Monday, January 21, 2008

My own past history as a musician

I thought I would give a little more history of my own pre-career with music. As best I recall, I started piano lessons at age 8 in February 1952 after the purchase of a Kimball console piano. The piano deteriorated over the years (with many household moves around the nation) and was donated to a charity in Minneapolis in 2003 before I moved back to Virginia.

I started composing some, probably at around age 12. Some of the manuscripts are lost. I can reconstruct some of the music easily, of course, as I pretty much remember every note, even at 64. This sketch shows the themes from an A Major Sonata (about age 14) and an earlier Sonatina in F called “Inspiration.” The A Major starts with a perfunctory theme simply based on the A Major scale, rising and then falling, note by note. Below that is a sketch of what I recall of a piano concerto that a friend in the dorm (Brown Hall at William and Mary) claimed that semester to have composed. He played it for me once in piano in a practice room at Ewell Hall. It was about 25 minutes long and like a Hummel concerto. The work was in E-flat. The work starts with a scale-like theme a bit like mine, but has a secondary motif that reminds one of some counterpoint that occurs in the first movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. That particular student thought that “real music” ended with Mozart, and that no one should play Beethoven before age 30. (That’s a contradiction.) The second movement was a lamentation in G minor with a theme based on repeating the node D and then answering with a descending tetrachord from G. He claimed to have “memorized” the A-major and played it for an audience at home in California during Christmas break (he came to visit me in January after the expulsion – below). He said that when the heard the perfunctory tune, “he knew.” That’s how things were in those days.

I liked the Rachmaninoff-like "big tune" in major at the end.

At 16, I entered a D minor Sonata in a contest. I had become impressed with Rachmaninoff, especially the Third Piano Concerto.

After my infamous William and Mary Expulsion in November 1961 (explained in detail elsewhere on my books, blogs and websites – look at Nov. 28 2006 in my main blog) I lived “at home” and started school again at GW in February 1962. My father had a mild heart attack (ironically on a business trip to the Williamsburg, which had become a city of discontent for the family) and rested at home a lot. In the mean time, at 18, I composed a “Third Sonata,” about 50 minutes, in four movements. The first is in C (non-committal as to major or minor), a second movement as a scherzo in A-flat, the third movement an “Elegy” in E-flat minor, and the finale a rondo in C. I actually didn’t finish the sketch of the finale until 1974. In the first movement, I tried a scheme of making the second theme the natural minor of the home key, and the development section starts by making the main theme a twelve-tone row. In the third movement, although it has atonal center, the main melody is supposed to have all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, but they are harmonized to gravitate toward E-flat minor.

Elsewhere on the blogs I talk about the six-month reparative "hospitalization" at NIH in the latter half of 1962. My music -- not just my "record collection" but also my composing -- came up as a controversial matter.

The psychiatrists said this about my music: "He learned some composition and began to compose a series of piano sonatas based on a 12 tone scale. There were compositions that he did not hear in his head but rather were worked out on a prearranged formula." It's interesting how "professionals" in judging people by naive about music get things wrong, as this is not a correct statement about what I had done, or about what dodecaphonic ("expressionistic") music is all about.

I recorded this sonata on a grand piano (Baldwin) at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in February, 1991. I have a DAT tape of it, but the performance isn’t good enough to make it worth putting up, and it would take too much bandwidth. I’ve had Cakewalk and an old Yamaha midi, but never gotten it working too well. I think some of the music has promise, but I would have to make an effort to get set up to have it entered and edited in an automated fashion. I have Cakewalk on an older computer that busted, but saved the work files off. I have to decide whether to work with Cakewalk, Finale or some other product.

I also took organ lessons for a while at the University of Kansas while in graduate school for Mathematics (1966-1968). I actually had taken some at FBC from an organist who at the time went to Peabody in Baltimore, and who worked at FBC, St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington, and a Lutheran church near Baltimore.

Why didn't I follow music as "Life's Work"? I think I would have had the talent with enough practice and diligence. I think there was an element of cold feet. This was a time of the Cold War, with a looming draft, and a belief that scientists and mathematicians would be better treated (to put it mildly). Collective need really matters.

Update: Feb. 11, 2008

I looked over some of my hand manuscripts some more. Here is what I have
(1) Sonatina in F (1956) 4 movements 12 min (needs reconstruction)
(2) Sonatina in A (1957) 4 movements 12 min (needs reconstruction)
(2.5) Minuet in E (Bartok's "Courtly Key") (1958) won a contest, intended originally for Sonatina, "neo-classical"
(3) Sonata / Concerto in d minor (1959) 3 movements 30 min romantic needs revision
(4) Sonata / Symphony C major-minor (1962; 1974) "post-romantic to modern" 4 movements 50 min needs orchestration (some atonality as "development" device)
(5) "Symphony" "C" 5 movements 50 min (1972-1974) (Variations; Dances; Songs; Adagio; Rondo) "post-romantic to modern" needs counterpoint, harmony, orchestration (some atonality, tonality often ambiguous)
(6) Symphony e minor (1960, 2000) 4 movements "romantic" 40 min needs completion, orchestration, considerable form work in last movement

I'll look into fixing the computer setup (Cakewalk or Finale, etc) and see what I can do with this over time. I'd like to make into something performable out of some of this.

By the way, I don't like to hear works transposed up a half-step. Think of Brahms 's four symphonies. They must be played in C min, D maj, F Maj, e min, exactly. The Second really sounds like D major, the third really sounds like F Major. And the Brahms Violin Concerto really sounds like D Major (just listen to the end credits of "There Will Be Blood"). Keys have personalities.

Below is my "movie trademark" theme (my own, intended for doaskdotell) from the first movement of the 5-movement "symphony." My favorite movie musical trademark is Lionsgate (the "Metropolis" theme).

Try this courtly Minuet (around age 15).

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