Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Karl Kohn

Congratulations to composer Karl Kohn* on his 80th birthday. Kohn is a fine pianist and, with his wife Margaret Kohn, a virtuoso duo-pianist with an astonishing repertoire (Debussy, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Boulez, Reich, Ligeti). Although I've known pieces by Kohn for almost 30 years, his compositions have always been rather mysterious to me. He doesn't leave many tracks through which one might reconstruct the composing process, and his style has never been one that is easy to identify with a going fashion. It's not tonal music, nor does it appear to be systematically atonal, but there are elements of contour and metric drive that speak from an intimate association with tradition (Kohn was born in Vienna, and is perhaps the youngest of the composers who can readily be identified with the great emmigration). For all that attachment to European tradition, I believe that one can also detect a growing presence of California Deserta in Kohn's most recent music, a presence which I value highly.

* It should probably be duly noted that early in his long tenure at Pomona College, Kohn was visited by the young composer Frank Zappa (like Zappa, I lived on the San Bernadino County side of the border to Los Angeles County). Without ever worrying about institution affiliations, it can be fairly said that Kohn became Zappa's only formal composition teacher.

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