Analysis

To What Degree: Teaching Musical Composition

Year after year and in ever-increasing numbers, eager young musicians seek admission to graduate and undergraduate composition programs. What attracts them to a pursuit that promises hard work, a decent amount of frustration, and limited financial rewards?

Back to Nature: Tracing the History of an American Classical Tradition

A significant number of the seminal American composers have staked their artistic claims on some constructed paradigm of “naturalness”: Cage’s randomness, Oliveros’s breathing, Reich’s natural processes, Partch’s natural scale, Branca’s rock vernacular stripped down to its basic strum. Most natural of all: banging on the piano keyboard, so beloved of Ives, Cowell, Varèse, Young, Garland.

Losing Control: Indeterminacy and Improvisation in Music Since 1950

Sabine Randomized by Amanda MacBlane After the Second World War and a period of controlling more and more aspects of performance, many composers rediscovered an old phenomenon: improvisation. At first glance, the word “improvisation,” which has been used since the 14th century, seems to refer to a clear-cut concept—”to compose or simultaneously compose and perform […]

Boom Times for the Art Song: A HyperHistory of Poetry and Music

Johanna Keller “New York has always been a hotbed of new things going on and right now it’s the song. I think we’re having a little golden age here. Or maybe it’s a big golden age!” -Tobias Picker In case you haven’t heard, there is an art song renaissance happening in New York City. From […]

Dirty Dozens: A HyperHistory of Serialism

James Reel Originally, Retrograded, Inverted, and Retrograded & InvertedSerial permutations by Amanda MacBlane A fad diet called serialism swept the American academy some 40 years ago. It promised to shed the fat of Romanticism, loosen the gristle of Futurism, tone the flab of Impressionism. Serialism was scientific, developed and refined by the leading minds of […]

Minimal Music, Maximal Impact

Minimalism hit me in my teens like a bolt of fate. About 1972 (I was 16), Steve Achternacht on radio station WRR-FM in Dallas played Terry Riley’s In C on the air. His janglingly repetitive octave C’s started up (which we learned years later had been Steve Reich’s suggestion to hold the piece together), and I didn’t know how to react. This was crazy. All that pulsating repetition gave me a headache, every time I listened. But I kept listening anyway.

Stars, Stripes, Batons and Circuits: American Music For Orchestra and Electronics

Elliott SchwartzPhoto courtesy Ohio State Universi The launch of the American Symphony Orchestra’s “Orchestra Tech” Initiative this October seems an appropriate occasion to survey the history of American music for orchestra and electronics. Before beginning, however, we need to define our terms and set boundaries. Specifically, three words–“American,” “electronic” and “orchestra”–can be, and have been, […]