Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Jeff Harrington was probably the first new music composer to stake his career online, a brave and pioneering move. (The first musician I heard talk about the internet as a resource was Ron Kuivila, who, back in 1993, kept going on about making music with "mosaic sites" -- with reference to that early browser -- as an extension of the networked music making of groups like The League of Automatic Music Composers and The Hub; interestingly, Kuivila has himself stubbornly avoided establishing an online presence for his own work). Harrington's was a brave move not least because it signaled independence from all of the traditional means composers have had for getting music out into the world as well as from many of the institutions that mediate between a composer and the public. His pioneering work includes making scores and electronic realizations or mock-ups of scores freely available: folks, this is the way publishing is going, and any composer who places his or her scores in the hands of a traditional publisher is simply allowing themselves to be ripped off and, eventually, neglected. Harrington's web site is well worth a visit with its rich offerings in scores and audio (I'm off recordings this year, so my aquaintance is with his scores).

Harrington is also a brave composer. A case in point for me is his Horn Trio. It's in the nature of a horn trios to be very difficult to write as the instrumental combination (violin, horn, piano) presents real challenges in balance, registration, and articulation. (I speak from experience: my own horn trio has been a work-in-progress for more than 2o years). Further, the repertoire is dominated by the example of the trio by Brahms, and for many, that of Ligeti. I think Harrington made a correct decision not to make a large, multi-movement work in the Brahms/Ligeti mode, and further broke that mode by avoiding any direct historical references. Instead, his trio is a single through-composed movement with a sustained motoric energy and figural character of its own.

Harrington's musical sensibility is very different to my own -- probably not surprising in that he's a Julliard-trained composer with a commitment to an idea of tonal music and a southerner with a deep personal connection to the vernacular traditions of New Orleans and the Delta -- but, after all, isn't the possibility of an encounter with another sensibility the great advantage of finding music online?


Trevor Murphy said...

I was very struck by something I read in an interview with Schoenberg from the '50s- he commented that his American students had a harder time learning composition simply because scores were too expensive in America.

All scores (save Dover) are ludicrously overpriced now. This situation is the least-recognized factor in the 'crisis' in classical music (or whatever you want to call it). It's insane that I spent $40 on a tiny pamphlet-size P. Maxwell-Davies score that, clearly, wasn't engraved by hand at some exacting German publishing house. So, hats off to you, Daniel, for making so many of your scores available online. I hope composers like you are the future!

Daniel Wolf said...

I've actually done a poor job of getting my own scores online. Only a handful are up, and most of them are juvenalia or ephemera. But before you put your hat right back on, I'll take your praise as a swift kick and try to do better.