Working in My Sleep

This morning I dreamed, honest to god, that an editor was coaxing me to write an online music theory text. So I started mapping out, on paper, a starting point and an endpoint, and a tree diagram of ways to get from one to the other. At the point where you study triads, both classical and jazz terminology would be given. Then, to go to seventh chords, if you click on classical it will take you to a page on the five standard classical seventh chords, or if on jazz, to a page with the seven or eight or nine (depending on who I've been taking … [Read more...]

The Missteps of Genius


God knows I think Charles Ives is god - or rather, Charlie knows I worship him - and I bristle like hell when he's called an amateur, but I have to admit his rhythmic notation makes me tear what's left of my hair at moments. Below are mm. 84-86 as taken from the second movement of the Piano Sonata No. 1, and below that the corrected rhythmic notation as I feel sure he intended it: In the original, the first half of the first measure has only seven 32nds duration in the right hand, and the second half of the second measure has twelve … [Read more...]

Absolutely Uninterested

Every couple of weeks I get a query from a stranger asking me to explain some mathematical aspect of microtonality, and I am so fanatical on the subject that I tend to answer them quickly and at generous length. But for just as many people, I seem to be a go-to guy on the issue of whether we should maintain A as 440 cps or raise or lower it to 432, 442, or whatever. I suppose it says a lot about how immersed in microtonality I am, and how vague the concept is to the general population, that I am astonished that people think these issues are … [Read more...]

Classical Music Can Make You Dumb

On Saturdays we sometimes drive back from breakfast just as the NPR opera is starting up. Today's was Strauss's Arabella. The male and female commentators were discussing it, and the man mentioned something about the emotionalism of the music being especially appropriate because "this is an opera that really deals with issues of human emotion." No kidding? As opposed to all of those operas that don't deal with human emotion? What a curious departure from the norm. A moment later the woman pointed out that Strauss and von Hofmannsthal had … [Read more...]

A Difficult Genius


I'm terribly sorry to read in the Times that saxophonist and composer Fred Ho died, at only 56: I knew he had been fighting cancer for years. He gave me a splendidly colorful interview in 1997 that's reprinted in Music Downtown, beginning, "Fred Wei-han Ho knows how to cut your carotid artery with his hands...." What he learned at Harvard, he said, was that "privilege doesn't equate with talent, ability, intelligence, or hard work. Privilege is simply privilege." Fred could be a difficult guy, and no matter how much I tried to support him, I … [Read more...]

Tribute to an Elegant Postminimalist


I figure everyone who's interested and lives within driving distance of Lewisburg, PA, already knows about this, but Monday evening at 7 I'll be giving the opening talk at a tribute to the late William Duckworth in the Weis Music Building at Bucknell University, where I taught for a few years in the 1990s. (The linked press release, unless they fix it, misstates my tenure at Bard College: I've taught here since 1997, not 2007.) The event is part of the Gallery Series, a series of new-music concerts that Bill founded many, many years ago. He … [Read more...]

Clickbait, Indeed


One of my student composers was talking today about wanting to write a really simple unpitched percussion piece. I told him about Mary Ellen Childs's piece Click, for three people playing merely claves in incredibly detailed choreography, which was one of the wildest and most enjoyable performances I ever reviewed for the Village Voice. We looked, and naturally it's on Vimeo. It's a total classic, a postminimalist paradigm, up there with Piano Phase and Music in Fifths. … [Read more...]

Neither Gone Nor Totally Forgotten

Tomorrow afternoon Bard's student percussion group, coached by the Sō Percussion quartet (UPDATE: thanks to Paul Epstein for the diacritical marking), is performing my Snake Dance No. 2, along with works by Daniel Bjarnason, Martin Bresnick, Steve Reich, and John Cage. It's in Sosnoff Theater at the Fisher Center at 3. I wanted to post more in advance, but Arts Journal seems to have had a new bot attack the last few days. On April 11, I think, pianist Nicolas Horvath is presenting one of his Glassworlds marathons at the Palais de Tokyo … [Read more...]

“Angels Join in Distance”

Hawthorne 34-3asJK

It finally occurs to me that it would be a public service to make known the quiet "harmonic" thirds (denoting "angels" joining in in the distance) that John Kirkpatrick adds to accompany the passage quoting the hymn "Martyn" in his 1968 recording of the Hawthorne movement of the Concord Sonata, about four or five minutes in. The idea from Hawthorne's story "The Celestial Rail-Road" (a parody based on Pilgrim's Progress)  is that the travelers on the train to the Heavenly City are hearing the hymn of the pilgrims who are going there on foot; … [Read more...]

What Is the Concord Sonata?

Hawthorne Angels

I have been able to locate, on the internet, 33 35 38 [see update below] commercially available recordings of the Concord Sonata (well, actually only 32 37, since one of those is Jim Tenney's recording, which one can hear on Other Minds, but which isn't for sale). Of those 33 38, I possess 19 24, and two one more (the John Jensen and the Roberto Szidon, which latter I think I used to have on vinyl but can't find) are on their way in the mail. I am going to disappoint readers of my book, and probably of this blog as well, by refusing to name my … [Read more...]

That Familiar Stabbing Pain

It doesn't matter how long you've been out of the newspaper business, you never become immune to headline envy. Arnold Whittall's review, in The Musical Times, of the Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music is titled: "It's Gonna Reign."   … [Read more...]