Federico Garcia Lorca

The opening paragraph to the preface of the Collected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca succinctly summarizes his extraordinary versatility – and his depth.

“Federico Garcia Lorca was a charismatic and complicated figure: preeminent poet of absence; renewer, with Miguel de Unamuno and Ramon del Valle-Inclan, of the modern Spanish stage: stern, inspired mediator – perhaps the most successful in modern Europe – of poetry and theatre. And he was much else besides: pianist, actor, director, lecturer, conversationalist, and make of unforgettable drawings. Some of his friends thought of him as a creative force of almost “cosmic” dimensions. There is something elemental about Lorca. He seems to lead us urgently and directly to the central mysteries of human existence. In the thirteen plays and nine books of verse he was able to complete between 1917 and 1936 – an amazingly short career – he spoke unforgettably of all that most interests us: the otherness of nature, the demons of personal identify and artistic creation, sex, childhood, and death.”

As a great example of a multi-faceted artist, Lorca has long appealed to me. His death, however, serves as a lasting reminder (as if any should be needed) of why Fascism must be stamped out, without mercy, whenever and wherever it attempts to revive itself. These days, unfortunately, that reminder is needed again. One reason, among many, for me to set his words to music.

La selva de los relojes

Jumping from one thing to the next, I think I’m finished, for now, with choral settings of villanelles – and onto a project I’ve had in the back of my mind since finding a volume of Garcia Lorca’s collected poems while vacationing on Cape Cod some months back. Setting his “La selva de los relojes” for mezzo, cello and piano. First poem down as of this morning. On a roll…

More Villanelles

Copying from Wikipedia, a villanelle is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The villanelle is an example of a fixed verse form. The word derives from Latin, then Italian, and is related to the initial subject of the form being the pastoral.

The form started as a simple ballad-like song with no fixed form; this fixed quality would only come much later, from the poem “Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle)” (1606) by Jean Passerat. From this point, its evolution into the “fixed form” used in the present day is debated. Despite its French origins, the majority of villanelles have been written in English, a trend which began in the late nineteenth century. The villanelle has been noted as a form that frequently treats the subject of obsessions, and one which appeals to outsiders; its defining feature of repetition prevents it from having a conventional tone.

So much for the history and origins of the villanelle. Having learned all this after researching the background of Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking,” I went on to discover numerous poems, by poets both well known and little known, in this form – one so apt for music given its repeated refrains. In addition to “The Waking,” as of this writing, I’ve set “Roses?” by Harvey Stanbrough, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath, and “The House on the Hill” by Edward Arlington Robinson. The Plath poem is set for women’s voice only, and the others for SATB.

Given what is going on in the world these days, writing these has been a happy reprieve from all that.

Eight Strings & A Whistle

I am so pleased to have been invited to compose a trio for ESW. The trio popped out quickly! Entitled Melville’s Dream, it is inspired by Hart Crane’s remarkable poem, “At Melville’s Tomb.” The first movement is, with lots of revisions, a resetting of my song for voice and piano. The following movements are all intended to similarly evoke images of the sea, and drowning sailors, and tides and stars…

World Music Report review of “At the Center of All Things”

Stanley Grill: American Landscapes; Lonely Pieces; At the Center of All Things; Diderot String Quartet – Adriane Post: vn; Johanna Novom: vn; Kyle Miller: va; Paul Dwyer: vc

Can an ensemble as small as a string quartet create music that is ‘epic’ in nature? Perhaps not always because it is not intended to be that way, but certainly the Diderot String Quartet certainly transforms this extraordinary music by Stanley Grill into something proverbially Whitmanesque in the sweeping poetry of its performance. Masterpieces though they certainly are, they are only one side – a visual, neo-Americana side – of the work of a highly inquisitive and analytical artist who seems always on the lookout for a new challenge. This must not be construed as a critique for being one-sided. On the contrary, the work “American Landscapes”, which begins the recording of these three set pieces, is orchestrated to be a plain, clean-coloured, deeply imaginative and theatrically functional and sweepingly gorgeous at the same time.

Once the meditative last notes of this piece melt away they are replaced by a vivid description of social dissent that has been crafted into “Lonely Voices”. Arching phrases from the violins, viola and cello build into the richness and complexity of the work’s architecture, which attempts to place a sole voice of dissent at the center of the work. This ‘voice’ is ‘sung’ by each soloist in turn as a considerable contrapuntal picture emerges in which musicians unfold the work’s diaphanous body as lucid, open textures are combined with strong affirmative melodies, culminating an eloquent resolution in the final, Presto movement.

In “At the Center of All Things”, the crowning glory of this album, inspiration from Rilke’s unique lyrically-intense voice in Bohemian-Austrian literature is woven into the single, rhythmically fluid movement of this work creating a singular work conveying – at once stroke – the voices of both poet (Rilke) and composer (Grill) in a powerful mix of the personal, the quietly resolute and the visionary; all this so convincingly and so sympathetically. And all of this music – including that of the first two works – is captured in the brilliant, persuasive performances of the Diderot String Quartet – violinists Adriane Post, Johanna Novom, violist Kyle Miller and cellist Paul Dwyer. Throughout this remarkable group provides a very real sense that the performers know the works inside out and they are especially good at conveying the dynamic and fluid inner pulse of Stanley Grill’s music

Released – 2017
Label – Innova Music
Runtime – 1:03:12

Raul da Gama, WMR Senior Writer. Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a musician and an accomplished writer whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

New CD of art songs in progress

The recording of my next CD is making good progress. As of this writing, all of the songs for voice & piano are a wrap! My great appreciation to pianist Stephen Gosling for his wonderful musicianship! It was such a great pleasure to work on this project with him. All that remains is for Nancy Allen Lundy and Ralph Farris to record my cycle of songs for soprano & violin. Hopefully, warmer weather by the time we get back into the studio!

The CD will include a cycle of seven songs setting poems by the South African poet Charl Cilliers – someone whose wonderful work I discovered on FB and who is now a FB pen pal (the up side of this sometimes intrusive technology). We also recorded my “4 Songs to Poems by Hart Crane” and “6 Songs” setting various poems by W.B. Yeats. The latter is the one very early work on the CD, composed while I was in between my undergraduate and graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music. While my style has changed over the years, I was happy while recording these that I still like them!

The music of Heinrich Gernsheim

Among some of my new FB friends, one (Anna Gann) performs with the Gernsheim Duo. Curious as to the name, I started looking on-line, and (one of my favorite things) discovered yet another wonderful composer entirely new to me. It always makes me wonder how someone who was widely performed and whose great musicianship was highly admired in their own time, disappears. In this case, it seems one reason for that (at least according to one writer) was that Friedrich Gernsheim was Jewish and his music was prohibited from performance in Nazi Germany. That’s a wrong that will hopefully, in time, be corrected. I have found a performance on YouTube of his four symphonies, and as is my habit when up in the middle of the night, I listened to several last night. To my mind, as a symphonist, he can hold his ground with any of the great Romantic symphonists. Now listening to one of his string quartets (link below) – also first rate. I have to find time to follow down this path, as he wrote many piano quartets and quintets, a large body of art songs, and other works. It remains a mystery, at least to me, how a composer of his skill and depth, can wind up side-lined by history, while on radio and in the concert hall, we listen to the same small, albeit great, list of composers over and over and over again.

Leonia Chamber Musicians Society

I was thrilled to learn today that my duet for flute and cello, “A Little Sweet” (yes, a bad pun), will be performed by the Leonia Chamber Musicians Society at an upcoming concert on Sunday, February 4th. The piece will be performed by Theresa Norris, flute and Daryl Goldberg, cello. For those in northern NJ, hope you can attend. Details about the performance are on the “Upcoming Performances” page.


Early one morning, I woke to read a poem called “The Waking” posted by my on-line friend, the poet Charl Cilliers. The poem, by Theodore Roethke, was not only an inspirational way to start my day, but set me off on a course of exploration. Up to this point, I was unfamiliar with Roethke’s poems, so a great discovery for me to discover a major poet who, somehow or other, I had missed along the way. This particular poem is one of his most renowned, and seemed so apt for music, given its repeating refrains. That led me to a search for more poems in this form – the villanelle.

A quick hunt on-line led to discovering that many poets, famous and otherwise, have written villanelles. Struggling with what music to write next, I picked out a bunch of candidates to use to write a series of villanelle settings for small chorus, including: Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” Julie Sheehan’s “Cracked Ice,” Dylan Thomas’ famous “Do not go gentle into that good night,” Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” Edward Arlington Robinson’s “The Home on the Hill,” and Harvey Stanbrough’s “Roses?”

As of this writing, “The Waking” and “Roses?” are done. Plenty more to go, depending on how far I carry this latest obsession.

From Wikipedia —

A villanelle (also known as villanesque) is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The villanelle is an example of a fixed verse form. The word derives from Latin, then Italian, and is related to the initial subject of the form being the pastoral.

The form started as a simple ballad-like song with no fixed form; this fixed quality would only come much later, from the poem “Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle)” (1606) by Jean Passerat. From this point, its evolution into the “fixed form” used in the present day is debated. Despite its French origins, the majority of villanelles have been written in English, a trend which began in the late nineteenth century. The villanelle has been noted as a form that frequently treats the subject of obsessions, and one which appeals to outsiders; its defining feature of repetition prevents it from having a conventional tone.

Review from Kathodik of “At the Center of All Things”

Stanley Grill ‘At the Center of All Things’
(Innova 2017)

Il compositore americano Stanley Grill ha trovato nel quartetto d’archi il medium ideale per esprimere le sua poetica. Lo stile di Grill lo avvicina ad autori come Peter Garland, Lou Harrison, Alan Hovhaness, nella comune capacità di trovare il proprio linguaggio espressivo recuperando in maniera originale forme del passato. Nello fattispecie, la principale fonte d’ispirazione di Grill è costituita dalla musica rinascimentale, specie nell’impianto polifonico, ma anche nelle armonie modali. Il contrappunto tra le voci strumentali è denso, geometrico, ma mai troppo serrato: esso è concepito per far respirare, in armonico equilibrio, le spaziate linee melodiche, puntellate da una sorta di morbido basso continuo in pizzicato o da incisive sequenze ritmiche. In questo modo Grill costruisce un mondo ideale, pervaso da una bellezza pura e incontaminata; gli American Landscapes sono in effetti paesaggi mentali, alla stregua di certi scenari dipinti da Hopper. Il Diderot String Quartet, grazie tanto alla loro familiarità con un repertorio che si estende dal Settecento ai primi del Novecento, quanto al suono intenso e corposo degli archi con corde di budello, si rivela interprete ideale di una musica che guarda al passato per costruire, attraverso l’arte e la bellezza, un futuro migliore.
Aggiunto: December 6th 2017
Recensore: Filippo Focosi
Link Correlati: Innova Records Home Page
Hits: 47
Lingua: italian

At the Center of All Things

Innova Recordings just made my day, letting me know that my new CD, At the Center of All Things, landed on Ted Gioia’s 100 Best Albums of the Year list! Keeping good company!


Matt Goeke solo cello recital

An altogether lovely day that started out touring the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met, then went on to the Rudin Museum and soaked in its meditative atmosphere (and heard a wonderful sound exhibit that reverberated throughout the building), and concluded at the Alchemical Studios, where cellist Matt Goeke performed his first (and hopefully not last) solo recital.

Matt started with one of the Bach solo suites – and that is hard to top.  However, as the program went on, it kept getting better.  The second piece on the program was a two movement work by a South American composer using only natural harmonics.  It would have worked brilliantly in the Rudin Museum, as the harmonics do lead the listener into a meditative state, similar to Tibetan chanting.

One of Max Reger’s suites ended the program, gorgeously played by Matt.  An emotionally intense ending to a perfect day.


On yet another day when senseless violence (the murder of Sufis at a mosque in Egypt) calls into question the meaningfulness of bringing music into the world, I chanced across Margaret Atwood’s devastating poem “Orpheus (2)”. I suppose that, rational or not, one can only go on hoping that some day, some Orpheus will succeed where Atwood’s Orpheus failed and “sing love into existence again.”  Absent such a possibility, writing beautiful music seems like a senseless activity.
Whether he will go on singing
or not, knowing what he knows
of the horror of this world:
He was not wandering among meadows
all this time. He was down there
among the mouthless ones, among
those with no fingers, those
whose names are forbidden,
those washed up eaten into
among the gray stones
of the shore where nobody goes
through fear. Those with silence.
He has been trying to sing
love into existence again
and he has failed.
Yet he will continue
to sing, in the stadium
crowded with the already dead
who raise their eyeless faces
to listen to him; while the red flowers
grow up and splatter open
against the walls.
They have cut off both his hands
and soon they will tear
his head from his body in one burst
of furious refusal.
He foresees this. Yet he will go on
singing, and in praise.
To sing is either praise
or defiance. Praise is defiance.

Fiddling while Rome burns?

These days, when I (figuratively) put pen to music paper, I have to remind myself why I do this. Suffering from a steady drumbeat of depressing news (which I should make more of an effort to avoid), I can’t help but feel as the notes spin out that I am perhaps fiddling while Rome burns. Music is one of the most extraordinary expressions of human spirit, yet when our country has been (astonishingly) placed voluntarily by the electorate into the hands of barbarians, I wonder how writing more notes, no matter how beautiful, will ever cure that ailment.

As a youngster, I grew up in a household with a rather small collection of classical music. I spent many hours, late at night, lying in the dark staring at the living room ceiling, being carried to another world by a recording of Bach’s b minor mass that my mother, for whatever reason, had in her record collection. The urge to create something so achingly beautiful that survives the passing events of the world, no matter how devastating they might be for those who have to live (or die) through them, was born there, in the Bronx, during such nights.

My music writing is my way of paying back Bach (and many others) for that gift. I can only hope that the music, for whatever it is worth, in its own small way, will help keep the barbarians at bay, serving as a reminder of a delicate, interior world that is real, valuable and needs to be cherished and nurtured, perhaps most of all during bad times.

My first CD

I’m thrilled that, at long last, after many years of wanting to do this but never quite getting ‘round to it, my first CD is now available on Innova Records.  Performed by the Diderot Quartet, the CD includes three of my string quartets – American Landscapes, Lonely Voices and At the Center of all Things.  With great thanks to all who made it happen – especially Ralph Farris, who masterfully made it all come together.  Of course, thanks to Renee, who on a daily basis has to live with my obsessions, this CD being one of many.



Thoughts following a visit to MOMA

A visit to the Museum of Modern Art with Renee and Noah got me wondering about why some works, at least for me, had strong emotional content – and others fell flat.  On the day we were there, the majority of works on the 3rd floor simply said nothing to me, while an escalator ride up to the 4th floor was like entering a different world, one where the paintings spoke volumes.  It occurred to me that some contemporary artists, as they struggle to find a language that is uniquely their own and different from what came before, experiment with the basic elements that make up a painting, and not always with equal success.  The difference in my reaction to the paintings had nothing to do with their surface content – abstract versus representational. Rather, it seemed to me that some based their art on an intellectual concept that was untied to emotion, and the result felt that way.  The basic tools of the trade – color, line, shape, texture, tone, design – were all in evident, masterful use in the paintings that, for me at least, had something to say, but in many cases for the other works, some one of those important elements was missing, and as a result, the entire work wound up feeling like mere decoration on the wall.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that there is a strong analogy with musical composition.  Those great works of music, the ones that live with you as if dear friends, use all of the tools at a composers command – pitch, timbre, rhythm, volume, harmony, and, perhaps most importantly, structure – to create a soundscape that can transmit emotional content as if straight from the heart.  The day following our visit to MOMA, I was listening to new music on the radio, and what I heard fell as flat on my ears as those artworks on MOMA’s 3rd floor.  The pieces I heard that afternoon all used varying pitches, in various rhythms, played on various instruments, so, yup, it was music – but, decoration on a sonic wall.  Most of what I heard lacked any kind of perceptible structure.  They were just spinning notes until they stopped, without apparent direction or purpose.  Many kept at a sustained level of volume, without any variance that can create a sense of motion, as if traveling from one place to another.  They simply started and eventually stopped (thankfully, in many cases).  For me at least, music like that isn’t worth the labor of writing down the notes.  Yes, music is artifice, but the goal should be to use all of the elements of musical composition combined in such a manner as to create the greatest of illusions – one that can send shivers down your spine, whether of joy or grief.  Succeeding at that is another matter entirely, but the attempt should be made.

Manhattan School of Music

Yesterday evening, I attended a Manhattan School of Music alumni gathering at the home of its current President, Jim Gandre.  In the thirty six years since I was a graduate student there, I’ve been in the building only once before – for a memorial service for one of my most influential teachers. MSM is a place which for me holds the fondest of memories.  Music has always been the foundation of my sanity – and I owe to MSM that entire aspect of my internal life.  The training I had there is what allowed me to become a composer.  The brilliant teachers I studied with enabled me to decipher the mysterious and wonderful code that gives great music its power and meaning.

H.I.F. Biber Festival

Last evening, at the Pandolfis Consort’s concert, the outstanding music of the evening for me was the violin sonata by Georg Muffat – a masterpiece. Exquisitely played by violinist Ingrid Rohrmoser.

Poulenc’s Delightful Sonata for Piano Four Hands

This afternoon, I read through Poulenc’s delightful Sonata for Piano Four Hands with my friend Karen. It was composed in 1919, in the midst of a world war, but the music is simply charming and light from start to finish. It reminded me that the world events that invade our lives, and seem so overwhelming at the time, pass away – but great art lives on and survives when the painful events of the day have long faded from memory. Poulenc was wise to not let the war influence his writing, but to let in the muses of delight as if nothing else existed.

Thoughts on Veteran’s Day

I like to dream, but without belief, that writing beautiful music is one action I can take in opposition to war, to create sounds that will influence people’s psyche and encourage thoughts of peace. Of course, if music had any possibility of achieving such a goal, war would have ceased to exist after Bach created the B minor mass! So, for the rest of today, instead of veterans, I’m going to think about Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama, and hear in my mind glorious music that celebrates peace.

On September 11th

This year, on September 11th, I was in Philadelphia, under a beautiful clear blue sky – painfully reminiscent of the sky over New York in 2001 that shone in such stark contrast to the horrible events unfolding beneath it. The earth is usually such an exquisite miracle, but the acts of men – they are another story. While history proves that human nature is capable of every sort of horror, I nevertheless find it incomprehensible that any person could become so twisted inside as to even think of committing such atrocities for any reason, let alone over what, at bottom, are simply differences of political opinion.

I seek refuge and solace in the logic and beauty of music – a creation of man that says “NO” to all of that.

Music as a reflection of nature

Music more than any other art form, to my mind, models the physical nature of the world.  Like nature, the surface complexity of music is a creation of the infinite variety that results from combinations of simpler elements.

Music for Peace Project

Despite the fact that the history of mankind is steeped in war, I feel obliged to dream that we can find a way, somehow, to abandon war as a means to deal with conflict and exist together in peace.  I know this is a nothing but a dream – there is too much history behind us and too many people who profit by and are excited by war to give it up – but it is a dream from which I cannot shake myself awake.  There was a time, in the midst of huge crowds protesting the war in Vietnam, that I imagined there was enough people who were passionate about achieving peace that it could actually happen – that a generation of young people existed who wanted to be different from all previous generations and create a new world in which war did not exist, who dreamed that we could be different.  Although that dream turned out to be just a temporary flower of our youthful unrealistic idealism – it is still too important to abandon.  I look on the present young generation in despair – they seem to want to be just like their parents and are too easily satisfied with toys and games to be serious about such fantastic ideas like working to put an end to war.  I feel a still greater despair when I see the end of my own life approaching in the not so distant future and see the world perched upon the precipice of violence not seen since my parent’s unfortunate generation.  I desperately desire to see mankin do better than this – to see again enormous crowds gathered together, in this country and in every country, to protest against those who preach violence as a means to whatever end they are after.  Enough with that kind of man – they are a minority and the rest of us must stop empowering them.

It is my hope that each and every one of us who shares this dream will contribute, in their own way, one thought and one action at a time, towards changing the way people think about this – if the goal of peace seems possible, then it will be possible.   In my own way, I offer up the spirit of beautiful, glorious music to create an opening in the hearts of those who listen to the possibility of peace.  I have begun to write music that is intended to conjure up images of peace in the minds of those who hear it, with the hope that with each hearing, some new sand grains of feeling will be added, which little by little will become mountains which stand, forever, for peace for everyone.

Why write music?

Reason #1.  A vivid memory, as a small child, lying on the living room floor staring up at the dark ceiling, alone in the night, with the sound of Bach’s b minor mass pouring out of the speakers and over me, lifting me.  Writing music today, is a way of saying, thank you, returning the favor, passing this wonderful invention on to others.

The compositional problem of music…

Half asleep and half dreaming, I was considering the compositional problem of starting and ending music.  The problem is better explained, perhaps, by an analogy with painting.  While I love paintings, I’ve always had trouble with the way they seem to sit so incongruously in their frames on walls, as if the image one saw in the painting was like one out of a window, entirely unrelated to the setting in which it rests.  Rather than merging into its surroundings, with walls gradually transforming themselves into painted image which gradually turns back into wall, the painting is a hole punched into the continuity of the room.  A music composition is similar, except in that it takes place in time rather than within a space.  The music starts out of whatever precedes it – silence, the sounds of people sitting together, noises from outside – and ends with what follows – again, silence, or applause, or whatever.    Somehow I dream of writing music that effortlessly merges out from and back into the rest of the sounds of the universe…

On poetry…

That strain of American poetry which sought to bring poetry down to the level of street language (or to bring street language up to the level of poetry) never was my cup of tea.  No sublimation there – which, after all, is the heart of classic art.  Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, et. al. may have spoken on and on at great length, but never to me.

The art of poetry, to me, is the masterful use of language such that a very great deal is expressed in a minimum of words.  Hence my preference for Yeats, the short poems in Blake’s notebooks.  Street language is simply inadequate for this purpose.  This is not to say that poetic language has to be esoteric.  William Carlos Williams, for instance, uses ordinary language, describing ordinary things, with an extraordinary mastery of implication and compression of meaning that is the equal of the best of haiku.