Six Case Studies in New American Music: A Postmodern Portrait Gallery
This article is a sequel to "The Politics of Definition in New Music," which appeared in the previous issue of the College Music Symposium. In that article, the struggle between modernist and minimalist aesthetics was explored, with an aim to discover how the legacy of these two antithetical movements was shaping the debate over the nature of postmodernism in music. No single definition of postmodernism was ventured then, nor will one appear now. But two things are certain—first, this era is witness to a proliferation of techniques, aesthetics, and definitions of the very nature of music. And second, we are seeing barriers between these elements leak and crumble, leading to a range of hybridization unforeseen even a decade ago. This article treats six composers, all in their creative prime, who have each attempted a personal synthesis that remains true to their respective roots, while also opening up new realms of expression and communication with an audience.
By both their differences from one another, and by the variety of materials within the work of each, they are all in a sense "postmodern". Brian Ferneyhough, now resident in San Diego, represents a new generation of European modernism driven to a mannerist edge; Charles Wuorinen, the preeminent "uptown" composer of his generation, takes serialism and presses it toward a new ideal of classicism; John Adams, a second-generation minimalist, has taken that movement back into the orchestral concert hall where it has won new adherents from more traditional audiences; Pauline Oliveros, a classic experimentalist, has redefined the very activity of composition to include the audience as a partner with the composer; Ben Johnston, the foremost contemporary microtonal composer, continues a tradition of individualistic invention inherited from Ives, Cage, and Partch; and William Bolcom, the most unrepentantly eclectic of the group, prophesies through his music a time when American popular and serious musics will no longer see a chasm between themselves. Through this sampling, we can perhaps take some pride in the rich texture and quality of work distinguishing new American music. And perhaps there are some reading this who will see further points of intersection between these artists, leading to ever more rich and subtle aesthetic discoveries.
Absolutely everyone who knows anything of it describes Brian Ferneyhough's music in two ways: 1) ferociously difficult, and 2) the ultimate expression of the "rationalistic" approach to composition initiated by Schoenberg with the serial method. These generalizations are understandable, in part because of the company Ferneyhough keeps. Such older modernists as Carter and Boulez have taken up his cause. Groups specializing in the performance of extremely complex music (such as the Arditti string quartet) have presented his pieces in concert and on record. And for many seasons he has been a central presence at the Darmstadt festival, the cradle of postwar musical modernism. While his music has generated a genuine range of reaction in Europe, in America the response has generally been negative or nonexistent among both the academic and experimental establishments. Ferneyhough is probably accustomed to such isolation and misunderstanding—for most of his artistic maturity he has been an expatriate, an Englishman first in Germany (as an adjunct lecturer at a provincial university) and now in California. Yet these generalizations are just that—overviews that concentrate on isolated, often superficial aspects of his art without attempting to understand its motivations or larger aims. There is no doubt that Ferneyhough's music is difficult, that its pitch and gestural language derives from serialism, or that his philosophical descriptions of his work seem at times over elaborate or even obfuscating. But these surface signs mask an art far more rich and contradictory than most in America believe.
Ferneyhough in person is an energetic, charming, and articulate man. In fact, in conversation he explains his ideas so clearly that one yearns for a comparable directness in his musical writings. But this may well be intentional, or at least understandable: after years of living in a German environment, he has embraced as his own a mode of philosophical discourse which is largely unappealing to the mainstream Anglo-American intellectual tradition. Further, the way he writes prose is probably related to his process of musical composition—both words and tones are arranged into texts so as to be analyzed and their layers of contradictory meanings exposed during the process of reading/listening. Ferneyhough intends that listeners and performers work at understanding his art, but in a way that goes beyond the attitude toward "understanding" expected for most difficult music. Usually, a composer with a particularly hermetic vision hopes that under ideal circumstances an "expert listener" will emerge who is willing to listen to and study a piece time and time again. Through this process the listener comes to an understanding of the composer's techniques, metaphysical aims, historical context, etc. As a result, he or she is then able to experience the "truth" of this music, to sense an intimacy with it that is similar to that of the composer.
In Ferneyhough's case, though, increased listening creates multiple, indeed contradictory interpretations. The music is so full of information, both in the score and in its sound, that one cannot absorb it all at once. Instead, one must accept pieces of the total information pool and use them to create one's own reading of the music. Another time, different aspects may arise to the fore to create a different work for the same listener. Ferneyhough himself incorporates this process into his creative work. For example, in Funerailles I and II, a piece for string ensemble is used as a source for a new piece using the same elements and revised instrumentation. Rather than being a variation or an elaboration of a musical "core" (as is the case in Berio's Chemins series), the new piece is an essay on how a composer conceives of an older work, what he decides to retain and change, how his own aesthetic has evolved—in short, how volatile is his own process of interpretation.
This helps to explain the density of information in Ferneyhough's work: rather than a "transcendentalist" attempt to embrace all phenomena and experience into a single artifact (an Ivesian/Joycean ideal), he seeks to create music that approximates the frenetic, ambiguous process of perception we encounter in both daily and "aesthetic" life. His work for orchestra La Terre est un Homme suggests not just that the earth is an organic unity, but even more that a man is a world in himself, embodying physical and intellectual hierarchies and contradictions that are challenge enough for even the most rigorous inquiries.
Ferneyhough has spoken of creating extremely formalistic schemes that are antithetical to one another, then setting them simultaneously in motion to generate a piece. As a result, one process may throw another off course, giving the music a strange sense of being both highly deterministic, yet unpredictable. In this sense it treads a tightrope between the chaos of indeterminate music as pioneered by Cage and the rigor of total serialism. I must emphasize this "middle ground," for Ferneyhough's music, despite its obvious rigor, still exudes a human, volatile, surrealistic quality missing from both random and totally rationalized music. In his world, logic creates its own madness, random events can impose an order and meaning, chaos can become a discipline. In this sense, his music is an evocation of the cognitive structures we have created for ourselves and with which we now struggle in an increasingly complex world.
One further point concerning Ferneyhough's music deserves clarification: its extraordinary difficulty. The look of his scores is intimidating, with notation so detailed and precise as to control every parameter of sound production—inflection, articulation, color, dynamics, rhythm. Many have objected that in fact this represents overnotation, a fetishistic extension of the search for control which animated total serial music of the 1950s. If one values interpretive freedom, then this objection has some validity; Ferneyhough does tightly constrain the performer to follow his directions. But once again, there is a deeper reason for this approach; the issue is not only one of control but of knowledge. By making even the subtlest musical decisions visible through the notation, Ferneyhough renders the unconscious conscious. Once a player is forced to think about everything he or she previously took for granted, a new region for interpretation and virtuosity opens up. This is especially evident in such solo pieces as Unity Time Capsule for flute and Time and Motion Study #1 for bass clarinet, which push players to previously inconceivable feats of stamina and activity. In the larger ensemble pieces, the difficulties derive more from the plethora of information embedded in the score; the actual sound produced is not as virtuosic as the notation might suggest to a casual reader.
This leads to one serious criticism of Ferneyhough's work—its actual sound. Overall, the orchestration and pitch choice contribute to a gray texture, often cloudy and homogeneous. Inevitably, transcendent performance can clarify some events and project the excitement of a performer overcoming extraordinary obstacles, a fact that compels attention. But the richness of conception that motivates this music seems somehow shackled by the intricate, expressionistic, almost completely nonrepetitive language within which it operates. The complexities and contradictions which Ferneyhough seeks to project in his art do not apply to issues of style. In that his work hews to the ideal of a "unified" language (or at least a consistent vocabulary), rather than acknowledging the radical differences of outlooks embodied by different modes of expression, his music conforms to the old modernist paradigm.
Yet despite this limitation, there is another, complementary aspect of Ferneyhough's aesthetic which makes it very much of this time. Ferneyhough readily admits that he is a mannerist composer. That is, he accepts the fact that pluralism exists but chooses to pursue a single course to previously unheard extremes. For him, the modernist tradition is a tradition, a fund of techniques and attitudes toward music which points to a specific type of personal inquiry, and which suits his own creative temperament. His byzantine complexities are an admitted form of decadence, a final exotic flowering of a style that most had already abandoned (even the recent work of Boulez is far more harmonically accessible and motor-rhythmic than such earlier pieces as Structures and Le Marteau Sans Maître.) In this sense Ferneyhough is a "neomodernist," maybe even a "postmodern 'modern' composer," since he reflects on his very role as a creator through the medium of his music. Above all, he presents a challenging example of an artist who is constantly digging through his own thought and perception to find a new set of questions to ask, a new level of understanding to analyze.
It seems hard to believe that Charles Wuorinen has turned fifty. For two-and-a-half decades, he has been the "fair-haired boy" of the New York compositional school known as "uptown." Wuorinen burst upon the new music world as a model for a new type of serious, practical musician: while rigorously intellectual, capable of mastering the intricacies of high serial technique in both compositions and articles, he was also a brilliant performer, establishing equal reputations as pianist and conductor. He was proof that the scholarly demands of this highly complex music did not preclude an essential musicality or virtuosity, as defined by the Western classical tradition.
And Wuorinen has not fizzled—the fate of so many bright young stars. He has produced a comprehensive catalogue that covers every possible genre and ensemble (except opera). He founded and directed the Group for Contemporary Music, one of the prototypes for the professional new music ensemble that has become a fixture of our cultural landscape. Recently, he has been new music advisor for the San Francisco Symphony, bringing his expertise to a larger and broader based institution. He has written one of the primary (and most readable) texts on serial technique, Simple Composition, and he has received extravagant recognition for his accomplishments, culminating in both the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur "genius" grant.
Of course, Wuorinen is not without his detractors, in part because he has been outspoken in his opinions on the state and direction of composition in America. For example, the opening of Simple Composition states:
While the tonal system, in an atrophied or vestigial form is still used today in popular and commercial music, and even occasionally in the work of backward-looking serious composers, it is no longer employed by serious composers of the mainstream. It has been replaced or succeeded by the 12-tone system, first initiated by Schoenberg, and ultimately developed into a world of chromaticism extending far beyond the domains originally conceived for its use.1
As one can see, Wuorinen has a categorical faith in the rightness of his aesthetic choices, and he is dismissive of those who may choose a different course. He seems unwilling to take up the pluralistic, synthetic approach of so many composers today. Instead, he stands willing to confront those who belittle or ignore the basic Western tradition as he sees it. Do not dilute that tradition, he says—let different tendencies battle, but let the most substantial prevail.
Yet even as he takes this stance, Wuorinen must feel uneasy. The forces arrayed against his type of "advanced" music seem stronger than ever. Here are some disturbing signs:
1) While Wuorinen has consistently created electronic pieces, including the Pultizer-winning Time's Encomium and the computer-aided algorithmic composition Arp I, the current explosion in computer-based music systems is largely inimical to his ideas of a composer's training and creative process. MIDI-generated music, the means by which an increasingly large number of young musicians first experience composition, influences taste in two directions, toward: a) immediate feedback, by which a musical idea is instantaneously heard, and keyboard-generated layers can be "sequenced" into compositions by a multi-track overlay process, and b) a glossy, polished sound directly related to the world of popular and commercial music. As for the first, Wuorinen has always distrusted improvisation and spontaneous inspiration,2 and for the second, he has never been primarily a colorist—pitch, not timbre, is his primary compositional determinant. The shifting premises of the compositional process itself, backed by the full weight of the high-tech industry, seem to be distancing Wuorinen and his assumptions ever farther from the next compositional generation.
2) While Wuorinen is consistently played throughout the U.S., it is striking that neither he nor many members of the "uptown" school are played with comparable frequency in Europe. Babbitt, Sessions, Perle, Davidovsky—all these are still relatively unknown across the Atlantic (except in England, due to both the common tongue and advocacy of such figures as Peter Maxwell Davies and Oliver Knussen). Only Carter seems to have a secure foothold on the continent, due largely to the attentions of Pierre Boulez. To Europeans, American music still means jazz, John Cage, pop music, and the "experimentalist" wing which comprises such unlikely companions as computer music, minimalism, and performance art. Those composers like Wuorinen, who have adopted and extended the traditions bequeathed them by the great emigrés Schoenberg and Stravinsky, seem to be little welcome in the ancestral home, which now instead fixates on the most "exotic" aspects of American culture.
3) Most disturbingly, Wuorinen may be the last of his line. When he was thirty, a series of "masters" were at the height of their powers, and he was already the guarantor of the brilliant continuation of the tradition. Now Carter is 82, Babbitt 74, and Wuorinen 52—and the situation remains the same, with no younger standard-bearer in sight. Of course, there are successful young composers of concert music, a "brat pack" that is achieving orchestral exposure, commissions, and publication on a scale unseen in a couple of generations. Led by Michael Torke, Aaron Kernis, and David Lang, these composers do not, however, seem particularly interested in elaborating the twelve-tone tradition. Their music does borrow some of the "process" common (ironically) to both serial and minimalist music, but most of all, they look back to the jazzy rhythms, lush romanticism, and splashy sounds of more popular American music, a tradition of Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein. And if they are influenced by any American composer deemed "avant-garde," it is Jacob Druckman, whose dramatic instinct and spectacular handling of instrumental color have made him one of the few composers to achieve both critical and public success via the orchestra. Though university trained, they are now mostly independent of the academic world and its concerns. They do not justify music in the same way Wuorinen and his generation did.
But I do not want to suggest that Wuorinen's music is a mere clone of the Second Viennese School. Indeed, even a cursory listening to a sample of his works will reveal that the late serial pieces of Stravinsky have had at least as much influence on his ideas of structure. Likewise, there is a genuinely American quality in Wuorinen's music, in particular with its emphasis on sharp attacks, contrasts of bright primary instrumental colors, and rhythmic drive. This rhythmic sense has become ever more refined in his later works, so that such pieces as the sextet Arabia Felix and the Grand Bamboula for string orchestra project an energy and wit unexpected by those who assume all "academic" music is flat and humorless. In short, Wuorinen's preeminence in his portion of the compositional spectrum is genuinely deserved by talent, imagination, and an ability to develop a technique that is ever more fluent and far-ranging.
Yet a contradiction remains that threatens the ultimate power and survivability of Wuorinen's oeuvre. The tradition he has adopted was developed in special circumstances almost a century ago. The preserial expressionist language defined a world of sounds that embodied an extreme of intensity perfectly suited to the extravagantly neurotic personalities of Schoenberg and his circle. Later, when Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone method, he applied much of that vocabulary (dissonant intervals, angular melodies, constantly fluctuating tempi) to this new formal language. Wuorinen has done much the same. Yet there is a dangerous tension here—on the one hand we have a set of gestures evocative of intense, extreme, almost hysterical psychological states; on the other, a comprehensive technique whose idea is a new order of harmony, a second "neoclassicism" whose ultimate aim is the regeneration of a common creative language. Can the extremely personal nature of the first and the far more general spirit of the second successfully coexist? Can an impulse toward order discipline materials of inherent disorderliness, without draining them of their authenticity?
Wuorinen's success with this challenge is mixed. In those pieces where the serial technique motivates the deep structure, but leaves the surface open to more surprising interventions, such as the very engaging Grand Bamboula, the answer is yes. But there are also a large number of works where this intersection instead produces a cancellation effect, where the attempt to take modernism beyond the realm of style and into that of a fundamental grammar creates a generic product. A recent large orchestral work, Movers and Shakers, seems to fall into this trap. Sharp and engaging for about its first ten minutes, it then becomes increasingly homogeneous over its remaining two-thirds, despite the high energy level of its surface.
So Wuorinen, in his advocacy of an "authentic" American avant-garde, has not yet proven its superiority, despite producing several brilliant and satisfying pieces. He has amassed formidable technique. The challenge now lies in whether he can make pieces grand not just in length and structure, but in their ability to balance expressively and stylistically diverse materials in a single sweeping architecture. Is the "classic modernism" he chose open enough to understand its own contradictions and exploit them for a new leap forward? Can Wuorinen tweak the technique to create a hybrid of serialism as original as Stravinsky's thirty years earlier? If so, his work will be a beacon for those who value intellectual passion in music; if not, then Wuorinen remains the rightful keeper of the flame, but with no inheritors in sight.
John Adams may be the most successful concert composer reaching prominence in America today. Philip Glass is still a bigger "name," but Adams has a potentially wider audience, in that he still writes for the orchestra (to the delight of most critics and even conservative audiences) and also has adopted a bright, appealing variant of minimalism that speaks to younger listeners through a series of well-marketed recordings. As such he is very much a "crossover" composer, though one who came both from the avant-garde to the mainstream, and from the mainstream to the avant-garde. To explain:
Adams was a traditionally trained composer from Harvard who moved to San Francisco in the '60s. As such, he had a thorough musical training and an understanding of the repertoire. His fundamental love of the orchestra has never left him; he has written most of his music for the symphony or for ensembles derived from it. In this way he was from the outset a more traditional composer. Yet before Adams ever received widespread notice, he was drawn to the minimalist style that was brewing in the Bay Area under the influence of such composers as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Thus, when Adams' first major minimalist pieces were heard in the 1970s, he was dubbed a "second-generation" minimalist, a "next wave" of this avant-garde movement. These early pieces are particularly attractive. Shaker Loops for string septet is a gentle, buzzing, slightly folkloric work, a mellower evocation of the world of Appalachian Spring. Common Tones in Simple Time for orchestra is more ambitious and satisfying, weaving a seamless thread of harmonic/coloristic textures that gradually metamorphose over twenty minutes. Adams has always liked pretty sounds and harmonies, and his works provide perhaps the most overtly sensual pleasures of minimalist music. Further, his relationship to the orchestra is grounded in practical experience, as he had the good fortune to convince the San Francisco Symphony's then-director, Edo de Waart, to create a post of "new music advisor," which Adams subsequently filled. As a result, Adams was one of the first to present a new model of composerly activity—that of the consultant. By evaluating new scores, organizing special series, and writing commissioned works for the orchestra, he helped launch a movement for composer residencies which is one of the few bright institutional developments in new American music over the past decade. This experience also gave him an invaluable chance to learn the tastes and consumption patterns of symphony audiences. As a result, he has written a number of pieces in different genres, some light, some serious, but all well tailored to various occasions and programming considerations.
As Adams' music has developed, a second major thread has emerged in his work—that of romanticism. Adams' desire to make a grand statement had first appeared in a choral/orchestral setting of an Emily Dickinson poem, Harmonium. Here the rate of harmonic change sped up dramatically from the classic minimalist model, even though the basic pulse and repeated melodic modules remained in place. Further, the music pushed forward toward sweeping climaxes where one felt genuine direction in the harmonic progressions, a quality avoided in such previous works as Shaker Loops.
The next major work in this vein was Harmonielehre, a sprawling three movement orchestral piece which seems to be a symphony in everything but name. Here, the new-found language of "functional minimalism" was combined with an impulse toward hyperdramatic gesture. From the crashing minor chords of the opening, the music bristles with a propulsive energy reminiscent of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. Yet Harmonielehre also displays an aspect of Adams' art which is disconcerting. In its desire for an intensity previously unheard in his music, it embraces gestures that are symbols of passion, but weak in substance. For example, in the first movement, the "minimalist" opening, so insistent and energetic, is replaced by a soaring theme for doubled horns and strings which sounds like a love song from a 1940s soundtrack. It is at this moment that we realize Adams is a California composer in more than one sense, that one of the traditions with which he grapples is that of Hollywood, of music composed to accompany the calculated myths that American movies have generated over decades. In one sense, this is admirable; American art music has all too often dismissed popular sources as unworthy, and instead latched onto more abstract and alien models, usually aping European fashion. And since film is the one truly populist art form of our era, its music (often conceived with real sophistication) has reached an infinitely wider audience than any serious concert music.
Yet this flirtation has its dangers, and in Harmonielehre, Adams' product falls short of its ambitions. The themes are not very memorable or organic: the crashing climaxes of the second movement sound forced, as though the composer has tried to rewrite a late Mahler movement. Depending on one's tastes, either a good movie soundtrack or a late Romantic symphony will be more satisfying. In short, we are suddenly confronted with the same problem as that of the "late Expressionist" music discussed earlier: a surface intensity that seems unmatched by profundity of musical conception or even by an audible need for all the sound and fury. Here, kitsch starts to raise its head.
The issue of kitsch also turns up from a different angle when Adams charts a radically different course, i.e. when he attempts parody. The most difficult piece in this regard is Grand Pianola Music, a work for two pianos and orchestra which spoofs the idea of the Romantic Concerto. Here, the joke of the "Big Tune" at the end sounds merely inept, both technically and aesthetically. Because the music just doesn't sound very imaginative, one is left wondering how Adams feels. Does he really love the models for this piece, or does he loathe them? The tone of the piece is so dulled by its murky realization that one is left with no middle ground for judgement. One interprets the music as either ridiculous or beautiful, depending on gross standards of taste. The pleasures of ambiguity are denied. Yet Adams is resilient, and gives hope that these earlier pieces may have only been a working out of conflicting tendencies which are now starting to synthesize. The Chairman Dances, a brief concert piece excerpted from his opera Nixon in China, shows a much greater sensitivity to the abovementioned issues than any previous work.3 Here, the nervous cha-cha, waltz, and tango elements bustle against one another in a way that mixes camp and irony, love and distaste, schmaltz and acid. This, and the brief fanfare A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, are pieces that have a genuine wit, and are imaginatively realized. One can delight in both the craft, and in the tightrope act of balancing diverse, even conflicting aesthetic elements.
Adams illustrates how far minimalism has come from its roots. Like Steve Reich, his earlier pieces may now seem more fully realized than recent efforts, but this measurement is inevitably made with the old modernist yardstick, which appreciates unity and individuality above all else. Both composers have continued to strive beyond their initial successes by exploring new territory; indeed as serious artists, they cannot help but do so. Reich has moved toward the model of the "serious" composer, making both grand statements like The Desert Music for chorus and orchestra, and more sophisticated experiments than ever, like the intensely poignant Holocaust piece, Different Trains for string quartet and taped sampled sounds. Adams, similarly ambitious, has searched for far greater contact with popular, vernacular elements, emulating such nationalists as Copland. In each case, their success has been mixed; at times, this attraction to popular and critical recognition leads to music which just tries too hard, which takes itself too seriously. Perhaps the desire for artistic "growth" (usually unchallenged in our culture) may be derived from a model of development which is now unsuited to the temperaments of these composers, forcing them into a race with the great masters which they cannot win.
Adams is an example of a very typical American response to the composer's plight. Instead of searching to distill a coherent and comprehensive philosophy into his music (as would a European composer), he is instead driven by a desire to "communicate." Often, it is not entirely clear what this means. Whom is he trying to reach? What is being communicated? What is its "worth," anyway? Firm answers do not yet emerge from Adams' music. Often, it seems that the relentlessly upbeat nature of so much of his music bespeaks a desire to "communicate" with an audience which is in fact just a desire to be liked. And if Adams does write to please himself, it often seems that he does so simply by creating an orchestral wash that suggests other musics to which he enjoys listening. If anything, what seems to be communicated is the idea of "beauty" and "passion," a symbol of some greater need not yet fully articulated and freed from easy stylistic labels.
Can this music go to a further level of invention than mere mixings of style and voice? In the end, I think Adams' approach to this issue deserves further exploration, even though he may not be the composer to ultimately realize its greatest expressive and imaginative potential. Since he has reached prominence due to both the quality of his music and to the unusual circumstances of his "breakthrough" as a classical composer, his aesthetic choices are now closely tied to his career success. He has become engaged with the culture, but he now is more susceptible to its market demands than before.
But even if he remains satisfied writing music with a certain superficial level of expressiveness, Adams remains an important composer. He has opened up the possibility of a new sort of cultural experimentation. He has not been afraid to write for a potentially larger audience, and he has attempted to revive the orchestral tradition before it sinks into museum status. He has accepted the primacy of popular culture in America and has set out to shape it to his own purposes. He will get his hands dirty, but his efforts may yet lead to something far more fruitful than could ever be produced by a totally hermetic avant-garde.
In concert, Pauline Oliveros is an authoritative presence, but not in the usual "commanding" manner we have come to expect from the world of the conductor and virtuoso. A full-bodied woman with a Buddha-like demeanor, she comes on stage with her accordion, and begins to play slowly changing pedal points against which she will softly chant. Often, she will invite the audience to join her, giving simple instructions that guide the group improvisation.
In the case of this collaborative music, I witnessed one remarkable performance directed by Oliveros in New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Before an audience of almost a thousand, she gave the following instructions: "Begin to sing a pitch, purely and slowly, for the duration of one breath. As you come to the end of your breath, listen to someone as far away from you as possible, and respond to his or her pitch." While extremely simple, these directions were in fact very sophisticated, for they forced a largely nonprofessional audience to listen carefully to the entire sound produced by the group, not just that of the listener's neighbor. As a result, for fifteen minutes, the most extraordinary waves of harmony washed over the cathedral; one could feel certain harmonic centers gel in a distant part of the hall, then suddenly sweep toward and surround one in a rich bath of sound. Always in motion, yet hardly obeying traditional rules of voice-leading, this harmonic world was unlike any I had ever heard before. It was another instance of how Oliveros' rethinking of composition is leading her to a radically new, yet very engaging music.
If one looks back to the early issues of Perspectives of New Music, the bible of the academic avant-garde in the 1960s, one can actually find articles and reviews by Oliveros, performing analysis in a suitably rigorous manner. Coming to California from Houston, she knew the techniques of the "learned" composers, but she quickly set out on a different path when she discovered the early technology of electronic music. Using only a couple of oscillators and tape recorders, she created an open, sensuous, cyclic music of loops and delays that anticipated the work of later minimalists (without sounding as severe). While Oliveros continued to work with electronic music throughout the 1960s and '70s in San Diego, she also apparently went through a radical reappraisal of her role as a musician and composer, a self-critique that caused her to take several steps.
First, Oliveros began performing on her childhood instrument, the accordion. This was significant in several ways: it called serious attention to an instrument dismissed as cheap or schmaltzy; it reestablished a link with her musical roots, recapturing the immediacy of childhood; and it allowed her to take her work on stage, directly to an audience she could speak to and work with.
Second, Oliveros gave up the idea of individual control over her music. In her case this was critical. As Cage might say, only when one gives up all can anything be gained. By relinquishing the role of musical dictator that composers usually adopt unthinkingly (i.e., one who dictates to another—the performer—what to do), she instead assumed the role of a guide, one who could lead a group to a new world they would probably not discover on their own. The music remained hers in that only she could initiate it, but it also became an intimate creative experience for a much larger set of individuals as well.
Third, by working in concert with groups of amateurs she directed in "sonic meditations," Oliveros affirmed the idea of community via a new oral tradition. This sense of community has been sorely missing in new music circles for decades; by the 1950s the days were gone when Copland and Sessions, Ruggles and Varèse, Cowell and Ives collaborated in producing concerts and publishing music. The first revival of this spirit occurred with the birth of composer-run "downtown" ensembles in New York in the 1960s. Now, even more traditional composers in cities throughout the country are banding together on a communal model to present and promote their own music. Oliveros carries this principle even further, inviting all people, without distinctions between amateur and professional, to perform her work with a clear mind and a willingness to learn—through these, one becomes both a performer and a creator within her environment.
Oliveros' rejection of so many practices sacred to traditional composition perhaps works because it is not the result of a frenzied search for "originality." Instead, it seems like the long-sought fruit of a steady process of maturation and acceptance of self. If her music seems exceptionally honest, then it is because she has brought it very closely in line with her own social ideals and ethical values. While not tied to a narrow agenda, her aesthetic does embody many tenets of a "women's music": cooperation instead of competition, steady-state ecstasy instead of directional climax, group interchange instead of individual glorification. While some composers with strong political/social beliefs have allowed those beliefs to weaken their art (as in the case of Luigi Nono's Marxist cantatas or Cornelius Cardew's worker-songs), in Oliveros' case, the whole sense of social mission has seemed to give her music a personality and beauty which she would never have found otherwise. Perhaps it is the comprehensiveness of her critique—social, sexual, political, aesthetic, that has given her the strength to take so many risks and become the holy mother, the Gertrude Stein of downtown New York's new music scene. Yet her music is instructive in more ways than just showing a new communal model for society. Because of its sonic beauty, it is first of all seductive, and only afterwards didactic. In such works as the accordion ensemble piece Horse Sings From Cloud, one might think she was hearing the music of an angelic consort (though still very much of this world), building a new peaceable kingdom, still proclaiming the utopian spirit in American art.
Ben Johnston is perhaps the only composer of his generation and stature not to have received major recognition in the form of the most important awards given to American artists. Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, George Perle, George Rochberg, Ralph Shapey, and Conlon Nancarrow have all received Pulitzer, Friedheim, or MacArthur awards; further, these composers cover a wide spectrum of aesthetics and personalities, ranging from card-carrying serialists to unrepentant (and sometimes hermetic) mavericks. Yet Johnston has not been elevated into their midst, even though his music merits at least as much attention. One might say, as did Bartók, that competitions are for race horses and not artists, and that Johnston's isolation is thus a mark of his quality. And in fact, the lack of an easy characterization for his music is both a sign of its strength and a hindrance to its acceptance by certain powers. Nevertheless, if we can drop, for the moment, the issue of whether composers should be awarded prizes at all, we are still confronted with the issue of Johnston's exclusion and what it says about our musical life. Why he remains an outsider from the small club of "recognized masters" is a revealing study in American aesthetic politics.
Johnston is an example of the artist who chooses a particular work environment, not for how it aids his career, but for the security and resources it provides for his art. In his particular case, the choice was seemingly an ironic one, but in fact deeply suited to his temperament—the university. Johnston taught for over twenty-five years at the University of Illinois at Urbana, having only recently retired. Yet his music, while it uses conventional orchestral instruments and involves great feats of intellectual stamina, has had little to do with what is usually called academic avant-garde music. While Johnston began as a serialist, a training which gave him a certain discipline and technical fluency, he quickly moved beyond strict twelve-tone technique under the influence of two highly individualistic mentors: John Cage and Harry Partch. Further, he had the good fortune to live through the experimentalism of the 1960s at a time in his own development when he was both mature and open enough to accept the new perspectives offered by radical aesthetics, without wholly denying the value of the Western tradition. Thus, Johnston wrote pieces which involved group improvisation, open form, theatre, and extended techniques (the most famous of which is the Knocking Piece for two performers, played entirely on the interior of the piano). Yet by now, it is becoming clear that his greatest achievement during the past two decades has been a series of string quartets, a body of work that is both highly personal and expressively ambitious in the great tradition of the medium. These quartets are also based on a radical concept, for Johnston has become a paradoxical composer, one who combines traditional media with a highly intellectual technique, all in the service of an extreme aesthetic goal which actually threatens the basis of all Western music over the past two centuries, i.e., a rethinking of tuning.
The key to Johnston's immersion in the issue of intonation is Partch. While still a graduate student, he spent time in the Bay Area aiding Partch with instrument construction and learning his performance technique. Later, he was to continue the contact at Urbana, where Partch spent a year as visiting composer-in-residence. Harry Partch is one of the great originals of American music: a loner, self-taught former hobo who believed all music written in the West after antiquity was "based on a lie," the lie of tempered tuning. To explain:
As keyboard instruments proliferated from the Middle Ages onward, they exerted an influence on tuning which demanded that the intervallic spaces between adjacent pieces be as uniform as the pattern of steps represented by the physical layout of the keyboard (and the shape of the hand). The culmination of this tendency was the system of equal temperament, which was approached very gradually and only perfected by the mid-nineteenth century. The resultant equality of adjacent semitones allowed for fluid modulation between keys, and suggested a truly "equalized" harmonic system, where every pitch and interval had the same value. It should not be surprising, then, that Schoenberg's atonal/ serial revolution followed hard on the heels of equal temperament, the tuning system we usually associate with the great monuments of Romantic tonal literature. In fact, equal temperament (more than the so-called "breakdown of tonality") was a precondition for atonality, which simply brought pitch relations into congruence with an already existing tuning base.
Yet equal temperament, despite many obvious advantages, did run counter to certain acoustical facts. The overtone series creates a series of intervals between its pitches which are not the same as the compromised form in which they appear in equal temperament. (For example, the first minor seventh to occur in the series, the ratio 7:4, sounds decidedly flat to any ear used to equal temperament). If one tries to make musical intervals correspond as closely as possible to their analogues in the overtone series, then one cannot have all half-steps equal, and must instead create a tuning where some intervals are more "perfect" than others. In particular, an emphasis on thirds and fifths whose frequencies are as close as possible to the ratios of the overtone series was this system which Partch, and then Johnston, set out to explore.
Partch made the courageous decision to build his own instruments, in the process creating a new timbral world that was at least as fresh and unusual as the sound of his tuning. Unfortunately, this also guaranteed that his music would face great difficulties after his death, as now, his instruments are either deteriorating, sold to collectors, or locked away in university storerooms.4 Johnston made a very different, though no less difficult, decision: he would write for conventional instruments, and as a result, had to develop an elaborate new notational system and performance practice. This has created great barriers to the wide dissemination of his music. But Johnston has also had the good fortune to find a number of excellent string quartets willing to rehearse the music carefully and use their ears to arrive at the proper intonation. Through the championship of the Fine Arts, Composers', and now Kronos quartets, his work has been recorded and has reached a wider audience.
Johnston's acceptance of just intonation inevitably meant that he became involved in the intricacies of microtonality, but in a way very different from most twentieth-century practice. Usually, microtonality has implied an extension of equal temperament through increased subdivision of the scale; a classic example is the quarter-tone scale. The use of microtones could either be ornamental, as in Bartók's string writing, or more structural, such as in Ives' quarter-tone piano pieces, or the music of Alois Hába. But the equal-tempered sound palette, while it became more dense, remained fundamentally the same. In fact, an already "out of tune" system was only made even more so. Microtonality in this form may reveal new harmonic relations that extend either functional tonality or atonal practice, but the result is still a continuation of the status quo, albeit in more "exotic" form.
On the other hand, the pursuit of just intonation creates a fluid world of microtones, which can only result from precise tuning of one pitch to another so as to create a "just" interval (i.e., acoustically pure, without any beats). Such intervals may place a pitch X at a particular frequency at one time. But later in the piece, when tuning to another frequency base to produce a different just interval, a pitch very close to X will result, different by only a few cents [one cent=1/100 of a semitone]. Hence the proliferation of pitches within the system. It is shifting function that creates the microtonality, not just subdivision.
By opening up this new world of sounds, Johnston has a grand aim: the recapture of harmony. For over a half century since the principles of diatonic functional harmony were discarded by most composers, there has been a great search for a new principle on which to recreate its sense of a resonant, mobile musical space. Johnston believes that his system of just intonation provides an answer: in his music, dissonance and consonance are no longer just contextual, they are actually acoustic. Rather than merely establish a norm of consonance and then violate it (as was done via traditional tonality), thus creating a need for resolution, Johnston instead makes a set of sounds either throb with pulsations (known as beats) or be free of such pulsations. This beating results from the creation of less acoustically pure intervals, and these sounds are by definition naturally dissonant. And the system is even more rich and flexible, in that it allows different intervals to be chosen from the overtone series as those designated most pure. As a result, one can use these techniques to write music which is paradoxically both 1) ambiguous, in that it is derived from points further up the harmonic series, and 2) yet also "natural," as those intervals chosen are still just.
Thus, Johnston is able to write a music with a palpable (Partch would say "corporeal") sense of "degrees of harmoniousness." This genuine range of sounds and meanings is further matched by Johnston's inventive use of American folk materials. While many of his pieces have been composed in a nonreferential, abstract musical language, there are also works like the String Quartet No.4, where the folk source actually enriches the meanings of the music and enhances the intonational strategies. In this work, the hymn Amazing Grace is used as a theme for a set of variations, which starts in simple Pythagorean tuning (just intonation fifths only) evocative of the "shape-note" choral tradition, and moves through a series of intonational lattices based on ratios ever further up the harmonic series. Eventually, the hymn is floating in a hazy whirlwind of harmonies, a sound world that is ambiguous yet strangely lyrical. In the end, the piece is fresh, moving, and triumphant in its inventiveness and mastery of traditional quartet writing.
Perhaps now it starts to become clear why Johnston's music has not gained widespread recognition. First, it demands of classical performers, a basically conservative group, the learning of an entirely new and difficult performance technique. Second, the process of composing in just intonation, while intellectually rigorous, runs deeply counter to most of the fundamental technical/aesthetic premises of serialism. It is an intellectual challenge that most academic composers, having already spent an entire education on learning their specific technique, are loathe now to learn from scratch. Finally, because he is a university composer, Johnston's gentle personality does not exercise the same shamanistic allure over young radical composers, as do the likes of Cage, Ashley, and Oliveros.
But Johnston is also an inspiring example. He is a painstaking craftsman, a naturally open musician, and a disciple who carries on a tradition of invention, enlarging it and making it his own. While he has followed the less "American" course of developing a system of composition, he bases that system on a belief in the beauty and virtue of Nature which has been a part of the New World's culture since its discovery. He proves that an experimentalist need not be technically careless or personally flamboyant, that a genuine "personalization" of one's art can result from a thorough, honest critique of culture, undertaken in any surroundings. For those who remain in the academy, he is a model of the genuinely modest artist who has turned his environment to his art's advantage. While his personal life has not taken the same radical course as that of Oliveros, his art has sprung from no less profound an analysis of what he considers must be remade in Western art music. Considering the integrity, imagination, and expression in his music, one can say that the great gamble he took in following Partch has already paid off, whether or not he, too, will actually receive his fifteen minutes of fame.
Johnston's case is in some ways a poignant one, so perhaps it is appropriate that we conclude with a story that has an improbably happy ending. It, too, is a story of an outsider, and provides the most rambunctious model for eclectic creation of all these case studies. And maybe it shows something about the limits of a "postmodern" sensibility, as the composer in question is in certain ways its ultimate embodiment, and in others is fundamentally opposed to its spirit. We start again with the issue of recognition; in this case, however, it is the story of a prize won, rather than one denied.
While he was hardly an unknown, it still must have come as something of a surprise to the new-music community when William Bolcom was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 1988. For years, the prize had been the province of mostly Northeastern academic composers; only recently had such composers beyond the "postexpressionist" style, such as Ellen Zwilich and Stephen Albert, broken through this barrier to claim due recognition for women and postromantics, respectively. But Bolcom was an even more unlikely case. First of all, he was based in the Midwest. Of course, his teaching institution, the University of Michigan, has one of the nation's most prestigious music schools and boasts a previous Pulitzer laureate, Leslie Bassett. Nevertheless, Ann Arbor was somewhat removed from the New York networking usually regarded as necessary for winning the prize. Second, Bolcom wrote music of a freewheeling, uninhibitedly eclectic spirit. A typical Bolcom piece might begin with atonal flourish, develop along hyperintense expressionist lines, suddenly break out into a rag or blues, mix in elements of American pop song, and conclude with a reference to a classical form (such as a fugue) or to its opening "modernist" elements. In short, the only element that was predictable was its unpredictability. It adhered to neither the uptown-serial nor downtown-minimal aesthetics. As such, it seemed unlikely that it would gain the third-party partisans necessary to make its case.
Third, Bolcom had made an entirely viable career through a talent other than composition or teaching. A fluent pianist and vociferous proponent of American popular song, he and his wife Joan Morris had for years won renown as a traveling act, highly successful both in concert and on record, proselytizing for the cause of the American vernacular tradition. On the one hand, this work was neither trendy nor flip. It came from a deep love of its material, and a firm belief that this music, from Work and Foster up to Lieber and Stoller, was a true "classical" tradition from the heart of American culture. As such, it would not appeal to the largely ironic sensibility behind most postmodernist aesthetics. On the other hand, it refused to accord "high" art primacy of place in the spectrum of American music, and as such, it must have irritated those who wished to preserve "elite" values.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Bolcom reveled in the role of the entertainer. He was unapologetic for his public persona, that of the song-and-dance man who traipsed from ivory tower to music hall without a qualm. America has already had a few such pop/classical "crossovers" in its musical history, but Bolcom was a peculiar late-twentieth-century case in that he taught in a university as his primary job, while simultaneously establishing credentials in the concert world. What might seem to be a healthy eclecticism to some might seem to others like fence sitting or (worse) slumming. In short, he seemed an unlikely candidate for the highest accolade American classical music can give a composer, despite the fact that his talents were many and obvious to all.
But Bolcom exemplifies an artist who had the good sense to stay true to himself, and the good fortune to do it in such a way that was in step with the times. While he had written a wide range of chamber, orchestral, and theater pieces (many of which had been recorded), it seemed that no single one had captured either popular or critical imagination. Yet from the 1960s onward, he was at work on a project of immense proportions that would both satisfy his own need for a comprehensive philosophical statement and fill this gap in his oeuvre: a setting of the entire Songs of Innocence and Experience of William Blake [hereafter referred to as Songs . . .], scored for full orchestra, rock band, soloists, chorus, and children's choir.5 The eventual premiere of this work by college forces in Ann Arbor under Gustav Meier's direction led in turn to a European performance in Stuttgart by Dennis Russell Davies (that a professional premiere could only come in this fashion is a sad testimony to the timidity of American performing organizations). The tapes of these concerts in turn reached John Rockwell of the New York Times, who wrote a remarkable feature article/review hailing this as essential music, and urging its presentation in New York.6 The following season, Lukas Foss and the Brooklyn Philharmonic programmed the piece, and the overwhelming response stimulated a wave of interest in Bolcom's work, old and new. Blessed with performances, recordings, and commissions (most notably from Lyric Opera of Chicago), Bolcom has at last "arrived" by his own circuitous and highly original route.
Now that Bolcom's visibility in American music is no longer at issue, we can examine the music itself critically. A primary question arises: what, if anything, distinguishes it as a personal statement? Stated differently, does the mix of materials in the work transcend easy eclecticism and open new expressive opportunities for future composers? Is there something at work beyond mere "channel changing?"
The answer is a qualified yes. I believe that there are five aspects of Bolcom's music which separate it from much of the "mix-and-match" pieces written since the 1970s. No single one is unique to him, but together, they begin to define a true artistic profile. They are:
1) Virtuosity. Bolcom has been unafraid to cultivate the taste for display of fellow performers, and in the process, create some happily fiendish music. For example, in the Twelve New Etudes for piano (the work which "officially" won the Pulitzer, a year after the New York premiere of Songs . . .), the "Rag Infernale" combines a lightning-fast tempo with dazzling, angular chromatic figuration, so as to evoke a modern-day Lisztian display. Since the "template" on which this material is imposed is that of the rag, a form familiar to almost all Americans, the average listener is better able to distinguish the successful negotiation of its difficulties and appreciate the performer's "superhuman" accomplishment, even though the actual notes are almost entirely atonal. This love of show-biz dazzle, even when applied to more "arty" materials, makes for an unusual linkage of means and ends in this era, when virtuosity is often either obscure or regarded as politically incorrect.
2) Facility. There is no doubt that music comes easily to Bolcom. It is in his blood, his fingers. This is not meant to disparage his craft—just the opposite. To hear his music is to hear an almost endless succession of invention, of clear-cut ideas tumbling one atop another, nearly breathless in their rush to be heard. Bolcom has learned from his performing experience to trust his instincts when he writes; and this naturalness informs his music. A piece such as his rag Graceful Ghost seems, if not "inevitable," at least immutable. It must have always been there, in the air. Bolcom just happened to be the first to hear it.
3) Tunefulness. This is a natural extension of 2). Bolcom shares with pop music the love of a good "hook." Many of his pieces simply stick with the listener; they will not let go. After only one listening to his Blake extravaganza, I found myself constantly returning in memory to such radically different settings as the poignant children's chorus of "The Fly," the neo/medieval carol of the second "Chimney Sweeper," the Bergian "Garden of Love," and the primitivist "The Tyger," to name but a few. Just looking at the text summons up the music.
4) Sincerity. At first, this may seem puzzling. Isn't every true artist sincere? Are the other artists in this gallery somehow disingenuous? The respective answers are yes and no. The thrust of my point, however, does not have so much to do with the artists' motivation as their perspective. For example, a composer such as John Adams (whose embrace of certain popular idioms superficially resembles Bolcom's) is still quite different, in that there is an underlying irony in the way he uses these materials. The minimalist language cannot help but expose certain tonal clichés (even as it creates new ones), and even if Adams carries out his spoofs lovingly, he nevertheless holds their sources up to an often searing critical light. Parody, irony, camp—these are all elements of a postmodern sensibility that mixes high and low, that comments but refuses to judge.
Bolcom, on the other hand, rarely means anything other than what he says. For example, there are moments of real humor in the Songs . . . , such as the country and western setting of "The Shepherd" early into the piece. Yet that humor comes simply from the juxtaposition; once the shock has worn off, the music is obviously meant to speak for itself. No subtext seems implied. The same goes for the hyper-intense expressionism of such pieces as the "Introduction" to the Songs of Experience section: when something sounds earth-shattering, it is meant to be so. In this manner, Bolcom closely resembles a former teacher and mentor, George Rochberg, whose collected writings he has edited.7 Rochberg turned to eclecticism and returned to tonality in the early 1970s, undoubtedly by his example encouraging Bolcom to pursue his own adventurous course. While at first the mix of styles in such a work as Rochberg's Third String Quartet (1973) might have seemed "post-modern" (before the term was even coined), there was an unrestrained and unapologetic passion therein that made the work ultimately more postromantic in spirit than postmodern. When one listens to the Songs . . . , one hears the same desire for expression: entertaining, direct, and unmediated.
5) Love for and mastery of popular music. In this manner Bolcom is different from Rochberg, who has rarely strayed beyond the Western classical tradition in his search for diverse materials. In the Songs . . . , one will hear echoes of nineteenth-century melodrama (the first "Chimney Sweeper"), vaudeville ("The Little Vagabond"), folk song ("The Nurse's Song"), rock musical ("London"), blues ("The Little Black Boy"), and of course reggae, in the triumphant conclusion of the cycle. These numbers are presented as equal partners to those derived from the classical modernist tradition (though in fact, the majority of numbers in the piece are in a free pantonal/atonal language which has always flourished in Midwestern academic circles). Interestingly enough, there is little jazz influence in this work, and surprisingly little in Bolcom's oeuvre that shows an interest in more recent evolutions of the form. Of black composers, Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake are more likely to be heard in the background than Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman; Tin Pan Alley is preferred to 52nd St. Perhaps this is because jazz, like classical modernism, has become in the last thirty years more rational and conceptual in its technique, and purely instrumental in its execution; Bolcom instead embraces the tradition of song and dance, the lyric/verbal/social expression of the culture at large. Whether the work is literally vocal or not, Bolcom wants his music to "speak," to express deeply felt timeless feelings on the great humanist issues, and to address the current culture. Bolcom wants to be engaged in the shaping of American culture. He wants to be a "player" in the battle for America's soul.
This desire is very much like the grand ambitions of Charles Ives, whom Bolcom admires greatly. But at heart, Bolcom does not have the same taste for invention and experiment that motivated Ives; composers such as Cage and Johnston better embody this aspect of Ives' legacy. If there is any composer whose path he follows, it is Gershwin. The love of song, the involvement with both musical theater and opera, the natural tunefulness and graceful performing persona—all these are common traits. Where Bolcom differs most from Gershwin, though, is his point of departure: while Gershwin moved into the concert hall from the world of pop song writing, Bolcom is moving further and further into popular musical culture from a base in the classical/academic establishment. Like Gershwin, he wants to keep a hand firmly in both.
This survey concludes with Bolcom only because he is the most recent of these composers to have broken through to his respective audience. Yet perhaps he is an appropriate valediction to this essay for another reason. The "gaming" aspect of postmodernism—always more evident in the visual arts and literature than it ever was in music—is wearing thin, and Bolcom's "authentic," unselfconscious expressiveness is now a welcome antidote to the dizzying jumble of disparate materials we have seen thrown together in the arts for the past decade. Time, however, will judge which of the artists profiled in this article made the best decisions to ensure the survival of their work, and Bolcom, despite his prodigious talent, also has some aesthetic issues still to work out. The very facility, directness, and lack of guile that makes his music appealing can also limit it, keep it two- or three-dimensional when it needs to be multi-dimensional. For example, I have yearned for more Ivesian simultaneity in his music, rather than always having different styles succeed one another sequentially. At times, one feels that the first thing Bolcom hears, no matter how infectious, should really be more tested before it works its way into a piece. At least a little irony would be welcome. In short, he could be as much the victim as the beneficiary of his talent. But a real talent it is.
So all the composers in this "gallery" have a profile. All have the capacity to surprise us from work to work. All strive to synthesize materials, stretch boundaries, and redefine their respective artistic personas through the very process of making new art. No matter what history judges of their work, their attitude toward musical style, experiment, and inherited materials makes them defining points on our aesthetic horizon.8
1Charles Wuorinen, Simple Composition (Longman Press: New York, 1979), 3.
2Cole Gagne and Tracy Caras, ed., Soundpieces: Interviews With American Composers (Scarecrow Press: Metuchen, NJ and London, 1982), 396.
3Indeed, they seem far more so to this ear than the actual opera which, for all its celebrity, adventurous theme, and imaginative staging, still seems musically leaden.
4The last couple years, however, have seen a resurgence of Partch performance on restored or reconstructed instruments, so that this prognosis may not be so gloomy as it first seems.
5I am particularly indebted to Gustav Meier for his loan of a recording of the work's premiere. Since this piece is so central to Bolcom's career and has yet to be recorded commercially, this article could never have been written without maestro Meier's help.
6"Music, Every Which Way," New York Times, August 16, 1987.
7George Rochberg, The Aesthetics of Survival, ed. William Bolcom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), 244.
8The Rockefeller Center for International Studies at Bellagio, Italy, is gratefully acknowledged by the author for providing the time and ideal circumstances under which the majority of the article was written.
Robert Carl (b.1954) studied composition with Jonathan Kramer, George Rochberg, Ralph Shapey, and Iannis Xenakis. His music is performed internationally, and is published by American Composers' Alliance, Boosey&Hawkes, and Northeastern. His grants, prizes and residencies have come from such sources as the National Endowment for the Arts, Tanglewood, Camargo Foundation, MacDowell, Yaddo, Ucross, Millay, Bogliasco, Djerassi, the Aaron Copland House, Youkobo ArtSpace and the Tokyo Wonder Site, and the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio). He received a 2005 Chamber Music America commission for a string quintet featuring the Miami String Quartet and Robert Black. An excerpt from his opera-in-progress Harmony (with novelist Russell Banks) was presented in May 2006 in the New York City Opera’s VOX Showcase series. He received the 1998 Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. New World Records released a CD of three string chamber works in March 2006, and in July 2012 his second disc on the label featured electroacoustic works based on Japanese materials. In 2013 Innova released a collection of three large piano works. Other CD releases of his work are found on Cedille, Neuma, Koch International, Centaur, Lotus, Capstone, and Vienna Modern Masters. In 2007 he received a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council for travel to research contemporary Japanese composers, and his book Terry Riley’s In C (Oxford University Press) was released in 2009. He is chair of the composition department at the Hartt School, University of Hartford, and writes extensively on new music for Fanfare Magazine.