End of an Experiment

Like millions of others, I'm feeling the effects of the financial downturn, and, looking around for expenses I can cut down on, my eyes light on PostClassic Radio. The cost of running it has doubled since I started it (to over $600 a year), and I haven't had time to replenish the playlist lately anyway. I know there are some devoted listeners, to whom I'm grateful, but the listening statistics aren't very impressive - anywhere from 2 to 20 listening hours a day lately, with the average around 9. I can still put up mp3 music examples on my web … [Read more...]

The Symphonic Temperament

Friday I drove to Hartford to hear the Fourth Symphony of one of my oldest friends. It sounds strange to say that: Fourth Symphonies are written by dead composers in the history books, or at least by gray eminences who are living out their fame in European seclusion. But it's true, my old chum Robert Carl has written four of them now, the latest played by the Hartt Symphony Orchestra under conductor Christopher Zimmerman. Robert is chair of composition at the Hartt School of Music. Robert and I keep trying to remember how we met, which was … [Read more...]

The Poet as Comet

In my first semester at Oberlin in 1973, I set to music a poem called The Knife, by Jean Valentine. By chance, the poet came to campus the following spring to give a reading. I walked up to her after her reading and showed her my piece. Not dreaming how impressed a famous poet might be by a young man's adolescent homage, I hadn't made a copy of the score, but she was so visibly touched by my effort that I impulsively gave her my only final copy. I've never minded the loss: it was an angularly atonal, poorly thought-out piece for soprano, flute, … [Read more...]

Top Six Reasons to Wander in the Wilderness

Someone just wrote privately to ask why I use microtonality. Off the top of my head I came up with six things I love about it: 1. the strangeness of some of the intervals, which give me the thrill of hearing phenomena that I can't (as a music theory teacher all too used to analyzing music by ear) automatically process and label; 2. the stretching of one's pitch perception toward harmonics higher than the fifth (since the decision to stop with the fifth harmonic was an arbitrary academic mandate of the Italian 17th century); 3. the ability to … [Read more...]

Don’t Shoot the Electronic Piano Player

Awhile back, pianist Aron Kallay performed all of my microtonal electronic keyboard pieces out in Los Angeles. He recently sent me the mp3s, and I'm struck speechless by their quality. He used a tremendously responsive keyboard (a Yamaha Clavinova), and I'm attributing much of the finesse to that - because the alternative is to admit that I'm a really lousy pianist by comparison. Anyway, he did a beautiful job and made me all impressed with my music all over again, and the recordings are here:New AuntsTriskaidekaphoniaFugitive ObjectsHe'll be … [Read more...]

A Problem of Identity

Part of the research I'm going to present at next September's Minimalism Conference is a comparison of the recording and a performance of Harold Budd's Children on a Hill, a piece for piano electronically modified by a harmonizer. Budd fans will remember the piece from a 1981 recording, The Serpent (in Quicksilver) - a Cantil vinyl disc, rereleased in 1992 on an All Saints CD. I'm comparing this with a tape of the performance Budd gave at New Music America in Chicago in 1982; I've transcribed one and am still working on the other. The piece was … [Read more...]

The First Downtown Inauguration After All

Bob Gilmore alerts me to a video that reveals what Yo-Yo Ma and his gang really played at the inauguration. If memory serves, I think it's an Elliott Sharp tune. Certainly beats John Williams half-heartedly trying to avoid directly plagiarizing Aaron Copland. … [Read more...]

It’s the Only Way to Go

Today I was teaching my 19th-century harmony course, starting with John Field's Nocturnes, and as I was placing my Schirmer edition on the piano, it fell open to the little capsule biography of the composer. By chance my eye lit on the following words:...He died in Moscow January 11, 1837.Field's execution was distinguished for taste and extreme delicacy, and characterized by an extreme ease and placidity of manner which sometimes amounted to a morbid languor and indifference.For the next couple of minutes I was unable to continue teaching. I … [Read more...]

My Ives Keynote Address

I insist that I am at least tied for the place of Number 1 Charles Ives fan on the planet, but I've done no scholarly work on his music; I hope to, someday, because I'm not really satisfied with what's been written on my favorite piece the Concord Sonata. In general it is enough work just keeping up with what research is already out there. Someone mentioned that there are already 70 full-length books on Ives. Like flies to roadkill are the musicologists to Ives. Anyway, the point of a keynote address, as I see it, is not to present new … [Read more...]

Pointing to a Better Time than Ours

Blogging the Ives Vocal Marathon, day three:The conference's most surprising event was the Ivesian Sunday morning service at South Congregational Church, the Rev. Marybeth Marshall, minister, and with conference organizer Neely Bruce at the organ. The unsuspecting local congregation was joined by a dozen or more musicological academics, some of whom hadn't been to church in, mm, a long time, but we restrained our ethnomusicological curiosity and struggled to blend in. At appropriate points in the service Neely led the choir and soloists in … [Read more...]

…of the Things Our Musicologists Loved

Blogging the Ives Vocal Marathon, day two:1. Bill Brooks, whom I could follow around and write a fascinating blog titled "Blogging Bill Brooks," gave a presentation on three of Ives's war songs, "Tom Sails Away," "He Is There," and "In Flanders Fields." However extraordinary Ives was in a lot of ways, Bill contextualized these three songs as a fairly normal attempt to be a good American in war time. Of the 36,000 songs written about World War I (geez, he actually counted - the most musical war America's ever had, he claimed, and proved it), it … [Read more...]