Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Inventions and Creations

I made a couple of short videos using music that I wrote in 2004 and things I saw on a walk I took this morning.

Monday, February 26, 2024

In Preparation for Women's History Month

As February draws to a close, and we are all wondering whether March will come in as a lion or as a lamb, I like to enjoy the fact that March has become a month to celebrate the contributions to culture that women of the past have made.

I have gone through the Musical Assumptions archives and "curated" a list of posts that concern women in music.

You can access the list through this link, which also appears on the sidebar.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Schubert's "Nachtviolen," now for Four Violas

Somebody had to do it! Imagine my surprise when I noticed that both the vocal and piano parts of Schubert's "Nachtviolen" (D.752) sit perfectly in the viola range.

And imagine my surprise when I found how beautifully it can work as a piece for four violas. (I like to think that the idea might have crossed Schubert's mind as well.)

The result:

You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

When it's time to move on, in memory of Eric Larsen

February 19, 2024

I wrote this piece for voice, cello, and piano in memory of the pianist Eric Larsen (1952-2024), who was a dear friend and chamber music partner of my very dear friend Daniel Morganstern. The poem, written by Danny's mother Milly (1913-2000), is one that he shared with me only recently, and a poem that was at the very front of both his mind and my mind during Eric's last days. Danny told me recently that Eric met Danny's mother before he met Danny, and that Milly loved listening to them practice together (in her home) extremely slowly, because that way she could hear every detail in the music.

You can listen to a computer-generated file here, and find the music here. The music is also available on this page of the IMSLP.

We are single threads
in the fabric
of each other’s lives

We are words
in each other’s stories

We are notes
in each other’s songs

When it’s time to move on

We step
over the edge
into a new space
where we are transformed
as color
in the thread
as meaning
in the word
as overtone
in the note

We continue
through life, death
and transformation

On our journey

--Milly Morganstern

Friday, February 16, 2024


I went to a great many concerts conducted by Seiji Ozawa when I was coming of musical age in Boston. I even got the chance to sing with him once. It was a performance of the Haydn Creation on July 8, 1973. I was so impressed by the music, the soloists, and the experience in general, that all I really remember about Ozawa as a conductor was that he sang everything very quickly in solfege (I was impressed by that). John Oliver, the director of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, told us in that Seiji Ozawa was very particular about diction. I was surprised by the fact that Ozawa never mentioned diction in the rehearsals we had with orchestra.

I always enjoyed hearing the Boston Symphony conducted by its guest conductors, paricularly Leonard Bernstein, Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Klaus Tennstedt, and Erich Leinsdorf (I got to sing in Wozzeck under him in 1969) more than I did when Ozawa conducted. And I never understood, during "Beethoven Week," why Ozawa's Beethoven always sounded less meaningful than I hoped it would have sounded.

I do remember enjoying Ozawa's performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, but I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the absolute adoration I read in these internets now that Seiji Ozawa is no longer alive.

I do have something Ozawa-related from 1963 to share that might be new to his younger fans, as well as his older fans.

The Price is Wrong: Excellent article in VAN Magazine

Thank you Sharon Su for this article, (and thank you to Michael for sharing it with me). It is certainly time for me to resubscribe to this magazine!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Songs from Dorothy Parker's Sunset Gun

Sunset Gun is Dorothy Parker’s (1893-1967) second book of poetry. It was published by Boni and Liveright in New York in 1928, and entered the public domain in January of 2024. I am celebrating its liberation by sharing a group of four songs from the book that I set for soprano and piano here, and having the music remain in the public domain (It is now in the IMSLP).
You can find the music and computer-generated audio file on this page of the IMSLP

[“Sunset Gun” refers to a canon shot that is fired when the flag is being lowered in a military cermony at the end of the day.]

Sunday, February 04, 2024


Yesterday I started work on a setting of a poem written in the voice of character in Homer's Odyssey, and last night I had a "working" dream that must have been influenced by Fred Hersch's dream that I wrote a post about yesterday.

In my dream I was attempting to do some kind of dance-related expressive movement, and was taken aback when I saw Augustin Hadelich, wearing maroon Dansko clogs, going up on pointe. And then I noticed a group of small children sitting on the floor. They were all listening with great attention to a six-year-old Augustin reciting (from memory) a part of the Odyssey in English.

I was so inspired by this dream that I got to work immediately after breakfast today, and have been at it all day. I might even finish the song tomorrow.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Fred Hersch's Dream

Last night Michael and I went to a concert that featured the pianist Fred Hersch. It was a marvelous concert. I was particularly impressed by a story that Hersch told about the dream that inspired his "Dream of Monk," which you can hear him play with Esperanza Spalding here.

He told the audience about finding himself in a small cage, too small to fit in comfortably, and then seeing Thelonius Monk in another cage that was too small for him to fit in. A guard came in with some manuscript paper, and told them both that the first person to write a tune would be set free. Hersch scribbled out a tune as quickly as he could, and handed it to the guard. Then he saw that Monk hadn't written anything.

When writing the tune inspired by this dream, Hersch used a kitchen timer to give himself the kind of time constraint that he had while dreaming about writing it.


My armchair psychologist's take on this dream would be that the thing that most composers want most when faced with writing something is a set of constraints. A cage that you write your way out of is such a great visual image of this need. And it is a need. The world of pitches, harmonies, registers, tempo, meter, dynamics, instruments, voices, and timbre is vaster than vast. And finding a path through the possibilities for a creative person with some kind of an abstract feeling to express is really difficult without a good set of guidelines. I imagine that this is the case for any kind of creative person doing any kind of creative thing.

The telling thing for me is that Hersch saw Monk, one of his heroes, as not being productive in a cage.

Perhaps it was because Hersch was looking for perameters in order to begin the song he wanted to write (inspired by the title of Monk's Dream). Perhaps it was because Hersch used Monk as his "cage" in real life (given the musical language of the song), and believed (at least in his unconscious mind) that Monk didn't benefit from any kind of artificial constraint when he wrote.

I wonder what kind of dreams Thelonious Monk had?

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Growing Up Female, 1971

This post is not about music. It's about a forty-nine-minute-long documentary film about being female in the 1970s. The film begins with small children in preschool and their social behavior being described by their teacher along strict gender lines. I never went to preschool, and the household I grew up in was far from typical, so my socialization began in Kindergarten and in the neighborhood. Everything this teacher says sounds like something out of a textbook (maybe to "impress" the film maker), and everything she says about children has since been proven wrong.

But the stuff about eleven-year-old girls (as described by their teacher) really rang true for me and for my experience. As the film progressed a larger truth about growing up female in the 1970s came clearly into focus.

I remember the 1970s as a dark time that was lit up by compelling pop music. I remember the 1970s as a decade when girls couldn't wear pants to school, and then we finally could, but it wasn't until later in the decade that clothing companies made pants that were comfortable to wear for women who were not skinny. I remember the idea of womanhood in the 1970s being a scary series of beauty parlors, pointy bras, magazines that showed us girls how we were supposed to look if we wanted boys to like us. And here it is, unscripted in glorious black and white. Watch only if you dare.