HENRY BRANT 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, ballet and jazz groups, at the same time composing experimentally for the concert hall. From 1947 to 1955 he taught orchestration and conducted ensembles at Juilliard School and Columbia University. At Bennington College, from 1957 to 1980, he taught composition; and every year he presented premieres of orchestral and choral works by living composers. Since 1981 Brant has made his home in Santa Barbara, California.
In 1950 Brant began to write spatial music of a particular kind in which the planned positioning of the performers throughout the hall, as well as on stage, is an essential factor in the composing scheme. This procedure, which limits and defines the contrasted music assigned to each performing group, takes as its point of departure the ideas of Charles Ives. Brant’s principal works since 1950 are all spatial; his catalogue now comprises over 100 such works, each for a different instrumentation, each requiring a different spatial deployment in the hall, and with maximum distances between groups prescribed in every case. All of Brant’s spatial works have been commissioned.
Over the past two decades, Brant’s spatial music has explored ever wider areas and larger performing forces: Orbits (1979) for 80 trombones and organ; Meteor Farm (1982), a multicultural work for expanded orchestra, two choirs, jazz band, gamelan ensemble, African drummers/singers and South Indian soloists (each group retaining unaltered its traditional music); and Fire on the Amstel (1984) for four boatloads of 25 flutes each, four jazz drummers, four church carillons, three brass bands and four street organs—a three-hour aquatic procession through the canals in the center of Amsterdam. These and many subsequent works deal with environmental subjects, as does Desert Forests (1985) for multiple orchestral groups; and Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities (1985), which deployed two choirs, orchestra, jazz band, large wind ensemble, large percussion ensemble, five pianos, bagpipe band and five solo singers throughout a sports arena in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In 1994 Henry Brant completed A Concord Symphony, his orchestration of Ives’s Concord Sonata, a project begun in 1958. He conducted its premiere in Ottawa in June 1995. This was followed by Dormant Craters, for percussion orchestra, which he introduced at an outdoor premiere in Lincoln Center, New York in August 1995. Brant’s most recent major work is Ice Field for large orchestral groups and organ. Ice Field was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony in December 2001 and received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Music.
“As long as I can remember I have liked hand-organs, out-of-tune pianos, music boxes, brass bands, player pianos, church organs, merry-go-round music and calliopes. During the Depression years I made the first-hand acquaintance of uncommercialized Harlem jazz styles, and of regional and rural practices such as Sacred Harp shape note music and the schools of bluegrass performance, then still not standardized or stereotyped. All these idioms, and indeed all intact formal and informal music of non-Western cultures upon which the meat axes of a mercilessly diluting and strait-jacketing Westernism have not yet fallen, represent to me life-giving sonic environments in which the senses can be nourished and fulfilled. I avoid and fear electronic music and even electronic amplification because of the irreversible damage they may be able to inflict on the nervous system. Anything else? My own studies were at first undertaken under the guidance of famous masters, some academic, some avant-garde, and I myself was a teacher for 30 years. I conclude that the classroom is not the best place to learn composing; practical know-how is better grasped in working on actual paid composing jobs, or in apprenticing to a master actively engaged on commissioned work with performance deadlines. What next? As I venture to foresee it, an urgent top priority for the music of the coming millennium will be a collapsible, transportable concert hall, totally adjustable in its interior arrangements.”
Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities
A spatial assembly of auroral echoes
Composed for the centennial anniversary of Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota
Commissioned by the Minnesota [now American] Composers Forum and by Macalester College.
© 1985 Carl Fischer, LLC
Premiere: Saturday, November 23, 1985, Macalester College Field House, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Northern Lights over the Twin Cities was inspired by Henry Brant’s own memorable experience of “the aurora” in the Twin Cities in 1982. The work exemplifies spatial music, Brant’s highly inventive composing technique in which the positioning of the performers throughout the performing space is an essential element of the composing plan — much as time values, pitch and tone quality are planned by a composer. This procedure, which limits and defines the highly contrasted music assigned to each performing group, derives from concepts of Charles Ives.
The gastronomic equivalent of his music, Brant says, would be a sumptuous meal where Mexican enchiladas, New York steak, and French bouillabaisse were prepared simultaneously. “If you were to put them together in a bowl, you would kill them all. If they are sufficiently separated, you can enjoy them all even if they’re eaten — or, in this case played — at the same time.”
After Northern Lights was commissioned for the Macalester Centennial celebration, Brant visited the Field House to examine its acoustical properties. “My objective was to use the entire musical establishment at Macalester College,” Brant says. Begun in June 1985, the composition was completed in August. The composer has characterized Northern Lights as “the most leisurely, the most spacious in tempo” of his works.
The text of Northern Lights is drawn from National Geographic magazine, astronomy magazines and encyclopedias. “If you write down scientific texts in singable form,” explained Brant, “the result also sounds like poetry.” The work’s 14 sections present the aurora from several perspectives. Brant outlines the subject matter assigned to choruses and vocal soloists as follows (these sections are interspersed with instrumental movements, two of which are choreographed):
Section 1: Deals with ancient speculations and superstitions about the aurora.
Section 3: Defines the action of electric particles.
Section 5: Presents the aurora as it appears in legends, myths and rumors.
Section 8: A poetic, impressionistic description of the northern lights.
Section 10: Presents, in lyric treatment, capsulized definitions of auroral elements.
Section 13: A miscellaneous description of the aurora, involving the entire subject.
Section 14: A summary of auroral elements in terms of the present.
Following a Brant tradition, all performers are asked to wear individual costumes of their own design. “It has an admirable effect on everyone,” Brant says.
Low voices and instruments
Once it was thought that the glowing dancing arcs and streamers of light were the battles of gods or warnings of the end of the world.
Now we know the real cause of the aurora borealis.
Auroral luminosity comes from ionized atoms and molecules.
Auroral displays are produced by a process of nature more vast and dramatic than any legend or myth.
Today we know the actual cause of the aurora.
Aurora is a great discharge process surrounding the earth.
Percussion and pianos
Voices and instruments
Gigantic streams of electrified particles speed from the far-off sun
Gigantic streams of electrified particles racing millions of miles out into space.
Sometimes a stream strikes the earth.
On approaching the earth a stream of particles encounters a magnetic field
A stream of particles forms a nebulous envelope going thousands of miles around the earth
This magnetic field diverts most of the particles
from north and south polar regions magnetic particles rush into the upper atmosphere
Magnetic particles collide of the rarefied upper air
Encounters of madly speeding electrified solar particles with atoms of the upper air excite the atoms which then emit light. This forms a glow in the sky, the aurora
Two jazz ensembles
Declaiming voices and percussion
The fiery recess of the sky is like unto a cave dug out of space. Aksanialo Koma yoalo Aksanil.
And it came to pass that through the whole city there were seen horsemen running in the air in gilded raiment armed with spears. Aksamil Audlatidloalo! Aksanil.
And multitudes of men in glittering armor with drawn swords and shaking shields. That ruddy glow in the sky made us think that half the city was on fire but when firemen came they found no flames. Aksanialo! Komayoalo!
Those flaming lights in the heavens are the Valkyries riding their ghostly horses. Northern lights are the ghosts of the dead playing football with the skull from a walrus
Flaming Horizons [Choreographed]
Percussion, pianos and wind instruments
Solo voices and solo brass
Very high auroras are seen after sunrise or before sunset. Pulsating auroral arcs flashing up and disappearing in rhythm. Flaming auroras are waves of luminosity racing towards the zenith. Auroral rays are like searchlight beams in dusty air. Auroral light may seem to be on the ground when actually it is many miles aloft. Auroral light can be reflected from fog, mist, smoke, or buildings. Combinations are like luminous fans. Auroral rays may suddenly elongate, stretch down to the horizon, or up to the zenith. Homogeneous auroral arcs are often intensely luminous before breaking into rays. Homogeneous auroral arcs will often climb gradually up the sky. Auroral arcs are rarely seen as bright at their summits as they are closer to the horizon.
Our whole universe is on fire [rhythmic, a wide arch of prismatic colors spans the sky]
Dingy northern skies slowly darkening|
Luminous arch; ice white, green tint|
Green and purple rays shine in the sky|
Curtains of light from dingy clouds|
Crimson auroras hover far above the earth.
Broad luminous bands rise suddenly out of the northern horizon [with a steady majesty it suddenly sweeps across the heavens]
For a time the arch is luminous but calm [then without warning it breaks into a frenzy wildly rising and falling]
When the arch is ready to send out rays it agitates feverishly as though as though tormented by some inner demon [the heavens are now a vast cupola of fire standing on blazing columns]
At length the rays are fainter, the crown disappears, the light is sporadic [the whole mass of color leaves the sky]
Curtains of Light [Choreographed]
Antiphonal wind ensembles and bagpipes
Voices and instruments
Flaming aurora waves of luminosity racing toward the zenith [pulsating auroral arcs flashing and vanishing]
Intensity One: faint auroras bright as the Milky Way
Intensity Two: auroras bright as the moonlit clouds
Intensity Three: auroras bright as cumulus clouds
Intensity Four: auroras bright as moonlight
Auroras of highest intensity: yellow green or violet crimson.
Auroral rays like searchlight beams in dusty air [pulsating auroral surfaces advancing retreating]
Auroral arcs climbing slowly up the sky [auroral arcs intensely luminous then separating into rays]
Auroras reflected from fog, mist, smoke, buildings, or mirages [reflected auroral light seemingly on the ground when it is many miles aloft]
Multiple instrumental antiphonies
Aurora Borealis Aurora Polaris|
Flaming aurora, pulsating aurora, auroral glow|
Auroral arc, auroral rays, auroral spectrum|
Northern lights over the Twin Cities|
Waves of luminosity Auroral diffusion|
Vocal and instrumental antiphonies
Henry Brant: Coordinator of conductors
Amy Snyder: Assistant to the Composer
Paul Herzing: Producer
Donald Betts: Chairman, Music Department, Coordinator of Pianists
Edouard Forner: Coordinator of Band and Orchestra
Carleton Macy: Coordinator of Percussion; Director, Mac Jazz
Kathy Romey: Director, Macalester Choirs; Choral Coordinator
Susan Schoenecker: Assistant Choral Conductor; Assistant Conductor, Macalester Choirs
Jeanne Holmquist: Assistant to the Chair, Music Department
Becky Heist: Choreographer of Dance
Alexander Hill: President’s Representative
Eunice Sandeen: Development Representative
Randi Lyders, Marnie Lilja Baehr, and Richard Ericson: Promotion
Tom Levitan: Director of Campus Programs
Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies (GTCYS)
Macalester Public Relations and Publications
The Macalester College Print Shop and Rosie Davis
Student Publications Dynasty
Athletic Department: Sheila Brewer, Chair
Equipment: Jay Johnson, Larry Barnhart, David John Olson, Ben James, GTCYS, Central High School
Commissioned by the Minnesota (now American) Composers Forum, with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.
The Macalester Festival Chorale, Amy Snyder conducting, prepared by Kathy Romey
The Macalester Concert Choir, Kathy Romey conducting
The Macalester Symphonic Band, Henry Brant conducting, prepared by Edouard Forner
The Macalester Symphony Orchestra, Edouard Forner conducting
Mac Jazz, Carleton Macy conducting
The Macalester Pipe Band, Andrew Hoag conducting
The Macalester Special Percussion Group, prepared by Carleton Macy
Ten-Piano Ensemble, prepared by Donald Betts
The Macalester Dance Ensemble, prepared by Becky Heist
Vocal soloists, prepared by Alvin King:
Sarita Roche, Coloratura Soprano
Cindy Lambert, Soprano
Rick Penning, Tenor
Alvin King, High Baritone
Wayne Dalton, Baritone
A PLAN OF THE AIR
(Poem by Patricia Gorman Brant (1925-2000) after an inventory from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci) (1975)
Commissioned by the University of Wisconsin, River Falls and premiered Thursday, April 24, 1975 at Kleinpell Fine Arts Building Recital Hall for the Centennial of the University.
For widely separated instrumental and vocal groups and two conductors (conductor #2 leads the trumpet-trombone group and indefinite-pitch percussion group)
University of Wisconsin Symphony Band, W. Larry Brentzel, conductor
Henry Brant, conductor
Sandra Cross, Soprano
Jody Bartholomew, Alto
Robert Hanson, Tenor
James Bohn, Bass-Baritone
Head of a young man whose eyes, symmetrical and perfect, look to the middle distance and never meet with mine.
Head of a woman in profile, hair curling long and loose at the nape of the neck.
Head of a youth, full-faced, done with a pen. Measurements parallel lines meeting in space.
Drawings of knots, a conundrum, a wheel, various breaks, a wheel.
Arm of a young man, muscular, showing the veins, study of bones.
Many arms, many legs, many wheels, drawings of warmth.
Item: two figures in perspective. Item: a cat.
Head of a woman looking up, light from a source not in the picture. A little history of silence. A study of hands, the movement of words, the movement of stars unfinished.
Figure of a man moving, a man aloft as seen from the ground. Figure of a man winged like a bird. A man standing still. A man bent over a desk working, absorbed.
A plan of the air.
Diagram A is the distance from parting to meeting; B, the distance from mind to mind; C and D, the bodies in question; E, where they fall from; F, where they fall to.
Various wheels, how the gears come together and part.
A drawing of the silence, a drawing of the spirit.
How it is arranged inside, how the transparent corridors intersect.
How it goes up, how it impinges.
The shape of its fierceness.
A is the mystery, B the apparent, C where they meet.
Diagram showing the fire inside, show lightness, show how it settles and stays.
Head of a god, head of an angel, make a sketch of them crossing. Make a plan of the heart, show how it beats, with what force.
A is desire. Let it extend in a straight line in space to an infinite point.
Kathleen Hanson, Susan Schmidt
John Benson, Julie Forehand, Tom Gardner, Susan Gilbert, Kathleen Hanson, Diane Hunt, Carol Johnson, Shelley McConaughui, Sharon Murphy, Susan Schmidt, Joan Willett, Kristie Yokum
Cathie Perrault, Mary Helen Waldo
Loa Cain, Wanda Luettinger, Jan Nilson, Paula Owen, Randy Rischette, Sandra Wedepohl, Andy Westberg
Neal Haglund, Bruce Hasselquist, Doug Heinzen, Jeanie Heitzman, Melanie Miller, Lori Olson, Mark Pedersen, Joan Walstead, Leanne Warner, Elliot Wilcox
Linda Becker, Janeth Bennet, Charlot Hagberg, Vicki Hagberg, Mary Heebink, David Larson, Paul Merrill, Joan Oftedahl, Penny Trader
Christine Iverson, Nancy Neubauer
Pat Devine, Glenn Hoeft, Kathy Langeness, Terri McDermott, Rodger Preble, Marsha Ward, Kathy Weigert
Merlin Bicking, Mark Dzubay, Dave Johnson, David Llewellyn
Solveig Aasen, Kathleen Hunter, Karen Lindberg, Mary Mortenson
Derrick Dixon, Joan Ross, Ted Snyder
Jim Dickrell, Laura Harris, Cheryl Luettinger, Tim Stevens
Kathy Fredrick, Brad Haase, David Olsen, Kathy Schneider, Elizabeth Skinner, Keith Witte
The University of Wisconsin, River Falls Commissioned Composer Program is sponsored by Student Activity Fees. It has commissioned and premiered major American composers each year since 1967.
Special thanks to: Henry Brant, Kathy Wilkowski, J. Michael Roy, Carleton Macy, Donald Betts.
Artwork: Philip Blackburn
Remastering: Teo Macero
Executive Producer, design: Philip Blackburn
This recording is made possible by a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music Recording Program, administered by the American Music Center.
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.