ROSNER: Nocturne, Op. 68; Tempus Perfectum, Op. 109; Symphony No. 6, Op. 64

ARNOLD ROSNER: Nocturne, Op. 68; Tempus Perfectum, Op. 109; Symphony No. 6, Op. 64

London Phiharmonic Orch., Nick Palmer, cond., TOCCATA Classics. All music available from the Estate of Arnold Rosner; For further information, visit www.ArnoldRosnerMusic.com

During his fifty-year compositional career, the American composer Arnold Rosner (1945–2013) produced a body of work that combined diverse influences into a powerful, distinctly personal musical voice. His catalogue comprises compositions in nearly every genre, including three operas, eight symphonies, numerous works for orchestra and wind band, several large-scale choral works and many chamber, solo, and vocal pieces.

Rosner’s musical language was founded upon the harmonic and rhythmic devices of the polyphonic music of the Renaissance and early Baroque periods. These roots can be found, to a greater or lesser extent, in virtually all his music. To them he added a free triadicism and exotic modalities, intensified in some works by more contemporary harmonic dissonance, combining this language with the lavish orchestration and emotional drama of late-nineteenth-century Romanticism. What makes Rosner’s music worthy of serious consideration, rather than being merely an integration of earlier styles, is the way he shaped his unusual language to embrace an enormous expressive range – far broader than one might imagine possible – from serene beauty to violent rage. Illustrating the vast range of expression found in Rosner’s music, the works on this recording run the gamut: In Tempus Perfectum the connection to early music is obvious, despite certain anachronisms; in the fierce Modern Romanticism of the Sixth Symphony the connection is barely detectible; while the Nocturne reveals traces of early music within a conception that might be termed post-Modernist Impressionism. Yet despite its fusion of seemingly incongruous elements, most of his music is readily accessible even to untutored listeners.

Born in New York City in 1945, Rosner took piano lessons as a boy, and soon developed a voracious interest in classical music. Some sounds in particular appealed to him – juxtapositions of major and minor triads, as well as modal melodies – and before long he was working these sounds into music of his own. His family, fully aware of the remote prospects of success offered by a career in classical music composition, encouraged him to pursue more practical endeavours, and so he attended the Bronx High School of Science, whence he graduated at the age of fifteen, and then New York University with a major in mathematics. But all the while he was composing: sonatas, symphonies, concertos and more – not that anyone was especially interested in hearing the fruits of his labours. His composer-heroes at the time were Hovhaness, Vaughan Williams and Nielsen, and their influence is evident in much of his earlier creative work.

Graduating from NYU before he turned twenty, Rosner then spent a year at the Belfer Graduate School of Science, continuing his studies in mathematics. But, no longer able to resist the inner drive to pursue musical composition as his primary activity, he entered the University of Buffalo the following September, with a major in music composition. This was in 1966, when serialism was the dominant style in university music departments, and young composers were often coerced, directly or indirectly, into adopting it. Rosner often recounted how the Buffalo faculty dismissed his creative efforts with varying degrees of contempt. Later, in describing his educational experience there, he would say that he ‘learned almost nothing’ from these pedants. Although most of his peers capitulated to the pressure to embrace the style du jour, Rosner was adamantly opposed to serialism and stubbornly refused to accept a view of music that violated his most fervently held artistic values. And so, in response, his department repeatedly rejected the large orchestral work he had submitted as his dissertation. Realising that they would never accept the kind of music he considered meaningful, he gave up the notion of a doctorate in composition, and decided instead to pursue a degree in music theory, with a dissertation – the first ever – on the music of Alan Hovhaness. He completed this task successfully, and in the process became the first recipient of a doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York.

He devoted the rest of his life to writing the music that represented his personal aesthetic ideals, supporting himself through academic positions at colleges in and around the New York City area. His most enduring position was as Professor of Music at Kingsborough Community College (of the City University of New York), which he held for thirty years, until his death. During the course of his compositional career, his musical language gradually expanded from its idiosyncratic and intuitive beginnings, as the mature works on this recording illustrate. Arnold Rosner died in Brooklyn, in 2013, on his 68th birthday.

Rosner composed his Nocturne in 1978, dedicating it to his former student Louis Blois, who later became a published authority on the music of Shostakovich and other Soviet composers. During the late 1970s Blois had been studying astronomy, so Rosner sought in this work to suggest the movement of planetary bodies within the vastness of space. The work begins by evoking a mysterious, swirling atmosphere, irregularly interrupted by sudden vehement outbursts. Gradually, melodic fragments begin to emerge, at first tentatively, then slowly taking shape within the ethereal backdrop. About halfway into the work, the melodic fragments coalesce into a passionate melody in the strings, still surrounded by the swirling gestures and textures. The melody develops further, achieving greater prominence by the support of the rest of the orchestra. After a climax is reached, the intensity of the music gradually recedes into the eerie atmosphere with which the piece began.

Tempus Perfectum is a term from the late Medieval period that referred to the rhythmic meter designated today by the time signature 9/8. This indicates a meter of three beats per measure, each of which is subdivided into three smaller units. Rosner’s piece, composed in 1998, is a modern adaptation of the instrumental canzona, a genre that existed—with evolving meanings—for centuries. The point of departure for this piece is the type of canzona that flourished in Italy during the late Renaissance. Hence this is a work in which the connections between Rosner’s style and early music are clearly evident.

Not surprisingly, Tempus Perfectum maintains a 9/8 meter virtually throughout the work, as the canzona theme pursues its course in a neo-late-Renaissance manner. However, what is most unusual are sequences of triads—often in a different tonality from the canzona theme—that are superimposed over that theme at various points during the piece. These harmonic sequences, though written so as to conform to the 9/8 meter, audibly contradict that meter, as well as conflicting with the tonality. Listeners familiar with Rosner’s Gematria (Toccata Classics TOCC0368) will recognize this technique from that work, where it appears in perhaps its fullest application. In Tempus Perfectum, these harmonic sequences follow a course of their own, as each reappearance is successively longer and more fully orchestrated, until a climax of sorts is reached, after which the music diminishes in volume and speed. 

Rosner composed his Symphony No. 6 in 1976, three years after its predecessor. The Symphony No. 5, an orchestral Mass based on the plainchant Salve Regina, is a work of transcendent spiritual ecstasy, an apotheosis of the composer’s unique adaptation of Renaissance polyphony (Naxos 8.559347). Its successor is largely the emotional and spiritual antithesis of that work—an expression of the rage and bitterness that were significant components of Rosner’s personality—musical and otherwise. Unlike much of his music, this symphony may be described as an example of the distinguished canon of American Neo-Romantic Symphonies, as represented by such composers as Ernest Bloch, Samuel Barber, and Nicolas Flagello. The symphony is replete with so many striking events that a description such as this can reveal only the broadest outlines.

The opening Allegro agitato is an overwhelming expression of emotional turbulence that offers virtually no respite during its ten-minute duration. Revealing only the most remote connection to traditional sonata allegro form, the movement displays some of the most ferocious and explosive music Rosner ever composed. The element of tonality—often irrelevant to his music—is largely absent. The movement opens with a bold statement of a motif (a) characterized by a chromatic angularity unusual for this composer, with prominent dotted-note rhythms. This motif immediately launches a free development that spins off several related motifs. Among the most significant of these are (b) which features the “Scotch snap” rhythm (a short-long pattern with accent on the short note), (c) a stepwise rising-and-falling motif, and (d) another stepwise motif that revolves chromatically around a pivot-note. These four motifs are the essential thematic elements of the movement and are subjected to extensive development. This development proceeds through sections displaying great dynamic contrasts, until a running passage builds gradually to a cataclysmic climax in which all four motifs are combined, with additional emphasis provided by generous contributions from the percussion. This is followed by a moment of relief featuring motif (c), before motif (a) brings the movement to a powerful conclusion.  

The second movement, Adagio, evokes a hushed atmosphere before introducing a mysterious introductory theme played by the English horn, answered by the harp, followed by the clarinet. This theme develops slowly, gradually building to the presentation of the movement’s emotional highlight, a mournful melody first suggested softly by a muted trumpet, then stated in full by the strings. A second section follows, with a subdued melody characterized by trills and other ornamentation. This melody bears a slight connection to the rising and falling motif of the first movement. As it develops, the melody builds to a statement of some grandeur before it subsides. The introductory theme returns, first in the horn, then flute. A dynamic eruption highlights the introductory theme, now forcefully stated by the trombones, leading to a passionate restatement of the mournful melody heard earlier, now building to a tremendous climax, extended considerably by a varied restatement of the introductory theme. As this recedes, the ornamented melody returns, bringing the movement to a hushed conclusion. Worthy of note are clashes of major vs. minor harmony—one of Rosner’s favorite effects—heard throughout this movement, as well as striking orchestral effects that contribute to the evocation of a mood of hushed solemnity.

The third movement, the most complicated portion of the Symphony, comprises several sections: Grave; Allegro; Grandioso; Grave. It opens with a full orchestral statement of a stern, stately theme, rife with major-minor conflicts. A variant of this theme is played softly by the flute, followed by a further variant by the solo trumpet. An Allegro follows, transforming the opening theme into a rapid pattern that starts with just a few instruments against an agitated running pattern that functions along the lines of a counter-subject. As other instruments enter, the first violins and trumpet initiate a fugato that builds in intensity and volume. After some development of the material the trumpets and lower brass follow with a canon featuring rhythmic augmentation of the main theme. The texture becomes more complex as additional elements are added, some in contradictory rhythmic patterns, as the fugal texture dissipates. Soon a more peaceful, flowing motif, hinted at earlier, is introduced by the English horn, followed by variants of both themes in the French horn, then trumpet, against a subdued background texture. These two themes are treated in alternation until the counter-subject reappears in stretto. Further development of all three ideas continues, leading to a grand return of the stately opening gestures, but with a remote variant of that theme, which increases in intensity until it stops abruptly. The final Grave section opens with a dramatic statement of anticipation, followed by an ethereal reminiscence of the movement’s various motifs. A series of strident, cataclysmic eruptions follows, in alternation with further hushed reminders of the previous themes in woodwind and brass solos. This alternation suggests a conflict between outbursts of rage and attempts at a self-soothing serenity. After a lengthy trumpet valediction, the symphony comes to a somber conclusion.

Walter Simmons, musicologist and critic, has written extensively on American composers who maintained an allegiance to traditional musical values. He is the editor of a series of books, ‘Twentieth-Century Traditionalists’, published by Rowman and Littlefield. He wrote the first two volumes himself (under the Scarecrow Press imprint): Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (2004), which treated the lives and works of Barber, Bloch, Creston, Flagello, Giannini and Hanson, and Voices of Stone and Steel: The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin (2011). As a staunch advocate of the music of Arnold Rosner, he is deeply familiar with much of his output; he and Rosner were close associates for more than forty years.

ROSNER: Five Ko-Ans for Orchestra; Unraveling Dances; The Parable of the Law

ARNOLD ROSNERFive Ko-ans for Orchestra; Unraveling Dances; The Parable of the Law. Nick Palmer, cond. Christopher Burchett, baritone; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Nick Palmer, cond. TOCCATA T0CC-0464

During his fifty-year compositional career, the American composer Arnold Rosner (1945–2013) produced a body of work that combined diverse influences into a powerful, distinctly personal musical voice. His catalogue comprises compositions in nearly every genre, including three operas, eight symphonies, numerous works for orchestra and wind band, several large-scale choral works and many chamber, solo and vocal pieces.

Rosner’s musical language was founded upon the harmonic and rhythmic devices of the polyphonic music of the Renaissance and early Baroque periods. These roots can be found, to a greater or lesser extent, in virtually all his music. To them he added a free triadicism and exotic modalities, intensified in some works by more contemporary harmonic dissonance, combining this language with the lavish orchestration and emotional drama of late-nineteenth-century Romanticism. What makes Rosner’s music worthy of serious consideration, rather than being merely an integration of earlier styles, is the way he shaped his unusual language to embrace an enormous expressive range – far broader than one might imagine possible – from serene beauty to violent rage. The works featured on this recording reveal, perhaps to a greater extent than any previous recording of his music, the vast range of expression achieved by his remarkable creative personality. And despite its fusion of these seemingly incongruous elements, most of his music is readily accessible even to untutored listeners.

Born in New York City in 1945, Rosner took piano lessons as a boy, and soon developed a voracious interest in classical music. Some sounds in particular appealed to him – juxtapositions of major and minor triads, as well as modal melodies – and before long he was working these sounds into music of his own. His family, fully aware of the remote prospects of success offered by a career in classical music composition, encouraged him to pursue more practical endeavors, and so he attended the Bronx High School of Science, whence he graduated at the age of fifteen, and then New York University with a major in mathematics. But all the while he was composing: sonatas, symphonies, concertos and more – not that anyone was especially interested in hearing the fruits of his labors. His composer-heroes at the time were Hovhaness, Vaughan Williams and Nielsen, and their influence is evident in much of his earlier creative work.

Graduating from NYU before he turned twenty, Rosner then spent a year at the Belfer Graduate School of Science, continuing his studies in mathematics. But, no longer able to resist the inner drive to pursue musical composition as his primary activity, he entered the University of Buffalo the following September, with a major in music composition. This was in 1966, when serialism was the dominant style in university music departments, and young composers were often coerced, directly or indirectly, into adopting it. Rosner often recounted how the Buffalo faculty dismissed his creative efforts with varying degrees of contempt. Later, in describing his educational experience there, he would say that he ‘learned almost nothing’ from these pedants. Although most of his peers capitulated to the pressure to embrace the style du jour, Rosner was adamantly opposed to serialism and stubbornly refused to accept a view of music that violated his most fervently held artistic values. And so, in response, his department repeatedly rejected the large orchestral work he had submitted as his dissertation. Realizing that they would never accept the kind of music he considered meaningful, he gave up the notion of a doctorate in composition, and decided instead to pursue a degree in music theory, with a dissertation – the first ever – on the music of Alan Hovhaness. He completed this task successfully, and in the process became the first recipient of a doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York.

He devoted the rest of his life to writing the music that represented his personal aesthetic ideals, supporting himself through academic positions at colleges in and around the New York City area. His most enduring position was as Professor of Music at Kingsborough Community College (of the City University of New York), which he held for thirty years, until his death. During the course of his compositional career, his musical language gradually expanded from its idiosyncratic and intuitive beginnings, as the mature works on this recording illustrate. Arnold Rosner died in Brooklyn, in 2013, on his 68th birthday.

Rosner composed his Five Ko-ans for Orchestra, Op. 65, in 1976, during what was probably the most fruitful period of his creative life, and it is one of his most important works. A note in the score, provided by Rosner, defines the Zen concept of Ko-an as a “riddle, action, remark, or dialogue not comprehensible by rational understanding but conducive to intense or prolonged meditation (literally, from Chinese Kung-an, ‘public statement’).” The five movements that comprise the work may thus be viewed as musical statements whose meanings may be inferred and understood via intuitive perception. Entitled “Music of Changes,” “Ricercare,” “Ostinato,” “Music of Stillness,” and “Isorhythmic Motet,” the five pieces also serve as representations of five aspects of Rosner’s compositional personality. The first, “Music of Changes,” serves as both an introduction to and a summary of the work, as its eight minutes feature a contrasting array of psychological and musical visions: an eerie evocation of abject terror, ethereal serenity, tightly interwoven polyphony of Medieval martial cast, unearthly inscrutability, delicate folk-like simplicity, swirling gusts of chaos from which emerges a stern chorale, solemn reflection, an aggressive, frantic onslaught of vigorous activity, finally concluding in somber mystery. “Ricercare” is based on a polyphonic style that flourished during the early 1600s. This movement, evocatively spiritual in character, is closest to the origins of Rosner’s style. “Ostinato” (literally, “obstinate”) is built around a consistent, percussively emphatic pattern of crotchets (quarter-notes) in quintuple meter. “Music of Stillness” is a remarkable oasis of mysterious tranquility, centering on an enigmatic phrase that recurs throughout the movement, initially stated by the flute and vibraphone. “Isorhythmic Motet” is based on a technique used in Medieval music which Rosner adapted to his aesthetic needs in several of his works, such as his String Quartet No. 4 and his Cello Sonata No. 2. In essence, his adaptation of the isorhythmic motet comprises variations on a recurrent rhythmic pattern that embraces all the instruments. The rhythms remain unchanged, while the dynamics, pitches, and resulting harmony are altered freely. In this movement the isorhythmic pattern is thirteen measures long, and repeats seven times.

Unraveling Dances, Op. 122, was Rosner’s final orchestral work, composed in 2007. It is almost unique in his output — a high-spirited orchestral showpiece. The distinguished composer Carson Cooman, who was Rosner’s chosen archivist, provided a note that appears in the score: “The inspiration for Unraveling Dances came from both the slow-tempo Spanish/Latin dance of the bolero and Rosner’s own experience with heart arrhythmia. He initially conceived of the idea of an arrhythmic or ‘mad’ bolero in which the basic pulse is not kept completely steady but rather is subjected to a variety of transformations throughout. In the resulting work, the underlying pulse never changes, but the rhythmic groupings continue to get longer and longer, beginning in bars of 3/8 and ending in bars of 7/4.” That is, there are eleven variations of the theme, the meter of each successive variation one quaver (eighth-note) longer than the previous one. Through modal changes, the character of the variations embrace many of Rosner’s favorite compositional inflections, including suggestions of the Renaissance and early Baroque and of Middle-Eastern music, finally introducing a fragment of Ravel’s own Bolero. Much like that piece, “the overall progression of the work moves from the quiet stasis of the beginning to the fierce orchestral grandeur of the end. The title has several layers of meaning: 1) the music unravels with the extra 8th-notes added from one variation to the next; 2) any group of dancers would go crazy if trying to actually dance to it (the composer imagined them ‘unraveling their clothes’); 3) the embedded reference to Ravel, composer of the most famous of orchestral boleros.”

In 1993 Rosner composed a setting for baritone and orchestra of a portion of Franz Kafka’s enigmatic 1915 novel, The Trial, known as “Before the Law.” Rosner’s work is entitled The Parable of the Law, Op. 97, and depicts the quintessentially “Kafka-esque” plight of a man who spends years in senseless futility, awaiting entry to “the Law.” Though the entry door is intended only for him, he is never admitted, until it is finally closed forever. Rosner’s setting captures the futile persistence displayed by the man as he attempts to overcome the senseless refusal of the doorkeeper. The baritone soloist recounts most of the story with the eerily impersonal detachment so characteristic of Kafka’s terrifying tableaux. The work develops several motifs that are stated near the outset. Shortly after the beginning, the primary four-note motif is introduced with subtlety by the lower instruments, followed a few measures later by the horn, then by the clarinet. This motif dominates the work, which maintains a mood of ominous, grim foreboding throughout.

Parable of the Law
Franz Kafka
(translator unknown)

Before the Law there stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country who begs for admittance unto the Law. But then the doorkeeper says that he cannot admit the man at the present time. The man, on reflection asks if he will be allowed, then, to enter later on. “It is possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not at the present time.” Since the door leading into the Law stands open as usual and the doorkeeper steps to one side the man bends down to look; the man bends down to peer into the entrance and when the doorkeeper sees that he laughs and says: “If you’re so strongly tempted, just try to get inside without permission. But note that I am powerful. And I am only the lowliest doorkeeper! From hall to hall, keepers stand at every door, one more powerful than the other. And the sight of the third man is already more than even I can stand.” These are difficulties which the man from the country has not expected to meet. The Law he thinks should be accessible to any man and at all times, but when he looks more closely at the doorkeeper he decides that he had better wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. There he sits waiting for days and years. He makes many attempts to be allowed to enter and wearies the doorkeeper with his importunity. The doorkeeper often engages him in brief conversation asking him about his home and other matters but these questions are put quite impersonally as great men put questions, and they always conclude with the statement that the man cannot be allowed to enter yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, parts with everything he has, however valuable, in the hope of bribing the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts it all, saying, however, as he takes each gift, “I take this only to keep you from feeling that you’ve left something undone.” During all these long years the man watches the doorkeeper almost incessantly. He forgets about all the other doorkeepers and this one seems to him the only barrier between himself and the Law. In the first years he curses his evil fate aloud; later, as he grows older and as he grows childish, he only mutters to himself. Finally his eyes grow dim, and he does not know whether the world is really darkening around him or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. But in the darkness he can now perceive a radiance streaming inextinguishably out from the door of the Law. Now his life is drawing to a close. Before he dies, all that he has experienced during the whole time of his sojourn condenses into one question which he has never yet put to the doorkeeper. He beckons the doorkeeper, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend down so as to hear him, for the difference in size between them has increased very much to the man’s disadvantage. “What do you want to know now?” asks the doorkeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives to attain the Law,” answers the man. “How does it come about then that in all these years no one has come, no one has come seeking admittance but me?” The doorkeeper perceives that the man is nearing his end and that his hearing is failing, and so he bellows in his ear: “No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since this door was intended for you, and only for you. I am now going to shut it.”

Walter Simmons, musicologist and critic, has written extensively on American composers who maintained an allegiance to traditional musical values. He is the editor of a series of books, ‘Twentieth-Century Traditionalists’, published by Rowman and Littlefield. He wrote the first two volumes himself (under the Scarecrow Press imprint): Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (2004), which treated the lives and works of Barber, Bloch, Creston, Flagello, Giannini and Hanson, and Voices of Stone and Steel: The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin (2011). As a staunch advocate of the music of Arnold Rosner, he is deeply familiar with much of his output; he and Rosner were close associates for more than forty years

ROSNER: Violin Sonata No. 1; Bassoon Sonata; Cello Sonata No. 2; Danses a la Mode.

CHAMBER MUSIC BY ARNOLD ROSNER

During his fifty-year compositional career, the American composer Arnold Rosner (1945-2013) produced a body of a work that combined diverse influences into a powerful, distinctly personal musical voice. His catalog contains compositions in nearly every genre, including three operas, eight symphonies, numerous works for orchestra and band, several large-scale choral works, and many chamber, solo, and vocal pieces.Rosner’s musical language was founded upon the harmonic and rhythmic devices of pre-Baroque modal polyphony, and this source can be found, to a greater or lesser extent, in virtually all his music. To this he added a 20th-century freedom of modality and triadicism, intensified in some works by moderate dissonance, combining this harmonic language with the lavish orchestration and emotional drama of 19th-century romanticism. What makes Rosner’s music worthy of serious consideration, rather than being merely an integration of earlier styles, is the way he shaped his unusual language to embrace an enormous expressive range—far broader than one might imagine possible—from serene beauty to violent rage, with many points in between. And despite its fusion of seemingly incongruous elements, most of his music is readily accessible even to untutored listeners.

Born in New York City in 1945, Rosner took piano lessons as a boy, and soon developed a voracious interest in classical music. Certain sounds in particular appealed to him—juxtapositions of major and minor triads, as well as modal melodies—and before long he was working these sounds into music of his own. His family—fully aware of the remote prospects of success offered by a career in classical music composition—encouraged him to pursue more practical endeavors. So he attended the Bronx High School of Science, whence he graduated at the age of 15, and then New York University with a major in mathematics. But all the while he was composing—sonatas, symphonies, concertos, etc.—not that anyone was especially interested in hearing the fruits of his labors. His composer-heroes at the time were Alan Hovhaness, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Carl Nielsen, and their influence is evident in much of his creative work.

Graduating from NYU before he turned 20, Rosner then spent a year at the Belfer Graduate School of Science, continuing his studies in mathematics. But, no longer able to resist the inner drive to pursue musical composition as his primary activity, he entered the University of Buffalo the following September, with a major in music composition. This was 1966, when the serial approach dominated university music departments, and young composers were often coerced into adopting it, either directly or indirectly. Rosner was adamantly opposed to serialism and refused to embrace it. He often recounted how the Buffalo faculty dismissed his creative efforts with varying degrees of contempt. Later, in describing his educational experience there, he wrote that he “learned almost nothing” from these pedants. While his peers may have capitulated to the pressure to embrace the style du jour, Rosner stubbornly refused to accept a view of music that violated his most fervently held artistic values. And so, in response, his department repeatedly rejected the large orchestral work he had submitted as his dissertation. Realizing that they would never accept the kind of music he considered legitimately meaningful, he gave up the notion of a doctorate in composition, and decided instead to pursue a degree in music theory, with a dissertation—the first ever—on the music of Alan Hovhaness. He completed this successfully, and in the process became the first recipient of a doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York.

Rosner devoted the rest of his life to writing the music that represented his personal aesthetic ideals, supporting himself through academic positions at colleges in and around the New York City area. His most enduring position was as Professor of Music at Kingsborough Community College (of the City University of New York), which he held for thirty years, until his death. During the course of his compositional career, his musical language gradually expanded from its idiosyncratic and intuitive beginnings, broadening and deepening its expressive range. Arnold Rosner died in Brooklyn, NY, in 2013, on his 68th birthday.

Rosner composed his Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Op. 18, in 1963, when he was 18 years old. (The Sonata No. 2, dating from 1972, serves alternately as his Sonata for Oboe and Piano.) As with a number of his early works, he later felt that the Sonata No. 1 could be improved without changing its overall character. In undertaking such retrospective revisions, Rosner was somewhat unusual. Many composers revise their works—often after a first performance or in anticipation of a second—shortly after completing them. Revisions much later are less common, as most composers’ styles evolve to the point where they no longer feel comfortable re-entering works from an earlier period. Rosner’s style evolved over time as well, as may be readily gleaned from this recording. But he never repudiated his earlier approach: Hence his revisions remain fully within the language of the original work. For example, when he returned to the Violin Sonata No. 1 more than forty years after completing it, he retained all the original thematic materials, while developing them with greater subtlety and sophistication. But there are no disjunctions in the basic musical language, which remains largely modal and consonant, as was the original version. In this way he was able to retain the freshness and innocence that characterized his earlier music, while providing a developmental complexity that gives the music added depth and interest. He dedicated the revised version to Emily Adele Vanderwerf, whose father had written the first academic dissertation on Rosner’s music.The first public performance of either version of Rosner’s Violin Sonata No. 1 did not take place until 2014, at a memorial concert in New York City on the first anniversary of his death. The violinist was Owen Dalby and the pianist was Margaret Kampmeier.

Rosner often asserted that his music was not “tonal,” by which he meant that he rejected the notion of “functional tonality,” i.e., the traditional view applied to 18th- and 19th-century music that tonality served as a primary unifying device within which deviations from the tonal center were understood as fundamental elements of a work’s structure. Most of Rosner’s music displays tonal centers that modulate freely throughout a composition without serving such structural functions. In his earlier works especially, some movements exhibit a central tonic, while others do not. The Violin Sonata No. 1 is an especially clear illustration of this. The vigorous first movement, Allegro molto, is freely modal and largely consonant, featuring the use of unrelated triads that was an enduring element of Rosner’s style. The movement is structured as a modified sonata allegro. Though it begins with a suggestion of D Dorian, that mode is contradicted freely by the second measure. This first theme introduces a profusion of motifs that provide the main material of the movement. A second theme is briefly suggested, introduced by sequences of perfect fourths, but the development focuses primarily on the motifs within the first theme. A third thematic idea characterized by repeated quarter-notes is introduced during the development. The recapitulation features the first theme in rhythmic augmentation in the piano, while the violin continues developing the movement’s main motivic material, until the final cadence in C-sharp.The second movement, Lento, is fervently lyrical and somewhat solemn in character. Most notable is an emphasis on the major-minor dichotomy, another harmonic feature that may be found in Rosner’s music throughout his oeuvre. The opening melody, freely modal, is accompanied by triads and perfect fifths, lending a slightly religious quality. A series of bell-like notes in the piano introduces a more unstable second section that ends with bell-like notes in the violin. The melody from the first section returns with a more elaborate accompaniment, followed by a return of the second section material, also accompanied by more active figuration. This pattern continues during a final restatement of the opening material. Major-minor conflicts recur throughout the movement, which largely maintains a modal tonality of C.  

The finale, Allegro, is suggestive of a spirited tarantella, as the unaccompanied violin introduces the main theme in G. The piano enters, abruptly shifting the tonality to the remote key of C-sharp. The material undergoes continual development during which the violin remains active while the piano accompanies with mostly open fifths. A second section, maintaining the C-sharp tonality, features a more subdued melody in the violin, while the piano now takes a more active role, drawing upon the first theme. This is followed by a development of both thematic ideas, often combined together. A coda accelerates the tempo, pressing forward to an emphatic conclusion, re-affirming the tonality of G.

Rosner composed Danses à la mode, Op. 101, in 1994, dedicating it to his friend Jan Naigus. In a note printed in the score, Carson Cooman comments that Rosner taught a variety of music courses during his years as a professor, including ethnomusicology. This latter experience led him to explore the music of a variety of countries and ethnicities, contributing to an already fledgling interest in the music of other cultures. These explorations found their way into some of his compositions, such as Danses à la mode. The title has something of a double meaning, referring on the one hand to the use of modal scales common to much ethnic music as well as to his own music. On the other hand it also alludes to his “lifelong interest in all matters culinary.”

Cooman notes, “The first movement À la Greque is in a fast 7/8 meter, with inflections characteristic of Greek folk music. Even before his teaching days, Rosner was interested in Indian music, and its influence appeared in a few of his compositions, including the second movement of this suite, as well as the concert band work RAGA!. a more extended exploration of the raga concept. The third movement, Sarabande, pays homage to the Baroque dance form. Musique du Nord evokes Scandinavian dance music.”The first performance of Danses à la mode was given by David Cowley in 1995, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as part of a festival devoted to Rosner’s music.

Rosner composed quite a number of sonatas and related works for solo instrument with piano. In fact, most standard instruments are represented among these pieces, and they comprise some of his most serious, deeply searching compositions. These works often sandwich a lighter, scherzo-like movement between two movements of somber, brooding character, and that is the case with the Sonata for Bassoon and Piano, Op. 121, composed in 2006. Compared with the light-hearted exuberance of the First Violin Sonata, the Bassoon Sonata—one of Rosner’s last works—maintains a mood of sober reflection throughout, even during the faster central movement. The work as a whole indicates the extent to which the composer’s language had expanded during his later years to embrace considerable tonal freedom.

The first movement, Adagio, opens with an unaccompanied line in the bassoon—highly chromatic, but not a 12-tone row by any means. This solo line embraces a number of short intervallic motifs that provide the source material for the movement—most prominently, a minor second and three scale-steps, both ascending and descending. (These motifs will appear prominently in all three movements.) Though the opening line suggests a tonal center of G, this is of little consequence. The piano enters, addressing the intervallic motifs and engaging them in counterpoint with the bassoon, while also providing an accompaniment largely of open fifths and triads. A continuous development follows with wandering tonality and soon the tempo quickens. This builds to something of a climax, followed by a return to the original tempo, as the bassoon clearly re-states a variant of the opening solo line, leading the movement to an unambiguous ending in D.

The second movement serves as a scherzo, marked Allegro energico ma serioso, although, as the marking indicates, the character of the movement is far from jocular. While mostly in 6/8 meter, there is much use of hemiola (“three against two”). The movement opens with arpeggiated open fifths in the piano with a tonality of G, followed by a stepwise rising and falling motif in the bassoon. Within this is incorporated a rising half-step figure that was a prominent motif in the first movement, treated here as an essential element as well, appearing in both ascending and descending forms. The movement unfolds as a free development of these ideas tossed back and forth chromatically between the two instruments, finally reaching a decisive conclusion in A.The third movement, Lento, is rather unusual in structure. It begins with a solemn solo in the bassoon, chromatic but suggesting a tonic of E-flat. Prominent in this solo are the rising and falling minor seconds that played a role in both previous movements. This solo is answered as a canon at the fourth treated in three voices, followed by a development of the motifs introduced thus far, with special attention to the rising and falling minor seconds. As the movement begins to draw to a close there is a reminiscence of the canon material, now abbreviated, in the piano, while further development gradually leads to a quiet conclusion in B-flat major-minor.The premiere of the Bassoon Sonata was given by the duo who perform it here, at the aforementioned memorial concert in 2014.

Rosner composed his Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, “La Divina Commedia,” Op. 89, in 1990. (The Sonata No. 1 had been composed in 1968; Maxine Neuman was the cellist for both its premiere and its first recording.) The work did not originally have a subtitle. The reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy was added several years later. Rosner left no information explaining his subtitle, so the listener is free to imagine what the connection might be.The first movement, Adagio, is an isorhythmic motet. This is a musical form that flourished during the Medieval Period, and one that Rosner used in several of his works, most notably the second movement of his String Quartet No. 4. As applied by the composer, a musical phrase is presented by all the instruments involved, each instrument contributing its own part. The rhythm of this phrase is then repeated over and over by the instrumental unit, while the actual pitches differ with each repetition. Hence it is easy not to realize that one is hearing repetitions of a single composite rhythmic pattern. In the case of the movement at hand, the phrase consists of ten measures, and is repeated ten times. The overall character of the music is rather severe—extremely so for Rosner, and the basic phrase is quite complicated rhythmically, harmonically, contrapuntally, and dramatically. Although the movement maintains an overall tonality of C, the elaboration is freely chromatic.  The second movement, Moderato, con rubato, is also unusual: a modal incantation of vaguely Middle-Eastern character (melismatic melody in the cello accompanied by open fifths in the piano, with roles reversed in the first return, and combined in the final return), heard in alternation with brief quasi-Renaissance dance episodes. The movement maintains a tonality of D, with modulations to the keys of A and C-sharp.

The finale, Allegro, is exuberant in character, with a formal structure that suggests sonata allegro but with only one theme group. Opening vigorously in G, the movement promptly introduces two main motifs, which permeate the movement while spinning off several subordinate motifs. The first main motif leaps up a perfect fourth, then turns back to where it started. The second main motif is focused on a descending stepwise triplet that repeats insistently. Both these motifs, along with related subordinate motifs, are subjected to extensive development, as triplet rhythmic figures propel the movement forward. Finally there is a recapitulation of the opening statement followed by further development. A coda leads to a decisive final cadence in G.

The premiere of the Cello Sonata No. 2 was given in 1991in New York City. The cellist was Dorothy Lawson and the pianist was Elena Belli. Rosner felt that the finale  was appealing enough in its own right that he planned to orchestrate it as an autonomous piece. He found the opportunity when he was commissioned in 1999 to write a piece to celebrate the approaching Millennium. He entitled the result A Millennium Overture.   

Walter Simmons, musicologist and critic, has written extensively on American composers who maintained an allegiance to traditional music values. He is the editor of a series of books, “Twentieth-Century Traditionalists”, published by Rowman and Littlefield. He wrote the first two volumes himself (under the Scarecrow Press imprint): Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (2004), which treated the lives and works of Barber, Bloch, Creston, Flagello, Giannini, and Hanson, and Voices of Stone and Steel: The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin (2011). As a staunch advocate of the music of Arnold Rosner, he is deeply familiar with much of his output; he and Rosner were close associates for more than forty years.

Curtis Macomber is considered one of the most versatile violinists before the public today, equally at home in repertoire from Bach to Babbitt. His playing has been praised recently by the New York Times for its “thrilling virtuosity” and by Strad Magazine for its “panache”;  as a member of the New World String Quartet from 1982-93, he performed in virtually all the important concert series in the United States, as well as touring abroad. Mr. Macomber has for many years been recognized as a leading advocate of the music of our time. He has performed in hundreds of premieres, commissions, and first recordings of solo violin and chamber works by, among others, Carter, Davidovsky, Perle, Wuorinen, and Mackey. He is the violinist of Speculum Musicae and the Da Capo Chamber Players, and a founding member of the Apollo Trio.  His most recent recordings include: a solo recording (“Casting Ecstatic”), on CRI; the complete Grieg Sonatas on Arabesque; an all Steve Mackey record (“Interior Design”) on Bridge, and the complete Brahms Sonatas, also for Bridge.  Mr. Macomber is presently a member of the chamber music faculty of the Juilliard School, where he earned B.M., M.M., and D.M.A. degrees as a student of Joseph Fuchs. He is also on the violin faculties of the Manhattan and Mannes Schools of Music, and has taught at the Tanglewood, Taos and Yellow Barn Music Festivals.

Maxine Neuman is a cellist whose solo and chamber music career spans North and South America, Europe, and Asia. A grant recipient from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts and a shared Grammy Award winner, her biography appears in Who’s Who in the World. She’s a founding member of the Claremont Duo, Duo Cellissimo, the Crescent String Quartet, and the Belmont Trio, groups with which she has traveled and recorded extensively. She has appeared as soloist before a sold-out audience in New York’s Town Hall in the American premiere of Giovanni Battista Viotti’s only cello concerto, and for Austrophon, she recorded Schumann’s Cello Concerto in Count Esterhazy’s historic palace in Austria. She has also been heard in such diverse settings as the Montreux Jazz Festival, films of Jim Jarmusch, with Metallica and the Ron Carter Jazz Nonet. A longtime champion of contemporary music, she has commissioned and premiered works by many of today’s leading composers. Distinguished as a teacher as well as performer, Ms. Neuman has served as a juror for numerous international competitions, and she has taught at Bennington College, Williams College and C.W. Post University. She is on the faculty at New York’s School for Strings and Hoff-Barthelson Music School. Her cello is a J.B. Guadagnini, dating from 1772. A friend of Arnold Rosner for almost 50 years, she gave the first performance and made the first recording of his Cello Sonata No. 1, as well as this first recording of his Cello Sonata No. 2.

David Richmond is a bassoonist who has performed with orchestras, on chamber music programs, and in solo performances in North America, Europe, and Africa. A member of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra in Sarasota, Florida, he has also performed with orchestras throughout greater New England, including with A Far Cry, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Odyssey Opera, the Monadnock Music Festival, the Boston Pops, and the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra. In addition to this recording, he may be heard on the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s 2016 recording of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. In November 2016, Mr. Richmond was featured soloist with the Nairobi Orchestra in Kenya, and has spent increasing time in Nairobi, introducing young Kenyans to the bassoon and sharing his love of music with that city’s rapidly growing community of classical musicians. Mr. Richmond received his master’s degree in bassoon performance from the Rice University Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Benjamin Kamins. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, he graduated from Harvard College with a degree in music, and also studied bassoon privately with George Sakakeeny on a Paine Fellowship from the Harvard music department. Mr. Richmond gave the first performance of Rosner’s Sonata for Bassoon and Piano.

Margaret Kampmeier enjoys a varied career as piano soloist, collaborative artist and educator. Equally fluent in classical and contemporary repertoire, she has concertized and recorded extensively. She has appeared with the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic Ensembles, Kronos Quartet, Saratoga Chamber Players, Sherman Chamber Ensemble, Richardson Chamber Players, Mirror Visions Ensemble, Locrian Chamber Players and Peter Schickele. As orchestral keyboardist, she performs regularly with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and is a frequent guest of the New York Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. As a recording artist, Ms. Kampmeier can be heard on the Albany, Centaur, CRI, Koch, Nonesuch, and Bridge labels. She teaches piano and chamber music at Princeton University and is Chair and Artistic Director of the Contemporary Performance Program at the Manhattan School of Music. She has given lecture-recitals on a wide range of topics including, Preludes and Fugues through the Ages, Contemporary Keyboard Techniques, and Piano Music of Women Composers. She holds a doctorate from SUNY Stony Brook, where she studied with esteemed pianist Gilbert Kalish. She has both performed and recorded a great deal of music by Arnold Rosner, including serving as accompanist on a recording of his complete vocal music.

Carson Cooman is one of the most remarkable figures on the music scene today. He is active as a pianist as well as an organist, specializing in the performance of contemporary music. More than 150 new compositions by composers from all over the world have been written for him, and his organ performances can be heard on a number of CD recordings. He is also a composer whose catalog numbers more than a thousand works embracing a wide range of forms and styles—from solo instrumental pieces to operas, and from orchestral works to hymn tunes. His music has been performed on all six inhabited continents in venues that range from the stage of Carnegie Hall to the basket of a hot air balloon. His music appears on more than forty recordings, including more than twenty complete CDs on the Naxos, Albany, Artek, Gothic, Divine Art, Métier, Diversions, Convivium, Altarus, MSR Classics, Raven, and Zimbel labels. Cooman is also a writer on musical subjects, producing articles and reviews for a number of international publications. He serves as an active consultant on music business matters to composers and performing organizations, specializing particularly in the area of composer estates and archives. He is an avid admirer of the music of Arnold Rosner, with whom he developed a close relationship during the elder composer’s final years. Rosner chose him to be the curator of his musical archive.

ROSNER: Piano Concerto No. 2; Gematria; Six Pastoral Dances; From the Diaries of Adam Czerniakow

ROSNER: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Peter Vinograde, piano); Gematria; Six Pastoral Dances; From the Diaries of Adam Czerniakow (Peter Riegert, speaker)London Philharmonic; David Amos, cond.  TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC-0368

Liner Notes

During his fifty-year compositional career, the American composer Arnold Rosner produced a body of a work that combined diverse influences into a powerful, distinctly personal musical voice. His catalog contains compositions in nearly every genre, including three operas, eight symphonies, numerous works for orchestra and band, several large-scale choral works, and many chamber, solo, and vocal pieces.

Rosner’s musical language was founded upon the harmony and rhythmic devices of pre-Baroque modal polyphony. To this he added a 20th-century freedom of modality and triadicism, and combined this harmonic language with the orchestration, drama, and scope of 19th century romanticism. What makes Rosner’s music worthy of serious consideration, rather than being merely a homogenization of earlier styles, is the way he shaped his unusual language to embrace an enormous expressive range—far broader than one might imagine possible—from serene beauty to violent rage, with many points in between. And despite its fusion of seemingly incongruous elements, most of his music is readily accessible even to untutored listeners. This remarkable expressive range is well illustrated by the four works presented here.

Born in New York City in 1945, Rosner took piano lessons as a boy, and soon developed a voracious interest in classical music. Certain sounds in particular appealed to him—juxtapositions of major and minor triads, as well as modal melodies—and before long he was working these sounds into music of his own. His family—fully aware of the remote prospects of success offered by a career in classical music composition—encouraged him to pursue more practical endeavors. So he attended the Bronx High School of Science, whence he graduated at the age of 15, and then New York University with a major in mathematics. But all the while he was composing—sonatas, symphonies, concertos, etc.—not that anyone else was especially interested in hearing the fruits of his labors. His composer-heroes at the time were Alan Hovhaness, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Carl Nielsen, and their influence is evident in much of his creative work.

Graduating from NYU before he turned 20, Rosner then spent a year at the Belfer Graduate School of Science, continuing his studies in mathematics. But, no longer able to resist the inner drive to pursue musical composition as his primary activity, he entered the University of Buffalo the following September, with a major in music composition. This was 1966, when the serial approach dominated university music departments, and young composers were often coerced into adopting it, either directly or indirectly. Rosner was adamantly opposed to serialism and refused to embrace it. He often recounted how the Buffalo faculty dismissed his creative efforts with varying degrees of contempt. Later, in describing his educational experience there, he wrote that he “learned almost nothing” from these pedants. While his peers may have capitulated to the pressure to embrace the style du jour, Rosner stubbornly refused to accept a view of music that violated his most fervently held artistic values. And so, in response, his department repeatedly rejected the large orchestral work he had submitted as his dissertation. Realizing that they would never accept the kind of work he considered legitimately meaningful, he gave up the notion of a doctorate in composition, and decided instead to pursue a degree in music theory, with a dissertation—the first ever—on the music of Alan Hovhaness. He completed this successfully, and in the process became the first recipient of a doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York.

Rosner devoted the rest of his life to writing the music that represented his personal aesthetic ideals, supporting himself through academic positions at colleges in and around the New York City area. His most enduring position was as Professor of Music at Kingsborough College (of the City University of New York), which he held for thirty years, until his death. During the course of his compositional career, his musical language gradually expanded from its idiosyncratic and intuitive beginnings, broadening and deepening its expressive range. Arnold Rosner died in Brooklyn, NY, in 2013, on his 68th birthday.

Rosner composed his Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 30, in 1965, shortly after graduating from NYU, and before receiving professional instruction in composition. As such it is an excellent representation of the roots of his musical language; it is also quite unlike any other piano concerto in the literature. Among its unusual features are its use of a scherzo as an opening movement, its lack of focus on virtuoso showmanship, and its avoidance of the sense of opposition between soloist and orchestra that characterizes the standard concerto. Instead it is dominated by melody—melody that resembles no other music, yet is readily accessible, irresistibly memorable, and instantly identifiable for those familiar with his music. 

The first movement, Scherzo: Allegro, is oriented in the key of G, with a strongly mixolydian flavor, and conveys a sense of joyful exuberance. The harmonic language is almost completely consonant, with interest generated by a free use of chromatically-related triads. Although the movement begins softly, its volume level reaches considerable peaks. This opening section is followed by a Trio: Allegretto. Relatively subdued at first, this section is based on a modal melody that hovers around G minor, and reveals some intervallic reminiscence of the scherzo melody. The tempo presses forward as a variant of the melody leads to a huge climax. A hushed transition then leads to a re-statement of the scherzo.

The second movement, Largo, begins very slowly and softly with another melody, again largely consonant, but in constantly-shifting modes. This melody is developed contrapuntally, and some striking major-minor dissonances are heard as it proceeds. Its serene, almost religious, character is transformed as the movement builds toward a gigantic climax with violent tone-clusters in the piano. As the climax recedes, the movement concludes as it began, in quiet serenity.

The third movement, Presto, returns to the lively, high-spirited tone of the opening movement. A loose rondo design, it is based on a syncopated modal melody that hovers around a tonal center of E. A secondary melody of similar character follows, leading back to a variant of the initial theme in triplet figuration. The solo piano introduces a second section, with a ponderous theme in triple meter, strongly related to the main theme of the first movement. Once this theme reaches a climax, a transition leads to a modified return of the first section, which then evolves into a variant of delicately ethereal character, featuring a continuous pattern of arpeggios in the piano’s high register. A fragment of the theme highlights its major-minor features in thundering octaves and triads. This builds to what feels like the work’s final peroration, as the delicate variant heard earlier is now stated with monumental grandeur. The movement’s main theme returns briefly in a form similar to its initial statement before leading to a coda based on yet another variant of the theme, which builds once again to a grandiloquent conclusion.

When the opportunity for a performance of one of his earlier works appeared, Rosner would typically review it to eliminate impracticalities and other symptoms of his inexperience. For this reason, before this concerto was recorded, composer-organist Carson Cooman edited it to adjust details of orchestration and piano figuration. 

Rosner composed a number of works that suggest the spirit of music from the Elizabethan period, such as his Five Meditations, Op. 36, and A Gentle Musicke, Op. 44. These have become among his most popular compositions. Six Pastoral Dances, Op. 40, scored for woodwind quartet plus strings, mines a similar vein, while incorporating a few distinctly modern touches. The opening “Intrada” sets the Elizabethan tone. The “Waltz” that follows is built upon a slightly mischievous melody heard first in the clarinet. In the middle a distinctly Rosnerian use of chromatically related triads is heard. The stately “Pavana” is richly polyphonic, with much use of suspensions and appoggiaturas that resolve in a manner reminiscent of music from the 17th century. The movement concludes with some piquant chromatic dissonances. The “Gigue,” is built around continuous triplet patterns, and is probably the movement with the most modern flavor, featuring perky dissonances and unorthodox parallelisms. However, the central section brings forth a more strongly Elizabethan touch. The final cadence is quite uncharacteristic for the composer, ending quizzically on a sub-dominant triad in second inversion. The warmly polyphonic “Sarabande” returns to the spirit of a 17th-century motet, leading directly into the finale, “Galliard and Reprise.” This lively movement begins with the composer’s characteristic treatment of triadic consonance, leading directly into a triumphant but abbreviated restatement of the opening “Intrada.” Six Pastoral Dances was composed in 1968, and was first performed the following year by the Bronx Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Michael Spierman, to whom it is dedicated.

Conductor David Amos discovered Rosner’s music during the early 1980s, and soon became one of his most vigorous champions. Conducting the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Amos led the first recording of Rosner’s orchestral music. Between 1986 and 1993 he commissioned four works from the composer, each of which he premiered with his own Tifereth Israel Orchestra of San Diego. The first of these was From the Diary of Adam Czerniakow, Op. 82. As will be evident to the listener, this work represents considerable maturation of Rosner’s musical language. He provided the following note, included at the front of the score:

Adam Czerniakow was the chairman of the Judenrat, or Jewish local government in the Warsaw ghetto from 1939 (the beginning of the German occupation and administration of the ghetto) until 1942 when he took his own life during the time of mass deportation of the population to death camps in the east. In this capacity, Czerniakow kept a secret diary which recounts considerable detail about the ghetto and its history, and also reveals the growing awareness and torment in Czerniakow himself as the Nazis moved deviously, carefully, and inexorably towards including the Jews of Poland in the “final solution.”

The unique artistic opportunity conveyed by the Diaries is its combination of two otherwise irreconcilable perspectives—the viewpoint of a mass of victims, which portrays the magnitude of the events, and that of a single tragic individual, which better portrays the human pathos of those events. Czerniakow was, after all, both a very tortured victim in his own right, and in a very real sense, a conduit—sometimes in spite of himself—between the oppressors and the thousands of Jewish victims in occupied Poland.

The work … is scored for full orchestra and one narrator, reading Czerniakow’s words. These diary entries are spoken only; there is no singing in the entire piece. The music is in one continuous movement, befitting something of an extended stream of consciousness, and the actual style migrates from symphonic, to coloristic, to cantorial, according to the spirit of the historical events.

The English translation of Czerniakow’s material was made by Raul Hilberg and Stanislaw Staron, in collaboration with Josef Kermisz of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The composer has applied for and received permission from all of these for the use of the material…. [The text has been further edited for concision by Walter Simmons.]

The first performance of this work took place in 2010. The score bears a dedication to Lee and David Amos.

The second of the Amos commissions is Gematria, Op. 93. During the early 1980s Rosner began exploring an approach he called stile estatico. Partly influenced by the “minimalism” that had become a popular style among living composers, but which Rosner felt was not sufficiently developed by any of its most prominent practitioners, stile estatico entails the simultaneous use of multiple ostinati. But these repeated ostinato patterns each follows a rhythmic cycle of its own, and are thus of different durations; hence the patterns overlap each other, as each starts and stops at different points. While these ostinati are unfolding, a more distinctive element may appear in the foreground. Gematria, composed in 1991, is probably the work in which Rosner employed the stile estatico most fully and with the greatest complexity. Of course the greatest challenge in composing a piece of this kind is to achieve meaningful overall coherence as each ostinato pattern repeats according to its own individual rhythmic cycle. In a note that appears in the score, Rosner writes:

Although found elsewhere, Gematria is most fully developed as an esoteric aspect of Judaism, particularly of Kabbalah mysticism. Numbers are systematically substituted for letters, resulting in complex hidden ideas, cross-references and double-meanings in otherwise apparently straightforward texts. This work does not apply a similarly schematic approach to music, but attempts a fitting mood and richness by means of complicated cross-rhythmic overlays of colors and harmonies. This work was commissioned by David Amos and the Tifereth Israel Orchestra of San Diego.

The premiere of Gematria took place in 1992. The work is dedicated to the members of the Tifereth Israel Orchestra of San Diego.

Arnold Rosner (1945-2013)

American composer Arnold Rosner died in his Brooklyn apartment on his 68th birthday, November 8, 2013. Rosner was born in New York City, where his father owned a candy store. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, NYU, and the University of Buffalo, where he earned the first doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York. Rosner had been on the faculty of Kingsborough Community College (CUNY) for several decades. He leaves behind a sister, Irene.

Rosner was one of the true maverick composers of his generation. In some ways it is easier to define his approach to music by what he shunned than by what he embraced. Rosner rejected all the compositional styles that seized the limelight during the course of his career. Though in many ways a staunch traditionalist, he didn’t align himself with more conservative approaches either. While he decried what he saw as the sterility of the serialists and the experimentalists, as well as the mindlessness of the minimalists, he also loathed the sentimentality of the neo-romantics and the dry formalism of the neo-classicists. He developed his vision of a musical ideal around the time he entered high school, and, though he refined and elaborated this vision throughout his life, he never repudiated it, and paid a significant price for his stubborn adherence to it.

Rosner’s music was predicated on the modal polyphony of the Renaissance and early Baroque, as well as on the pre-tonal harmony of late Medieval dance music, and the free triadicism and rhythmic phraseology of that music underlay his entire output, regardless of how far from those sources he ventured. He saw a world of difference between the free triadicism of, say, Monteverdi or Gesualdo, and the major-minor dualism of Classical 18th-century tonality, which he despised and found insipid.  He seasoned these rather austere elements with a pinch of Judaica, and combined them with the rich luxuriance of 19th-century orchestration and a Romantic sense of drama. In some works he displayed a Hindemithian vigor and in others the stark brutality of Shostakovich. These basic elements may seem antithetical to each other in many ways, but therein lies the remarkable individuality of Rosner’s music. When he discovered pieces such as the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams, Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness, the symphonies of Carl Nielsen, and the Eleventh Symphony of Shostakovich, he regarded them as precedents that justified the ideal vision he sought to realize. But what makes Rosner’s music worthy of serious consideration, rather than being merely a homogenization of earlier styles, is the way that his unusual language is capable of embracing an enormous expressive range—far broader than one might imagine possible—from serene beauty to violent rage, with many points in between. And despite its fusion of seemingly incongruous elements, most of his music is readily accessible to even untutored listeners.

Fiercely independent, Rosner shunned any of the institutions or organizations with which he might have aligned himself. Although he earned his living in an academic setting, he never took advantage of the opportunities open to academic composers. As desperately as he sought acceptance, he would have it only on his own terms. Without his cultivating opportunities for performance, his music initially attracted the attention of only a small number of equally independent-minded musicians and music lovers. As the years passed, his works gained no foothold within the world of professional musicians, and he became increasingly embittered. Deciding simply to bypass the conventional music institutions, he began to produce recordings of his music and make them available to the public. These recordings, where a sizable portion of his output may be heard, were highly praised by most of the review media, and Rosner began to develop a modest following of committed enthusiasts who recognized the value of his unique voice.

Rosner’s final output comprises more than a hundred compositions: three operas, eight symphonies, six string quartets, three a cappella Mass settings and a large Requiem Mass, three piano sonatas, and a host of other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. Two of his symphonies have been released by Naxos, and six CDs of his music can be found on the Albany label. At the time of his death he was in the middle of a project with the University of Houston Wind Ensemble to record all his music for wind band. Performance materials for Rosner’s music are available from Carson Cooman, www.carsoncooman.com.

Link: http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/in-memoriam-arnold-rosner-1945-2013/

Second Interview with Arnold Rosner

Arnold Rosner is one of the most unusual and fascinating American composers of his generation. Born in New York City in 1945, to a culturally unsophisticated family (his father ran a candy store in northern Harlem), he took piano lessons as a boy—as did so many Jewish boys his age—although he did not especially enjoy the routine of practicing. But he did get hooked on classical music. Certain sounds in particular appealed to him—especially juxtapositions of major and minor triads—and before long he was working these sounds into music of his own. His family—fully aware of the remote prospects of success offered by a career in classical music—did little to encourage these efforts. So he attended the Bronx High School of Science, and then New York University as a math major. But all the while he was composing—sonatas, symphonies, concertos, etc.—not that anyone was especially interested in hearing the fruits of his labors, other than he. His composer-heroes at the time were Alan Hovhaness, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Carl Nielsen, and their influence on his early creative work was readily apparent. 

Graduating from NYU before he turned 20, he then spent a year at the Belfer Graduate School of Science, continuing his studies in mathematics. The following September he entered the University of Buffalo with a major in music composition. This was 1966, when the serial approach dominated university music departments, and young composers were essentially coerced into adopting it (although in retrospect some of these academicians have rather disingenuously attempted to pretend that this was never the case). Rosner was subjected to the tutelage of Leo Smit, Lejaren Hiller, Henri Pousseur, and Allen Sapp, who dismissed his creative efforts with varying degrees of contempt. In describing his educational experience at Buffalo, Rosner has written that he “learned almost nothing” from these pedants. While his fellow composition students may have caved in to the pressure to embrace the style du jour, Rosner stubbornly refused to accept a view of music that violated his most fervently held artistic values. And so, responding as do most totalitarian academic regimes to those who refuse to conform to approved doctrine, his department rejected the work he had submitted as his dissertation: a composition for orchestra entitled Perchance to Dream, which has yet to be performed. Realizing that they would never accept the kind of work he considered legitimately meaningful, he gave up the notion of a doctorate in composition, and decided instead to pursue a degree in music theory, with a dissertation—the first ever—on the music of Alan Hovhaness. He completed this successfully, and in the process became the first recipient of a doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York. 

It was around this time—as a result of our shared interest in Hovhaness—that I met Rosner and became acquainted with his music. At this point none of it had been performed, aside from a few unrehearsed readings provided grudgingly by friends and acquaintances. But I and some of his other friends saw value in his work, and, in fact, recognized in it a unique creative voice. We attempted to draw attention to it among active professionals, and during the 1970s and 80s, little by little his music began to be heard. Reactions to his work have ranged from those who have found it derivative and simplistic, to others who find it utterly unique, profound, and spiritually exalted.

In 1991, after the first recordings of his work had been released, I interviewed Rosner for Fanfare (14:5). More than two decades have passed since that interview, many more recordings have appeared, many more listeners have become acquainted with his music, and it seems an appropriate time to revisit the careerof Arnold Rosner, now 67 years old.


Well, it’s been more than twenty years since we sat down for our previous Fanfare interview. I guess the first question is: What has happened during the past 20 years?

I continued to compose until recently, I try to get my music “out there”—through live performances, publications, and recordings in whatever the current listening medium may be. (I still compose with pen and paper—a few of us notate music that way instead of on computer. Our friends think we are insane.) Lately I have been trying to sort through stacks of papers in an attempt to create an organized archive, so that if there is interest in the music in the future, it will be there. Every composer has to go through this though we rarely talk about it. One can become obsessive about it, even having a “doomsday” feeling. For me the greatest fear is the possibility that some works may simply not exist in 100 years. Imagine a symphony being sent from Prague to Vienna before modern printing or computers, and somehow all written traces were lost in limbo. (It is said that Dvořák lost a symphony this way. When asked what he did about it he shrugged, “I wrote a new symphony.” More recently Alan Hovhaness left a new guitar concerto in a New York taxicab and it was never recovered.)

Do you feel that your music has gained any “traction,” so to speak, with the public during the past 20 years?

  It’s not as though my work hasn’t generated interest to some degree. I would say that my name is in moderate-size letters on a very crowded map. The total number of compositions is 123, and by now about half of them are on CD. Meanwhile, community college teaching has been the full-time day job.

You say you composed until recently?

I stopped at Opus 123 about two years ago. I signed nothing in blood-and-granite, and still have pen, ink, paper, and ruler in case I go back. But I feel promoting and archiving to be more important now, and think that there is something about that approximate number of pieces that more or less “makes the statement” for most composers since Beethoven. After a while one is repeating oneself, technically or spiritually, or a theme is a little too similar to something one has already written. A “macro-composer” like Wagner, Berlioz, or Mahler took fewer works to “say his thing.” As you know, I wrote my PhD dissertation on the music of Hovhaness; there is someone who didn’t know when to put the pen down and take some time off. Milhaud and Villa-Lobos just kept it coming, too. And this writing too much is not only a recent quirk. Do we need, however devout one may be, ALL the Palestrina, Lassus or Victoria masses? And this is without modern recording. So did one ever hear those contrapuntally rich pieces more than once in one’s life?

I would think that this excessive productivity is most flagrant in the cases of Baroque composers like Vivaldi, Telemann, et al.

In numbers of repetitive works you are absolutely right, but the whole late Baroque mentality virtually demanded it. I’ve heard the story—perhaps it’s a myth–that every time a young woman graduated from Vivaldi’s “cappella” school, she was expected to play the solo in a concerto written especially for her?

Have there been any significant recent performances or recordings?

There have been many and sometimes they are very lovingly played and sung, and as well received. Most recently Albany has released a two-disc set of my vocal music, featuring the extraordinary soprano Elizabeth Farnum. And I understand that MSR has just reissued Barbara Harbach’s beautiful performances of two of my works for harpsichord. The first of these, Musique de Clavecin, is a major opus of intensely tragic and even frightening tone—neo-Couperin à la Freud, perhaps. The other, Sonatine d’Amour, is a much gentler, affectionate sibling to it. Also, within the next few months Naxos will be releasing an excellent performance of “Trinity”—my Symphony No. 8. Nevertheless, these would have to be considered “medium visibility” efforts. High-end musical organizations may deserve some blame but some sympathy too—so many of them are going broke.

Have any of your pieces achieved any sort of popularity or public identity?

In concert halls, I’m afraid not. But on radio, and with “streaming audio,” it’s a strange new world. Fanfare readers may or may not realize that there are now data bases of recommended classical pieces available on CD, suggested for broadcast. These lists are selected by real flesh-and-blood folks and they include CD label, number, and also duration and mood comments. One of my works, A Gentle Musicke, is on such a list. It is played on WQXR in New York, and thus world-wide on “streaming audio,” more than once a month. At the rate it’s going it won’t be long before this piece is half as well-known as Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor or Ravel’s Bolero. Friends and critics have written to remind these data sources that I have 100 more pieces, including 30-40 on CD, but thus far to little or no avail.

In our earlier interview I wrote, “Rosner embraces the sounds of medieval cadences, open fifths, ecclesiastical and middle-Eastern modality, Renaissance polyphony, Elizabethan dances, vigorous neo-Baroque counterpoint, and spacious triadic harmony in the manner of Vaughan Williams.” Would you say that your style or approach has changed in any way since then?

Let me first say that your description of my style in that older interview shows insight and wisdom, but can perhaps be clarified or “fine-tuned.” While both emotional and technical aspects of early music are represented in my music, I rather see myself as part of a 20th-century community that embraces 19th-century artistic values, while continuing to expand the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic language. So I would rather be considered part of one big happy family that also includes composers like, say, Bartók, Prokofiev and Barber, as different as each may be from the other. When my current students ask how this family differs from Webern, Varèse and other such composers—and these are students with no liberal arts background—I shrug and say, “If a glaring wrong note goes by in performance and the audience doesn’t notice, that’s the other family.” 
As to my emphasis on the neo-archaic, let’s go back a few hundred years. When music in our western tradition began to employ harmony and counterpoint, sounds were combined to please the ear, of course. Some remarkably expressive successions of chords were possible—this is apparent from the literature—although the “alphabet” (or “scale”) was only seven notes. The historical period that I’m referring to might be identified as 1364-1611—250 years from Machaut’s Mass to Victoria’s death. 
After that, one can hear a jump in complexity and expression in Monteverdi and Schutz in the early 17th century, expanding the “alphabet” to twelve notes. All that music (what is called the Renaissance and early Baroque) uses remarkably little dissonance. Well, I claim that there is a grand style there that was overlooked, in that period of transition between late Renaissance and early Baroque music, and by “grand” I mean technically, emotionally, and in its colors, however you take that. My work is strongly influenced by that period, and I will admit to being “neo” of that. Remember, Stravinsky said, “If Gesualdo had been recognized when he was alive, the course of music would have been entirely different.”

But later during the 1600s, a tighter, more predictable language began to develop—what we think of as “tonality”—which helps to divide sections, point our ears toward endings, and transitions, and so forth. A piece is “in D minor,” or “in A-Flat Major.” Well, to my ears and mind, that development, most clearly represented by the music of the 18th century, is a step BACKWARDS, because the harmonic structures turned safe and “limited.” But meanwhile, the orchestra evolved, and structures like symphonies and fugues emerged and became dominant. I do not reject these developments.

This is a very unusual perspective. Let me make sure I understand what you’re getting at. You’re saying that you’re particularly interested in the period between 1364 and 1611, but even more so during the period of transition shortly after that, when a “grand” style developed, but was subsequently overlooked. Yet composers like Monteverdi and Schutz and even Gesualdo aren’t exactly esoteric today.

Monteverdi, Schutz and Gesualdo WERE pretty esoteric for long periods of time, but with the advent of recording and the discoveries of people like Nadia Boulanger, Carl Orff, and others, who said, “You know, there’s some remarkable stuff gathering dust on museum and church library shelves,” this music re-surfaced from what was something of a “dark age.” But even before this re-discovery, other composers picked up elements of this “grand” style, in one way or another. You can hear this especially in music of the late 1800s, albeit with greater freedom: more dissonant harmony used tastefully, overlapping chords, and so forth. This “tasteful dissonance” includes some pretty pungent stuff, but it is constructed fairly simply. And voila! A hybrid style begins to develop. Spanning hundreds of years, consider the dissonance that can be found in Gesualdo’s madrigals, or the end of the first movement of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, with its loud E-flat harmonies ramming against pedal D’s. But it’s not all a matter of dissonance. There can be a striking use of consonance within a more modern context that suggests or draws upon that early 17th-century freely chromatic harmony: for example, in the prelude to Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, or “Senza Mama” from Puccini’s Suor Angelica.

This is the musical lineage that I believe my music follows, and places me among the large conservative, “neo-romantic” group of composers. For such composers emotional expression is primary, while the structures and rhetoric of 19th-century music offer the potential for much further expansion. The group of composers I’m describing may find inspiration in Wagner, Debussy, traditional opera, ethnic music, or elsewhere. Your comment years back about my music points to the fact that within a generally neo-romantic aesthetic, I developed what might be call a “neo-1600” perspective, in which a significant source of inspiration is the pre-tonal music of Monteverdi and Schutz. I would object to citing it as a really predominant source, but both emotionally and technically it is a main aspect of who I am compositionally.

What I have attempted to do is to fuse structures and scoring derived from the Romantic period with melody and harmony of the Renaissance and early Baroque. And I am not the only one to do this—there’s a varied crew from Nielsen to Orbón, including examples like Harris’s Third Symphony and Sibelius’s Seventh. One might question whether such composers happened on such non-tonal harmony through their own exploration, or whether they were influenced by, or even knew, the earlier music, or were introduced to it by another individual. (I have heard that Respighi was influenced and inspired by early music as a result of his wife’s bringing it to his attention.)

Would you say that your compositional style has changed over the years?

No, I don’t think so much at all. There is something I call “stile estatico,” or ecstatic style, where I use a complex cross-rhythm or cross-color overlap in some pieces. I sometimes have sections and even whole movements that feature cross-rhythms and irregular combinations of harmony or scoring. Imagine high-register strings moving once per second, trombones once every two seconds, and harp and chimes once every five seconds. Of course, they are often “out of phase” with each other. I try for a colorful texture with high spiritual intent. I first used this technique in 1983, in Of Numbers and of Bells for two pianos. Can it work? Does it work? Those who listen to Of Numbers and of Bells (Albany TROY163) or the “Pythagoras” movement from the upcoming release of my Trinity, can form their own opinions. But still, 90% of my music from the last 20 or 30 years is stylistically much as it was before. Perhaps one might point to some shifts in emphasis on performing media—less a cappella choral music than years back, and more opera and band music of late.

At the time of our previous interview you had completed two works for wind band. I see that you now have eight. To what do you attribute this increased interest in that medium?

One tries any reasonable combination if one feels capable and perceives that there are enough musical and coloristic elements to go around, without every piece sounding the same. I have always categorically rejected electronic and computer music. But the band was something else. I rejected it too, and somewhat snidely at first: “Do real composers write for band?” But more or less simultaneously, just past my 40th birthday three different and unconnected individuals gave me evidence of the real music I had failed to recognize. They were Bob Margolis (former student and now composer and band publisher), Simeon Loring (the conductor of bands at my school), and, of course, yourself. There was no ignoring your combined advice. These works do get performed and one—Trinity, which I mentioned earlier—is about to be released on Naxos, while we are in the planning stages of an all-Rosner disc to include the other seven.

In our previous interview you spoke of having had to battle the serialists when you were in graduate school. But at the time we spoke, you felt that the minimalists had replaced the serialists, and that they were no better. Yet this “stile estatico,” as you call it, sounds a little like the sort of thing that Steve Reich did with his “phase” pieces. Have you changed your view of minimalism or of its influence over the past two decades?

I feel that such music and hard-line minimalism are an incomplete part of some potentially richer, more complete and varied music. Older Fanfare readers may recall LPs on a label called “Music Minus One,” which contained the orchestral accompaniments to concerted works, in order to facilitate the preparation of soloists learning those works. I find most minimalist “phase” music and all its cousins to be “Music Minus One” scores where the “minus” segment might be a moving chorale or perhaps a songful melody that might ride angelically over a cross-rhythmic, or cross-coloration accompaniment, thereby adding another element to the mix. That is what I try to do in my stile estatico.

But what about composers like John Adams or Jennifer Higdon or Michael Torke—composers who embrace the repetitive textures of minimalism to some extent, but integrate many other kinds of musical ideas into their work? Or that whole European group such as Arvo Pärt and John Tavener and Henryk Górecki, and the many others who have pursued somewhat similar paths? They have embraced a kind of minimalism of tonal materials and rhythmic activity, but without the chattering repetition. These composers seem to be seeking the kind of spiritual elevation or devotional mind-states that you are striving for in your stile estatico. Do you see them as kindred spirits in any way?

I will not make any individual negative statement about any living composer, but I guess I can say that of the six names you mention some are more interesting than others, and among their works some may be more appealing than others. The stile estatico idea may be there in part, and I guess a lot depends on performance. The main voice or voices need to be heard clearly above the minimalist motoric activity.

And what about some of the most recent developments in the contemporary music scene?

I shouldn’t say it but I will: Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

The climate is bad for me—but what is especially disturbing involves some pieces that looked as though they were becoming classics 50 years ago. For a while we were hearing live performances of symphonies by Joonas Kokkonen and Allan Pettersson. The British orchestras might play a symphony of Malcolm Arnold or Robert Simpson. But lately, I heard a broadcast of a live performance by an American orchestra playing Vaughan Williams’s 6th. It sounded very neutral, as if the players had never heard it. Not only that, but it was directly preceded—almost like an introduction—by the Fantasia on “Greensleeves”—an utterly incongruous juxtaposition.

So you’re saying that some of the 20th-century symphonic music that for a while seemed to be gaining a foothold in the repertoire may have fallen by the wayside. But how about within the United States today? We seem to be witnessing a rare period when there are no stylistic “requirements,” so to speak—any kind of music seems to be potentially acceptable.

On the other hand, in re-reading our previous interview, I note one unfortunate development: At that time we spoke of conductors such as Gerard Schwarz, David Amos, and Leonard Slatkin, who were specializing in the American orchestral repertoire. But most recently Schwarz and Slatkin seem to have backed away from this repertoire, and Amos doesn’t seem to do much recording any more. What do you suppose this indicates? It seems to me that Leon Botstein, with his American Symphony Orchestra and his summer program at Bard College, is doing the most intellectually stimulating and musically gratifying programming of anyone on the East Coast of this country.

Botstein certainly deserves high praise not only for his programming attitude, but also for his consistent commitment to it over a period of time. But don’t count the other maestri you mentioned out altogether. Some are in transition, looking for new ensembles, funding, multi-recording projects of one kind or another. I am aware of such plans developing but thus far they are not for open discussion. But the general “unfortunate development” of which you speak still describes the major part of the scene. It is old news and there’s no point in crying in our beer about it, so just a couple of catch phrases capture it for me: technology has replaced thought and humanism; there’s too much background music and not enough foreground music; and finances, finances, finances.

Do you see the Naxos American Classics series and Albany Records as having picked up the slack to some extent?

 Yes, praise is due Klaus. Heymann (and Peter Kermani and Susan Bush at Albany as well), and there are fine lower-profile producers too numerous to mention. 
In the film Other People’s Money, in a corporate proxy battle the Danny DeVito character points out that the surest way to go out of business is to have an INCREASING share of a DECREASING market. Well, what does that imply for both composers and champions of good new music?

That reminds me of a notorious speech given by William Schuman during the mid 1960s, when he was president of Lincoln Center, in which he stated, “Far from having any hope of making money, our task is to lose money wisely.” This attitude eventually led to his forced resignation from his position.

In high places one must be careful what one says that can be quoted out of context. I did not know of the Schuman quotation, but only a week or two ago, Klaus Heymann was interviewed on WWFM and was thus heard streaming anywhere in the world, saying “95% of our releases lose money.” I think that those two quotations–some 50 years apart—are making related—and rather important—points.

In our previous interview you spoke about your frequent use of Christian musical genres and forms despite the fact that you are Jewish. Since that time I notice that you have completed two operas—Bontsche Schweig and Spinoza—both based on Jewish themes. At the same time the piece of yours that seems to have attracted the most attention is your Symphony No. 5, which was composed in 1973, but was released on Naxos American Classics about five years ago (8.559347). That work is fashioned along the lines of a Roman Catholic Mass, but for orchestra only. Has your attitude about Christian musical forms changed in any way?

The European musical palette, from serious Church music with organacantus firmus, to canzonettasand dances, cannot be denied as the basic foundation of mainstream European music for centuries. Many other ethnicities had some delightful modal music, with captivating rhythms, going on “behind closed doors,” so to speak. Ultimately the serious Jewish composer finds himself trapped behind non-traditions. Lighter material is considered frivolous, but more serious music is condemned if it sounds Catholic, yet no other style was acceptable for it. Salamone Rossi finds a small crack to get through, but even as recently as Mendelssohn and Mahler—they both converted—the one writes St. Paul, the other Veni Creator Spiritus. Well, in my view we are all brothers and music is my religion, so I wrote chamber operas on the folk legend of Bontsche Schweig and on the historical situation involving Baruch Spinoza, and about two years ago attended a fine performance in which one Betty Devine conducted the 80-voice Houston Choral Society at a church, in a performance of my Magnificat. All that has never changed. As for the church and our lives, once upon a time all the peace and civil rights rallies were held in churches and temples, but today they are much eclipsed by the “religious right.”

The band work soon to be released by Naxos is your “Trinity.” The title suggests that this is another Christian-oriented work.

In part, but it’s really wider than any one religious viewpoint. The general emotional area is spiritual, even pantheistic. While the first movement is neo-Christian in attitude, the second is Satanic, while the third takes a Pythagorean, Music-of-the-Spheres approach.

In 2006 you wrote an essay on Sequenza 21 called, “The Bicycle Pump” (http://www.sequenza21.com/rosner.html), in which you expressed your feelings about Mozart. Your brief overview of music history earlier clarifies your thoughts somewhat. I gather that the essay generated a great deal of controversy. In retrospect do you regret having written it? What are your thoughts about the controversy?

I should be so lucky as to create “a great deal of controversy.” It got a little Internet blog ripple. The only real negative consequence was that somebody who got to review my next release panned it, basically saying: If that’s what he has to say about Mozart’s music, then so much for his. What happened there was prompted by conductor David Amos who, among other things, edits a column on music for a local newspaper in San Diego. With praise galore for Mozart’s 250th birthday his provocative and novel idea was to get a less positive piece from someone whom he truly respected, who, however, thought Mozart was overrated. Whom did he call? Me. Somehow it got around, Sequenza 21, wherever else. The Internet has its quirks—post something one time, and it appears 101 times, with no control, no editing. As for my thoughts, I have nothing much to add regarding the piece or its content, but could tirade on and on about the Internet.

You mentioned the recent release of a two-CD set on Albany that features your vocal music. Does this comprise your entire solo vocal output?

There are two other vocal sets, on Volumes I and III, respectively, of my chamber music on Albany CDs (TROY163 and TROY553). One is Nightstone—Three Settings from the Song of Songs, and the other is Besos sin Cuento—6 Spanish Songs. The new release has all the rest of my work in the “art song” category.

FLAGELLO Symphony No. 2; Odyssey; Valse Noire; Concerto Sinfonico. ROSNER Symphony No. 7, “Trinity.”

FLAGELLO Symphony No. 2; Odyssey; Valse Noire; Concerto Sinfonico. ROSNER Symphony No. 7, “Trinity.” University of Houston Saxophone Quartet, Wind Ensemble; David Bertman, cond. NAXOS 8.573060

Liner Notes

Nicolas Flagello was one of the 20th century’s leading exponents of traditional late-romantic musical values. He held firmly to this aesthetic throughout his life, forging a personal musical language and a distinctive body of work shaped by his own temperament and embodying his own unique perspective on life.

Born in New York City in 1928, Flagello grew up in a family steeped in music. While still a child, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation and remaining there until 1977. During the early l950s, he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

In addition to composing, Flagello was active as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque period to the 20th century. In 1985 a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994 at the age of 66.

As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. Although this view was unfashionable during his lifetime, more recently his works have begun to win enthusiastic advocacy, as his music is recorded and performed with increasing frequency.

Odyssey was commissioned by Marice Stith and the Cornell University Wind Ensemble, who gave the premiere of the work, under the composer’s direction, in 1981. Odyssey opens with a slow, funereal introduction, which exposes the principal motif, based on the interval of a minor-second. This motif is further explored during the agitated section that follows, during which a subsidiary motif is introduced by the piccolo and the English horn. The subsidiary idea also highlights the interval of a minor-second. After further elaboration of the subsidiary motif, an extended, multisectional development follows. Beginning like a sinister march, the development is swept along by driving triplet figures whose momentum is interrupted several times by references to the brooding introduction. After an elaboration of the two motifs, the energy subsides, leading to a mournful melody introduced by the clarinet. This melody, combining both motifs, builds to a large, climactic statement, in which a suggestion of hope sweetens the prevailing downcast tone. However the grimness returns, casting a shadow over the work’s final chords.

In 1964 Flagello was commissioned to compose a short test piece by the American Accordionists’ Association. He responded with a powerful, tightly-packed work entitled Introduction and Scherzo.Although it has proven to be a valued contribution to the serious accordion repertoire, I felt that its merit transcended its original purpose, and warranted attention beyond the circumscribed community of classical accordionists. In 1984, while Flagello was composing his Concerto Sinfonico, it occurred to me that the saxophone quartet would be an excellent alternative medium for the accordion piece. When I suggested the idea of a transcription to Flagello, he responded favorably, assuring me that he would “get to it” after he finished the Concerto. But by that time a deteriorating neurological condition had advanced to the point where he could no longer work. But the idea continued to haunt me, until, several years later, I undertook the transcription myself, completing it in 1992, and entitling it Valse Noire.

In two sections, the work opens with an aggressively sinister introduction. This leads directly into the “scherzo,” which, though notated largely in 6/8 meter, has the character of a darkly brooding waltz—one of Flagello’s favorite genres. The waltz proper is based on two main thematic ideas, the second of which is hinted at in the introduction. 

Flagello composed his Symphony No. 2, “Symphony of the Winds,” in 1970, but the work did not receive its first public performance until 1979, when it was introduced by the Cornell University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Marice Stith. Flagello’s Symphony No. 1 (Naxos 8.559148), is a monumental tragic-heroic work for full symphony orchestra. For its sequel Flagello decided upon a work of reduced duration for smaller instrumental forces, though with no simplification of aesthetic intent. The ensemble consists of only the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections of the full symphony orchestra—a group of about 25 players that differs considerably from the standard symphonic band.

Symphony of the Winds illustrates the intense emotionalism, often somber and turbulent in character, typical of Flagello’s mature style. The composer provided movement subtitles by way of program notes, which suggest the notion of “winds” as metaphor as well as instrumentation. “I: The torrid winds of veiled portents; II: Dark winds of lonely contemplation; III: The winds of re-birth and vitality.” The first movement, Moderato comodo, introduces two motifs that direct the course of the entire symphony. The first of these is based on the interval of a third, which governs the shape of all subsequent themes. The second motif consists of a descending second followed by a descending larger interval, of varying size. Both these motifs are contained within the exposition of the restless first theme. The presentation of the second theme is marked by an eerie calm, soon replaced by an almost demoniacal starkness. The development treats the material through brief, erratic and rhythmically turbulent episodes, continuing the movement’s tone of nightmarish grotesquerie. 

The second movement, Aria, is built around a gentle, pastoral melody, improvisatory in character, in alternation with a more somber, soulful melody that ends in a strange cadential figure of unearthly gravity. The movement culminates in an explosive, brooding climax, before ending with the strange cadential figure. The final movement, Fuga, is, as its title implies, a full-length fugue, whose subject is clearly composed of the two motifs noted at the beginning of the work. It pursues its course with a dark vigor, although during the development a ray of optimism intrudes, the first of the entire piece. After a harmonic augmentation and stretto, the work comes to an assertive close.

The Concerto Sinfonico was Flagello’s last completed work. It was commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, who gave the premiere in November, 1985, with the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the direction of Semyon Bychkov. Although the character of much of Flagello’s music is dark and tempestuous, it is difficult to listen to the Concerto Sinfonico without hearing in its consistent tone of anguish, agitation, and dread a sense of what Flagello experienced while confronting the physical and psychological disintegration that his illness had already begun to wreak. On the other hand, the work is a fully autonomous, thematically unified musical structure that requires no extrinsic knowledge in order to understand and appreciate it. Its title indicates the composer’s conception of the work as not so much a virtuoso vehicle as an integrated symphonic structure in which the saxophone quartet serves as the composite voice of a hypothetical protagonist.

Veteran arranger Merlin Patterson was introduced to the Concerto Sinfonico in its original orchestral version in 2004, and decided to create a transcription for wind ensemble. This version was introduced in 2005 by the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet and the University of Houston Wind Ensemble, conducted by Tom Bennett. 

The Concerto Sinfonico is launched (Allegro non troppo) by a driving rhythm in the orchestra that quickly builds to an almost hysterical shriek, before the saxophones enter, introducing the main theme. At the head of this theme is a three-note motif that serves as the basis of the entire work. Soon the second theme—a lonely, plaintive melody derived from the first theme—is introduced by the alto saxophone. After this theme reaches a climax, a furious development of the first theme follows. This is followed by an introspective reflection on both themes, which even admits a blossoming of faith and hope, before leading with grim resolution to the driving recapitulation and coda, bringing the movement to a defiant conclusion.

The second movement, Lento movendo, is a mournful barcarolle based on the material from the first movement, primarily as heard in the second theme. This section gradually reaches a climax, ushering in a turbulent central portion that culminates in a chilling explosion. The passage ends in sad resignation. The opening barcarolle returns briefly, then concludes with a reminder of the three-note motif from the first movement.

The third movement, Allegro giusto, opens with the three-note motif, played by the timpani, reinforced by the lower woodwinds and brass. The character of the movement suggests a grimly sardonic scherzo, with newly-fashioned themes derived from the first-movement material. The scherzo is followed by a grotesque “trio” section, before the scherzo idea returns, now subjected to a thorough development. This eventually builds to a stark proclamation, followed by a shattering cataclysm. After the tumult subsides, slow harp arpeggios accompany a hopeful return of the work’s main motif. But the mood darkens, as the second theme answers solemnly over ominous tremolos and timpani strokes. All hope seems dashed, as the driving rhythm that opened the work now hammers it into defeat.


Arnold Rosner was born in New York City in 1945. He earned a doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1971, during an era when the serial avant-garde was at its height. Finding that approach thoroughly unappealing, Rosner has pursued a conservative but highly individual style, and his works have been widely performed, recorded, and reviewed. He has composed three operas, eight symphonies, six string quartets, and numerous other orchestral, chamber, vocal, and choral works. Critic Steven Schwartz commented on Classical.Net: “[Rosner’s] music packs a huge emotional wallop and it’s meticulously well-written besides. He writes gorgeous, powerful, long-breathed tunes. The craft serves the message to the point where it effaces itself almost completely. Listening to a Rosner work is like hearing the music of Orpheus.” Rosner serves on the faculty of Kingsborough College in Brooklyn, NY. He has also worked in broadcasting and, an avid bridge player, he is a tournament champion.

Rosner writes, “I had completed more than 80 compositions, and was in my 40s before attempting to write for band. I will admit that I was somewhat skeptical about the band as a medium for serious music; it took three friends to persuade me to give it a try. Of course, I was wrong about the existing repertoire and the potential for my own music, and I apologize publicly here and now.

“After experimenting with a transcription of Sweelinck’s Chromatic Fantasy for organ I felt ready to write an original work, and proceeded to compose Trinity, my Symphony No. 8, which I completed in 1988. I have written some seven band compositions since, but this one is still the largest in scale. 
“In the field of surveying, the concept of triangulation is often used, referring to looking at an area from three different perspectives or angles so as to understand it in full dimension. In my Symphony No. 8, “Trinity,” I have attempted to bring this approach to meditative or spiritual thought. If one views the mysteries from three different, and to some extent opposing viewpoints, does one derive deeper insights or simply confusion? Whether my work succeeds in providing such a full dimension is for the listener to decide.

“Critics have sometimes referred to my music as neo-archaic, and there is partial truth to that. While I believe in fairly complex structures, rich orchestration, and some intensity of drama and mood, I still believe in traditional melody, harmony, and counterpoint. I suppose the “neo-archaic” aspect derives from the fact that I MUCH prefer the modes and progressions of music that is 400 years old to that which is 200 years old. 

“The first movement, ‘Ave Maria,’ has some resemblances to Renaissance style and, as the title suggests, views the spiritual world from a devout, perhaps Christian aspect. In the second movement, ‘Le Rondeau du Monsieur le Diable,’ the perspective purports to be devilish, but the actual musical influences are even earlier, suggesting the 14th century or before. Mysticism of numbers and “music of the spheres” take over for the finale, ‘Pythagoras,’ where parts move in cross-rhythmic patterns—slow majestic chorales in the brass against saxophone or woodwind rushes in rhythmic conflict with them, with splashes of color or additional beat-patterns in percussion.”

Notes by Walter Simmons
Author, Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (Scarecrow Press, 2004)

David Bertman

David Bertman is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. Overseeing more than 450 students, he plays a vital public role in university life, as a roving ambassador throughout the Houston community. He is the conductor of the Moores School Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band, teaches graduate and undergraduate conducting, and is the co-author of a comprehensive program in band musicianship, published by the Hal Leonard Corporation. During his tenure at the School Bertman has received an impressive series of awards testifying to his distinguished contributions to the University community. He is a member of the Texas Music Educators Association, the College Band Directors National Association, the Texas Bandmasters Association, and Phi Beta Mu.

Moores School of Music

The University of Houston’s Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music is one of the premier music schools in America. Its remarkable faculty of internationally recognized performers, composers, and scholars; outstanding student body; modern facility; and comprehensive programs make the Moores School of Music a natural choice for nearly 600 students annually. The School’s commitment to academic excellence and the highest performance standards has ensured its role as a vital resource in the educational and cultural life of Houston and the state of Texas.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, VOLS. I, II, and III. Music by Persichetti, Adler, Albright, Martinu, Templeton, Sowash, Thomson, Rosner, Borroff, Locklair, Harbach, Near, V. Fine, Thompson, Pinkham, S. Jones. Barbara Harbach, harpsichord

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, Volume IPERSICHETTI: Harpsichord Sonata No. 7. ADLER: Harpsichord Sonata. ALBRIGHT: Four Fancies. MARTINU: Sonate. Deux Pieces. Deux Impromptus. TEMPLETON: Bach Goes to Town. SOWASH: The Unicorn. Theme with Six Variations. THOMSON: Four Portraits. Barbara Harbach, harpsichord. KING­DOM KCLCD-2005; 71:20. Produced by John Proffitt.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, Volume II. ROSNER: Musique de clavecin. BORROFF: Metaphors. LOCKLAIR: The Breakers Pound. HARBACH: Spain­dango. G. NEAR: Triptych. V. FINE: Toccatas and Arlas. THOMPSON: Four Inventions. Barbara Harbach,harpsichord. GAS-PARO GSCD-266;70:40. Produced by John Proffitt.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, Volume IIIPINKHAM: Partita. S. JONES: Two Movements. LOCKLAIR: Fantasy Brings the Day. ROSNER: Sonatine d’amour. ADLER: Bridges to Span Adversity. Barbara Harbach,harpsichord. GAS-PARO GSCD-280;68:38. Produced by Roy Christensen.

If listening to these three CDs, containing three and a half hours of twentieth-century harpsichord music, doesn’t prove the instrument’s viability as a modern musical medium, nothing will. Barbara Harbach, a faculty member at the State University of New York at Buffalo, tours and records extensively as both harpsichordist and organist. Her enthusiastic, wide-ranging involvement in expanding and promoting the modern harpsichord repertoire can be gleaned simply by perusing the above list of works, many of which were composed with her in mind. Except for the few criticisms noted during the course of the following review, Harbach plays with precision and a refreshing verve, while exhibiting a healthy, exuberant musicality. Sixteen composers are represented—all of them American but Martinu. The pieces she has chosen embrace a wide and varied stylistic range, from those that trade, either seriously or parodistically, on the harpsichord’s association with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to more mainstream neoclassical efforts, from some surprisingly effective examples of romantic lyricism, to a few offerings that are wildly sui generis. In an attempt to accommodate the reader, I will comment on the contents disc by disc, in the order that the pieces are listed above.

Volume I originally appeared (minus the Thomson and Sowash pieces) on LP (Gasparo GS-251) a few years ago, and was reviewed in Fanfare 9:5 (p. 305). The most substantial works on this disc are those by Persichetti, Adler, and Albright. During the. last years of his life, Vincent Persichetti concentrated intensively on the harpsichord, which he described as “a whole universe in itself.” The seventh of his nine sonatas for the instrument was composed in 1983. Its three brief movements are terse, concise, and thoroughly abstract in structure, featuring graceful, thin, linear textures idiomatic to the instrument. While the first two movements arc quite austere in tone, the finale explodes with an exuberant rhythmic vitality.

Samuel Adler is a prolific German-born composer now in his sixties who currently heads the composition department at the Eastman School of Music. Adler’s neoclassical sonata of 1982 is more rhythmically and texturally aggressive than Persichetti’s, with the kinds of forceful, dissonant sonorities one does not expect from the harpsichord. These create a jarring, but invigorating, effect. The slow movement, however, provides some tender moments. This is a brilliant, substantial work that becomes more engrossing with each hearing.

A rather bizarre piece that seems to be developing a following among harpsichordists is a wacky stylistic hodgepodge called Four Fancies, composed in 1979 by Michigan-based William Albright. Most striking are the first movement, a maddeningly abrasive takeoff on a Baroque French Overture, and the finale, a “Danza Ostinata” that the program notes link to near-Eastern music, boogie-woogie, Soler, and Terry Riley. The inner movements are more subdued, but mysterious and imaginative. The piece is often irritating, but intriguingly stylish nonetheless.

The three works by Bohuslav Martinu are rather disappointing. Deux Pieces date from 1935, while the sonata and Deux Impromptus appeared during the composer’s last years, 1958 and 1959 respectively. At best they display some modest, neo-Baroque charm, but, for the most part, are flimsy, routine, and uninteresting.

“Bach Goes to Town: Prelude and Fugue in Swing” is a movement from Alec Templeton’s 1938 Topsy-Turvy Suite, originally composed for piano. By now, the notion of jazzing up the Baroque idiom is not new, and this example sounds banal and dated, though it certainly loses nothing on the harpsichord. However, Harbach plays the piece so squarely and stiffly that what little charm it has is stilled.

Rick Sowash is a forty-year-old composer who studied at the University of Indiana. What I know of his music has been sweetly and simply tuneful, with an identifiably American flavor. Both pieces presented here follow that description. The Unicorn, composed in 1976, suggests a senti­mental pastorale—pretty, but extended beyond its durability through mere changes of registration. Theme with Six Variations was written a decade later and is too simplistic to take seriously.

Virgil Thomson’s Four Portraits were originally written for piano. Like most pieces by this vastly over-rated composer, some moments are pretty, others are banal, but all are vacuous.

If a listener wished to sample only one of these CDs, I would recommend Volume II, as the one with the most interesting program. Worthy of special attention is Arnold Rosner’s Musique de Clavecin, one of the most eerily fascinating compositions for harpsichord I have ever heard. As many Fanfare readers already know, Rosner has fashioned quite an original means of expression, using a language rooted in the distant past—in particular, in the idioms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Not that this is so remarkable in itself—after all, the same can be said for Respighi’s suites of Ancient Dances and Airs, Gordon Jacob’s William Byrd Suite, Warlock’s Capriol Suite, and any number of other examples by Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, et al. But what makes Rosner’s music special is that, in most of his works, its stylistic atavism does not exist merely to provide quaint antiquarian charm, but rather, serves as a basic medium to convey a wide range of emotional states—some quite intense and powerful. This is more clearly illustrated by the 1974 Musique de Clavecin than by any other music of Rosner to appear on disc thus far. The work is in five substantial movements: The first is a grim, stately sarabande; the second, a sardonic, grotesque dance; the third is a macabre nocturne, somewhat reminiscent conceptually of Scriabin’s Vers la Flamme  in its reiteration of a simple but haunting chord progression that grows gradually from a soft and mysterious opening to a climax of nightmarish intensity and back; the fourth movement is a lovely Elizabethan dance of benign character; the work concludes with a somber passacaglia. Lasting twenty-two minutes, Musique de Clavecin contains virtually nothing a contemporary au­dience would describe as “dissonant,” but is full in texture and weighty in content—a challenge for the performer that Harbach meets admirably.

Also worthy of attention is a work from 1987 called Metaphors, by Edith Borroff, a New York-based composer in her mid-sixties, currently on the faculty of SUNY/ Binghamton. Described as a set of variations on a tone row, Metaphors is an expertly shaped, richly expressive piece—abstract in conception, but not at all forbidding.

Dan Locklair is a composer from North Carolina, now in his early forties. The Breakers Pound, composed in 1985, was inspired by a poem of Stephen Sandy called Freeway. This is an entertaining, parodistic sort of piece, with wild stylistic incongruities—from Baroque to boogie-­woogie—somewhat along the lines of Albright’s Four Fancies, but lighter in weight and more approachable.

Barbara Harbach’s own Spaindango is a rather ferocious little tour-de-force, with a faintly Spanish flavor. Despite its brevity, it makes a distinctly indelible impression.

Gerald Near (b. 1942) is a noted church musician based in Minnesota. His Triptych is simple and direct, with a melodic warmth reminiscent of Hanson and Creston.

Veteran composer Vivian Fine’s 1986 Toccatas and Arias is described as “a meditation on Baroque forms.” Though imaginatively constructed, it is rather dry in effect.

Randall Thompson’s Four Inventions originated as classroom exercises in counterpoint. Al­though much of Thompson’s music engenders warm affection, these Anna Magdalena-like trifles are too slight to warrant attention—or inclusion in a serious recital program.

Volume III adds a couple of new names to Harbach’s program, while delving further into the works of some composers previously sampled. Massachusetts-based Daniel Pinkham, now in his late sixties, has long been associated with the harpsichord—both as performer and composer. (His 1955 Concerto for Celeste and Harpsichord is a long-time favorite of mine.) The Partita offered here is an ambitious work in six substantial movements, composed in 1964. Perhaps the fact that the music was originally written as part of a television documentary accounts for its apparent lack of stylistic balance. Much of it is difficult to characterize—serious in tone, light in texture, cool, dry, and rather impersonal in effect. Though several of the movements strike me as excessively academic, others are delightful, especially an ebullient Scherzo and Trio, and a strangely Debussy-like (imagine!) Envoi.

Samuel Jones, now in his mid-fifties, is a professor of composition at Rice University in Texas. His Two Movements from 1988 are abstract, serious, solidly crafted, and conservative, as one might expect of an Eastman graduate from the Hanson years. In common with the Adler sonata and the Borroff Metaphors discussed earlier, Jones’s piece does not make a strong personal impression, yet promises further rewards on subsequent hearings.

Dan Locklair reappears on this disc with another oddly entertaining piece, this one called Fantasy Brings the Day (1989). Like much of the music presented here, it exhibits virtually no Baroque reference, yet exploits the harpsichord’s characteristics most effectively.

Arnold Rosner’s 1987 Sonatine d’Amour is rather less interesting than his Musique de Clave­cin. It is in two movements—the first, an incantatory recitative punctuated by broken chords; the second, a gentle, graceful dance. Part of the problem may lie with the performance: The melismatic melodies of the first movement are played rather metronomically, while the second movement is paced a bit slowly. In any case, the result seems monotonous and overextended.

Samuel Adler composed his Bridges. to Span Adversity in 1989, in memory of Jan deGaetani. Its two movements, though skillful, are awfully dry.

On the whole, this beautifully recorded set of CDs represents an impressive accomplishment, ensuring for Barbara Harbach an important place among today’s generation of harpsichordists—and a preeminent one among those who specialize in music of the twentieth century.

ROSNER: Concerto Grosso No. 1, op. 60. The Chronicle of Nine, op. 81: Prelude to Act II. Five Meditations, op. 36. A Gentle Musicke, op. 44. Magnificat, op. 72.

ROSNER: Concerto Grosso No. 1, op. 60. The Chronicle of Nine, op. 81: Prelude to Act II. Five Meditations, op. 36. Gentle Musicke, op. 44. Magnificat, op. 72. David Amos conducting the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra; with the Choir of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul and the Clarion Brass of San Diego. LAUREL LR-849CD; 66:20. Produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert.

This is an important release, sure to appeal to the not insignificant number of listeners who have already discovered Rosner’s music through the Opus One recordings of his French horn sonata and cello sonata, released during the past few years (see Fanfare 8:1, p. 299 and 9:5, p. 226). Like many others of today’s composers for whom there seems to be an active and receptive audience, Arnold Rosner writes music that is extremely straightforward, accessible, and rooted in traditional sounds and formal structures. Echoes and reminiscences of other composers abound, from Josquin and Gesualdo to Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich, and Hovhaness. Yet the cumulative impact of his music—with regard both to external style and inner meaning—is unmistakably unique and unquestionably original. This conclusion could be drawn from the two sonatas mentioned earlier, but becomes even more apparent with this generous offering of works for larger forces.

Rosner has been a stubborn individualist from the beginning. Carving out his “sound” before receiving any formal training, he endured the rigidly coercive dogmas of 1960s musical academia without compromise—paying more than his share of dues, perhaps, but eventually earning the first Ph.D in music granted by the State University of New York.

In a way, Rosner is a “neo-” composer: The Magnificat is clearly a neo-Renaissance work, A Gentle Musicke and Five Meditations might be termed neo-Elizabethan, Concerto Grosso No. 1 is neo-Baroque, and the opera prelude is what is usually called neo-Romantic. Yet there is a stylistic and psychological unity among these works that relates them as separate facets of an integral aesthetic approach, as opposed to merely superficial exercises in saprophytic opportunism. On a purely musical level, the unifying thread is their attempt to derive maximum expressive power from pure or almost pure consonance, treated in a modal or chromatic—rather than conventionally tonal—fashion. In other words, the traditional feature most inimical to Rosner’s style is diatonic tonality—the mainstay of the Classical period and the fundamental principle of Austro-Germanic music theory. Thus, while the predominance of consonant harmony gives Rosner’s music a famil­iar, accessible sound, its avoidance of conventional tonal patterns and relationships distinguishes it from the rhetoric of most western music of the past three centuries.

Of the pieces presented here, the most stunning is the six-minute Prelude to Act II of the opera, The Chronicle of Nine, completed in 1984 and based on the story of Lady Jane Grey, the teenage girl who—caught in a political web woven by others—became Queen of England for nine days before being dethroned and executed. The story is ideal for Rosner, providing the opportunity for an intense emotional experience within the historical context of sixteenth-century England—a natural setting for Rosner’s musical language, with its many deliberately archaic usages. This unusual stylistic interpretation is apparent in the Prelude—also included in The Tragedy of Queen Jane, the four-movement orchestral suite drawn from the opera—a solemn dirge of tremendous power, eloquence, and majesty, prompting great interest in The Chronicle of Nine as a whole.

The Concerto Grosso No. 1 was composed in 1974 (another followed several years later). Scored for chamber orchestra, this is a strikingly energetic work that calls to mind such Northern European neoclassicists as Vagn Holmboe and Harald Saeverud. Opening with a stark French Overture, the body of the first movement is a bracing, contrapuntal allegro. The second movement is a rather plaintive hymn, while the third movement, based on an infectious rhythmic pattern in 5/8, concludes the work with exuberant vigor.

While the Concerto Grosso is clearly a work of this century, despite its nod to the spirit of the Baroque, Rosner’s 1979 setting of the Magnificat could probably fool many a casual listener into identifying it as an actual work of the Renaissance, so tentatively does it deviate from archaic norms, although its frequent juxtapositions of major and minor thirds are more blatant and overt than Purcell would ever have allowed. However, listeners familiar with Rosner’s other neo-Renaissance works will hear plenty of his own idiosyncratic harmonic and rhythmic traits. Those who require that twentieth-century music exhibit at least a post-nineteenth-century level of aggres­sion and dissonance may find this (and other Rosner pieces) too tame for their tastes; others will appreciate its reverent spirituality on its own terms, while perhaps finding its unabashed anachro­nism startling and refreshing.

Also in the category of unabashed anachronisms—though charming nonetheless—are the Five Meditations for English horn, harp, and strings, originally composed in 1967 but revised in 1980, and A Gentle Musicke for flute and strings, dating from 1969. These are the sort of pieces that delight programmers of commercial classical FM stations: novel and unfamiliar, yet totally accessible—and with short movements, along the lines of Warlock’s Capriol Suite. Lively pseudo-Elizabethan dances alternate with slow, serene neo-Renaissance canzonas somewhat reminiscent of Hovhaness (whose entry in the New Grove was written by Rosner). I prefer the greater conciseness and exuberance of A Gentle Musicke, but both are delightful.

David Amos, who is developing quite a reputation as a champion of unjustly neglected twentieth-century music, provides some of his most persuasive performances on this disc. The Concerto Grosso is given a reading of great incisiveness, bristling with energy, while the opera prelude projects the necessary weight and grandeur. The Jerusalem Symphony generally plays well, making a convincing case for the music, as does the chorus in the Magnificat. Sound quality is extremely good; in fact, the only real objection I have is to the design of the front cover, which is extremely cluttered with data of marginal importance, better relegated to the back cover (where it appears again anyway).

Picks of the Year: 2003

As I reflect on this year’s selections, I notice that for the third consecutive year only four new releases loom for me as worthy of the official Want List (although this probably signifies mainly that I should be listening to more new releases). I also note the coincidence that three of my four choices are Albany releases, which certainly speaks well for that bold and valiant company (as well as indicating some shared values).

This past year Marco Polo completed its survey of the six symphonies of Portuguese composer Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988), bringing his name from utter oblivion outside his native country to international recognition as a “neglected master,” judging from the reactions found in this and other publications, as well as on the Internet. The Fourth Symphony (reviewed in 26:6) is my personal favorite of the cycle, and I would recommend it as the best starting point for musical explorers with a taste for expansive neo-Romantic symphonic epics. Such listeners will find Braga Santos to be a rewarding creative voice with its own distinctive personality.

My Want List this year happens to include two fine examples of late-20th-century neo-Romantic opera. Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas (reviewed in 26:5 and 26:6) is my major discovery of the year-a real knockout. In fact, in my review I called it, “simply the most exciting new operatic discovery I have made in the past twenty years,” adding, “What this work has to offer is exactly what opera lovers love about opera…. The performance captured on the recording is all one might wish for…” What can I add to that?

Released nearly simultaneously was Thomas Pasatieri’s operatic adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull (reviewed in this issue). Although at 58, Pasatieri is only four years older than Catán, he is a far better-known figure, having already enjoyed a prolific, if highly controversial, career as an opera composer, which seemed to have come to an unfortunate end twenty years ago. Composed in 1974, The Seagull is the ninth of his seventeen operas. Though it is not my favorite of his works, it is his first to appear on CD, and worthy of attention from all those who profess to enjoy today’s crop of neo-Romantic operas. I have always felt that Pasatieri was treated with unjustified critical venom. This release will give a wide range of listeners the opportunity to hear and decide for themselves.

Although I have listed them as a “set,” the two CDs of music by Arnold Rosner (reviewed in 26:5)-one orchestral, the other featuring chamber works-are really separate issues, released nearly simultaneously. An exact contemporary of Pasatieri, Rosner is one of the most intriguingly individual American composers working today. With archaic elements flavored by ethnic touches, and features of both neo-Romanticism and neo-Classicism, he is clearly a traditionalist, but without falling neatly into any one of the standard categories. Rosner’s work is quite accessible, and as more and more of it appears on recording, his following continues to increase. Listen to the mysteriously ecstatic String Sextet (my particular favorite on the two discs) or any of the other pieces included, to learn whether this music appeals to you; both CDs offer varied programs, well performed.

Once again, without including it on my list and blatantly incurring charges of conflict-of-interest, I wish to draw readers’ attention to a recording in whose production I was personally involved. Naxos has released, in its American Classics series (8.559148-reviewed in 27:1), the first recording of Nicolas Flagello’s Symphony No. 1, along with three other works of his, played by the Slovak Radio Orchestra, conducted by David Amos. Familiar with this symphony for more than thirty years, I would make a claim for it as the apotheosis of the American neo-Romantic symphonic sub-genre — a category whose best-known examples are probably Barber’s Symphony No. 1 and Hanson’s “Romantic” Symphony. I invite those who enjoy such works to listen to this symphony, and decide for themselves whether they share my view.

BRAGA SANTOS Symphony No. 4. Symphonic Variations · Cassuto/NSO of Ireland · MARCO POLO 8.225233

CATÁN Florencia en el Amazonas · Soloists/Summers/Houston Grand Opera Ch and O · ALBANY TROY-531/32 (2 CDs)

PASATIERI The Seagull · Soloists/Gilbert/Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater Ch & O · ALBANY TROY-579/580 (2 CDs)

ROSNER Orchestral and Chamber Music · Palmer/Owensboro SO/Altoona SO/misc. chamber ensembles · ALBANY TROY-548/553 (2 CDs)