Classical Music Can Make You Dumb

On Saturdays we sometimes drive back from breakfast just as the NPR opera is starting up. Today's was Strauss's Arabella. The male and female commentators were discussing it, and the man mentioned something about the emotionalism of the music being especially appropriate because "this is an opera that really deals with issues of human emotion." No kidding? As opposed to all of those operas that don't deal with human emotion? What a curious departure from the norm. A moment later the woman pointed out that Strauss and von Hofmannsthal had … [Read more...]

A Difficult Genius


I'm terribly sorry to read in the Times that saxophonist and composer Fred Ho died, at only 56: I knew he had been fighting cancer for years. He gave me a splendidly colorful interview in 1997 that's reprinted in Music Downtown, beginning, "Fred Wei-han Ho knows how to cut your carotid artery with his hands...." What he learned at Harvard, he said, was that "privilege doesn't equate with talent, ability, intelligence, or hard work. Privilege is simply privilege." Fred could be a difficult guy, and no matter how much I tried to support him, I … [Read more...]

Tribute to an Elegant Postminimalist


I figure everyone who's interested and lives within driving distance of Lewisburg, PA, already knows about this, but Monday evening at 7 I'll be giving the opening talk at a tribute to the late William Duckworth in the Weis Music Building at Bucknell University, where I taught for a few years in the 1990s. (The linked press release, unless they fix it, misstates my tenure at Bard College: I've taught here since 1997, not 2007.) The event is part of the Gallery Series, a series of new-music concerts that Bill founded many, many years ago. He … [Read more...]

Clickbait, Indeed


One of my student composers was talking today about wanting to write a really simple unpitched percussion piece. I told him about Mary Ellen Childs's piece Click, for three people playing merely claves in incredibly detailed choreography, which was one of the wildest and most enjoyable performances I ever reviewed for the Village Voice. We looked, and naturally it's on Vimeo. It's a total classic, a postminimalist paradigm, up there with Piano Phase and Music in Fifths. … [Read more...]

Neither Gone Nor Totally Forgotten

Tomorrow afternoon Bard's student percussion group, coached by the Sō Percussion quartet (UPDATE: thanks to Paul Epstein for the diacritical marking), is performing my Snake Dance No. 2, along with works by Daniel Bjarnason, Martin Bresnick, Steve Reich, and John Cage. It's in Sosnoff Theater at the Fisher Center at 3. I wanted to post more in advance, but Arts Journal seems to have had a new bot attack the last few days. On April 11, I think, pianist Nicolas Horvath is presenting one of his Glassworlds marathons at the Palais de Tokyo … [Read more...]

“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...]