The Ten Sections of Hawthorne

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My Concord Sonata book is the most ambitious thing I've ever done, and one of my proudest achievements, but it seems to bear the mark of Cain. It will indeed be published, but according to the schedule it will appear in fall of 2016. Having waited ten months since I turned in the manuscript, I have fifteen months to go, by which time I can't imagine I'm going to care anymore. Anything could happen by then. I want to make the information I have public and move on, and so I might as well blog the remaining best parts of the book. The world has … [Read more...]

Train to Concord Back on Track

I am thrilled to report that the University of Illinois Press has officially confirmed that they are going to publish my book Essays After a Sonata: Charles Ives's Concord. Here's what happened. Yale UP doesn't have a music series anymore. Nevertheless, a humanities editor there liked the idea of my book and accepted it, some three years ago. Naturally, he left. I had broken my own rule: Never approach a publisher until a book is virtually finished. Editors rarely stay at one publisher for the amount of time it takes to write a book. I don't … [Read more...]

Don’t Shoot the Player Piano

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Here's an audience listening to a live performance of Nancarrow's Study No. 25 at the Whitney Museum yesterday: (As always, clicking on photos makes them appear in a new window in better focus. Don't know why.) There was a player piano roll of Nancarrow's Study No. 36 draped across one side of the room. Here are some high points: And, via Susan Schied of "Prufrock's Dilemma" blog fame, here I am standing in front of it. I had subconsciously chosen a shirt for the day that everyone thought was a player-piano-roll … [Read more...]

An Embarrassment of Nancarrovian Riches

Several people have noted that I am mentioned in connection with the Nancarrow festival at the Whitney Museum this week. (I've been quoted in the Times and the New Yorker.) I will indeed be present for it next Wednesday, the 24th. At 1 PM and again at 4 I'm supposed to give an informal talk on Nancarrow, and bring up my favorite Player Piano Studies, which will then be played "live" on an Ampico player piano like Conlon's. Sounds like a fun gig, but I can never decide which studies to play. The ones I wouldn't play are easy to pick, but I … [Read more...]

Rethinking Multimovement Form

I remember Morton Feldman saying in the '70s that if there was one musical idea that was finally dead, it was multimovement form. (Was I present when he said it? I can't recall.) That seemed about right at the time, and, like most of the progressive composers I associated with, I pretty much wrote only one-movement works in the 20th century. But starting with Transcendental Sonnets in 2001-2, I became interested in the multiple movement problem. In recent years many of my works have divided into movements, and I've had to grapple with what my … [Read more...]

The Moving Finger Clicks

My apologies for false notices. Sometimes I work on a blog post for several days. The "Save Draft" and "Publish" buttons are close together, and if I hit "Save Draft" 25 times it's nearly certain that one of those times I'll inadvertently hit "Publish" instead, and then I have to save my text and delete the entry. Meanwhile, apparently those of you who get automatic notices when I post are instantly notified that something new is up. I think WordPress should build in a five-minute delay in case of recall, but there it is; so many technological … [Read more...]

The Eternal Argument

I complained to the singer I'm working with that some of my composer colleagues insist that virtually every note in a score should be marked with a dynamic and articulation marking - something I refuse to do. She replied: "Oh, I hate it when I feel hemmed in by the composer. I want to look at the notes and think, 'What do I need to do to bring this line to life?'" That's why I'm working with her. I would be irritated working with a performer who needed to be spoon-fed every phrase-shape, just as I would be bored writing a piece that sounded the … [Read more...]

Alternative to Despair

I had a vivid dream this morning that I was working for a music festival, which has happened to me in real life before, and in the course of my administrative work came across a conceptual piece by some early modernist artist (which I seemed to recall having known about before). It was a test tube with a scroll inside it directing one to open the much smaller test tube inside in case of suicidal thoughts. And the smaller test tube contained a tiny scroll of paper reading, “The usage is, instead of committing suicide, to write a canon.” This … [Read more...]

Reflections on Glass

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Today marks my first appearance as a writer in the New York Times since 2003. They asked me for a review of Phil Glass's new memoir Words Without Music.   … [Read more...]

Some Early Minimalism Resurfaces

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I was unaware of the Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble, which started in Baltimore and operated from 1970 to 1983 - surprisingly unaware, because though those were my college years, I was seeking out Terry Riley, John Cale, Brian Eno, and any shards of information I could find on La Monte Young and Charlemagne Palestine. I was spending hours a week in record stores, and their ambient style was right up my alley. But Wall Matthews, the group's "last surviving member," is launching a new web site for this group that was somewhat parallel, in … [Read more...]

My Trajectory Leads Back to Provence

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"I knew at fifteen pretty much what I wanted to do... I resolved that at thirty I would know more about poetry than any man living, that I would know the dynamic content from the shell..." - Ezra Pound, "How I Began" (1913) A thrill ran up my spine when I read those words in college, for I harbored an identical ambition with respect to music. I recognized a kindred spirit, someone who was not only obsessed with an art form, but for whom creating in that art form was not enough: he had to devour and digest the entire history of the art, the … [Read more...]

Consumed with Architecture Envy

I heard Mahler's Ninth live today, for the first time since 1977 in Cleveland. I got a ticket (for an instantly sold-out concert) from the conductor, my employer, based on the fact that I wrote my senior paper at Oberlin on the piece. I analyzed the entire thing, but my paper was on the third-movement scherzo, a contrapuntal miracle. I know every note, and I registered every performance mistake. The performance was 85 minutes of me being consumed with envy. How did Mahler develop that continental sense of architecture? How did he know he could … [Read more...]

The Truth About Youth

From Robin Black's mouth to God's ears. And even more true, if possible, about composers. UPDATE: Allow me to amplify a little. The idea of helping young artists is an attractive one (I've done a lot of it myself via publicity and enjoyed doing so), and I eagerly concede Dave Seidel's point below about the young being at a disadvantage in this economy. It's not that I desperately need or desire the occasional $3000 cash prize. The issue is that prizes given to young composers often confer upon them a visibility that then tends to follow … [Read more...]