Gann on Ives on Emerson

I'm having a frickin' blast with the Essays Before a Sonata - this is what I was born to do. My essay on Ives's Epilogue is longer than Ives's Epilogue. I'm finding that Ives articulated a more consistent and cohesive worldview than I expected, but his writing style is like someone set off a hand grenade under his finished manuscript, and the sentences all floated down in random order. So my job is to gather all the thoughts into little piles, and present them in logical, linear order, and he actually comes off as something of a philosopher … [Read more...]

Needles in Haystacks More Easily Found Today

The estimable Howard Boatwright (1918-1999), a composer whose works I have been remiss in not seeking out, did the heroic yeoman's work of editing and fully annotating the 1962 reprint of Ives's Essays Before a Sonata. Ives's quotations of other writers are so frequent and so maddeningly inexact that the mind boggles to think how much Emerson, Carlyle, Channing, Ruskin, and so on Boatwright must have read to find as many citations as he did. It is almost tragic to consider how much Google would have sped up the task today. Boatwright did not … [Read more...]

Substance Located, If not Defined

One of the most fun aspects of writing this Concord Sonata book is going sentence by sentence through Essays Before a Sonata -  a book I've read many times starting around 1969 - and determining exactly what Ives was trying to say. (In fact, I'm surprised that I've spent almost as much time in my career parsing the literary writings of composers as I have their music.) Ives's writing is often not at all clear, though his unclarity sometimes has an underlying intention; and he got some historical facts wrong, which it is amusing to correct. One … [Read more...]

Escape from the Pack of Peers

As I've said before, peer review is a wonderful thing, isn't it? My Concord Sonata book, of which I've completed about nine of fifteen chapters, has certainly been passed around through the ranks and meticulously examined. Or rather, bits of it have. Yale UP didn't want to send more than a couple of sample chapters out to readers, which I rather understand. And, in search (futile so far) of funding to take a semester or year off and devote myself to the remainder, I've had the book evaluated by a number of grant-giving panels whose comments … [Read more...]

The Listener Over Your Shoulder

Here's writer and English professor Ben Yagoda, saying the exact same thing in today's Times that I said recently in my piece about what I've learned about composing from being a writer: [G]ood writers (like good conversationalists) are always conscious of the person or persons on the receiving end of their words. Robert Graves and Alan Hodge called their guide to writing “The Reader Over Your Shoulder,” and it’s an apt metaphor, bringing to mind a little guy perched up there, looking over your stuff and reacting the way a hypothetical … [Read more...]

Musicological Manhunt Successfully Concluded


My partner in minimalist conference-running David McIntire actually went to San Francisco and visited the elusive Dennis Johnson this week, composer of the five-hour piano piece November and gaining quite a belated reputation recently as a minimalist pioneer. Dennis is self-admittedly dealing with the early stages of Alzheimer's, but he staves it off via physical exercise and took our musicologist friend on quite a hike. Turns out Dennis was born November 22, 1938, so we have that now for the reference works; and David saw some music, without … [Read more...]