Composer Paul Lansky writes at his Facebook page: “I’m sorry to report that Milton Babbitt died this morning at age 94. He was a great and important composer, and a dear friend, colleague and teacher.”
Whether as a pillar of strength, or a pillar to push in opposition to, Babbitt was one of the most dominant presences in American classical music these past 50 years. As news and appreciations pop up, we’ll try to give you links. Meantime, there’s this wonderfully human interview from just about 10 years ago, with NewMusicBox’s Frank J. Oteri.
We’re saddened to hear the news of Ann Southam’s death this past Thursday after a long battle with cancer. Southam was one of Canada’s foremost composers, an influential teacher at the Royal Conservatory, and longtime arts advocate, active in several groups which fostered contemporary music.
She received numerous honors during her distinguished career. Earlier this year, she was named a member of the Order of Canada.
Southam’s oeuvre encompassed several compositional styles and genres: twelve-tone music, lyrical Neoromanticism, electroacoustic music, and postminimalism. I particularly admire her writing for the piano and have included two videos of contrasting works for piano soloist below.
Some of Henryk Gorecki’s closest collaborators were the members of the Kronos Quartet. He composed all three of his string quartets for Kronos. As it happens, when the composer passed away yesterday, the group was in Poland. Late yesterday, David Harrington, Kronos’ first violinist, released the following statement:
“The three string quartets Henryk Górecki wrote for Kronos are a totally unique
body of work. With ‘Already it is Dusk’, Quasi Una Fantasia’ and ‘…songs are
sung’, Górecki extended a tradition that includes Bach and Beethoven, among
many others. When we rehearsed with Henryk, the experience was as close as
we have ever been to witnessing the raw, impassioned core in the heart of
Europe’s great invention: the string quartet. When he demonstrated phrases on
the piano for us I was always reminded of Beethoven: his fortes were shattering,
his pianissimos unfathomably inward. From us, he always wanted as much as
our bows could handle and more.
“Górecki represented a totally independent voice. He only listened inward.
There was no amount of pressure that ever pulled him away from his ideals. He
was known for his cancellations, as even the Pope discovered. Kronos waited 12
years for a piece that was so personal he couldn’t let it out of his sight until the
right moment mysteriously arrived. And I always loved him more for that
devotion to his muse.
“I learned that Henryk was a skilled furniture maker known for his beautiful
chairs. I once asked him if he would consider making me a chair. He said,
‘David, you can have the chair or you can have String Quartet #4. You choose.’ I
chose String Quartet #4. But it looks like I will have to wait.
“There is no one who can replace Henryk Górecki in the world of music. Many
others have created beautiful, passionate, even exalted music. But Henryk found
a way forward and beyond, through thickets of styles and fashions, that
resonates of the single human being in communion with the power of the
Universe. I miss him immensely.”
November 12, 2010
Polish composer Henryk Gorecki died today at the age of 76. Gorecki was one of Poland’s most prominent musical figures and, along with Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and Englishman John Tavener, is widely credited with popularizing the “spiritual minimalism” strain of Postmodern era European music.
He is perhaps best known for his Symphony no. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1976). Fifteen years after its premiere, a Nonesuch CD recording of the work, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and conducted by David Zinman, became a best-seller in 1992, breaking into the mainstream charts in the UK and dominating US classical sales during that year.
While the composer has denied a direct program for the work, it’s frequently been linked with the experiences of the Polish people under German occupation during the Second World War; in particular, with the Holocaust. Below is a video excerpt of the symphony performed at Auschwitz, from a film commemorating victims of genocide during WWII.
The recent deaths of both George Perle and Lukas Foss are part of the sad but expected passing, of composers who came of age in the 1940s and 50s. But a slight shock went through me with Douglas Britt’s surprising news in the Houston Chronicle blogs that pioneering composer, percussionist, visual and sound artist Max Neuhaus (b. 1939) has just died as well. Neuhaus is from the generation that gives us Lucier, Ashley, Young, Reich, Glass and Riley.
He semi-retired some time ago from pure composition and performance, preferring to focus on sound art and installations (one of which quietly hums day and night just down the street from me here in Houston, a few steps from Rothko Chapel). Neuhaus’ own website gives a good overview of where his imagination took him these past years, and you can pay homage to his earlier self — percussion iconclast and champion of the likes of Stockhausen, Brown, Feldman, Cage — by revisiting his seminal 1960s recordings courtesy of UbuWeb.
Lukas Fossdied yesterday at age 86. I didn’t know his music that well (I had heard Phorion), but still have his great performance of Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety with the composer conducting. He apparently even dabbled in minimalism, which I’d love to hear. A lot of the older guard seems to be passing away this year.
George Perledied this weekend, at the ripe old age of 93. Little-known and little heard by the general audience, Perle was a name virtually every composer of the last half century knows. His book Serial Composition and Atonality passed through most of our hands at one point or other in our study; it and his later Twelve-Tone Tonality caused a lot of us to seek out performances and recordings of his poised, extremely lucid and limpid works.
Big-name appreciation is rare enough anymore for composers, as to almost seem a fluke. Given that, the place to pay attention to is who composers themselves appreciate. George Perle certainly had that kind of “cred”, and he’s still alive and vital for his comrades-in-music.
The composer Jorge Liderman died Sunday morning after reportedly jumping in front of an oncoming BART train in the Berkeley, CA area. I had initially heard of him after coming across his name on a bulletin board in the early 80’s at the U of Chicago, and when I saw the news item about his untimely death at the age of 50, it caught my attention. Of Argentine descent, Liderman was being increasingly performed, although I regret that I actually never have heard a note of his music. The circumstances of his death are currently under investigation. (Update: a newer and fuller article from the San Francisco Chronicle.)
Honest, I swear this is Sequenza21, not the obituaries. But this is otherwise (and unfairly) likely to pass unnoticed in our usual music-blog land: Henri Chopin, one of the pioneering figures in sound poetry, passed away in France on January 3rd.
Born in 1922, he was one of the great explorers of a poetry that favored supremacy of the voice — in all its manifestations — over the “tyranny” of the word. An early adopter of tape recorders and the same electronic studios European composers were at work in, and for many years an active publisher of magazines that disseminated many of the leading voices of the 50’s, 60’s and &70’s, his influence on a whole generation of avant-garde poets and musicians was strong (though largely unheralded over here). Even though officially labeled a poet, Chopin’s work was just as much a kind of music.
A generous free sampling of his recordings are kept on their own page at UBUweb, and a bit more is to be had at Erratum.org.
The past few months have seemed depressingly full of deaths, including some of the grand figures of our time. But sadder still is when we lose a wonderful musical voice far too soon. I just learned over at NewMusicBox that the highly talented composer and pianist Jennifer Fitzgerald lost her life to cancer just a few days before Christmas. Only 32 years old, but already crafting some really beautiful, exciting music… One of the strange artifacts of the Internet age is that a person can leave and yet appear to be around through their webpages, busy and happy, like nothing at all had happened yet. Jennifer’s own website still has news of the recent NYC performance of her opera-in-progress, Judgement of Paris, and her composition list includes a number of pieces that were in the works. Both from her official site, as well as her Myspace page, you can hear excerpts of her music, that show all kinds of command and promise of even more good to come. I never met Jennifer; but through her music I’ll never forget her, either.