Composer Blogs@Sequenza21.com

Alan Theisen (b. 4 October 1981; Port Huron, Michigan) is a Ph.D. graduate assistant in the Department of Music Theory at the Florida State University.

Composing since the age of sixteen, he has produced a steadily growing body of work distinguished by its musical energy and concentration of expression.

Representative works by Theisen include a Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Variations on a Theme of Gretchaninov, Eclogue for flute, and the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (premiered by soloist Lawrence Gwozdz and the Szczecin Philharmonic in 2004). Recent compositions and commissions include Ritorno for flute and cello and a Triple Concerto. Noted composer Dimitri Terzakis commends Theisen's oeuvre as being "the product of a unique talent."

As a saxophonist, Theisen has toured the United States and Canada with the Sax-Chamber Orchestra, performing at two World Saxophone Congresses (Montreal - 2000, Minneapolis - 2003). He studied the instrument with internationally-recognized performer Lawrence Gwozdz and participated in masterclasses with famed saxophone pioneer Jean-Marie Londeix. No stranger to the podium, Theisen has been a guest conductor with several ensembles.

In an effort to showcase both his own original compositions and pieces by other contemporary composers, he founded the Int間rales New Music Festival in 2005. Now an annual event, Int間rales NMF features world-premiere performances by nationally recognized musicians. Int間rales has expanded to include musical collaborations with artists, authors, and dancers. Theisen wrote his undergraduate thesis on Gy鰎gy Ligeti's Piano Etudes, and has authored several papers on topics including Elliott Carter, film editing, composition as analysis, and Michael Brecker.

Other interests include mathematics, film criticism, and philosophy; in addition, Theisen has performed the role of Oberon in a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, for which he also wrote the incidental music.

Theisen lives with his wife (and puts up with their two cats) in Tallahassee, Florida.

Sunday, February 08, 2009
An Issue Reposted

Dear Sequenza21 community,

I recently posted this note on my Facebook page, with the intent of reposting it (along with the comments) on this blog. Please feel free to add to the discussion!

________

(My note:)

Within the next five years, I'd like to publish a book of analyses of pieces by 20th-century composers. However, I want to focus on composers who, for one reason or another, wrote plenty of amazing music yet tend to be ignored by audiences, critics, and music scholars.

For instance, Boulez's "Structures Ia" is dragged out as a war-horse in so many theory and history books on 20th century music, yet raise your hand if you've ever heard this piece played in concert. Anyone? Anyone? Didn't think so. Ever heard it on a recording? One person out there? Okay. Now, lonely soul, do you ever care to sit through it again? Didn't think so. Other compositions that fall into this camp: Schoenberg Op.33a, Webern Piano Variations, Carter Third String Quartet and Double Concerto, Babbitt's Three Compositions for Piano, etc.

Now consider the following pieces which are more frequently programmed and beloved by audiences (even at the premiere): Frank Martin's Mass, Paul Creston's Second Symphony, Hindemith's Konzertmusik Op. 48, Henri Dutilleux's L'Arbre des Songs, Feldman's Rothko Chapel, etc. not to mention countless scores by Barber, Roy Harris, Persichetti, Berio, Ligeti, later Carter, Walter Piston, Leonard Bernstein, Howard Hanson, Hans Werner Henze, Lutoslawski, Ibert, John Adams, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, and more.

Why are there "two 20th centuries" - the one painted by the majority of history/theory texts and the one known by careful listeners? For a very different history, read Alex Ross' "The Rest is Noise" (e.g. Darmstadt is a footnote in this book). Why are undergrads forced to label all of the rows in a Webern string trio, but never encouraged to explore and analyze Britten's songs? Why do we publish set-class papers on the first ten measures of Schoenberg op.11 (for the umpteenth time), but never touch the stirring central movement of Barber's Piano Concerto?

What's in YOUR 20th century? Name some composers who are unjustly ignored by academia. What modern composers make you think, make your heart melt, and leave you breathless?


(Now, some of the comments:)

+ I definitely agree with you, especially in regards to Feldman. The man was a fantastic composer, yet all I see about him is his association with Cage, et. al. I'd also love to see more about Schnittke. The thing with Boulez is: unless you go outside of a theory or history class, the only music by him that you'll hear is Structures, which is by far NOT his greatest pieces; in fact, I'd say it's the least enjoyable of his catalog. What about Anthemes, Pli Selon Pli, D閞ive, Messagesquisse? There is definitely an established "canon" of mid to late 20th century pieces emerging that, to say the least, do not characterize the 20th century. I mean, for every integral serialist, how many tonal/spectral/aleatoric/etc. composers were active and getting the majority of commissions? All I've ever read about Elliot Carter in most books is either the 2nd String Quartet or the 8 Timpani Pieces (or whatever it's called).

+"For instance, Boulez's 'Structures Ia' is dragged out as a war-horse in so many theory and history books on 20th century music, yet raise your hand if you've ever heard this piece played in concert. Anyone? Anyone?" That's because it sucks.Structures 1a : serialism :: Altair : personal computer. Milestone or not, when was the last time you saw somebody break out the punch tape to upload a program to their minicomputer?

+Hmm... Hard to name them all. I really wish mid to late Penderecki and Rautavaara would get more play.

+ I'd put Piazzolla above Babbitt. By far.

+Picking from the pond is inevitable when you create a syllabus, but it would be nice to identify the contents of the class as what they are: consensed upon representative fragments of *processes* and *tendences* on whose intrisical value there is no (and there shouldn't *necessarily* be) agreement; fragments taken for the purpose of triggering of the student's own capability to make grounded aesthetical choices of a *private* value (i. e. a value that cannot objectively enforced on anybody else, as opposed to the prohibition to murder). Then the music history students would be academically equiped, emotionally stimulated, and perhaps even ethically obliged, to *explore* the vasts oceans of XXth (and not the only-th!) century music!

+ I think the most glaring composer oversight is Karel Husa; for my tastes, I think he had the perfect blend of 20th-century techniques and 19th-century lyricism.

+ I am inclined to agree with you on Karel Husa. "Music for Prague, 1968," and "Apotheosis of the Earth." Band or not, there is such a wonderful lyrical quality in his music.

+ One of the most amazing, rarely heard of composers I've ever come across is Erwin Schulhoff. He has an incredible body of music spanning four different stylistic periods but was killed relatively early in life. During his Dadaist period he wrote a piece that consisted entirely of rests. It抯 been a while since I抳e checked but I think that was about 20-30 years before Cage抯 𚠅3.

+ I don't think I've heard too many pieces by Harris or Piston that seem all that interesting. On the other hand, not nearly enough people know any pieces by Virgil Thomson--not just the operas, but the 'cello concerto (hands up--to use your phrase--how many people knew that Virgil Thomson wrote a 'cello concert), The Feast of Love, the Blake Songs, the Campion Songs, Praises and Prayers, Scenes from the Holy Infancy, and the orchestra pictures, to name a few.

+ My beef is that, for better or worse, music historians and theorists are largely responsible for introducing 20th- and 21st-century literature and aesthetics to the undergraduate population and, in large part, tend to ignore the plurality of voices in post-1900 composition in favor of a myopic view of the "canon". As a result, students leave, degrees in hand, thinking they know Boulez/serialism/modern music because they heard Structures Ia in their history survey course their freshman year or think they hate Webern because they had to pedantically circle all of the tone rows in the Piano Variations.