“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...]

Composition Teacher Bait and Switch

Funny how Robert Palmer's name comes up three times in a week, and then Howard Hanson's twice. That Americana school sucks me back into their vortex occasionally. Two weeks from tonight I'm giving a talk on William Duckworth at Bucknell University, where he spent his teaching career. So for the first time I'm listening to the six hours of interviews I did with him while he was dying, which I had avoided doing for fear I would get too emotional. In going straight from East Carolina University to the University of Illinois in the mid-'60s, … [Read more...]

A Sunken Bell Well Immersed

Drew Massey's John Kirkpatrick book has far more information than I'd ever seen before on Carl Ruggles's opera The Sunken Bell, including score excerpts. Ruggles worked on it from 1912 on and off until 1927, never completed it, but was such a convincingly blustery self-promoter that he actually got the Met interested, even though he had yet to complete a major piece of music. He finally destroyed the score in 1940, though Kirkpatrick "spirited away the sketches that were housed in the shed of Ruggles's home in Arlington, fearing that Ruggles … [Read more...]

Puppeteer of American Composers


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


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


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


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


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...]