Funny how Robert Palmer’s name comes up three times in a week, and then Howard Hanson’s twice. That Americana school sucks me back into their vortex occasionally.
Two weeks from tonight I’m giving a talk on William Duckworth at Bucknell University, where he spent his teaching career. So for the first time I’m listening to the six hours of interviews I did with him while he was dying, which I had avoided doing for fear I would get too emotional. In going straight from East Carolina University to the University of Illinois in the mid-’60s, Bill went from the heart of neoromantic Americana to post-Cage conceptualism, and skipped over the 12-tone movement entirely. He related a story his teacher Martin Mailman had told him about studying with Hanson.
Apparently when a student would bring Hanson a 12-tone score, Hanson would place it on the piano and look over it carefully, play a chord on the piano, and ask, “Is this the chord you want right here?” The student would say, “Yes it is.” “Are you sure you want this chord?” “Yes.” “Well, then why didn’t you write that chord, because this is the one you wrote!”, and he’d play a different one. The point being that he didn’t think 12-tone composers could hear the music they were writing.