I don’t remember ever hearing Lukas Foss on WBJC, and I know I have certainly never programmed him. I knew of him only peripherally as an avant-garde American composer but closer inspection has him rubbing shoulders with many notable names and institutions. He studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia with Fritz Reiner, amongst others. He also studied with Sergei Koussevitzky at what is now Tanglewood. He later replaced Arnold Schönberg as professor of music at UCLA, and went on to become music director/conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
The reason for my surge in interest in Lukas Foss was a quote I came across, where he describes his Variation I of Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 12
“Groups of instruments play the Larghetto but keep submerging into inaudibility (rather than pausing). Handel’s notes are always present but often inaudible. The inaudible moments leave holes in Handel’s music (I composed the holes).”
This was the inspiration for a piece of creative writing by Ronald Johnson, when he took John Milton’s Paradise Lost and “composed the holes”, extracting from paRADIse lOSt a work he called Radi os. He remains true to the ethos of Milton’s work, and saves words that float to the surface over the shadow of Milton’s original epic poem. The effect is extraordinary, and caught the imagination of other experimental writers (if you think about it, though, even deciphering an ancient tablet, or script from an old papyrus is like a form of erasure poetry). So, we have Jen Bervin’s collection, Nets, making erasures based on Shakespeare’s Sonnets (sonnets = “nets”, get it?!) and Mary Ruefle’s A Little White Shadow, where she uses white-out to create her shadow poetry.
Truth to tell, I am a little bothered by the destruction of the “host” piece, but it’s truly fascinating to see how many permutations there are in trying to find a text within a text—or, in Lukas Foss’s case, the compositional line within the melody.
Here’s an example of one of Jen Bervin’s Nets:
Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”