From Respighi to Schuller

The next group of tracks represent some of my very favorite classical composers.

It might seem incongrous, but there is a connection between Ottorino Respighi and Gunther Schuller.
Follow my logic and see what you think.


The first composer is Ottorino Respighi. His programatic compositions (music describing nature or telling a story) are my favorites. The piece here is called
‘Pines of Rome’. It includes the earliest use that I’m aware of a recording (recorded nightingale) as part of the instrumentation..


The foremost French composer of the first half of the twentieth century was Maurice Ravel. Here’s a representative composition of his.


The next composer is Krzysztof Pendercki. His music features musical instruments creating
‘sound canvases’, often with semi-random notation. This piece is called ‘Polymorphia’.


The dominant composer of the 20th century was Igor Stravinsky. My favorite piece by him is

‘The Rite of Spring’. His music also includes ‘soundscapes’, but they’re always notated note by
note with no random element.


Between Stravinsky and Wendy Carlos – Milton Babbitt, John Chowning and Harry Partch

There were many composers and researchers at this time exploring music. I’m picking three to talk about that I think
help understand some of what was going on at the time.
About Milton Babbitt.
‘Milton Babbitt on ‘Electronic Music’


One totally unique composer of this era was ‘Harry Partch’.

Harry Partch not only composed unique music, he built all his own unique instruments to perform that music. Here’s two videos demonstrating the instruments.Video 1 Video 2.

As you listen to Partch’s music, it’s important to remember that all the sounds come from ‘real’ instruments. He never used synthesizers even though
he had access to them. His music has scores and all the playing is done from written parts, not improvised. He created his own total music and tonal system
and stuck to the rules of music that fit his system. His tonal system included 43 pitches per octave instead of the ‘western’ system of ‘equal tempered’ 12

U.S. Highball (A Musical Account of Slim’s Transcontinental Hobo Trip)


The discovery of FM synthesis, the earliest form of synthesis. ‘John Chowning’ interview.

Here’s an example of FM synthesis, John Chowning’s ‘Stria’.

The early types of synthesis were, 1. Additive, 2. Subtractive, 3, FM/Frequency Modulation, 4. PD/Phase Distortion Modulation. Additive is simply adding ‘overtones’ on top of each other to produce different timbres. Subtractive is using easy to produce waveforms (square, sawtooth, triangle etc.) and filtering them to produce the timbres. FM and PM use mathematical manipulation to produce the timbres.


The beginning of coherent synthesized music.

In synthesized music, we had the privilege of seeing the birth of an entirely new form of music.
As in any new art form, the early attempts are not going to be polished mature works. First came very
random sounding pieces like Morton Subotnik’s ‘Touch’.


The next step was using synthesizers to create music similar the that of acoustic instruments starting with Wendy Carlos’
Switched on Bach


David Arkenstone – Magic Forest


Suzanne Ciani – Lay Down Beside Me


This all lead to more mature attempts including experiments with altered tunings etc. such as ‘Beauty in the Beast’.


In the late 1950’s there was a lot of talk about ‘Third Stream Music‘. Gunther Schuller was on the forefront of this
movement. He along with the Modern Jazz Quartet decided to create such a piece, so Gunther wrote the ‘Concertino
for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra in three movements. The second movement is a very interesting composition. It’s written the ‘12 tone
regimen, but it’s a 13 measure blues in the key of ‘F’. On top of that, it’s a passacaglia (recurring bass line). The ’12 tone’
motive starts in the bass fifteen seconds into the movement.
I suspect that your starting to see the dichotomy here. I’ll leave it to you to decide on it’s listenability.