Cygnus Ensemble

Arts & Culture

Milton Babbitt and the 21st Century

Milton Babbitt was positively thrilled with the riches he found as he explored music grounded in something other than its traditional grounding in scale degrees (the 7-note scale, roughly based on the overtone series).  He created the vocabulary that is still used to discuss this music-that-avoids-scale-degree-orientation.  I will mention two terms he coined--"pitch class" and "set class".  Perhaps think of them as the high 20th C. modernist way of thinking about pitches and chords.

 

Musicians learn how to hear any pitch in relation to any major or minor scale--

A as the 4th scale degree in E major;  B as the altered (Lydian-inflected) 4th scale degree in F major.
The regrounding of music that arose giddily in the 19th & 20th centuries came first
through the implications of symmetrical harmonies--notably diminished 7th chords, as in Wagner's Tristan
Prelude; later, music was based on highly chromatic tunes that continually bewilder our scale-degree
oriented ears, keeping us confused about the key at any given moment. 
This culminated in Schoenberg's radical reorientation where each composition is
grounded solely in a 12-tone row, supplanting the 7-note scale altogether.

 

Babbitt, well before 12-tone music fell  out of favor, had been exploring
combinatorial arrays and superarrays, and later *counterpoints of arrays*,
where each instrument unfolds it own array.  This was his way into the 21st Century.   More on this HERE
Babbitt's student (at Princeton in the '70s)  Frank Brickle goes to town with this, constantly
playing with our sense of pitch class and scale-degrees, sticking to the new grounding, but
constantly punning with the old scale degree order. Another Babbitt student, Jonathan Dawe, takes
tonal music and fractalizes it, infecting pitch with pitch class.  I believe Babbitt admired Dawe's music
for the way it is grounded in pitch and regrounded in pitch class by turns throughout a given work.

 

For the last 25 years or so pitches (notes that can be heard clearly as scale degrees) have come back into favor, the result of a long rebellion against what we might call "mere pitch classes".     Too often, eager young composers adopted the new grounding of music without knowing how to make it work.  The sad result was music *reduced to pitch classes*--where the new grounding was no longer a positive development, but felt rather more like a fall from grace.

 

This rebellion against *mere pitch classes* was carried out by some very brave souls.  The new musical grounding established by Schoenberg created a proud group of followers who maintained, for a time, a stronghold in the musical establishment, most of them ensconced in academia.  Babbitt is widely thought of as the lynchpin of this old modernist establishment, and is still hated for that by some.  Enemies of these entrenched modernists called them "academic composers",  following a pattern established by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Vienna secession.

 

The brave souls who rebelled were composers like Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, David Del Tredici, George Rochberg, John Adams & Steve Reich, who  had to overcome the great prejudices of this musical establishment intoxicated or entrenched in pitch class.

 

Morton Feldman was a special case whose (quite systematic) compositional
procedures do a perfect job of undermining scale degrees, yet Feldman was
immune to the changing winds, was a hero of many who broke with the 12-tone cabal.

 

These mavericks changed the world.  Today, a work by a living American composer will not necessarily scare away those who buy tickets for the symphony, or for performances of chamber music.  This is a promising development.

 

The pitch class contingent did not give up, however.  Many die hard modernists were inspired by Glass and Reich and accepted the challenge to continue the modernist practice (avoiding scale degree orientation), but to do so more clearly and effectively.   Milton Babbitt rises to this challenge, but this was less because of his concern for his adversaries, more to do with the way his ears learned to work over the years.  And, while his music was continually evolving, it was never his concern that his music should be easy or popular.

 

Swan Song No. 1 might be seen as Babbitt's response to the 21st Century musical reality.  It is one of the most thorough arguments for a détente between the diatonic and the chromatic interval cycles.

 

The Cold War terminology here is a deliberate,
loving tribute to Alex Ross, who has
helped define our 21 Century musical dialgue.
He dubbed Babbitt a "cold war composer" in
his magnum opus, The Rest Is Noise.


 

The chromatic interval cycle:
C--C#--D--D#--E--F--F#--G--G#--A--A#--B

The diatonic cycles are the 5th cycle and the 4th cycle:
C--G--D--A--E--B--F#--C#--G#--D#--Bb--F
do this sequence ascending and backwards for the 4rth Cycle


Any 7 consecutive members of the 4rth or 5th cycle are the
notes of the diatonic scale--the 7-note scale of hallowed tradition.
7 consecutive members of the 5th cycle differs from the 7-note diatonic
scale in the way the composer uses them.  More on that HERE

 

For Babbitt,  the 5th cycle is a musical reality that cannot be ignored, AND he wanted to make that which works for the 5th cycle work for the chromatic cycle as well.  The chromatic cycle is also a musical reality!   If 3 consecutive 5ths is lovely, why should we not lavish as much love and devotion upon 3 consecutive members of the chromatic scale?   Babbitt was concerned with this issue for decades.  His setting of The Widow's Lament, a relatively early work, is all about this issue, making the two cycles work together.  Schoenberg & Webern, out of a passion for the overthrow of the 7-note scale once and for all, systematically avoided harmonies that might remind us of the old music.  Babbitt did not feel he had to avoid pretty harmonies, and his harmonies get prettier and prettier into the 21st Century.


Go HERE for a look at how Swan Song No. 1 mediates between the two interval cycles.

 

I've tried to explain how Babbitt's use of combinatorial arrays offer a way out of the now universally scorned "12-tone-row-density", that reeks so much of "mere scale degrees".   The evolution of Babbitt's procedures suggests a 21st Century sublimation of the old 20th C. grounds.  Click HERE for that discussion, which also touches on Brickle's work which flirts with scale degrees (even more than Babbitt) while still remaining firmly re-grounded in pitch class.   I see this 21 C. sublimation of 20th C. grounds as a meeting place of composers like Ives, Brahms, Schoenberg, Meltzer, Babbitt, Del Tredici, Glass, a vantagepoint where all this work has greater meaning and resonance for being somewhat reconciled with one another.

 

Another important point to be made about Babbitt is that he corrected Schoenberg's misguided teleological thinking.  I'm working on a discussion of this issue HERE.

 

More here perhaps later, particuarly if I can make any of these discussions more user-friendly.  And send me your suggestions, advice and objections, please!

 

--William Anderson

 

 

 

Babbitt & Teleology

I was very proud to be one of the players on the 90th birthday concert that James Levine put on at Weill Hall, playing the Cavalier Setttings for tenor and guitar.  In a wonderful conversation between Babbitt & Levine, there was this interesting exchange, which I have to paraphrase:

 

Levine:

Your work is the main thrust of music history.

Babbitt:

I don't think we can speak of it in that manner.

 

I think we can concede one thing to Levine:  equal temperament happened.

 

Equal temperament opened up vast regions for composers to explore.  Remember the way Babbitt spoke of Moses und Aron, pointing out how rich it is in musical possibilities.  (Find this discussion in Babbitt's collected writings, published by Princeton.)  He is obviously very careful to speak of these wonders in pragmatic terms, in the Pierce/James sense of pragmatism.  It could be that in his earlier days he fell prey to Schoenberg's inflated teleological thinking, but any chastening was likely very early on.  I welcome insights into this.  I know that Ben Boretz considered his Metavariations as an oblique criticism aimed at Babbitt.  Babbitt was lucky to have very smart students to keep him current and to check any untoward teleology.

 

At the Bard Festival last August, the best and brightest musicologists spoke and wrote about Berg.  I was struck by the almost ritualistic disavowals of teleology that came in brief preambles.  This all because Schoenberg blabbed too much about historical necessity and such.

 

In all my conversations with Babbitt, he made an effort to couch things in simple, unpretentious language.  He learned from the flack that Schoenberg took for his talk about fulfilling music history.  An example--

 

Babbitt & Fractals:

He told me his music is not fractal (after I accused it of such).  He admitted he's interested in little things &  big things mirroring each other, bouncing off of each other.  The opening guitar tune in Swan Song uses a major 7th chord in eighth note triplets that comes back twice in quarter-note triplets, amplified, made large.

 

Schoenberg did a great & courageous thing, and Babbitt followed up courageously and exhaustively.   We're all greatly enriched by their work.  At the time, no doubt, Schoenberg felt that he was onto a big thing.  Music played Schoenberg and to Schoenberg music must have felt like such a powerful daemonic force, so fortunate that it didn't destroy him, as it almost destroyed Reger, for example.  Schoenberg mastered it.  Such daemonic forces look different (feel different) coming and going.    Teleology is a mini narrative mistaken for a grand narrative, but it is also apt hyperbole trying to descirbe the experience of  grappling with titanic forces, which is always, in the end, quite indescribable.  Missing this obvious point, our narrative concerning teleology has become a bit tedious.

 

For Babbitt, his creative masque was that of a positivist.  And if you like, take Alex Ross' cue and embellish this a bit--a *coldwar positivist technocrat*,  although Babbitt's positivist mask was something that he had tried on long before the cold war.  After Steuermann pointed out that Babbitt or any American could never  have the *Geist und Seele*  to compose like a German (see Babbitt's essay, My Veinna Triange), Babbitt worked long and hard, for decades, creating a spirited and soulful (yes, absolutely soulful, if you know his music well enough) American compositional voice.  Note, the positivist mask is a professional mask, and professionalism can protect one from the kinds of  inflation that would lead one to make grand claims such as teleological ones.

 

Mistaken  teleologies came about notoriously through misunderstandings surrounding "evolution".   Darwin preferred the less teleological "natural selection".   And still there were those who felt that Darwin was suggesting that nature had a fondness for intelligence.  The late Stephen Jay Gould deals with this problem, but I'm not convinced entirely by his treatment of the issue.

 

more coming....

 

A Last Frontier (Displacing notes that aren't there)

Image

This is the first of two examples.

The contention of this pitch Quixote is that symmetrical structures extend themselves in our brains without being presented in actuality.  In this example, the contention is that the whole tone scale completes itself in our brain.  We hear the G# that completes the whole tone scale.   And then the low G natural in the guitar displaces a note that we hear only in our heads.

What to make of this?   Whatever you like.   My take--this is a last frontier.  I'm bored with only hearing things that are THERE. I'm happy in this realm where we're counting angels on the head of a pin.And it makes for interesting tunes, regardless of who wins the argument.

Another example in the same piece:   look for measure  6.   The contention here is that our ears are soooo diatonic that major thirds always imply the intervening note, symmetrically in between.    So here, between the F# and the Bb our brain supplies the G#.

In both examples it is G# that's not there.   In fact, there are no G#s in this piece.

There's more to the last example.  The complement to the prevailing D, E, F#, G, A, B is heard in measure 6, although it's mixed up with D's and other suspensions from the other hexachord..  The complement is Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F   (the tritone transposition of the D diatonic hexachord).

So in measure 6 we have all but the Ab, which, according to this contention about major thirds, we supply without it actually being there.   Fact is,  I felt this measure first as the complement.  After playing the piece dozens of times the sense that I was hearing the complement became very clear.

Then I looked at the score and realized that complements don't have to be complete.   Is it not the case that augmented 6 chords imply the rest of the complement?   In Beethoven this seems clear enough.  Even in Fernando Sor.   Who needs all the rest of the tritone-transposition???

Oren & I record Genius Loci on July 18!  It's an innocent little doodle, with these devilish deals going on under the table.

Read more...
 

The Sublimation of 20th Century Grounds

---As Milton Babbitt's 95 birthday approaches, does anyone care about pitch classes any more?

----Yes, and there many excellent composers who are walking the walk.

Many of us who cared about Babbitt's work understood that toward the end of the last century any music with the faintest scent of a row would enjoy a moment of deep, widespread *unfashionability*.   It must be known that we (Babbitt fans)  shared in the sense of urgency for music to be able to get some distance from Schoenberg-density, and many of us have been doing something about it.

 

Unfashionabilty doesn't keeping us from admiring the work of composers
who dared to stick to their guns.  I'm thinking of brilliant composers like Gunther Schuller,
Richard Wilson,  and Brian Fennelly, and many others.   I'd also like to mention
Robert Martin & Robert Morris, who are onto things courageous, new and interesting
that is not 12-tone, but might be confused with 12-tone music-- doubly damned!

 

Many Babbitt followers celebrated the courage of people like Steve Reich, John Adams and Philip Glass for building sonic levers to pry us out and into the future.  What is less widely understood at this point is how Babbitt's work showed another way into the 21st Century.   I know that he couldn't give a damn about the fashionability of, let's say, "Schoenberg-density",  but his way of working in his most recent music got away from that density.     I want to try to show how all this went down.  I'll rely on some help from friends who are onto these questions--Frank Brickle, whose work amplifies these developments in Babbitt's latest work;  Robert Morris, who has come up with an original and powerful sublimation of 20th C. grounds; and Jon Dawe, who injects fractal viruses into tonal superstructures.

 

I think of the 20th Century regrounding of music in rows, rather than scale degrees.  Toward the 21st C. we see some composers who can do without rows *without reverting back to grounding in scale degrees*--Bob Morris calls this an "open space",  after Ben Boretz' zine.

 

I see Babbitt coming to this by arpeggiating through his arrays, and through is counterpoints of arrays.

morphine array

A *faithful* realization of such an array can be  less musically
significant than a selective culling of moves  suggested by the chart.
Gradually, Babbitt, with Brickle hard on his heels, started to look at the larger
*unordered* collections suggested by their charts.  For example--a section treating one
vertical slice followed by a section based on a slice that nicely displaces a
pitch or two in the first slice. The array becomes a broad source for universes of
such moves--more moves in one array than is needed for any one work.

 

The vertical elements in such arrays can be arpeggiated for any length of time, with minute, Feldmaneque transformations as any one "voice" might proceed to its next note while the others stay put.

 

Arpeggiation through arrays shifted our focus from ordered to unordered collections,
with enormous consequences.

 

Pick one of the vertical tetrachords and think of it as a focal collection, much as the tonic triad is a focal collection.   The stuff between each recurring focal tetrachord  is a chromatic extension (a non-diatonic *prolongation*)  of the focal collection.  The focal collection continually reappears in rotations  as the array progresses from left to right.

 

Much like Schenker:  Think of an imperfect cadence with 3 in the
soprano, followed by a perfect cadence with 1 in the soprano.


Babbitt's music shows a continual distancing from the voice-leading prescriptions implicit in the literal left-to-right progression through an array.    According to Brickle, it was in the early '90s that Babbitt ceased to think of arrays as prescriptions for left to right realizations.

 

Brickle:  I Can't forget that it was an offhand remark of Ben's in--what, 1972?--
that struck deep and eventually became the fundamental clue for my own
developments.  It had to do entirely with what Milton's music would be like if he
worked with an additional level of middleground between his charts and his scores.


Babbitt's Cavalier Settings for tenor and guitar, and his Soli e Duettini for two guitars still seem to show the left to right realizations of the arrays, but each instrument has its own array.  *Counterpoints of arrays* are being heard.   The arrival at less literal readings of the arrays certainly had much to do with the way counterpoints of arrays encourage a gutting of the specific voice leading in each aggregate in favor of larger features of the individual arrays that arise in the counterpoint of aggregates.   As this process unfolds there is still a critical relationship of the work to the arrays in which they are grounded.   The arrays continue to serve as a (non-diatonic) ground, but with less micromanagement.  (Let's fight about this!)

 

Simpler Composition

I now see the ultimate sublimation of all this as follows:

1--Dispense with arrays altogether.  
2-- Write a tune that lays down a focal collection.  
3--Try to understand the difference between diatonic and  non-diatonic prolongations of this collection.

 

This describes a lot of music that we care about.  This nicely outlines the nested harmonic arcs in Harold Meltzer's highly successful Cygnus piece, Brion.

 

Counterpoint: Instruments converge on the focal collection from different places,
approaching by different intervals.  The various routes in the various instruments
might relate by retrograde, inversion, M5, *as if* they are each realizing a different array.

 

This sublimation is a broad guideline for improvisation. You write the pitch you hear and you honor the 20th Century as much as you want or can.   To the degree that one understands or cares, one can preserve the distinction between diatonic and non-diatonic prolongations.  And prolongation is a middle-ground thing, describing how to move without moving.  I'm not attempting here to describe how one local flavor displaces another over entire sections.


And this is how to listen to Babbitt--you shouldn't care about his charts.  His point is not to realize *faithfully* the chart.  The chart guides and enriches the improvisation.  The improvisation is about listening to things.  In the very opening of Swan Song, listen to what's naughty and what's nice.

 

The opening 6 pitches are quite nice, and most memorable in those
opening 6 pitches, perhaps, are A-C#-G#; which comes back amplified
in a big way.  What is naughty in the opening?  What crunches?---the 0127s.
The crunchy 0127s crunch and resolve into diatonic collections.  It's all so clear. 
Swan Song Opening pdf


 

Looking at things in this way makes me even more grateful for the wonders and riches that arrays or rows can bring to this.  The array can give so much--enough and more than enough. Brickle:  "The elaborations of the aggregates/arrays go into sketches of actual musical passages -- specific notes and rhythms.  It's these *passages* (not chart-like entities or collections) that constitute the middle-ground references for the actual surface of the piece."

 

What we see Babbitt doing, on the other hand, is awfully hard to understand and harder to explain.

 

Brickle puts it this way:

"I think he's vividly and acutely aware of all of the information and associations and cross-references at every point in his rows, arrays, and superarrays, and how they are implicit in the work as a whole. At the same time, any individual passage is clearly an improvisation informed by the unfoldings that interest him in his source arrays."

The next issue I had to clarify for myself---what's the difference between this and Haydn?  What is the difference between a diatonic prolongation and a non-diatonic (atonal) prolongation?   It's only the difference between pitches and pitch classes, but it was nevertheless, a distiction that I fought for years.


I underestimated the difficulty of this question, for honest reasons,
but also due to an overlong period of smug complacency and denial.
I am still struggling with this issue.

 

Tonal extensions of a focal collection are *diatonic* extensions.


In tonal music the focal collection is usually, but not always the tonic triad.  Mertz &
Sor both offer examples where tetrachords can, arguably, be taken as their focal collection
(Sor Study in D [Re-Fa#-Si-La, etc.];  Mertz' Lied Ohne Worte is based on two tetrachords; 
Brahms Op. 88--the focal collection is the F major 7 chord.)

 

[047] is scale degrees 1,3,5, which may be prolonged via movement through scale degrees 2,4, 6,& 7.  No need to hit all those scale degrees in this prolongation, but it's hard to avoid. If secondary dominants occur we could see the entire chromatic scale in a tonal passage without ever obscuring the scale-degrees.

 

Music in the minor keys offer us weird collections that cannot be taken as collections, so powerful are the pitches rooted in the scale degrees.

 

A favorite move of Fernando Sor:   [F,C#,E], where the F is en route to the E. 
It is a wonderful non-diatonic collection, but the scale degrees explain it to us so well.
Minor third symmetries and the augmented triad-- our sense of them *as collections*
Is compromised by how well we hear them as mixed modal entities, scale degrees.

 

The Collection An Sich


as in "ding an sich"-- the thing in itself
The collection an sich is the
collection without its relation to scale
degrees--
without its habitual  grounding in the diatonic scale.

 

21st Century composers may have a focal collection which may or may not be diatonic.  That can't matter.  The 21st C. composer will prolong the flavor of her focal collection using notes from the complement at her pleasure.  No need to hit all those notes in this prolongation, but it's hard to avoid. We can honor the aggregate as a structural unit or not.

 

Brickle continues to think in very slowly unfolding aggregates,
but sometimes his aggregates are missing pitches.

 

Note, if the composer wants to stick with diatonic flavors, said composer can avoid the taste of high 20th C. 12-tone "Schoenberg-density".  The extensions of said composer's focal collection can involve endless common-tones to smooth over the hard edges that we find in music of Schoenberg-density.  (This is another thing that came out of arpeggiation through arrays.)  And, with enough care and understanding, said composer can learn the difference between a (perhaps chromatically inflected) *diatonic* extension and a 20th-Century-inspired 12-tonesque prolongation that knows only the peculiarities of the focal collection and knowingly avoids the diatonic extensions of that collection.    And in fact, the game may involves some punning between the two kinds of prolongation.

 

Robert Morris' Apres Vous, for solo guitar, derives collections that are not founded in scale degrees.  They are grounded solely in canonic processes.   Locally, the music's canonic unfolding is very clear, and he uses many tricks that he picked up from his work with 12-tone procedures to clarify the canonic elements.  For example, the canonic strands can be wonderfully intertwined, yet distinguished by register or dynamic level or timbre (harmonics!).  On the large scale, the canonic processes can be made to steer toward collections whose flavors preside over large sections.   Here it is the canon an sich. The collections that result are rooted solely in the canons.

 

Jonathan Dawe composes fractal Baroque operas.  His fractal procedures are numerous--rotations, nesting, and cellular automata.   He leaves his Baroque model almost intact, particularly the cadence points.  He interpolates fractally, with a counterpoint of fractal procedures all converging on the original cadence points in his Baroque model.  What results can remind us of a Babbitt convergence.  In Babbitt, his instruments, each unfolds its own array (and remember how much arpeggiation and freedom from strict order can be afforded with arrays, as opposed to rows).   The instruments converge on a target collection, a collection as large as a hexachord, or a smaller collection that acts as a signature for a hexachord, a hexachord that displaces another.   With Dawe, the tonal convergence remains--and that's what tonal counterpoint does, the intstruments converge on a triad, andl at the same time the tonal elements are gutted by his convergence of fractalized elements all aimed to coalesce at the same point where the tonal cadence occurred.  Dawe's example is less a sublimation of 20th C. grounds, but rather an entirely new and original relationship to tonal grounds.  Through his usurpation he can sound like Babbitt, Ligeti, or Kurtag, but he really always sounds like Dawe.


I'm finished for now, but I will be adding some examples of collections an sich.

Examples

Ives approaches the  collection an sich, despite the key signature.   To Schoenberg a new grounding was vital, and Babbitt & Brickle broadened that effort.  What we see in Ives, perhaps, is how fuzzy the distinction is.  Brickle plays the collection an sich against our habitual scale degree consciousness with the clear hindsight of how the ground had been shifted, and with respect for the importance of the distiction.   Ives, perhaps, didn't feel the distinction needed to be made so overtly.   I am more like Ives, when I, and perhaps most of us are.

 

Ives' Cradle Song--he cares about keeping a sound going, he cradles us in that opening (Lydian) harmony.   He keeps it alive linearly in the soprano's lydian moves.   Brickle admired this in Ives and took it to heart, he does what Ives does, but with attention to slowly unfolding aggregates which may even relate to arrays or superarrays.    Brickle is Princetonian to the end, and yet his work shows that the high 3/4 Century Princetonican thinking could adapt itself into a more mainstream dialogue.

cradle song resize

 

Brahms approaches the collection as sich in a kind of mirror image of the way Brickle flirts with scale degree associations.   In Op. 88, the tune's first 4 notes are elaborated throughout the 4 movements of the work, elaborated as a collection. In the Sarabande at the end of the slow movment, the collection rises to the surface, and also makes explicit that the collection is the major third key relationships (background) superimposed upon the middle-ground's traditional, habitual dominant-tonic realationship:

F--C;  A--E

Opening tune:  C--F E-F-GABCA-

the other leg of the background augmented trid:

F--Db; F--C

And note that the opening tune is harmonized in the traditional manner, we hear the tune as the collection [CFE] only by *hearing through* the harmonization.

 

A Response!--->

 

Frank Brickle wrote:

....in the case of Brahms that [having the example make the point we need it to make]  would amount
to a full-up analysis of the whole piece. Have you looked at Ben's [Boretz, that is...no I haven't] analysis
of the opening of the 4th symphony?

Far as Ives is concerned, it would be a similarly long and detailed
analysis of his (leit-) motivic technique, which is awesomely powerful
and brings together quite a few different strands, so that he can vary
one strand at a time and leave the others essentially intact. [!]  This is
most obvious in the two piano sonatas, but also informs most of the
chamber music as well. Not so sure about the orchestral music.

 

Hieronymus Kapsberger

In this insidious theorbo solo by Kapsberger, 034 gets more explicit  *as a collection*, until, in measure 14, it's right there in your face.  The re'entrant strings make this piece sound like it's being played on both manuals of a double manual keyboard.  And the re'entrant tuning also makes it possible for the F# and Fnatural to overlap.  The tablature calls for them to be on different strings.  I don't mean to suggest that the collection here transcends its imbrications with scale degrees.  I suggest it as an example of a collection gathering force as a collection, on its way to trumping scale degrees.

 

kapsberger corrente

 

More examples to follow!

 

A brief note on Babbitt & Teleology

 

--William Anderson

 

 

Decoding Babbitt's Swan Song No. 1

Over the past 8 yea

rs I've been mulling over a few things in Swan Song.

Whither the 0127 at the end?

 

E and B hold while the cello plays E#-F# if E=0 then the other
members of the chromatic scale create the collection 0(E)1(E#)2(F#)7(B)

 

Then I found that the first non-diatonic collections that strike us in the opening are also 0127s.   The opening, moreover, is a counterpoint of diatonic hexachords in the plucks;  (023457) in the pizz. strings (B hexachord); followed by chromatic hexachords in the woodwinds.

 

I've discussed the fat middle of the piece in the Bridge Record notes.  I'll touch on that later.  First, a major epiphany about the 0127s.   It should have occurred to me years ago, but I'm slow, and uninitiated.  I hope to show that even an idiot can understand Babbitt with sufficient time, patience, and interest.

Read more...
 

Fashion Collections

FashionCollections.jpg 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call these A, B, and C. I think we can describe these three tetrachords as all the pairs of 5ths that contain at least one 1/2 steps?  Of these three pitch collections the A remains fashionable, and has been fashionable for a long time. It is a collection that is particularly associated with Brahms.

Read more...
 

Harold Meltzer's *Brion*, after a second hearing of his *Sinbad*

..........Cygnus recording of Harold Meltzer's Brion has been released by Naxos.
...........NY Times has selected Brion for the Nov. 26, 2010 Gift Guide!   Times Picks!
..........Reviews:  San Francisco Chronicle & Newmusicbox & Sequenza21 (more reviews in the works)


On Brion, after hearing Sinabad again:

Meltzer's music often hooks into what in the early 2000’s we’d call “post minimalism”, but it’s not that, or it's that with a great attention to prolongations of very dinstinct set classes--that rather than minimalism's pan diatonicism or pentatonicism.  Both Brion and Sinbad make use of Stravinskian parataxes--hard shifts from one musical thing to another.

Read more...
 

Cygnus: Emerson Bicentennial Concert

Poet John Hollander will host an evening celebrating the Emerson bicentennial. Theevent will include readings and musical settings, including five new settingsof poems by Emerson, performed by the Cygnus Ensemble. The program alsoincludes two important settings of Hollander's work by Elliott Carter andMilton Babbitt.

There are few poets whose work has been set so frequently by major American composersas John Hollander. "Philomel," Milton Babbitt’s landmark work is oneexample, and Elliott Carter’s "Of Challenge and of Love" on thisprogram is another, as well as his collaborations with George Perle and HugoWeisgall. Dr. Hollander has written several volumes of poetry and seven booksof criticism. His honors include the Bollingen and the Levinson Prizes; the MLAShaughnessy Medal; and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, theMacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A formerchancellor of The Academy of American Poets, he is Sterling Professor Emeritusof English at Yale.

Dr.Hollander opens the program with a discu
Read more...
 

Cygnus: Babbitt 90th Birthday Concert

MiltonBabbitt at the Crux of the 20th Century
Notes on the Program

VareseDensity 21.5
Babbitt'smusic explores and extensively develops compositional techniques that werepioneered by Schoenberg, while making exhaustive and ongoing innovations inrhythmic structure; yet a better way into Babbitt's sound world is throughVarese. Schoenberg is accused by many, with much justification, of never havingabandoned Romanticism without succumbing to neo-classicism. I think Schoenbergmanaged well in Moses & Aron and the violin & piano concerti and someother works, but overall the criticism holds. Schoenberg was an expressionistto the end, and an expressionist is an extreme, belated Romantic.
Read more...
 

NYRB publishes Adalbert Stifter

Last December the New York Review of Books had a new edition of Adalbert Stifter’s *Rock Crystal* out on the bookstore shelves. I wept with joy, truly. Of course this is everyone’s first exposure to Stifter, and I already had 3 different editions of this story, but I bought 2 NYRB editions to give away.

I felt vindicated. For years I would look in the “Sti” section of the fiction shelves just in the off chance that some Stifter would finally find its way there.

Read more...
 

Babbitt & Positivism

Positivism in the arts is perhaps a reaction to antinaturalism. And a second, more ferocious wave of antipositivism followed Milton Babbitt. However we might characterize Babbitt's music, the reactions to it seem antipositivistic in one way or another. If positivism is a reaction to antinaturalism, one might take Babbitt for a naturalist, yet I remember a conversation I had with Mr. Babbitt that suggests that he is not a naturalist. We were at his favorite Princeton hamburger joint, The Annex. I was yaking about fractals and Mr. Babbitt made a point of saying that his music is not fractal. He is interested in the relationships between big things and small things. This does not make his music fractal. [I am suggesting here that interest in fractals makes one a naturalist. It's open to debate.]
Read more...
 
You are here:

Contact Us

Cygnus Ensemble
112 Central Parkway
Mount Vernon NY 10552
(914) 665-2254