About this Piece
Complete Title: Tremors ("Spatial Declamations")
for four singers and 16 instrumentalists
Henry Brant (b. 1913), America's pioneer explorer and practitioner of acoustic spatial music, was born in Montreal in 1913 of American parents and began to compose at the age of eight. In 1929 he moved to New York, where for the next 20 years he composed and conducted for radio, films, and ballet and jazz groups while also composing experimentally for the concert hall. From 1947 to 1955 he taught orchestration and conducted ensembles at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. Since 1981 Brant has made his home in Santa Barbara.
Brant's spatial music has been widely performed and recorded in the U.S. and Europe, and his long career has been recognized by numerous awards and honors, most recently the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Ice Field (2001). Other awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Prix Italia (which he was the first American composer to win, in 1955), the American Music Center's Letter of Distinction, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Brant received an ASCAP/NISSIM Award in 1985, a Fromm Foundation grant in 1989, and a Koussevitzky Foundation award in 1995. In 1998, the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel acquired Brant's complete archive of original manuscripts, including more than 300 of his works. Brant received the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Wesleyan University in September 1998.
Brant's Tremors ("Spatial Declamations") was commissioned by the Getty Research Institute and first performed on June 4, 2004, at the Getty Center's Harold Williams Hall. The four singers and 16 instrumentalists were all Los Angeles-based artists, and the conductor was Brad Lubman, professor of conducting at the Eastman School in Rochester. Tremors concluded an all-Brant program of spatial music for different ensembles and different spatial arrangements of performers in the hall. Tonight's performance includes the same quartet of singers.
The composer has provided the following note:
The text (but not the title) of Tremors is adapted from notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. The music makes no attempt to describe either the appearance or the sound of volcanos in action. The title merely refers in a general way to the continuous daily events coming off the computer or TV news. I had been allotted 20 performers, and, with the aim of projecting utmost contrast and force, I chose four solo voices and 16 woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments covering a nearly 7-octave range.
The considerable architectural differences between Williams Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall have necessitated a new spatial arrangement for the performers in Tremors.
Each of my 120 spatial works involves a different instrumentation and spatial plan. The following are basic considerations which I have found substantially operative throughout half a century of spatial composing:
1. All music is spatial. Space is needed for performers, for audience, and for sound waves to travel, rebound, or be absorbed, and is thus an essential musical element. (It might be described as a fourth dimension in music; the other three being pitch, rhythm, and tone quality.)
2. The customary arrangement places all performers in the stage area, creating a close connection between the performers in pitch-awareness, rhythmic co-ordination, and concentrated harmonic intensity. (This procedure does not, however, produce marked independence, identity, and utmost clarity of contrapuntal textures.)
3. An alternative spatial arrangement - little explored or even attempted by 20th-century composers and practiced only by a single 19th-century composer (Berlioz), but well-known to ecclesiastical composers of the 16th century - is to treat all areas of the hall or church as available spaces for the placement of performers with substantial distances (not less than 20 feet and preferably more) between groups. (Distances of only five to ten feet are difficult for the listener to perceive, except in a comparatively small space such as a drawing room.) The immense advantage of this scheme is the remarkable clarity it imparts to contrapuntal textures, especially when each constituent line is expressed in a different timbre. It can also make practical the Ivesian concept of combinatorial simultaneity of any musical styles and traditions. Its drawback is the difficulty of groups of players in widely separated locations to hear each other clearly. This will usually destroy precise rhythmic coordination. (In order to realize the Ives paradigm, a composer must sometimes give up total rhythmic coordination if he wishes to present all the participating styles and linear materials in their original, unmodified rhythmic form.)
4. A personal note. After a half century of composing acoustic spatial music in line with the conditions described above, I consider this activity a highly absorbing way of spending time.
5. At 91, my counsel to all living composers is, stick around.