13 August 2016

henningmusick: The self-evident [telephone her teeth] hold

henningmusick: The self-evident truths we hold

First, as to Oxygen Footprint, I briefly report that I am true to the mission of daily progress, and the piece is presently at the 2:15 mark.

In the interval since the 5 July post above, the reading of The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth with Kammerwerke went very well on the 21st.  There is a set rehearsal schedule, starting the third week of October, and the performance will be 18 November.

I also made a start on the fixed media accompaniment for Olivia Kieffer's piece, Mistaken for the Sacred, which we have decided will be a seven-minute piece.  I joked with her that I'll make it eight minutes, and she can mime for the first 60 seconds.  At some point, we shall see if I am kidding.

11 August 2016


It's time to blog again.

What better time, than when I need to finish a piece?

(Considered from a certain angle, though ... that is very nearly anytime.)

To start (here in the blog, I mean--for the piece is already begun), what can I tell you about Oxygen Footprint?

1. It is a trio for flute, viola and harp, commissioned by Ensemble Aubade.

2. I've thought about writing such a piece for a while, and I have a cursory sketch bearing the working title Ray Charles Needs Soloists. (Probably I shan't ever actually write a piece of that name, too vivid. Comes from an email message from the director of a choir I used to sing in.)

3. (Probably shan't use that old sketch. Doesn't seem to have anything to do with the present piece.)

4. The group and I have agreed on a piece seven minutes in duration, and composed in such wise that the harp part could work at the piano.

5. The piece will be premièred in New York State in November of this year.

6. I seem to have begun proper work on the trio at the beginning of July;  but it was on May the 12th that I advised the group's management that the title of the piece is Oxygen Footprint.

October looks like a busy month for at least some members of the Ensemble, so I have promised to have the piece to them for rehearsal in September.

At present, I have some 90 seconds of the piece done. Well, 60 for certain. And if I compose 20 seconds of music per day, 6 days a week, the score will be done on 31 August.

The piece will be Op.138.

(Op.139 is the collection Minor Sacred Music IV; and Op.140 is Sound & Sight.  Originally, Op.138 was a short dramatic work which is being shelved a while.)

06 July 2016

The Show Itself

With as yet no comment ... June the 21st at King's Chapel:


05 July 2016

The self-evident truths we hold

Near the end of May, word came from Kammerwerke, and we are going ahead with The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth. We are to read it all together (the composer conducting) in rehearsal July the 21st. At the time of the May message, the intention was to program my piece for their Winter 2017 concert. Encouraged by the news, I went ahead and finished composing the piece (which had languished at the 10:30 mark since November, I believe) on 17 June, let the score 'rest' overnight, tinkered a bit further on 18 June, and I do pronounce the piece complete.

The Op.130 done, and after our fine concert at King's Chapel on June 21, I set to finishing the Gloria (yes, at long last). Much as with The Young Lady, I reached the final double-bar of the Gloria on June 28, and left the score to cure a bit. A friend in Florida, reading the score, raised a question about the meter changes on the first page; and I agreed that there was in this case some 'visual noise' which could be clarified with no loss to the composition. With those well-advised alterations, the Gloria was finished on June 29. It is still sinking in, that now the Mass is complete.

Over the holiday weekend, I began by responding to two Fifteen-Minutes-of-Fame calls: one sixty-second piece for flute, clarinet in A & bassoon, Out From the Unattended Baggage; and another sixty-second piece for flute & harp, sand dance.

I then got a proper start on the trio for Ensemble Aubade, Oxygen Footprint. (I have a three-measure sketch for flute, viola & harp from March of this year, I think; and I may use it yet, but it was no way to start the piece.) And I have resumed work on < Boulez est mort > (Wounding Silence), the second movement of the clarinet sonata. My plan now is to make gradual progress, alternating between the two pieces. When one of these is done, I begin tinkering in earnest on the piece for Olivia Kieffer, Mistaken for the Sacred, percussion and fixed media.

30 June 2016

Gloria erat sic finis

Although I have probably blogged to this effect before . . . it all started with a call to Paul.  In all likelihood, I had been listening to Mozart’s d minor Kyrie, and I thought I’d like to compose a setting of my own;  and I wanted to write unaccompanied polyphony, so a good choir was indicated;  and I called to ask Paul if a Kyrie would be acceptable for use in the Unitarian parish whose fine choir he directs.  Not only did he give me the green light for the Kyrie, but he asked that fateful question, “Is this the first movement of a complete Mass?”

Hadn’t got as far as thinking that, but the question could not very well now be disregarded.  So I accepted the suggestion, on the understanding that I wasn’t “stopping everything” to write a Mass, but that I would take up a movement, now and then, on my Muse’s caprice.

That said, I wanted to get the Credo, and all its text, done up first – first, that is, after the Kyrie (which was sung at First Church Boston . . . in fact, I think I was in the tenor section of that performance . . . not exactly sure why we do not have a document of that event).

For the Kyrie, obviously, I would inscribe a dedication to Paul Cienniwa.  My idea then was to dedicate each movement to a choral director (most of them here in Boston) to whom I owe an especial debt for helping to foster and promote my compositional work.  The Credo bears the dedication “in memoriam Wm A. Goodwin,” who was responsible for commissioning so many occasional pieces for use at First Congo, and who essentially bankrolled the purchase (and the first subsequent upgrade) of Finale.  The Agnus Dei is dedicated to Mark T. Engelhardt who as Music Director at the Cathedral Church of St Paul on Tremont Street invited me to compose a festive Evensong, the chief of many occasions on which he directed his choir in Henningmusick.  The Sanctus is dedicated to Heinrich Christensen who has made King’s Chapel a welcome venue for twice-annual presentations of Henningmusick.  And the present Gloria is dedicated to Nana Tchikhinashvili whose choir Moderato Cantabile has repeatedly performed my Magnificat, itself no easy piece.

Of course, what I have found (which ought to have been no surprise) is that the Gloria, while less than the Credo, also has quite a passel of text.

– and another reason it ought not to have surprised me is, that when I finally had the Credo done to my satisfaction, I thought, “Let me write the Agnus Dei now:  that is just a little slip of text ....” –

Probably (and even granting my infrequent blogging of late), I’ve here detailed the various fitful starts to the Gloria, all the more reason why I am pleased to report what a well-oiled machine it is now, this week.

13 June 2016

Sound & Sight in the works

The artists have been busy on their own account (which is, truth to tell, their normal condition), so it was only yesterday that they sat down to listen both to The Conquest of Emptiness (the fixed media, plus "virtual winds" so that they have an idea of what we will play in counterpoint) and to On Contemplating the Irrepressible.

When Masha and I first chatted up the project, we settled on two pieces of art-plus-music, the first to be of a somewhat lamenting character (well, we said "lamenting," and I guess my music went "somewhat," there), the second, lively and cheerful.

Back when I first played for the artists the fixed media for The Conquest of Emptiness, I also played (see "virtual winds," above) the first 24-48 measures of what I had written at that time of the obbligato winds. I was highly satisfied with the both the writing itself, and how it played with (or, played off against) "the fix." This is a joint effort, however - I am asking the artists to do something a little outside their typical experience, in having them do their work as a performance, to the strict timeline of a piece of music . . .

--In a sense, they are perfectly accustomed to performing in public, all the times they set up an easel in the Boston Public Garden, or Boston Harbor, or the Arboretum, or anywhere, where passersby take an interest and stop to watch them in action. So the novelty is in degree, not in kind--

. . . and their feedback is a vital part of getting to a result with which all the artists involved are satisfied. And my first go at the wind parts for The Conquest of Emptiness, Masha felt was too active, cheerful - which was not an artistic cavil at the musical writing, but an observation on the character of the piece, to which she and Irina will respond in the space. I set immediately to re-composing the winds, but it was only yesterday (as I say) that the artists sat down with me, that I might demonstrate "the new piece" for them. They pronounced it satisfactory. (I should add that, at first, when I played for them simply the fixed media mix, they found it beautiful; they did make a couple of requests, which I incorporated in the final mix.)

So: it was only this past Saturday afternoon that I reached the completion of the fixed media for On Contemplating the Irrepressible. It's a good job I had all my evenings free last week . . . I did not genuinely dawdle, but I was a while getting the skeletal "accompaniment score" composed; I don't think that was really done until Friday evening. Saturday morning and afternoon, then, were agreeably spent in manipulating sound objects and layering them onto the skeleton. One especially fun subproject was extracting passages from three instruments from the Ghanaian drumming section ('B'), smushing them around a bit, and superimposing the result as a quiet, subversive counterpoint against the second (B) section (m. 168ff.) There is so much vigor and activity in this piece (which was a designed contrast to The Conquest of Emptiness, of course) that on Friday and Saturday, I did have an idea of keeping the live winds' component simple. More on that presently. In all events, I find the fixed media bit for On Contemplating the Irrepressible highly satisfying, my best effort in that vein so far.

I spent yesterday morning working on wind parts for On C. the I., and by lunchtime I had got to the 2'30 mark (from rehearsing The Conquest of Emptiness with the band, we found it helpful to mark in the parts what timings of the track align with the rehearsal marks) so: one-third done, and for much of the rest of the piece I could with relative ease adapt the material already written.

This, then, was the point at which I sat down with Masha & Irina to demonstrate the tracks. The artists found the fixed media for On Contemplating the Irrepressible a blast, too. They like the fact that it is not seven and a half minutes of unrelentingly fast music, but that there are the contrasting Ghanaian drumming sections, which are more moderate in pace, though still active. They want the ending to be a little louder, which I think is an easy remix.

I then played for them the first 2'30 of the piece, together with the wind parts I had then written. She expressed herself with great delicacy and sensitivity, in advising that the wind parts from that morning were too busy; "I'm sorry to make you do more work," she added. I hastened to assure her that she was absolutely right; that I myself knew a day and a half before that I wanted to keep the wind parts light of tread, but that I had lost sight of that mission; and that, as for doing more work, I wanted to make sure I was doing the right work. Right away I spent about 20 minutes modifying what I had, to test on Masha's ears, and we had the solution; and I finished off the wind lines over the course of the afternoon.

Part of 'the lighter touch' angle is, we winds have long stretches of rests. But, we aren't really 'the concertante soloists' in this context, but part of the accompanying ensemble for the featured artists; so, we'll count our rests and make sure to come in on time.

The overall structure of On Contemplating the Irrepressible, then: I don't know if this is an official musical term, but it will do the job . . . the rhythmic soul of the (A) section is the classic "mariachi hemiola," the supple rhythmic alternation between 6/8 and 3/4; in the case of my score, I vary this a little further in 'every other 6/8 measure' by an additional beat. The basic (A) riff, then, is a four-measure pattern: 6/8 - 3/4 - 9/8 - 3/4.

There is an (A') passage which is progressively varied, the same tempo as (A) but in effect 'relaxing into' a regular 3/4. At first, anyway - for we soon alternate, not with 6/8, but with 2/4. I thought of this as a sort of codetta, and as a result it is a final variation of this section which drives into the final cadence.

As mentioned above, the (B) section is a 3/2 riff which I first learnt back in Charlottesville, courtesy of Scott Deveaux's African Drumming seminar in Charlottesville. Add a ritardando here and an accelerando there, and an assortment of these building blocks essentially accounts for the course of the piece.

11 June 2016

In progress, June 2016 edition

First off, I owe the freedom of working across so liberal and ample a timespan to three expertly musical colleagues.

The rehearsal of The Conquest of Emptiness (four winds and fixed media) went exceptionally well. It is, simply said, a bit of a stretch for me, though I have the benefit both of regular practice in chamber performance, and of the experience of playing (with Peter H. Bloom) the piece which David Leone wrote for us, flute, clarinet & fixed media.

Confident that that number is readily conquerable, I've had the blank page before me, of the 7-1/2-minute "last movement" of the 21 July event. The piece has been an agreeably engaging challenge, a combination of compositional techniques completely "in hand," with two "layers" of the process out of my ordinary:  the quasi-appliqué technique of adding a counterpoint of "electronic" sounds (properly speaking, recordings of natural sounds, manipulated in various ways);  and then, this settled recording to serve as a fixed 'background', to write for four live winds, in a way which is both musical, together with the fixed elements, and executable, by four amply professional musicians, without undue (not to say, inhuman) strain.

It took me the better part of a week to be satisfied with the "skeletal score":  a base composition from beginning to end, a musical narrative of sufficient interest in itself, in that one could listen solely to it, and hear a satisfying logic carried by, and a coherent narrative through, it alone. Yet, with enough "open space," to admit two distinct counterpoints:  of "non-musical" events alongside;  and the vital participation of four real-time, live instrumentalists.

More tomorrow, Gentle Reader.