Henry Brant (1913-2008)

Composer Henry Brant, best known for his use of musical space, has died. Some tributes (I'll add more as they come in):

Kyle Gann

Daniel Wolf


Me and My Meme

Tagged: by Alex Shapiro.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Sentences 6-8 from page 123 from Andre Dubus' Finding a Girl in America, (the story is called "The Winter Father"):

'Isn't that where people go to drink?' Kathi said.
'It's afternoon too,' David said.
Not for Peter; the sky was grey, the time was grey, dark was coming, and all at once he felt utterly without will; all the strength he had drawn on to be with his children left him like one long spurt of arterial blood: all his time with his children was grey, and night coming; it always will be; nothing would change: like three people cursed in an old myth they would forever be thirty-three and eight and six, in this car on salted roads, going from one place to another.

Tagging: Lisa Hirsch, Daniel Wolf, Scott Speigelberg, Darcy James Argue, and Phil Nugent.


Holland Days

The New York Times' chief correspondent on the musical attitudes and tastes of Bernard Holland, Bernard Holland, has written another article (in a limitless, numberless series) on the musical attitudes and tastes of Bernard Holland. The composer whose music provides Mr. Holland with another reason to revisit this admittedly compelling subject is George Perle, who turns 93 next month.

There's a lot to criticize in this piece, and others have done a good bit of the heavy lifting. To my mind, the most important of these is Tim Rutherford-Johnson's post, which points out the radical ahistoricism of Mr. Holland's opening paragraphs. I would only expand on Tim's fourth generation of atonal composers by pointing out that even younger artists like Michael Hersch represent a fifth or even sixth generation of composers writing what I prefer to call "pantonal" music.

Mr. Holland argues that the "passing" of pantonal music will not be noticed by the general public "given that not many people knows it ever existed". Concerts are full of pantonal music, and the Times itself reviews quite a bit, so I'm not sure exactly what Mr. Holland means, even if one were to accept his faulty premise that pantonal music is passing. What percentage of the "general public" would note the "passing" of classical music itself?

I come not to fisk Mr. Holland ("Sator Arepo" does that thoroughly, if not completely effectively) but to raise an eyebrow at some of his assertions:
It sounds reasonable to say that Anton Webern’s Piano Variations take up where Brahms left off. I admire the Webern; I even like it for its strangely satisfying space-age spirituality. I don’t think it has anything remotely to do with Brahms.

Both Brahms and Webern made very clear (and often showy) use of learned contrapuntal techniques in context of extreme expression, in forms of the past. Both composers were unusually fond of placing the burden of the musical arguement in highly active middle voices. Both composers relied on variation form/technique throughout their careers. The line from Brahms to Webern is very clear, but since the subject of the piece isn't music, but rather Bernard Holland's attitudes about it, there's not much to argue about. If he can't hear the connections, he can't hear them.

While arguing in general that pantonality is something other than peachy, Mr. Holland does praise Mr. Perle's music. And it is indeed praiseworthy. A correspondent tells me that the article did make him interested in hearing the music, so it must be granted that the article fulfilled that important function. I found the description of the music so general as to be all-but-meaningless, but it was fairly accurate, as far as it went.

Somebody at the Times did their homework--the caption on the picture of the composer uses the phrase "Twelve-tone tonalist". This is a play on the title of the composer's book about his compositional techniques. I was going to say it is about his "very personal approach to 12-tone technique", but I've never encountered music written using 12-tone techniques that weren't "very personal". I was hoping to read something about this in the article, but it was not to be found.

In the end, Mr. Holland uses Mr. Perle's music as a club which he uses to beat Elliott Carter over the head:

I recently came across a television program about Mr. Carter, who, at the end, hoped that an increasingly complicated world would breed a public smart and alert enough to appreciate his music. That is a dangerous presumption, one that offers soap to an unwashed public as yet unworthy of his greatness.

Mr. Holland doesn't name the "television program", which is Frank Schaffer's film A Labyrinth of Time, and I'm pretty sure I would have left out the title, too, if I were going to so completely distort a quote from it. I can see why Mr. Holland might dislike Mr. Carter, since the 99-year-old active composer throws less-than-flattering light on the critic's pride in what he clearly sees as his hard-earned laziness.

This article has its defenders, notably Kyle Gann (musical politics also make strange bedfellows) and A. C. Douglas (regular fan of Mr. Holland's work). Kyle's post is especially thoughtful and nuanced.

The point of this is not to deny that Mr. Holland is entitled to his opinions. Of course he is. But he's not entitled to his own facts.



Daniel Felsenfeld points to a fascinating blog called The Detritus Review, s a meta-critical look at music writing. In his post about the blog (which has been added to the blogroll), Dan rightfully calls on the bloggers to drop their anonymity, which seems only fair given the nature of the subject. I imagine they will do just that in due course.

Alex Ross posts an appropriately bleak photograph accompanied by some lines from Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man". Brazenly, I take the opportunity to mention that my solo piano piece, A Mind of Winter, title taken from the same poem, is part of Daniel Wolf's album of pieces written in response to the season, which is long past in these parts.



To Alex Ross, whose The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, was a finalist in the General Nonfiction category of the Pulitzer Prizes. An honor well-deserved, in a very large category.

Also to David Lang, whose Little Match Girl Passion is the Pulitzer Prize winner in Music Composition. David and I were classmates together at the University of Iowa, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Tanguy: Cello Concertos

CD review, Sequenza21.