Composer Wayne Barlow
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Wayne Barlow (1912-1996), professor emeritus
composition, entered the Eastman School in 1930 and received his
graduate and undergraduate degrees. In 1937, he was awarded a Ph.D. in
music (composition) here, becoming the first person in the United
States to receive such a degree. He also spent time at the University
of Southern California, where he studied composition with Arnold
Schoenberg. Before completing his doctorate, Howard Hanson asked him to
join the faculty. A pioneer in the field of electronic music, Dr.
Barlow founded the Eastman Electronic Music Studio in 1968. He was
chair of the composition department from 1968 until 1973, and dean of
graduate studies from 1973 until his retirement in 1978. His
compositions include sacred music, works for chorus and symphony
orchestra, and pieces for chorus and pre-recorded tape. Throughout his
career as a composer, Dr. Barlow received numerous awards and honors,
including several ASCAP Awards. His works were commissioned by the
Indianapolis Symphony, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, the Penfield
School District, and the Brevard School of Music. He was in demand as a
guest lecturer and visiting artist and professor, specializing in
topics such as electronic music, 20th-century composition, musical
acoustics, and the American composer Charles Ives. In 1955-56, Dr.
Barlow was the Senior Fulbright Lecturer at the University of
Copenhagen, the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music, and Aarhus
University in Denmark. In 1964-65, he received a post-doctoral grant to
research work in the electronic music field in Belgium and Holland, at
the Universities of Brussels, Ghent, and Utrecht. In Rochester, Dr.
Barlow also served as music director at Christ Episcopal Church and
choirmaster at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
Eastman School of Music website
In a few other presentations of this series, I have mentioned how
coincidence played a role. One guest might give me contact
information for another, or an unexpected guest would also be available
with the scheduled appointment. In the case of Wayne Barlow, the
connection was not made at the time, but rather at this much later date
when both interviews were being prepared for this website.
The second name involved is James Cohn. [See my Interview with James Cohn.]
While finishing up his interview, I noted that one of his teachers was
Wayne Barlow, and it was pure happenstance that the Barlow interview
was also on my desk being readied for presentation here. Since I
was in contact with Cohn to let him know his chat was going to appear
(and to ask his assistance in checking for typos and factual errors), I
inquired about Barlow. He was pleased to reply with these lines...
Dr. Barlow when I lived in Rochester, N.Y., since I was a student at
the Eastman School of Music at that time. What I do remember
Barlow was his kindness as a person and teacher. Years later, when
I was working in ASCAP, Dr. Barlow came to visit the office in New
York. I was asked to speak with him and find out what ASCAP could
do for him. I remember how delighted he was when I told him
that I was one of his former students at Eastman. I showed him
around the office, including the index department where information
about his works were on file. He was genuinely delighted to learn
all about the workings of the office. Most especially, I remember
him as a very sweet and kind gentleman. Dr. Barlow was more
interested in his students than in his own career. I missed him
as soon as I left Eastman and so it was a great delight to cross paths
with him again at ASCAP."
Wayne Barlow is certainly not a name that most listeners are familiar
with, but his output was rich in harmonious music. Fortunately, a
couple of his works appeared on major recordings with the
Eastman-Rochester Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson. One other
was issued with limited circulation (see portion of cover immediately
below), but it probably can be found in a few libraries, and the
material is always available for further distribution.
In the fall of 1988, I was able to make contact Wayne Barlow and
arrange a conversation on the telephone. He was surprised, but
pleased that I had this interest, and our encounter was engaging for
both of us. He was glad to be informative and responded
graciously to my inquires. A few weeks following the phone call,
he sent me other materials to use on the air.
When the connection was made, I immediately told him how much I enjoyed
the two recordings which were available, and we pick up the
conversation right there . . . . .
talking about recordings, are you pleased with the two
conducted by Howard Hanson?
Wayne Barlow: Yes, I certainly
am. I was very
close to Hanson for many, many years, as a faculty member of the
Eastman School. I studied with him, in addition to Bernard
Rogers. They were my two principal teachers, along with a little
Arnold Schoenberg when he taught at USC in the late 1930s. So
it’s a varied kind of exposure to teachers. But I worked with
Hanson very closely, and came to admire him. Of course, he was a
tremendous conductor, so I have no quarrel with his treatment of
BD: Was that
because he knew you and knew how
you wanted it, or did he instinctively know how to play any kind of
WB: I think
both factors were involved, but
basically he understands music. He spent his lifetime
trying to do all he could for American composers, and in doing
that job, he came to acquire a kind of instinctive knowledge
about what American music was all about, and how it might possibly
differ from French music or German music or whatever. So I do
think that he came at it naturally and honestly.
BD: Let me
turn that question
around to you. What is American music all about?
WB: I don’t
pretend to separate it in quite
that way. Howard Hanson did, and I think many others do. I
try to keep more of a universal kind of outlook on
music. I really don’t think there is all that much difference
between American music and most other kinds of music — Howard
the contrary notwithstanding.
BD: Do you
think that what differences exist are diminishing?
WB: Yes, I
really do. In many pieces, there are bits of popular music and
perhaps folk music. I
myself have used American folk music as the foundation for some of my
music. If that is American, then I certainly have acquired
that rather honestly, although I must say that the folk music I
have used is basically English in origin, way back. So it isn’t
exactly American, either. [Both laugh]
BD: Like so
many things, it is American by adoption?
you’re writing a piece of music,
you’re working on it and you get to the double bar, after you tinker
with it, how do you know when to put the pencil down?
WB: I write
an awful lot of my music away from the
piano. I get to the piano only when it’s mostly done, or when I
reach a spot where I can’t quite work it out within my head. But
I work basically melodically, and this is in the quiet of my
study. When I get to the end of a section, I first of all go
back and look it through, look it over in what notation I’ve put down,
and then hear it — literally hear it
— for piano or for orchestra or
organ, or whatever. Sometimes this does result in stumbling
upon a spot which doesn’t seem right to me, and then I do go back and I
put a notation that something has to be done there. Usually it
doesn’t mean very much, but it’s the slight tripping that occurs when
the stride has somehow lost its momentum. After
the correction, after I find it mentally, then I certainly will go and
check it on the piano. This is the closest I can come
to answering that question. I don’t think anybody ever writes a
piece without ever making a change. Maybe Mozart did, but
Beethoven made sketches which are full of changes, as we all
know. I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about, but it
reflects two composers’ different ways of doing things.
BD: Once you
get the piece done and it’s
even been performed and published, is there any chance that you would
ever go back and revise it or tinker with it a little bit?
Never. [Laughs] Never. That’s the short
BD: So you’re
completely satisfied with it?
BD: In an
earlier conversation, you said
that one recording takes a section at a different tempo than you
envisioned. How much interpretation do you allow, or even desire,
when people play your music?
I’m all for differences in
interpretation; I don’t have any quarrel with that
whatever! However, there is another recording of
Winter’s Passed, which I have
not heard, and from the description that someone gave to me,
it sounds like an absolute aberration of what I wanted. And it’s
not because it isn’t written in the
music. The tempos are clearly indicated with metronome
markings. Why anybody should want to take it so terribly
different from the indicated marking, I can’t even imagine!
pieces of yours that I’ve heard have been basically tonal, almost
WB: Oh, I
BD: I’m not
trying to hang labels on you, but did you
write it with this in mind, or did the compositions just come out
the way they had to come out?
WB: They came
out that way because they had to
come out. Winter’s Passed
written in 1938, and I just barely earned my Ph.D. in
composition at that time! I was really still a student.
Night Song was written in 1955
in Copenhagen, when I had a Fulbright. I taught some composition
at the conservatory, and also commuted
over to the University of Aarhus and lectured to students over
there. But that belongs in a much later period, in spite
of the fact that it’s basically a very tonal piece. Now
this is not to say that all my pieces are quite that tonal, because I
experimented to some extent with twelve-tone music. The last
movement of the Dynamisms for Two
is completely twelve-tone. But I think I borrowed an idiom of
Stravinsky, one of whose great contributions to music, it seemed to me,
was in somehow amalgamating the twelve-tone method with tonality.
Schoenberg and his disciples never did this. They were
always completely atonal, and would be horrified if anything in the way
of a tonal landscape turned up in their music. But I think
Stravinsky’s great contribution to music in that particular period
was in somehow making the twelve-tone method more human. It
me what is almost an essential characteristic of music — if
to be understood and completely enjoyed — which
is some sense of
tonality. So I think there’s a little bit of this Stravinsky kind
of look at twelve-tone music in the last movement of Dynamisms.
days we seem to be getting back to a
trend where a lot more composers are writing a lot more tonal music.
yes. This is one of the things I was
going to suggest, in case you didn’t ask me, because this is certainly
one of the
characteristics of the latter days of American music. In the last
couple decades it’s been gradually moving in this direction.
BD: Is this a
good thing, or is it just a thing?
WB: Oh, I’m
all for it! [Both laugh] This is not to say that it’s got
to go backwards,
but tonality can be combined with other, completely new devices that
get put into music by composers who feel things in different
ways. I don’t think that there’s anything to be lost simply
because a little bit of tonality shows up in later music! One of
the things that bothers me in some latter-day music — I’m thinking of
Age music now — I have a daughter out in Arizona
who put me on to this. She’s a violinist, among other
things, and I’ve listened to some New Age programs. I think
my gripe about these principally is that this music is so static!
One of the things that I like to get into my music is a sense of
energy of some kind. I don’t want to put people to sleep. I
think that the composers of New Age music are really trying to do this;
they’re trying to make music to relax to, but it turns out to be music
to fall asleep to. My music is apt to be full of contrapuntal
devices. I love to write little imitative passages, including
complete fugues at times, or inventions, several of which I’ve
written. All you have to do is listen to Bach and some of the
other Baroque composers, and you realize that there’s a tremendous
amount of energy in this music! I hate to see music get to the
point where all it’s good for is to help people to relax. [Both
BD: Then let
me ask the big
question — what is the ultimate purpose of music
falls directly in the same category
as great art. You’d go to an art gallery to look at, and derive
inspiration from, the great
art and sculpture not only of the present, but of the past. I
often do this. Certainly reading books belongs in the category,
too, to a certain
extent. It’s a window on life, looked at from the perspective of
artists, authors, composers and anybody else who is trying to
interpret their understanding of life in various ways. Music
belongs exactly in this category. I love to go to concerts and
hear what people are doing, not only
in the present, but also to re-live moments of composers who I’ve come
to admire. Maybe I haven’t heard a piece of theirs for a while,
just renew my acquaintance with some of the composers of the
past. To me it’s a fulfilling and uplifting experience.
That’s where music belongs.
BD: Then in
music, where is the balance between an
artistic achievement and an entertainment value?
[Laughs] Gosh, I’d never thought of
that. I really don’t classify classical music. I don’t
basically think of
it as an entertainment, but I do think it has entertaining
elements. Maybe there is an entertainment factor in concert
music. Certainly there are many
pieces which have entertaining elements to varying degrees,
depending on the composer. I guess there’s
really nothing wrong with it if a piece of contemporary music,
or anybody else’s music which is supposed to be classical, turns out
also to be entertaining. I’m not going to say that that’s wrong;
it’s really not. That probably is a great achievement!
BD: But it
shouldn’t be written just to be
that’s the point I guess I would like to
BD: What are
some of the traits that contribute
to making any piece of music great?
contrast to trivial? It has to do
something with its materials in order to give it some sense of
greatness. You can take the musical scale and you can write
simple tunes which
may be pleasant to listen to, but it won’t be great. You can
also take the same notes of the C major scale and expand these
tunes so that they become more than tunes. They become a part of
landscape, that allows the composer to use these tunes in ways in
which they become constantly a source of wonder and
admiration. I’m thinking of Bach of course, and I’m thinking
of Beethoven, both of whom make something remarkable and wonderful and
everlasting of their themes. These tunes become themes in the
true sense of the word. A theme
is something that runs through a piece of art or a piece of
music, and this theme becomes varied. One of the things I
love to do is write variations; it’s one of my favorite devices.
It’s one of the ingredients of great music that a
basic theme becomes somehow transformed in many, many different ways,
depending upon the skill of the composer. It can serve as a
basis for music of a very somber sort, and the same theme can be
utilized in a scherzo, which has a completely different kind of
scope. And a wonderful majestic finale of a large piece
can be based on the same theme. So the composer’s skill in using
a theme to fulfill many different
kinds of feelings — from profound to humorous,
perhaps — is one of
the marks of a great composer. I think it boils down to
the composer’s skill in utilizing his materials. Now the
materials themselves, of course, have to be somehow capable of
fulfilling all these transmutations that are in a composer’s mind, and
not all tunes are going to be equally successful in this respect.
But a great composer can do this. I don’t know how else to
approach that subject.
mentioned skill. Where is
the balance, then, between the skill — or
technique — and the original inspiration?
part and parcel of
practically the same thing. I think the skill is probably hidden
in the composer’s drafts of a theme that he wants to use in a
broad way in a large piece. Behind the notes that come down on
his paper are feelings that are unthought of, consciously, in getting
down. These make the theme useful in the way that the composer
use it. The
characteristics that make a theme useful in this respect are
partly unconscious. If the composer has done this sort of thing
times before, he’s come to recognize what characteristics a theme
ought to have to make it successful for a forty-minute symphony, let’s
BD: When you
start to write a piece, are you
conscious how long it will take to perform the
WB: Yes, I do
have that. I think it
dictates your treatment of the theme. If you don’t want to exceed
twenty minutes, your
approach to writing that piece is going to be quite different from one
if you were going to write a long, fifty-minute symphony.
BD: Are there
ever times when you get a theme and start working with it, and you
realize that you could utilize it
for much more time than you’ve allotted in this piece?
WB: Yes, that
BD: Then do
you use the theme twice, or do you put it
WB: You put
it aside, and use it again, maybe! You save it.
you’re writing a
piece of music, are you always in control of that pencil, or are
there times when that pencil is really controlling you?
WB: I don’t
recall being controlled by my
pencil. [Laughs] Elements of the tune in
question become very appealing, and as you write it down
you may discover something that you hadn’t thought of when the tune
first came to you. This may, in a sense, dictate what you’ve
just indicated, that maybe the very act of writing it down and getting
it out of your brain cells and onto paper in itself may spawn
other thoughts about that tune. So in a sense, I guess, maybe it
does write itself, from that standpoint.
BD: You spent
many years of your life
teaching and doing administrative work. Did you get enough time
Oh, yeah, I think I did. I had a wonderful
career there at Eastman. My administrative work was not
completely demanding. I had a wonderful secretary who did a lot
of this for me, so I had plenty of time to write. I don’t know
how many pieces there are, but my dossier runs pages
and pages. The beautiful
part about that career at Eastman was the fact that Hanson [photo at left] was always
anxious to perform the music, not only of people on his staff — and
were several of us composers who profited by his interest in American
music — but music, generally, by Americans all over. We were
constantly listening to music of other Americans; it was a wonderful
situation to be in from this standpoint. I never
had the feeling that I was constrained, or that I didn’t have the time
to devote to composition because of my everyday duties.
Hanson the Serge Koussevitzky of the
WB: I think
so, yeah. That’s a fair analysis. He was a great friend of
course. He frequently would go up and conduct the Boston
Symphony; Koussevitzky would invite him quite frequently.
BD: Is the
Hanson tradition at Eastman being upheld today?
WB: Well, I
don’t know if it’s too bad or not. The times change;
personalities change. We have other
composers at Eastman now who have more or less taken over, and
that’s fine. I think it’s just the sort of thing that should
happen, so I don’t feel bad at all. The Hanson years were
wonderful years for all of us who were associated
with him. I have nothing but wonderful feelings as I look
back at these years from my ripe old age of seventy-five!
BD: Now that
you’re in your
seventy-fifth year, what is perhaps the most surprising thing that
you’ve noticed in music?
Gosh. The most surprising thing?
Surprising or interesting, or unforeseen.
WB: Well, I’m
not surprised at anything!
[Laughs] I think music is capable of throwing surprises of all
so I don’t really think of a single notable thing that happened in
music that I would call a pleasant surprise or a nasty surprise.
I just tend to accept what composers do, but
even that doesn’t surprise me because composers are people; they
have personalities. I get surprised at some things that
happen in certain people’s music. I’m not going to
mention any names, but sometimes I get surprised by what I don’t like
things that certain composers do. That’s as far as I can answer
BD: You began
BD: And you
continued teaching, along with the
administrative duties, right up until you retired in 1978?
that’s right. I got into
the administration gradually. I started off in the Theory
Department, and then added a little composition to my teaching later
on. That is when I dropped the theory.
BD: How did
the students change in those years?
[Laughs] Students have always been
wonderful people to me. I don’t really think that I could point
to any great differences between students of the thirties and the
forties, and the students of the seventies and eighties. I really
don’t think there’s all that much difference. They come, of
course, with a different kind of background and a different bent,
depending on what kind of music they have listened to in their
lives, but basically I’ve found them always people who are very
much interested in learning. They’re in school to learn. If
they’re interested in composition, this is their main interest in life,
and I don’t think they’re any more or less interested in this major
thing that they want to do now than they were forty years ago.
Students are students at all times. I
think they were just the same back when Bach had students! [Both
composition be taught, or must it be innate within each student?
WB: I think
that students can be
taught. First of all, they have to have a modicum of talent,
however you want to define that particular ingredient. But
students can be taught, and I’ve always found them interested in what
was going on in music. They are certainly interested in what the
do to teach them to do their music better. This is done not by
student imitate the teacher, but the teacher’s job is to point out,
when he’s done an exercise, how it can be done better. This
is not to have it end up sounding like what the teacher would
like. This is what makes a good
teacher. He starts with what the student has done, and makes it
better in accordance with the student’s own outlook on
music. And this is what I always enjoyed doing; I think it’s the
way it should be done.
BD: So then
it’s the teacher that must be ultimately
Absolutely, absolutely! It’s a fairly often-heard criticism
of some teachers
that they tend to make their students sound like they do. That’s
not an uncommon criticism that one hears in the music
profession, and there were teachers that did that. I’m not going
to mention any names, and some of them were quite famous names, but
that is not the way it should be done, in my opinion. I think
most teachers would agree with me about that. A good teacher
makes an individual personality out of his composition student.
wonderful that you would
look at it that way. That’s a great boon to your students.
WB: One likes
to do all one can for one’s
students, and to me, the important thing is to somehow open up
the wonderful landscape that music can lay before a student who wants
to compose. In so doing, this landscape must be the student’s
own landscape, and how he sees the landscape. He shouldn’t
see it through his teacher’s eyes; he has to see that landscape
in terms of his own vision. If the teacher can
succeed in doing that — in making a landscape
for the student which is
basically the student’s own — then that makes
the teacher a
great teacher, I think.
BD: Have you
basically been pleased with the performances you’ve heard of your music
over the years?
WB: Oh, yes,
I think so. I don’t recall any
terrible performance. The music has been played by differing
degrees of professionalism, from absolute professional symphonies and
chamber groups with very good players to amateur groups, and I
like both of them. The amateurs, in a sense, usually bring
of fresh to what you’re hearing, and that’s great. So I have no
BD: Did you
also do some conducting yourself?
WB: Oh yes,
I’ve done quite a bit of
conducting — mostly of my own music. I enjoy conducting.
Part of my career was as an organist and choir director in churches,
so I have a heavy background in sacred music, and I’ve always
enjoyed being able to conduct and play at the same time. I’ve
also worked in churches with a
choir conductor. We didn’t always agree on what we were going to
do, so I was forced, inevitably, to play things at his
tempo and the way he wanted it done.
BD: Was one
right or wrong?
WB: No, not
one right and wrong, just two different
opinions about the characteristics that ought to be brought out in the
music. So when I finally had the opportunity to work and to
become combination organist and conductor, I
was pleased and I had a wonderful time. Of late, I’ve become more
interested in sacred music than any other kind of music. As a
matter of fact, I’m almost doing nothing else but
following this line of music exclusively. I was one of a number
of composers who
worked for Concordia Music Publishing House, which is a Lutheran
organization. For many years, those of us who were in that
stable of composers were asked to do all kinds of things with the hymn
literature of the Lutheran Church. It was lots of fun, and I’ve
got albums full of things that I wrote for the church. This
gets me into at least a mention of this word Gebrauchsmusik.
There’s nothing wrong with Gebrauchsmusik.
This is music for use,
and some of the best music ever written was music for use. Bach
is the perfect example of this, of course. So this has pleased me
you’re writing a piece like this, are
you conscious that it’s going to be for use, or
is the compositional process pretty much the same as anything else
composition process is exactly the
same. You will be guided by the fact that you recognize it as
wrote four volumes of organ music, for example for this publishing
house, and you recognize that they’re not all going to be top-flight
organists. Some of them are going to be, perhaps, mere
beginners. So you don’t write for the most experienced organist
that ever lived, nor do you write it for beginners only. You
strike a happy medium so that you write a volume of organ music which
can be played by a large number of organists.
BD: Is this a
special challenge to you, to
write something that is intrinsically musical yet technically not
that’s no problem. That’s no problem.
BD: Have you
written other vocal music besides the
WB: I have a
set of songs, a song cycle, plus some choral things.
BD: Tell me
the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.
[Laughs] I love to write for voice. I
don’t know if it has any particular joys. I’ve not
written a great deal of vocal music, but the performances I have heard
of that which I have done, I’ve been very pleased
with in general. I love the human voice, and I’m very pleased
with the song cycle I wrote for soprano.
That’s the only real piece I’ve done for solo vocal use. I tend
write more for chorus, and I love to write for chorus.
no chance that the chorus is a
dying art form?
WB: Well, now
that you mention it, I’m afraid it
is. But in Rochester we have several excellent church choirs
and we have an oratorio society, which is open to all people who can
pass the entry exam, so to speak. They do wonderful
work! There aren’t as many professional choruses, I think, as
there once were, which is a pity, but I don’t think that the choral
ever going to die out completely. It’s hard for me to conceive of
churches that have no choir, for example.
you’re writing a concert work, are you writing
for specific people, or do you write for the audience, or do you write
for the players?
writing for the audience, mostly, I
guess, but also, if not more so, I’m writing for
myself! I’m working, for example, on a large commission, a
large choral work which will run forty-five minutes. The choral
parts are already done, and I’m in the
midst of scoring it now. This is a piece which was written
on commission for the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, and
the chorus will be made up of high school students and older, and some
of the faculty. The faculty will also do
the solo spots. It’s a cantata. Now here I’m conscious of
the fact that this is not a professional
chorus, so the choral parts are fairly simple, but they’re
still full of the kind of sound that I want to get from a
chorus. It will not be a burden for this chorus to grapple
with. If it were, the piece could never come off. From
that standpoint, it is adapted to the resources at hand.
Nevertheless, it’s a piece that’s given me goose bumps in listening
mentally to it, and I think it’s going to be interesting, and
hopefully more than interesting, an uplifting piece.
wonderful when it give the composer the
goose bumps first!
Yes! [Laughs] The text is from Revelation.
It’s called The Seven Seals of
Revelation, and it melds some of the prophetic books of the
Old Testament with the Book of Revelation. Of course, they
correspond exactly; they talk about the same things.
BD: When you
get a commission
for a piece of music, how do you decide if you will accept it, or
postpone it, or even turn it down?
never turned down a commission! I think I am smart enough to be
able to write for almost
any kind of musical aggregation that the person would like. I
don’t think that bothers me at all. If they want a piece for
piccolos and bass drums, I think I could write that! But of
course, I’m delighted and honored when
people do want something that I am happy to write, most of which
involves the use of the chorus. I just love it! A lot of
people know this, and this is why these things come my way.
BD: Is the
music of Wayne Barlow great?
WB: Oh, I don’t
worry about that. I think it
has great moments. It’s probably not all great. I don’t
think all of Beethoven’s music is great, either.
BD: Is the
public today making a
mistake when they expect every new work to be a masterpiece?
WB: That’s an
interesting question. I’m sure that many people do
expect a new piece to be a masterpiece, particularly something that the
going to play. If the Chicago Symphony’s going to
play that, it surely must be a masterpiece. So yes, I think
that’s true. It may well be that they will occasionally be
disappointed, but that’s inevitable too. I wish it could
be otherwise, so that every piece any composer ever writes would be
great, but not every piece I’ve written has been great, and I
think that probably applies to most living composers.
programs, should we only play the great masterpieces of the past?
WB: Oh no, I
don’t think that!
BD: So there
is a place on the concert platform for
the next level, and even the level under that?
WB: Oh, I
think so, sure. Gosh, that’s
an awfully rarified atmosphere! If you are a conductor, how would
you go about looking
all your life for all the great music?
Conductors have other things to worry about, such as
making programs enjoyable. I don’t think all enjoyable music is
great, but that’s not a reason it shouldn’t be played.
advice do you have for conductors
conductor, of course, has
his own notion of the sort of music his audiences ought to hear.
You have to start with that premise, but at the same
time, he has to recognize that not all members of his audience will
necessarily agree with his choice of music that should be heard.
He has to be very aware of that fact, and he
has to be a master at putting programs together that will
make a maximum amount of impact and enjoyability on the part of his
audience. This music, whatever it is, ought to be played as
perfectly as possible. When you get this combination of a
program, which somehow is put together in an endeavor to please as many
persons in the audience as possible, played as perfectly as possible, I
think this is really all a conductor can do.
BD: Is there
such a thing as perfection in music?
WB: Oh, I
doubt it! But that doesn’t make it any less great.
advice do you have for the young composers
it’s the same
thing I would say to students. I was mentioning the fact that
they certainly shouldn’t try to imitate their teacher, and teachers
shouldn’t try to make them imitate them. I think students and
composers — and I would include composers in this admonition — should
discover music’s basic vitality. They should
listen, and in so doing in their study of music — which
they must do
if they’re great composers — they’ve got to know
what went before
them. They have to find some way to graft the past onto the
present through their study and experience with older music. If
they’re going to be a successful composer, they must somehow
adapt their style, their methods of writing and their
notions of thematic materials to the extent to which
they’re going to use things like contrapuntal principles and whether
they’re going to use a lot of imitative music. These are devices
of the past, but these can be brought into the future in the work
of a living composer — with proper adaptation
— to different harmonic and melodic materials that are
available to the
present-day composers. In comparison with those of the past, the
present-day composer has a much larger array of resources in terms of
possibilities. The orchestras can play pieces now that an
orchestra of the past couldn’t have played. The palette of
materials of the composer, compared to the palette of the artist, is
broad. He has devices, some of which belong partly to
the area of Schoenberg and other atonal composers. And part of
this palette goes into other areas of
instrumental sounds that are, these days, much richer and more varied
than those of the past. The composer has to recognize these
and be able to use these new sounds — which is
what they are in some
cases. In terms of electronic sound, for example, he has to be
able to adapt these so that they become part of his musical
materials, too. The modern composer has a tough job, in trying to
make all this a part of himself. The earlier
composers had a somewhat easier time of it. Nevertheless, I’m
delighted to be writing at this time. It’s not easy, because you
don’t know who your audience is half the time. If all they’re
interested in is rock and
roll, that’s just too bad; I’m afraid I couldn’t
satisfy them! [Both laugh]
BD: Has the
tremendous explosion of recorded
material which is available helped or hindered this whole process?
WB: Both, I
think. It’s a hindrance in
presenting so much to the person who wants to become expert in
the past has done. All of a sudden he’s presented with not
only the past, but also with what people are doing
in the present. You come across this almost unending source
of new sounds and new ways of using sound, all of which are going on
simultaneously in the present. It is, I suspect, pretty
confusing to a lot of people. On the other hand, the person who
is willing to sift through it all and separate the wheat from the
chaff, may be able to
enrich his own art simply because he was able to come across things
through the recording medium which otherwise he probably never would
have come across. So I think in that respect, it’s all to the
good. But this individual, who is working in the present,
certainly has to be able to separate what is useful to him
from that which is absolutely of no use whatever. He has
to be selective.
BD: Not just
in music, but it seems in every arena today there is so very much to
think about and consider, and that trove is always growing!
Yes, that is certainly the case. I have thought about this many
times, and have put down the way I feel about everything.
[Reads] “To me,
music is rather indivisible, which is to say that
while it is impossible to know all about everything involved in the art
of music, it is just as impossible to be a totally successful teacher
of an instrument, of history, of theory, or whatever, or composer, or
musicologist, or theorist, or performer, or conductor, without knowing
something about how all these pieces of the art fit together. It
is no accident that musicologists frequently become skilled performers
of the music they study, or vice versa, that many theorists make
excellent composers or conductors, or that conductors prosper to the
extent that they understand the idiomatic foundations and historical
setting of the music they conduct, along with its syntactical
complexities. Further, some acquaintance on the part of
practicing musicians with the progress of human history, and the
monuments of human thought, as expressed in literature, the sciences,
and the arts, is mandatory if the individual is to be an enlightened
and effective member of society.”
that’s a wonderful statement! It’s put
together very, very well, and reflects your thoughts succinctly.
WB: Well, it
does, yeah. It’s been a joy
to talk to you.
BD: Oh, it’s
been a great pleasure for me! I
appreciate being able to chat with you. I look
forward to the recordings and I’ll continue to play your music
on the air!
WB: Well, I’m
very glad you called. You’re doing a lot for me, to
give me a
little exposure out there in Chicago.
=== === ===
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=== === === === ===
Following our conversation,
Barlow sent me some recorded material and copies of printed items,
along with this personal letter.
The following tribute was
included in the program booklet
for Barlow's 75th Birthday Concert at Eastman
© 1988 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded on the telephone on September
Portions (along with recordings)
were used on WNIB in 1992 and 1997. This
made and posted on this
website in 2010.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.