Taruskin Distilled

The grim history of the twentieth century - something Brahms or Franck could never have foreseen, to say nothing of Matthew Arnold or Charles O'Connell - played its part as well both in discrediting the idea of redemptive culture and in undermining the authority of its adherents. The literary critic George Steiner, one such adherent, after a lifetime devoted (in his words) to "the worship - the word is hardly exaggerated - of the classic," and to the propagation of the faith, found himself baffled by the example of the culture-loving Germans of … [Read more...]

Classical Obsession

We went to Concord, Mass., a couple of weeks ago. It's my default short-vacation spot. I love the bookstores: The Barrow, the Concord Bookshop, Books with a Past, as well as the gift shops at local museums and authors' houses. I always find a dozen books there I didn't know about, many about Transcendentalism. And we walk around Walden Pond, and I wonder how much quieter it might be if Thoreau hadn't turned it into such a shrine.  In The Barrow, I was going through poetry, and my eye ran across a title: Sonata Mulattica. I did a double … [Read more...]

Wrong Turn on the Yellow Brick Road

If you imagine that I'm relentlessly driving myself to complete my Robert Ashley book before school starts, you would be correct. I'm not quite going to make it, but I'm very close. This is in addition to having written a piano piece, a viola piece, and two string quartets this summer (and reading three volumes of Taruskin's Oxford music history). I'm never again going to work this hard during the summer without a compelling financial incentive. This week I transferred all of my interviews with Bob to compact discs, and found that they fill up … [Read more...]

Udderly Amazing Evening

Oops - I was supposed to help publicize that microtonal wunderkind Jacob Barton is giving a concert tonight on the microtonal instrument he's invented, the udderbot. It's at 8 PM at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. In Illinois, in other words. He's playing his own version of my piece Fractured Paradise, along with works by Susan Parenti, Aaron K. Johnson, Joseph Pehrson, Edwin Harkins, Bohuslav Martinu, and, well, there are a lot of names as you can see for yourself. The udderbot is made of a glass bottle, a rubber glove, and … [Read more...]

Leave No Term Unstoned

I found this curious, that in these days in which the erstwhile existence of an Uptown-Downtown split in new music has been forcibly shoved down the memory hole, an organization called The Field is sponsoring a workshop to bring Uptown and Downtown artists together. Their definitions:For the purposes of this program:• An Uptown Artist is an artist who lives and/or focuses their creative activities or aesthetic above 110th Street.• A Downtown Artist is an artist who lives and/or focuses their creative activities or aesthetic south of 14th … [Read more...]

One’s Offspring Affirming Chaos

You can't hear my son Bernard say anything in this Revolver magazine interview with his black metal band Liturgy, but you can watch him look cool. He claims the things he said got edited out, but he's kind of a quiet guy. Didn't get it from me. I'm shy around people I don't know, but I tend to blossom when you stick a microphone in my face.Bernard Gann, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix … [Read more...]

Have I Written String Quartets?

I finished another string quartet today - or at least, a piece for string quartet. See, I was asked to write a string quartet, and my original idea was to write one in three movements. I'm not much of a three-movement kind of guy, though, and the idea I had for the first movement got too long and too formally all-encompassing to be a movement. So it grew into an imposing, probably too-long, 25-minute movement, called The Light Summer Land. To title it just String Quartet seemed misleading. But I still had these ideas for the other movements, so … [Read more...]

Tracking a Former Student

Yesterday James Sinclair - emperor of all things Ivesian, who heroically catalogued all 8000 pages of Charles Ives's manuscripts - took me on the Ives walking tour of Yale. While a student there Ives lived in Connecticut Hall, then as now the oldest building left on campus, which, because of its age, tended to house the less affluent students. His dorm room was on the second floor, the last two windows on the right:(By contrast, Cornelius Vanderbilt donated a fancy new dorm to make sure his sons lived there in style, attended by servants.) … [Read more...]

Rewards of Musicology

In Ann Arbor I took photos of the houses Robert Ashley grew up in. (Old phone books in libraries, I've discovered, are a cheap way to chart history.) I showed him this house on Brookwood where he lived as a teenager - and he exclaimed, "I used to sit on that porch and read Mark Twain!" I'm proud of being the only musician who ever interviewed Conlon Nancarrow's brother Charles, and Tuesday I interviewed Ashley's sister Anne Ward (always called by her first and middle names). (Composers please don't have your siblings contact me, though, until I … [Read more...]

Second-Guessing Chuck

NEW HAVEN - I played the last two movements of the Concord Sonata in high school, and the final four articulated notes of "Thoreau" - G# Bb G C# - have always bothered me. I remember arguing with my piano teacher about them. They don't seem to have much motivic resonance with the rest of the movement, and the final ambiguous tritone always struck me as un-Ivesian. So now I'm at Yale library looking through the Ives archive, and I'm finding that Ives's original manuscript presented a different picture. The original ending, which was followed in … [Read more...]

Book vs. Music

They noted that there were certain things which were impermanent and other things to which the word impermanence did not apply. - Perfect LivesI spent June composing and July writing a book. Both are enjoyable and self-fulfilling activities; I am fortunate. The first feels like I'm taking care of myself and developing psychically, putting myself first; the second feels like I'm adding to my authority and piling up ammunition for future writing and debate. It saddens me that the book feels like so much more solid an achievement. The music might … [Read more...]