Puppeteer of American Composers

DrewMassey-JK

Just in time, Peter Burkholder recommended to me (announced to the entire Ives Society, actually) Drew Massey's new book John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page. It's a detailed, sometimes very technical look at Kirkpatrick's aggressive influence as editor on the composers he adopted, including most famously Ives and Ruggles, but also Roy Harris, Ross Lee Finney, Hunter Johnson, and - ! - my old friend Robert Palmer. I can hardly say how much I admire Massey's willingness to tackle a subject that seems to have so little profile … [Read more...]

Ives as Reviser

Emerson-ex1920

Here are the last three measures of the Concord Sonata's Emerson movement, as published in the score he sent out in 1921, which is now in public domain, and which - ill advisedly, in my view - has just been reprinted by Dover: And here are those last three measures in the second edition of 1947: There are several changes here - the addition of the C-D cluster, the reiteration of the final treble dyad, the replacement of fermatas with what seems a more judicious ritard - but the one that interests me most is the replacement of the final … [Read more...]

Gann Plays Gorecki

I ain't kiddin'. My son Bernard is reviewed in the Times today for playing guitar in a re-orchestrated version of Gorecki's Third Symphony. At the bottom of the article (to save you reading it), Steve Smith says that the soloist "Megan Stetson... sang with luminosity and poise, the trenchant ache of her lines no less tear-inducing for being backed by Bernard Gann’s fuzzy black-metal guitar tremors and Greg Fox’s double-pedaled kick-drum thunder." Greg, a Bard grad, plays with Bernard in Guardian Alien and used to play with him in Liturgy. … [Read more...]

Poisoned Musicology

I'm on spring break, and finishing up the obligatory chapter for my Concord Sonata book in which I compare the 1920 and 1947 editions. The research is drawing me into an argument that I had hoped to avoid altogether (and I hate to even call it an argument, because only one side makes sense): namely, whether Ives later added dissonances to his music in order to make it look as though he had written highly dissonant music earlier than the other famous modernist composers, as charged by Elliott Carter and later Maynard Solomon. To me, this is a … [Read more...]

A Long-Lost Name Resurfaces

Palmer

I guess I've long been the biggest Roy Harris fan left. In my youth I would occasionally run across a vinyl record of music by one of Roy Harris's students, who wrote in a similar style, named Robert Palmer; I remember his cantata Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, but no longer have a recording. Recently, in my research into Ives, Blitzstein, and other composers, I'm starting to run into Palmer's name again, partly because John Kirkpatrick championed his piano music and would occasionally mention him to Ives. So I went to see what remains of … [Read more...]

Happy Day, Ben

Johnston1966

Via Facebook, microtonal composer-guitarist David Beardsley posts this wonderful photograph by William Gedney, circa 1966, of composer (and, much later, my teacher) Ben Johnston for his 88th birthday today: Still near the beginning of his microtonal period, around the time of his Quintet for Groups, Sonata for Microtonal Piano, and Third Quartet, he's probably juggling 80 different pitches in his head.   … [Read more...]

Minimalists Win Awards, Too

Niblock

All right, it looks like, once again, the fate of postclassical music rests in my hands. So gather for the official announcement: The 2014 John Cage Award ($50,000) from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts has been given to Phill Niblock. Phill Niblock (b. 1933) started as a conceptualist filmmaker and, untrained as a composer, began making musical scores for his films based on charts of pitch frequencies in cycles per second. In so doing he pioneered the use of small pitch complexes and very slow glissandos (pitch slides) often moving … [Read more...]

How Did We Ever Get By Without Justice?

I've been waiting for months for some kind of announcement, and I've seen nothing public about this at all. But through the grapevine I've long known that the Foundation for Contemporary Arts granted this year's Robert Rauschenberg Award to Elodie Lauten and the John Cage Award to Phill Niblock. Both carry pretty large cash components. Week after week I watch a myriad groove-made, even-measured, monotonous, non-rhythmed, indoor-smelling, priest-taught, academic, post-adolescent, conservatory-trained hacks win every golden prize in the … [Read more...]

Nancarrow Study RR

A keynote address I delivered in 2012 for the Nancarrow festival in London is going into Music Theory Online, the web journal of the Society for Music Theory. The above link [updated 3.25.14] was put up for my proof-reading convenience, and I don't know how long it will remain before being whisked behind some paywall or something [it won't be]. But it explicitly states that I own the copyright, so for now knock yourselves out. Readers of my Nancarrow book will not find anything particularly new here, though I do talk more, I think, about … [Read more...]

Where One Looks for It, Evidence Will Be Found

As research for next fall's Beethoven class, I just finished reading Barry Cooper's Beethoven. Excellent book: crisp, intelligently revisionist, scrupulously factual, devoid of any retro sentimentality. I highly recommend it. I'm going to take exception to examples in it of the way we talk about classical music, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm criticizing Cooper, or even disagreeing with him. He does something we all do, and it's not necessarily a wrong thing to do, but I think we should think about the ramifications. In his … [Read more...]

Typical Composing-World Disconnect

Esa-Pekka Salonen has significantly influenced the field of composition? As a conductor, I presume they mean? Or perhaps someone more au courant than myself can offer a list of Salonen-influenced composers? Or a characterization of how a Salonen-influenced piece can be recognized? Nothing against the guy, but I thought he fairly recently quit conducting to devote himself to composing, and already he's a major influence? … [Read more...]

The Timing of Rhapsodic Outbursts

This comment on the Concord Sonata by John Kirkpatrick, included by him in a July 25, 1937, letter to Ives, is very perceptive, attests to the depth of Kirkpatrick's aesthetic taste, and is well worth keeping in mind given the occasional charges of formlessness (unjustly) brought against the work: I don’t know any long work that is so triumphantly sure in the instinctive justness of its timing – and it’s not a piece that has anything to do with nice balances, but the kind of rhapsodic outburst of strong substances that ordinarily makes for … [Read more...]

A Giant Come Too Early

In the flurry of information going around on Robert Ashley, I just learned that Dalkey Archives, publisher of Ashley's libretto for Perfect Lives, has my introduction to the new edition available online. I've always been proud of it, and Bob told me at one point that he had read it over and over, because, he said, "it makes me feel good." Plus, via Carson Cooman, here's Ashley's Lullaby for violin and piano written in 2011, from an Australian recording I hadn't heard before. A fitting memorial and quite a surprise. There's been some … [Read more...]