Composer  Richard  Hervig

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

hervig Richard Hervig was born in Iowa on November 24, 1917. Following a BA in English (Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD) and some high school teaching (English and music) he studied composition with the late Philip Greeley Clapp at the University of Iowa, receiving the MA in 1941 and PhD degrees in 1947 in composition.

He has taught at Luther College, Long Beach State College, and the University of Iowa, where he was head of composition and theory. In 1966 he founded the Center for New Music; a widely recognized performance group specializing in 20th Century music.

Hervig is an honorary member of the American Composers Alliance.

Upon his retirement in 1988, he was appointed to a post at the Julliard School, where he was co-chairman of Literature and Materials of Music program. His pupils have included Charles Dodge and William Hibbard, among others. He has received commissions from the National Music Council, the National Federation of Music Clubs and numerous performers.

Hervig's compositions, most of which are instrumental and tonal, show a disciplined approach to standard forms and an exploration of timbral possibilities.

Hervig passed away on September 6, 2010 at age 92. 

Hervig was in Chicago in October of 1987, to hear the Chicago Symphony led by Pierre Boulez, and we arranged to meet at his hotel the following day.  

Parts of the interview, along with some of his recordings, were programmed on WNIB the following month to celebrate his 70th birthday, and again for his 75th and 80th birthdays.  Now 35 years later, I am pleased to be able to share the entire chat.  As usual, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.
We began our conversation with talk about the CSO . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   What did you think of the Boulez concert last night?

Richard Hervig:   Oh, I enjoyed it very much.  He’s a good conductor, and it was a pretty interesting program.  It was very short.  The Stravinsky [Symphonie of Wind Instruments] can’t be more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and his own piece [Notations I-IV] was around the same length.  So, the first half was about a half an hour of music, playing time.  The Bartók  [The Wooden Prince] was a bit longer, but even so, it was only about forty-five minutes in the second half.  So it was a short concert.

BD:   You’re both a composer and a teacher.  How much do you try to keep up with all of the other trends in music these days?

Hervig:   I try to keep up with everything I can, I really do.  [Laughs]

BD:   Is there simply so much that you just can’t keep up with all of it?

Hervig:   You can’t keep up with everything.  I do try to keep abreast of developments in contemporary music.  I’m not able to keep up with one of my secondary interests, which is music history, and music of the remote past, which I like very much.

BD:   Back to the Renaissance?

Hervig:   Yes, and Early Renaissance, thirteenth century music, and twelfth century music.  I do like this music very, very much, but I’m not really able to keep abreast of the developments in that, which are very many recently.  But I do try to keep up with that’s going on in the world.

BD:   In your opinion, where is music going these days?

Hervig:   Now, that’s a question I don’t think I would ever answer at any time!  [Both laugh]  I’m not into prediction at all.  It’s hard enough to say where it is.

BD:   [Taking the obvious hint for the next question]  Then where is it now?

Hervig:   I could just say something about that, and my answer, or assessment, wouldn’t be too much different from that of anyone else who has anything to do with the serious music field.  I don’t really care for that term ‘serious music’, but we are sort of stuck with it.  I like Hitchcock’s term.  He wrote a book Music in the United States, and although these terms certainly suffice, he suggested that instead of using ‘serious’ and ‘popular’, or ‘classical’ and ‘popular’, he suggests that the music be described as being in the cultivate tradition, and in the vernacular tradition.  Those terms explain the difference, but the words aren’t as loaded as
serious and popular.


hitchcock Hugh Wiley Hitchcock
(September 28, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan – December 5, 2007 in New York, New York) was an American musicologist. He is best known for founding the Institute for Studies in American Music at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in 1971. The institute was recently renamed the Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music in his honor.

Hitchcock received a B.A. degree from Dartmouth College in 1944 and an M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1948. After studying under Nadia Boulanger in Paris, he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1954. He taught there from 1950 to 1961 and then at Hunter College from 1961 to 1971. He taught in the CUNY system until 1993, when he retired. He served as president of the Music Library Association, 1966–1967, the Charles Ives Society, 1973–1993, and the American Musicological Society, 1990–1992.

Hitchcock did much work on music of the early Baroque in France and Italy, especially on Marc-Antoine Charpentier. He also made important contributions to the understanding of musical traditions in America, both popular and cultivated, and his text in this field is a standard reference work. In addition to Charles Ives, he focused particular attention on contemporary American composers including Virgil Thomson, John Cage, and Henry Cowell. He was the co-editor of the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and a consultant for American music for The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

BD:   They are not so pejorative.

Hervig:   Right.  At any rate, [laughs] to paraphrase a statement that the Austrians used to make, in Germany the situation is serious but not impossible, whereas in Austria the situation is impossible but not serious!  [Both laugh]  So, in serious twentieth-century music, the situation is fluid, by which I mean that you can find just about any style, or any variety of any style, or any combination of varieties of style.  In pop music it would be called ‘crossover’, or
fusion.  You can find about anything you want to look for, and you can find many of these things in the same work.  When I was a student just getting into this business in the late 1930s and 40s, you just about had to line yourself up with either the Hindemith school of tonality or extended tonality, or else with the Schoenberg school of expressionism and serial expressionism.  You had to do that, and people did.  There were big arguments among us as to which one was right and which one was going to go, but that’s not true anymore.  It certainly isn’t true in the academic community, and it doesn’t seem to be true in the concert world either.  If you think of the number of styles you can hear, and the number of styles and modes and methods you can hear in one piece, it’s really quite amazing!  Perhaps that is the suggestion or prediction that Leonard B. Meyer made in his book called Music, the Arts, and Ideas.  He analyzed the contemporary music scene back in the 1960s, and concluded that what we were in for was something that he called ‘fluctuating stasis’.  The word ‘stasis means nothing is going anywhere.  It’s just standing there.  But fluctuating means that it’s changing all the time, even though it’s not going anywhere.  Its just sitting there moving around as if it was in some sort of culture medium.  [Both laugh]  I thought this is a cop-out.  Meyer just made an umbrella that will cover everything, and that gets you out of trouble.  But maybe he was right.  Maybe something like that has been going on.  It certainly is the case that an avant-garde is hard to define and hard to find these days.  The avant-garde was very recognizable and identifiable, and, in a sense, pretty vocal in the 1920s or ‘30s.  Then after the War, with the so-called post-Webern serialism explosion, there was a very distinctive avant-garde in Europe, and in this country too.  I think it was Wuorinen who suggested that there happened to be a revolution, and the last revolution has already said that anything goes, and that was true.  Anything would go and anything would work.

Leonard B. Meyer
(January 12, 1918 – December 30, 2007) was a composer, author, and philosopher. He contributed major works in the fields of aesthetic theory in music, and of compositional analysis.

Meyer studied at Columbia University, where he received a B.A. in Philosophy and an M.A. in Music. He continued at University of Chicago, where he was awarded a Ph.D. in History of Culture in 1954. As a composer, he studied under Stefan Wolpe, Otto Luening, and Aaron Copland. In 1946, he became a member of the music department at the University of Chicago, and in 1961 he was appointed professor of music. In 1975 he became professor of music and the humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, and professor emeritus in 1988.

His most influential work, Emotion and Meaning in Music (1956), combined Gestalt Theory and theories by the Pragmatists Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey to try to explain the existence of emotion in music. Peirce had suggested that any regular response to an event developed alongside the understanding of that event's consequences, its "meaning". Dewey extended this to explain that if the response was stopped by an unexpected event, then an emotional response would occur over the event's "meaning". Meyer used this basis to form a theory about music, combining musical expectations in a specific cultural context with emotion and meaning elicited. His work went on to influence theorists both in and outside music, as well as providing a basis for cognitive psychology research into music and our responses to it.

Meyer's 1967 work "Music, the Arts, and Ideas," was influential in defining the transition to postmodernism in light of new works such as George Rochberg's Music for the Magic Theater, which was premiered at the University of Chicago in 1967.

Other major written works include The Rhythmic Structure of Music (with Grosvenor Cooper, 1960), Explaining Music (1973), and Style and Music: Theory, History, and Ideology (1989; paperback reprint ed., 1997).


BD:   Where does the music of Richard Hervig fit into all of this?

Hervig:   I’m not sure about that, but I guess that most people would call my music
twentieth century.  They have no choice about that since it was composed during that period, but it’s probably more conservative than the music of almost any of the schools that we’ve been talking about.  But I haven’t identified with any trend.  That’s part of the case.

BD:   Is this because you wanted to write music in this style, or is this the label that goes onto the music after it’s written?

Hervig:   [Thinks a moment]  That label is one I’ve just put on this minute because you asked me to, so I can
say something about it.  The kind of music I wrote, and that I still write, is the kind of person I am, and I don’t have a lot of control over it up to a point.  What music the composer writes, like paintings a painter paints, or a novel the novelist writes, or the furniture a designer makes, says something about the person who made them.  I have the feeling that what statement is made by the artifacts may be more revealing than any statement the person who made them could ever make.  I really feel that the music is the person, just as the novel is the person, and the poem is, in a very real sense, the person.  When I first learned that Beethoven was a real person who was jealous, and mean, and stupid on occasion, and sometimes dishonest, I thought this was curious.  How can that be?  How can this music, which is so noble, so fine, and so wonderful, be the expression of someone like this?  But it is!  It is the expression of someone like that, and all these matters are peripheral.  This is a real person.  So to get back to your question about whether to label, it probably does go on after the fact.  I don’t think any more than any other composer about such matters when I’m composing.  I’m too busy trying to figure out what note comes next, or what pitch comes after that, or what I’m doing, or what’s going on in this piece.  There is no time to worry about what to call it, because if composition is anything at all, it’s certainly a deed.  It’s something you do.  That’s not an original thought with me.  I think Roger Sessions, among others, expressed that rather well, but it’s something that you do.  It’s an act that you make.  You may put a lot of thought into it.  Everyone does.  Composers do think a lot about what they do.  Nevertheless, at some point you make some sort of determination, and you do something, and at that point you know it’s right.  It’s called inspiration, which happens rarely enough that you can identify it.  But the point is that you cannot really figure out all the thoughtful and logical steps which led up to the point at which you performed that action and did that deed.  That’s what’s called intuition, or insight, or problem-solving.  Do you ever do the Jumble in the newspaper?  Anyone who’s done Jumbles knows about inspiration.

BD:   In a Jumble there’s a specific answer.

Hervig:   There’s one answer, that’s right.

BD:   In music, is there a specific answer?

Hervig:   That’s an interesting question, and yes, there is an answer.  The answer is the answer that was given.  That’s the answer, and there is no other possibility.  Whether they’re dialogic, as we’re doing now, or musical, if you believe, as I do, the human utterance is basically unrepeatable.  It can only happen once, so no matter how trivial this utterance may seem to be
like some of the stuff I’ve been saying tonight for the first and last timeit is a unique utterance, and it can never be said again.  The words will be said again, and you can analyze the thought content, and you might feel that’s the same thing he’s been saying all his lifewhich is probably trueor the same thing that other people have been saying all their liveswhich is also quite possibly truenevertheless, what I have said and what you have said tonight are unique utterances.  I believe that, because I don’t see any contradiction or any other possibility of being any other way.

BD:   So, it’s the music on the page that is the unique utterance, not the performance of that music?

Hervig:   That’s another point, because there’s a pretty good chance that music exists only in performance.  There’s a fair chance that this is the case, and if all these performances are different, therefore the piece of music is different every time.

BD:   Completely different?

Hervig:   Yes, the piece of music is different.  If it’s true that the piece of music exists in performance, then it’s possible to make that point.  I’m not wanting to defend it with my life at the moment, but I don’t know where else it will exist.  I do not think it exists on the page.

BD:   Does the music exist in grooves on a plastic disc?

Hervig:   That’s just converting time into space, isn’t it?  Then you’ve only converted one temporal situation into a fixed space.  If you did it again the next day, you would get something different.

BD:   Okay, so now we have two things which are diametrically opposed
the performance of the music each time, and the playing of the record which is identical each time.

Hervig:   Right!  I should have qualified the statement I made about the human speech, or utterance being unrepeatable, except by mechanical means!  But even there, there’s a problem because I doubt that the situation in which a record is played can be repeated, because of the state of mind of the listener, or the room, or any of these things.  It is simply amazing that the musical art has the enduring capacity that it does.  If anything that I’ve said is even partially true, it has endured not because it is a fixed object, but because it is an objective which is transit.  It is in motion, and is curiously adaptable.  There’s no question that this is true for the core of the concert repertoire.  It’s fixed, and it’s been in place for quite a while.  The Schwann Catalog pretty much defines what the contemporary repertoire is.  However, the concert last night which was not from the fixed repertoire.  Occasionally you’ll hear concerts which will include other works which are not in this cannon of great music, but if those occasional pieces disappeared, I don’t think the world would really care all that much.  As long as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, Schubert, and Brahms are still there, the musical world would continue.  I could invent the possibility of a world in which the music of Bach was not allowed, but I don’t believe it will ever happen.  There was a wonderful cartoon called ‘Life without Mozart.’  It shows a barren landscape, with no trees, a kind of desert with a couple of old tires and empty soup cans.  [Both laugh]
BD:   It was just a wasteland?

Hervig:   Yes, an utter wasteland.  The only artifacts around are human-made artifacts which are of no value.  That’s a fact of contemporary concert life.

BD:   Then let me ask a difficult question.  Is the music of Richard Hervig of value?

Hervig:   [Thinks a moment]  It’s a good question!  [Continues to think]  I’ll try not to evade the responsibility of answering, which I could very easily do by saying that any human artifact is of value.  We could perhaps agree to that, as long as it’s not destructive or totally obscene.  You’re talking about a lasting or enduring value?

BD:   Let’s say a lasting value.

Hervig:   I don’t know.  I would say, if I wanted to lay a bet on it, that it’s probably not too great.

BD:   Is that the fault of the music, or the fault of the society?

Hervig:   I don’t know if it’s anybody’s fault.  I don’t think ‘fault’ enters into it at all.  Assigning fault suggests that there is something wrong with the music, something really incorrect or even sinful about it.

BD:   Then let’s change it to the reason for the lack of lasting value.

Hervig:   I’m not sure.  I don’t know how much of the music which is now being composed, is going to be of lasting value, and I don’t know which of it will be.  For a number of years I’ve directed a group called The Center for New Music, which I founded in 1966 at the University of Iowa.  We got a Rockefeller Foundation Seed Grant to get the thing started.  The idea was that this would be a performance group, whose function was to support contemporary music through performance.  It was very interesting, and a very exciting time.  Our notion was that we would perform two kinds of twentieth century music.  One would be twentieth century classics.  That’s the music by composers who were recognized as important, without any regard to whether or not people liked their music.  This would be Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, and Ives, and certain other Americans about whom there would be no real controversy.  They would appear on anybody’s list of the top twenty composers of the century.  Then we would also do music of others, and we decided to do this on the basis of stylistic and geographical distribution.  We would try not to play music only by composers residing in New York or Iowa City.  Although, that was very tempting, and they probably got more play than anyone else.  We owed that to ourselves.  Also, we would not play music only of the serial school, nor music of the Cage school, but try to sample as many of the styles as we possibly could, without consideration of whether or not what we were playing was going to have any lasting value.  This was because we couldn’t know that.  The only way that the lasting value has been determined so far is by the famous sifting process, the process of history, which has supposedly dropped by the wayside those types of music which were not as good as the ones that were kept.

BD:   Is the process always right?

Hervig:   We’ve got a lot of societies now that are, shall we say, sifting the ashes.  [Both laugh]  There are composers that music history had written off some time ago, who now have societies devoted to the preservation and performance of their music.  I must admit that one of the things I really found fascinating about my ventures into the study of music of the past, was that I began to find out that there are differences, which one does as soon as one looks closely at anything.  For example, the music of the fifteenth century Court of Burgundy didn’t all sound alike.  There’s a lot of difference among those composers, and among the pieces they wrote.  I would not want to be in the position of saying this one ought to stay in, and those others ought to go.  There are some composers whose music I don’t really like.  I’m entitled a prejudice or two.  I’m not crazy about Rachmaninoff, for instance.  He has two or three really first-rate pieces, and quite a few that I don’t care if I ever hear again.  But that’s just a personal prejudice of mine.

BD:   As you look at your own catalogue, do you like your own pieces?

Hervig:   Oh, good heavens!  I look over the last thirty years’ worth of music, and some of those things I really wouldn’t do again.  Then I have to say that’s the way I felt.  That was me at that time.  I won’t turn down a performance of an old piece.  Did I send you the String Quartet from 1955?  [Yes, he had.  LP is shown above.]  That’s a long time ago, and I certainly have changed my mind about a lot of things since then.

BD:   But you don’t want to disown the work, do you?

Hervig:   Oh, no, oh, no, absolutely not!  Far from it.  It’s a fault of the time, and it was an honest feeling.  I expressed what I thought at that time.  What I was going to mention about all this was the connection.  When I was directing the Center, I got a lot of questions asking what this stuff was all about.  People wanted to know,
“What is this new music?  What’s involved in it?  Why is it so different?  One of the questions that I’d often get from professional musicians was, “This is all well and good, and we can accept this stuff, but where is it going?  What’s the line?  What line is going to be established, or founded by this?  Another question was, “Where are the new Straviniskys?  Who is going to write the next Rite of Spring?  Where are the Prokofievs?  Where is the next Charles Ives?  Where are the Bartóks?  In the 1960s, Bartók was just really coming into his own, with multiple recordings and performances.  I had to say that I didn’t know.  I did not see the kind of line that they were talking about, a line that might be, say, analogous to the line that began with Glinka, went up through Borodin and Rimsky Korsakov, and wound up with Stravinsky.  I don’t think you’re going to find a line like that.  The multiplicity of styles is probably here to stay for a while.  It’s certainly true in popular music, though I’m no authority on pop music.
BD:   For you, is Rock, music?

Hervig:   Oh yes, sure.  It’s a kind of music.  I can’t argue with that.  That would be quibbling when you say that it’s not music, and that would be imposing a value-judgment.  If I want to do that, then I have to say the music that I happen not to like at the moment is not music either, even if it happened to be by Milton Babbitt, or some other composer whom I respect greatly, and who I feel is really trying hard with a great deal of talent, and a great deal of thought, to say something new.  That’s another question, of course, whether you can say something new.  But at any rate, in pop music you have a multiplicity of styles now, and if you want to find out about pop music, you don’t ask somebody like me.  You ask somebody who’s going around with a Walkman.  You can ask them to tell you about this, and they will tell you the is piece that they’re listening to is a mixture of this, and this, and this, and this.  They can name four or five different sources, and say it all comes together, and you can see these sources.


BD:   Do you do the same thing with concert music?

Hervig:   Yes, I do, but the concert going public does not.

BD:   Why not?

Hervig:   The concert-going public is not able to do that with nearly the sophistication that a Walkman carrier is able to, and be correct about it.  This is something which has happened since concert music was the lively, social and artistic expression it was in the Classical period.  At that time, the sophisticated listener could hear, say, the Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and know that Mozart used the gavotte for his slow movement.  [Sings the first few measures]  They could hear it.  It was a slow gavotte, and they picked up on this instantly.  Today, I would say most of us would have to be told what a gavotte is, and what its doing there.  All the things that Mozart was able to bring into his music were pretty much common knowledge to folks in that day, but we would have to be told about it.  I don’t think we know about much it.  We read Mozart from a different perspective.  This is one of the great things about music of the Classic periodthat we can look at it from a brand new perspective, and get something out of it which quite possibly the composer himself had no notion of.

BD:   Despite this general lack of knowledge, are you optimistic about the future of concert music?

Hervig:   [Hesitates, then responds emphatically]  Yes, I really am.  I don’t see that it is any worse now than it ever was.  There’s a lot of it.  People are going to concerts.  There are some bad signs, such as the economic problem, which causes the disappearance of some of the orchestras in the country.  I really hate to see that.  The Oakland Symphony folded a couple of years ago.  They’re trying to get going again with a three-concert-season this year.  [Richard Buckley had been Music Director (1983-86), and Michael Morgan took that position when it started up again in 1988.]  There are other orchestras... not the major ones, but these other orchestras are very important.  You have to have that kind of activity to have a healthy concert music life.  So that worries me more than anything else.  But the audiences seem to hold, and people seem to come.  I don’t know how to account for this economic problem.  I’m not enough of an economist to really understand all that’s going on, but there are quite a few factors involved.  But basically, yes, I really am hopeful for the life of concert music in this country, despite of the fact that you could demonstrate that most of the listening to serious music is by record, either in your home or on a radio station.  Nevertheless, it is impossible to replicate the kind of energy, the kind of feedback that you get in an audience.  If you’re in the audience, and the orchestra is playing well, and people are into it, there’s a current like electricity that goes around the hall.  You and your neighbor are feeling the same way, and you’re all in tune with the performers.  That is a wonderful experience.  It doesn’t happen every time, but that’s what you go for.
BD:   When you’re writing a piece of music, do all of these ideas that we’ve been talking about influence what goes onto the page?

Hervig:   I would have to answer categorically that everything about a person goes into what this person does when he’s serious about what he’s doing, and so that would certainly be the case in composition.  Take a piece like The Afternoon of a Faun, which is a common, well-known masterpiece, one of the best pieces Debussy ever wrote.  I certainly put that as one of the high points of music.  When you listen to that piece, you may not realize it, but we are hearing not just those notes, but we are hearing everything that went into Debussy’s life up to that point.  Everything that went in had some bearing on that, and we can identify only a very small fraction of it.  It is the same as when you listen to the Symphony of Psalms of Stravinsky.  When you listen to that opening lick in the brass, you can hear a little bit of the early ballet, and also the harmonic language of Rimsky Korsakov and the whole Russian school.  You hear all these voices coming out of this one piece, but that’s only a part of it.  So, in answer to your question, all these things have some effect on the eventual outcome in the composition.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Have you basically been pleased with the performances you’ve heard of your music over the years?

Hervig:   Basically, yes, and the reason is that I have been in a very fortunate position of having written almost every piece that I composed for a specific occasion, or a specific performer or set of performers.  When you do that, even if the performance doesn’t actually come up to quite what you’d like, nevertheless there’s a real feeling of satisfaction with the work of performers who asked for the piece, and who are delighted to have it.  They are really working their tails off to make it go.  Mostly it’s been pretty good.  There are some performances that are better than others, and I suppose that means there are some worse than others, but I’ve got no cause for complaint at all.

BD:   What about the recordings?  Are you especially pleased with them?

Hervig:   The recordings never really come up to the live performances.  For instance, the Chamber Music for Six Players [LP shown at left.  
Vis-à-vis that recording, see my interviews with Dominick Argento, Arthur Weisberg, and Barbara Martin.].  The first performance was tremendously exciting just because of the external situation.  I was asked to write a piece for something called ‘The Parade of Music’.  It was a series of concerts, one from each state of the union, given at the Kennedy Center during the bi-centennial.  As I recall, they were scheduled during the year in the order in which states were admitted into the union.  The Iowa day came up, and the people who had organized the series were the National Federation of Music Clubs, and these guys had really worked.  There were over 1,500 people for that concert, and, as they say, it was a rush to have that many people there listening to your piece.  They seemed to like it, but you can’t reproduce that sort of thing on a recording.

BD:   You are a composer and a teacher.  How do you divide your time between those two activities?

Hervig:   That’s one of the most difficult problems to even to describe, because I’m a composer and a teacher, and if there were some way of saying those two words one on top of the other, or say them simultaneously, that’s what I would do.  I’m not a teacher-composer, I’m not a teacher of composers, and I’m not a composer who teaches.  I’m both, and after all these years I can’t view one without the other.  I’ve been composing and teaching for about the same number of years, roughly thirty years, not counting youthful efforts in both professions.  I find it difficult to imagine a life for myself without any teaching, and I hope I don’t have deal with that in retirement at the end of this year.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to do some at least part-time teaching.  I just love teaching classes, seminars, private lessons, any kind of thing.  I like it because I’m really interested in people, and how they develop.  I also can’t imagine life without composing, but to try to describe the relationship between the two is very difficult.  Some years ago, Stravinsky was quoted as saying that the American university is a very poor place for a composer.  A composer should not have anything to do with a university situation, because he’ll be teaching, and it will absorb too much energy from his composing.  I would guess that for Stravinsky this was a true statement.  He didn’t like to teach.  He taught on one or two occasions rather badly, because he was not interested in it.

BD:   What advice do you have for young composers coming along?

Hervig:   Grit your teeth, and if you really want to compose, then that is what you must do.  But you must do it without the sense of eventual reward.  That reward for composing, as perhaps the reward for any meaningful activity or action, is in the action and in the doing.  I must say that I love composing.  I love to compose, but the part I like best is the working at it.  Once the piece is done, I won’t say I have no interest in it, as that would be silly!  I still have a lot of interest in the piece, but it
s not the same thing.  After the piece is done, my interest is really the next one.  If you really don’t enjoy doing it, and are doing it for a reason of ambition, or because you hope for some kind of reward, you ought to look again at what you’re doing, and ask yourself if that really is what you want to do.  This is not to say you can’t get the rewards.  Of course, you can, but if that’s the reason, I don’t think it’s a good reason.

BD:   In music, where is the balance between the artistic achievement and the entertainment value?

Hervig:   [Thinks a moment]  Any art in any form is, to a degree, entertaining.  It would be foolish to deny that.  The entertainment factor with a lot of art is pretty sophisticated, so you have to know about it in order to be entertained by it.  You have to know more about T. S. Eliot than you do to be entertained by, shall we say, Edgar Guest.
 You have to know a great deal to be entertained by certain renaissance painters, because their subject matter and their manner of presenting is so far in the past that you have to learn that before you can understand, and get at what they’re doing.  The entertainment value of John Donne is pretty hard to get at.  You have to figure out the language, and you have to decide what these word orders are.  You have to figure out the verse form, and all the thought that’s been included.  It takes a lot of study.

From 1931 to 1942, Edgar Guest broadcast a weekly program on NBC radio. In 1951, A Guest in Your Home appeared on NBC TV. He published more than twenty volumes of poetry and was thought to have written over 11,000 poems. Guest has been called "the poet of the people." Most often, his poems were fourteen lines long and presented a deeply sentimental view of everyday life. He considered himself "a newspaper man who wrote verses." Of his poems he said, "I take simple everyday things that happen to me, and I figure it happens to a lot of other people, and I make simple rhymes out of them."

BD:   Where is the entertainment value in your music?

Hervig:   My music is pretty easily grasped... perhaps it’s too easily grasped.  That’s perhaps why I’m a little more the way I am, being a little candid about its lasting value.  I have a suspicion that the art that lasts the longest is that which makes a few puzzles.  It
s that which is a little harder to get at than others.  That’s not altogether true, though.  When people discovered that Tolstoy was a great novelist was about the same year that War and Peace came out.  There was no question.  Everybody knew this was a great work.  Beethoven’s work was known in his lifetime.  There was no doubt about it, including from him.  The entertainment value also has to be there.  There is no question about that, but the entertainment which factors in great music, or great art, is probably in some sense secondary.  It’s a way into the piece.  The pretty colors are a way into the painting, but they’re secondary.  If a concert hall in some university advertised themselves as The Entertainment Center of Iowa, I would think these boys were on the wrong track.  A teacher of music has not only a right, but a duty to expose his or her students to as many styles and modes of music as possible, from as many periods as possible, neglecting as few as possible, and including those which are, frankly, detestable to the students and that they really hate.  Then, in the same sense, the concert manager has that kind of a duty to his audience, to present to them as much of what is acknowledged as the best as he can, whether they are always entertained by it or not.  Mozart had a great line.  He wrote to his father saying there is something in his pieces for everyone.  The connoisseur will be entertained, and also he who is not a connoisseur will be entertained without knowing why.  A connoisseur is someone who knows why he’s entertained.  Mozart was very lucky, very fortunate that he could see this.

BD:   Do you try to write that into your pieces?

Hervig:   No, I don’t.  Certainly I try to be interesting, but I try to be interesting to myself.  With the multiplicity of contemporary styles, I don
t know if that sort of thing is possible.  This is possible for Mozart because the court style, as so beautifully described by Charles Rosen in his book, was homogenous.  It was in place, and so it was possible to work within that style, and within that style one could amuse people, but without being silly.  Mozart said about The Magic Flute that he was really disgusted because people loved it, but for the wrong reason.  [Both laugh]

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BD:   You’ve been teaching for many years.  Are the students who are coming along today any better or worse than they were twenty, thirty, forty years ago?

Hervig:   Neither!  You get good students all the time, and you get poor students all the time.  You get interesting students all the time, and the class this year in Iowa is just superb.  It’s really great.  I might not have said that about a class seven years ago, but over time it pretty much averages out.

BD:   Who are the students of yours who are making it in a noteworthy way?

Hervig:   There are a couple...  Charles Dodge, who is at Brooklyn College, and has quite a number of recordings out of things he calls ‘speech songs’, which are made with a very sophisticated program that was developed by him and Bell Labs.  He’s doing very, very well.  I suppose the single most successful student of mine is Bruce MacCombie.  He was the Dean at Juilliard, so you can’t get much higher than that in the academic world.
 Then there are a number of students... I hate to say students of mine because at Iowa there have always been at least three, and usually four, composers on the faculty, and composition students will work with at least three of us in the course of a three- or four-year program.  We all feel this is a good idea, because the four of us now represent four totally different approaches to composition.  Bill Hibbard is a real serialist, which I am not, Don Jenni, and Kenneth Gaburo, who has an experimental studio, but he also teaches atonal music.  The four of us are quite different, but I think that’s very good.  I founded the Center in 1966, and from the outset Bill was music director.  When I resigned the directorship in 1984, he’s taken over the directorship, and as well as the music direction.

maccombie Bruce MacCombie (born December 5, 1943 in Providence, Rhode Island died May 2, 2012 in Amherst, Massachusetts) was an American composer.

He studied at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Freiburg Conservatory, and holds a Ph.D. in music from the University of Iowa. He was appointed to the music faculty of Yale University in 1975, and one year later joined the composition faculty of the Yale School of Music.

MacCombie was Director of Publications for G. Schirmer and Associated Music Publishers from 1980 to 1986, Dean of the Juilliard School from 1986 to 1992 and Dean of the School for the Arts at Boston University from 1992 to 2001. Beginning in 2002 he was Professor of Music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst at Amherst, and was Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center from 2001 to 2004.

His compositions include Nightshade Rounds (1979) for solo guitar (written for Sharon Isbin), Leaden Echo, Golden Echo (1989) for soprano and orchestra, the set of choral pieces Color and Time (1990), Chelsea Tango (1991) for orchestra, and the quintet Greeting (1993) (written for Krzysztof Penderecki's 60th birthday).

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hibbard William Hibbard  (August 8, 1939 - April 5, 1989)

B.Mus. in Violin, New England Conservatory of Music (1961)
M.Mus. in Composition, New England Conservatory of Music (1963)
Ph.D in Composition, University of Iowa (1967)
Principal teachers: Francis Judd Cooke, Donald Martino and Richard Hervig

William Hibbard was a distinguished composer, conductor, violist and teacher. He was appointed to the University of Iowa Music Composition faculty in 1966, and promoted to full professor in 1977. He became Chair of the Theory and Composition area in the School of Music in 1982. He served as Music Director of the University's professional new music ensemble, the Center for New Music, from its inception in 1966 through 1988. In addition, he served as Director of the University's Center for New Performing Arts, an interdisciplinary arts project funded jointly by the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Iowa, from 1965 through 1975. Both organizations have made enormous contributions to the promotion, understanding and advancement of new music and art. In 1986 the Center for New Music received the Commendation of Excellence Award from Broadcast Music Inc (BMI). In 1990 the American Composers Alliance conferred its Laurel Leaf Award upon the Center for New Music "in memoriam William Hibbard."

As a violist, he served as Principal Viola of the Quad City Symphony (James Dixon, Music Director) from 1984 through late 1988. In addition, he was founder and Director of the Iowa City String Orchestra from 1980 to 1986.

As a composer, he wrote more than forty works, including compositions for mixed chamber ensembles, voice, orchestra and solo instruments. His musical compositions employ strict serial techniques with virtuoso instrumental writing, contrapuntal complexity and unique orchestration. His composition Ménage (1974) for soprano, trumpet and violin was selected by the U.S. jury as one of five American works to be submitted for the 1977 ISCM Festival in Bonn, Germany. In 1988 he was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the New England Conservatory.

Hibbard died of AIDS in San Francisco at the age of 49 on April 5, 1989.

When asked to describe his music for the Lingua Press Collection II Catalogue, he wrote: "When asked for my views of my own music I freeze. Such requests seek to elicit a verbal – and, it seems to me falsely concrete – grasp to a composer's sonic abstractions. Personally, I desire to fashion something wrought well. Logic and imagination interact to fertilize and focus those desires so that, in the end, the music itself may say it all."

—  Paul Paccione, on the American Composers Alliance website  

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jenni Donald Martin Jenni (born Milwaukee, October 4, 1937 – died New Orleans June 21, 2006) was an American composer, musicologist, and educator. A piano and composition prodigy, Jenni began weekend studies with composer Leon Stein in 1950, and published several compositions before graduating from high school in 1954; he was "championed" during his teen years by composer Henry Cowell.

In 1954, he began his undergraduate education at De Paul University in Chicago, earning a bachelor's degree in music; he was also choirmaster at St. Patrick's Church in South Chicago, Chicago from 1955-60. He earned a master's degree in Medieval Studies from the University of Chicago in 1962 and a doctorate in music composition from Stanford University in 1966.

He taught at De Paul University Chicago from 1962–68, then joined the faculty in music composition and theory at the University of Iowa from 1968. He was tenured in 1974, and served as head of Iowa's composition and theory areas from 1990-1997.


BD:   As you approach your 70th birthday, what is the most surprising thing that you’ve noticed in the world of music?

Hervig:   [Thinks a moment]

BD:   Surprising, or interesting, or pleasing?

Hervig:   There’d be a number of surprising things.  I am or was surprised that after over twenty years, it is still necessary to have something called The Center for New Music in Iowa.  It is still necessary to have groups in the country that specialize in twentieth century music.  If you’d asked me this question in 1966 when we started up the Center, I’d have said the Center will fulfill its function for eight or ten years.  By that time, this stuff will be working itself into the regular repertoire, and we won’t have to do it anymore.  But that’s not the case.  I was mistaken.  It will always be necessary to have groups that specialize in recent and contemporary and perhaps experimental music.  This is not because you have to be a specialist in order to play it, but you have to be able to devote time to it.  The techniques are not special.  Anybody who plays an instrument, or sings, can play this stuff.  You just have to spend a lot of time at it, like you do anything else.  That’s one thing that really surprised me, and with respect to the Center, part of its function was to provide performers for the composition students so they could have a better shot at getting good performances, because one of the strongest points of the composition in Iowa was if you go to Iowa, you’re a composer, you’re going to get performances of your pieces.  These are not just readings, but real performances in real concert situations, with a real audience, and a printed program.

BD:   That’s invaluable.

Hervig:   I don’t think there is any substitute for that, absolutely not.  A student can learn more from that than any number of lectures that I give them.  What good does it do for me to tell them that this will or won’t work?  They’ll find out.  I was surprised at the impact of the Center.  I thought once we founded it, we’d immediately get swarms of students showing up from all parts of the world to study composition.  That wasn’t true, but the effect was that we went from one Student Composers Concert a year to six concerts in a year in about three years.  We don’t call them Student Composers Concerts anymore.

BD:   What do you call them
just concerts?

Hervig:   Composers Concerts!  They are Composers Concerts.  You may ask what kind of concert is not a Composers
Concert, but the difference between the students and the faculty, at least at Iowa and probably every place else, is that they leave and we stay.  Otherwise we’re in the same boat, and we’re all making music.  Those are the things that really did catch me unaware, along with the discovery that the concert repertoire was in place.  The problem is that it’s got to change.  We have had a number of wonderful experiences with visiting composers at Iowa.  Some of these people are really great people, and it’s always nice to see them in action.  They really are very good people, not just reputations, but of substance.  So, that’s been a very great pleasure over the years.

BD:   Thank you for being a composer.

Hervig:   Well, thank you very much for thanking me for that.  [Both laugh]


© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 24, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following month, and again in 1992 and 1998.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning 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 like 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.