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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

Recent
Recordings

Lost World Tango

Two Lonely People

Galaxy

Elysium

Blues for Zarathustra

Wings of the Morning

Cycles

Doloroso

17 Solo Piano Improvisations

Music in Three Parts

House of Counted Days

Voyage to Arcturus

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

Unexpected Protocols (derived from Fragments 3)

“A constant search for variety brings forth only a vain and ever unsatisfied curiosity. It is natural and healthy to tend rather towards the reality of a limitation than towards the infinite possibilities of multiplicity. Music is that which unifies. But unity has its reverberations. The accomplished work spreads out in order to make itself known and eventually flows back to its principle. In this way music appears to us as an element of communion with the future---and with the Supreme Being”.
—Igor Stravinsky

My work is not an evolution from out-of the (my) Past (which I am faithfully recreating!) but rather fashioned to be perceived as contemporary with those past forces and figures; a posthumous affair, artwork out of its time and place, somewhat like an undetected forgery……

Example: “Wings of the Morning” an improvised suite of pieces that tricks you into thinking it is contemporary with Liszt’s “En Reve”, the fifth piece on the project. “Dusk of the Nightlands”[the final piece] (which follows it) is a fantasy-paraphrase of the Liszt.

Like Berlioz, “Time and Place” are of no interest to me and if you must label me, I am a “Post-Beethoven-Modernist”.

No wonder Debussy loved Schumann … nachtmusik, magical enchantments, everything fantastic. The lineage of “Six Pieces” …. back through Debussy to Schumann.

SIX PIANO PIECES (1992-99)

[adapted from The Bent Knife Blade by Robert Martin Adams from Joyce a collection of critical essays from “Twentieth Century Views” series].

“…..one has only to hear the music and see the score of the ‘Six Pieces for Piano 1992-1999’…it takes less than two measures to encounter the dramatic richness, flexibility and complexity of the musical idiom. The music moves with elegance and under its own power; the hand of the composer does not have to tug it along….a complex of energies is set moving in these phrases; the economy of means and richness of effect marks a genuine imaginative achievement….Thomas works to standards of subtlety, economy and exactness by which contemporary music will be measured for years to come and his ability to do so is quite independent of technical innovations…….” P.169.

Modest as they are, they represent the most tender and passionate feelings I have about music.

My involvement with jazz is not casual. Note the testimony of The “17 Solo Piano Improvisations”. When I first encountered it (1965) jazz took on the same weight and significance immediately that e.g. my association with Stockhausen had the year before, or my special interest in Literature, Berlioz, Stravinsky, or Liszt. These “Six Piano Pieces” reveal treasured classical echoes in a compressed formal setting, everything seen through the “lens”, if you will, of the broader and quite specific sensibilities and methods (not necessarily the stylizations) of American Jazz. This is what makes the pieces more than nostalgia, more than sentimental Pictures from an Exhibition of Memories.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jazz has a specific meaning. It is the Miles Davis-Gil Evans-[Stefan Wolpe]-George Russell-Charley Parker definition, what was called “modern jazz” or “progressive jazz” or “Bebop”. It is their approach to and disposition towards their art that propelled my liberation from avant-garde-historicism (about which I have written). Their approach makes available innumerable technical innovations far surpassing (by comparison) important innovations I learned from the post-ww2-european /experimental-music composers. Jazz radically adjusted my connection to the European musical tradition, turned my attention back to my own American roots, Poe, Emily Dickinson, Jackson Pollock, Charles Ives, Miles Davis, etc……

Jazz gave me the recovery of Tonality (Chord functions in relation to Key centers) as a design factor in my music. This is not to say that my music is now Tonal. No new music is Tonal as it once was. My tonal practice is derived in part from the particular harmonic practices demonstrated by the great recorded works of aforementioned Jazz artists. Through this influence I was blissfully reconciled to the larger world of music to which I was formerly joined and from which I was painfully estranged during my impoverished wanderings in the howling, barren wilderness of avant garde-historicism.

Further, my harmonic technique is a variant (as Busoni’s in his time was) of J.S. Bach’s method of part-writing as perfectly illustrated by his four-part-chorales….In my usage this technique enables the construction of musical phrases which proceed by development and variation techniques along adjustable points, with many adjustable scales or “degrees of differentiation“ (Stockhausen)….e.g. a triadic-diatonic point on one end….a non-diatonic quasi-serialized-chromaticism on the other…..Piece No. 1 of the Six (the ultimate G#minor piece) ….any number of steps in between…..any size steps I want…..any size scale (I want) (Stockhausen).

Also. It is a form of Harmonic-Counterpoint that depends largely on an expansive development of Common Tone Technique. This has an application to the building of larger forms (within both short and longer pieces, not necessarily only long pieces).

There is a formal dimension too derived from conversations with Stockhausen in 1964 during his analyses of his own pieces particularly his (then-unfinished) “Momente”. Karlheinz’ “all kinds of scales” derives from total-serialization pieces which in turn grew out of tone-row-technique derived from Schoenberg’s System-of-Composition-with-Twelve-Tones…... levels of high to low, near and far, right and left, above and below, bright and dark, more or less loud, more or less thick, etc…..

Neo-Classic Stravinsky changes everything

George Dragonetti introduced to me the post-Sacre music of Stravinsky by taking me to hear the Symphony of Psalms at Carnegie Hall conducted by Leonard Bernstein. (on the same program: Hindemith’s “Concert Music for Strings and Brass”). Previous to my study at the Manhattan School of Music, my modern music passions were Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.

I wanted to analyze the “Symphony of Psalms” right away. The Department said it was scheduled for third year composition major curriculum, I should wait until then, and besides it was not considered a great work anyway(sic). I didn’t go for that. In 1960 Bill Karlins offered to analyze it with me privately. Thus began our lessons. We did many analysis/observation/discussions of the music of Stravinsky and Varese, “Kontrapunkte” and “Gesang de Junglinge” of Stockhausen, and other pieces. We covered Hindemith’s “Traditional Harmony” thoroughly, in fact I went through it twice. Also he taught me his understanding of composing with rows and he began me composing with a five note row (Five Miniatures for Flute Clarinet and Percussion) then 12 tone rows (“String Trio” and “Sextet”). We stayed closely to these three subject areas for two years and some months. Why did I want to study with Bill? Because, 1) I did not feel my studies at the MSM were thorough enough in tonal music, counterpoint and harmony, 2) I did not want to wait until my third year to study the Stravinsky “Symphony of Psalms” and 3) I was ready to begin really composing and I wanted to learn serialized pitch procedures from Bill.

Poetic Man

Art is a strong expression of life (as everyone lives it) The artist observes and synthesizes because he/she has a “passion to say”…None of this properly belongs to the nature of a person with a non-poetic nature [not a moral judgment].

Non-artistic man requires from life no “enhanced-expression” [art] of the things of life [as the artist does] and often [necessarily] confronts the notion of “art” with an indifference for which he is in no way to be faulted. .

Music for me was already in itself “a strong expression” (a Welsh definition of poetry).

From early in my life I experienced no separation between the experience and the expression…..Making art (seeking the strong expression) was itself not an addition to the perception and experience of “my own known world” but rather it was joined indistinguishably to that perception/experience.

The Musician Poet

Editor and translator of the edition “Collected Mallarme” Henry Weinfield points out that music is already transcendent…..and that the to-be-made-transcendent poem [as Mallarme understood it] is the greater miracle [according to symbolist theory] since words are “common” to common-ness and not to the un-commonness of the transcendent epiphanies of true poetry.

Music is
-an enhanced actuality of the known world
-an almost-defined i.e. nearly-in-focus glimpse at a world beyond the physical.

Music was a partial answer to my worries and questions about the glimpsed other-world-beyond of dreams……

When I was a child, my mother Helen let me decorate the inside doors of the floor-level kitchen cabinet (home for her pots and pans) with cut out pasted up magazine pictures. She let me (at appointed times) make music-pieces with the assorted pots and pans. Thus, the known world of my own everyday reality included as a young boy a parallel commentary (my art) on it. Right alongside the obvious everyday reality, this commentary (i.e. the art and literature and music of myself and others) was not an escape. The known world and my questions-and-commentary regarding it were not (and still aren’t) separate …..

“Metaphysical Poets” anthology J.E. Duncan p.145 “A system of Underlying Analogies”
All that I know of the whole history of (music and) “the known world as I know it” provides for me the underlying analogies upon which I can base my art and by which I can form my work.

My theory of art has no trace of historical-categories. My goal is to vigilantly avoid the imposition upon me (the individual artist) and my work (the individual art work) of any thought having to do with historical categories. My a-historical concept aims to capture essential features of all (great)art.

I subscribe to the principle of universal-analogy and the poetic principle of the poetic of correspondences as a generating force for my music.
(Baudelaire and the Metaphysicals).

Tears of Fire. Analysis with Ryan Kaufman. Musical ideas erasing and/or being erased by Debussyan-chromaticism in the context of (Reti) melodic-tonality.

I rule in solemnity and with a severe exactitude my own world of art-making, art-talking, research-thinking. The work, the format, the sources and the methods are all my own.
A search for the governing dynamics of the masterwork first and on to the known world as best as I could define it from there….

Miscellaneous reading notes from “Stravinsky Inside Out” by Charles M. Joseph

p.268 “The interior struggle of a solemn artist who thought soberly about his role in the world around him.”

p.254 It is often the opening compositional material that is…(or later becomes) “derived”.

p.248 Webern “The architectonologist” (I.S.)

p.247 Stravinsky rightly observes that : in Schoenberg’s Ewartung and Die Gluckischehand the dissonances are not heightened consonances as Schoenberg contends, but comparative dissonance.

p.231 Virginia Wolff on Shakespeare:
“All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world a witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded.”

p. 220 notes for Synopsis handed out for the audience to his Poetics lectures….. “A constant search for variety brings forth only a vain and ever unsatisfied curiosity. It is natural and healthy to tend rather towards the reality of a limitation than towards the infinite possibilities of multiplicity. Music is that which unifies. But unity has its reverberations. The accomplished work spreads out in order to make itself known and eventually flows back to its principle. In this way music appears to us as an element of communion with the future---and with the Supreme Being”.

p.204 Foss:
“Stravinsky did away with orchestration and substituted writing for instruments as he called it. He would say, why did you give that to the trumpets? Foss remembers that if an idea made sense as a ‘trumpet tune’, Stravinsky would insist that it be “given to the violins which reveals something about his approach to orchestration”.

This reveals much about Stravinsky’s “method”. Such logic makes innovation possible. I have made full use it.

p.196 quote from Mann’s “Dr. Faustus” on [the order to destroy this letter] …..”I learned to regard it as a document of the which the order to destroy was a part, so that by its documentary nature it canceled itself out.”

p.192 Aria 2 of the violin concerto is (allegedly) an apology to his wife Catherine for his affair with Vera.

p.185 Stravinsky reveals one of his rarely revealed serial procedures, repeating two notes in the series but not three.

p.172 Balanchine: “We are representing the art of dancing, art of body movement, in time, in space. It is the music, it is really time more than the melody, and our body must be subordinated to time because without time, dance doesn’t exist. It must be order----it’s like a planet….if it’s not precise, it falls to pieces.”

p.170 the Schopenhauer origin of the famous “Music expresses nothing but itself” statement. “….and the musical tones inhabit and form a universe of their own in which the human mind has created the materials and reduced them to order.”

p.28 “musical sounds inhabit and form a universe of their own” [the sounds of a composition exist in the context of a world that those sounds themselves have fashioned].

Screenplay writing: catchphrase of the 30’s in Hollywood “cinematizing prose”.
Cinematizing music perhaps?

p.274 Henri Poincare: “….a construction of an aesthetic order out of the entire realm of imagination….”

p.285 Virgina Wolff reviews L’Histoire.
“Like all highly original work, it begins by destroying one’s conceptions, and only by degrees builds them up again.”

p.286 David Raksin on his friendship with I.S.
“His mind was like an attic….everywhere you looked there were precious ideas to be rediscovered and explored.” Let it be no secret that I aspire to be like that myself.
Oh yes, rediscovery and exploration…..

Some final words on Art and the Known World

Art in my case is really the same as the vocation of the philosopher. My quest was philosophical and art seemed (reading back over my life) the best tool with which to probe the “known world” in search of the meaning of “meaning” and the nature of “explanation”. I was driven to examine “meaning” and “explanation” through art, and particularly through music.

[Fellini comments to Rota about music: “You composers don’t invent anything….you find what already exists, like water-finders with their sticks”].

Translation pictures the general problem of making art. Translation is a sub-category of creation. (Paul Auster’s “The Invention of Solitude”).

Art is a translation of something FROM the imaginative world (creating and constructing) TO the actual world (the art work itself).

Everything is partial and incomplete. Therefore since my goal is to create art which reflects accurately the “space time configuration” of everyday reality in the “known world”…my constructive process necessarily is built on this axiom “Everything [in the known world] is fragmentary and incomplete”……

The music of what happens……is art. “The Music of What Happens” by Helen Vendler.
From Seamus Heaney “Song” [originally from an Irish folk story]

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
.

Divertissement. Music, painting and literature consoled and distracted me from the fundamental discomforts of unanswered questions about life.

Don’t misunderstand. It was NOT that nothing in life was perfect enough “for me” for I held myself accountable TOO for my discomforts….Art [the world of ideas, visions, music, imaginings,….] was to me a far more agreeable and satisfactory “version” (i.e explanation) [secondary world] of “reality” or “the known world”….

Kafka: “I don’t want freedom. Just show me a way out” [Morton Feldman p. 85 “Radio Happenings” 1966-67].

Art was a magic door for me, an inadequate [as it turns out] “way out” of the dilemna of “painful dissatisfactions”…. Finding a way out, was a motivation for major decisions about my life that I made very early on….

In 1957 I began an exploration of “meaning and explanation” by investigating music from the perspective of an apprentice “master practitioner”. I considered music [art and literature and dreams] as indicator(s) of secondary worlds. My desire was to “probe” these secondary worlds, parallel worlds, dreams, e.g. and other intimations of “levels of reality” (that is not just the obvious reality which is material-reality). My work as a practicing artist I believed would lead me to the knowledge of the secrets of the masterwork and this knowledge would be a way to understand “the known world” (a figure of speech I use as a synonym for total-reality). Yes, this explanation suits my life’s work.

Another way to describe this is to assert that “being an artist” meant choosing art as the “vocation of a philosopher”, art and reality (the known world) seen and understood to be part of the same reality (known world)….

Music was a comfort and a partial resolution, providing some answers to the conflicts and questions about life I was enduring….. Dreams [especially Fever-Dreams] were further proof for me of “other aspects of the known world” as were such questions as “Where was I before I was born” and “Why am I ‘me’ and not someone else”…….

Dreams in general and Fever-Dreams in particular were a disturbing removal from “normal” consciousness….like a kind of teleportation to that “other” dimension of perception/experience. Literature and music (and then the other arts) seemed to provide a partial resolution and a partial answer…..

It seems that certain linguistic scholars have come to the conculsion that metaphor is a component of cognition. Borges work led cognition-theorists to consider the “role” played by metaphor in our re-cognition processes….

* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Misdirection and Illusion”
For Les Three concert No. 6
June 5, 2005 Wheatland Presbyterian Church Lancaster PA

“Misty Hill…..Breezeless Glade” (1999) for High Voice, Clarinet in Bb, Viola, and Cello.

All my music is fashioned deliberately from ongoing immersion in musical experience and literary materials…. I aim to so possess the effect working in the music that my “personality” disappears completely from the scene….(still Mallarme….) I try to create a musical effect that can be likened to “ a mind-thinking-music”, the composite entirety of music history and its contents as its grounding, the result of long struggles with self imposed obstacles…..

“Misty Hill…..Breezeless Glade” is typical of my conviction that the musical actions in any piece I write must aim to suggest and represent what I call a plurality of associations, literary, visual, psychological, social, cultural. The influence of Shakespeare, by way of Berlioz, is the source of this concept and these songs exploit it (as do all my compositions).

“Pure” imagination, (I borrow here from the great Argentine writer Jorge Borges) is dreaming about dreaming. Through the music’s performance itself, a representative approximation from this ‘pure’ imaginative-realm is (hopefully) revealed. (Also from Borges: Art is “Voluntary Dreaming”). Therefore imagination is cousin to metaphysics. I want the music to move continuously along a scale of ‘associatives’, mediating freely between and among them. Like a rapacious collector I invade and stalk the realm of pure imagination in search of meta-musical flora and fauna, each of my works is (then) an “individualized plurality of associations”. Does that make me an Associative Pluralist?

After 1973 my music will be seen to begin to 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 a self-confessed Surrealist (or, borrowing again from Borges, the super-realist) a practitioner of the Art and Science of Misdirection and Illusion.

Originality is usually a self created illusion but it can be, at best, a natural by product of thoughtful imitation, the habit of working from models, in my case the models provided by the body of “literature” of the musical masterworks…. I regard any music I am writing as “foreground” against a “background” of one or several musical and literary models. The background for these songs is (a) the third of Stravinsky’s 1915 “The Cat’s Lullabies” (called Dodo), and (b) Stravinsky’s 1919 “Sektanskaya” which can be found (only) on Vol XI of Robert Craft’s formerly Music Masters now NAXOS Stravinsky series.

“Tears of Fire” for solo Saxophone (soprano or alto)

This 1975 musical “essay” on remorse and reminiscence is (more simply put) a heightened dramatic expression of grief, a “soliloquy” for solo saxophone. The opening scene of Aeschylus’ “The Libation Bearers” came to mind while working with Ryan Kauffman on this current performance. I was surprised to discover that I could still learn from the chromatic and tonal strategies I stumbled upon so many years ago for this little work! Two very fine performers have done this piece over the years (Marshall Taylor and Kathleen Mitchell). I appreciate Ryan’s version, he has made the piece his own…

“Cubism, Collage, and Cinema”: Form Change in 20th century art

“On va donc jover ma musique”-----Berlioz’ last words [So let’s play my music] (perturbed? Sarcastic?)

Distance, out of the darkness so deep….
I am dreaming of the mountains of my home….

magic Realism model of reality
postulates with consequences
magister Ludi of Herman Hesse.
the Shaman world of Carlos Castenada.
the brave new world of Controller Mustafa Mond.

one set of postulates at a time?
parallel postulates?
multi dimensional layers of postulates?
parallel and juxtaposed postulates?

Fragments: Unexpected Protocols and Implications & Invocations of the Whole

RON THOMAS

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