Thursday, August 11, 2011

9/11: Stephen Hartke

Just before it happened, my family and I had been moving into a new house and had just finished unpacking the last box on Sept. 10. I was planning on going back to work on a piano quartet the next day. We were worn out from the move and planned to sleep in on 9/11 but were awakened by a firend calling to tell us what was going on. We live in California, so actually the attack was over by the time we switched on the TV.

I grew up in Manhattan and, so, was particularly devasted. I rattled around the house for several weeks, going into to school to teach my classes, but otherwise not getting anything done. The sketches for the piano quartet that I had seemed pretty irrelevant and yet I had to come up with something for the Opus One Piano Quartet to premiere that December at the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society. About a month or so after 9/11, I sat at the piano and started playing the opening of Thomas Tallis' Lamentations -- and, of course, the text from Jeremiah is a lament for the destruction of a great city -- and gradually a new piece began to emerge based on the structure of the Tallis and building on motives derived from it. I finished the piece remarkably quickly for me -- in about 6 weeks -- and decided to call it Beyond Words -- that being what music is for.

The second piece is my Symphony No. 3, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the 2nd anniversary of 9/11, although they later said that the piece did not necessarily have to be a memorial. I asked to have the Hilliard Ensemble as soloists and did a setting of my own translation of an Anglo-Saxon elegy in which the poet describes the ruins of a Roman city, imagining how magnificent it must have been at its height, and in the process affirming the worth of human aspiration despite the inevitability of death and decay.

Listen to a portion of the Symphony No. 3 here.

Stephen Hartke
Stephen Hartke is widely recognized as one of the leading composers of his generation, whose work has been hailed for both its singularity of voice and the inclusive breadth of its inspiration. Born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1952, Hartke grew up in Manhattan where he began his musical career as a professional boy chorister, performing with such organizations as the New York Pro Musica, the New York Philharmonic, the American Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera. Following studies at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, interrupted by stints as advertising manager for several major music publishers, Hartke taught in Brazil as Fulbright Professor at the Universidade de Sã o Paulo, before joining the University of Southern California faculty in 1987.

Hartke's output is extremely varied, from the medieval-inspired piano quartet, The King of the Sun, and Wulfstan at the Millennium, an abstract liturgy for ten instruments, the blues-inflected violin duo, Oh Them Rats Is Mean in My Kitchen, and the surreal trio, The Horse with the Lavender Eye, to the Biblical satire, Sons of Noah, for soprano, four flutes, four guitars and four bassoons, and his recent cycle of motets for chorus, oboe and strings, Precepts. He has composed concerti for renowned clarinetist, Richard Stoltzman, and violinist, Michele Makarski, and his collaboration with the internationally-celebrated Hilliard Ensemble has resulted in three substantial works, including his Symphony No. 3, commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic. Most recently his acclaimed full-length opera, The Greater Good, was premiered and recorded by Glimmerglass Opera. Other major commissions have come from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Harvard Musical Association, the IRIS Chamber Orchestra, the Kansas City Symphony, the Library of Congress, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Barlow Endowment, Chamber Music America, the Fromm Foundation, the Institute for American Music at the Eastman School of Music, Meet The Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, among others.
Stephen Hartke has also won the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, two Koussevitzky Music Foundation Commission Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Charles Ives Living from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Deutsche Bank Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin.  In 2008, Hartke's opera, The Greater Good, received the first Charles Ives Opera Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Most of Hartke's music is available on commercial CDs released by Bridge, Chandos, CRI, ECM New Series, EMI Classics, Naxos American Classics, and New World Records.
Stephen Hartke lives in Glendale, California, with his wife, Lisa Stidham, and son, Sandy, and is Distinguished Professor of Composition at the Thornton School of Music of the University of Southern California.

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