“One who did no harm to our poor earth…”

One last post on Charles Ives (previous ones here and here), and if you're tired of the subject, read no further. I got a bug up my ass about his reputation after running across a reference to him on the internet by a composer who casually referred to him as politically rightwing, as though that were something everyone knew about Ives. Of course, Ives was actually a Wilsonian Democrat whose ideas were too radical even for 1930s Democrats, let alone today's: he favored a world government to prevent wars (the League of Nations being a first … [Read more...]

From One of the Horses’ Mouths

In 1999 Joseph N. Straus published an article in Musical Quarterly entitled "The Myth of Serial 'Tyranny' in the 1950s and 1960s." In it he claimed that, contrary to the common belief, there had never been any pressure on young composers to use 12-tone technique in their music, that the 12-tone composers wielded no power in academia, and that 12-tone music was just a hunky-dory little movement that attracted scads of converts because it was just so damn fun. As I believe I've written about here, Anthony Tommasini took him neatly apart in a … [Read more...]

Ives the Non-Homophobe

The myth of a homophobic Charles Ives has gained traction, to the point that it sometimes seems that if a person knows only two things about Ives, one is that he wrote music and the other is that he hated gays. I alluded to this in my post about Ives the other day, and I received the usual questions. Let me set a couple of things straight. The image of Ives as homophobe rests on two pillars: Ives's abandonment of Henry Cowell after the latter was sent to San Quentin on a homosexual morals charge; and his regular use of effeminacy as an insult, … [Read more...]

One Step Ahead of a Rapidly Approaching Birthday

I'm like a backward berry Unripened on the vine, For all my friends are fifty And I'm only forty-nine. My friends are steeped in wisdom, Like senators they go, In the light of fifty candles, And one on which to grow. How can I cap their sallies, Or top their taste in wine? Matched with the worldly fifties, What chance has forty-nine? Behold my old companions, My playmates and my peers, Remote on their Olympus Of half a hundred years! These grave and reverend seniors, They call me Little Man, They pat my head jocosely And … [Read more...]

A Heroic Ride to Heaven

I went through one of my biannual rituals today. I played my 20th-century analysis class a 1943, war-time recording of Charles Ives - age 69, diabetic, impaired by heart attacks, old beyond his years - singing and playing his song They Are There. Listen to it here. Here are the words, as best as I can make them out: There's a time in many a life When it's do, through facing death, But our soldier boys Will do their part that people can live In a world where all will have a say. They're concious always of their country's aim, Which is liberty … [Read more...]

Rzewski and Gann, Together Again

Next Thursday, October 20, one week from tonight, I'll be onstage at Miller Theatre at Columbia University - not performing, but interviewing formidable composer-pianist Frederic Rzewski. Our pre-concert interview is at 7:00, and at 8:00, expert new-music pianist Marilyn Nonken will play Rzewski's famous classic The People United Will Never Be Defeated. This will be followed by the New York premiere of a new work, Rzewski's Bring Them Home, featuring, besides Nonken, pianist Ursula Oppens and percussionists Tom Kolor and Dominic Donato. I'll … [Read more...]

Just Go There

I hadn't visited Ubuweb in several months. I don't know what I was (or wasn't) thinking. I think what happened was that I gave up on Mozilla as my browser - every so often it would just suddenly erase all my bookmarks, so I switched to Safari, and haven't relocated all my usual watering holes again. But a reader alerted me to the fact that Ubuweb now offers Robert Ashley's Music with Roots in the Aether, a series of seven two-hour film interviews with great young composers of the 1970s: David Behrman, Philip Glass, Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, … [Read more...]

More Thoughts about George

"Of course, criteria for what constitutes an 'idea' in the first place have shifted and changed in this century, especially since the advent of radical modernism. So much so, in fact, that, for some composers, texture, color, layered sounds - none of which are particularly memorable or indelible to the ear because they are over-generalized sound-complexes, too diffuse and non-specific - take the place of 'idea' in the sense I mean it." George Rochberg I had always assumed, and written, that Rochberg had never quite had his ear bent out of … [Read more...]

Peter Garland, Out of Phase

I'm running behind due to a confluence of recent deadlines, but I'm happy to announce Peter Garland as Postclassic Radio's Last-Two-Thirds-of-October-Through-First Third-of-November Composer-of-the-Month. Maybe I'll go on a five-week cycle and get back in phase. But this will coincide with my profile of Peter in Chamber Music magazine this month, and I'll play at least a couple of pieces from every CD he's got. So far, Jornada del Muerto, Bright Angel/Hermetic Bird, The Fall of Quang Tri, and Nostalgia of the Southern Cross, all for piano, plus … [Read more...]

Rochberg as Post-Prohibitionist

Because I just never seem to have enough to do to fill up my time, I guess, I sometimes serve as a "reader" for publishers who want a professional opinion on whether a manuscript should be published. Right now I'm reading a personal memoir by the late George Rochberg - possibly because I was one of the few to express public sympathy for his music and aesthetics after he died. I must say I'm amazed, considering what a different type of composer he was from me, how simpatico I find his opinions. One gratifying thing I've learned is that Rochberg … [Read more...]

Chasing Rabbits the High-Tech Way

I love teaching with my external hard drive, which now contains 6844 mp3s, perhaps something like ten percent of my record/CD collection. Today we were analyzing Ives's Concord Sonata. I wanted to make the point that Ives didn't invent the tone cluster (or at least wasn't the first to invent it), and so I plugged in my hard drive, pressed a couple of keys, and played the Combat Naval for harpsichord by Michel Corrette (1707-1795), which uses forearm clusters to simulate cannonfire. The students expressed surprise that something so wild could … [Read more...]

Eternal Verity

"Music nowadays is merely the art of executing difficulties, and in the end that which is only difficult ceases to please." Voltaire, Candide … [Read more...]

Music Education’s Catch-22

I had a meeting with an editor from a major publisher today, as happens frequently. They want to know what textbooks I'm looking for, and are polite enough to ask what books I'm planning to write. My esoteric plans don't generally thrill them. But this one asked what kind of textbook I'd like to see. I told her that I'd love a beginning music theory text that isn't so exclusively classically oriented, one that would have examples from Broadway tunes, folk music, and pop music, like maybe some musical examples from the Beatles, so that I can … [Read more...]