Tiny Wild Avocadoes this Tuesday.
The composer was asked about:

1. The Scarecrow. The fact is that at the time, I believed I was simply exulting in the phonemic play, in the phrase “Kurosawa’s Scarecrow.” But not long after I coined the phrase, or at the least, formed that title, I watched for the second time The Seven Samurai. And my wondering eyes saw a scene in which an armored scarecrow was raised to draw fire from the attacking bandits. Of course, I had seen the movie a few years earlier for the first time, and I cannot, therefore, discount the possibility that the image, the idea, lodged somewhere in the Henning brain. (So many odd things do there lodge.) There the question rests.

2. Packanack Lake. It isn't as if the lake really meant that much to me, ever. There was a time in my life when I lived nearby, although I saw the lake more frequently reading the map than I did with my eyes. For our present purposes, there are two emotional notions. The first is that, bodies of water have always meant something to me, and this was one near to which I long resided, but which I did not know. I knew of it (savoir) but it was not familiar to me (connaître). The second is that the lake was part of my life, insofar as it was any part, at a curious in-between period in my experience...I had been graduated from high school, it was my ambition to go to college to study music, but I had no understanding of how I might do so, and I was simply working odd jobs. It was a kind of twilight in my life, but neither can I deny that the twilight is a romantic, suggestive, hopeful hour.

(That part of the world was never really home, was not to be mine.)

Watching for only the second time the episode “Requiem” of The Avengers. One of the changes which is crystallized in the introduction of the character of Mother is, Tara is borderline cruelly kept out of the loop, in a way which would have been unthinkable with Mrs. Peel, so that Tara is not really Steed’s colleague in the same way. Likewise, there is an element of girlish crush and jealousy on the part of Tara. To be clear, I am glad that the series continued, and I enjoy the Tara King episodes on their own merits. I suppose this is just a longhand acknowledgement that criticism of the post-Diana-Rigg Avengers is not hidebound fussiness.

07 September 2017

Past & Present

[As to the decisions I faced then (eight years ago today), what if that almost magnetic repulsion was all in my head?]

First HTUMC Choir rehearsal of the new season, this evening. The search for a new (and a finer) organist goes on; we have capable subs slotted in for this month and next, meanwhile. Our first on-duty Sunday is the 17th.

Many of the anthems which I have scheduled for September & October, we have sung more than once before; so there is a lot of rehearsal I can do which is just singing the part along with the choir. For my “torch song” version of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me (which we sang the last-ish Sunday before the choir disbanded for summer), and for Allen Webber’s arrangement of Come, Thou Font (on a tune which is not St James’s Air), I will have MIDI piano which I can play from my phone, via bluetooth, on a portable speaker. (No, but really.) We shall see how it goes.

Looking ahead, we may or may not be able to  mount a Christmas concert this year. If we find as able a musician as we intend, and as soon as we hope, even a new colleague installed as late as the beginning of November might be expected to manage. Against that hopeful possibility, I should start to assemble concert material this evening.

There is also a Plan B, in the form of a harpist whom I may recruit. Or, perhaps the concert should be a hybrid of Plans A & B.

Let me ponder ....

06 September 2017

What Cheese That Might Have Been

From the Archive: 6 Sep 2007

Last night was the first [St Paul’s] choir rehearsal of the new season. We’re some 17 strong, of whom we had five new singers last night; so there is good ‘institutional continuity’ (where so much of the choir was brand-new last year, we were two or three months basically learning to sing together). The new bass seems a good addition to the section.
First off, and quite flattering, one of the pieces we are singing this coming Sunday, the first of the choir’s return, is my Alleluia in D. Also in this initial sheaf of music for the choir’s folders are Nuhro and Bless the Lord, O My Soul. Not sure when Ed is planning to do the latter, but he mentioned All Saints as the occasion for the Nuhro (and since the Cathedral will not have a full service on Thursday, 1 November, we will observe the Feast of All Saints on Sunday, 4 November).
Violist Peter Cama-Lekx (who has now been officially ‘migrated’ from the bass to the tenor section) and I will play a lunchtime recital on Wednesday, 5 December. In the tradition of presenting All Henning, All the Time, Whenever the Traffic Will Bear It, the program will be:
Sonatina sopra Veni, Emmanuel, viola sola
Blue Shamrock, clarinet solo
The Mousetrap, clarinet & viola
(Blue Shamrock was approvingly labeled “funky jungle music” by one listener at the piece’s premiere.)
We’ll also play The Mousetrap as the Prelude for the 9 December service; for that auspicious occasion, I have already devised a theological alternate title: Meister Eckhardt, or, The Cheese Which Baits the Divine Mousetrap.
So far, The Mousetrap contains (apart from genuinely original material) allusions to the music of Bach, Beethoven, BrahmsShostakovich (you know: all the religious composers). Aye, ’Tis a knavish piece of work, but what o’ that? Your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not ....
10 years ago today . . . revisiting this post proved an especial pleasure.

What I still remember, years later:  “Funky jungle music” as a descriptor for Blue Shamrock;  Ed’s liking of Nuhro.

What I had entirely forgotten:  The mad idea that The Mousetrap could serve as a Prelude.  (Of course, I was still at work on the piece, and perhaps I did not yet realize how very substantial a piece it would prove.)  And I am not sure which tickles me more:  the alternate title, or the mere fact that I had devised one.

05 September 2017

Kandinsky & Schoenberg

Schoenberg’s pictures fall into two categories: on the one hand the portraits and landscapes painted directly from nature; on the other hand, heads imagined intuitively, which he calls “visions.” The former Schoenberg designates as finger exercises, which he feels he needs, but which he does not particularly value, and which he does not like to exhibit. The other he paints (just as rarely as the first sort) to express emotions that find no musical form. These two categories are extremely different. Internally they stem from one and the same soul, caused to vibrate in one case by external nature and in the other by nature within.

(Kandinsky, commenting on paintings exhibited by Schoenberg in 1910.)

Schoenberg and Kandinsky followed remarkably similar paths in their moves away from representation to abstraction and from the single focuses of perspective and tonality in painting and music to the subsequent afocal attributes of both. Both artists had received the initial impulses in these directions as early as the last years of the nineteenth century, and neither one achieved the full realization of his purpose until many years later.

(Both passages from Joan Peyser, To Boulez and Beyond.)

The representational in Art will always be with us, and it were probably something of an affectation, to despise representational Art for being itself.

Entirely unprofessionally, I’ll hypothesize that perhaps everyone has enjoyed abstract art of some type. Still, it has a much less clear, less reliable “lure” for the non-artist audience. I think it sensible to rely on a smaller audience for abstract art. I think it probably asinine to denigrate an artist for creating abstract art.

In the Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth file, we have a meeting, a past meeting though not the deep past;  a meeting where I was supposedly among friends, in which some actively railed at me for the Crime Against the People, of writing—nay, more: of performing for an audience—abstract music. And others present just sat and watched, while I was pilloried.  None spoke in my defense.

I don’t say that I hold against them, forever, the moral injury. But I know to rely upon them to only a certain extent.  I remember the silence.

Separately (or, is it?) I made something of a point, when I composed my First Symphony, of a. writing it as abstract music, in three movements; and b. forbearing to christen it with any sexy, marketable subtitle. It’s “just” a Symphony, and it will either be performed, or will continue to sit on the shelf, because it is “no more” than well written music.

04 September 2017

henningmusick: A new year (Cradle Song)

  • henningmusick: A new year Part of me still wants to try Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song for the Christmas concert; part of me doesn't want to bother with A Certain Factor. [4 Sep 2014]

In the event, Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song went very nicely—as well as possible, indeed, considering that certain factor. It was the occasion of one of the most gracious compliments anyone has paid to my work. So it was a bold chance, and it came off.

03 September 2017

From Promenade to Berceuse

Yesterday, I composed a Lullaby, although I had no idea until yesterday morning that I wanted to write any such thing. Two years ago (at a guess) I composed a duet for flute and alto saxophone for my two nieces. True to my previous practice, we might say, the music which I composed ostensibly for young, inexperienced players, proved to be some combination of technically too challenging, and musically too unfamiliar, for it to serve its stated purpose. I am sure the lovely girls made a game attempt, and it is to their credit;  but it is nothing against them, the dears, if the piece has been ... respectfully shelved.  That duet was titled, Out for a Walk;  and I did designate it N° 1 of a projected set.

A friend of my recent acquaintance, who teaches piano and organ and often to younger students, has asked if I have pieces suitable for young players as teaching material. (The Visions fugitives de nouveau will not answer here—not at all, really.)

Yesterday morning, I realized that Out for a Walk, in keyboard reduction, would serve very nicely. This opus number can thus be repurposed, and without regret over my one niece's having given up on the alto saxophone. And I felt that it was high time that there was a companion piece. Thus has been born the brand-new Lullaby.

henningmusick: Time Past (Chicago & Time)

henningmusick: 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.)

In part, we might consider the art of Musical Composition as the management of Time.  Management of, but not necessarily obsession with.

Triad rehearsals are soon approaching, and I may possibly be conducting a score which I have yet to see.  It’s all good.  It will (would?) be the second piece I conduct on the concert, and this will (may?) be the first Triad concert on which I conduct more than one piece.  (Considering the two numbers from the Kenlon piece I conducted on an earlier concert to be two-fifths of a single piece.)  In the interval this morning between meeting our substitute organist, and the service itself, I shall study the first (sole?) piece I am sure to conduct.

02 September 2017

Just an observation

What if my first listening of a Saturday morning ought to be a Haydn string quartet—have you stopped to consider that?

String Quartet Op.9 № 1 in C (Hob. III/19)
Festetics Quartet

01 September 2017

Chamber Music in the Chapel (10 Oct)

Since Art became a part of the Consumer Discretionary industry, at least, each era has brought forth its own characteristic Cheese.  Let thy Cheese shine before men, for the grater good.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Like cheese, art (perhaps, the art which is not cheese) takes time.

In time (on the 10th of October, to be precise) we shall play:

Tiny Wild Avocadoes (selections), Op.125a (2017) — première
Carol Epple & Peter H. Bloom, flutes
Karl Henning, clarinet

Neither do I condemn thee, Op.132 (2015)
Carol Epple & Peter H. Bloom, flutes

Kurosawa’s Scarecrow (Memories of Packanack Lake), Op.145 (2017) — première
Carol Epple & Peter H. Bloom, flutes
Karl Henning clarinet & fixed media
Pamela Marshall, horn