Archive for the “Twentieth Century Composer” Category

Sixty Postwar Pieces to Study

Recently, a couple of the undergraduate composers in the program at Westminster Choir College asked me for lists of postwar pieces to study. Given the vocal and choral emphasis in our program, I’ve compiled the list below to provide a different vantage point. Hence the emphasis on instrumental music and a preponderance of post-tonal composers that they might not encounter when learning their own recital repertoire. Given a different student population, composers like Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, and Donnacha Dennehy could just as likely appear on a listening list such as this.

And, of course, it is frustrating what one must leave out to keep a list manageable in size. Indeed, I’ve had to leave off a number of sentimental favorites. Note that I am not attempting to give them the “greatest hits” of the past sixty-five years. Instead I strove for a diversity of selections, both watershed masterworks and vibrantly interesting pieces that merit attention, even if they may not be the first ones that come to mind for the given composer. On a different day, we could come up with sixty different pieces: a composer must be prepared for a lifetime of listening, score study, and learning. Even after that, they must also be humbled by the fact that they will only get to a fraction of all the good stuff out there!

Let’s say that an undergraduate composer began working with this list or a similar one at the beginning of their junior year; listening to and, if possible, studying the score for one of these pieces every week. Between their own performance experiences, WCC’s theory and history courses, and this survey of recent works, by the time that they were ready to consider applying to graduate programs in their senior year, they would have a decent grounding in the repertoire.

1-    Adams, John C. Nixon in China (1987)

2-    Adams, John C. Chamber Symphony (1992)

3-    Adams, John Luther. Red Arc/Blue Veil (2002)

4-    Andriessen, Louis. La Passione (2002)

5-    Babbitt, Milton. Philomel (1964)

6-    Babbitt, Milton. Arie da Capo (1974)

7-    Berio, Luciano. Circles (1960)

8-    Birtwistle, Harrison. Secret Theatre (1984)

9-    Boulez, Pierre. Le marteau sans maître (rev. 1957)

10-  Boulez, Pierre. Répons (1984)

11-  Cage, John. Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1948)

12-  Cage, John. Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958)

13-  Carter, Elliott. String Quartet No. 1 (1951)

14-  Carter, Elliott. String Quartet No. 5 (1995)

15- Chin, Unsuk. Akrostischen-Wortspiel (1993)

16- Crumb, George. Ancient Voices of Children (1970)

17- Czernowin, Chaya. String Quartet (1995)

18-  Davies, Peter Maxwell. Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969)

19-  Feldman, Morton. Rothko Chapel (1970)

20- Feldman, Morton. For Samuel Beckett (1987)

21-  Ferneyhough, Brian. Bone Alphabet (1991)

22- Ferneyhough, Brian. Terrain (1992)

23- Foss, Lukas. Echoi (1963)

24- Glass, Philip. Satyagraha (1980)

25- Grisey, Gérard. Les espaces acoustiques (1985)

26- Haas, Georg Friedrich. In Vain (2002)

27- Harrison, Lou. La Koro Sutro (1973)

28- Kurtág, György. Kafka-Fragmente (1986)

29- Kurtág, György. Stele (1994)

30- Knussen, Oliver. Where the Wild Things Are (1983)

31-  Lachenmann, Helmut. Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (1990)

32- Lang, David. Little Matchgirl Passion (2007)

33- Ligeti, Győrgy. Atmosphères (1961)

34- Ligeti, Győrgy. Violin Concerto (1993)

35- Lim, Liza. City of Falling Angels (2007)

36- Marshall, Ingram. September Canons (2003)

37- Messiaen. Olivier. Éclairs sur l’au-delà… (1991)

38- Monk, Meredith. Songs of Ascension (2008)

39- Nancarrow, Conlon. Three Canons for Ursula (1989)

40- Nono, Luigi. …sofferte onde serne… (1976)

41-  Pärt, Arvo. Fratres (1976)

42- Penderecki, Krzysztof. Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)

43- Reich, Steve. Music for Eighteen Musicians (1976)

44- Reich, Steve. Different Trains (1988)

45- Riley, Terry. In C (1964)

46- Saariaho, Kaija. L’amour de loin (2000)

47- Scelsi, Giacinto. Prânam 2 (1973)

48- Sciarrino, Salvatore. Vento D’Ombra (2005)

49- Schoenberg, A Survivor from Warsaw (1947)

50- Shapey, Ralph. Millenium Designs (2000)

51-  Stravinsky, Igor. Variations (Aldous Huxley in Memoriam) (1964)

52- Stockhausen, Karlheinz, Kontakte (1960)

53- Takemitsu, Tōru. From me flows what you call Time (1990)

54- Turnage, Mark-Anthony. Blood on the Floor (1996)

55- Xenakis, Iannis. Pléïades (1978)

56- Xenakis, Iannis. Tetras (1983)

57- Varèse, Edgard. Poème électronique (1958)

58- Wolpe, Stefan. Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Piano, & Percussion (1954)

59- Wuorinen, Charles. A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1975)

60- Young, LaMonte. The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-present)

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcHnL7aS64Y[/youtube]

We had just seen John Cage recite his mesostic/theater work, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet. My composition teacher, a tenured faculty member who had won many awards including a Pulitzer Prize, told us, “Everyone should see John Cage once.”

And then, as if to underscore the idea that one only needed to see Cage once, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer added, “But of course, his ideas are much more important than his music.” At that time (the early 1980s), there weren’t many recordings of Cage’s music available, and I rarely encountered any performances of his music, so my professor’s utterance was a reasonable statement for many.

Three decades later, there are 279 recordings featuring one or more works by John Cage available on arkivmusic.com; my old teacher has under 30 listed. It isn’t just that Cage is the most-recorded member of the postwar avant-garde—he has more recordings than plenty of conservative composers. Here’s a list of the top 10 recorded composers born in the 20th century at arkivmusic.com

1. Shostakovich 1449
2. Britten 958
3. Bernstein 632
4. Barber 541
5. Rodrigo 461 (and 103 of those are the Concierto de Aranjuez)
6. Messiaen 431
7. Walton 413
8. Khachaturian 357 (138 of those are the Sabre Dance)
9. Cage 279
10. Arvo Part 239

Clearly, Cage’s compositions, as well as his ideas, are very important in the classical music industry. This year you’ll be hearing a lot of his music, as various cities and organizations celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth. The John Cage trust is a useful web site to learn about upcoming performances, but if you live in Southern California, you’ll want to consult this list I compiled for the LA Weekly of Cage events this year.

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Why did you have to burn your symphony, Jean?

Sketches for an untitled orchestral work dating from the time Sibelius was writing his Eighth Symphony

Big news from Finland: Sketches of what appear to be Sibelius’s Eighth Symphony (long thought destroyed by Sibelius) have emerged. Here’s a clunky Google translation of the Finnish web site announcing this incredible discovery, along with an orchestral reading of those sketches. At the original Finnish link, you can access a video and hear the realization of the sketches. Those of you who don’t speak Finnish will want to jump ahead to ca. 2:00, where the music actually begins. Yes, it sounds like Sibelius, but a more chromatic and fragmented Sibelius than we’re accustomed to.

A more comfortably written article on the discovery and the musicology supporting the claim can be found here.

And a great big Thank You to Sibelius booster Alex Ross, who hipped me to this at his web site.

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OX_4cJyhgI[/youtube]

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nL5Kym7hVFI[/youtube]

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My parents-in-law have a long tradition of enthusiastic photography. Greta the golden retriever is less than a year old, but she’s already an accomplished model.

To those readers in the United States, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy Independence Day. While there’s a lot of music played on this holiday that is arranged to be “broadly appealing,” Charles Ives was never one to compromise. “Fourth of July” (1904), from the Holidays Symphony, complexly layers a number of patriotic tunes, which move a different speeds and simultaneously appear in different keys.

No one will mistake this piece for John Philip Sousa anytime soon, but it’s Ives’ way of paying tribute to the complex and multifaceted portrait that he saw both as America in the modern age and as the epitome of the American dream. Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Chicago Symphony in the embedded video below.


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FLUX Quartet

Tomorrow from 2-8 PM in Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, FLUX Quartet plays Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2. The concert is the last event in American Sublime, a two week long series that has spotlighted Feldman’s late music.

FLUX has been performing the piece since 1999, and their rendition runs around six hours. Feldman himself suggested that the piece could run anywhere from 3 1/2 to 5 hours. But one senses that FLUX’s more expansive time frame doesn’t contravene his intentions.

String Quartet No. 2, like many of Feldman’s late works, is about breaking past the boundaries of form and instead shaping music in terms of scale: as in, LARGE scale. Not only are these pieces long, they are often cast in a single, mammoth movement. They move slowly, often speaking quietly, unspooling fragments of subtly varied material at a gradual pace. But listening to them, and indeed playing them, is anything but a leisurely exercise.

String Quartet #2 is as demanding in its own way as a marathon. But, as I found out this week while listening to FLUX’s recording (available on the Mode imprint as either a single DVD or multiple CDs), it’s well worth the endurance test for both one’s attention and bladder to persevere.

The way that I listened to the piece changed over the course of its duration. At first, I found myself expecting the familiar signposts of formal arrival points; I became impatient with the gradualness of the proceedings. But, slowly, my vantage point shifted from one of expectation of arrival to one of acceptance of each passing moment in the work. It was as if Feldman was retuning my listening capabilities, extending my attention span, and urging me to revel in each detail rather than worry about how much time had passed.

When Feldman was crafting these late pieces, in the 1970s and 80s, people’s attention spans were already dwindling at an alarming rate. In the era of jet engines and color television, who had time to listen to a piece for six solid hours? By exhorting people to stop and listen, just by the very strength and captivating character of his music, Feldman dared to arrest our engagement with a world of ceaseless distractions. In short, he sought to change us.

In our current era, attention spans have dwindled exponentially further still. Multitasking, social media, cell phones, and all manner of other devices have distracted us seemingly to the limits our psyches can handle. Sometimes further, and with dangerous results – texting while driving anyone? Perhaps Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 is an even tougher exercise for post-millenial listeners. But it might just be more necessary than ever to let this work reset our listening patterns and demand our attention.

Mode's Feldman Vol. 6: FLUX plays SQ 2

Event Details:
FLUX Quartet plays Feldman String Quartet No. 2
Sun. June 11, 2-8 PM
FREE Admission
Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral
3723 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
www.philadelphiacathedral.org

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Steve Reich turns 75 this coming October, and the celebrations have already begun. Later this month is a concert at Carnegie Hall on April 30th. It features the Kronos Quartet in a new piece commemorating a more sombre anniversary: WTC 9/11.

In the lead up to the Carnegie concert, there will likely be countless interviews, features, etc.; but this YouTube video is a terrific five-minute distillation of Reich’s interests, influences, and musical style.

I love the segue early on from bebop ii-V-I changes to Steve Reich’s pulsating ostinati.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO_WVD6Dt6E[/youtube]

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The job requirements of a working composer are elusive, perhaps especially for composition students enrolled in University degree programs that fail to provide graduates with the interpersonal and business skills necessary for survival outside the walls of academia. One student composer told me recently: “We are all being trained to teach.”Woody Allen famously said: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” But those who compose and don’t teach do find ways to sustain themselves and their passion for music through a variety of collaborative and creative means, some perhaps less “traditional” than others. With this in mind, let’s have a chat with my friend composer Tom Myron.

The range of Tom Myron’s work as a composer includes commissions and performances by the Kennedy Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Topeka Symphony, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Bangor Symphony and the Lamont Symphony at Denver University. He works regularly as an arranger for the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, writing for singers Rosanne Cash, Kelli O’Hara, Maxi Priest and Phil Stacey, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and the Quebec folk ensemble Le Vent du Nord. Le Vent du Nord’s new CD Symphonique featuring Myron’s orchestra arrangements is receiving an incredible amount of positive press throughout Canada and will be available for purchase in the U.S. soon. A video preview of the recording is included in this interview.

His film scores include Wilderness & Spirit; A Mountain Called Katahdin and the upcoming Henry David Thoreau; Surveyor of the Soul, both from Films by Huey. Individual soloists and chamber ensembles that regularly perform Myron’s work include violinists Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, Elisabeth Adkins and Kara Eubanks, violist Tsuna Sakamoto, cellist David Darling, the Portland String Quartet, the DaPonte String Quartet and the Potomac String Quartet.

Myron’s current projects include commissioned work for the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and creating arrangements for Joe Jackson’s music-theater piece Stoker
inspired by the life of Bram Stoker author of 1897 Gothic novel Dracula.

Tom (I’ll call him Tom now) graciously took time out of his schedule to answer a handful of questions including several having to do with the “business” of making music.

Chris Becker: You arrange and orchestrate music for a variety of artists and have a career composing concertos, string quartets, and various settings for voice. Are these two separate careers that you have to juggle? Or do they intersect providing you with even more musical opportunities than if you were focused only one or the other?

Tom Myron: From a purely logistical point of view it’s a juggling act. Both types of work tend to lead to more opportunities within their respective areas, but there isn’t a lot of overlap. That said, they DO intersect for me on a more personal, creative level. I love getting to know all kinds of musical idioms in a very practical, mechanical way. I also love just about everything that goes into handling, preparing and rehearsing music for live performance. My training in composition and the orchestral repertoire has benefited my commercial work by giving me the flexibility to consider (and rapidly execute!) multiple solutions to specific problems. The commercial work in turn informs my composition by instilling a disciplined work ethic and keeping organization and clarity of intention foremost in my mind.

Read the rest of this interview.

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When I planned to teach a course at Westminster Choir College about Benjamin Britten’s vocal music in the Fall, I knew that gender/sexuality studies would play a role in our evaluation of his works. But I certainly wasn’t planning to discuss something as topical and unsettling as the recent tragedy at Rutgers. Our campus is a half hour away from RU (my alma mater), and a number of students were understandably shaken by hearing about Tyler Clementi’s suicide.

The technological tools for communication may have gotten more sophisticated; but the people using them, if they act selfishly, can be in danger of disconnecting from their better impulses. Sadly, in this instance, the consequences were heartbreaking.

With Britten’s Michelangelo Sonnets and his opera Peter Grimes staring up at us, we began to discuss their texts. We then pondered the connection between the poems and some biographical background: Britten and Pears’ early collaboration, their trip to America, and eventual partnership. In my initial lesson notes, I’d pointed out that theirs was a relationship that was frowned upon in many corners, and would still be illegal for more than two decades after they returned to Great Britain. I asked: what resonances to Britten’s life can be found in the poetry of Michelangelo?

My plan was to then turn to a discussion of how Britten depicts these texts and alludes to personal biography in the musical details of these songs.

But in light of cyberbullying and prejudice, the continued homophobia in American society seemed an unavoidable topic: one I didn’t want to foist on the class but certainly wasn’t going to avoid if they decided to broach it. Delicately, one of the students brought up Tyler Clementi’s suicide. I was touched by how sensitively and maturely the other students in the class responded. They thoughtfully discussed the issues surrounding this terrible event, reflecting on how it affects their future work as teachers and musicians. They also reflected on how it should serve as a wake up call for their current lives, challenging them to speak out against teen suicide and try to be compassionate friends to their peers.

They pointed out that whether it is homophobia, racism, social, financial, or academic pressures that are troubling them, many young people are under duress and in need of compassion: both community support and sometimes professional help. As we saw this week, it’s far too easy for someone to be treated with prejudice and cruelty, even today. As some of the students pointed out, among young people we sadly must say, “Especially today.”

I’ll remember many of the comments made by the students on Friday. Although, to respect their privacy, I won’t share their more personal observations, there was one comment that brought us back to the music in eloquent fashion. It was the suggestion that Britten, indeed through the works we were studying that very day in class, could teach us a great deal about prejudice.

“What Britten sought, throughout his life, to portray in his music, was that if you treat someone like an outsider, we all suffer as a society: none of us can grow.”

Although we didn’t have time to find all of the musical intricacies in the songs, I’m very grateful for that lesson.

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