Dr.Godfried-Willem RAES

Kursus Experimentele Muziek: Boekdeel 9: Literatuur en aktualiteit

Hogeschool Gent : Departement Muziek & Drama

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Earle Brown was born on 26 December 1926 in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has received commissions from Pierre Boulez, Merce Cunningham, Luigi Nono, Lukas Foss, the city of Darmstadt, Germany, and the Rome Radio Orchestra, among others. He has served as Composer-in-Residence at California Insitute of the Arts, Peabody Conservatory, Aspen Music Festival, American Academy in Rome, and the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Conservatory. He was also a visiting professor at the Cologne Conservatory, Basel Conservatory, SUNY at Buffalo, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Univ. of Southern California and Yale Univ. In 1970, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Peabody Conservatory. He worked with John Cage on the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape (1952-55).

Other compositions include:

A Tribute

These were recording sessions we would never forget. We were capturing revolutionary works, repertoire staples, never-performed works, never-recorded works and newly-written works, all brought to life at the hands of a brilliant performer. Time and again, we would be rendered breathless by the magic of what was coming over the speakers, and our sober audio booth would glow with an energy more powerful than all of us together. Before our ears, a legend was becoming sound. The music was at the same time vigorous and lyrical, audacious and beautiful, evocative and provocative. And if this appears to be a play of opposites, it is not surprising, since the man who created the music is no different. At 70, Earle Brown remains the broad-based, vital personage he has always been, a cultured Yankee spirit with a penchant for experimentation and an occasional bit of mischief, an incurable romantic with a child-like enthusiasm for almost everything. Here is a composer capable of both the strictest formality and the broadest liberty, a composer equally at home in serialism, aleatory forms, and triadic harmony. His creative output ranges from piano miniatures to multi-media works to big, sonorous orchestral pieces. This diversity may come as a revelation to many - at least to those who believe that graphic works such as December '52 characterize Earle Brown's oeuvre. Perhaps this is to be expected, since it takes much less effort to pigeon-hole someone - especially if they've done something revolutionary - than it does to examine them in their entirety. The present recording hopes, in it's own way, to help change this perception. It traverses the last forty-five years of Earle Brown's creative work, chronologically encompassing his twelve-tone Three Pieces and Perspectives, his revolutionary Folio pieces, 25 Pages (music's first truly open-form work), the multi-timbral Four Systems and Corroboree, and the world premiere of his Summer Suite '95, written especially for David Arden. Earle once said, "Music is my material, but art is my subject." It couldn't be more true. At the core of his music is an expansive palette of cultural influences: poetry, dance, science, literature, philosophy, jazz and the visual arts. To understand these influences is to appreciate the music all the more. And since there is no one who can more vividly address this subject than Earle Brown himself, I yield the podium.

John Yaffe,

(The comments on the following pages are excerpted from a lengthy conversation John Yaffe had with the composer at his New York City apartment on 25 September 1995.)


"My parents, probably like everybody's, thought I should learn to play the piano. I hated the piano. Or, I hated the teacher. Every time I was supposed to have a lesson, I would go hide in the woods somewhere. At the age of about ten, I started studying trumpet at the music store in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Later, I formed my own dance band, and we used to rehearse in the back room of our house. We'd get eight bucks a night playing junior proms, senior proms, sophomore hops, and things like that. Then I went to school at Northeastern University to study mathematics and engineering, and on the weekends I would play in a big band called a 'territory band.'

"I wanted to fly airplanes and be an aeronautical engineer. When I went into the Air Force, I was classified as a pilot trainee. But I went in after V-E Day, and while I was in basic training, V-J Day happened. They didn't know what to do with me, so I said, 'Put me in a band.' I was in a band in Louisiana, and at Randolph Field in Texas. At Randolph Field, I met a guy from New York who had been studying the Joseph Schillinger system. I saw the books, a kind of mathematically-oriented system, and it intrigued the hell out of me."

Three Pieces for Piano (1951) and Perspectives (1952)

"When I got back to Boston, in 1946, I began studying privately with Brogue Henning, who was a terrific teacher. She started me in the 9th century, working all the way through the different styles, up to Bach. Then we jumped to Berg. You see, she was a twelve-tone composer. That was very important to me. But Schillinger was even more important, because it kept me from becoming academic. Schillinger House had just opened; and though Schillinger had died in 1943, I was studying with people who had studied with him, like NBC and CBS composers from New York. They had all had nervous breakdowns and retired to Boston to become teachers. Schillinger never established a good reputation, but he was truly a mathematician and composer. Henry Cowell brought Schillinger to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, to teach at the New School, and eventually wrote the introduction to The Schillinger System of Musical Composition. Schillinger was a close friend of Nicholas Slonimsky and Leon Theremin, and George Gershwin studied with him at the time he was writing Porgy and Bess.

"A lot of the techniques are the normal inversion, retrograde, and all of the things that we do. But Schillinger was really involved in some heavy stuff. There were four species of harmony: diatonic, diatonic-symmetric, pure symmetric and atonal. I mean, that's really something! Then there were binomial periodicities and coordination of time structures - all of that was very interesting. "Three Pieces is simpler than Perspectives, but they're both twelve-tone works with the Schillinger concept of rhythmic groups, which is what Messiaen and Boulez called cellules. We obviously had twelve tones. But the rhythmic group may be, say, fifteen attacks. And just as with Messiaen, you could cut up the rhythmic group into three groups of five attacks each: A, B and C.Then you do the permutations of that, B-C-A, etc., to get six different versions. So it would keep cycling and extending itself. It's a generative growth principle. That's the way I wrote those early pieces.

"When I first met John Cage in Denver, in 1951, I had already written Three Pieces. John was kind of astonished to find that kind of music in that town, at that time. He said, 'Send it to me in New York,' which I did. He gave it to David Tudor, and David played it in a concert at the Cherry Lane Theater under the auspicies of the very far-out Living Theater. That was the first New York performance I ever had. After that, I went on to compose Perspectives for David."

Folio (1952-53)

"When I was still studying in Boston, I used to haunt a little poetry book shop on Boylston Street. I came across poetry pamphlets by Kenneth Patchen, Henry Miller, Ferlinghetti and Rexroth. Among other things, I found a book called Vision in Motion by Moholy-Nagy, a visual artist - highly experimental stuff. There were also Museum of Modern Art booklets on Calder. And I remember that, in 1949, Life magazine came out with the first major color spread of the abstract expressionists - which was where they called Jackson Pollock 'Jack the Dripper.'

"I had been working, for a long time, on how to get out of metric music - probably not even consciously. I was interested in the constructivism of Schillinger and, at the same time, very devoted to the spontanePollockity of jazz. So that dichotomy was always in my mind. I had begun to meditate on putting these things together in different ways, on how to expand the potentials to include the spontaneity of Pollock and the mobility of Calder. "When I got married and moved to Denver - to be a Schillinger teacher - it was all still in my mind. I would make mobiles, to see what it felt like, and I would paint paintings a la Pollock, to see what the spontaneity felt like. It was these things, the spontaneity of jazz and the immediacy of what'll-I-do-next.

Paying attention is where it's at for me. I don't care whether I have sixteen string quartets and nine symphonies, or not. I'm really interested in the creative process. And if you say that, some wise-guy will say, 'Oh, novelty for novelty's sake.' It's not that. It's invention. It's experimentation. It's using your mind, using the culture you're involved with, to expand the possibilities. I brought a lot of things into my world and was able to make connections between them, because I was interested. John and Morty [Feldman] and I weren't firebrands saying, 'Let's knock down the Aaron Coplands.' We were just doing what we did. "The only unusual thing about October '52 is the absence of rests. It's a simple-looking thing, but it's standard notation; just the rests are not there. I was intentionally trying to throw the performer into a relational space, rather than a counting space. It has to be read at a constant rate of speed through the systems, but no two pianists will feel the space exactly the same. That intrigued me: never the same twice, but always the same thing.It seems like I'm doing a dastardlydeed on the performer, because I've taken more and more away from him: security, information. He's forced more and more to perform by his own volition, based on my graphic stimuli. "Then, with November '52 (Synergy), I just lined in between the 5-line staves of regular music paper, making more fields of possibility. I used standard quarter notes, half notes, et cetera. But now, I've taken away left-to-right. Those images can be considered floating in space, moving forward and backward. If they're coming toward you, it's a crescendo; if they're going away from you, a diminuendo. They can be higher or lower; it's multi-spatial. The things are on moving tracks. You can go from any point to any other point in any direction. If there's a half-note over here, and an eighth-note over there, and they happen to coincide here, boom! they could be played simultaneously. Taking that to its logical conclusion, the tracks could all end up together, with one huge chord cluster. Or, if you consider the space collapsing from left to right and right to left, and from top to bottom and bottom to top, everything will meet at the center and justx[a loud popping sound]xa single note! "December '52 is a rarefied, simplified thing: just sounds in space, a kind of purist finality. I had this idealistic, romantic feeling that I could, with a graphic score and classical musiciansx I couldn't understand why

classical musicians couldn't improvise, and why so many looked down on improvisation. The whole series of October, November and December was progressively trying to get them free of having to have every little bit of information before they had confidence enough to play. And I was convinced that, with this series, I could bring it about.

"The impulse for Music for 'Trio for Five Dancers' was the floor plan of a piece of choreography by my first wife, Carolyn. It was an amusing turn of events: She had the plan, and I turned it ninety degrees and superimposed staff paper on it. Where the dancers were positioned in her floor plan, that became sounds. It was just a tricky transformation. "But there's an important distinction to be made here: Unlike John, I do not write sounds by chance, I write them by choice. When Lenny [Bernstein] did my Available Forms II, in 1964, the concert was called Chance Music. I objected and said, 'As you will find out, because we are conducting this together, we are not doing anything by chance. We're on the spot and will make distinct choices.' At this point, I think we should be getting it musicologically straight."

Four Systems (1954)

"At the Brooklyn Academy of Music rehearsals for Springweather and People -Merce Cunningham's choreography of my Indices - John Cage and I found out it was David Tudor's birthday. We were backstage, and Merce said, 'Are you coming to the studio for David's birthday party?' I immediately found a piece of cardboard, and John found something. John wrote Music for Carillon I, and I wrote four systems of piano music, right there on the spot. We presented them to David that night at the party. The title actually came from David. He called me up and said, 'I'd like to play that piece you wrote for me on my birthday, next month, and I think we should call it Four Systems.' "

25 Pages, for any number of pianos up to 25 (1953)

"Spontaneous decisions in the performance of a work and the possibility of the composed elements being mobile had been of primary interest to me for some time. Folio was a sequential search for a new notation. The new notation gelled, it seems to me, with 25 Pages. There are things in Folio which are open in form, but I've always considered the Folio pieces to be steps on the way to making a really, truly open-form composition. In an improvised piece, the content is open as well as the form. In this respect, the Folio pieces were a first shot. But when I did 25 Pages, it was twenty-five pages of fully-described material, of pitch, dynamic and duration, in a relative sense. And therefore, once the pitch is determined, the duration relatively determined, etc., then you really have open form, and not open content. The mobility of the elements was inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, in which there are basic units subject to innumerable different relationships or forms."

Forgotten Piece (c. 1954)

"Actually, I just discovered it in my manuscripts, one day. It's written for four pianos. We did a concert for multiple pianos, in the early days, and I think I must have been writing it for that particular concert. But I never finished it, and I forgot about it. When David Arden said he wanted to record the complete piano works, it occurred to me that it was a very viable piece, and that he could make a version for one piano. What David has done is quite remarkable: He begins by playing Piano I through. Then he repeats it, this time adding Piano II, then he adds Piano III, then Piano IV. By now, he's playing all four parts with only two hands! He then reverses the process, ending up with Piano I alone. I think it works really well."

Corroboree, for three pianos (1964)

"The title is an Australian native word defined by Webster as 'a nocturnal festivity with songs and symbolic dances by which the Australian aborigines celebrate events of importance; a noisy festival; tumult.' I love Corroboree. I wrote it in a cafe near St. Sulpice in Paris, in the wintertime. I'll never forget: I used to write these big pages of piano stuff, and I didn't know what I was going to do with it. But in writing it, I think I solved a particular compositional problem. I used five kinds of piano sounds as structural material: single notes, chords and clusters on the keyboard, and pizzicato and muted sounds on the strings. With frequency, tempo and density controls, these five colors are distributed among the three pianos to produce the continuity as a kind of sonic-spatial conversation. "I've always wished that I had a solo piano piece like Corroboree and considered writing a Corroboree-like piece for David Arden for this recording. But I've never used the inside-the-piano sounds in a solo piece, because it diminishes the potential for forward thrust. With three pianos it works, there's always movement. But with one pianist - unless you prepare the piano, like Cage did, which was a brilliant idea - you're inhibited and restricted by the one pianist having to dive in there, find a harmonic, or a string to pluck or strum, then go back to the keyboard. You've got this guy up there doing acrobatics. That doesn't appeal to me."

Summer Suite '95

"In October of 1993, I attended the recital that David Arden gave in New York City. It was fantastic. At the reception, I suggested to David that I write a new piece for him. It would be the first piano piece I had written in almost thirty years. Summer Suite '95 is, I think, a significant departure from my work up to this point. Part of the challenge, and part of the solution, was the computer, which I had never used before. It intrigued me to see what I could do with it, and I figured out a way that I could combine old ways of my working with new ways of generating results. As usual, I started with graphically sketching an idea, or structure - range density, et cetera - then I would see if I could play my sketches. It was like a dancer dancing, or a jazz musician performing, except I wasn't following anyone else's tune. I would work at the keyboard, and one of the reasons some of the things are so odd is because I'm not a good pianist. But I could play my sketches and have the results immediately printed out. Basically, it enabled me to take dictation from myself. "My notebooks from 1951-52 say, 'I want to get the time of composing closer to the time of performing.' It's the immediacy, the improvisation, the spontaneity - Gertrude Stein called it the it-ness, the now-ness of the whole thing. And I kept surprising myself: the suite came out unlike what I might write plodding along daily with a fountain pen. It came out highly personal, because I played it. Ultimately, what I was doing was realizing my own graphic scores. And once I got the basic material in, I could take this note or that, run it an octave up or down, lock it in, or try it and save it, or not save it. "Summer Suite '95 is definitely the jazziest of my piano pieces. Those are chords that I love to hear. A lot of my chamber orchestra music has lush chords like that, especially Tracking Pierrot. Let's clear up a basic misunderstanding, once and for all: I'm not interested in avoiding responsibility. Summer Suite '95 is a fully, and traditionally, notated work; and I certainly have never been embarrassed by writing a beautiful melody, a very lyrical passage, or what I consider a beautiful chord progression. But I'm also interested in activating, more and more, the interaction between composers and performers, and making music a more collaborative world - not in all cases, but in some. I've written so much music in so many different ways and have never understood why people would want to put me in a box. I would like people to realize the range, the aesthetics and the optimism of my work."



Earle Brown: Works for Piano(s), 1951-1995

performed by David Arden, Piano(s)

1 Corroboree (1964)*

Three Pieces (1951)

2 I

3 II



5 October 1952

6 November 1952

7 December 1952

8 MM - 87

9 MM - 135

10 Music for Trio for Five Dancers,

June 1953

11 1953

12 Perspectives (1952)

13 25 Pages (1953)*

14 Forgotten Piece (c. 1954)

15 Four Systems (1954)

Summer Suite ‘95

16 6/12/95

17 No Horns At All

18 6/14/95

19 Untitled O

20 Untitled O2

21 6/30/95

22 Template 1

23 Segment 2

24 July 5

25 July 6

26 Segment 3A

27 July 14

28 August 1

* The three piano parts in these works were recorded separately and mixed in post-production.

Filedate: 970928/ last update:07.09.98

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