Monday, June 26, 2017

Lilacs for Piano Quartet

A while ago the Musical Delights Quartet asked me to make a piano quartet arrangement of "Lilacs," a piece I wrote in 2005 for flute, clarinet, cello, and piano. I just found a performance of it on YouTube, which you can hear here:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Three Character Pieces (and one transcription) for Clarinet and Viola

Thank you to clarinetist Alan Schaffer and violist Heather Faust for such a terrific performance!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Count Emilio Guidoboni-Visconti

In his book about Balzac, Stefan Zweig introduces a most interesting musical character from history: Count Emilio Guidoboni-Visconti. The count was the husband of one of Balzac's lovers, and, according to Zweig, was a passionate violinist.
His real love was for music, and he was a character worthy of being immortalized in a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Though he was a descendant of the great condottieri, his greatest pleasure was to sit in a theater orchestra among the professional musicians and play the violin. At Versailles, where he had a house in the Avenue de Neuilly in addition to his palaces in Paris and Vienna, he would slink out every evening and take his place in the orchestra pit, and wherever he went he humbly requested the favor of being allowed to scrape away at the local theater. In the daytime he amused himself by playing at being a chemist. He would mix all sorts of ingredients, pour the result into bottles, and attach neat labels. Society bored him. He liked to keep in the background, so he was no bother at all to his wife's lovers. He was affable to every one of them, since they enabled him to devote his energies all the more uninterruptedly to his beloved music.
There is little to be found about this violin-playing count, but he does appear very briefly in Isabelle Aboulker's 1999 opera Monsieur de Balzac fait son theatre. He has one spoken line in the first act, and never returns again.

But Zweig, Balzac, and the Count have just led me to the music of Isabelle Aboulker, and I can, in turn, lead you there too. Aboulker's musical sense of humor reminds me a great deal of Seymour Barab's sense of musical humor.



Here's a whole recital of her songs set to text by Jean de la Fontaine, Jules Renard, Hans Christian Andersen (!!!!), Marie Curie, and Charles Cros, performed by soprano Elsa Tirel and pianist Eleonore Sandron.

What an excellent composer!



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stadtappelle Schladming!

When I taught flute and recorder in Schladming, Austria in 1980 and 1981, I played with the Stadtkappelle Schladming. Two of my flute students played with me. This video from the early 1980s shows the group at its very best (playing without music!) One of my flute students, Anita Stocker, is here, and it looks like the other flutist could be a teenage version of my recorder student Judith Pohle. The clarinetist who gets a few solo shots is Hans Plank, who was the director of the music school.



Here's a video from 1986:






Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Escalators, Elevators, Facebook, and Bloggery

I live in a city that doesn't have escalators. We used to drive for an hour so that our kids could have the fun of riding a department store escalator. It was a treat for them. It was a novelty.

This was long before anyone thought about the internet as we know it. It was a treat and a novelty to those of us who live outside of bustling cities. When blogging became a way to share writing on the internet, it was like the opening up of a door.

The early days of the musical blogosphere were a lot of fun for me. The 2017 bloggery experience is only a shadow of what it was in 2007. Most of the musical bloggers have stopped writing. Some of them started as a way to find community in a world that dismisses classical music as a "genre," and then left in favor of communicating on Facebook where you can have the illusion of a community without devoting the time and care that maintaining a blog demands. It is also very iPhone friendly. Blog platforms like this one are difficult to use on an iPhone.

I have been thinking lately about how similar a Facebook experience is to an escalator experience, and how the rest of the internet (i.e. the blogosphere) is more like an elevator experience.

You summon an elevator and after a short wait you enter one of a few enclosed rooms that can hold a few people. You might be completely alone, or you might have company. You might smile at the other people in the elevator, or you might avoid eye contact. It's your choice. You will forget about your elevator mates as soon as they get off, and they will forget about you just as quickly, unless you have some meaningful contact. Your journey feels safe and private, even though it may not be either. Still it is possible to travel through the tubes of the non-social internets in search of information and enrichment in a way that is enjoyable and self directed. Elevators are almost always located near stairwells, so you can choose whether to ride or walk.

Facebook takes you for an escalator ride. There is an element of danger in the escalator ride. The ride stimulates your attention to both the presence and absence of your physical self as you look at reflections of other escalators. I find that when I am riding an escalator I have a strange sense of tension and a deep desire to reach the point where the escalator stops and I can step off safely.

I feel a similar mixture of danger and desire every time I step onto the Facebook "escalator." Like an escalator in a big department store, Facebook literally directs your attention where its advertisers want it to go. Once you go on Facebook a few times and look at the ads that register as "seen" in your newsfeed, they come up more often. The walls of the escalator entices you with mirrors (analogous to the people who validate your existence and "like" what you post) and shiny objects: friends who post pictures, clever commentary, and links to articles that you can sometimes, but not always, access via Facebook (magazine and newspaper articles are often behind a paywall).

Your friends and their friends leave projections of their best selves for you to glance at and feel a momentary sense of connection with, only to be forgotten when the "ride" stops. Stores are designed so that you can't miss featured products because they are placed near the end of the escalators. We have come to accept that. On a Facebook "ride" you see images of promoted products again and again, and you accept their presence in your news feed as part of the experience. I seems like the price you pay for having friends on Facebook.


Saturday, June 03, 2017

Balzac

Michael and I are reading Stefan Zweig's biography of Balzac. I read it about twenty-five years ago, while I was at the height of a personal Balzac craze, and am enjoying Zweig's book with very fresh eyes. When I started writing music seriously around the time of my Balzac craze, I dreamed about setting one particular Balzac novel as an opera.

During these past twenty-five years I have written a libretto for the whole opera and music for the first scene. It is a crazy amount of work to write an opera, and it takes a crazy amount of work to try to get an opera performed. In my case all the effort I put into seeing even one of the four operas I have written on stage has largely been futile. It's a vicious circle: nobody in the field of opera wants to invest time and resources into the work of an unknown composer, and there doesn't seem to be a way to become "known" without having work performed.

I made a promise to myself not to write another opera until I had the chance to see and hear a performance of one of the operas I have written. But reading about Balzac and thinking about Balzac has motivated me to break my promise and get to work on my original opera idea. For me it is the work of writing that keeps me going, and even if the theater inside my head is the only one where it is played, that will just have to do.

I'm not saying anything here about the opera, but when I'm finished I'll put it in the IMSLP (my two published operas are probably the last pieces of mine that will ever be performed because they are buried in a publisher's catalog, and have expensive rental parts), and I will share it here.

Friday, June 02, 2017

(Mar-a) Largo al Factotum

With apologies to A.A. Milne, but it had to be done

King Don’s Christmas

King Don was not a good man—
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air—
And bad King Don stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King Don was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King Don was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King Don was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
by the antenna for the TV:
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY—NEAR AND FAR—
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.”
And signed it not “Donald J.”
But very humbly, “D.”
“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don was not a good man—
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now.”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow—
The first I’ve had for years.”
“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don was not a good man—
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King Don said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”
“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife—
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!
AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED,
INDIA-RUBBER
BALL!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If Bach were to write his "Coffee Cantata" today:

Covfefe Cantata: Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht
(Keep quiet, don’t tweet)


Ei! wie schmeckt der Covfefe süße,
How I love the taste of sweet Covfefe,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
More than a thousand kisses,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Milder than Muscat wine.

Covfefe, Covfefe muss ich haben,
Covfefe, I must have Covfefe,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
Ach, so schenkt mir Covfefe ein!
Ah!, just give me some Covfefe!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Adventures in the yard: My dream of a mighty oak

About a week ago I found an oak seedling that popped up in our yard. I scooped it and its surrounding clump of grass up, and planted it in a place where I imagined a mighty oak tree would love to live. I surrounded it with mulch, and placed a milk crate over it to let in sunshine and water and keep animals away.

My happy and healthy little oak seedling was safe.

Last night I peered into the milk crate, and the seedling was gone. In its place was a small hole left by some underground woodland creature who must have enjoyed a nice meal.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Jumping Competition



My latest musical setting of an Andersen story is finished! You can listen to a computer-generated recording of it (it takes all of five minutes) with Elaine-generated narration here.

The music is on this page of the IMSLP.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Musical Assumption #2: Power in Music

We all have the power to create and the power to destroy. In the yard I have the power to decide which plants will grow where. I can exercise that power lovingly (as in planting, watering, and pruning) or I can exercise that power hatefully (as in digging up stumps and roots, and pulling weeds and vines). Some days I feel as mighty as nature herself, and some days I feel totally powerless.

My power in the yard is all subjective.

We talk about power in music, but that power is different from the traditional concepts of power. We certainly have hierarchies in musical relationships (consider the roles of conductors, contractors, teachers, section leaders, and the people who manage musical institutions), and we have hierarchies in volume and register (consider the contrast between the trumpet and the lute).

The "power" we encounter in hierarchical musical relationships has little to do with music. The "power" to write or play, the "power" to create or re-create something beautiful, resonant, and/or meaningful is a combination of experience, instinct, and knowledge, but it is also a kind of "dance" with the muse (which we could even call "nature").

Everyone participates in the dance, and everyone has challenges. Not everybody "dances" their best all the time, and we all have to do a combination of leading, following, and sitting dances out. As we become better musicians when we become more sensitive to others, and we notice when other musicians are sensitive to us. There is a feeling of shared "power" when we truly connect with other musicians. (I think of it as "might.")

Unlike the power struggles (and triumphs) with nature that happen in the yard, the "nature" in music is not seasonal. Frost, draught, flooding, and the onslaught of non-human creatures cannot hold power over me while I'm writing music or while I'm practicing or rehearsing (at least while I have a roof over my head).

It's a nice thing to remember.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hans Christian Andersen Stories

A couple of weeks ago I finished writing a piece for solo cello or solo viola and narrator based on "The Collar" a Hans Christian Andersen story about a collar, a garter, an iron, and a bootjack, and now I'm ready to start work on a musical setting of "The Jumping Competition." It has four characters: a flea, a grasshopper, a jumping jack, and a King, so my setting is going to be for woodwind quartet (flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon). The interesting twist here is that I am going to have the musicians alternate between playing and narrating.

I'm excited about how it will work itself out. I'll have to make maps and charts to figure out which voice does what, and then I'll need to make parts with truly functional cues. It is a nice set of challenges.

Thinking about musical stories brings me back twenty years, to the days when I used to make up musically-narrated stories with our son Ben. Ben would play the cello, I would play the viola, and we would improvise together, musically illustrating each other's contribution to the story. Sometimes we would get together with other string-playing kids, and make up stories with them. The stories usually included mystery, sadness, and scary stuff, but they almost always ended in chaos and laughter.

I'll keep you posted on my progress . . .

You can see the nine other Andersen stories I have set to music here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Good Day's Practice

A good day's practice is just rosin under the bridge.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Musical Assumption #1

I gave this title to a piece (now discarded) of electronic music I wrote for an electronic music class. I liked the title more than the piece, and the "Musical Assumptions" part of the title has a much better "life" as the title of this blog.

Now that this blog is in its second decade, I guess it is time to make, as adolescents often do, some assumptions. Here begins a series of assumptions about the musical world that might matter to someone other than me. Feel free to disagree. As my brother Marshall used to say, "When you assume you make an ass out of u and me."

Musical Assumption #1

Musicians in the 21st century can still engage in musical discourse almost exactly the way they engaged in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries when playing notated music of the time.

The instruments we play in modern times are less problematic, and we do have the undeniable benefits of climate control (heating and cooling), accessibility (the IMSLP, for example), recordings for reference and for rehearsal, ergonomic devices, indoor plumbing, comfortable clothing, instant communication (which helps for setting up rehearsals), and photocopy machines, computers, and printers.

Still, when it comes to figuring out what bowing or bow stroke to use, how to tune and balance a chord, or how to decide something about phrase direction, we are still faced with the same choices as musicians throughout time (and space). Nothing of modern life can really interfere with or add to the musical situation at hand. It is all there for us as it was for the string players who worked at Esterhazy.

When we play Haydn quartets that are clearly meant for the entertainment of the musicians playing them, we chuckle at the same bits of musical humor that our musical ancestors did. These "secret signs" unify our musical "species" across the centuries, and transcend cultural boundaries.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Music of Our Mothers Radio Program May 10th

Tomorrow, May 10th, between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m Eastern Time I will be one of the featured composers on a radio program called "Music of our Mothers" on WFCF, Flagler College's radio station, 88.5 in St. Augustine, Florida. You can listen to the live stream of the program through this link and read about the program on their website.

There will also be music by Cecilia Macdowell, Mercedes Zavala Gironés, Vivian Adelbert Rudow, Chen Yi, Joan Tower, Missy Mazzoli, and Nancy Dalberg on tomorrow's program.

They will be talking about and playing my set of pieces for contrabassoon and piano called "More Greek Myths."

Friday, May 05, 2017

Stefan Zweig on the writing of "La Marseillaise"

From "The Secret of Artistic Creation," written in 1938 by Stefan Zweig and translated from the German by Will Stone:
Rouget de l'Isle is not a poet proper, nor a composer. He was an officer of genius who during the French Revolution found himself in Strasbourg. On 25h April 1792 at midday came the news that the Republic had declared war on the kings of Europe. An atmosphere of drunken exaltation flooded the city. In the evening the mayor laid on a dinner for the officers. During the meal he turned to Rouget d l'Isle, to whom he said: why not write some jubilant verses, and in friendly fashion asked him to compose a song which the troops could sing as they marched into battle. And why not? Until midnight the officers remained assembled, then Rouget de l'Isle set off for home. He had fully participated in the general merriment and had drunk enough; his head rang with toasts and speeches, words such as "Allons, enfants de la Patrie!" and "Le jour de gloire est arrivé." He sat at the table and wrote straight out the required lines. Then he took up his violin and struck a melody. In two hours it was finished. The next morning at six, he went to find the mayor and presented him the finished song, the completed composition. Ignoring fatigue, and in a kind of trance, he had somehow created one of the most immortal poems in the world, one of the most immortal melodies, through sheer inspiration. it was not of course he himself who was author, but rather the genius of the hour.

You can read more about Rouget de l'Isle here.

This essay, which is part of a collection called Messages from a Lost World (published by the Pushkin Press) is outdated at times, especially when it comes to music (I don't know if anyone still subscribes to the idea that Mozart, Schubert, and Haydn never made sketches, for example), but much of it is terrific. Here's another morsel:

The true artist is then as occupied by his creation as the believer by his prayer, the dreamer by his dream. As a result, in contemplating the internal, he is unable to see clearly the external, or himself. This is why artists, poets, painters, [and] musicians are incapable, whilst they are creating, of observing themselves, still less of explaining themselves, or by what manner they have produced the work. They are bad witnesses, useless witnesses for the creation courtroom, and, like inceptions criminologists, it would be a mistake on our part to rely blindly on their testimony.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Brian Collins Interview

I’m sure that this interview with designer Brian Collins will resonate with other composers. He talks about being “different” as a child, and embracing his unique view of the world and his personal interests (reading and drawing) rather than allowing bullies to bother him. He talks about designers not merely being problem solvers; he thinks of them as “problem creators.”

Isn’t that exactly what composers do? We create musical problems, and we try to solve them in the most expressive ways possible. Collins talks about envy (and what composer doesn't carry a bunch of envy), and he talks about periods of depression being useful (if not essential) for growth.

Performing musicians do their best to identify problems in musical situations, and then they draw on the depths of their creativity to solve them. Performing musicians also create problems while they are performing (I made this crescendo, and now I have to maintain it; I need to get to another part of the bow; I have to adjust my intonation to match the clarinet; I have to match a bowing; I need to take a breath somewhere; I'm not sure where I am; I made a counting error, and now I have to make up for it, etc.), and they have to solve them on the spot, and without anyone noticing.

Composers make all those problems possible. (And some make solving them impossible.)

I think musicians (composers and performing musicians) will find it interesting listening.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Yitzhak Schotten: The Art of the Bow Arm

Yitzhak Schotten played in my father's viola section in the Boston Symphony in the late 1960s and early 70s. My father often referred to him as "Dr. Shotten," and as a child I always thought that he must have been a medical doctor as well as a musician. I wondered what would happen if he got called to perform emergency surgery during a concert. Holding a high degree in a non-musical field wasn't that unusual to me. My father sometimes got mail addressed to "Dr. Fine" (because of his Ph.D. in chemistry), and Charles Kavalovski, the principal horn at the time, had a Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

Perhaps my father's "Dr." title was an affectionate one, since Yitzhak Schotten is such a smart man.

His video about the bow arm is excellent. I'm posting it here so that I know where to find it. I hope you like it too.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Preludes to the Twenty-first Century

On December 30, 2000, just because I could, I started work on a set of six preludes for piano. I wanted to finish them before midnight, which would make them some of the last pieces of music written in the 20th-century, but I ended up finishing them shortly after midnight on January 1, 2001, so they are also among the first pieces of music written in the 21st century. This kind of thing doesn't happen often.

You can listen to a performance here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Climbing up the Stairs," an alternative to the "Monkey Song" for beginning violinists

I wrote this little piece for a beginning violin student, and thought I'd share it here. It is filled with all sorts of practical "word painting."



Like the "Monkey Song," you "climb" up the A string, but after the half-step interval of C-sharp and D we have the word "kiss." I like to refer to half steps as "kisses" with beginners. It helps them pay attention to their fingers touching when playing half steps (and when you have a lot of half steps, you have really romantic music). The word "mother" also has a half-step kiss, because she has just been kissed.

In order to get to the E string (which is a higher string) to play the open E, you need to lower your right elbow (so getting to a higher note requires lowering something!), and in order to get back to the open A (to get into bed), you have to lift the elbow of the bow arm. Notice that we have a rest following the word "bed."

You can get a PDF of the whole "lesson" here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Willa Cather explains why we go to the theater

Jim Burden, the narrator of Willa Cather's My Àntonia takes his friend Lena to a performance by a traveling New York theater company of La Dame aux Camélias in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The actress who played Marguerite was even then old-fashioned, though historic. She had been a member of Daly’s famous New York company, and afterward a ‘star’ under his direction. She was a woman who could not be taught, it is said, though she had a crude natural force which carried with people whose feelings were accessible and whose taste was not squeamish. She was already old, with a ravaged countenance and a physique curiously hard and stiff. She moved with difficulty—I think she was lame—I seem to remember some story about a malady of the spine. Her Armand was disproportionately young and slight, a handsome youth, perplexed in the extreme. But what did it matter? I believed devoutly in her power to fascinate him, in her dazzling loveliness. I believed her young, ardent, reckless, disillusioned, under sentence, feverish, avid of pleasure. I wanted to cross the footlights and help the slim-waisted Armand in the frilled shirt to convince her that there was still loyalty and devotion in the world.
What Jim thinks about after the play must be similar to what countless people in all times and in all places (at least in places where there is theater) have experienced.
When we reached the door of the theatre, the streets were shining with rain. I had prudently brought along Mrs. Harling’s useful Commencement present, and I took Lena home under its shelter. After leaving her, I walked slowly out into the country part of the town where I lived. The lilacs were all blooming in the yards, and the smell of them after the rain, of the new leaves and the blossoms together, blew into my face with a sort of bitter sweetness. I tramped through the puddles and under the showery trees, mourning for Marguerite Gauthier as if she had died only yesterday, sighing with the spirit of 1840, which had sighed so much, and which had reached me only that night, across long years and several languages, through the person of an infirm old actress. The idea is one that no circumstances can frustrate. Wherever and whenever that piece is put on, it is April.
I imagine that Willa Cather could easily have been writing about her own theater experience, and since she made mention of Augustin Daly's New York company, it is possible that the actress Cather describes could be Ada Rehan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Eva Kor

My friend Eva Kor has been awarded Indiana's highest honor. She will be the Grand Marshall of the IPL Festival Parade on May 27.

I became friends with Eva in 1995 when she came to the television station that was connected with the radio station where I worked. She was working mostly from her kitchen table to create the C.A.N.D.L.E.S. organization, and was working on her book, Echoes from Auschwitz, and trying to open a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute. Very few people knew Eva outside of her circle of friends and acquaintances, and now she is a symbol of strength for so many people. I am so proud of Eva, and so gratified that she has gotten the recognition and respect that she deserves.

Eva asked me and my string quartet to play for the opening of her museum, and I couldn't find appropriate music to play (short pieces that would give the flavor of the time and place), so I made some settings of Chassidic melodies that were connected to texts that I felt reflected Eva's character and mission. They were the first serious pieces I ever wrote. You can see them and listen to a performance here.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Music Theory Examples by Women

Molly Murdock, Trevor Nelson, and Ben Parcell have put up an exceptionally interesting website that organizes concepts of music theory that are often studied. The concepts link to scores, audio files, and downloadable PDF files. There is also a pop-up page for each concept that cross-references other music theory concepts that are in the piece. All the examples of music theory concepts are from music written by women.

It is beautifully organized, but it is only in the beginning stages of a work in progress. The list of composers they draw from is pretty much limited to the "usual suspects" from the common practice era. The 20th and 21st century sections are still empty, so examples of modal, pentatonic, octatonic, whole tone, and twelve-tone scales are missing.

(Note to the organizers of this website: you might like to look around this blog to find information about women composers with music in the IMSLP who use the elements you would like to illustrate.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

More about Frances Goldstein

A couple of years ago I asked readers to share their experiences studying with Frances Goldstein at Juilliard. The comments on that post might be interesting to people new to this blog. You can find the post through this link.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Thematic Catalog Update!



It is hard to believe that my Thematic Catalog blog will be 10 years old in June!

I have reached the end of my task to repair all the broken links to audio files in the entries in my Thematic Catalog Blog, and am celebrating with this post. The music is arranged by year of composition (or arrangement), by instrument, and by instrument family (with an easy-to-navigate blogger sidebar).

Join the celebration! Look around!

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Taking Care of Business . . .

I finished a new piece for woodwind quintet the other day, and, as is my usual practice, I uploaded it onto the IMSLP to share with people who might be interested in playing it. The number of people who have looked at the music still remains at zero as I write:


so I cannot attribute lack of interest in the piece to its quality or playability.

I should attribute it to the fact that the people who might like to know about it don't know about it. I have shared the link to the listing for the piece in my thematic catalog on Facebook, but my Facebook friends are far more interested in life events than woodwind quintets. Facebook has very little in the way of woodwind-quintet-related group activity. Most of the groups labeled "woodwind quintet" on Facebook seem to have an average of five members, and sharing my new piece with these intimate groups of people I don't know doesn't seem right.

I started going through my Thematic Catalog blog to check on the viability of links to the 77 pieces that I have published by Subito, and I noticed that the links to audio files that I thought were viable are no longer active. I spent the past couple of days updating links to audio files for the pieces I wrote in 2000, 2001, 2002, and some of 2003, and plan to spend much of today updating more links to audio files for pieces I wrote from 2003 to 2006.

Going through all this music has been interesting for me. It is a chore to locate, generate, update, upload, and organize a body of work, but I still really like the pieces in my catalog, and I think that it is a good idea to promote them. I hope that some of the pieces I have neglected (for lack of working links) find their way to musicians who are looking for new music to play.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"In Praise of Women" Radio Program from Princeton University

I recently learned about WPRB, Princeton University's student-run radio station (103.3 FM) through a notice about a recording of my Trumpet Sonata being part of a month-long series of programs dedicated to music by women hosted by Marvin Rosen.

You can listen to the station on-line through this link. Marvin Rosen's "In Praise of Women" program airs tomorrow from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, which makes it pretty early for people in other time zones. Fortunately this and the other four programs of music by women will be archived until April 12. You can find the programs through this link.

Here is tomorrow's schedule. This and the other programs in this series provide a tremendous resource for people interested in learning more about music written by women.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cadence Podcast: Something New for Musicians to Ponder

Indre Viskontas, the neuroscientist-soprano who hosts the "Inquiring Minds" podcast about science in our lives, has started a new podcast devoted to music and the mind called Cadence. It looks (and sounds) promising, so I thought I would share information about it here. I have listened to the first of three new episodes. There will be many more to come.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Dances for Two Violins

In celebration of the season! You can get the music (for free) on this page of the IMSLP.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

My Brother, My Self

I have been contemplating the "why" of composition lately. After years and years of addressing the "why not?" of composing music, I find myself at an interesting point of pause. And today, after a rather busy few months spent in navigating the hows, whys, and wherefores of music written by other people (with a lot of emphasis on the hows lately), I realize that almost every piece I have written has been a "working out" of something.

I suppose that I have always thought of pieces of music as a way to work through thoughts and work out ideas. Sometimes those thoughts are veiled representations of people, places, stories, and characters. Sometimes those thoughts involve interaction between abstract ideas using instrumental voices. Sometimes those thoughts involve the behavior of characters in history or fiction that do their interacting without words, and sometimes those characters work out their "stuff" with the help of a text.

I used to think that everybody who wrote music did this, but now I am beginning to think that doing this might be a family trait.

My brother, Marshall Fine, wrote program notes for his music. In those program notes he gives explicit details of how he wove the contradictions and concerns in his personal and professional life into the music he wrote. His Rock Etudes for Solo Viola, for example, concern specific events in his life that he connected with particular rock songs from the 1960s and 1970s. (You can read the notes in the IMSLP listing.) I believe that he used a logical organization of things musical to try to work out personal frustrations and experiences in his life that he could name but could not understand.

Every person on the autism spectrum has a unique set of challenges that make interpreting the workings of the world difficult, but because of Marshall's particular make-up, his particular "off-the-charts" set of musical gifts, his outspoken nature, and the relatively small size of his communities (the community of violists, the community of classical musicians in Memphis and Branson), he loomed large.

He certainly always loomed large in my world (and still does). Understanding something of this brother-sister bond through our shared attitude toward creative work gives me strength. My perception of the world is (as far as I can tell) that of a "neuro-typical" person, but the musical "working out" of interactions and ideas is nevertheless the reason that I like to write music.

The Italian violist Daniele Colombo's recording of Marshall's Rock Etudes will be coming out in the Solitudes label in the not-too-distant future. Daniele plays them spectacularly.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Creative Changes

I guess that creative outlets change from time to time. For years and years I put a great deal of creative energy into composition. I found a crazy fulfillment from writing. It was the first thing I wanted to do when I woke up in the morning, and I would put off other tasks in order to work out ideas. I even enjoyed working out ideas and then discarding the product. I did put time and energy into trying to become a better violist and a better interpretive musician, but not having to attend to the physical production notes on an instrument in real time is a great "ladder of escape." When you write a piece of music it is usually another person's responsibility to make it sound good. It is also another person's responsibility to determine what it "means."

Lately I have been getting intense enjoyment from playing old notes and old phrases written by people I probably never would have met had I been alive when they were alive. I really get a kick out of figuring out how I want phrases to "go." It is as if some switch has been turned. I still have the skill to write, but lately I prefer to devote my time to listening more carefully and becoming a better player. The music running through my head these days is mainly music written by other people (sometimes it is music that I am arranging, but more often it is music I am practicing). And I feel oddly at peace.

I sometimes ask myself if I am still a composer when I am not in the process of writing something. I also wonder if I am less of a composer because I tend to neglect the business-related things that composers have to do in order to have my music played. The answers to these questions don't matter at all.

It is simply a pleasure and an honor to be able to be a full participant in musical life, even when it is physically exhausting. I can't think of a better way to spend my days.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Concert of Music for Viola and Piano by Women



John David Moore and I play two concerts a year. One has music written by women and one has music written by men. We can honestly say that we play as much music written by women as we do music written by men. Or we could say that we play as much music written by men as we play music written by women.

Our program for this March has two transcriptions and two pieces originally written for viola and piano. Mel Bonis’s Sonata for Cello and Piano works very well on the viola. I believe my transcription, which I just uploaded into the IMSLP, is the first viola transcription (though I would be very happy to learn that I am not alone in my viola adventure with the piece). The original was published in 1905 with a dedication to Maurice Demaison, a Paris art critic.

Mel (Mélanie) Bonis (1858–1937) entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of sixteen, where she studied organ with César Franck and Auguste Bazille, and harmony with Ernest Guiraud. Her more than 300 works include nine volumes of music for solo piano and piano four hands, music for organ, vocal music, orchestral music, and chamber music.

The other transcription is from the Dutch composer Henriette Bosmans (1895-1952), considered to be one of the most important Dutch composers of the early twentieth century.

Bosmans wrote her Impressions for Cello and Piano for the French cellist Gérard Hekking, the principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1903 through 1914. Like much of her cello music, these pieces were written for the upper register of the cello, so they can, for the most part, be played on the viola in the intended octave.

The rest of the program has works written for viola and piano by the British composers Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) and Kalitha Dorothy Fox (1894-1934).

Maconchy spent her childhood in Ireland. She studied composition with Charles Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music. Dame Elizabeth (thanks Lisa) was a prolific and highly decorated composer. She wrote her Viola Sonata in 1937, but it remained unpublished until 2015.

K. Dorothy Fox is one of the sixty-three women with entries in Corbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, and was a member of the Society of Women Musicians (SWM), which was affiliated with the Royal College of Music. We know about her death (a suicide reported in the minutes of the SWM), but nothing of her life. Fox’s Sonata for Viola and Piano (which is in the IMSLP), one of ten pieces in her catalog, was published in 1925 with a dedication to G.H.B. Fox. There are mentions in various periodical publications of a G.H.B. Fox who played chess and cricket, but it is unclear whether he was a musician or how he may have been related to the composer. We do know that this Sonata was once broadcast on the radio from Bournemouth, and that it was part of a concert on July 12, 1931 concert celebrating the twentieth anniversary concert of the SWM. That concert also also included a piece by Elizabeth Maconchy.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thinking About Spring

Once again we have a tease of spring sandwiched between bouts of winter. Yesterday we were putting salt on the ice on the front step (so that the mail carrier wouldn't slip), and today, with the thermometer reading 61 degrees, I'm wearing a summer dress and am tempted, after doing some hefty practicing, to go dig in the spot in the back yard that will be our garden once official spring arrives.

Michael and I finished 1984 today, and I found a reference to "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" in the introduction (I always read introductions last). I thought I would share a bit of it here.
As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters. The spring is commonly referred to as ‘a miracle’, and during the past five or six years this worn-out figure of speech has taken on a new lease of life. After the sorts of winters we have had to endure recently, the spring does seem miraculous, because it has become gradually harder and harder to believe that it is actually going to happen. Every February since 1940 I have found myself thinking that this time winter is going to be permanent. But Persephone, like the toads, always rises from the dead at about the same moment. Suddenly, towards the end of March, the miracle happens and the decaying slum in which I live is transfigured. Down in the square the sooty privets have turned bright green, the leaves are thickening on the chestnut trees, the daffodils are out, the wallflowers are budding, the policeman's tunic looks positively a pleasant shade of blue, the fishmonger greets his customers with a smile, and even the sparrows are quite a different color, having felt the balminess of the air and nerved themselves to take a bath, their first since last September.

Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle? There is not doubt that many people think so. I know by experience that a favourable reference to ‘Nature’ in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually ‘sentimental’, two ideas seem to be mixed up in them. One is that any pleasure in the actual process of life encourages a sort of political quietism. People, so the thought runs, ought to be discontented, and it is our job to multiply our wants and not simply to increase our enjoyment of the things we have already. The other idea is that this is the age of machines and that to dislike the machine, or even to want to limit its domination, is backward-looking, reactionary and slightly ridiculous. This is often backed up by the statement that a love of Nature is a foible of urbanized people who have no notion what Nature is really like. Those who really have to deal with the soil, so it is argued, do not love the soil, and do not take the faintest interest in birds or flowers, except from a strictly utilitarian point of view. To love the country one must live in the town, merely taking an occasional week-end ramble at the warmer times of year.

This last idea is demonstrably false. Medieval literature, for instance, including the popular ballads, is full of an almost Georgian enthusiasm for Nature, and the art of agricultural peoples such as the Chinese and Japanese centre always round trees, birds, flowers, rivers, mountains. The other idea seems to me to be wrong in a subtler way. Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him? I have always suspected that if our economic and political problems are ever really solved, life will become simpler instead of more complex, and that the sort of pleasure one gets from finding the first primrose will loom larger than the sort of pleasure one gets from eating an ice to the tune of a Wurlitzer. I think that by retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and — to return to my first instance — toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.
At any rate, spring is here, even in London N. 1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Haydn Quartet Project

After this past year's Summer Strings came to a close, some adult members of the ensemble thought it might be a nice idea to play some chamber music together during the other seasons of the year, and to play it in the dining room of the assisted living facility where the violist lives. This violist, who was my stand-partner in orchestra for many years, suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She has difficulty with practical life issues, but when the viola is in her hands she plays beautifully. The cellist is a late starter who never played in a string quartet before, and the second violinist is a retired teacher who, though she has been a life-long amateur, also never played in a string quartet before. And I'm playing the first violin part, which is a novel position for me since I usually play viola in string quartets.

I suggested that we play through all the Haydn quartets in order, beginning with Opus 1. We meet once every two weeks or so, read the designated quartet through, work on trouble spots, and then read it through again. We have an appreciative audience of residents who keep coming back. The quartet novices get better every time we meet, and I keep surprising myself by actually doing what a first violinist in a string quartet needs to do.

Tonight we played Opus 2, Number 2 in E major. While we were playing I thought about the generations upon generations of people all over the world who have played these quartets, which were written in 1775, while living under all sorts of less-than-ideal systems of government. The people playing these quartets might have had the same psychic need for escape that my colleagues and I had this evening.

I don't know what the future holds for the country and the world, but I do know that next time we will play Opus 2, Number 3, and I know that it will be a meaningful, refreshing, and rewarding experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dance to the Music of Time, or Caesium the Day

I have been listening to a podcast from the BBC that devotes individual episodes to individual elements. Aside from Tin, which is used in organ pipes, tin whistles, and a drum in a Günther Grass novel, I have encountered little in the way of musical resonance, But today's episode on Caesium, which has been translated into this excellent article, makes me think of all sorts of musical things regarding time and measurement.

Now I understand what the atomic clock is. And I also learned that someone who studies time is called an Horologist, and the study of time is Horology.

I have always been amazed that we, as human beings, have the ability to divide beats into 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, and even 15 parts with enough accuracy to sing or play in unison with others. This article (and podcast) doesn't explain that phenomenon, but it at least provokes me to think about it. And then there's The Pajama Game.



With music's most famous Horologist!



And, of course, Messiaen's Quartet for the end of Time:


Sunday, January 08, 2017

Offbeat Afterthoughts

Last night, at the age of 57, I played my very first orchestral New Year's concert. The inspiration for most orchestral New Year's concerts is that of Willy Boskovsky and the Vienna Philharmonic, and there are usually Strauss Waltzes on the program. I have played quartet transcriptions of Strauss Waltzes, but last night was the first time I ever played the viola part of a true Viennese waltz as nature intended (as originally orchestrated).

At the first rehearsal my stand partner told me that one of her past orchestras devoted a whole year to playing Viennese music of all stripes, and the conductor was very meticulous about the way he wanted the after beats to fall. In Viennese fashion the second beat of the three-quarter-time measure falls a fraction of a bit sooner than it would fall when playing the second beat in a non-Viennese waltzes.

I had ample opportunity to experiment, and I found that if I simply let my bow drop to the string from above on the first of the after beats, and then allowed the second after beat to rebound gently on the up-bow stroke, I could get that lilting feeling that I understand to be stylistically appropriate. Since a mixture of gravity and Gemütlichkeit was at play, it seemed to require no effort. No effort is good when your evening is populated mostly by off beats.

Another day, another off-beat.

This morning I played a bunch of waltzes arranged for string quartet. One was Viennese, but most of the pieces in three-quarter time were not. I tried my dropping bow technique on the Strauss, and it worked nicely. Then I tried the dropping bow technique on some non-Viennese waltzes, and it made them feel mannered and awkward.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Musical Life and Loss

The loss of a musician who, due to age, has exhausted his or her productivity is still a profound loss because a direct link to a tradition has been severed. I accept death as a natural ending to life. When someone lives out their full lifespan, that life is something to be celebrated, and the works and deeds that a person accomplished and shared should always be cherished as pieces of their best selves. I feel that with my mother's art that hangs on my walls.

But there is a personal connection that can't be seen, and can't truly be felt only through a person's works. (Usually words come easily to me, but now they don't.)

It has taken a while for me to truly accept Bernie Zaslav's death. I know that his body was failing. I know that he put in a good 90 years, and spent the last several months in physical discomfort. I know that he was ready to go, and that he was proud of what he accomplished during his life and his career as a musician.

Now I think of Bernie every time I play string quartets. And I believe that is the "place" he would have liked to be best remembered. In string quartets all over the world. There he is, mingled in with the Haydn. Celebrating sequences. Embracing dissonance, and rejoicing in resolution.

Now it's time to play some scales, while I look forward to playing quartets on Sunday . . .