31 July 2018

Achievement of enormity and quietude

German names almost always do mean something, and this helps to deceive the student.  I translated a passage one day, which said that “the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest.”  When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man’s name.
– Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language”

Altering my countenance, therefore, in a moment, from its bepuffed and distorted appearance, to an expression of arch and coquettish benignity, I gave my lady a pat on the one cheek, and a kiss on the other, and without saying one syllable (Furies! I could not), left her astonished at my drollery, as I pirouetted out of the room in a Pas de Zephyr.
– Edgar Allan Poe, “Loss of Breath”

Wound up talking a bit about White Nights with Marc, and a customer overhead me. Excited, she said she'd post about it on Facebook.

It appears (we might say) that this is the time of year, even for speaking of White Nights.  It is a near-certainty that I was not actually engaged in work on the ballet five years ago July.  I was wrapping up Mysterious Trumpeterwhew, was Mysterious Trumpeter just five years ago?–and getting a start on just what everyone was expecting.  It must have been my last summer in the Museum shop, which was an era in my composing life when to concentrate on resuming control of the ballet was powerfully contraindicated.  It may well have been one of numerous moments from ca. 2006 to 2015 when the wishful thought resurfaced, that I should finally tease out the solution to Scene 8, but the thought did not bud into action.

Again, this is all mere reportage, and nothing of regret.  This year, I am finishing White Nights in (for want of a better phrase) its appointed time–that is, I am now getting the work done, both in as efficient a manner of production as I have known, and to just as high an artistic standard as I have always wished for it.  It is pointless to wish I had finished it ten years ago, in the first place because there hasn't been any orchestra waiting on the piece, but more to the point, because I am now writing it to my complete satisfaction, and, well, I suppose this was exactly the process in which the composer had to walk.

The whole experience has been a little reminiscent of the chicken and the egg.  I set out to write the ballet (in 2003), because I had not to that point had any opportunity to write a large work for orchestra.  Therefore, I felt I should get working on one, without waiting upon Opportunity.  For what if Opportunity continued not to arise for years?  Or, at all?

Or, if the opportunity came at long last, but I had never yet written a substantial orchestral piece, maybe I should find my ‘compositional muscles’ atrophied, unsuitable any longer for that range of activity.

So I planned a major stage work.  And, indeed, set immediately to writing what is possibly too long an Overture for a full evening’s ballet.  But reflection upon that potential ‘overengineering’ is the topic of another blog post.

So much for the chicken.  What of the egg?

The egg is the Symphony.  Much less ambitious than the plan for the ballet, but nevertheless much heartier than any other instrumental work I had yet assayed, the Symphony was a bid to compose a major work, within a narrow time-frame.  The key element which could not be planned for was, in October of 2016, I was ready–I felt strongly that this was the piece I should now write, and felt a quiet, grounded confidence that I should see it through, with reasonable dispatch.

And lo! it was so.

In October of 2016, I began the first movement;  and I completed the third movement in January 2017.  What does that have to do with White Nights?

I learnt how eminently possible I find it, to write new orchestral music in good order (both temporal, and compositional).  Not only did I know, with every fiber of my musical being, that to complete the ballet was in my power–I felt the power.  It was an enormous, mystical watershed.

30 July 2018

I don't see why not

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
– Edgar Allan Poe

So her schemes always went for nothing, and she laid them aside in impotent rage against the fates, and against herself for playing the fool on that fatal September day in not providing herself with a witness for use in the day when such a thing might be needed for the appeasing of her vengeance-hungry heart.
– Mark Twain

To do work of surpassing excellence, is the best revenge.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

A project sometimes springs, perhaps whimsically, from a chance request.  Thus, my present thought is to take an orchestral number already in my folio, and add to it a spoken narration.  Because, it just may work.

Is such activity a “betrayal” of the music's original “purpose”?  Famously, more than one number of Messiah (undeniably an enduring classic) Handel “upcycled” from earlier work.  And if Barber could make over his justly well-loved Adagio into a choral Agnus Dei, I think I can pursue this rather less radical scheme with a clear conscience.

And I think I have already found the text for the job.

This is but a slight deferral of work on A Heart So White, and in fact is a kind of preparation.  For the first order of business with A H. So Wh. is, to review the fixed media as it stands, and see if it suffices for the pace of dramatic performance of the scene.  I have been morally prepared for the possibility that the fixed media may require some expansion;  and it is high time to try the question – to try the question, and to get on with it.

So with both pieces, I begin by reading text against the music presently in existence, and taking it from there.

Still no word viz. Ear Buds.  It may yet happen.  I am touched that two friends, one yesterday morning, another today, inquired whether I had yet heard anything.  There is such good in our neighbors’ hearts.

My writer friend David made me a gift this morning with a phrase which I think must later become a title:  Chubby Little Book.

In a tone entirely consonant with the blurry magic of the source material, the certainty that I shall ere (very) long at last finish White Nights fills me with a calm elation, which delicately elevates my soul.  A profoundly gratifying satisfaction of a kind which probably no other experience in life could provide.

29 July 2018

To recapitulate

The first PDF of Intermezzo III is dated 24 July, realizing the A1 trombone-&-tuba chorale which I plotted the day before.  Although I reviewed the whole this morning, I saw no changes needed to the composition as I laid it down yesterday, 28 July.  So, 23—28 July:  I executed the number in the space of six days;  and five of those six, normal workdays.

Could I have done the work quicker, if I did not have the ‘distraction’ of the day-job?  It seems the natural question, yet I do not know that I should have arrived at the result in appreciably less time.  (In one important sense, the question is pointlessly hypothetical, since I do not see any change in my work/revenue situation this side of retirement.)  Really, what matters is, the fact of having a full-time job does not interfere with my creative production.  There now remain four numbers of the ballet to compose (22 minutes of music, depending on how the process plays out).  Even allowing for the need, now, to address myself responsibly to the completion of A Heart So White for the October concert (let’s say I should have it done, and ready to hand out to the band by 18 August) it is not an unreasonable line of speculation, that White Nights may be done by year’s end.

The Intermezzo did indeed run past the 4:45 schema duration, to almost six minutes.

And a bit amusinglynot truly surprising, since the time of year (plus the consideration of the church choir season having closed) lends itself to rededication to White Nights—I have uploaded the MIDI demo of Intermezzo III one year minus a day from the upload of Intermezzo II.

28 July 2018

Closing in on the Op.75 #16

Yesterday evening, as planned (insofar as there is planning involved), I did execute the plan for the A2 section of Intermezzo III.  As with so many moments and passages in my work, generally, and in White Nights in particular, there were the elements of The Plan, there was improvised modification of elements of The Plan, and there was spontaneous Addition.  At the end of the work session, the composer was well pleased both with A2 Itself, and with its place in the Intermezzo.

This morning, it was time for B2.  In my scheme (legible with amplification, here) the tempo would be a shade faster than B1, and I should both modify and expand the imitative pizzicato (plus percussion).  The time-honored principle that Less Is More visited my thoughts early on, and I am thinking of leaving out the wind chords for B2, allowing for the final trombone-&-flute chorale to be a yet more striking ‘arrival.’ So I leave it thus at present, and will now address me to that concluding chorale, while reserving the right (of course) to modify B2 as I may see fit, when the number has reached the final double-bar.

This morning’s work is already substantial, and there is a reasonable chance that the number will be finished today.

27 July 2018

A manageable fluidity

I have been off hunting and fishing a month, up in the region that she calls Buffalo;  I don't know why, unless it is because there are not any buffaloes there.
– Mark Twain, "Extracts From Adam's Diary"

Arthur Dent was irritated to be continually wakened by the sound of gunfire.
– Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

He noticed me not, but resumed his solemn walk, while I, ceasing to follow, remained absorbed in contemplation.  "The old man," I said at length, "is the type and genius of great crime.  He refuses to be alone.  He is the man of the crowd.  It will be in vain to follow;  for I shall learn no more of him, nor of his deeds...."
– Edgar Allan Poe, "The Man of the Crowd"

When I scribble notes for a piece I am to write, or am in the process of writing, the details may not be strictly accurate.  There is no cause for alarm.  The notes are essentially a marker, and/or a reminder, and I may have in mind a bit of musical business which (if I were writing a paper, or indeed simply communicating with a fellow musician) I should really express clearer, or better, or otherwise.

Another consideration, of course, is that I may just change my mind on the fly.

So in my notes of the "Blocks" for Intermezzo III (as illustrated here) I list for percussion wood blocks, temple blocks, marimba and bass drum;  where in the event, I decided on glockenspiel, bongos, wood blocks and marimba.  There are other nits to be picked, only there is no real point.  I am only providing a disclaimer that, just because I have made a certain note, it is not the purpose of that note, that it is a fixed item from which there is no deviating.  I deviate at will.

Well, then.

Last night's work on the Intermezzo was essentially to construct B1, making use both of the 'modules' I had composed out in sketch, and of modifications/additions in the spur of the moment.  I find myself more than well content with the result;  I might then have gone on to realize A2, only it was time to rest.  In all likelihood, I shall see to A2 this evening.  Still contemplating whether or not to 'redeem' the 2006 sketch – in fact, at this instant the thought arises to leave it out of the present Intermezzo, and possibly use it in Scene 12A.

Highly gratified to receive the news that three of my choral arrangements (all of which have been test-driven, and highly satisfactorily, by my own church choir) will see use by the choir of St Paul's Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, Florida:  a two-part choir arrangement of Kingsfold with piano accompaniment, O Come, You Longing Thirsty Souls, Op.35a, which my choir have sung several times to the Palm Sunday hymn text, When Jesus Left His Father's Throne;  my SAB unaccompanied arrangement of a tune from The Southern Harmony, the Epiphany hymn Brightest and Best, Op.139 № 1;  and the recent-ish Come, Holy Ghost, Op.146 № 7, for choir SAB, organ with flute obbligato

26 July 2018


No day during which you compose a minute of music, with which you are genuinely pleased, is at all wasted.

25 July 2018

Writing in the Past

A not-quite-chance discovery this morning set me to laughing.

12 years ago, I began a sketch for Intermezzo III.  What was I doing 12 years ago?

At this remove, both revisionism and mis-recollection are risks, so lightly let me tread.  Last year, as I took complete ownership of resuming work on White Nights, and taking complete stock of “inventory,” I found ‘trunks’ of both Intermezzi II & III, which I composed in 2006.  Even in the case of Intermezzo II, this work was a departure from my established practice in the ballet, of working in a fairly straightforwardly linear fashion.  Scene 8 (or, what we now know as Scene 8) was the sticking point – I knew in principle just what I wanted in the scene, I had plotted what was either a possible solution, or the draught towards the True Solution.  But I was waiting for that ineffable partnership of Inspiration, and a Certainty in the task.  Out of impatience, perhaps, I set to work on the Intermezzo which would follow Night the Second, even though I was nowhere near winning my way to that point, in 2006.

In 2006, I brought Intermezzo II to substantial completion (although, as detailed here, I found that it wanted a bit more than ‘mere finishing’).  Apparently, I then made a start on Intermezzo III.

Over the years, there was certainly in the back of my White Nights mind, not exactly a record, but the shadow of a record of this start on Intermezzo III.  Last year, I had a good (but not distractingly penetrating) look at “the old Intermezzo III.”  Yet, I appear to have forgotten all about in the interval.  (Do we ever really forget anything?  Ask me some day when I’m trying to locate my car keys.)

Why am I laughing at the present discovery (rediscovery, really)?

The only woodwinds I make use of in Scene 11 are clarinets (including bass clarinet);  the brass compliment is also reduced to horns and trumpets.

In my new plan (devised this week) for Intermezzo III, as a timbral contrast the clarinets, horns and trumpets are out.  As seen in my notes of this week (Exhibit A), the brass tones were moving to the trombones and tuba;  and I have written Flute staccato invention.

The first five measures of the start I made in 2006 on the Intermezzo (Exhibit B) consist solely of bass trombone, tuba . . . and flutes playing staccato.

Was this lodged in my memory?  (We don’t need to reach back 12 years, since this page fell under my gaze almost exactly a year ago.)  Maybe.  I thought I had freshly reached a notion of relying on trombones and flutes as part of the “rain-sodden” music, only now;  but maybe I only retraced my mental steps.  Well, I have done more than that, as the chorale which I created yesterday is absolutely a new compositional element here.

So what do I do with the old sketch?  I suppose it is just possible to find an environment for it more or less within the new plan for the Intermezzo.  I am at once greatly amused at the (re-)discovery, and chuckling at how it must be right.  Over the years of writing, or not writing, White Nights . . . I knew I would get to it, knew that the piece would be finished.  And I knew my determination that the whole would be the best that I could make it, and that it would work as an organic whole – I was not going to let my ballet “go Rossignol.”

So:  Watch This Space.

Scribbling towards Intermezzo III

Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end.
        Motto on the King Crimson LP (remember LPs?) Discipline

She talks to all the servants about man, and God, and law;
Everybody says, she’s the brains behind Pa.
She’s sixty-eight, though she says she’s fifty-four.
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more.
        Bob Dylan né Robt Zimmerman

Well, where to begin?  (Not that this is anything more than the most recent rambling.)  For a couple of days, as I scanned the White Nights outline, and I saw the “allocated” durations for Intermezzi III & IV respectively (which are already shorter than those for Intermezzi I & II) I half-wondered if I should trim them down.  Without getting down into the weeds, I attribute this cautionary tendency to some combination of wanting to reduce the work that is to be done, in order to achieve The Final Double-Bar, and a mild, pre-emptive nervousness, as I second-guess the person in the audience.

But I think the saner path is to presume that, if the ballet be performed in its entirety, and if in the theatre an audience there be, some of them (at least) will be engaged by the piece;  and so long as I craft each number to my own artistic satisfaction, there is no need to impute impatience to the listener.

And the more musically sensible method is to carry on consistently:  discover what I feel is the apt material, and give it its space, exult in its essence.

So, maybe Intermezzo III will run 5:30 rather than 4:45.  This mild expansion will prove to be no excess.

My first, but designedly incomplete, sketch of the low brass chorale which opens Intermezzo III was plainly homorhythmic.  Now, without denigrating a strait homorhythmic chorale as intrinsically “unimaginative” (imagination it may well shew forth), I soon felt that I wanted independent rhythmic profiles for the four voices (albeit related, as a series of linear rhythmic values), an additional benefit being, the harmonic blurring of the chorale’s unfolding elements.

To see the sketches, it is all (again) scribbled numbers (some of them subject to arithmetic, or to a set-theory operation, or both), abstracted rhythms, and near-indecipherable marginalia.  But (what is obvious to me, and to those who know much of my work) the musical result is what matters.  But if the ‘musical result’ is what matters, why all this chicken-scratch?  The chicken-scratch is part of the means, towards the musical end.

And I chuckle a little to myself, for – pleased though I am with the chorale – I could imagine a hostile listener dismissing it as “unnecessarily Wagnerian.”

24 July 2018

Yes, White Nights some more

Plan for the day:
1. Build a fire on Main Street

2. Shoot it full of holes

3. Show that guy that this can be done with no loss of control
A strong start on Intermezzo III . . . so strong, I wonder if it will not grow past its 'appointed' 4"45 (that is, today's work is already a full minute of music, and I am planning a return to this material . . . clearly, the contrasting section(s) will need a certain duration to carry its/their weight).

Well, as long as I feel that it is music worth the listening . . . I can always cut down, otherwise.

In all events, I think it likely that I should finish the Intermezzo this week, and then (yes, at last) roll my sleeves up for A Heart So White.  When I do set to work on the ballet, it takes over.  Which is the good thing:  an end to the project is well in sight.

23 July 2018

Not done just yet

Where Scene 11 was, in compositional method, part impromptu recycling, part contexted improvisation, I have sketches both musical and verbal as I gear up for Intermezzo III. In this wise, has progress been made even on this Monday.

22 July 2018

Night the Third, done

Contrary to the general belief, an artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs! Einstein once said, ‘Our situation cannot be compared to anything in the past. We must radically change our ways of thinking, our methods of action.’ Yet Einstein, who played the violin and had a predilection for Mozart, did not see that the world was standing still, that it was obstinately refusing to change its thinking or actions.
— Edgard Varèse
Basically, the idea is that with everyone striving to be revolutionary, you will be most revolutionary if you try to be ordinary.
— Denise Scott Brown
In not an absolutely white heat, but surely with nearly astonishing dispatch, Scene 11 is now done.

Last year, with Intermezzo II done, I posted about Night the Third, and how my first thoughts (from a long-gone era, as it now feels) grossly over-engineered the Scene.  The story of this small fraction of the ballet, then, has been one of simplification over the years:  in the first place, of its overall structure, and in the second, of its content, which I only this year came to realize would best be served by adaptation to other “points” of the larger score.

21 July 2018

Night the Third proceeding

Good progress on Scene xi, now at about the 3'50 mark, duration-wise, and at the point, narrative-wise, when we want to back off the busy-ness, and have something tentative, ambivalent, tender, for the Dreamer nearly revealing his love.  I find myself agreeably surprised (should I be surprised?) that the work is going readily.  But (I should not be surprised) once I discover what is wanted, the work proceeds fairly apace.  One of the keys here was, erm, reading the chapter afresh, and appreciating the fact that Nastenka is nervously energetic, as she is at once eager (not to say a bit anxious) to hear from the Lodger for whom she waited all this while, but she perceives (subconsciously?) that the Dreamer has fallen for her.  How much is she aware of it all?

What I had not realized all this while (my old ‘virtual friend’ Allan Santos joked good-naturedly about the drawn-out process of the Project, by dubbing it White Decade) is that I have a passage in the Overture, a kind of “pizzicato invention,” of which I have not yet made use in the ballet proper (and which, really, I had not previously imagined that I would “port over” into the ballet narrative) but which has nervous energy written all over it (or, into it).

Other material used in today’s work I ‘discovered’ in my walk around the pond this afternoon.  It relates to other material strewn through the Op.75, but is a new variant.

There is the odd chance that, having slept on it, I may complete the Scene tomorrow.

20 July 2018

The time I am biding

Ah, be not false, sweet Splendor!
Be true, be good;
Be wise as thou art tender;
Be all that Beauty should.
– Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909)

My old friend Michael Joseph announces a new appointment as Music Director at First Parish in Malden.  Mazel tov!

Triad repertory meeting tonight.  Must be a good sign, that it still feels energizing and positive, at the start of a fresh cycle.  I have a feeling that this will at last be the season for us to sing Ottevanger;  and the new book of Madrigals by Leichtling is also a strong candidate.

Listening to Buxtehude as played by Bine Bryndorf of Copenhagen, on several organs, recorded this century.

Equanimity Check:  Doing just dandy.  If Ear Buds shouldn't make “the cut,” it will just be the latest of two dozen calls for which my submission was not accepted.  And if the result is positive, well, that’s enough.  If it is really, hoping against hope, taken up, looks like I need to carve out a couple of days from the office in September.  Less than four weeks before we (ought to) hear viz. my quirky dances.

19 July 2018

Mostly Maples & Moonrise

It is not a work of art, but it wouldn't be nearly as good if it were.
– Roger Ebert, on Henry Hathaway's True Grit (1969)

From the archive :: 17 July 2007

Over the years (gosh, what a fogey I'm sounding) I've wondered if I should re-score Radiant Maples, to try to get it performed.  I wrote the piece for a service at the Jefferson Ave Presbyterian Church in Detroit, where the music director had arranged to use some three or four pieces of mine.  He was going to have the harpist there anyway, and his organist was also a crack pianist;  so, watch my smoke, I wrote a piece which demanded a fine pianist.

By the time I landed in Detroit, though, the pianist had fallen ill;  and at any event, the piece would have defeated the harpist.  In a way characteristic of my work, Maples requires counting and agility which are something of a stretch for your average harpist.

And otherwise, the unusual scoring meant that this piece has been even harder than most of my music to find a group of players for.

I've recently made the virtual acquaintance of a sextet, so . . . as long as their percussionist doesn't mind breaking out a marimba, this combination falls within their toolbox.

Last night I also got the "finishing" done on the score of Irreplaceable Doodles.  The composition itself has long been finished (after all, I've performed it in public three times already) . . . but a lot of expression detail (a forte or pianissimo here, a diminuendo there) was still in my head and not yet on the page.  But if I wanted other clarinetists to play it, of course, I had to get all that other stuff on the page to be read.

From the archive some more :: 18 July 2008

Not really news, but I was reading through the scores of the Sinfonietta and of Moonrise for brass quintet this morning.

The Sinfonietta I hadn't looked at in . . . a long time.  One group, outside the Commonwealth, once performed it and made cuts which they only informed me of after the fact;  they wanted to excise some of the 'repetition'.  Though it is an "old" piece of mine, I don't seem to find any faulty repetition in it.

Anyway, the new thoughts are all pleasant;  I still like both scores, and gladly own them.  I am sorry that Moonrise is still waiting for performance;  parts of it ring with especial sweetness.

And today:

As to the rescoring of Radiant Maples, I do not at this time recall whether I ever bothered to adapt the piece for the sextet (whom . . . I do not recall, either).  We did, at last, perform the piece in its original instrumentation, on the Bullish Upticks program of 24 June 2009.

It is probably time that I revived the Irreplaceable Doodles.

Moonrise has now, of course, been performed, and beautifully, by the Midtown Brass Quintet of Atlanta, on 24 January 2015.  At some point, I created a flute choir (six parts) version of Moonrise, but I'm jiggered if I remember just why.

I have an idea that I started a fresh 'engraving' of the Sinfonietta – no, better to say, I certainly started it, but I have an idea (better than an idea, really) that I never finished it.  I should finish it, someday, you know.

18 July 2018

Hilarity, and the Grim Reaper

The first hundred pages of any book about the world war are hilarious, then of course everybody dies.
– Ben Elton, on his prep for writing Blackadder Goes Forth

Rather than let my speaking wait until I am spoken to, I decided there was no blessing in ignorance, and I made a call.  If you have any questions, call a certain number, the message from June said.  So I called.

And instead of knowing nothing, I know now that the announcement will come a little later.

17 July 2018

From 1 Samuel 17

I don’t care how many letters they sent—
Morning came, and morning went.
— Bob Dylan Robt Zimmerman
In this case, either the fanciful title provoked more curiosity in the question of how it means anything in the music, or perhaps my titles are always thus provoking, and I was just more readily available to the questioners . . . but Five Smooth Stones From the Wadi set some to wondering.  I thank them for listening, and wondering, and asking, and not much minding that perhaps I had no particular answer.

16 July 2018

Last Nights and the Morning

Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
– Dogberry

Meditating among liars, and retreating sternly into myself, I see that there are really no liars or lies after all,
And that nothing fails its perfect return—And that what are called lies are perfect returns,
And that each thing exactly represents itself, and what has preceded it,
And that the truth includes all, and is compact, just as much as space is compact,
And that there is no flaw or vacuum in the amount of the truth—but that all is truth without exception;
And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.
– Walt Whitman

It is true that I began work on Scene 11 of White Nights yesterday, although there are already notes which I need either to shed, or emend, or slough off to some other scene.  But my initial sketch at what is now m.42 will not do for the nervously happy character which is wanted.  (I think I know exactly what will serve, though.)

If that seems like a slow-at-best start (and, maybe it is) I feel more than compensated by my having gained a freshly clarified global sense of The Rest of the Ballet.  It is sinking in that (if we stick to the Plan) I have 32 minutes of music remaining to compose.

  1. In the first place, that is (in principle) achievable this year – this we know from the 2017 accomplishments of the Symphony № 1 and the Sonata for Clarinet & Piano.
  2. I now have a fair idea of the three most substantial of the six numbers remaining to be composed:
    • Scene 11 (upon which I am presently at work) [scheduled for 6'30]
    • Intermezzo III, the 'rain-sodden' Intermezzo – highly specific, detailed ideas already in mental sketch for this [scheduled for 4'45]
    • Scene 13, the final scene, Morning – a different idea than has sat on the shelf all these years, but wonderfully apt [scheduled for 10'00]

Now, I do not mean to appear to obligate myself to wrap up the ballet by year's-end.  It may happen;  it is perfectly within reasonable possibility.  It may be my refuge of artistic activity, if it should turn out (what would not be anything like impossible) all three responses expected between now and October are negative.

I suppose I am feeling that Scene 11 is the right thing to tackle at present, and then I should – truly, I should – see to A Heart So White.

So – frankly to fantasize for the moment – if I should complete White Nights this year, and both A Heart So White and It Might Happen Today enjoy their respective premières in October and November, that clears 1H19 for the completion of Karl's Big (But Happily Incomplete) Map to the Body.

15 July 2018

Radiant, not rain-sodden (yet)

They say it’s up that one man may be buttered,
And off that another man may be cheesed;
But no knowing if he is gratified,
Or instead, he is mildly displeased.
– Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

One observation more I wish to add to the musings upon Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote), which is:  I feel that it is my most significant pre-Passion compositional landmark.

This morning saw the inaugural performance of Five Smooth Stones From the Wadi, with Marissa Bell (flute), Barbara Otto (organ), & yrs truly (clarinet).  Within its admittedly modest niche, the piece seems to me a reasonable success.  We all found it a gratifying piece to play, and it pleased the hearers.

Tomorrow (if there is no delay, and a delay is so common in such undertakings that we might almost rely upon it—almost) we may receive the Thank you! but sorry message for the Ear Buds.  So what do I do today?

Why, resume work on White Nights again, of course.  Night the Third is, in my now-long-established scheme, the only night which is a single scene;  but now I think I may change that.  In the novella, there is the simple line, She had arrived a whole hour before I did.  And now I think I want to begin Scene 11 with the Dreamer walking to their meeting, in an echo of his walking music from Night the First.  Perhaps we leave it as a single scene, with a sight of Nastenka already in place, as the Dreamer walks.  The scene itself is Nastenka nervously happy, expecting word from the Lodger, and the Dreamer, who has found that he has fallen for Nastenka, who hopes through the scene that she feels that, and will respond to it.  And at the close of the scene, the Dreamer nearly reveal his love.  (Music for nearly revealing love . . . I think I just about hear it.)

In my original outline, I had rather lazily noted the text (as an indicator for the musical character) dreary and rain-sodden.  The chapter begins indeed with the line:  Today has been dreary and rain-sodden, without a ray of hope, like my approaching old age.  The ambiguity being that this appears in fact to be the condition after their meeting on the third night.  Further down the page:
I had thought she would not even notice today’s rain, but still she has not come.
Yesterday was our third rendezvous, our third white night . . .
So I think the dreary and rain-sodden music must instead be Intermezzo III.

In all events, I have now made a start on the Op.75 № 15.

14 July 2018

To all the windmills I have tilted at ere now

Worth stating at the outset that the theme of this post is celebration.

It is now seventeen years since I first composed Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote), an 11-minute fantasy for piano and woodwind quintet.

(I believe I found the alternative orthography for the Don in Washington Irving.  Possibly when I tarried in Oklahoma.)

The piece was not played then, nor has it ever been played since.  Relatively recently, I tried to find an audience for it four years ago, and indeed last year.

(There was even, once, long ago, the mad idea of arranging it for wind ensemble in hopes of a reading.  By which I mean, I actually prepared and submitted such an arrangement.  But, honestly, I do not see any reason to preserve that temporary whim of orchestration.)

There is no news, now, about, my Dreamy Abacus, no, it remains a dream.

I am posting merely to say that whenever I revisit it, it remains a most beautiful dream.

Whenever I write a piece, where there is a group or event for which it is meant, but it winds up (for whatever reason) unperformed, naturally there is a sense of disappointment;  I am not made of marble.

The disappointment is a moment, not a marker.  I write the next thing.  Far from being mired in this or that disappointment, I live in each new piece which I complete and in which I take fresh artistic pride, in each performance, year in, year out, to which an actual audience responds with pleasure, and perhaps even a measure of astonishment.

The Henningmusick catalogue has become extensive enough that (and perhaps this is only an admission that my attention is limited) music which I wrote 20, or 10, or even four years ago may drop out of my awareness.  One benefit of this phenomenon is, one morning I am looking through the files, and I find (say) Counting Sheep—and the gratifying thought freshly arises, What a cool piece.

Am I disappointed anew?  No.  I remember the disappointment of the time as a fact, sure.  My feeling today is pleasure at the thought and fact of the work, and (yes) some puzzlement that the piece has (still) not been performed.

What can we say today?  “It hasn’t yet been performed, but I know that someday, perhaps soon, it will be”...?  I know no such thing;  what I know is, the piece has lain unperformed for nearly two decades.  There is no external reason on this wide earth why it will not lie unperformed for another equal or greater interval.

What I know is, I think it a great piece, and I am fiercely proud to have created it.

13 July 2018


Two chamber works now sent in to another call.

Towards a Lecturette

...and wouldn’t it be my luck
To be caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck.

Time will tell just who has fell
And who’s been left behind,
When you go your way and I go mine.
Bob Dylan Robt Zimmerman

[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself.
Françoise Gilot

Weeks remain to me for the figuring out, but figure out what to say to an audience, about my composition, before they listen to it, I must. Highly encouraging is the report of an excellent rehearsal of the Op.116.

High-level points (in the parlance of our times):

  1. A composer is possibly just like anyone else, only he wants to bring into the world new sounds, not just the sounds that we all already know, much of which we already love.
  2. I am not only a composer, but a performer. I am never remote from the audience.
  3. While it is not a question of musical talent per se, many of us, on first listening to a piece which is new to us, have the experience, not of being puzzled by what may at first sound unusual, but of finding the sounds, the content, engaging and even attractive--whether we “completely understand” it, or not.
  4. If I baked you a chocolate cake, my intention would be that you enjoy it, not that you “understand” it.
  5. The very first time that we heard the Beethoven Fifth Symphony: did we completely “understand” it?
  6. What have I done, in this piece?

Maybe I won’t use all of this. Maybe I shall.

Three days to the Ear Buds decision.

12 July 2018

Frustration? Or, what was needed?

The Sisyphean tale of yesterday morning is, that I tried repeatedly to execute nominally simple tasks in Sibelius, the sort of things which should be just a couple of mouse clicks, and done in a quarter of a minute, but...Sibelius would get hung up, or…

There, I’ve started in the middle again.  What I tried to do yesterday, before shipping out to work, was to get a start on adapting Down Along the Canal to Minerva Road for clarinet, violin, cello & accordion.

This is really inexplicable (apart, quite possibly, by PEBCAK), but...as I was reassigning the horn part to the cello, I had Clef Problems.  Here and there, the writing is high enough that the passage should be recast onto tenor clef.

However, I was doing the work, not in the score, but in the part.  Which oughtn’t to be a problem:  if I’m working in the cello part, and I change an F-natural to an E# in the part, that change is reflected in the score, as it’s all a single file (unless one expressly extracts a part-file).

Again, not that it ought to have made any difference...I was working within the part, to change the slurs (a notation which serves different technical functions for a string player, than for a wind player).  While I was at that task in the cello part, I saw, Oh, here I need to change to tenor clef for four measures. So I made those changes, too, in the part.

Then, when I was done, I returned to the score, and failed to understand why I saw no clef changes in the cello line, in the score.

Well, I never figured it out, so there is no light to be shed here, in this blog post, on that annoyance.  For our purposes here, it suffices to illustrate that, between this mysterious failing of the software, and the unusually sluggish, stop-&-go performance of the program yesterday morning, a task which ought to have taken 10 minutes occupied me so that I missed not one, but two buses, and wound up driving instead.

Now, as to the real reason why I retail this story.  Now it can be told:  The viola saved me.

All right, yes, that was hyperbole.

The original scoring is:  flute, alto flute, clarinet, horn.  What I was doing yesterday was 1) transferring the flute part to violin (and modifying the slurs, for the same reason as mentioned above);  2) transferring the alto flute part to the accordion;  3) transferring the horn part to cello.

Now – not that having some cello passages cast in tenor clef ought to be any problem, mind you – overnight, I realized that the solution was to include a viola rather than a cello in the new scoring.  And to have the accordion assume the horn part, and give the alto flute line to the viola.

This apparently trivial shuffling is actually a far superior solution, musically.  There is (in the original piece) a section where the flute and alto flute play in octaves, and that homogeneous octave is now reflected in the passage’s assignment to violin and viola – and there is one isolated note, which is the perfect candidate for being sounded pizzicato, thus rendering the decision all the more natural and idiomatic.  And, there are other passages where the clarinet and horn have duet work, which is now clarinet and accordion, also a highly satisfactory solution.

So maybe the momentary impossibility, yesterday, of managing a cello part, was all a cosmic nudge to find . . . the viola.