Virtual Ashley Playground

University of Illinois Press doesn’t allow musical examples in their books (scares off too many prospective buyers, I guess), and so, like so many musicological authors these days, I’m putting my musical examples for Robert Ashley on the internet. I’ve started a Robert Ashley Web Page on which you can see excerpts from Ashley’s scores, hear some brief audio examples, and see a little analysis. Five pages are up now, covering passages from the Piano Sonata of 1959, Perfect Lives, eL/Aficionado, Outcome Inevitable, and Celestial Excursions. I’ll hope to put at least seven more by the time the book appears, which ought to be early next year. Meanwhile, maybe those unfamiliar with or not too sure about Ashley can get their appetites whetted.


  1. says

    Ashley is one of those composers I’ve heard notorious tales about over the years but i haven’t heard music more than a snippet of his work, and I don’t recall seeing his scores. I looked over the examples you posted and can’t for the life of me understand the hesitancy of the University of Illinois Press keeping them out of the book. Nothing too frightening there, and since many causal reader can’t hear what they see anyway I don’t get it. Maybe it’s their way of trying to reach general readership? But don’t these kinds of composer overviews generally appeal to musicians? They should make it a coffee table book with really big pictures while they’re at it.

    • Bob Gilmore says

      I share your frustration and agree totally with Justin’s point. Most publishers of books on music are actually encouraging musical illiteracy by their preferred avoidance of music examples. I don’t share this position and think we live in a time where looking at score extracts, especially of recent pieces, needs to be encouraged wherever possible.

  2. says

    I just did an article on a piece of mine for a special issue of a literary journal – a festschrift for the novelist Robert Coover. Of necessity I included, along with verbal descriptions of the music as it related to the text, a few short musical examples. I then included a link to my web page, where I uploaded a sound file of the complete performance. The editor made no objection to any of it, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out and what the response will be from the lit crowd.

  3. John Chesnut says

    It could be worse. I am writing a book that will include both musical examples and mathematics, either one of which by itself is enough to make the book unmarketable. I am trying to make the book friendly to all, but I have a strong sense that I will need to self-publish it, or put it in a blog. You might guess that this is a labor of love, which has no practical aims whatever. I hope you will get a chance to take a spin through it, someday. It is about the improbable combination of music, math and meaning.

    KG replies: Are you the John Hind Chesnut who wrote the seminal article on Mozart’s meantone scale? If so, I use your article with students several times a year, and I will definitely look forward to your book.

    • John Chesnut says

      Seriously? Yes, that’s me. I would write the article differently today. I have a problem that I try to say everything at once and I try to anticipate criticism too soon. The current book is centered on melodic motion, at least at the beginning. I think that the idea of the cantabile vocal line is central to our traditional understanding of what is normative and what is distinctive. A distinctive melody has to take risks. So I want to get a clearer idea of what is a risk. The first chapter starts out with some things that David Huron learned about the shapes of folk melodies. Then I take a look at the six cantus firmi by Fux, which I think are not merely lessons, but are genuine haiku-like compositions that express definite musical ideas. Fux’s idea of how you elaborate a melody is different from Jeppesen’s, and and even more different from a doxology, and I think these differences are meaningful. The cantus firmi are almost perfect examples of pure form, but they express definite ideas about order and disorder, contrasting an Age of Reason desire for complete closure in Fux versus an open-ended Medieval yearning for things unseen. I suspect that Schenker’s idea of the Urlinie, which appears to be foretold in Fux’s cantus firmi, is not so much a pre-existent cultural ideal as a statistically emergent property that derives from traits of the vocal style. That covers Chapter 1.

      KG replies: Wow.

  4. mclaren says

    John Chestnut — your forthcoming book sounds absolutely fascinating. Let’s hope you publish it, or it gets published, soon.

  5. says

    Re: Univ Illinois Press policy. It’s not so Draconian as it sounds. Whether or not musical examples are permitted has to do with the specific series in which a book is published. I expect that KG’s book is in the newish series on American Composers (in which my 2nd co-authored book on Lou Harrison appears). This series is aimed specifically at undergraduate students and interested amateurs, and its editorial policies include omission of musical notation and complex theoretical analyses, as well as a length of about 180 to 200 pages, etc.

    Other books–either standalone volumes or in different series’–have no such restrictions. For example, my first book on Lou Harrison, or Marilyn Ziffrin’s “Carl Ruggles: Composer, Painter, and Storyteller.” Any academic press these days, however, struggles with economic limitations making it difficult to support color illustrations, lengths over ~400 pages, etc., without a publication support grant. Hence one elegant solution for any academic monograph is the addition of a companion website, if the author is able and willing to host it. On the plus side, the U of Illinois Press is committed to keeping all of its music titles in print.