Composers Forum is a daily web log that allows invited contemporary composers to share their thoughts and ideas on any topic that interests them--from the ethereal, like how new music gets created, music history, theory, performance, other composers, alive or dead, to the mundane, like getting works played and recorded and the joys of teaching. If you're a professional composer and would like to participate, send us an e-mail.
I'll also attempt to not simply make a nice long list of all my favorite pieces & albums. The works that I think have had the greatest direct influence on my own composing are:
Bela Bartok- Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste Samuel Barber- Knoxville: Summer 1915 Dmitri Shostakovich- Quintet in G minor Opus 35 Leonard Bernstein- West Side Story Jaco Pastorius- Word of Mouth (complete album)
I really enjoy reading peoples responses to this question. Thanks for asking!
posted by Tom Myron
The Ethics of an (Autocratic?) Education
On some dismal days I would be sympathetic with J. Mark Scearce’s article on New Music Box - "The Ethics of an Education" - but I think his approach is misguided. He perceives that only 10% of composers admitted to higher learning institutions deserve to be there, and, if I understand correctly, his suggestion is to limit entry to one or two composers per institution.
Student composers (especially undergraduate composers) can learn a *lot* more from interacting with each other than from a singular private instructor. One composer in the whole University/Conservatory would get awfully lonely, and s/he would have only a professor (and possibly some audio recordings) to be influenced by. There's no replacement for the interaction of a group of creative artists, and my experience has been that these groups create community more often than competition.
Also, Scearce proposes that perhaps composers should be required to have undergraduate training in performance, and that there should be no such thing as a bachelor's degree in composition. This statement from the article is particularly frightening: “Until you know an instrument well, possess a modicum of basic knowledge, and can imagine sound—both your own and others through score study—you have no business creating.” What is the reason for requiring creative artists to embrace four years of traditional performance training? Why subject someone who wants to be a composer to the graduation requirements of a performance faculty whose primary interest lies in orchestral excerpts and antiquated canonic literature? Why train a composer to be hired as an orchestral performer or concert pianist or opera singer?
Maybe that 10% of composers Scearce deems worthy of his instruction would be better off studying with someone who’s a little more open-minded about what foundation makes for a good creative artist. Scearce seems completely unaware of the world of electronic performance, synthesizers, and computer processing. Also, there are many remarkable composers who have created innovative works by inventing and cultivating performance skills that ordinary music teachers would eschew. If these composers were brainwashed by traditional conservatory performance training, they might never think to explore uncharted territory. I can't tell you how many performers I've tried to work with who refuse to experiment with their instruments because they're afraid people will think they don't know how to play. Why subject creative artists to a training process that results in such a mentality? Unless of course the professor wants to churn out a group of his own disciples: "...you have no business creating..."
posted by Corey Dargel
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Well, since you asked...
It's hard for a person to gage influence on himself very accurately, but assuming that what I like most is what influenced me most, in no particular order...
Virgil Thomson--(Virgil was a teacher of mine, but I knew some of his music long before I knew him)--Symphony on a Hymn Tune, Mostly About Love, The Feast of Love, The 'Cello Concerto, and The Mother of Us All (I like Four Saints very much, but not quite as much as The Mother. I also really like parts of Lord Byron, although it's uneven).
Peter Maxwell Davies--(Another teacher, with whom I've kept in pretty close touch, and certainly followed his music closely) Worldes Blisse, Ave Maris Stella, Image Reflection Shadow, A Mirror of Whitening Light, Symphony #3, Hymn to St. Magnus, and most recently the Naxos Quartets--the ones I know)
Arthur Berger--(another teacher) 'Cello Duo (which I knew long before I knew Arthur, which is a long, long time indeed), Yeats Songs, Guitar Trio, Bagatelles.
Ezra Sims--especially the Third Quartet, String Quartet #2 (1962)--for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and 'cello--,and Phenomena
Milton Babbitt--Composition for Viola and Piano, Du, The Widow's Lament In Springtime, Triad, Mehr Du (all of which I've played--in some cases alot--and know pretty well), Quartets #2 and #6.
Percy Grainger--especially the twelve instrument version of Shepherd's Hey, Handel In the Strand, Harvest Hymn, Six Dukes Went Afishin', Died for Love
Vaughan Williams--Sea Symphony, Symphonies #3 & 5, The Shepherds of the Delectible Mountains, Five Mystical Songs, Hodie, Hymns for Tenor, Viola, and Piano
Britten--most especially Serenade, Nocturne, Noye's Fludde, and the folksong arrangements.
John Cage--The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, Suite for Toy Piano, String Quartet, Melodies for Violin and Keyboard, The Seasons, Cheap Imitation
Machaut--just about anything, but especially Douce Dame Jolie and Hoquetus David
Monteverdi--Book VIII of the Madrigals
Justin Morgan--Amanda and Judgment Anthem
Ruth Crawford--Sandburg Songs
Satie-Socrate (There's no piece in the world anything like--and sometimes I think anything near as wonderful as--Socrate. I was outraged recently to see it described in Taruskin's History of Western Music as skimpy and technically inept).
Michael Finnissy--especially Banimbir, Unknown Ground, String Trio, Multiple Forms of Constraint, Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets.
Judith Weir--King Harald's Saga, The Consolations of Scholarship, Thread!
And finally--a little story: Virgil wrote that the day after the first performance of the Copland Organ Symphony (which is a terrific piece--and which he said was the piece that everybody of their generation wanted to write) he saw Boulanger and she asked him what he thought of it. He said when he heard it he wept. Boulanger said, yes, but the important thing is why did you weep. Virgil said, because he hadn't written it. I've only felt that way with a piece by somebody about my own age twice--Lee Hyla's third Quartet and I Broke Off a Golden Branch by Judith Weir.
posted by Rodney Lister
Words, Music, and Performance
In response to Lawrence Dillon's question about which 1960 - 2005 works have influenced me:
My music almost always incorporates text, usually original text, and I often perform my own works (vocals and electronics). The pieces that come to mind incorporated text in a way that I thought was exceptional and unique, outside the realm of traditional art song or traditional music theater/opera or traditional singer/songwriter. Some of these are just exceptional works by exceptional songwriters. Here is a short list, in no particular order:
I am also a founding member of the experimental theater company LABORATORY THEATER (check out our NYC performances this weekend!) , and I am always seeking inspiration from other disciplines and other media. My performances (and in some ways my composing) are also influenced by the works of:
Radio Music by John Cage and In C by Terry Riley are sources of inspiration to me. Radio Music celebrates change, making collage seem like a good idea, even though the piece itself is undoubtedly a process piece (thank you Bob Ashley). Reaching a bit further back, everything by Mahler has that same effect on me.
In C reminds me that it is possible to make interesting/beautiful new music from the C-scale.
Charles Amirkhanian’s piece that includes the famous line “Rainbow chug bandit bomb” is a text-sound inspiration.
Everything by Pauline Oliveros has the effect of inspiring and encouraging me to feel entitled to compose.
Respighi ‘s The Pines of Rome and The Fountains of Rome inspire my orchestration.
Frank Churchill’s music for Walt Disney films is a melodic inspiration.
Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan and everything by Lou Harrison inspires an interest in the music of other cultures and their possible integration into my music.
Satie’s Socrate is an inspiring piece in general but I can’t think of what it influenced me to do. So cool and such a lovely choice of coloraturas to play men—what an idea!
posted by Beth Anderson
Name That Tune
Lawrence Dillon has an interesting thread going on what pieces from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s have changed the way composers think about composing. I thought it might be enlightening to find out what particular works have most influenced the composers in this forum? Not a best of list, or most important, or even personal favorites necessarily, but works that were a revelation or source of inspiration.
posted by Jerry Bowles
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Posted by [Dysfunctional]
People who refuse to take the credit and responsibility for their blog posts (like the person on New Music Box criticizing this forum) are destroying whatever sense of an online community there was when NMB started publishing. In the linked-above forum, there are 17 posts, 14 of which are anonymous.
Regarding "Join the Discussion" and "In the Second Person" at New Music Box: This online forum could have helped strengthen the new-music community. It could have been a source of information and inspiration. It could have helped to paint a picture of a strong community deserving of support from foundations, government, and patrons. But thanks to some self-important contributors who type without thinking then post anonymously, it has become an archive of negative, bitter, caustic, and arrogant diatribes.
I don't believe that this disproportionate archive is representative of my new music community, and I'd like to think it's not representative of anyone's new music community, Wuorinen and Levine notwithstanding.
Sequenza21's Composers Forum is not immune to becoming the same sort of debacle, but with a responsible and inclusive moderation policy, it could become what NMB's "Join the Discussion" should have been.
posted by Corey Dargel
Monday, March 28, 2005
Start Reading This Blog
One of my favorite political bloggers, Matthew Yglesias, remarks on the relative dominance of political blogs over other blog genres, noting in particular that political blogs don't really generate much improvement in quality-of-life. How might his utility argument apply to classical music blogging? Certainly music helps people be happy, and having a better understanding of music might amplify that effect. Of course, knowing about politics has a pleasing effect on the people who read the political blogs. Might reading music blogs help us be more skilled artists? Exposure to different ideas and endorsements of music with which we might not be familiar might have just that effect. I certainly feel like the Composers' Forum is an awful lot like the Graduate Composition Seminars I took in grad school -- except they charged tuition. I'm not sure if that last is evidence that we're engaged in a utility-producing effort here or that I got ripped off. . .
The funny thing is that as I was thinking about this issue one of the arguments I was considering making went something like "politics is a sort of universal language." But here we are, blogging about the Official Universal Language and doing so in obscurity. So really, it's not so much that Music is the universal language as Music-That-Everybody-Likes (demonstrably not contemporary classical music) is the universal language. Or, perhaps not.
To wander even further afield, the language analogy is actually pretty good. We're born knowing no language, and we get trained at a very young age to speak, in most cases, one particular language. I had developed an aesthetic appreciation for English by some time in elementary school, but at that point a french poem would have been tedious and uninteresting. In highschool and for part of college I learned some French, and while my French is not particularly good, I can now appreciate French aesthetically and rudimentary French literature aesthetically. Most people are trained in their childhoods how to appreciate a handful of musical genres, and don't later get trained on how to appreciate other ones. Now certain languages are eaiser to learn than other languages, and some languages are easier to learn for native speakers of one language than of another; Japanese, for instance, is easier to learn from Korean than from English. English is supposed to be one of the more difficult languages to learn in general (in part, as I recall, due to the plethora of irregular verbs.) In the interest of dragging the same old names up again, let me propose two models:
1. The musical language of Steve Reich is inherently easier for human brains to learn than the musical language of Milton Babbitt. 2. The musical language of Steve Reich is easier to learn than the musical language of Milton Babbitt for people whose native musical language is American 20th Century Popular Music. I could see it going either way -- an probably reality is a combination of the two.
posted by Galen H. Brown
Eve Beglarian and Phil Kline - The Story of B.
Beglarian and Kline
Just a heads up to let you all know that two fantastic composers Eve Beglarian and Phil Kline will be performing their collaborative song cycle “The Story of B.” at Joe’s Pub (NYC) on Wednesday at 7pm and 9pm, with Margaret Lancaster and Kamala Sankaram. The texts are drawn from a collection of poetry purported to be written by the ancient Greek lesbian Bilitis, who, it turns out, was fabricated by the 19th-century poet Pierre Louys. I was able to hear some of the songs while Eve and Phil were composing them: the gorgeous music creates a consciously sexy atmosphere for the fabricated poems and, ironically, almost authenticates them. It will be a delicious concert, and I’ll write more about it on Thursday! If you’re in the NYC area, check it out: http://220.127.116.11/caltool/index.cfm?fuseaction=detail&performanceID=577posted by Corey Dargel