Teaching the Music that Doesn’t Behave

Now Amy Bauer's posts have got me thinking about music that adheres to theoretical paradigms versus music that doesn't. In theory class, I feel as much as any professor the pull of pieces that behave nicely. It's so satisfying to pass out the Webern Piano Variations, the D# minor Fugue from WTC Book I, Chopin's B-flat minor Nocturne, Schubert's G-flat Impromptu, the Maple Leaf Rag, Clementi's First Sonatina, and know that the analysis is going to go just the way you think it will. That's why Beethoven's First Sonata is in every theory book: not … [Read more...]

The Musicology Ladder

Reader Amy Bauer responds with mild indignation to my post on composers overlooked by academia: I think you're unfair to music academics! I love Sibelius, Dvorak, Martinu, and many other supposedly 'unacademic' composers, and loathe the music of. . (um, afraid to say, as it may get me in trouble ;) ) Seriously, many of my musicologist friends adore much of the music you've noted above. I fear you may confuse academic taste with what are acceptable topics of research, which - as in any other field - are subject to changing fashion. There are … [Read more...]

Vinyl Reunion

Perhaps a deluge of unpopular opinions foreshadowed a deluge of unwelcome waters, but this August 29 - the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - is also the third anniversary of the debut of my blog. On the last anniversary, as New Orleans braced for the worst, I announced that I had written fewer blog entries in my second year than my first, and that the third would doubtless exhibit a further decline. This year I have an opposite announcement: despite my August slump, I have written more blog entries than in either of the previous years, … [Read more...]

James Tenney, 1934-2006

The great James Tenney died last night [actually, the night before, August 24]. Word went around a few weeks ago that his old lung cancer had returned after a long remission of many years. He was a great teacher, great drinker, great companion, and an interestingly odd personality. As a composer he was a kind of hard-core conceptualist driven by theoretical curiosity. As a result his music could be awfully dry at times, but in about half of it or more the conceptualism transformed in kind of an amazing alchemy to an extreme sensuousness, … [Read more...]

The Suffering of the Arts

One of the most important writers in my life has been the psychologist James Hillman, whose books The Dream and the Underworld, Suicide and the Soul, The Myth of Analysis, and others, helped reshape my inner world, and whose insights even ended up working their way into many a Village Voice column. I even met him once! - and we corresponded a little afterward. This morning, similarly psychologically inclined microtonalist Kraig Grady sends out a paragraph, typical of Hillman's therapeutically upside-down view of the world, from the 1991 preface … [Read more...]

Private Dances at Caramoor

Tomorrow morning at 11 AM, pianist Blair McMillen, who's been getting quite the laudatory press these days, will play excerpts from my Private Dances at Caramoor, somewhere north of New York City, in the Music Room. Here is a rather uninformative web page that refers to the event (though not to me). … [Read more...]

More Comments of Emerson’s

The history of literature... is a sum of very few ideas, and of very few original tales - all the rest being variations of these... There are even few opinions, and these seem organic in the speakers, and do not disturb the universal necessity. Of what use is genius, if the organ is too convex or too concave, and cannot find a focal distance within the actual horizon of human life? - "Experience" … [Read more...]

Sorting Out Fanfare‘s Ethics

Quite a flap is being made at various web sites over Fanfare magazine's policy of not necessarily reviewing CDs whose labels don't advertise in the magazine. I haven't written for Fanfare since 1992, but from what's being said, it sounds like the policy now is what it was then. Without wanting to cast myself as an apologist for crass commercialism, from my experience, it sounds a little overblown. You sent your records to Fanfare: editor Joel Flegler, whom I consider a wonderful if crusty old guy, would send them out to reviewers, without fail. … [Read more...]

Living with Upside-Down Ears

I finally found a piece by Benjamin Britten (and I've listened to a lot, so whatever you're going to recommend, I've probably heard it) that I'm enthusiastic about, a chamber piece called Young Apollo. Here's what Grove has to say about it: Young Apollo, written in summer 1939 for a CBC broadcast with the composer as piano soloist, was inspired not only by the last lines of Keats's Hyperion but also by [former lover Wullf] Scherchen; originally designated op.16, it was withdrawn and not heard again until after Britten died, either because of … [Read more...]

We Finally Sank One o’ the S.O.B.s

Back to politics for a moment, because We Finally Won One: with all the head-scratching kanoodling about what Joe Lieberman's loss means, only Salon's War Room, that I've seen, got it right. It wasn't just the war (though I'll have trouble pulling a lever for anyone who voted for that war, Hillary - I knew it was a tragic mistake at the time, why didn't you?), nor the bipartisan kiss, but the fact that, ever since the '04 campaign, Lieberman's vicious demonization of any Democrat who disagreed with him has been taken verbatim from the Karl Rove … [Read more...]

Truisms of the Profession

John Updike, in his long essay on writers' last works in this week's New Yorker, said something about writing novels that I've long believed was true about writing music: "It's like sex, either easy or impossible." The less severe way I've always put it to my students was, I can write a good piece in three weeks, but a bad one takes me six months. Schoenberg said something to that effect, when asked about composing without inspiration: "Impossible!" And yet, to counter that, I've long repeated two helpful slogans from Virgil Thomson: Ninety … [Read more...]

Vinyl Fantasy

It's the middle of the night - prime blogging time when insomnia strikes - and I'm sitting here thinking about vinyl. I've been, as I've related, transferring dozens of vinyl records onto CDs and MP3s. I started out doing it for teaching purposes, but have run into more creative reasons. A couple of performers have recently expressed an interest in my returning to writing music based on American Indian sources (I know, Native American, but it just never sounds clear), and since the bulk of my Native American recordings are on vinyl, I need to … [Read more...]