Henry Brant (1913-2008) was an internationally acclaimed composer, Pulitzer Prize winner, two-time Guggenheim Fellow, and the first American to receive the Prix Italia. Existing analytical studies on his music contribute mightily to our understanding of his post-1950 spatial compositions, but they are limited in their exclusive reliance on score analysis. This study examines Brant’s original manuscript documents and recorded performances to illustrate how his text-based compositional process transformed into a text-based improvisational performance practice known as « instant composition. » I will explore Brant’s compositional process through analyses of his sketches for Voyage Four (1965), and show how his subsequent « instant compositions, » including Fracas II (1965), Town Meeting (1969), Machinations (1970), and Rosewood (1989) employ similar text-based compositional instructions to facilitate group improvisation. I argue that characteristics of Brant’s spatial technique—the non-coordination of simultaneous layers, and subsequently, the flexibility of musical content within each layer—enabled him first to compose each layer in a fast and spontaneous improvisational style, and later to completely remove the final compositional act from the process, replacing it with a text-based framework for improvisation.
Joel Hunt is a Lecturer in Music at Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include American modernism, the music of Henry Brant, and sketch studies. His dissertation focuses on the evolution of compositional process in the music of Henry Brant, incorporating analyses of Brant’s original sketches, text manuscripts, and correspondence. He has presented his research at national and international conferences such as the Society for Music Theory, EuroMAC, Tracking the Creative Process in Music, and the Society for American Music. Joel’s research has received generous support from the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation, University of California at Santa Barbara, and Pennsylvania State University.
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