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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, September 15

Henry Brant, "Marxist?"

Synopsis

Today marks the birthday of Henry Brant, born in Montreal in 1913 to American parents. In 1929, Brant returned to New York and studied composition with Wallingford Riegger and George Antheil, exponents of the then-current modernist trends in music.

Brant came of age during the Great Depression, however, and has said back then avant-garde composers were faced with some hard choices. They could stop composing altogether, write for commercial films and radio, or simplify their cutting-edge music to make it more accessible. Satiric music was also an option, and some of Henry Brant’s early works fall into that category.

One 1938 chamber piece by Brant is entitled “Hommage aux Freres Marx,” subtitled “Three Faithful Portraits.” The portraits in question are of Chico, Groucho, and Harpo, the wildly popular “Marx Brothers” comedy team of the 1930s.

By the 1950s, Brant became fascinated with “spatial music” involving groups of performers positioned at different spots in a concert hall or performing space. Brant became famous for works exploring this option, and his “Ice Fields” for pipe organ and a symphonic orchestra, scattered at different spots around the concert hall, won for its 88-year old composer the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2002.

Music Played in Today's Program

Henry Brant (1913-2008) Hommage aux Frères Marx (Three Faithful Portraits) Boston Musica Viva Newport 85588

Additional Information

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