Andrew Stiller

details of selected works


The Best of Pierrot Solaire

The Mouse Singer

Spanish Follies

Chamber Symphony

New Creature

Three Envelopes

A Descent into the Maelstrom

A Periodic Table of the Elements

Three Simple Settings

Dr. Stiller His Gadget

Procrustean Concerto for the B flat Clarinet

Three Songs

Handbook of Instrumentation

Piece with Transposing Harmonics

Two of a Kind

mehitabel dances with boreas

Sestina

Two Fixed Forms Unfixed

Metric Displacement and Shirabemono Trope of The Well Tempered Clavier, Praeludium I

Sonata a3 pulsatoribus, with gargoyle and a moral in Kesh

The Water is Wide, Daisy Bell


Stiller: The Best of Pierrot Solaire (1993)

This suite is an instrumental reworking (with considerable alteration) of about two thirds of my 1972 song cycle Pierrot Solaire, a setting of twelve poems from Diane DiPrima's incendiary Revolutionary Letters. Key phrases from the poems appear here as movement titles hinting at the apocalyptic flavor and overall psychological progression of the original.

~~Andrew Stiller

  1. We return as often as leaves
  2. No paper world
  3. Know that we have this land
  4. We turn from dark to light
  5. This continent is seed
  6. Stand clear
  7. If the power of the word lives
  8. In this tower room

Because the piece is transcribed from a vocal original, the clarinet line is high on lyricism, low on technical virtuosity~~though there are some tricky passages in terms of meter and rhythm.

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Stiller: Chamber Symphony

I. Allegro

II. Mayn Rue Plats

III. Menuetto, feroce

IV. Presto

The composer writes:

When the Amherst Saxophone Quartet asked me to write a piece for them, I already had on hand a set of eight variations on the Yiddish love/protest song "Mayn Rue Plats," which I had intended to be the centerpiece of a cantata, never written, on radical Jewish texts. The variations would not stand alone, but were of suitable dimensions to be part of a larger piece. In the saxophone-quartet context, this immediately suggested the traditional four-movement form, here designated a "symphony" because the saxes seemed to me more orchestral than chamber-like in their weight and power.

Because of the small forces, I used Haydn as my model. The manifold repetitiveness of the classical forms struck me as very "contemporary" in flavor, and I have emphasized this aspect throughout by the extensive use of palindromes and, in the outer movements, of the type of "additive" melody pioneered by Ruth Crawford Seeger and Frederic Rzewski.

The main problem facing any 20th-century symphonist is finding a convincing substitute for the traditional tonal conflicts of sonata form. In my first movement, the "second theme" lies a quarter-tone higher than the first--as can be most dramatically heard in the repeat of the development.

The slow-movement variations are mostly very simple, and only in the next to last is the theme itself altered in any way. I have tried to imbue this music with the spirit of the original song text: "Don't look for me, love, where the myrtles are green. Where lives wither at the machines, there is my resting place."

The minuet is a bit of a send-up. My wife pointed out to me that the trio parodies the stacked fourths of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, Op. 9. Since my piece had not yet been titled, however, I did not have parody in mind. I thought I was satirizing the oompah cadential formulas of classical minuets.

The concluding rondo scarcely needs explaining, save that it is a festival of palindromes. The words spoken toward the end comprise the last transmission received from the young geologist who was posted on Mt. St. Helens on the day it erupted.

Recordings: Innova 516 (Amherst Saxophone Quartet) and Cafua CACG-0074 (Masato Kumoi Sax Quartet).

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Stiller: A Descent into the Maelstrom

"a brilliant, almost frighteningly realistic evocation of Edgar Allen Poe's word pictures of the abyss." (Buffalo News)

The composer writes:

When the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble asked me to write a trio for them, my thoughts immediately turned to Poe's classic tale. A Descent into the Maelstrom is an exercise in pure musical naturalism. The discipline of finding a percussion analog for the nautical soundscape of Poe's narrative led me to some original effects that I'm still proud of: the first use of a wind machine in chamber music, for example, and the three overlapping water gongs that limn the whirlpool's implacable descent. The other instruments required are crow-call, mouth sirens, thundersheets, tam-tam, bass drums, a sheet of tin foil, wood and metal string rattles, bamboo windchime, softwood planks, suspended cymbals, slapstick, a small string-drum, a metal pie-plate with gravel in it, snare drum, and field drum.

Recording: MMC 2014

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Stiller: Dr. Stiller His Gadget

Renaissance composers gave the title "Toy" to short, etude-like keyboard pieces, and this "gadget" updates the concept. A palindrome with a palindromic coda, its general effect is like one of those trick boxes from which, when opened, a hand emerges only to close the lid again.

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Stiller: Handbook of Instrumentation

This is the most comprehensive survey of its subject available in any language. Every instrument (well over 200 of them) manufactured and used in classical or popular Western music is fully discussed and its limits and potentials are clearly and completely delineated. Even common instruments are presented here in more detail than ever before, and equally thorough treatment is accorded to the less traditional ones~~including many that have never previously received more than a bare mention in print. Among the unique features of this book are:

The 1985 University of California Press edition of the Handbook can be found in almost every significant music library. The Kallisti edition has a new preface and corrects some typos, but is otherwise unchanged except that it is a spiral bound paperback and has different dimensions. It is now also available on CD-ROM. For price and ISBN, see catalog entry.

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Stiller: mehitabel dances with boreas

Stiller's 1989 commentary on the homelessness crisis. Mehitabel the cat snaps her teeth, gasps and yowls as she dances all night in an alley to keep from freezing to death, accompanied by the traditional fiddle of the danse macabre.

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Stiller: Metric Displacement and Shirabemono Trope of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Praeludium I

Take the famous first Prelude to Book I of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and move the downbeat by one note: infectious syncopations appear. Now open up a gusset in the middle and stick in two bars of new music. Come back around and stick in two more new bars. And again. And again. Eventually, the new material outgrows its host, almost tripling the duration of the original prelude for a provocatively entertaining piece that requires only intermediate keyboard skills. The composer has designated this work for any keyboard instrument, and it works equally well on harpsichord or piano--or even synthesizer.

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Stiller: The Mouse Singer

The composer writes:

The Mouse Singer, for piccolo and string quartet, is templated on Michael McClure's play, Josephine: the Mouse Singer, which is in turn based on Franz Kafka's short story, Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk. Josephine (piccolo) is the only singer among the mice, and despite the enthusiasm of two sycophants (violins), what she does may or may not be art. Josephine and her society are mutually uncomprehending, and make impossible demands on each other. When a rejected lover (viola) kills himself, she goes away, eventually to be forgotten. That's life, suggests the narrator (cello)~~best that it be embraced. In the best Straussian fashion, all the themes of The Mouse Singer represent ideas and events from the play, and I've also thrown in versions of the bicycle bell, clacking dowels, and ankle bells that McClure asks his characters to use. The piece is actually part of a two-movement work, Letraset and the Mouse Singer, butI have found that it works fine on its own, and it is published separately.

Recording: MMC 2014

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Stiller: New Creature

A gently throbbing, measured vibrato provides the pulse for a slowly unfolding harmonic scheme, set for the luscious combination of two alto clarinets and two English horns. To the composer~~and to many listeners~~ these sounds suggest the emergence of some simple, brightly-colored, slow-moving marine organism; they climax, appropriately enough, in a quotation from the New World Symphony, followed by an unexpected harmonic twist that has made audiences gasp.

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Stiller: A Periodic Table of the Elements

"an absolute knockout!" (Fanfare)

The composer writes:

This piece is exactly what its title says it is: a literal translation into music of the information contained in the familiar chart of chemical elements. The piece was written for Orchestra 2001, and is scored for alto flute (doubling flute), English horn, bass clarinet (doubling clarinet), bassoon, 2 trumpets (one in piccolo B-flat), horn, trombone, percussion (snare drum, cymbal, marimba), and five solo strings. to make the best musical effect, I "described" the elements in reverse numerical order, starting with Joliotium (no. 105) and ending with Hydrogen. For each element a musical parallel is found for its abundance (duration), density (harmonic density), chemical reactivity (loudness), chemical affinities (orchestration), radioactivity (percussion), valences (note values), physical state (register) and metallicity (key). Elements more than two measures long overlap each other, and because lighter elements are more abundant than heavy ones, the music becomes increasingly contrapuntal as it progresses.

Recording: MMC 2014

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Stiller: Piece with Transposing Harmonics

All players read from the score, which is notated on just two staves. The use of various clefs and transpositions results in the doubling of both lines in multiple partials up to the tenth, producing sonorities of a brilliance and splendor seldom paralleled.

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Stiller: Procrustean Concerto for the B flat Clarinet (1994)

A repeated quotation from Berlioz's Harold in Italy hints that in this concerto, too, the orchestra is the hero, while the soloist plays the role of outsider, commentator, or invited guest.

I. Interview with the Dissidents: Sestina

In the first movement the "normal" solo clarinet confronts a bizarre committee of orchestral clarinets in odd sizes (piccolo A-flat, E-flat alto, and B-flat contrabass), which among them cover the entire range of the clarinet family. Normally, you would only find these instruments in a band~~so who is really the outsider here? A solo viola (with the help of the ghost of Berlioz) shows the bewildered guest around.

II. Hockets from the Andes

The disturbing tone of the first movement is abandoned in the second as the orchestra cheerfully puts a Chilean folk melody through its paces while the soloist surfs along the top of the variations. The original melody was conceived for divided panpipes, and its continuous hocketting infests all the variations as well. In many passages, no instrument plays more than one note at a time.

Duration 17'

Instrumentation: Solo clarinet plus 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo, 1 doubling bass flute), oboe, English horn, A-flat clarinet (doubling B-flat), E-flat alto clarinet, B-flat contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 piccolo trumpets (B-flat), 2 flugelhorns (4 valves), 2 trombones, 2 euphoniums, contrabass tuba, 4 percussion (4 timpani, marimba, 2 snare drums, 2 suspended cymbals, piano, chimes, 2 pr. crash cymbals, 2 bass drums, 2 cencerros or agogos, slapstick, vibraphone, glockenspiel, 4 high tomtoms, xylophone, tamtam, referee's whistle), strings.

Recording: MMC 2105

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Stiller: Sestina

A fierce, tightly structured oboe solo based on the poetic sestina form. Though technically demanding (it ascends to c'''' and contains numerous quarter-tones and multiphonics) it has become one of Stiller's most frequently performed works.

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Stiller: Sonata a3 pulsatoribus, with gargoyle and a moral in Kesh

The composer writes:

My second trio for the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble was originally intended to display the kind of festive solemnity found in the ensemble sonatas of Frescobaldi, Biber, and Schmelzer. Unfortunately for the original conception, a gremlin showed up, in the form of a recipe from an exotic cookbook. The gremlin insisted that it be accompanied by the stirring of a garbage can with a broom handle--but the instrumentation is otherwise much more sedate: 13 tuned gongs, vibraphone, wooden string-rattle, 2 treble kalimbas (one tuned a quarter-tone sharp), 7 flowerpots, a vibraslap, and 4 brake drums. At the end, the percussionists chant a moral from William Blake, translated into the language invented by Ursula LeGuin for her utopoian novel, Always Coming Home: "The whole business of man is the arts, and all things common."

Recording: MMC 2014

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Stiller: Spanish Follies

This piece for two or four guitars was inspired by the magnificent "Folies d'Espagne" for viol of Marin Marais. Though things begin calmly, there is an inherent conflict between the ancient Folia theme and the modern spirit, and its simple eight notes suffer increasingly ominous, even violent encounters with minimalism, flamenco, satire, and rock-n-roll before emerging triumphant at the end.

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Stiller: Three Envelopes (1976)

The celesta, vibraphone, and bass recorder would sound almost identical were it not for their differing "envelopes," or patterns of attack and decay. In this beautiful and deceptively simple score, all three play from the same music, but only the celesta plays every note: the others play only some of the notes, which they hold to create harmony. The celesta and vibraphone pedals also create a blur of subtly shifting harmonies throughout the piece. What looks on the page like a single, unaccompanied line becomes a subtle, complex, and absorbing tone-color study.

Duration: 6'.

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Stiller: Three Simple Settings

The composer writes:

These three harmonizations of familiar tunes were composed at different times largely for my own enjoyment, and need not be played together. The setting of "Maos Tsur" was my contribution to a 1973 Music Department Christmas party at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The following year larger forces were available, so I doubled the original 5 parts at the octave and the twelfth, producing a result that stopped conversation dead in its tracks in a most gratifyingly Maccabean way. I have attempted to preserve that spirit in this organ version.

"Deutschland-Lied/Jefferson Airplane," my harmonization of the German national anthem in the style of an American acid-rock band, was inspired by the initial successes of the German Green Party, which at the time seemed to give hope of similar political transformations worldwide.

One day I was noodling at the piano and found myself playing the famous chorale tune "Wachet Auf" against an implacably descending bass line. Intrigued, I added a third line to see if harmonic sense could be made of the combination. To my surprise it worked very nicely, culminating quite naturally in two glacial measures of 3/one-half time.

 

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Stiller: Three Songs

The texts are by Edwin Morgan, Eugen Gomringer, and François Villon. The subjects of these songs are a manic, computerized Christmas card, the dreams of a growing vine, and the loss of a lover to death. The last of these was written as a contribution to The AIDS Quilt Songbook.

"A Christmas Carol" (voice, trumpet and percussion)

"& Swinging Hang" (voice, violin or viola, piano, and drone)

"Mort j'appelle" (male voice, viola, contrabass, and piano)

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Stiller: Two of a Kind

Two songs with heavy pop influence, on both the music and the texts.

Tattoo Bluse

Yes, that's how it's spelled. Robin Kay Willoughby's poem about a woman going out and getting tattooed after losing her boyfriend seems a lot less edgy now than it did in 1985. Who knew? The music is full of blues harmonies and rock-n-roll form, but you'd never mistake it (or the poem) for its models.

Smoky the Bear Sutra

Gary Snyder's famous, long poem likening Smoky to the Buddha is here set to highly diverse music (in four sections titled Melodrama, Recitative, Cavatina, Cabaletta, and Coda) with much pop flavor.

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Stiller: Two Fixed Forms Unfixed

After playing Stiller's Chamber Symphony to great acclaim, the Masato Kumoi Sax Quartet commissioned this, the composer's second contribution to the genre. The two movements of this quartet, which may be played in any order, are cast in highly traditional forms that have, however, been divorced from their traditional contexts.

Shirabemono Variations on Vermont

William Billings' striking hymn "Vermont" is split in half and new material introduced in the middle. Following the traditional Japanese Shirabemono form, this structure is repeated several more times, with new music added in the middle each time--rather like continental drift and sea-floor spreading.

Sestina

The sestina is a complex poetic form of six, six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy. The last words of each line of the first stanza recur in successively rotating order at the end of each line of the remaining stanzas, then all six key words are crammed into the three lines of the envoy. Here, the recurring words are replaced by recurring measures of music.

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Stiller: The Water is Wide, Daisy Bell

"not only a great piece but also a sure fire crowd-pleaser." (Fanfare)

This meditation on love, marriage, and bicycles is a set of double variations on two very familiar themes (of which "Daisy Bell" is nowadays better known as "A Bicycle Built for Two"). Written as a wedding present for the composer's sister, it is easy both to play and to listen to, but as several reviewers have noted, is by no means just an occasional work. There is real weight and substance in its 14 minutes, and much "hidden" art.

Recording: MMC 2014

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