Composers Datebook®

Henry Brant's Northern Lights

Henry Brant (1913-2008) –Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities (Combined musical forces of Macalester College; with six conductors, including Henry Brant) Innova CD 408


Composer's Datebook - September 15, 2022

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September 15, 2022

Synopsis

If you’ve ever witnessed a spectacular display of the Northern Lights, you’ll know the feeling: jaw-dropping wonder at the powerful forces unleashed in the vast spaces of the night sky.

The American composer Henry Brant experienced something like that in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1982 during a visit, and later translated the experience into his “Northern Lights over the Twin Cities,” a work commissioned by Macalester College in St. Paul to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1985.

Like most of Brant’s works, this piece employs several distinct groups of performers separated by space, a technique called “spatial” composition. For his Macalester Centenary commission, Brant utilized all the musical ensembles the College had to offer, including its chorus and orchestra, its wind, marching, and jazz bands, and even its bagpipe ensemble, all positioned at various points around the College’s cavernous Field House.

Brant said his own “spatial” works were inspired by the antiphonal works of the Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli, the multiple brass ensembles in the “Requiem Mass” by the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz, but above all by “The Unanswered Question,” by the modern American composer Charles Ives.

Brant was born on today’s date in 1913. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2002, and died at the age of 94, in 2008.

Music Played in Today's Program

Henry Brant (1913-2008) –Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities (Combined musical forces of Macalester College; with six conductors, including Henry Brant) Innova CD 408

On This Day

Births

  • 1863 - American composer and teacher, Horatio William Parker, in Auburndale, Mass.; He became chairman of the Yale music department in 1894, where he taught the young Charles Ives;

  • 1890 - Swiss composer Frank Martin, in Geneva;

  • 1913 - American composer Henry Brant, in Montréal, Canada;

Deaths

  • 1945 - Austrian composer Anton von Webern, age 61, accidentally shot by an American soldier in Mittersill, Austria;

Premieres

  • 1946 - Cowell: "Hymn and Fuguing Tune" No. 5 (string orchestra arrangement), at the Saratoga Springs Convention Hall, by the Spa Music Festival Orchestra, F. Charles Adler conducting; This music was originally written for 5 voices, and in that form was premiered on April 14, 1946, at Times Hall in New York by the Randolph Singers directed by David Randolph;

  • 1946 - Ives: String Quartet No. 2, at the Yaddo Music Festival in Saratoga, N.Y., by the Walden Quartet (This music was completed in 1913);

  • 2000 - Sallinen: opera "King Lear," by the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki.