Link to Home page

O sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His Name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96, 1-2

The tones of air, I know not how they flow; where'er they move, all things melodious grow.
Faust PT II, Goethe


Lost World Tango

Two Lonely People



Blues for Zarathustra

Wings of the Morning



17 Solo Piano Improvisations

Music in Three Parts

House of Counted Days

Voyage to Arcturus

Ron Thomas performances, recordings, teaching, composition and essays.

Free from the Fetish of Chronology

A Structural Reverie on an Ideal Site.
Jean Rousset on Flaubert

The Flaubertian window:
someone stands thinking, while looking out of a window.

A post for those who are both
immobile and adrift
stuck in inertia
given over to the vagabondage of thought

a point of fixation yet
diffused in space


“Our age during the first decade of the 20th century was an effort characterized principally by energy and precision, charged with intellect and obsessed with a passion to embrace and organize vastness and complexity. It embodied the changes in sensitivity brought about by speed in aviation motoring and cinema, exploiting also the sensuousness of new materials shaped by new industrial modes....electricity and steel were clean compared with the cheap nastiness of 19th century industrialism....The robust challenge of the prewar modern era was eclipsed by the despair and decay of post WW1 modernism....[this definition of modernism] covered everything and anything from Baudelaire on provided its themes were decay, despair and disgust with the unchallengable pointlessness of existence.....This [angry and despondent] post war modern ego is always portrayed by that mixture of sentiment and covert agression that is inspired by wounded love.....” a paraphrase of Barzun’s opening essay in The Energy of Art.

The Dutch air is cold against my back as I read on the little single mattress on the floor of Pauline’s apartment in Amsterdam. It is 1999. Not finished with Rimbaud. Reading again about somebody else…. the Master of Silence….The Red Sea “a blank page upon which his future will be written”…. I am leaning against the opening under the door. A pillow which my mother, on the other bed in the room has thrown me, wards off the chilly blasts.

Hardly anyone asks me about my studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Philadelphia in 1964. One reason of course is that a particularly American audience for him and his music disappeared after 1967. Thereafter the glory of his name was proclaimed only in Europe and Japan. He has his own publicity machine to blame for this because of the offensiveness of his messianic antics and his general rudeness to all the important musical figures he met here. In 1964 Karlheinz had not yet come to believe he was Mankind’s Cosmic-Spiritual evolutionary lurch forward. When I knew him he was merely an important musician working a teaching gig in the U.S., performing on the road with Max Neuhaus and David Tudor, promoting his music on American college campuses, and saving money to buy his dream house in Cologne. Karlheinz’ approach is essentially a variant of Beethoven’s thematic-process, as it was understood by Berlioz and Liszt. He gives music a dramatically expanded set of fundamentals, derived, in part, from his analysis of both acoustic and electro-acoustic sound-properties, a careful study of Webern, long conversations with Belgian composer Goeyvarts and others, and a gigantic personal musical gift. I dare to say that, by my unfeigned zeal to learn and my inability yet to cloak myself in too much pretense, he became (for a few months) my friend. He has few.

An example of the new non-modern direction I took post-1973: my Two Shakespeare Sonnets for Voice and Trombone from 1974, a piece that creates an idiomatic (stylistic) tension between the era of Berlioz and post WWI modernism. The Shakespearean texts (which contribute to the tension by adding yet more incongruity) are treated as irony in the manner of a Dadaist poem and are also set ‘syllabically’ (mechanistically, one could say) imitating Stravinsky’s (alleged) practice.

The piece is typical of my new viewpoint in that all the musical actions aim to suggest and represent a plurality of associations; literary, visual, psychological, social, cultural. The influence of Shakespeare, by way of Berlioz, on my music is very significant and these two Songs exploit this as do all my compositions throughout the 1970s. “Pure” imagination, to borrow from Borges, is dreaming about dreaming and then, through the actuality of the music’s performance, a representative approximation from this ‘pure’ imaginative realm is (hopefully) revealed. (Also from Borges: Art is “Voluntary Dreaming.”) In this sense imagination is cousin to metaphysics. In such pieces I move continuously along a scale of ‘associatives’, mediating freely between and among them, like a rapacious collector storming the realm of pure imagination in search of meta-musical flora and fauna. Each of my works from then on is an “individualized plurality of associations”. Does that make me an Associative Pluralist? Perhaps. After 1973 my music will combine associative elements (particulars) and different densities of pluralities, each piece with as individualized a structure as possible......

It is correct to conclude, therefore, that I am perhaps a self-confessed Surrealist (or, borrowing again from Borges,: a super-realist!), a practitioner of the Art and Science of Misdirection and Illusion.

We (or those like me, I should say) make art because we yearn to discover forms of our own devising, forms which come to life by our own hands. A man catches fish because he understands the ways and habits of the fish. A composer ‘catches’ music because he understands the ways and habits of music. Unlike the fisherman, I can also invent the fish. A musical work will (by its particulars) reveal its structure, and this self-disclosure informs us of the work’s distinctive features. This is the only useful kind of musical analysis.

The Five Miniatures for Flute Clarinet and Percussion 1962, the String Trio 1962, and the Sextet for Piccolo, Oboe, Bass Clarinet, Cello, Bass, and Piano 1962 are the three principle works I wrote while studying with M. William Karlins during 1962 and 1963, my final years at the Manhattan School of Music.

I began studying with Bill when I was no longer able to repress my interest in serialism. My three principle works combine the serial practices of Schoenberg, Webern, and Stravinsky. They derive from Elliot Carter’s work too. The Miniatures suggest Varese and Boulez, the String Trio, Bartok, and the Sextet is a little piano concerto after the model of Stravinsky’s 1959 Movements for Piano and Orchestra.

As of this writing (summer 2000) the Sextet was performed, although it was actually a rough but very capable reading by Gilbert Kalisch with Arthur Weisberg’s Contemporary Chamber Ensemble back in 1968 or '69 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. The Five Miniatures in 1974 at what is now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia (unfortunately the tape of this performance was lost). The String Trio has never been played.

How fortunate I was to have met Bill Karlins when I did and somehow had the foresight to ask him to teach me! Of all the musical personalities swirling around the name and the person of Stefan Wolpe during those years, Bill Karlins, Ralph Shapey and Raoul Pleskow (who never officially studied with Wolpe) made the most of Wolpe’s influence. Their pieces attain the same heights of poetic greatness as Stefan’s. Bill’s teaching of Hindemith’s Traditional Harmony and his understanding of row-technique, has served me well especially during the 1990s, when my music began to take on some (dare I say) original shape and form.

Bill stands out as the years go by, first of all, as one of those of my teachers whose music I am more and more fond of. His strongest pieces are not out of place in the company of other masterworks. Recent visits and talks have rekindled the energy of our earlier relationship. And from this perspective I can add some of the weight of the intervening years to point out, for instance … how valuable it has been for me (through Bill) to have connected the whole tradition of tonal music to my studies of the Second Viennese School. The now widely known methods and aesthetics of Berg, Schoenberg and Webern Bill understood as expansions of … as well as reactions to … the atmosphere, and the rhetorical tone of (primarily German) 19th century music. Further, Bill was studying with Wolpe at the time. My lessons overflowed with his enthusiams for what was happening to his own music through his contact with Wolpe. (Bill taught as a practitioner, as I do, and, like Wolpe, he regarded teaching as a compositional activity.)

Back to Top