Music 36

Special Topics: Composers

John Cage, Ruth Crawford Seeger: Two Perspectives in 20th Century American Music



Larry Polansky

Spring, 2005

Dept. of Music


Daily class notes, and preliminary Schedule (always being revised)


Week 1(RCS)

Wednesday, 3/29: Introduction to the class


Friday, 4/1:

Go thru syllabus, and explain required work. Modes of explanation in the class. How much music theory, how much music knowledge, how to relate to wide range of different background. Goal: when necessary, be able to explain the most complex musical ideas in ways that any intelligent person can understand.

A few more words on the Crawford Sonata, and the Cage Nocturne. Class ideas?

Sing "When, Not If" (political round).

Sandburg (listen to his performance of "A Horse Named Bill").

RCS in the 20s, and early life. Rudhyar (listen to a bit of his music).


Week 2(RCS)

Monday, 4/4

                  Talk about updating schedule, change of test structure

                           Play Peggy Seeger's "Ballad of Jimmey Massey". Talk about narrative and dramatic modes in folk song, how that relates to RCS. Interesting example of hearing these ideas passed on to her children (talk a little bit about Peggy Seeger's work).

                  Play recording of "when, not if"

A few words on Scriabin, and in general, the end of harmonic practice around the time of her first music, the birth of modernism (in RCS). Henry Cowell's early connection to RCS.

The American Songbag. Folk song collection. American vs. European models (show Folk Music of the Southern Appalachians, talk a little about Sharp). Talk about Sandburg's role in early folk song collecting, as well as the role of arranging vs. transcribing.

The song "Lonesome Road," and RCS' harmonic ideas. The American Songbag. Listen to some performances of those songs. "Gambler's Blues", "Lonsesome Road", "10,000 Miles…"

Hazel Feld (possible presentation topic).? "El-A-Noy" "I Don't Want No Railroad Man", some others.

RCS art pieces: Kaleidoscopic Variations, Tom Thumb (listen to each on your own, Tom Thumb possible presentation topic). Look at Nocturne. More on classical naming of pieces. Take a look at LOC list.


Wednesday, 4/6 No class.


Friday, 4/8

                  Talk about concert, final

                  More American songbag (Martin playing and singing)

First student presentations. Brent Reidy on the Preludes

Class readings and listenings: By this time, listen to Preludes, Violin Sonata, Tom Thumb, Kaleidoscopic Variations. Have read Tick, Part 1 and 2, and at least some of the introduction to Strauss.


Week 3(RCS)

Monday, 4/11

NYC, art music, Guggenheim trip to Europe. Work with Charles Seeger. American modernism (relation to Schoenberg, Stravinsky). Dissonant counterpoint, heterophony, very new ideas (st. qtt., piano study). Diaphonic Suites. Piano Study in Mixed Accents.

Play an excerpt from Dan Zanes CD (from American Songbag)

Play Ruggles Portals, Ives 3 Places…, talk about Ives a bit. Talk about their connections to RCS.


Wednesday, 4/13

String Quartet (3rd movement), Piano Study In Mixed Accents, Diaphonic Suite #1.

Choice (fl/oboe, dynamics in Piano Study…), compositional structures, pitch language, use of other parameters formally (dynamics), palindromic forms, other aspects of her musical language. Works prior to return to America. How does dissonant counterpoint find its way into all of the parameters of the music (offset rhythms/pitches, contrary trajectories…).


Friday, 4/15

String Quartet (4th Movement), 2 Ricercari. Discussion of her work from 1930-33, student ideas, some thoughts about her place in the history of this period. Talk about composers' collective, period of inactivity, marriage to Seeger. Transitional phase.

Class readings and listenings: By this time, listen to String Quartet, Piano Study in Mixed Accents, 2 Ricercari, 3 Sandburg Songs, Diaphonic Suites, Chants. Read Tick Parts III and IV, read the bulk of the first part of Strauss, plus his analyses of the two Sandburg songs, and the 3rd movement of the str. qtt..


Week 4 (RCS)

Monday, 4/18:

Upcoming schedule. Talk about concert, and meetings. Sing some songs for Wednesday?

The Music of American Folk Song.The project itself. Our Singing Country. Precedents. Herzog. Bartok, some Americans. Composition book she never wrote. Lomaxes. Heterophony. Lack of drama. Great frustration with trying to get this published. Center point of her folk music activities (scholarly).

Songs: "Pretty Polly," "Pay Day at Coal Creek," the work of Iron Head, Track Horse, Clear Rock, others ("Hannah"). Prothero's "Pauline". Fiddle tunes ("Bonyparte…", "Callahan…", "Glory in the Meetin' House"). Bahaman tunes ("When the Whale Get Strike", "Dig My Grave")


Wednesday, 4/20

Other folk song work, 22 Folk Songs ("Sweet Betsy from Pike", the three books of childrens' songs. Listen to contemporary recordings.

Student presenation: Art, Rissolty, Rossolty


Friday, 4/22 (no class, or guest, or will sub. X-hour). No student presentations this week (can be done later, one suggestion, ).

Class readings and listenings: Rissolty, Rossolty. Woodwind Quintet. American Animal Songs for Children (Seeger family). By this time read TMAFS; RCS' intro. To American Folk Songs for Children, Tick Parts V and VI


Week 5 (Cage)

Monday, 4/25 Final presentations by Martin (Tom Thumb) and Trish (3 Chants)


Tuesday, 4/26, x-hour, James Tenney, guest. Beginning John Cage. Sonatas and Interludes, "square root method" pieces.


Wednesday, 4/2, Tenney, Wolff, Brent, play Cage. (Vaughan recital). Tenney: Dream, Amores. Wolff/Dong, 4-19, Wolff, ASALP


Friday, 4/29 Guest, Charles Dodge, talking about Cage.


Week 6 (Cage)(1930s)

Monday, 5/2. Introduction to second half of class (Cage). Talk about class concert (June 1).

Discuss Charles Dodge's visit. An introduction to Cage's early period (prior to about 1940) (Brent).

General introduction to Cage's early period, prior to the 1940s, studies with Schoenberg and Cowell; early percussion music; exploration of serial procedures.


Wednesday, 5/4

         Concert: Jenny Lin, concert of RCS works (Preludes, Piano Study…) plus RCS early work, plus Scriabin, plus Tenney. (Post concert lunch with Jenny).


Friday, 5/6 Brent continued (30s). A reconsideration of RCS, discussion. What did the end of her life "mean", what has it meant for other people. Let's Build a Railroad. Some examples of arrangements inspired by her ("Diney-oh", "My Old Hen…")


Readings this week: Pritchett sections 1-2. Silence pp. 1-76.

Listenings: See website


Week 7 (Cage)(1940s)

Monday, 5/9 (Brent) Music from the 1940s (dance music, towards electronic music, prepared piano); the "square root" method and move towards chance procedures. (Brent gives lecture as part of his senior honors project on Cage).


Wednesday, 5/11. First Construction, Imaginary Landscape #1, Double Music. Other contemporary work, related: Varese (Ionisation), the work of Lou Harrison (listen to the Koro Sutro?), Party Pieces, Johanna Beyer (IV).


Friday, 5/13 Student presentation, Art (Perilous Night). Outdoor excursion (soundwalk). Discussion of "communication" and what Cage meant by that, and words like "expression".


Readings this week: Pritchett section 3. Silence pp. 76-194

Listenings: See website


Week 8 (Cage) (50s)

Monday, 5/16 (Brent). Electronic music, chance, indeterminacy, theatre music. Brent talking about Music of Changes, New York School, Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra


Wednesday, 5/18. Special guest on how to use the I Ching. String Quartet (backtrack), Why that piece culminates the gamut technique, and the period prior to the Music of Changes. Quodlibet?


Friday, 5/20. Advent of indeterminacy. Why that was important to Cage (e.g Winter Music, clef-age). Alternative chance operations (paper imperfections). Other pieces from the 50s leading up to the Concert. Williams Mix (among the first American electronic music), Imaginary Landscape #4. Music for Carillon (graph method, and other notation systems, previsioning transparency techniques in Cartridge Music, Fontana Mix…). 4'33". Concert for Piano and Orchestra. Indeterminacy. "Ten Thousand Things" (elucidation of all possibilities, previsions major later works like the Freeman Etudes).


Readings this week: Pritchett section 4-5, Silence, pp. 194-end

Listenings: see website


Week 9 (Cage) (60s and beyond)

Monday, 5/23 1960 -. Starting with culmination in Concert.. (show piano score), advent of transparency notation (Fontana Mix, Music Walk, Variations…, Cartridge Music, many other pieces). Cage and notoreity, what that meant to his work (travelling, "happenings", writings). Publication of Silence, recording of Indeterminacy. Remarkable fact that by this time in the class, we know more about Cage's music than most people did in the 1960s, even though he was quite famous (but mainly by a kind of oversimplified reputation).


0'00 (4'33 (2)), and its implications for his work (along with pieces like Rozart Mix). Pieces which are really meta-pieces, no conventional music, composition, whatsoever. Simultaneity (HCE, and maybe a relationship to RCS heterophony). Something about turning 50 and taking a remarkably new approach (first, in 1960) for a period of about 10 years (until Cheap Imitation). Cage as organizer, personality. Culmination in HPSCHD.


Return to conventional music with Cheap Imitation, and return with a vengeance with the studies (Etudes Australes, Freeman Etudes, Etudes Boreales). Pritchett's idea that on turning 60, Cage simply "included" everything, felt no need for the kind of teleology in his music that he had before. Ryoanji.


Freeman Etudes and Etudes Australes. Elucidations of possibilities. Kind of extreme notation that we saw in Music of Changes, but now, with a new generation of willing performers. Songbooks as combination of this idea with the compositional technique (technique) of Concert….. The idea of virtuosity as hope (which is really no different than his previous pieces). Cage as craftsperson.


Writing and graphics: Mesostics. I-VI. Empty Words. Roratorio. Writing "through" a text (see Circus on), Europeras.


Wednesday, 5/2: Presentations by Martin (ASALP, other pieces), Trish (vocal works).


Friday, 5/27Brent. Number pieces.


Readings this week: Pritchett sections 6, Cage "Composition in Retrospect".

Listenings: See website


Week 10 (Cage)

Monday, 5/30. Final class on Cage


Wednesday, 6/1: Class concert. Class prep.