Ives’ language like the revivalists of his time, was both revolutionary and conservative, reflecting a belief-system that combined the idea of the Social-Gospel, with Progressive Humanism. Society, for Ives, was a meaningful progression through the people towards the good life. He considered himself “no radical who pulls up the plant to see if the thing is growing, a true radical”, Woodrow Wilson maintained, “goes down to the roots to see if the tap root is getting the pure nutriment that ought to come from the soil. That is the kind of radicalism I believe in: recultivation thence reformation of the whole process.” Ives’ music presents to the listener a kind of “cinematic portrait” of the multi-dimensional, multi-layered disclosures of consciousness (which Ives regarded as both a mental and a spiritual landscape) itself. Both the active-scientific-pragmatic and the passive-mystical-psychological nature of American Transcendentalism helped him achieve this. The nature of his music’s flow derives strongly from the patterns of activity he saw around him, in particular the way things happened and not especially what was happening.

Discontinuity. Free association. Associative-chains. Montage. Overlapping and Interactive events. Tune-lists. Interlocking-patterns. Non-endings. Hyperbaton, the violation of an expected order of things, the second phrase ahead of the first, e.g., anaphora, the repetition of an idea at the beginning of phrases, ellipsis, the omission of parts known to be necessary to the whole, anacoluton, abandoning one type of construction, taking up unexpectedly another, collage, montage, assemblage, etc. Tediousness, a note repeats, it goes nowhere, mediocrity ; a passage of no particular importance, sociology ; quotations, correspondences with internal reality ; passages with no transitions, patchwork, fragment-collections, motifs, genre-schemes, scraps, pieces, these interwoven, entangled densities deployed to re-present the complex, multiple ambiguities of experiential reality.

-Rosalie Sandra Perry Charles Ives and the American Mind
Kent State University Press 1974

Rudolph Reti’s “Tonality/Form” Concept

Rudolph Reti defines tonality as: a condition of music according to which musical groups are conceived by the composer and perceived by the listener as a unit related to, and derived from, a tonal fundamental, a “Tonic”, a key center. The sense of a tonal-center is established more by the interval of V to I then the diatonic scale. A note becomes a “Tonic” (Tonal center) when combined with near overtones of itself particularly the fifth. He contends that this “force of attraction” effect is worked both vertically and melodically, since the former note (G , e.g.) is the second overtone
of the latter (C ).

V to I, therefore, is not a theoretical abstraction but the smallest possible unit of a musical construction, at least in the post-Rameau sense. It creates “tonality” by its form-building tendency.

Therefore he considers V to I a unit, not a series of chords.

By deduction then, the unfolding of all musical form in Western classical music from the time of Rameau is an elaboration of and a derivation from this principle.

THEREFORE: if V to I is defined as the “force or attraction” which is the form-building harmonic principle of tonal music and ‘X’ is defined as all other progressions (or anything else) in the composition resulting from free invention,

Then it follows that:

( I to x to V to I ) may be said to describe the tonal-harmonic structural course of any composition from the classical literature up to and including our own times. (Some of the permutational possibilities being for example, I V I, I x V I, I V x I, x I V I, etc.)

The diatonic scales that seem to provide harmonic content for horizontal (melodic) and vertical (harmonic) events are not, in Reti’s view, themselves form-building factors.

What about modulation? A common feature for “X” is the creation of secondary “V to I” ‘s or tonal centers. This principle of tonality is in fact as closely tied to the chromatic scale as it is to the scale-of-the-key since “X” can contain extensive elaborations throughout the chromatic circuit without detracting from the strength of the primary Tonal (V to I) designs.

Tonality is a derivation from the overtone phenomenon and does not derive from particular scales. I believe this concept of Tonality is at least as if not more realistic than the key-concept that is often taught as a doctrine of musical form because it explains the force-of-attraction principle inherent in the system of Tonality while providing an explanation for less theoretically-describable elaborations.

I believe my Four Part Harmony study opens the way for a musician to achieve a very special awareness of the grand scope of possibilities still contained in the outworking of these principles. Does anyone still believe that Tonal music ‘ended’ with Wagner’s chromaticisms, and Debussy’s modal-orientalisms? Works like Stockhausen’s 1963-64 Momente or Boulez’ Le Marteau sans Maitre clearly continue and expand the same highly charged properties of expression present in, Schoenberg’s Ewartung, Berg’s operas, Scriabin, Mahler, and, for that matter, Miles Davis’ New Directions in Music, and the trios of Bill Evans. All of this so-called modern music may be understood as logical and expressive rhetorical expansions of the language of tonal music whose principles are here discussed. Berlioz said he wanted to endow music with ‘new actions’. Miles Davis expressed a similar view. He was interested in ‘bettering’ the forms of music. As my own four-part study unfolds, I stimulate my students to enlarge upon the discipline they have experienced in the study. I keep this perspective before them in order to impart what I believe to be always true about music. This perspective has proven to be a gateway to new discoveries by many of my students who catch the implications.

A Theme-based theory of 19th Century Music

The whole of art and culture became rhapsodic, improvisational, elaborative rather than structural during the first third or so of the 19th century. The concept of Varied-Repetition began to dominate technical morphological procedures. Moving (elaborative) imagery replaced the presentation (stable) of imagery. Hence the general move from Tonality to Atonality.

Two Organizing Principles of Musical Form

1) Expositional: (vertical, spatial, structural) Nouns describe but do not move.
The Architectonic: Musical ideas presented to us by grouping materials repetitively as in “A B A”. (Stable)

2) Developmental (horizontal, linear) Verbs move as well as describe.
Thematic: ideas presented continuously, non-repetitively, as in “A B C D E etc.”(Elaborative)

The intuitive (imagining-discerning-deciding) well-disciplined musical ear is the beginning (initiator) and the end (completer) of the music-making process. Bad music does not come from poor composing, but from poor listening. As writers love stories and ideas as much as words, or as painters love “seeing” as much as they love the “capturing” of the “seen”, so composers need to love listening to music more than doing music and knowing about music.

From Carl Dahlhaus

The critical formal problem of 19th Century musical structure was exemplified by the music of Brahms, on the one hand, and Wagner on the other. There had taken place in Beethoven’s work a fundamental shift from Tonal Form (“Ideas” serving formal processes) to Thematic Form (Thematic elaborations themselves producing Structure.) This development from the Tonal to the Thematic arose quite naturally from the personal histories of the composers in question and is also, by the way, a non-harmonic explanation for chromaticism and the subsequent invention and deployment of twelve-tone serialism. The subservience of the Idea to the Form was characteristic of European music until the end of Beethoven’s “middle-period”. It was Liszt’s desire to retain the classical-ideal of “symphony” without being restricted by its traditional formal scheme, while also raising the genre of “program music” up from out of the “picturesque” and into to the realm of the poetic and the sublime. He worked very hard to unite the earlier influence of French romanticism with the tradition of thematic and motivic manipulations, thus reinterpreting the “programmatic” aspect in close conjunction with a change in formal thinking. His unique solution seems to have been a carefully juxtaposed superimposition of the “Sonata-Allegro” Form and the “Four Movement Sonata Cycle” (Allegro-Adagio-Scherzo-Finale). For example, he manipulated the order of magnitude of formal elements so as to juxtapose the “feel” of a “second theme” (in a Sonata-Allegro) with the “feel” of a “second movement” (in a Four Movement Sonata Cycle). He invented the practice of deriving opposing and seemingly unrelated themes and motives from common elementary structures of pitch and rhythm, creating passages of distinctly contrasting moods and tempi while all the more closely making relationships with internal structures of pitch and rhythm. (Rhythms from one motive transferred to pitches of another, pitches from one motive transferred to rhythms of another). Twentieth century music derives substantially if not entirely from Liszt’s invention of motivic transformation and Berlioz’ discovery of (among numerous other things) the use of timbre as an independent form-building structural characteristic.

From Donald Tovey

The best work of Sibelius shows a true sense of cosmic movement and a real freedom and economy in the forms by which this is expressed.

If you wish to compose freely, do not fix your mind on new harmonic propositions. Language is not extended by declining to use what is known of it.

It is the goal of technique to make two-part writing sound full, and five-part writing sound transparent. Variation writing is a means of acquiring technique, and bad composition consists in mishandling cadences.

Brahms: the melodiousness of song, the polyphonic nature of the Motet, and the discipline of concentrated invention in small forms. His themes are often contrapuntal, disguising thematic elements as accompaniments and later bringing them into prominence. His Symphonic Form is the result of the fusion of Small-Forms and Variation technique with contrapuntal disciplines.

Variations on Northrop Frye

The more familiar one is with a great work, the more ones understanding of it grows. Further, one has the feeling of growing in the understanding of the work itself, not in the number of things one can attach to it. (Anatomy of Criticism P.71) The conclusion that a work of art contains a variety or sequence of meanings seems inescapable. It has seldom, however, been squarely faced in criticism since the Middle Ages, when a precise scheme of literal, allegorical, moral and anagogic meanings was taken over from Theology and applied to literature. Today, there is more of a tendency to consider the problem of literary meaning as a subsidiary to the problems of symbolic logic and semantics. In what follows I try to work as independently of the latter subjects as I can, on the ground that the obvious place to start looking for a theory of literary (or musical) “meaning” (significance) is in Literature (or music) itself.

A musical form may be said to be effective for the same reasons or by fulfilling the same requirements as a good story. In the midst of such a form many levels of significance converge upon us.

Music and Dance
are mute (wordless). Literature and Drama are not.
Dance, as was well known by Balanchine, is a physical extension of musical properties, as Drama is a physical extension of literary properties.

The two groups of art-forms may be seen as representing two forces of influence: the PHYSICAL=History, Actions, and Events, and PERCEPTUAL= Thought, Ideas and Reflections. In more general terms, all art may be said to be the offspring of the marriage of ACTION and THOUGHT. I quote Frye’s Archetypes of Literature:

“Some arts move in time, like music; others are presented in space, like painting. In both cases the organizing principle is recurrence, which is called rhythm when it is temporal and pattern when it is spatial. Thus we speak of the rhythm of music and the pattern of painting; but later, to show off our sophistication, we may begin to speak of the rhythm of painting and the pattern of music. In other words, all arts may be conceived both temporally and spatially. The score of a musical composition may be studied all at once; a picture may be seen as the track of an intricate dance of the eye. Literature seems to be intermediate between music and painting; its words form rhythms which approach a musical sequence of sounds as one of its boundaries, and form patterns which approach the hieroglyphic or pictorial image at the other. The attempts to get as near to these boundaries as possible form the main body of what is called experimental writing. We may call the rhythm of literature the narrative, and the pattern, the simultaneous mental grasp of the verbal structure, the meaning or significance. We hear or listen to a narrative, but when we grasp a writer’s total pattern we ‘see’ what he means. Narrative and Meaning thus become respectively, to borrow musical terms, the melodic and harmonic contexts of the imagery.”

A Japanese doll-maker who also writes poems says the only difference between dolls and poems is material. Certainly a “unified criticism” of two, if not all the arts! The concept of a body of knowledge organized and studied through observation and analysis (as astronomy or biology is) is needed in the area of artistic study, and Frye establishes some useful first-principles such as: Literature, or any body of imaginative-creations, is a collection of known objects of study, and that this collection is intrinsically coherent. His structural basis for analysis, one detached from ideologies, is a welcome insight.

“Every art needs its own critical organization and poetics will form a part of aesthetics as soon as aesthetics becomes the unified criticism of all the arts instead of whatever it is now. It is time for aesthetics to get out from under philosophy, as psychology has already done. Most philosophers deal with aesthetic questions only as a set of analogies to their logical and metaphysical views, hence it is difficult to use, say, Kant or Hegel on the arts without getting into a Kantian or Hegelian ‘position’. Aristotle is the only philosopher known to me who not only talks specifically about poetics when he is aware of larger aesthetic problems, but who assumes that such poetics would be the organon of an independent discipline. Consequently, a critic can use the Poetics without involving himself in Aristotelianism (though I know that some Aristotelian critics do not think so)”.
(End of Northrop Frye Variations)

Some people need to grow in soil that is carefully guarded and protected by a personal sense of turf, Emily Dickinson’s way, I call it. There is certainly a noble heroism in that. I prefer a more reckless way. The risk is greater, and I often lose my balance in the torrent of influences I juggle, but the payoff is sweeter because the end product, when I succeed, is densely packed with converging patterns of significance, as Northrop Frye would say.

The ear hears everything one thing at a time. The flow of musical events is fragile and is sustained by a combination of strength and sensitivity. Musical discourse will admit all degrees of continuity and discontinuity. The listening ear is mercilessly alert to each. An unmistakable impression of either extreme alone is difficult to achieve. Even discontinuity requires careful management. Therefore, polyphony, rhythm, harmony, and instrumentation, are subject to the more general Law of Music; Melody: (one thing at a time ), bearer of the idea, as Busoni said. The composition, with all its textural complexity, must be regarded as a single series of one-at-a-time (melody) events. Elliot Carter said the most important thing a composer has to learn is how to achieve a “convincing continuity”.

Themes: musical items having specific melodic, harmonic and rhythmic characteristics. They may define and establish a stable structure, or a continually unfolding, elaborating structure. Thematic-identity doesn’t really come from the tone-world (pitches) but from the time-world (rhythm and duration). (Not a Thing but a Thing in Motion). A deeper look at Rhythm reveals Gesture, Energy, and Motion as design features leading to what we call themes. These themes seem to both ‘create’ and simultaneously ‘be situated in’ their own space. Tonality is not only harmonic. It is melodic too (Rudolph Reti). Often an ‘interval-content-design’ seems to be a “tonal center”. Therefore, Key-Centers are a sub-set of the larger principle of “Tonal Center”.

Expanding on this further, themes are shapes made by melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic design. Such shapes may establish a stable structure which does not elaborate, or a continuous structure which does nothing but elaborate. 19th Century art and culture became rhapsodic, improvisational, and elaborative rather than structural.

Anton Webern joined Netherlands polyphonic techniques to classical Variation-form and Sonata-Allegro form. The result? A new time-scale for the passage of musical events.

“….[Webern’s music is ] realized more or less in that sphere where the last most refined threads of impressionism come to their end, where they only flutter in the air, in the atmospheric plane, in the whirlwind dance of sounding sundust.”
-Heinrich Kralik

This time-scale became the starting place for Stockhausen. Donald Tovey rightly detects early stages of this development in the work of Bruckner and Sibelius. Unfortunately, Tovey inexplicably does not notice Berlioz from whom, in my opinion, all these practices ultimately derive. By the time the European railroads were completed, Berlioz and Liszt had taken their discoveries throughout Europe and Russia by horse and carriage. Remember, it was Berlioz who pioneered the concept of “free musical discourse” and by staying close to the example of Beethoven he ‘endowed music with new actions’ or as Miles Davis would later put it, ‘better the forms of music’.

I spent many years on Miles Davis as a special study. What could be more distinctly characteristic of our time than the radical inimitability of Miles Davis, on the one hand, and the self-evident innovation of Jazz itself on the other? Becoming a complete Jazz musician was a serious part of my program of studies. My music (whatever it was to eventually be) needed Jazz.

Jazz is as much a sub-category of “Modern music” as “Stravinsky” is. Jazz is fundamental to a comprehensive and true understanding of 20th century music. That’s why I went after it. As a practicing Jazz musician, in addition to the influence jazz has had on my overall outlook, I perform and record to do honor to the high-art form of jazz, attempting to present the deepest possible expression of its myriad intrinsic properties. How is Jazz unique? Improvisation? Bluesy melodic figures? West African rhythms? European harmonies? No. Jazz is an innovation that belongs with the other innovations of so-called ‘modern music’. Miles Davis implies this in a 1969 statement, “Don’t use the word jazz with me, or with people I know. Maybe for that riverboat kind of thing jazz is a word, you know. But not for us who continue to try to better the forms of music. You know what I mean?” For Miles, as for Berlioz, his musical intent was to expand music and its properties of expression.

Listen well to Boulez’ Pli Selon Pli and Stockhausen’s Momente. Then seriously consider Miles Davis’ On the Corner (1972) and you may see, as obviously as I do, that Modern Jazz is surely a sub-category of 20th century classical music, not another separate, distinct category.

My music is fashioned from the ‘whole space’ of modern musical history, imagining all the music I know, I leave out everything I don’t like. (Debussy) Or, as Flaubert and Joyce understood it, I try to be everywhere present, yet nowhere visible. Michaelangelo and his marble block from the pits of Carerra, smashing through all that holds in bondage the image trapped in the stone. What is this new music of mine about? Yes, ‘Program music’ but ‘the program’ is “all the music of modern history”, how that music behaves, and what it says and does to those whose spirits are aroused by it.

I hold a mirror up to music literature itself and I show it selectively through the sensibility and the working method of a thoroughly disciplined but free and fearless craft. I have Robert Rauschenberg’s curiosity. What is coming to life here? (I ask myself in my studio). I work from behind the mirror I raise to music. Selecting (I don’t even know how) from the vast palette of my own listening experience. Multiplicity, variety, inclusiveness. But it is not personal, I portray “music” not “me”. The composition is a portrait positioned as a picture sits in the “frame” of all the music which is left out. I am afraid of nothing. Not even the beautiful, as Rauschenberg has said.

And so everything is, then, really possible.


A piece begins. A note is played on a certain instrument alone. It has a certain dynamic and vibrato in time. It is followed by another note a certain time later and a certain distance from it in pitch. It too has its own characteristic attack and dynamic, what Stefan Wolpe called ‘shape’. It is related to its predecessor by its connection or its detachment. Does it suggest an event a mood a character? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The point is, drama is there in the music itself and this intrinsic dramatic element is in fact the controlling factor for the decision-making process.

Musical materials are defined by what they are first of all, sound, notes, dynamics, instrumentation, and by how they behave. Where do they come from? Where do they lead? How fast? What instrument? Time, rhythm, continuity. Is there disruption, interruption, resolution, misdirection, resumption? Drama! You see? That’s how one gives musical events living-characteristics.

What I call Drama in Music includes but is not limited by “beauty in music”. It is a Music that creates dramatic impressions by its presentation of, not only what it consists of, but, even more, by how the “what” behaves in time. What do things become? And, how? And at what rate? (If I have a method, this is it).

What can I make my music do? Traveling from low to high registers. Moving ambiguously between the foreground and background. Polyphony, melodies and accompaniments trading places, being transformed back and forth into one another, meter and non-meter, towards and away from tonal and non-tonal suggestion, towards and away from pointillism and continuity, the kaleidoscope , turn it, clear images appear, turn it again, something new.

Things don’t “create themselves” as Keats contends, it is still we, the artists, who do the creating. However we can observe that there is a kind of code for each work, as if the individual work reveals a ‘grammar’ which suggests that we are dealing in some way with ‘language’ and ‘literature’. I work to discover that code for each work as I compose. Changing and altering accordingly until the Strictly-Individual-THATNESS of the piece comes to be. (see Duns Scotus and his literary disciple Gerard Manly Hopkins).

“The form is just the logical correlative of the ideas (or rather of the one idea that runs through it all). It is a form that relates only to that idea: it would be inapplicable to any other, and no ‘professor of composition’ could deduce from it any rules that could be bottled and given to the student for home application.”
-Robert Layton in his book Sibelius

“With the 7th Symphony we find that Sibelius had abandoned all the stereotyped formal conventions of keys, ‘subjects’, and so on, to achieve unity on his own terms, the form being the correlative of the ideas, and therefore, in the final result, not ‘a form’ at all, but simply form, a way of setting about things and getting to the desired end that would hold good only of the particular ideas of the particular work.”
- Ernest Newman on Sibelius’ Tapiola:

As Cezanne stood before nature, so I attempt to stand before life itself while “reading the book of music” just as Cezanne “read the book of the Louvre” to gain mastery over the techniques of production in search of, as he put it, personal expression according to his temperament.

I believe with Berlioz that it is a composer’s business “to write true and beautiful music, music remarkable by its expression, by its melody, by its harmony, by its rhythm, and by its instrumentation. But if you try to establish a doctrine of absolute beauty. I give up.”


From Jacques Barzun, Berlioz Vol 2, P.73, 74

Feeling as he did about systems and pedantry and knowing history, Berlioz naturally refused to limit the scope of either music or modern music.

“As for my own confession of faith, is it not in my works? In what I have done and what I have not done? What music is today, you know as well as I do; what it will be, neither you nor I can tell. Music is, like the antique Andromeda, divinely naked and beautiful, whose burning glances break into many colored rays by shining through her tears. Chained to a rock on the edge of a boundless sea, she awaits the conquering Perseus who will break her chains and destroy the Chimera named Routine. I believe that by now the monster is getting old: his motions are not so energetic as of yore, his heavy paws slip on the edge of Andromeda’s Rock. And when the devoted lover of the sublime captive has restored her to Greece, at the risk of seeing his passion repaid with cold indifference, it will be vain for neighboring satyrs to laugh at his ardor and cry: ‘Leave her in chains! How do you know that once freed she will be yours? In bondage she is easier to possess’ .The loving lover wants not to wrest but to receive. He will save Andromeda chastely, and would even give her wings to augment her liberty.”

Berlioz declined to bind himself to a program and assume the role of leader of a school. His faith was clear from his deeds and parables and strong enough without the buttressing of a cosmic philosophy. Berlioz’ decision to stand on his accomplishments rather than on a platform appears as sound judgment now that the theorizing of the Wagnerian Futurists and all their avant-garde descendants appears with all their suicidal inconsistencies. How could he, arguing for freedom, be a party to boxing up his art within a creed?

Human Beings: their hopes, purposes and emotions are not told about by music; but rather music transfixes those hopes and purposes, elaborates upon them, and gives them enduring form and self-renewing vigor. Music is the equivalent of, not an imitation of, the lived experience.

Music: Transfixing, elaborating, giving enduring form and self-renewing vigor to. Movements of the human spirit.
-Jacques Barzun, 1971 Critical Questions

The “Music of the Future” cult set Wagner atop a pyramid of musical dinosaurs who it declared extinct like Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber and even Berlioz!

Berlioz protests: “You propound in regard to music a paradoxical theory of ‘ancestors’ and ‘descendants’ which, if you will allow me to say so, is at once palpably absurd and a libel against me. It is as if you accuse me with philosophical calm of being a liar and a thief. This made me indignant. I admire with passion many works by the descendants and I heartily detest many illustrious ancestors given over to what is false and ugly. Times, periods, and nationalities are all one to me, and nothing would be easier for me than to prove it. Let us drop these arbitrary systems designed to forward a special cause.”

You see, Berlioz was free, and as Barzun tells us, we may be sure that Berlioz grasped the relation between his thirty years of singlehanded innovation to this recent burst of self-deceived futurists.

Debussy invented the transformable musical content. He is to Wagner what the StarTrek ‘Enterprise’ Halodeck is to Expressionist painting.

This is a logical development of the “free musical discourse” described and discussed by Berlioz. Even Schoenberg’s and Wolpe’s methods were refinements and extensions of Debussy’s way. Sound (capital S!) in Debussy’s work comes forward as a structural consideration partly in response to the institutionalized cliches of pedantically frozen tonal-form-building concepts he found in the French pedagogy of his time. And this too (sound as a parameter of design) comes from Berlioz.

The formalism Debussy opposed was the prevailing institutional academic view that “Tonal Harmonic Common Practice” was inviolable. This Pedantic Textbook Scheme of Tonality was a theoretical fiction. Debussy unmasked and attacked this logically indefensible position. “Music Theory” blinded even Schoenberg forcing him to embrace “system” where it was not needed. What in the world was wrong with Pierrot Lunaire anyway, Arnold?

A Letter to George Russell on Rudolph Reti’s Pantonality

Dear George: this Treatise is no longer in print. In my opinion it is one of very few sensible theoretical portraits of music in the 20th century. There are a few others of some value but if I had to limit myself to one reference this would be it.

As I listened to your lecture at Temple last week Reti’s book came immediately to mind. Unbeknownst to me this remarkable man lived in the town where I lived as a teenager, Montclair, NJ. He died while I was in High School. How I wish I could have known him!!

Karlheinz Stockhausen, who acknowledges very few outside influences, refers favorably to another of Reti’s books The Thematic Processes of Music (a photocopy of which I own).

Reti’s definition of Pantonality and its application to 20th century musical developments strikes me as reasonable. It provides a way to analyze the many diverse musical things that have come forth from the larger tradition, and provides a suitably open and flexible approach to the imagining and the developing of further compositional possibilities.

There is, I believe, a large central tradition from which we all draw.

The culture of so-called Western Civilization has always included near and Middle Eastern and northern and western African components. Indeed, once ‘culture’ had rimmed the Mediterranean, all of the elements and components of Western Culture were securely in place. This fact is the foundation for my deeply held conviction that it is wrong to divide the Jazz and Classical musical worlds. The concepts of musical structure which I have discovered and which interest me apply in all directions. Jazz differs from Brahms as much as, say, Bach differs from Plainsong. Must we, therefore, deny the possibility of any unity between them?

With love and admiration,

Ron Thomas

The more removed from contemporary issues compositional training is, the better. Successful training should include assignments I like to call, “the remote artifice”, remote from the personal musical concerns of the student. Species Counterpoint, 4-part harmony, and EarTraining. As it turns out, these disciplines are not so artificial or remote as they may at first seem. Abstract compositional training ideally aims to provide adequate study in procedural correctness (right notes, wrong notes, good notes, better notes). Good musical judgment is the result. This is the way to jump start the creative process without interfering or destroying potential innovations the student might perchance uncover for himself. Procedural rectitude is the preliminary and often parallel method whereby one gains a craftsmanship-like mentality. Stockhausen used the French word “metier” a word that seemed to suggest an atmosphere of craftsmanship at the highest level of original work. At least this is the way I understood his use of the word. Surprisingly, he used no German word to express this notion.

Helmut Gottschild

As Jazz is a branch of Modern Music, so Modern Dance is a branch of Modern Theatre.

Because of the use of the body and the use of space as both instrument and medium, Modern Dance is therefore more of a truly new Art-Form than Jazz which, while certainly new, is still music. Modern Dance always tended towards the political and psychological, whereas it seems to me that it is much better suited to kinesthetic/visual expressions. My music, then, is not merely influenced by Modern Dance, but shares with it certain important features. In particular, that Music is already a Dance. Perhaps this concept also influenced him whose art is itself already substantially musical. In dance we find that Time and Force animate and define Form. Time, motion, weight, and force are at work in both music and dance. My music was reformatted, expanded and shaped by Helmut Gottschild’s classes at Temple University as I yielded my perspective to his re-defining fires.

Helmut deals with the anatomy of Dance and Design, and the Physics of Movement. As his students, (and I count myself as one) we explored and personalized his forms. I welcomed his modifications to my art. His vision is a “Physics-of discovery” like Debussy’s “discipline of the imagination”. Concrete, specific, disarming, mystical, and controlled, like Davinci’s, Helmut’s classes exposed kinesthetic and biological forces and concerns, like a Mime whose personality and ‘plots’ have been refined out of existence .For me the implications of his classes were even more provocative than his extraordinary choreographic products. His approach takes the direction of Flaubert’s suggestion; the novel with no Story, only Method.

San Francisco

1996. The bus plunges suddenly through the Pacific fog into a blast of sunlight on the famous big red bridge above the sunlit Bay connecting the city to Marin County, on the way to Larkspur. Jon English sits waiting for me on the bench beside his portable respirator, dying. He is bent over himself slightly; his breathing is labored. My visit is a celebration of our friendship and also a dying-party. We are in the car and on our way to San Rafael. Suddenly, it is 1965. We are both 23 again. He reaches over and slaps me on the knee and with a happiness-filled voice shouts, “I can’t believe you’re here”! In addition to being new, all things are also as they once were.

The next day we walk together on Drake’s beach in the cold stern wind. Later we cook food together, eat, talk, and go to the Hospice to pick up what turns out to be an unneeded supply of Morphine in case the end gets rough. We drive to San Francisco, hang out in his studio, play music, listen to music. I get to see the intersection of Haight-Ashbury, the west coast half of the summer of 1967 when I lived on East 3rd Street, NYC.

Driving Jon’s Saab back from Drake’s Beach, listening to a cassette of one of my trios, Jon’s eyes dance and jump, his voice whooping and whoa-ing along with all my solos. What a great joy it was for me to live to see the excited approval of my first and most important Jazz mentor for my work as a Jazz artist. My performance on that trio project barred his way to sleep that night. Monkey Mind, he called it. Igor, his respirator, beeped gayly as I listened from the bed on the floor below. Less than a month later I receive a message on my voice mail from his wife Candace. He is dead.

I drift into sleep and wake with a start. The alarm of the day, the clarion call to battle, sounds once, then again and again. The dream images shift to the life that beats upon us like waves on the sand, a crude club smashing our rest.

Fashioning music deliberately from out of continuous immersion in musical experience and literary materials. To so possess the effect working in the music that personality disappears completely from the scene (never far from Mallarme). Music that thinks, a composite of music history and its contents is the grounding, the result of long struggles with self imposed obstacles. Roaming freely from room to room in the mansion of all the music I know.

Holland 1999-2000. The moon travels its October path, gathering size on its circular path toward the West Tower nearby where, somewhere within, Rembrandt is buried.

Flying north over Holland. I throw off the life of thought, hastening to the arid air of hope and promise, to a land purchased for me by Another. My life, a dry dessert. His, a cornerstone of plenty and abundance. Water refreshing forever.

Habitation from Desolation.
At the check point, the banished wanderer falls sightless beside the tent of the outpost, kneeling.

Light from Darkness. Feverish, I am uprighted by the sudden blast of the lamp light. Thought leaps to join the dancing reflections of the sun’s measured procession .

City shapes and store fronts unfold along my eyes and head, bodiless, they do not cling. Too numerous. Pleasures not sweet enough, nor sorrows a standard of meaning can attain. Here, invent; there, remember. Wandering in place, finding, losing and giving away.

Back in Thorndale, a hot blast of Dutch tea meets my face as I lean over the stove to stir a boiling pot of spinach and beans.

Winter’s two-part rondo, the chilly dark and the tree branch bearing beings, winter’s General, the wind, barking orders.The sun’s warmth. The eyes I lift from the open book in my lap, meet the day’s final light washing the surface flat across the yard’s yellowing pines, and the red brick wall next to the door of the shed, watching me thinking on my couch through the patio doors. Our position is fixed, we cannot turn away from the fears of youth that return in season, more reasonable than before, when they hid behind the mask of feigned and fearless embezzled bravado. The tree branch bears beings laughing through the commanding winter wind, barking orders, the sun’s warmth and the chilly dark and the light on the red brick wall.

Music the enhanced equivalent of experience and reality.

A new piece. Sounds casting shadows. A poetic architecture of concentrated meaning. In all art, feeling is meaning says Henry James, and, as Borges reminds us, beauty is a physical sensation. Block after block of designed buildings and structures in a vast well planned city. An Hommage to Liszt, Melodies, Harmonies, Rhythms and Counterpoints casting shadows; sounds with tails, tape delays, animal gestures, non musical expansions. Music as domain: the sense of place, Emily Dickenson landscapes painted by tunes and chords and other miscellaneous ambiguities. Pauses, aimlessness, meanderings, restarts, interruptions, rhapsodies. Sounds in motion pile up like solid structures, an architectural cinematography of the imagination planned by an urban architect, an ideal city in an ideal place. A vision of place (answering to not really being at home) and a place inhabited (answering to, we are really alone) an art that is both geographical and relational.

The totality of the moment. It’s “Allness” a confluence of overlapping events and converging patterns of significance abandoning us as quickly as they pounce and ambush. And the traces they leave behind so captivate that all of art and reflective thought finds its source in this ferocious phenomenon we refer to as reality; art and thought gain access to us, we preserve and abide in these fragile traces of memories.

“….willing to sacrifice all satisfaction and vanity for its sake, what is it? Difficult to say simply, a book, architecturally sound and premeditated, and not a collection of casual inspirations however wonderful that might be. So there, dear friend, is the bare confession of this vice which I’ve rejected a thousand times, but it holds me in its sway and I may yet be able to succeed, not in the completion of this work as a whole (one would have to be God-knows-what for that!) but in showing a successful fragment, proving through finished portions that this book does exist, and that I was aware of what I wasn’t able to accomplish.”
-Stephane Mallarme letter to Paul Verlaine, November 16, 1869

On Japanese Haiku. Sadly, I have been unable to locate the source of the following.

Beauty reaching great subtlety.
Restrained Elegance:
Consisting of,
-Melancholy: the suggestion of impermanence.
-Serenity: Deep reserve and simplicity.

Axiomatic systems presuppose a deductive method; they depend on that method but it is not found within it. (Godel)

The art work is a window to the meta-physical, the spiritual, not the only such window, but the one suited to me. I stared captivated through it. What I saw altered my sensibilities. I came to read life as if it were literature, to look for the dramatic and the literary in everything.

The Multiple or Juxtaposed Moods of Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto; an allegro and an adagio one atop the other in the same passage. This Elliot Carter-like effect (supposedly ultra-modernistic) is mentioned nowhere to my knowledge in the Rachmaninov literature.

When death comes to encamp itself with us, what is left of friendship and love? We are saying goodbye, curled up in a corner.


Czeslaw Milosh

“Much of the literature of the west lacks a sense of hierarchy when appraising experience. It confuses what is important and what is trivial, making itself in the process frivolous and forgettable. All reality is hierarchical because human needs and the dangers threatening people are arranged on a scale, say from a pin prick to mass murder. Whoever comes to realize the existence of that scale behaves differently from someone who has the luxury to disregard it.”

On the persistent imaginings of men looking at women. ”It’s not that I desire these creatures precisely; I desire everything, and they are like a sign of ecstatic union.”

“He has been deceived so often that he does not want cheap consolation which will eventually prove all the more depressing. The war left him suspicious and highly skilled in unmasking shame and pretense. He has rejected a great many books that he liked before the war, as well as a great many trends in painting or music, because they have not stood the test of experience. The work of human thought should withstand the test of brutal human reality. If it cannot it is worthless.”
-Czeslaw Milosh The Captive Mind

Reviving the Musical Art

In 1980 I envisioned a revival of music in our time and proposed to the College Music Society a Paper (what a joke) on a solution: reconciling the Stravinsky-Schoenberg polar-opposite axis .Of course the paper was rejected.Some ten years and a lifetime later, A-historicism came to replace Reconciliation as my primary operative strategy.

Now for an obscurity of a different order.

Cycles (Joe Mullen John Swana and Ron Thomas ) is based on the intrinsic drama of musical elements. It is always “freely improvised” but note the following qualification. It may be free for a few minutes but subsequently certain laws come into force. Spatial differentiations (nobody plays the same thing at the same time). Dimensional polyphonies (multiple sound objects in space). Absolute equality (no primary or secondary parts, everything forefront and background). How “free” is improvisation at this level anyway? We all play structurally in the sense that from moment to moment, forms evolve (by the force of will) from the sounds and shapes that emerge.

The Anti-Music Roccoco. (The Post WW2 Years) My own modest contribution to the International World Collection of Stillborn Art: Late Magic, Plus Minus, Occasion, Water Vamp, Form Studies, Gefuhlszverzeiflung.

Busoni’s lesson: Innovation is the cutting edge of tradition.
Busoni: equal parts Brahms and Liszt, the best of both, perhaps even an improvement. Busoni undervalued. Busoni the future. Wolpe.

Debussy: the hyper beautiful musical event. Mallarme’s ideal. A theatre of the mind (in music). All sensibility, no events. The effects of drama without dramatic events.

As Robin Holloway argued, Debussy developed what could be done after Wagner’s time not after Wagner’s manner. So I have tried to do from Stravinsky.

Wolpe talked about an art that was all content and no style. This derives from the Bauhaus and DeStijl movements which were anti-ornamental, anti symbolic, anti-romantic, ‘functional'. Perhaps it’s best from our vantage point (and for our purposes) to see the two (style, no content and content, no style) as essentially the same. Wolpe was strongly influenced by his involvement with the Bauhaus where he was for a time a student. He drew much of his descriptive language about music from this visual/architectural movement.

What Flaubert meant might also be understood by looking again at the relationship between Poe and Baudelaire. Baudelaire noted that Poe held that the goal of poetry is identical to its own principle. That it has within it nothing but itself. The artist according to Mallarme knows that there is something superior to sentiment. It is the expression of it. Thus the importance of artifice to achieve the similitude of the sentiment.

Art should be terrible, disruptive, alarming, like a lightning flash. What does it illuminate? The ordinary, the real, the true. And yet somehow, also, the hoped-for.

“Art is what helps us live, without it existence would be unendurable. It has remained the comfort of sensitive persons unwilling or ill equipped to wage the battle of life.”
-Jacques Barzun

Ghosts in the Weed Garden
(Ballade for Saxophone and Piano) are the forgotten, once discarded and now revived influences of the past.

Compositions during the post-Jazz 70’s. Idiomatic revivals and restorations, settling scores with myself mostly, and others. The 90’s. The Neo-Classsical version of the 70’s.

My musical work may be considered an anecdotal subterfuge. A cover story for my true purpose, capricious quasi-aimless ecstatic reading and listening. I am a cerebral insomniac. (The burglar gives the house dog a steak). I search for governing dynamics, through observations and cognitive reverie.

Good musical form is always the result of the interplay of Continuity and Digression.

“When Gil Evans wrote the arrangement of ‘I loves You Porgy’, he just put down a scale for me. No chords. Which gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. I’ve been listening to Khachaturian carefully for six months now and the thing that intrigues me are all those different scales he uses. All chords, after all, are relative to scales and certain chords make certain scales. You go this way, you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes and you can do more with the line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically inventive you are. When you’re based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there’s nothing to do but to repeat what you’ve just done, with variations. I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional strings of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation with fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.”
-Miles Davis

“Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.”
-Bill Evans

“When I finish a work I can’t say whether it works or not. On the one hand, if I hadn’t liked it I wouldn’t have finished it.”
-George Balanchine

“The more you know, the less time it takes to say what you have to say. The Matisse principle, the 1/8 that is stated suggests the 7/8 that is implied. ”
-Harry “Sweets” Edison.

“….it consciously is not my method to move concentrically round a central image. [My poems] needs a host of images, because its center is a host of images. I make one image, though ‘make’ is not the word, I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual and critical forces I possess, let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, out of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict. Each image holds within it the seed of its own destruction, and my method, as I understand it, is a constant building up and breaking down of the images that come out of the central seed, which is itself destructive and constructive at the same time.”
- Constantine FitzGibbon’s The Life of Dylan Thomas P. 218

Art is a representation of reality
(Erich Auerbach).

For me, the disciplines of musical composition such as, melodic writing, knowledge of harmonic principles, form and continuity, etc. exist for the purpose of treating the musical experience as a dramatic medium. Dramatic in its theatrical and literary sense. The materials of sustained musical expression are controlled by a sense of the inner narrative associated with the sounds. However, be sure of this, it is an intrinsic drama in the music itself not a semi-realistic “added on” or quasi-literary programmatic attachment .

“It has been well said that the most original genius is the most indebted man. Sibelius has followed the direction pointed out by the great masters of the past. He is heir of all the ages. It is for this very reason that he gives us with a new voice a message that has never been heard before and his voice will remain new through all the changes and chances of freak and fashion.”
-Vaughn Williams on Sibelius in 1950 BBC Broadcast

Music is a free art: Its beauty depends upon no system or methodology apart from laws intrinsic to itself, and those laws themselves are more related to the drama-of-events than to music theory or music history. As Appolinaire observed; “Music is pure literature”.

“…attempting to do what is done successfully in the greatest art: to advance the frontier of vision by creating something new out of the resources of a strong tradition.”
-Clarence Brown on Osip Mendelstam

The modern era, beginning with Descartes, established “the one-sided nature of the European sciences, which reduced the world to a mere object of technical and mathematical investigations”.
-Kundera Art of the Novel P.3

One repays a teacher badly who remains a student only.

“In the end, everyone who really cares about a subject ends up teaching himself what he wants to learn.”
-Elliot Carter

“The teacher opens the door, the student enters alone.”
-Ancient Chinese Proverb

"Much of good teaching is of the ‘watch me’ order, but the more abstract the knowledge, the less easy it is to imitate the teacher, and the genuine student wants to do the real thing in a real way by himself. Consequently, the whole aim of good teaching is to turn the young learner, by nature a little copycat, into an independent, self-propelling creature, who cannot merely learn but study- that is, work as his own boss to the limit of his powers. This is to turn pupils into students, and it can be done on any rung of the ladder of learning."
-Barzun Teacher in America, p. 21

“Alfred Nock was once offered the chance to be head of the department of English Literature by the president of a huge sprawling Mid-Western State university: ‘I told him I had no idea of how to set about it; I should be utterly helpless. All I could do would be to point to the university’s library, and say ‘There it is----wade in and help yourselves’. A flip response, some might say, but it got across Nock’s belief that education is not a matter of someone pouring knowledge into another’s brain and that the responsibility does not lie with the teacher. The student must shoulder the burden of learning.”
-Robert M.Thorton Introduction to Alfred J. Nock’s The Disadvantages of Being Educated

“Education is something intangible, unpredictable. It comes from within; it is a man’s own doing, a lifelong discipline of the individual by himself, to pass from the overheated Utopia of Education to the realm of teaching is to leave behind false heroics and take a seat in the front row of the human comedy, the reason teaching has to go on is that we are not born human, we are made so.”
-Jacques Barzun Teacher in America

The kind of mastery I sought was the result of how I saw the whole nature and enterprise of art. I read widely in history, literature, art, and music to achieve it. I wanted (no matter how long it took) the same kind and degree of individuality and durability that works of Stravinsky, and others had. Could I do it? I certainly was not without some serious doubts, but neither they nor fleeting feelings of confidence deterred me from the attempt. I was not overly hopeful and but not entirely without confidence either. I had no choice. I threw myself unreservedly at the problem.

Literacy is education. One reads in the midst of the experience of life and then goes on to specialized instruction.

Like Poe’s Poetic Principle, it (Learning) is both the goal (what it is after) and the principle (how it gets there).

Learning is an impromptu affair wherein formal and informal studies intermingle, and overlap. We have a goal, we set our energies to it, we encounter an opulence of discontent, work to the point of exasperation, despair of making progress and without warning growth springs forth.

At just the proper moment, Formal Schooling can supply a valuable chaos of opinion, mediocrity, information, and misinformation, from which one can greatly profit.

Even a curriculum of particulars must necessarily and purposefully be non-systematic in order to resemble the more accurate informal nature of the known world and the limit of our speculations.

Musical composition for me is firmly based on the idea of inventing music from an a-historical perspective, and showing how technical resources, combined with the right perspective, can be the sole basis for successfully doing so.

I sit by the shoreline reading A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. My mother Helen, and my Cousin Linda, and her husband Rich are reading too. The study of reading (reading about reading) amply demonstrates that literacy is both the vehicle-for and the goal-of knowledge, information, and skills. The precious convention still holds: personal freedom, knowledge, and empowerment derive from the private unhindered acquisition of information and this is initially accomplished successfully by literacy.

Literacy alone is the pedagogy and the methodology for teaching and learning.

I dreamt of a desert seen from a great height, patterns made by bikes, cars and walkers seen from the window of a tall city building. Listening, I followed the spectacle of the dreamer’s mind, and from it, also, understanding. I remained hard at work following with the eyes and ears of his mind, the song for which no grammar existed, like one condemned to the breaking of an ever-changing secret code, the vistas frozen in space and time, an opera I had failed to write in time for its premiere based on the changes to My Foolish Heart.

An injured bird falls to the ground.
The light of dawn awakens him,
A thin-black grey-edged cloud slowly darkens the morning sky.
Keep the lamplight burning in your eyes so blue.

John Harrison is the inventor of the Longitude watch. His mother gave him a ticking watch as a child at night in order to help him sleep, which it didn’t.“The ticking of the watch seemed like an orchestra playing. People say the tick of a clock is like a single sound but it’s hundreds of tiny frictions, expansions and contractions, all twisted into a single moment”.
-John Harrison

“You know, the strange thing is, I want to build another one [the Longitude watch], taking it apart and putting it together again. I can see improvements. Even the watchmakers [who witnessed the required dissembling and reassembling of the watch] didn't see everything. They think in straight lines, not prepared for the curve, the line of surprise that takes you to a place you cannot see."
-John Harrison

Ambition is that force which establishes and drives the inescapable and intense routines that characterize perfectly the essence of who we are. Perhaps that force (Ambition) itself is synonymous with us, “What we are driven to do” and “Who we are”. Are they one and the same inseparable thing?

The world’s an accident they say
Just appeared one day
The moon above the road
The morning winter trees

Poetry, Music, and other Literatures

“Publishing a volume of poetry today is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”
-Don Marquis, in his column The Sun Dial 1920’s

“Webern's compositional style caused a radical shift toward abstraction in music. The German journal Die Reihe and its American counterpart Perspectives of New Music, both published by members of the post-Webern school, manifest an analytic, scientific approach that has little in common with the aesthetic discussions of the past few hundred years. Although Webern did not go nearly as far as some of his followers in the permutational ordering of his work, he too believed that art and science were one: "When one arrives at the correct conception of art, there can be no more distinction between science and inspired creation. The further one presses, the more everything becomes identical, and at last one has the impression of encountering no human work but rather a work of nature."

“The wedding of music and mathematics was not a new phenomenon in the 1950's. The earliest writers saw in music an imitation of the harmony of the spheres and the Medieval University included music in its curriculum. Through the end of the Renaissance, composers and theoreticians continued to perceive a numerical order in music. The world could be understood in musical-mathematical symbols.

But in the seventeenth century, with Monteverdi and the beginnings of opera, scientific-proportional ideas were displaced by dramatic-expresssive ones. Composers, newly self-conscious about expression, devoted themselves to musica poetica. Even purely instrumental work was affected by this shift in attitude. The dissolution of the Church modes and the emergence of tonality implemented the new aesthetic. In the sonata form, the basic musical structure of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the composer presented two different but related tonalities, juxtaposed them in a state of conflict, and resolved them in favor of the tonic key. The sonata form is a dramatic one.

But after the end of WW2, a movement rose which looked at the world in neo-Platonic terms and sought to bring about the reunion of art and science…..”
-Joan Peyser The New Music-the sense behind the sound P. 72 and 73

Flaubert’s art
(from a letter)

The most beautiful works are serene in aspect, unfathomable.

The means by which they act on us are various: they are
Motionless as cliffs,
Stormy as the ocean,
Green and murmurous as forests,
Forlorn as the desert,
Blue as the sky.

Rabelais, Michaelangelo, Shakespeare and Goethe seem to me pitiless.
They are bottomless, infinite, manifold.

Through small apertures we glimpse
Abysses whose somber depths turn us faint.
And yet over the whole there hovers an extraordinary tenderness.
It is like the brilliance of light,
The smile of the sun;
And it is calm, calm and strong
-Gustave Flaubert


“Music of the future? Non Credo!”

“The friendship between the old companions of 1830 [Liszt and Berlioz] was as real and affectionate and serviceable as ever, but a new doctrine, as Liszt explicitly admitted later, was depriving it of artistic significance. Liszt had every right to like and to champion any music he chose, and Berlioz was too great a mind to question that right for an instant. But he could not concede the Wagnerian theory of musical evolution, namely that Wagner’s new art superseded that of Weber and Beethoven.”
-Jacques Barzun Berlioz and His Century

“The young man [Hans von Bulow] is one of the most fervent disciples of the extravagant school known in Germany as the music of the future. They will not give up their determination that I should be at their head as standard bearer. I say nothing, write nothing, and let them have their way. Sensible people will know what to make of it all.”
-Hector Berlioz P. 335

“Wagner’s admirers were bent on creating still another monopoly, exclusive and doctrinaire, and on making Berlioz admit that in music as in industry the latest was the best.”

Shi Huang Ti 9259-210 BC buried alive 460 scholars, burned all the books in his kingdom, except for one copy of each deposited in the royal library, which he planned to destroy before his death, reasoning that if all records were destroyed history would begin with him. For generations after, the Chinese expressed their hatred of Shi by “befouling his grave”.

Jazz is the newest form of new music in the world. It is American music, of course, but I do not call it “America’s Classical Music” as many do. America has classical music of its own, Charles Ives being the notable representative. Among its unique particulars, Jazz has no fixed form for things but is often renewed by the vitality and force of natural innovators. It can take a lot of things into itself and in the process transforms both those things and itself.

Artistic discovery is often a veiled evocation of the past, the result of looking back, not ahead. In art the past is often the wellspring of the future.

“It is not to provide chapters in books about music and win a place for profundity in said chapters. Making music is for delight; it is intended and designed for sentient beings that have hopes and purposes and emotions. Music does not tell about these movements of the human spirit, but it somehow transfixes them, elaborates them, and gives them enduring form and self-renewing vigor.”
-Barzun’s introduction to Joan Peyser’s The New Music: the Sense behind the Sound.

The art of Takemitsu aspires to the typically Japanese condition of restrained elegance, melancholy, impermanence, serenity, deep reserve and simplicity. Listening to Takemitsu's visionary musical dreamscapes, we are barely able to grasp aspects and features of the scene before us, when, suddenly, another perspective opens! The concept ma, the "nothing" which is essential for the perception of "something", as in the opening without which there would be no doorway.

"Like many a closed book, the nineteenth century has never been read through. Absorbing dust, it sits on the shelf of time, available to our scrutiny but seldom touched. This is so perhaps because whenever one bothers to peruse it one discovers its pages contain nearly every insight or concept which the 20th century claims as its own achievement. Even if one wants to make an exception for the modern notion of speed, of qualitative acceleration, one is bound to realize that this, too, has been taken care of by that century's music; Star Wars could be easily scored by any of Beethoven's piano sonata prestos."
-Joseph Brodsky Forward to An Age Ago a selection of Nineteenth Century Russian Poetry

"The monophonic examples of Byzantine and Gregorian Chant (and even the monophonic and heterophonic forms of Greek music, insofar as we know anything about it) seem to be traceable by the finger like lines through time, and with the introduction of polyphony in the 13th century, the music is still felt as separate horizontal lines. The figured bass of Baroque counterpoint, however, intersects the horizontal lines of the voices with vertical components of Harmony marching through time. Both the horizontal and vertical elements are fused by Haydn and Mozart into a greater unity, and then begin to dissolve with Schumann and Liszt, where voices merge mysteriously and ambiguously with each other. The dissolution continues with Wagner, in whose music the increasing chromaticism gradually obscures harmonic definition, and is carried almost to the limit by Richard Strauss; Debussy then attacks a too clearly defined sense of rhythmic measuring out by a yardstick; the vertical harmonic markers are removed by Schoenberg and the so-called Second Viennese school of his pupils (but the neoclassical Stravinsky undermines the integrity of the harmonic language); finally, many of the basic elements of form, motif, sequential repetition, a steady uniform beat, that seem to have a tactile identification (as if one could put a finger on them in a map) are eliminated by Boulez and Stockhausen. This is not merely a development from the simple to the more complex, a sixteenth century composition by Thomas Tallis or a fugue by Bach may be as intricate as anything by Wagner or Stockhausen. It is a path that leads from the perception of the elements of music taken individually to a sense of the single elements blending together as if they must be understood from the perspective of a greater distance."
-Charles Rosen

One more time. The a-historical perspective of Berlioz is the antidote for bondage to historicism, the fetish of Chronology.

Berlioz discovered Shakespeare according to the preconditioning of an inner necessity which by its own urgency raced out to meet it. Also the intensity of his discovery of Shakespeare came according to the emerging convictions imposed upon him by the imprint of his art to come.

Berlioz vigorously opposed Nietsche’s notion that, in place of ideologies and principles, strong-willed personalities were required to lead mankind (artistically and otherwise). In short, he was forced to declare himself against Wagner which led to the effacement of his work for nearly 100 years until Jacques Barzun reopened the discussion.

Music without good form is like a wall attempting to pass itself off as a building, having no corners.

To a young composer:
You have made more than a good start in the area of compositional principles. It would be timely to dive into some more specific things related to Jazz. My essays contain repeated attempts to define my position with regard to "Jazz and Classical Composition". You are familiar with some of the basic notions I hold to and I will expand on these ideas with you. It doesn't make any sense to me to divide the musical developments of the 20th century into the two categories of "jazz" and "classical music". I regard jazz as a sub-category of "new music" during that period in general. They really aren't two entirely separate things at all. Of course, there are profoundly different things to be noticed about, say, Miles Davis, as compared to, say, Igor Stravinsky. Noticing these differences is important. I am not saying that they are the same but I do question and challenge the usual way they are discussed as different. We've done a lot of specific "noticing" on the classical side of the equation which was appropriate to your interests at the time and to my concerns. It's time to talk about jazz and get into some nuts and bolts about what it is and what should we notice about it with regard to what we actually do as performing jazz musicians. What should our concept and approach to our participation in this music be?

The Serial Model: Limitation and Control. Imagination and Transformation.
The use of restricted pitch series in transpositions provides a context/system of control and limitation which fosters imagination and transformation. This particular serial-model forces the mind to create, to enter, and to engage a multidimensional “formscape” (see page 140 of Piano Pieces by Russell Sherman).

2004 Fragment

“Always a total gas but especially lately as I "search for Brad Mehldau" so to speak. Some of what I have been trying out pre-dates the turning-point (for me) the concert of his we attended together in NC. It is disingenuous at worst or self-deceived at best, in my opinion, to pass oneself off as an "original". Should someone turn out to be (as Debussy and Miles were) "originals" I am convinced they had no choice in the matter and they both said as much. I myself am happy to lean on apropos models and currently among them (prominently) is Mehldau who is leading me into some new territory. I could go on and on of course. Anyway (just a little more) what primarily interests me is the Eastern European flavor and the muscular classical core from out of which all his music seems to arise”.

I am not looking for a ”unified theory of all things” musical, artistic, philosophical, theological, or otherwise. Here is what I think about “everything”. It is fragmentary and its incompleteness is undeniable.

My music speaks through the actions and behaviors proper to the condition of music itself, like actors on a stage where nothing is being attempted but to enter the conditions of theatre itself.

“There is nothing more interesting than a wall behind which something seems to be happening”
-Victor Hugo.

I want my work to reveal the architecture of the authorship, not the personality of the author.

Miles Davis repeatedly jettisoned all the personal-history in his music in order to move on to other discoveries with no apparent regard for the larger history of “his” work.

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul”
-Simone Weil

“My freedom consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go ever farther: my freedom will be so much greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint; diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
-Igor Stravinsky

The waves and billows of “history”
May overwhelm me at the last, but
If I go down,
It is upon the right sea and
To the right graveyard

What is the nature of the masterwork of art? The answer to this question seemed to require learning the “how” part of the masterwork’s making. I compared and correlated biographical and analytical information about how others found their way to the knowledge of this “master piece building” activity . Underlying all this, as I was to discover later, was another difficult problem (more incompleteness). I was working with a concept of the masterwork for which I could ultimately formulate no clear definition.

The Hundred Letter Words of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Joyce’s thunderclaps inaugurate simply one more repetition of an endless cycle, a recurring four-part-invention. But maybe that thunderclap does not initiate a new cycle but is rather an Instant between Two Eternities , a fixed point between these two eternities. Eternity Interrupted. Joyce got it right insofar as he connected the image to something on a cosmic scale and Finnegans Wake itself is a brilliant replication of the connection and correlation between the space-time-configuration of the known world and the space-time-configuration of the art-work. Art then may be seen as translation FROM the imaginative world (creating and constructing) TO the actual world (the art work itself).

You remarked when we last spoke how I have gathered together all the music I love from a vast variety of sources and then reconstructed in my compositions that world of beauty and variety I discovered on that gathering-journey. What an insight you gave me into me and my work! It was a very profoundly helpful insight for me for which I thank you! How did you ever see that? As you know, my involvement with jazz is not casual. Take the testimony of The 17 Solo Piano Improvisations. Jazz took on the same weight and significance for me immediately that my association with Stockhausen had, or my special interest in literature, Berlioz, Stravinsky, or Liszt, previously. It seems to me that I have written these Six Piano Pieces by embedding treasured classical echoes into the highly compressed formal setting of the pieces, everything seen through the “Lens”, if you will, of the broad sensibilities and methods (not necessarily the stylizations) that I have learned as an American Jazz musician. I think this is what makes the pieces more than sentimental Pictures from an Exhibition of Personal Memories.
-From letters to Russell Sherman

“You composers don’t invent anything. You find what already exists, like water-finders with their sticks”.
-Federico Fellini

Once, as they rested on a chase, a debate arose among the Fianna-Finn as to what was the finest music in the world.
“Tell us that,” said Fionn, turning to Oisin.
“The cuckoo calling from the tree that is highest in the hedge,” cried his merry son.
“A good sound”, said Fionn. “And you, Oscar,” he said, “What is to your mind the finest of music?”
“The top of music is the ring of the spear on the shield,” cried the stout lad.
“It is a good sound,” said Fionn.
And the other champions told their delight: the belling of a stag across water, the baying of a tuneful pack heard in the distance, the song of a lark, the laugh of a gleeful girl, or the whisper of a moved one.

“They are good sounds all, “said Fionn.
“Tell us, chief,” one ventured, “what you think?”
The music of what happens,” said great Fionn,
“that is the finest music in the world.”

-James Stephens Irish Fairy Tales

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of dialect
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

-Seamus Heaney Song

Eddie Murphy responds to the question “how much of you is in your character portrayals”?

“My ‘sense of humor’ is present in all my characters, not in my personality. I’m not funny, my comedy is

Can we translate our personalities into music? I don’t think so.

“…there is a mirror that has seen me for the last time…”
-Borges Limits

“…in the empty room, the silent book…”
-Borges Ariosto and the Arabs

The music of the Picture

“It was Delacroix’s custom to stir his mind to activity by reading passages from Byron, Dante and Shakespeare. To imagine a composition is to combine elements one knows with others that spring from the inner being [and, of course, the 19th century was the century of “inner being”] then from a well-stored memory forms are brought to an apparent reality”. (Wellington).

Mr. Wellington hastens to add “Obviously this line of action from reading to design was in the nature of a dodge; a practice which was found to work, and the value of the result depended on the quality of the intelligence behind its use.”
One final miscellany on Delacroix; he believed in the superiority of painting over the other arts based on the following allegation. “Even at a distance the painting appeals directly to the most intimate part of the soul, transporting one without words to reality by what one may call the music of the picture”.

-The Journal of Eugene Delacroix (a selection edited with an introduction by Hubert Wellington)

Or in other words, making art is the bringing forth of a work of art that comes forth from a well stocked memory. (RT)

The moon hears the sorrow
Of the nearby sea,
Stirred from its sleep,
A blade of grass.
A disquieting noise,
Amid so much silence.

-Claude Debussy August 17, 1895 from a letter to Henri Lerolle
p.192 Lockspeiser’s Debussy


Apres Rimbaud

I began Apres Rimbraud for piano (2006) under the influence of poetic and linguistic techniques of Arthur Rimbaud. The following will serve as the first of two examples.

A Season in Hell" was created by a laborious process of accretion and erosion. Ideas are compacted into a gem-like obscurity. [His was] the style of someone who knew how to pack for long journeys”.
-Graham Robb Rimbaud: A Biography Graham Robb P.203-4

A second example: traditionally constructed texts (early in his life he had thoroughly mastered these complex French protocols) interrupted by images, shifts of logic, or word-order as a means of heightening the intensity.

Graham Robb’s deadpan version of his life is a refreshing splash of antidotal contrast to the pretentious and hyper-maudlin adorations of at least four generations of “avant-gardists” for whom he was “an emergency exit from the house of convention.”
-Graham Robb Rimbaud: A Biography P.XIV

“He left his poems behind like unwanted luggage and they instead became literary time-bombs”
-Graham Robb Rimbaud: A Biography

He was the first and the baddest of the bad boys of art, and the first to leave the forlorn and barren badlands of modernism.

toxic delerium
marooned in a seedy neighborhood
the new possibilities of innocence
the artist-vagrant
hall of mirrors
a one man human comedy
evocation of abandonment
-Graham Robb

A final example one which I found well suited to musical techniques: he looked for little jolts to push the poem over its own edge.

He is the type and the anti-type of Modernism-so-called, 19th century style. Rimbaud, the rough young beast of 19th century French poetry, first known to most for the spectacular misery of his brief notorious life. My own fascination with him however is that “He was the first to repudiate the myths on which his reputation still depends”.
-Robb P.XIII)

To Matt Bengtson: You may indulge in way more pedaling than even that which is indicated in the score, the goal being that every event be shaped against a background of a generous delicacy, quietness, and clarity, nothing passed over in a hurried manner, distinguishing carefully a) the inner workings of contrapuntal passages b) the sounding of simultaneous notes in chords each note having the same weight and sounding forth with equal intensity, and c) the proper execution of pianistic sound-effects. There is no drama, only fleeting impressions. And, unless indicated, no acoustically dry un-pedaled piano effects.

I marshal my forces slowly, for example, spending much of my free time noting what is going on outside my kitchen window, daydreaming, or just comfortable brooding .The smallest details of preparation take the longest time for me. The first notes on your piece came in 2002 and often I would only rewrite a passage of only a few notes several times over the course of several months. An onlooker could wonder when I actually do accomplish anything? It is something of a mystery even to me I am afraid, but exciting things somehow do get done and I have no quarrel with my "methods" if that's what they are, anyway the work continues.

From Matt Bengtson: I'll keep the secrets of your working methods hidden from your web designers and future biographers.

To Matt: So glad I could come tonight. What a tour de force, utterly amazing that you can perform all that music so accurately and with such devastingly beautiful musicality, hard to find the right words. Maybe we should just start calling you the 8th wonder of the world.

From Matt: It's great to hear from you; thanks so much for coming to my concert and for your too kind words. When I saw you there before the concert I was a little bummed because I had meant to bring the fourth of your Six Pieces for a little encore, and simply forgot it amidst the mountain of details I was and still am swamped with. One of these days, I will do it. I'll bring it to Temple just in case the audience is that enthusiastic again (which is truly too much to hope for).

To Matt: Dave told me about the fourth of the Six Piano Pieces encore and I was very touched just by the idea itself that you would do that, it might just as well have happened as far as I'm concerned and I will always cherish the memory of your thought to do it.

I asked Dave to enter your piece into finale for me in order to be able to pass it along to you. There are some things about the work that don't really work right so Dave agreed to critique the work with me in order to fix some things if we can. The main goal is still the same. Every sound, every nuance, every gesture, exquisitely beautiful so that you can wrap your musicianship around the piece with confidence. I don't know if I can achieve this but that's what I am after. It is interesting to me that the piece did not become as big as I was hoping it would be which is fine with me, a well-packed concise Webernian miniature filled with subtlety and innuendo seems to be my forte anyway.

There is a ground of unity that joins Beethoven’s Bagatelles for piano and, say, all-the-keyboard-solos-of-Chick Corea-on Light as a Feather. Note the great stylistic distance between the two examples. This is purposeful and hopefully instructive. It highlights the fundamental unity found in all masterworks. The masterwork is an object of study not a subject of study. Those works exhibit a unity not unconnected to, but still very much detached from, chronology and tradition. They all exist in a conceptual space whose center is a mysterious unifying principle that unites all the individual works.

Answering questions about Stravinsky from a student

I never met him but I did attend one of his last premieres in NYC (the cantata in Hebrew he wrote for baritone and orchestra Abraham and Isaac). I went to the stage door and watched him walk from Carnegie Hall to a waiting limo and caught his eye as he waved to the small crowd gathered there.

When he died in 1971 I was very touched. A student of mine at Temple University told me the news as I was about to begin one of my classes. I could not teach that day.

Stravinsky was born in 1882 which made him 60 years old the year I was born in 1942. I had a music appreciation course in high school. We listened to a 10” long playing record containing an analysis of the Firebird of Stravinsky. That was my earliest experience with Stravinsky’s music. But it wasn’t until a fellow composer at the Manhattan School of Music and I attended a performance of the Symphony of Psalms at Carnegie Hall with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic that his mark on me became permanent. The so-called ‘neoclassic’ works opened up a whole new approach to aesthetics and the philosophy of composition to me.

I have been influenced by those who “made music behave in a new way”. Berlioz, Debussy, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, and even Bach and Beethoven; those who were, it seemed to me, on the cutting edge of tradition.

I was viewing the Pierre Boulez DVD performance of Le Sacre du Printemps (with the London Philharmonic orchestra performing and filmed in Frankfurt) on the day you sent me your request and I was as always marveling at the sheer newness of the sounds in the orchestra as imagined by Stravinsky. The freshness of these innovations does not fade. Ask Mr. [Joseph] Caminiti about the Rite. He will have some wonderful comments.

After Stravinsky, form, melody, harmony, rhythm, meter, and sound have not been the same. He changed everything about musical expression in the 20th century. Your main resources (for starters) are:
-Robert Craft
-Paul Griffith
-Stephen Walsh
(You will quickly find that they don’t always agree).

Pierre Boulez has a very important analysis of The Rite of Spring as does Alan Forte. They are your best source for research about this particular work.

As the years have gone by during my own life and work as an artist it has become clear to me that Stravinsky is the constant point of reference for my thinking. Surprisingly more so than Schoenberg and Stockhausen whose expressive innovations moved me so deeply early in my studies.

From 1960 onward, I was aware of every new work of his and counted it a great privilege to be contemporary with the great final works of this remarkable musician.

Like Bach, he also has the wonderful distinction in my mind of being a Christian whose work reflects his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ in a personal and unique way through his music. What a grand influence he still may yet be on future developments of music!

Form in a New Key

Outgrowth-Variations (1961) M.William Karlins (written for pianist Ann Chamberlain)

M. William Karlins’ work represents the best of 19th and 20th century music, partaking of all the strengths and yet encumbered by none of their follies.

The 20th century was not far past half over when I began my musical studies at the Manhattan School of Music. (Ah! The very thought of those days fills me with joy!). I had already picked up the hackneyed historical fetish that the time-and-space within which one lives and works as an artist somehow is significant beyond all other facts and that an artist must focus alone on this, the great horror of horrors being “nothing new here”, Modernist-Historicism, the tired formula “x did (a) and so I must do (b)”, or better yet “History (with a capital H) requires that I do (b)”. I believe (and here is my first dogma) that being too much a part of one’s own time is a serious danger to the staying power and the durability of one’s work.

“Liszt was a Byronic figure stimulated by the outside world. Quoting Childe Harold, he wrote on the score of one of his piano works: ‘I live not in myself but I become portion of that around me”. However much a product of his time, Debussy was suspicious of the march of events within which an artist is submerged. ‘The ideal is to remain unique, without a blemish. The period acclaim of an artist tends to spoil him and he is likely to become merely the expression of his period.’”
-Edward Lockspeiser Volume 1 Debussy His Life and Mind

For this sensible reason, I would have declined the prestigious commission for a piece about the September Eleventh 2001 Twin Tower Attack. A great and unnecessary risk. A masterwork on the theme of such a major current historical event would be doomed from the start.

I discovered that approaching one’s art as being of necessity of one’s own time (as Boulez did) is the wrong limitation because it has to do with policy and not art. Escaping this entrapment, some of us found freedom, and began (with every technical means possible) to fashion our music from all the music to which we had been and would be in the future, attracted .

How sad are the tedious 20th Century’s mawkish, tawdry pseudo-dilemmas, the slavish imitations, the arrogant, pompous theories, the inbred “Music Departments”, the pretentious journals and manifestos, and even Jazz itself (the least dogmatic of any music). Such movements are easily unmasked and dismissed . They aim only to force one to conform to the hallucinogenic siren call of the coarsest and crassest pedagogical academic post-modern preposterisms.

Two lines of development come forth from 19th century European musical work, the first from Beethoven through Wagner and on to Schoenberg then to Stockhausen and Boulez. This is the intensely personal and rigid school of “Historical Necessity”.

The second line of development also comes from Beethoven but it goes through Berlioz on to Debussy and then to Stravinsky. Their concern is the Art Work Itself, their work neither Personal or Historical.

There is no Art with a capital “A”, only individual art works (Donald Tovey).

The Stream of Intent

“There is one kind of program that underlies every piece of music, every work of art. I mean the continuous force of suggestion and desire that impels the artist to do one thing rather than another at each moment of composition, the program dictated from within. This unrolling stream of intent, made up of memories, feelings, ideas fused together, is of course guided by technique and later reviewed by critical judgment; but unless that inner plan, half lucid and half visceral, is inherently good, no amount of acquired skill will make up for it. Its richness and freshness is what makes one fugue thrilling and another dull though it obeys all the rules.”
-Jacques Barzun Literature in Liszt’s mind and work

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
Going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
It has its inner light, even from a distance—

And changes us, even if we do not reach it,
Into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we
Already are;
A gesture waves us on, answering our own wave…
But what we feel is the wind in our faces.

-Rainer Maria Rilke A Walk


….a real work of art is a window into the transcendent.
That’s what it is….

-Jordan Peterson

A poem drifts into my dream, a shining stillness among turbulent poetic nourishments, a book I once perused.

I hold tenaciously to total freedom and find that this daunting freedom is reflected back at me in the substance and content of music itself. My method looks back at me and I relive the experience of creating the music each time I hear it.

Perhaps in all music the spirit of discovery, is in the music maybe even is the music, worked out in the now of the performing or composing moment and then worked out again (and again….) in the thinking-ear of the ideal listener.

For me, good musical results represent a strongly literary and pictorial narrative after the manner of a kind of Cinematic Pilgrim’s Progress. At its best, it will sparkle and flash forth here and there with beautifully spiced lyricisms, it will be a supreme entertainment of converging layers of plot-and-character predicaments and resolutions, it will imitate dramatic events, it will mimic natural landscapes, it will be a playfulness of surprise. Tragic and comic by turns, and overall, everything will gather itself together within the enfolding context of an epic adventure.

Lingering Aftertaste, A technical note

A.C. Graham’s 1965 Penguin Edition translation of Poems of the Late T’ang quotes 11th Century Chinese writer Wei T’ai.

“Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds and connects with the thing the feeling shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply into us”.

“If the poet presents directly feelings which overwhelm him, and keeps nothing back to linger as an aftertaste, he stirs us superficially”.
-Wei T’ai (quoted in Poems of the Late Tang)

“As a young man Debussy claimed as his motto ‘Toujour plus haut’ (ever higher) and nowhere is this desire for constant self renewal more evident than in his orchestral works. After the first performance of La Mer in 1905 he spent no less than seven years on the Images, which were first heard in their entirety in January 1913. Along the way Debussy complained of having to rewrite passages which were ‘well composed, but with that skill born of habit that’s so hard to conquer’. Inevitably there were critics who would have preferred him to stay within the métier that they were familiar with, but one of these, Gaston Carraud, did put his finger on two important factors: the way Debussy’s ideas now jostled each other instead of blending smoothly, and the greater success the Images had with painters and litterateurs than with musicians. The jostling may be attributed to Debussy’s intention of writing what he called ‘realities’, conforming to the interruptions and clashing simultaneities of the real world, while the work’s success with non-musicians merely showed that he had indeed found beyond the confines of métier a more universal field of artistic action.”
-Roger Nichols 1990

“How much has to be explored and discarded before one can reach the naked flesh of emotion.”
-Claude Debussy on his Sonata for Flute Viola Harp

The Masterwork is an emblem of eternity and perfection. I thought to myself, “What is the big attraction about being a composer if this were not so? For what less as an artist should I give my substance and my treasure”?

I came upon the intensely private world of my studies a bundle of energy and excitement. At the same time I came into contact with my compliant nature (the polar opposite of my interest in the new) and I realized that experimentation and innovation could be successfully explored only through a disciplined practice of detached analysis. I strained my eyes to look into the future, or at least to follow the innovators where they went, and found myself often in the past and the freshness of that vision flooded in and fixed my “present” firmly in truly new surroundings.

I, like a river,
Have been turned aside by this harsh age.
I am a substitute, my life has flowed
Into another channel
And I do not recognize my shores.

-Ian Macdonald The New Shostakovitch P 209

“There are so many moving shadows I must arrange”
-Federico Fellini

I fashion my music as an actor might improvise his own script for a play that does not exist. This is a variant of Honegger’s definition of composing as “leaning a ladder against a wall that does not exist”.

I did not trouble my mind with whether I had talent or not. I recognized that everything in art is essentially a contrivance. I am in good company it seems, Maurice Ravel agrees.

Music for Baritone Sax, Violin and Piano (1999) shortness of breath, breathlessness, tedium, the curse of death, its sting but not its victory. Impromptu (1976) an anti-Type of the Zeitgeist.

Art is a combination of the "real" and the "imaginary". Life itself is a grand combination of the tragic and the comic, the understandable and the mysterious; and so my love for Art (especially the art of music) perfectly represents a passionate connection to life itself.

After Beethoven the artist has been required to bring down new fire from heaven in every work. Lost was the enchanted world of Haydn and Mozart and Bach whose wonders and marvels emerged naturally from the soil of the everyday realm of multilayered European socio-musical culture. This seismic shift in European and North American culture has been both good and bad for the production of modern art. And, alas, so it is, but, hoping to straddle both worlds, the artist may take refuge in Federico Mompou's motto, “Begin Again”.

My reading of Northrop Frye (Anatomy of Criticism) in the early 80’s was the beginning of my recognition of the nature of my quest. I wanted every musical-artifact I made to be connected-to and surrounded-by the mythic space of the larger realm of musical masterwork.

“The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, and as imagination bodies-forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”
-from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Theseus)

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air: and, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve, and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep”
-The Tempest (Prospero)

“Everything we do, including grasping a moment of music, commences with a kind of fleeting hypothesis that is confirmed or disconfirmed; every subtle mismatch is countered by adjustments to the next anticipation. We perceive music only as well as we can predict what’s coming, for to predict is to model the deep relations that hold music together.

Music’s movement is more perfect than a [physical] body’s. Physically, we fumble through a world of inelegant, discontinuous activity. For instance, it would be all but impossible to turn the act of cooking dinner into an artful dance. The motions are too varied and discontinuous. But well-crafted music creates the very world it travels through, [my italics] meeting every anticipation with a graceful resolution, and raising new anticipations at every turn. While physical movement is choked with starts and stops and stumbles, music establishes a continuous flux, and does it in perfect proportions. Good music hardly ever stops, and great music is all but unstoppable; the flux of anticipations is too powerful to be cut short without jarring a sensitive listener. And so the experience of music is an entirely artificial one, its qualities almost unknown in daily life apart from special moments when things come together just right. It is this perfectibility that makes music art.”
-Robert Jourdain Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy pp302-3

Lights and sounds and shadows!
Playing against the backdrop of
The world’s hapless Godless cacophony
Hideous spectre of Jacob Marley’s chains

-Ron Thomas

  • Ron Thomas
  • 2573 Clothier Street
  • Coatesville, PA  19320
  • 610.384.2080 
  • ©2017 All rights reserved.