C is for Carl

Today’s composer is Robert Carl! Robert is the chair of composition at The Hartt School, University of Hartford. He is a fantastic composer and teacher who I had the pleasure of studying with during my undergraduate studies at Hartt. His work can be very textural and can be seen as coming out of the American Ultramoderist tradition. Often, his work relates to the overtone series, though not always as straightforward as using the series for pitches (for example: in some cases the ratios are used to determine rhythmic content). His music is also very spiritual in many ways. While not being “religious” there is a sense of landscape and natural world spirituality that can be identified as transcendentalist. It may be because I am aware of his love of Charles Ives (one of the best classes I took at Hartt was his class “Charles Ives and His World”) but, he seems to be picking up right where Ives left off. Pieces having to do with American landscape, culture and, spirituality such as, the 5th Symphony “Land” or the orchestral piece White Heron are similar in composition and subject matter to pieces like The Housatonic at Stockbridge from The Three Places in New England. 

In the Spring of 2016 I was lucky enough to premiere a piece for solo percussion Robert wrote for me entitled: You Asked for it, Kevin! as you may have gathered from the title, the piece is extremely difficult. You Asked for it, Kevin! uses several layers of polyrhythms one for each stave which, indicates the different instrumental families (the piece is for snare drums, wood blocks, glass bottles, bass drum, tambourine and flower pots). All of the layers combine to create some rhythms that were impossible to perform (due to simultaneous playing on seven or eight different instruments). The solution to this problem is addressed in with a set of instructions in the preface of the piece that allow for different ways to realize the piece. One of the solutions (the one I chose to use) is an indeterminate method using the I Ching to determine which measures to play of each part and how many measures to overlap between the six different staves. The piece lasts exactly one minute which allows for many different realizations and even multiple realizations within a single concert program (in the premiere we also played a pre-recorded version of all the parts being played fully before my realization). You Asked for it, Kevin is not only a special piece to me because it was written for me but also due to how it has helped me grow as a musician and percussionist. I am in the process of creating a video/audio recording of the piece. Hopefully, that will be completed by the time this challenge ends and if so I will post it here.

In addition to being both a fantastic teach and composer, Robert is also a wonderful writer. Most notable is his book Terry Riley’s In C and he has also written an essay for the book The Farthest Place a collection of essays on the composer John Luther Adams (see A is for Adams). Recently, he has also edited the book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening a posthumously released book by Jonathan D. Kramer.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:


White Heron for Orchestra

Symphony No. 4 “The Ladder”

Symphony No. 5 “Land”

La Ville Engoutie for Wind Ensemble

You Asked For it, Kevin! for solo percussion


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