"Pathfinding Composers"

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Ralph
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"Pathfinding Composers"

Post by Ralph » Fri Aug 12, 2005 8:05 am

From The New York Times:

August 12, 2005
Adventures Outside the Classical Canon: Pathfinding Composers
By THE NEW YORK TIMES

It is hard to know, anymore, exactly how to define contemporary Western classical music. How recent does a work have to be? For that matter, how Western does it have to be, with, for example, the stimulating incursions Chinese composers have made in the United States? And does the term "classical" even retain any significance as the music returns to its roots, in a sense, becoming ever more saturated with pop gestures and idioms? However you choose to define it, "serious" music seems livelier and more variegated today than it has in many a decade, a trend the classical music critics of The New York Times are eager not only to acknowledge but also to encourage. And so, with rough justice, we present for your consideration and listening pleasure critics' selections of CD's by a handful of composers who we think deserve broader recognition, however disparate the starting points. They are Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Alfred Schnittke, John Corigliano and Stephen Hartke. Some are alive, some dead, and there is little to unite them in terms of age or nationality. But you have to start somewhere, and all at least helped set the table for 21st-century music; some are still partaking of the feast. JAMES R. OESTREICH

Here are some favorite contemporary recordings of the classical-music critics of The New York Times. Availability is hard to determine in the current market. Most of the recordings here can be found on Amazon.com or in major record stores. Prices range from $10.98 to $19.98 for one CD to $47.98 for two CD's to $50.98 for three CD's to $67.98 for a four-CD set. (An introduction appears on Page 1 of Weekend.)

Stephen Hartke

SYMPHONY NO. 2, VIOLIN CONCERTO Michelle Makarski, violinist; Riverside Symphony, conducted by George Rothman (New World Records 80533-2; CD).

'THE KING OF THE SUN,' 'NIGHT RUBRICS,' 'SONATA VIBRATIONS' Dunsmuir Piano Quartet and others (New World Records 80461-2; CD).

'TITULI,' 'CATHEDRAL IN THE THRASHING RAIN' Hilliard Ensemble (ECM New Series 1861; CD).

'SONS OF NOAH,' 'WULFSTAN AT THE MILLENNIUM' Lisa Stidham, soprano; Xtet, conducted by Donald Crockett (New World Records 80568-2; CD).

'LANDSCAPES WITH BLUES,' 'THE ROSE OF THE WINDS,' 'PACIFIC RIM,' 'GRADUS' Richard Stoltzman, clarinetist; Iris Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Michael Stern (Naxos 8.559201; CD).

THERE is nothing like hearing a new work by a living composer that is so intriguing and impressive that in the moment you could not care less how history will someday rank it. Several middle-aged composers from my generation have been producing such works in recent years. Judith Weir, Thomas Adès, Lee Hyla, Peter Lieberson, Chen Yi and John Adams come to mind. A particular favorite is Stephen Hartke. Born in Orange, N.J., and, since 1987, a faculty member at the University of Southern California, Mr. Hartke, 53, just keeps writing terrific pieces. Fortunately, there are now a handful of significant Hartke recordings.

Many composers have a distinctive style. Mr. Hartke has something rarer and harder to define: a distinctive voice. Though his ear is acutely alert to complex atonal techniques, his harmonic language is loosely tethered to tonality. His fascination with Neo-Classical Stravinsky, Balinese gamelan music, Minimalism, jazz and, especially, medieval and Renaissance polyphony, which he has studied closely, comes through in his works. A fidgety rhythmic energy in his music brands him a baby boomer.

A good introduction to Mr. Hartke is a New World release with the Riverside Symphony performing two works from the 1990's: the Violin Concerto and the Symphony No. 2. The concerto announces itself with four clapping drumsticks, which provoke the violin soloist to break into what could be described as a modern-music version of country fiddling. The orchestra percolates, at onceimpish and ominous, fractured and inexorable. The work is both a homage to the Baroque concerto and a sendup of it. The symphony, dedicated to the memory of Mr. Hartke's father, is altogether different, a searching and fitful work ending in a transfixing state of poignant mysticism.

"The King of the Sun," a piano quartet, is freewheeling and wryly humorous. It begins with sputtering string chords; the piano meekly enters the fray, then slowly takes over. The Dunsmuir Piano Quartet plays commandingly on a New World release that includes two other riveting Hartke chamber works.

Mr. Hartke's affinity for medieval choral music is ravishingly apparent in two works written for the Hilliard Ensemble: "Tituli," accompanied by just a solo violin and percussion, and the a cappella "Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain." Mr. Hartke somehow manages to keep you hooked through long, almost timeless spans of harmonically shimmering choral music.

The spirit of Renaissance dances and songs, jolted with hints of big-band jazz, runs through "Sons of Noah," subtitled "Three Lost Chapters of the Bible," a setting of a text by Philip Littell. A tour-de-force soprano part (performed brilliantly by Lisa Stidham on New World) is accompanied by an eclectic combination of flutes, guitars and bassoons - four of each.

In "Landscapes With Blues," a 2001 clarinet concerto, Mr. Hartke ingeniously melds elements of West African music, New York jazz and Delta blues into his own inimitable language. With the dynamic Richard Stoltzman as soloist, the concerto is the longest work on a Naxos recording by the Iris Chamber Orchestra, another essential Hartke album. May there be more. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

Luciano Berio

ORCHESTRAL TRANSCRIPTIONS Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, conducted by Riccardo Chailly (Decca 476 2830-2; CD).

'RECITAL I FOR CATHY,' FOLK SONGS, WEILL SONGS Cathy Berberian, mezzo-soprano; London Sinfonietta, Juilliard Ensemble, conducted by Luciano Berio (RCA Victor/BMG 09026 62540 2; CD).

'LABORINTUS 2' Ensemble Musique Vivante, Chorale Expérimentale, conducted by Luciano Berio (Harmonia Mundi France 195764; CD).

'SEQUENZAS' Ensemble Intercontemporain (Deutsche Grammophon 457 038-2; three CD's).

'UN RE IN ASCOLTO' Theo Adam, bass-baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Lorin Maazel (Col Legno WWE 20005; two CD's).

MY introduction to Luciano Berio was "Sequenza III," for woman's voice, with its babbling and coughs and moments of power. My second was "Coro," a large-scale musical mosaic that extends from the delicate tracery of a single voice to the mass of a full chorus and orchestra.

Today I wouldn't count either of them among his greatest works. ("Sequenza III" can sound especially dated.) But the reason they appealed to me is the reason I am still partial to Berio: they represent a modernist with a twinkle in his eye, probing music analytically while remaining keenly aware of its human performers and of the sensuality, power and beauty that drew many of us to classical music in the first place.

Berio, who died in 2003, was all about the wide embrace: founding an electronics studio at RAI with Bruno Maderna and working at the electronic-music center Ircam in Paris on the one hand, arranging folk songs and writing a new ending for Puccini's unfinished "Turandot" on the other. The "Turandot" assignment made sense in light of the composer's explorations of the past, which Riccardo Chailly's new disc of Berio orchestral transcriptions shows in a rewarding cross-section: now elegiac, now deconstructive.

Voice is central to Berio's work: one of his early inspirations was the luminous singer Cathy Berberian, the first of his three wives. Of several notable Berberian-Berio disks, I opt for the most accessible. It includes 11 folk songs and "Recital I for Cathy," a virtuosic scena deconstructing the idea of a song recital. "Recital" is one of several works Berio wrote that probe traditional musical forms, others being "Coro," "Opera" and "Sinfonia."

"Sinfonia," with its Joycean exegesis on Mahler's Second Symphony, is the most important, but I am not a fan of the Boulez recording that was all I found in print. Instead, I suggest another seminal piece, "Laborintus 2," showing slightly earlier Berio, with layerings of texts and the tweets and burbles of electronics. The start of Part 2 sounds like a jazz set on acid.

The 14 "Sequenzas," each written for a different solo instrument, are quintessential Berio. They are theatrical works that explore every facet of music, from the writing of it to the realities of its performance. Each is a tour de force for a performer; some of them - like V, for trombone - are veritable comedic routines.

Berio's operas are not necessarily more theatrical than his other music. More notable in "Un Re in Ascolto" ("A King, Listening") is the composer's humanism. Italo Calvino was an ideal collaborator: the two artists share a tongue-in-cheek self-referentiality. The king of the title is Prospero; but as he struggles to create a theater work amid a chaos of rehearsals, stage directors, singers auditioning at the piano and the like, he becomes an allegory of the composer himself and of the act of making art. ANNE MIDGETTE

Olivier Messiaen

'QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME' Tashi (RCA Victor Gold Seal 7835-2-RG; CD).

'VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT-JÉSUS' Pierre-Laurent Aimard, pianist (Teldec 3984-26868-2; CD).

'TURANGALÎLA SYMPHONY' Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa (RCA Red Seal 82876-59418-2; CD).

'DES CANYONS AUX ÉTOILES' Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung (Deutsche Grammophon 471 617-2; CD).

'ST. FRANÇOIS D'ASSISE' Arnold Schönberg Choir, Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano (Deutsche Grammophon 445 176-2; four CD's).

ADMIRERS of contemporary classical music will already know Olivier Messiaen, a founding father of the modern avant-garde and one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music. Although he is almost too famous for this roundup, there are undoubtedly some who have yet to encounter his work, and they have an enviable journey ahead. It can be mapped with reference to three compass points that defined Messiaen's world: a nearly mystical commitment to the Roman Catholic faith; an ability to conjure luminous musical colors, which he blended into radiant stained-glass chords; and a love of nature that compelled him to transcribe his favorite landscapes into sonic portraits of rare depth and imagination.

Messiaen, who died in 1992, was prolific, and his compositions have been served well on disc. Perhaps the most frequently performed work and the one most people encounter first is the "Quartet for the End of Time."

A landmark of modern chamber music, it was written in 1940, after Messiaen, who had been serving in the French Army, was captured and interned in a German prison camp in Silesia. Written for the instruments available in the camp - piano, violin, cello and clarinet - it is gripping music, spinning apocalyptic themes across eight movements. There is plenty of masterly notated sonic brimstone, not to mention the "blue-orange lava" Messiaen cited in a preface, but the piece ends with a sublime, trancelike meditation for violin and piano, an unforgettable musical prayer. The recording by the ensemble Tashi is still the one to have.

In 1944, after meeting the pianist Yvonne Loriod, who would later become his wife, Messiaen wrote "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus," an epic work for piano structured as 20 "gazes" at the infant Jesus. It is some of his most difficult and exhilarating solo music, full of densely packed chords and perplexing rhythms, beatific calm and mystical frenzy.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard's version is definitive and frighteningly convincing.

But solo and chamber music is just a small part of the picture. Messiaen had a penchant for orchestral grandeur, which he indulged in his huge "Turangalîla Symphony" (in his words, "a hymn to the superhuman joy that transcends everything") and, much later, in his awe-struck tribute to the canyons of Utah and the stars above, "Des Canyons aux Étoiles." The conductors Seiji Ozawa and Myung-Whun Chung both show great insight into Messiaen's music here.

Finally, Messiaen had a famous love of bird song, which he saw as an embodiment of God's perfection. (He once noted dryly that whenever birds sing, you never find "an error in rhythm, melody or counterpoint.") He transcribed the songs in travels throughout his life and incorporated them constantly into his music, but never more effectively than in his great opera "St. François d'Assise." The work, triumphantly staged in San Francisco in 2002, is a compendium of Messiaen's compositional techniques, his self-fashioned modes and his flair for glorious sonic anarchy.

Kent Nagano's recording, made live at the Salzburg Festival, is enough to whet one's appetite for the real thing. Maybe someday at the Met? JEREMY EICHLER

John Corigliano

SYMPHONY NO. 1, 'OF RAGE AND REMEMBRANCE' Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano; Oratorio Society of Washington and Choral Arts Society of Washington; National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin (RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-68450-2; CD).

SYMPHONY NO. 2, 'THE MANNHEIM ROCKET' Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Storgards (Ondine ODE 1039-2; CD).

CLARINET CONCERTO Richard Stoltzman, clarinetist; London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Leighton-Smith (with works by Copland, Stravinsky and Bernstein; RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-61360-2; CD).

'PHANTASMAGORIA,' 'TO MUSIC,' 'FANTASIA ON AN OSTINATO,' 'THREE HALLUCINATIONS' Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eri Klas (Ondine ODE 1058-2).

'FANCY ON A BACH AIR,' 'FANTASIA ON AN OSTINATO,' 'ÉTUDE FANTASY,' 'PHANTASMAGORIA.' Yo-Yo Ma, cellist; Emanuel Ax and James Tocco, pianists (Sony Classical SK 60747; CD).

JOHN CORIGLIANO'S style has its roots in the neo-Romanticism of Barber and Copland and the eclecticism of Bernstein. But by the time Mr. Corigliano moved from chamber and vocal works to big orchestral scores in the mid-1970's, he had developed a distinctive thumbprint that grew clearer in his later works.

His Romanticism can be heard in long-lined and often plangent string writing. Listen, for example, to the luxurious Elegy at the heart of his otherwise bright-hued, energetic Clarinet Concerto (1977); or to the slow movements of his two symphonies: the First (1989) a wrenching memorial to friends who had died of AIDS, the Second (2000) an expansion of a wistful string quartet composed for the Cleveland Quartet's farewell tour in 1995.

That Romanticism can also be found in Mr. Corigliano's vividly orchestrated, often almost pictorial fast movements. In the orchestral version of "Phantasmagoria" (1993), based on material from Mr. Corigliano's opera "The Ghosts of Versailles" (1987), the characters can be heard scampering across the stage.

Mr. Corigliano's eclecticism is omnivorous. Though he is often described as conservative, and as an opponent of serialism, Minimalism and the avant-garde, he has used tone rows, repeating figurations, peculiar sliding and percussive effects and loosely scored, semi-improvisatory writing when those techniques suit his needs. In a way, he has been ahead of his time: in the 1970's and 80's, this nondogmatic approach earned critical suspicion, but in the 1990's, younger composers like Aaron Jay Kernis were celebrated for doing much the same thing. Similarly, Mr. Corigliano's penchant for quoting earlier composers, either in homage or as parody, was criticized as pastiche in the 1980's; but composers who do it now call it sampling, or deconstruction.

The "Fantasia on an Ostinato" (1985), written for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition as a test of both technique and imagination, appropriates the repeating rhythm that drives the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, but the Beethoven isn't quoted directly until well into the piece. "Phantasmagoria" inherits themes from "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Barber of Seville" that are quoted in "The Ghosts of Versailles," mainly because Mr. Corigliano's opera uses the same Beaumarchais characters as the Mozart and Rossini works. And you can hear Haydn and Stamitz references in "The Mannheim Rocket" (2000), a mostly raucous orchestral fantasy that toys with the quickly rising figures found in works by 18th-century Mannheim symphonists - and also with 12-tone rows.

In the best Handelian tradition, Mr. Corigliano has revisited several of his own works, mainly to produce orchestral versions of scores originally for smaller forces. But the Symphony No. 2 is not a mere transcription of the quartet: the orchestral version explores the implications of the material more deeply. I also prefer the orchestral versions of "Phantasmagoria" and "Fantasia on an Ostinato," but Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax make powerful cases for the sparer versions, and their collection also includes James Tocco's virtuosic reading of the "Étude Fantasy" (1976). ALLAN KOZINN

Alfred Schnittke

CONCERTI GROSSI NOS. 1 AND 5, 'QUASI UNA SONATA' Gidon Kremer, violinist, and others; Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Heinrich Schiff and Mr. Kremer; Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi (Deutsche Grammophon 471 626-2; CD).

CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND STRINGS, CONCERTO FOR OBOE AND HARP, CONCERTO GROSSO I Roland Pontinen, pianist, and others; New Stockholm Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Lev Markiz (Bis 377; CD).

PIANO QUINTET, STRING QUARTETS NOS. 2 AND 3 Gary Graffman, pianist; Lark Quartet (Arabesque Recordings Z6707; CD).

'FAUST CANTATA,' 'RITUAL,' '(K)EIN SOMMERNACHSTRAUM,' PASSACAGLIA Inger Blom, mezzo-soprano, and others; Malmo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James DePreist and Leif Segerstam (Bis 437; CD).

CHOIR CONCERTO, 'MINNESANG' Danish National Radio Choir, conducted by Stefan Parkman (Chandos 9126; CD).

ALFRED SCHNITTKE first caught my attention, and presumably that of many others in the West, in the early 1980's, with his gleefully anachronistic cadenza for the Beethoven Violin Concerto, as performed in a Philips recording by Gidon Kremer. The brashness and inventiveness of those few minutes of music have carried through the many hours of original - and I do mean original - Schnittke heard since. His style, eclectic and often pointedly atonal, irritates or, more often, assaults the ears only to turn around and seduce them shamelessly, opening into heavenly harmonies.

Admirably, Mr. Kremer has faithfully continued his advocacy of Schnittke, who died in 1998 (and of any number of other lesser-known composers). Mr. Kremer's Teldec recording of the four violin concertos, with various orchestras conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, is eminently recommendable. But I am especially fond of Mr. Kremer's work in the mercurial concerti grossi.

His sizzling performance in the Concerto Grosso I will spoil you for most others, including the one on Bis. (Listen to the way he seizes on the fleeting quotation from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto.) But the prime attraction on that Bis disc is a sharply defined performance of the Concerto for Piano and Strings by Roland Pontinen and the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Lev Markiz. Here it is Tchaikovsky's "1812" that is savaged, or at least the liturgical tune used in it. Pummeling pianism - cannonry of sorts - gives way to transcendence and ultimately to calm.

The Quintet for Piano and Strings follows a similar contour but ends in glorious apotheosis. Like the piano concerto, this work, with a rudimentary piano part, has been recorded often. But Gary Graffman's performance speaks with special eloquence. Mr. Graffman seems to be investing all the artistry that remains to him after the loss of pianistic use of his right hand.

My most riveting Schnittke experience came in a 1994 concert by the American Symphony Orchestra, presented by Leon Botstein, a conductor much, and often unfairly, maligned. The work was the "Faust Cantata" (later expanded into an opera), a setting of a graphically gory text that long antedated Goethe's, dripping with irony and sarcasm. In the astonishing climax, the besequined mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle slunk down an aisle, singing a harrowing number to a tangolike beat. It was the height of anomaly.

The effect loses something on disc but works well enough in another Bis recording, featuring the husky mezzo-soprano Inger Blom, with James DePreist conducting the Malmo Symphony. And this disc has other mighty attractions, starting with "Ritual." If you didn't know that the work was written in memory of the victims of World War II, you might find it, in its pacing and dynamic shape, a remarkable simulation of the sex act. It is, in any case, fulfilling.

"(K)ein Sommernachtstraum," "(Not) A Midsummer Night's Dream," represents Schnittke the scamp, as he gnaws at the edges of a Classical-sounding rondo. Here, as in "Ritual," Leif Segerstam draws a compelling performance from the Malmo Symphony.

But Schnittke can also be respectful. Hear, for example, his nods toward Russian Orthodox style in his Choir Concerto, inevitably laced with dissonance, but mildly so.

And all of this only begins to suggest the parameters of a strange and wondrous musical sensibility. Your own further adventures will be more rewarding for being your own. JAMES R. OESTREICH
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

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karlhenning
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Aug 15, 2005 5:47 am

THERE is nothing like hearing a new work by a living composer that is so intriguing and impressive that in the moment you could not care less how history will someday rank it.
It's tempting to read that: "But today, I want my empty calories" ... but of course, the music may really be better than this ambivalent opening line might suggest.

Then, too, it might be worse.

Much worse :-)
Karl Henning, PhD
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springrite
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Post by springrite » Mon Aug 15, 2005 11:49 pm

I alway feel a sense of excitement at World Premieres. Even though most of the time, the piece is disappointing. But the few times when it is a masterpiece, it makes it all worthwhile. One out of ten is not bad. Saulinen's Kullervo, Saariaho's Du Cristal, a couple of Lutoslawski works are just some of the world premieres I went to. I wouldn't trade it for another run-of-the-mill, or even fairly exceptional performance of a standard repertoire work.
Music starts where words fail.

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Post by diegobueno » Tue Aug 16, 2005 12:05 am

karlhenning wrote:
THERE is nothing like hearing a new work by a living composer that is so intriguing and impressive that in the moment you could not care less how history will someday rank it.
It's tempting to read that: "But today, I want my empty calories" ... but of course, the music may really be better than this ambivalent opening line might suggest.

Then, too, it might be worse.

Much worse :-)
As we all know, the only music that's any good is that which bores the hell out of you. If you find yourself being intrigued or impressed by a new piece, you must stop listening immediately to prevent your ears from being corrupted.

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Aug 16, 2005 6:25 am

springrite wrote:I alway feel a sense of excitement at World Premieres. Even though most of the time, the piece is disappointing.
And that's okay (at least, to some degree). The art of music will be paralyzed, if composers have to produce The Great Piece of My Generation with each premiere.

Most of the new pieces that I have heard live are not pieces I need ever hear again; but that doesn't negate the value of hearing the music made that evening in the Hall.
springrite wrote:But the few times when it is a masterpiece, it makes it all worthwhile. One out of ten is not bad.
An entirely sane approach!
Karl Henning, PhD
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Saulsmusic

Post by Saulsmusic » Wed Aug 17, 2005 3:24 am

Composers that are writing in the 12 tone system are virtualy wasting thier time and blahbering thier talents.
This works are total nonesence.

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Please be more specific

Post by PJME » Wed Aug 17, 2005 5:13 am

I erased my previous text entirely. I do not want to lecture.
Last edited by PJME on Wed Aug 17, 2005 6:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by pizza » Wed Aug 17, 2005 5:59 am

PJME: Saul's criticism was aimed entirely and exclusively at the composers of serial music. I have read reams of similar criticism by big-shot critics, couched of course in flowing prose and self-annointed righteousness, but with the bottom line, distilled to its essence the same as Saul's two-liner. If readers who disagree are offended by his views they needn't read them, and perhaps it is they who should grow up a bit and remove the chips from their shoulders. There's no point in lecturing anyone about taste in music. Saul's tastes may not be yours, but for him and perhaps others who may agree with him, they are as valid as anyone else's. I find attempts at censorship, whether patronizing, disdainful or outright insulting completely out of character with the purposes of this forum, regardless of how carefully one chooses his words. No one should have to be concerned about how a strictly musical post might affect the sensibilities of anyone else.

karlhenning
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Aug 17, 2005 6:48 am

Folks who complain about composers writing in the 12 tone system, are virtualy wasting thier time and blahbering thier talents.
This works are total nonesence.
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

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