UnknownThese two American masters will be celebrated in a concert at Penn on November 5. I will play Crumb’s piano work A Little Suite for Christmas, A. D. 1979; Min-Young Kim, Thomas Kraines, and Gregory DeTurck will play Wernick’s Piano Trio Nr. 1; and the Daedalus Quartet will play Crumb’s Black Angels. This happens Wednesday, November 5 at 8 – free admission – Rose Recital Hall on the 4th floor of Fisher-Bennett Hall, southeast corner of 34th and Walnut in Philadelphia.

That’s Dick Wernick at left, and George Crumb at right.Unknown-1


I know, I am supposed to use an unfingered edition of piano music I am studying, and should work out the fingering for myself. That is the moral high ground concerning fingering. However, as a composer, I need to cultivate breadth as well as depth with regard to repertoire, and fingerings help facilitate my sight-reading. But not when the fingerings are insufficient, or even inexplicable. For Bach, I prefer the Bischoff edition as reprinted by Kalmus, even though it has anachronistic slurs, etc. added – the fingerings make sense and there are enough suggestions that there are no mysteries as to what is intended. Not so my Henle edition of the WTC. In an effort to make the page have as little as possible that is not Bachian in origin, the fingerings in this edition can be cryptic. The insufficient evidence makes me have to stop and wonder what the editor meant. In extreme cases, the fingering can seem crazy. What do you make of this:


Is the “handing” bracket in the wrong place, and actually you are supposed to play the C with the right hand thumb, rather than beginning with the d-flat? Is the fingering just wrong – the 2 should be a 3? Probably not. The e-natural in the previous bar that resolves to the f on the downbeat shown here is fingered with 3-4, suggesting that they are thinking of 3 for the lower voice’s f, and therefore two notes in a row with the thumb. But what about passing 5 under 4? Such crossings are suggested elsewhere in this edition. This would let you play 3 2 1 for the sixteenths. I’d prefer to play 5 on the f and then again on the b-flat quarter on beat two rather than use the thumb twice in a row on the sixteenths. And if they really do want you to use the thumb twice in a row, they should have marked the b-flat sixteenth with a 1 rather than leaving you guessing about an exceptional procedure. I can understand that 3 is desirable for the f so as to keep a connection with the next bass note, but if I was going to use 3 on the f I would play 1 2 1 for the sixteenths, no? Maybe there is something here I am missing. It wouldn’t be the first time in using this edition that something baffled me, yet eventually made sense after sufficient reflection. But I don’t think this is one of those cases.

The Schnabel edition of the Beethoven sonatas has some unexpected fingerings, but they  often spring from Schnabel’s ideas about phrasing; I don’t think that is the case with Henle’s Bach, which mostly assumes a generalized legato rather than making suggestions about phrasing. In other words, I don’t think the fingering mystery above is telling you to play 2 1 1 so as to force a detaching of the last sixteenth. Of course, that brings up the problem of phrasing and articulation in Bach in general, for me a source of no small anxiety and uncertainty, especially when I hear the myriad subtle nuances across a wide spectrum of articulations in the playing of masters of Bach such as Schiff, Hewitt, Perahia, etc. How does one decide these things?

Go here for a previous post about Henle.

It was a fantastic concert tonight, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society: an all-Ives program with Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish. On the first half Dawn showed off the immense variety of the Ives songbook, including a number of pieces familiar from Gil’s performances and recordings of them with the late Jan DeGaetani. “Tom Sails Away” was especially touching; “Serenity” created its silver aura of stillness; “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” was visionary.  Dawn very much still has it – the beauty of sound is there, if a bit darker than it once was. She retains that transparency where there seems to be no distance between the song and the listener.

For the second half, Gil played the Concord Sonata. I can’t claim to having made a comprehensive survey, but of the five or so I have heard, Gil’s recording for Nonesuch remains my favorite, in part simply for the sheer gorgeousness of his piano sound. That sound was present tonight, as was Gil’s ability to clarify the various strata of Ives’ textures and to shape even the most rambunctious moments. A small example: the build-up to the fusillade of fast clusters in the Hawthorne movement was carefully shaded, rather than getting too loud too soon. I remember as a student at Tanglewood observing a rehearsal that Gil was coaching, hearing him exhort the pianist in the ensemble to “Phrase!” What we heard tonight was eloquent phrasing, meaningful contours springing organically from the Ives’s transcendental (and Transcendentalist) piano writing.

I will have two works performed at the Moscow Conservatory this coming December 3, and recently learned who the performers will be. Pianist Natalia Cherkassova will play Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift. This is the set of five short movements that came out of the consortium commission I have written about in earlier posts, including this one. Ms. Cherkassova will also accompany soprano Ekaterina Kichigina in two songs from the cycle Holy the Firm. On the basis of what I have seen on YouTube, I anticipate these will be excellent performances. Heartfelt thanks to scholar Svetlana Sigida who has arranged this program.

Here is Ms. Kichigina singing music of Schnittke:

and Ms. Cherkassova performing with Ivan Bushuev in the Jolivet Flute Sonata:

(Of course, my title refers to this – composed by this pianist, who later composed this.)

Some concerts of interest in various places, including 2 anniversary events:

- Dolce Suono‘s 10th anniversary concert, Sunday, October 12, 3:00 pm, Field Concert Hall, Curtis Institute, Philadelphia.

- Lee Hyla Memorial Concert, Thursday, October 16, 7:30 pm, Lutkin Hall, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. The late composer of uncommonly intelligent and gutsy works, is honored with a concert of his chamber music. Read about him here.

- Network for New Music celebrates its 30th anniversary, Sunday, October 26, 4:00 pm, Settlement Music School, Queen Street branch in Philadelphia. The special event here is the first performance of an “exquisite corpse” – a new work created by 30 composers (myself included), each of whom contributed 6 measures, with only a tempo marking and the last measure of the preceding composer’s segment as guidance.

- Richard Wernick and George Crumb will be honored in their 80th and 85th birthday years respectively in a Penn Contemporary Music concert in Rose Recital Hall on the Penn campus, Wednesday, November 5 at 8:00 pm. I’ll be playing Crumb’s A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979. A piano trio by Wernick, and Crumb’s Black Angels will also be heard.


- Network for New Music’s 30th Anniversary celebration, featuring an “exquisite corpse” created by 30 composers, will be October 26 at 4 pm, at the Queen Street branch of the Settlement Music School here in Philadelphia. More here.

- I got into a discussion (rather tangential to the post itself) in the comments section of a Joseph Horowitz post here. I probably should have bit my tongue and gone off to practice the piano, but the notion of there being no American music worthy of comparison with that of Penderecki did set me off a bit.

- Kile Smith writes for New Music Box with customary wit and insight about music and church beginning here.

Emerson copied out long passages in which Goethe talks about originality and the influence of others. Far from feeling a need to do nothing except what is completely original and novel, Goethe actually defines genius as “the faculty of seizing and turning to account every thing that strikes us.” He protested that he himself would have got nowhere “if this art of appropriation were considered as derogatory to genius.”

- from Robert D. Richardson Jr.’s Emerson: The Mind on Fire.

The words “art of appropriation” have come to refer to the post-modern approach of artists like Sherrie Levine. But I think it is closer to the spirit of the quote to understand it as characterizing the inclusive modernism of Ives, Mahler, Berg, Stravinsky, Rochberg, Harbison, etc. (as contrasted with the more tightly focussed modernism of Webern, Varèse, Feldman, and Babbitt.)