PostClassic: December 2009 Archives

[Update below] The last thing I should be thinking about right now is teaching, following my release from it last Friday. But I'm designing, for next fall, a course that I've threatened to teach for years: 12-tone Analysis. I've been recycling the same courses (Renaissance counterpoint, 18th-century sonata, 19th-century harmony, 20th-century analysis) for years, and if I don't come up with something new I'll bore myself to death. I even had a vivid dream that I was teaching a serialism course, and woke up excited about it, until I started enumerating the hurdles. The main one is that the serialist pieces I really love tend to be long and huge - Mantra, Pli selon pli, Rituel, Grande Aulodia, Philomel, Monologe, Sinfonia, Fragmente - Stille an Diotima. The cost of scores would impoverish my students' parents, and a semester wouldn't be long enough to do more than a couple of them justice. 

But I think instead I'm going to scale it back and make up a list of smaller pieces. I really don't want to spend a lot of time on the Second Vienna School, who don't interest me much - the payoff for me is all post-war Darmstadt - but I think with undergrads I probably should. I could teach one of the Webern Cantatas (I've grown deadly tired of dissecting the Symphony) and part of Berg's Violin Concerto to start off, plus Dallapiccola's Piccola Musica Notturna or Sex Carmina Alcaei. I can't think what Schoenberg to teach, since I don't like any of his 12-tone music except for Moses und Aron. Maybe I can suppress my gag reflex and do the Orchestra Variations or a movement from the Third Quartet. I do not want to waste my time teaching pieces I don't like in this class. I've been analyzing Post-Partitions for years as a Babbitt example, and while it's easy to outline, I just don't think it's a strong piece.

So I'm thinking All Set, for jazz ensemble, if there's enough documentation about it in Andrew Mead's book. I well know the folly of trying to analyze Babbitt without a cheat sheet. I regret that Mead doesn't discuss The Widow's Lament in the Springtime, which would be a perfect size. For another American, I'm thinking Rochberg's lovely Serenata d'Estate, or possibly the first movement of his Second Symphony. For Stockhausen I wouldn't mind trying my hand at Kontrapunkte, which I rather like. (I'm a little weary of rushing through Gruppen in alternate years.) I'd love to include Maderna, but the only score I have is Aura, which is too big. I don't want to do early Boulez, Le Marteau included; the sonatas are too doctrinaire, and Marteau seems like more work than it's worth. Ditto the Stockhausen Klavierstucke, with the possible exception of IX. Berio's Sinfonia would be worth spending a few weeks with; that and Mantra could be the semester's two major works. I'm also thinking about Berio's Circles, a more manageable score. Ligeti's Continuum is a good teaching piece, though I'd rather do something like Melodien or Monument-Selbstportrait-Bewegung. I'd love to do some later Nono, but I'm not inclined toward Il Canto Sospeso and even less to Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica, which are the scores I own. I've always had a soft spot for Pousseur, but the only piece of his for which I own both score and recording is Jeu de Miroirs de Votre Faust, which is fun but hardly seems representative of serialism. The problem, as some of you know, is that some of these pieces contain complicated hidden structures, and don't make much sense unless someone with inside information has written about them. I once had a frustrating experience trying to analyze Requiem Canticles in class, though I've since found enough information to want to try again. I shy away from Sessions for this reason, too - something about his row technique I don't get. 

What am I missing? What could I get and afford scores for, and find coherent analyses of?

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers for all your suggestions. I can now proceed feeling that I've left no stone unturned. Merry Christmas, happy Hannukah, have a good Kwanzaa or solstice, and all that jazz.

December 23, 2009 12:20 AM | | Comments (34) |
I've kept you too long in suspense about the upshot of Saturday night's thingNY concert, which took place during a momentous blizzard that must have cut heavily into its audience. The evening consisted, not of pieces by all the composers on the program, but of just about everything the group got back in response to their mass e-mail, including a few "unsubscribe" messages, a Halloween greeting, some jpegs, a description of a piece submitted with way too large an instrumentation, some mp3s, and about half a dozen pieces, like mine, written for the occasion. It was a funny evening, the unsurprising responses often as comical as the surprising ones. And as avant-garde as anything I've seen recently - by which term I inexactly mean that it was more focussed on how we live at this exact moment than on the traditional conventions of concert-giving. I was glad to have been involved.

December 22, 2009 11:22 PM | |
Several weeks ago I got an e-mail from some ensemble called thingNY purporting to offer a farflung, general spam commission for works to perform. The ensemble was listed as clarinet, saxophone, percussion, voice, violin, and cello. Now, you may recall that on my Amsterdam sabbatical I had the pants charmed off me by a local street-music group of clarinets, accordions, sax, and drum, and ever since then I've been itching to write something loud and fast for that combination. With its clarinet, sax, and drum, thingNY was close enough. I checked out their web site, listened to some recordings, and they seemed like pretty darned good musicians, so I got busy and over a couple of weekends wrote them a six-minute piece called Street Music. The only things I object to about real street music are that 1. it's always in standard meters and phrases divisible by four, and 2. it's not very chromatic and doesn't change key often. In this piece I fixed those two things. (I could imagine Gannize becoming a verb meaning "to rhythmically completely screw up [a common musical idiom] by stretching and squeezing short passages into different tempos.") So I sent them this feistily difficult little piece, figuring that even if they said "No way!" I'd still have a new piece, and lo and behold they're playing it, supposedly, this Saturday night, Dec. 19 at the University of the Streets, 130 E. 7th Street at Avenue A, in New York, along with new works by (take a deep breath) 

Jude Traxler, Heber Schuenemann, David Finlay, Eli Stine, Juliana Steele, Marina Rosenfeld, Scott Wollschleger, Sally Williams, Kathy Supove, Moritz Eggert, Daniel Goode, Luciano Azzigotti, Greg Kirkelie, Carr, Joe Kneer, Joseph Nechvatal, Mary Jennings, Brian McCorkle, Paula Diehl, Johnny Kira, Pall Ivan Palsson, Michael Cooper, Emily Koh, Terence Zahner, Joshua Kopecek, William Brittelle, Christian Gentry, Gabrielle Gamberini, Aaron Feinstein, Douglas DaSilva, Greg Pfieffer, Brad Baumgardner, Dave Golbert, Paul Burnell, Jim Legge, David Morneau, Andrea La Rose, Holly Eve Gerard, Gary A. Edwards, Brian McCorkle, Matthew Reid, Gail Noor, Jonah Bloch-Johnson, Greg A Steinke, Tania Leon, Alexandra Fol, Lucy Koteen, Luca Vanneschi, Sarah Prusoff, Ilias Pantoleon, Luis Menacho, David Simons, David Snow, David Drexler, Mike von der Nahmer, Martha Mooke, Art Jarvinen, David Wolfson, Neil Lyndon, Piotr Grella-Mozejko, David Broome, Matt Malsky, Linda Joe, Greg A Steinke, Nate Trier, Mats Eden, Mort Stine, Ophir Ilzetzki, Yianni Naslas, Jane Stuppin, Jessica Quinones, David Snow, Mark Stephen Brooks, Christopher Fulkerson, Ryan Muncy, Barry Seroff, Emanuel Ayvas, Stephanie Miller, John Oliver, Beth Tambor, Pauline Oliveros, Michael Gordon, Adam Reifsteck, Janet Maguire, Jiri Kaderabek, Marilyn Shrude, Joe Hallman, Mimi Kim, Doug Yule, Jeffrey Young, Tom Lopez, Andrew Griffin, Gene Pritsker, Winnie Sunshine, Sima Shamsi, Wally Gunn, Carl Danielsen, Mike Hanf, and Erin Rogers. 

They're calling it "the largest commission of experimental music in the history of email-submitted spam." I can't argue. I just hope it works out better than these money offers I keep getting from deposed Nigerian royalty.

December 15, 2009 12:26 PM | | Comments (5) |
FluidPiano.jpgSomeone has finally come up with an easily retunable piano. Looks (and sounds) a little more like a clavichord, actually, and while I'm pleased about the retuning, each string appears to have only about a whole tone's leeway. You're still more or less limited to 12 pitches to the octave, but there's a lot you can do with that: not only meantone and other historical temperaments, but the tunings of most of the standard pieces for retuned piano: Ben Johnston's Suite for Microtonal Piano, The Well-Tuned Piano, The Harp of New Albion, and so on. It's presumably far more affordable than the piano Trimpin once designed for me on a napkin, which could be automatically retuned via computer while you played. They'll have a whole world of microtonal acoustic instruments invented by the time I'm too old to lift a pen to write for them. (h/t to McLaren)

December 7, 2009 11:13 PM | | Comments (9) |

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by PostClassic in December 2009.

PostClassic: November 2009 is the previous archive.

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