Posts Tagged ‘Gaudeamus’

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Non-linear

July 29, 2012

Score excerpt from Earle Brown’s masterpiece “Available Forms II”

Compose several constellations of sound and then allow the conductor to change the order of the constellations at each performance – a brilliant idea that is at the heart of Available Forms I and II. There is no fixed ‘through-line’; it is different at each performance.

I have been deeply influenced by this approach when I compose. I create small chunks of music or phrases that can be a few measures or many in length. After composing a certain amount of these chunks, I order them in a way that I think works. This approach is not much different from the Available Forms, other than the fact that the material is fixed: I do not have a preconceived notion of an overall arc or through-line.

I would like to try writing a piece someday where the conductor can choose an order of preference, but that would necessitate many performances to assume the desired effect of variation, as in the Available Forms. At the moment, I am not that optimistic.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375


Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Jazz

July 24, 2012

Earle had it down. Like all great composers who develop a style all their own, Earle refined and honed his craft and sound throughout his career. I remember him mentioning to me that he was trying to compose in a way as freely, spontaneously and quickly as if he were playing the part live.

Earle played trumpet in jazz bands in his youth. It was as if he were creating an ‘improvisation-in-writing’ in real time. He knew his harmonic and melodic vocabulary inside out and attempted now to write ‘freely’ in the same amount of time that it would take to play the line. Certainly, MIDI and keyboards today are commonplace for such procedures, but Earle heard it and could get it down as quickly as Pablo Picasso could sketch a figure. He was an artist.

PIcasso drawing with light


Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Smart

July 22, 2012

English Horn


Earle was probably one of the finest orchestrators I have ever heard. One needs only to listen to pieces such as Available Forms I and Available Forms II and later works such as Cross Sections and Color Fields and Windsor Jambs: these are lush scores, rich in orchestral textures and bold, brilliant chords. After composing Trailing Vortices (1986), my Fromm commission, I visited New York City.

I showed it first to a composer of some renown – with a Pulitzer Prize, Academy Award and the Metropolitan Opera in his pedigree – and he correctly identified a problem in the work but only offered criticism (I am grateful that he pointed it out). A low oboe line that appeared throughout would not blend softly as desired, but would instead stick out like a sore thumb.

The part could not simply be bumped up an octave, as it was part of a unison chromatic pattern that was integrally staggered with the ensemble. I left the meeting with one thought, ‘How can I fix this part without wrecking the whole piece?’

The next day, I met with Earle at his home and showed him these problematic sections. He took one look at the score and said, ‘Oh, that’s no problem, just give those lines to the English horn!’ (The result was that it sounded great. Thank you, Earle!)

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Getting Lost

July 17, 2012

Luigi Nono conducting his music

After one of his concerts in San Francisco, I drove Earle and his wife Susan back to their hotel. As is not uncommon, I got lost and we ended up having a wonderful conversation (this was in the 1980s, before cell phones). He told me how he loved Luigi Nono, who had championed his works in Europe and brought Earle to the attention of the publisher Universal Edition. We talked about the absurdity and impracticality of my large divisi work for orchestra, yet he knew that someday it would prove to have been a worthwhile endeavour. It had already secured his respect: ‘Who writes such a piece when they’re 23?’ Thankfully, we eventually found his hotel…

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Generosity

July 15, 2012

Trailing Vortices (1986) for chamber orchestra (commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation when Earle Brown was director)

In the mid-’80s, Earle was director of the Fromm Music Foundation. He had seen my music at BMI and awarded me a commission and a premiere at the Aspen Music Festival. This commission, Trailing Vortices, led to several Gaudeamus performances in Europe with Ernest Bour and the incomparable VARA radio orchestra (now called the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic) and later on an ASCAP award. Earle was incredibly giving and helped move my career forward; the timing could not have been better. Years later, I have heard from so many other composers and musicians about his generosity and support. I was lucky to have made this connection.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Intersection

July 11, 2012

Earle Brown conducting his music

In 2007, I was asked to contribute an essay to Contemporary Music Review, a UK publication with the title “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics”. Earle had a huge influence on my work. I wrote twelve short essays called AVAILABLE RECOLLECTIONS. Here is the first one with more to come…


I met Earle Brown for the first time at the 1985 BMI awards for young composers. I was 24 and had studied his works for many years. If it had not been for Earle, I would not have been invited there. I had composed Pentateuch, a grand divisi orchestral work in quarter-tones, including three choral groups and soprano solo with strong hints of György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis. Because of its size, Earle was the only judge who took the time to open it up and understand it. ‘I had to fight for your score,’ he told me. ‘No one else wanted to look at it.’ Earle did not mind ‘rolling up his sleeves’, so to speak. It was serendipity that he was a judge that year. My life changed.

Available Recollections
Author: William Susman
Published in: Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

N.B. What I failed to mention in the original publication was that the score Pentateuch was 6 feet long and Earle told me he spread it out on the floor. The BMI judges were passing around scores and there was not enough space at the table. Back then, I copied this oversize score at a blueprint shop in Palo Alto and it could not be cheaply reduced to a manageable size as it is today.

Muziek Centrum Nederlands is under threat of termination

June 23, 2011

MCN is under threat of termination following the recent announcement from the Dutch Government to cut all funding.

Please sign the petition at

Here are my thoughts on the value of MCN in a letter of petition.

To whom it may concern,

Please do not close Muziek Centrum Nederlands. This organization is vital to the promotion and enhancement of Dutch music within its borders and around the world. Through MCN the music culture of the Netherlands is given a worldwide stage.

I first heard about the magnificent way in which the Dutch support contemporary music through the Gaudeamus Music Festival. For a week every year composers from around the world meet in Amsterdam to have their music performed by the best Dutch performers, ensembles and orchestras.

My music was performed by the VARA radio orchestra with Ernest Bour many years ago. This performance and the entire festival was an unforgettable experience. Do not forsake the prestige and international relations that arise and are enhanced by such cultural encounters which MCN and Gaudeamus (through their performance and composition competitions) have promoted for decades. Thousands of musicians and composers from around the world have benefited and are indebted to this unique Dutch organization.

Great nations are remembered by the culture which they create and support. It is my hope that the Dutch Government’s support of the arts and MCN (which has been the envy and apex of music centers around the world) will continue for decades to come.

William Susman