Totalistically Tenney

I spoke in my last post of James Tenney's postminimalist streak, which I have always most associated with his Tableaux Vivants of 1990. A few years ago, learning of my intense interest in the piece, Jim kindly sent me a score, and I've long itched to analyze it, never finding the time until this week. As I start working my way through it, I realize that it is far more complex than it sounds on the recording by the Toronto ensemble Sound Pressure, and that it is really not postminimalist at all, but rather classically totalist, or, as we now … [Read more...]

Postminimalism: Chapter One, Metaphorically Speaking

Someday someone will appear who has analyzed more minimalist-influenced music from the 1980s and '90s than I have, and if that person feels that I have divided my era into categories inappropriately, I will be glad to listen to her argument. So far, I've gotten plenty of argument, but only from people who don't come anywhere close to fitting that description. There are several ways to characterize a style. One is to catalogue all relevant qualities associated with pieces associated with that style. I've done this for postminimalism here. I … [Read more...]

Art’s Place in Everyday Life

"Toward the seven deadly arts Sam had had the inarticulate reverence which an Irish policeman might have toward a shrine of the Virgin on his beat... that little light seen at three of a winter's morning. They were to him romance, escape, and he was irritated when they were presented to him as a preacher presents the virtues of sobriety and chastity. He hadn't the training to lose himself in Bach or Goethe; but in Chesterton, in Schubert, in a Corot, he had always been able to forget motors and [his competitor] Alec Kynance, and always he had … [Read more...]

They Come In Pairs, Too

Two-movement form intrigues me, partly because there are so few two-movement pieces. Unlike three- and four-movement form, its paradigm is so far from being done to death that it is impossible to call any two-movement work typical - it still feels like partly unexplored territory. I love the Clementi two-movement sonatas, which come close to the most perfect balance in the genre, the movements differentiated in meter and density, yet weighted just alike; the Op. 33 No. 2 sonata in F major is the most exquisite case (though less well-known than … [Read more...]

Devant moi, le déluge

The remainder of May is hereby proclaimed Finish-My-Piano-Concerto-and-Get-On-with-the-Rest-of-My-Life Month, so don't expect much else from me. The job has taken on the terrible proportions of Alex Ross's recent book. I'm 18 minutes into a first draft with at least five more minutes to go, and then a deluge of polishing details. I'll tell you about it soon, but everything beyond its barlines is outside my focus for a while. … [Read more...]

Color Me Copland

I've finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up: write Disklavier pieces for dance. The music is irreproachably acoustic, the performances endlessly perfect and unchanging, the audience superbly friendly and impressionable, you get to watch nice-looking people transfer your rhythmic ideas into three-dimensional space in gestures surprising, comical, and poignant, and then you stumble onstage and bow at the end. What could possibly be better? The gratification-to-work ratio is through the roof. In fact, having seen the Mark Morris … [Read more...]

The Postclassical Program Note, Exhibit A

My arm twisted by my Anti-Social Music in New York last night. I'm not going to review them, because the opinion-forming center in my brain burned out a few years ago and doesn't work any more. But I think I can convey in this space the extraordinary quality of their program notes, which give the appearance of having been produced in the same amount of time it takes to read them - as though they were read into a dictaphone hooked to a computer with instant voice-transcribing software. The general feel is not so much stream-of-consciousness as … [Read more...]

How to (Not) Teach Composition

A comment from Scott, a former Bard student, brings to mind ideas about teaching composition that I wonder if anyone else shares. I've never heard of anyone being taught how to teach composition, except indirectly and by example. We're all winging it, aren't we? I had one composition teacher who never said a word I understood, and seemed to enjoy keeping me confused; another who disliked every piece at first and thought it was lovely as soon as you copied it out neatly; another who was brilliant but considered Cage and minimalism hoaxes; … [Read more...]

Composing “Outside One’s Time”

I have an interesting and unusual student graduating this year whom I'm fond of, and I don't think he'll mind my writing about him here. Coming to college later than most, he was blown away by 16th-century counterpoint early in his education, and his music has remained intransigently tonal. In his more characteristic moments it begins to resemble the sustainedly consonant music of Arvo Pärt, with the same kind of self-conscious spirituality; at other times, it resembles a kind of diatonic romanticism, veering close to John Williams-type film … [Read more...]