additional julius eastman scores online


Thanks to Mary Jane Leach and several other folks, some additional scores by Eastman are now available online. The Symphony #2 score was a major project to scan in, due to its size. There are also some interesting annotations by Eastman within that score that relate to his personal life. While I already was familiar with the handwritten score of Crazy Nigger, (all of Eastman’s works I’ve seen to date are handwritten), there is a very helpful annotated “clean” score of that work available on MJ’s site thanks to the efforts of Cees Van Zeeland, who put together a performance in The Hague this past March. 

That said, it’s a shame more of Eastman’s music isn’t recorded. Part of the problem, I suspect, has to do with his notation, which was like many downtown works in that it was a shorthand that would be translated by the composer working with live musicians. What Eastman may or may not have meant by his notation isn’t always clear, at least to me, and that level of spontaneity is one of the things that makes his music so compelling while it also poses challenges for many performers. Regardless what one might make of some of his titles, the music is some of the best I know of from the last half of the previous century, and deserves to be heard more often. Indeed, nothing of Eastman’s music would even be available were it not for the painstaking efforts of Mary Jane Leach, Kyle Gann and others. 

There are many composers whose work remains shamefully neglected. The forward-thinking music of Johanna Beyer is one of them, and until recently I only knew a seminal work of hers from 1938: Music of the Spheres, which is believed to have been the first electronic score, although what Beyer meant by “electric instruments” continues to be debated. I have the score that I carefully xeroxed back in my med school days and it still resonates with me as an important and beautiful work. But I didn’t know anything else by Beyer until recently. New World Records recently put out a 2-CD set of some of Beyer’s most important music, such as her first two string quartets (she wrote five in all), as well as two suites for solo clarinet that are actually examples of metric modulation (perhaps the first such examples, predating folks like Elliot Carter by many years). The quartets are incredible to listen to, and I have to agree with Larry Polansky’s excellent liner notes that the second movement of String Quartet #2 is some of the most beautiful music for string quartet ever. The only thing I think that matches it is the second movement of Ruggles’ Men and Mountains, and that’s for string orchestra, not quartet. I’ve also managed to download some of Beyer’s music for piano. It doesn’t draw me in just yet in the way that the quartets do, but I’m giving it some time. Like a decent Malbec or Merlot, it needs time to breathe.