Composer Casualties

I'm kind of fascinated by the First World War, which I think of as a catastrophe unparalleled for its combination of massive scale and utter pointlessness. I particularly recommend Adam Hochschild's book To End All Wars, one of the most fascinating history books I've ever read; and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory is a film I can always watch again, as is Paul Gross's Passchendaele. I'm commemorating the centennial of the war's inception by listening to music of George Butterworth (1885-1916), who, as far as I know, was the most well-known … [Read more...]

Pre-Redivision Period Music


Here's an interview with Daniel Lentz, one of my favorite composers. I love that the critic quotes John Schaefer as saying, “His works look back to an earlier time when music was not so divided between serious and popular. This is music that will appeal to a broad range of listeners.” Yeah, that was back during my lifetime. Good to have it validated that that period's officially over, I guess.   … [Read more...]

A Pseudo-Milestone, but Feels Real

I have just completed a first draft of Essays After a Sonata: Charles Ives's Concord. It is currently something over 136,000 words, which is just about the length of my American Music book; plus, there are hundreds of musical examples. There are fourteen chapters, as follows: The Story of the Concord Sonata, 1911-1947 The Programmatic Argument (and Henry Sturt) The Human Faith Theme and the Whole-Tone Hypothesis Emerson: The Essay Emerson: The Music The Emerson Concerto and its Offshoots Hawthorne and The Celestial Railroad Hawthorne: … [Read more...]

The Charm of Impossibilities

I am sitting here trying to write microtonal polytempo music on Sibelius. I have found the most aggravating, patience-requiring method of composing in the history of music. I have spent the last two hours trying to fill three measures of music - largely because Sibelius will not allow a pitch bend command to be pasted onto a note in a tuplet. If Schoenberg really was trying to make it impossible for his students to compose, as Cage claimed he said, he would have made them do it this way. Future generations of composers will look at my music and … [Read more...]

Friends of Bob

After Bob Ashley's death, Ed McKeon put together a group of video tributes to him by his friends, and he's now put them up on the web. This first video has personal statements from Pauline Oliveros, "Blue" Gene Tyranny, Roscoe Mitchell, Alvin Lucier, David Behrman, and Peter Gordon. The second one features Fast Forward, me, Jacqueline Humbert, Tom Buckner, Joan LaBarbara, Chris Mann, Alex Waterman, Sam Ashley. Just in case you're only interested in me (Mom), my part begins at 3:28 in the second video, and you can see what my living room … [Read more...]

When Good Things Happen…

Stream-ANU curmudgeonly people: I am not very sanguine about the advantages of the composing life these days, but let it be noted that one can be sitting on one's screened-in porch savoring a Romeo y Julieta [that's a cigar, kids] while talented young people are giving one of your works a gratifying world premiere on the opposite side of the planet. The Australian National University New Music Group, with soprano Jelena Mamic, did a lovely job on my The Stream (Admonitions), as you can hear in the linked video. And since I had forgotten writing it, … [Read more...]

One of the Greats: Elodie Lauten, 1950-2014

I awoke this morning to the rude shock of learning that my close friend Elodie Lauten has died, a fabulous composer whose music I've been championing ever since I was at the Chicago Reader in the early 1980s. Earlier this year I wrote her to congratulate her on winning the Robert Rauschenberg Award, and it took her quite a few days to respond. She said she had been in the hospital, lost a kidney to cancer, and was having trouble walking. We shared a couple more e-mails, and she sounded upbeat about the then-upcoming performance of Waking in New … [Read more...]

Surprise Gift from the Younger Me

In case you happen to be in Canberra this Saturday (conflicts with my acupuncture appointment in Kingston, sadly), the ANU New Music Ensemble and their guests, Uncut Percussion, will give the world premiere of my The Stream (Admonitions), which I wrote in 1987 and forgot about until I ran across the manuscript this spring. (Here's the Facebook page for the event, which reveals that they're also playing a piece by my old friend Gerhard Stäbler.) I spent the year 1987 still living in Chicago but flying to New York City three times a month to … [Read more...]

Anachronisms Happen

Via Susan Scheid, I learned that the Ghost Ensemble's performance of my piece Sang Plato's Ghost and other works actually got a review, by George Grella. I didn't think that kind of thing happened anymore. … [Read more...]

Messages from the Beyond


NEW HAVEN - [UDPATE BELOW] I'm spending three days at Yale's Sterling Library poring over Ives's manuscripts, for hopefully the last time I'll need to do so before the book is done. I think today one manuscript page, f3680, taught me more about how Ives composed than I've ever known before. I can't do the page justice by trying to reproduce it here, but it will be in my book, believe me. It's the beginning of a 1st Piano Sonata, with an inscription "Pine Mt., Aug 1901." Pine Mountain was a hill in Connecticut within walking distance of Danbury … [Read more...]

“The Idea Can Do Without Art”

Satie photo

In 1917 as Erik Satie was working on his masterpiece Socrate, he penned a little treatise to which he appended the title “Subject matter (idea) and craftsmanship (construction).” The whole is quoted in books on Satie by Robert Orledge and others, but I don't find it on the internet outside of scholarly writings, and I think it deserves to be better known: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Craftsmanship is often superior to subject matter. To have a feeling for harmony is to have a feeling for tonality. The serious examination of a … [Read more...]

Ives’s Tendency Toward Misquotation Exaggerated

I've mentioned before that Howard Boatwright, who edited the 1962 edition of Ives's Essays Before a Sonata, missed or misidentified the sources of many of Ives's quotations. In consequence he mentions that Ives gets a lot of his quotations wrong, or carelessly paraphrases them, but it's not as true as Boatwright thought - he just couldn't locate them all, and sometimes he would find a passage on the same topic and claim Ives paraphrased it. I fully sympathize with the difficulty of finding all these quotations, but it's regrettable that … [Read more...]

In My Dreams

I keep thinking about this self-indulgent course I want to teach, all European music. My Advanced Analysis seminars usually encompass three pieces from different historical periods, analyzed in depth. And I desperately want to teach one based around the unfinished fugue from Bach's The Art of Fugue; Ferruccio Busoni's Fantasia Contrappuntistica, which is based on that Bach fugue; and Kaikhosru Sorabji's five-hour Opus Clavicembalisticum, which also uses the same fugue theme and is heavily indebted to Busoni. I figure I'd probably attract one … [Read more...]