Composer  Richard  Moryl

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie






moryl






Richard Henry Moryl, musician, composer, artist and university professor, was born in Newark, N.J. on February 23, 1929. He died April 8, 2018 after coping with health issues for several years. The son of Walter Moryl and Catherine Hozempa, Richard received his undergraduate degree in clarinet performance from Montclair State University in N.J. He went on to earn his master's degree in composition at Columbia University, and did doctoral studies at Brandeis University and the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin.  His teachers included Frederick Breydert, Iain Hamilton, Boris Blacher, and Arthur Berger.

For three decades Moryl served as a music and composition professor at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT, as well as the University of Connecticut and Smith College. As a composer, he received many awards and fellowships, including two National Endowment for the Arts awards, grants from the Ford and Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundations and many others. In 1963 he was a Fulbright scholar in Germany. Over 300 performances of his works have been given in Europe, the United States and South America.

Richard Moryl was the founder and director of the Charles Ives Center for American Music (CICAM), which for over twenty years has performed and supported American composers and their music. More recently, (beginning in 1995) the CICAM was presented at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival for several years as part of the Spotlight Concert Series, continuing its mission of presenting works by American composers performed by local and regional musicians, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and such notable groups as the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and The St. Petersburg (Russia) String Quartet among others.

Moryl was one of the international judges for the 2nd Annual Dmitri Shostakovich Chamber Music Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1991. Forty of his works are published and ten have been recorded.

Moryl founded and directed the New England Contemporary Music Ensemble which has performed extensively throughout the Northeast and the South, and which has been recorded on Desto and Serenus records. A CD of his piece, Das Lied (sung by Jan De Gaetani and conducted by Gerard Schwarz) was re-released in 2000 on the Opus 1 label. [The flip side of the original CRI LP contained a chamber work by Francis Thorne, conducted by Ralph Shapey.]

In addition to his career as a composer and musician (clarinet, flute and saxophone), Moryl has been a prolific artist and photographer, creating a large body of work which spans a period of nearly 50 years. He has had numerous exhibits in Connecticut and other parts of the East Coast, and has had several of his works included in juried art exhibits in Charleston, SC. Moryl moved to Charleston in 1994 and married Ellen Dietz Dressler. Together they were the parents of several beautiful dogs, most recently Wolfgang and Grieg.

In addition to his wife, Ellen Moryl, Richard is survived by his step-daughter, Michelle Dressler Lomano; step-grandchildren, Tristan Lomano and Cecilia Lomano; brother, Walter Moryl; sister, Arline Frances Durmer (James); and several nieces and nephews. Richard's family and friends are invited to attend his services in Mepkin Abbey at 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, SC on April 21, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. Arrangements by J. Henry Stuhr, Inc., Downtown Chapel. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in Richard's name to Hallie Hill Animal Sanctuary at 5604 New Rd, Hollywood, SC 29449 or the Charleston Symphony Orchestra at 2133 N Hillside Dr, Charleston, SC 29407.
 
==  Published in Charleston Post & Courier on April 15, 2018 (with additions)  
==  Names in this box (and below) refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  










This interview was originally set up to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of composer Richard Moryl.  We chatted on the first day of October, 1988, and I did the program on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago the following February.  Indulging my penchant for
round birthdays, it was repeated in 1994 and 1999.

As it happens, this transcript is being added to my website in time to mark what would have been his ninetieth birthday, and my only regret is that he died just a few months ago.  I trust that wherever he is, it pleases him to know that his ideas and remarks live on for people to read, and will probably encourage them to seek out recordings of his music.

Before we
‘met’ on the telephone, he had sent me a few LPs, so we spoke of them as we settled in for our conversation.


Bruce Duffie:   Are you basically pleased with the recordings that have been made of your music over the years?

Richard Moryl:   As far as recordings are concerned, you’re just very happy getting a recording.

BD:   Even a poor one?

RM:   They’re not always made under the best conditions, for a lot of reasons, even with the best people.

BD:   How are the ones that are of your music?

RM:   Most of them are pretty good.  There are few things here and there, but I really have nothing to complain about.  We did them with the forces we could get together, and under those conditions.  In the early days of recording, at least when some of the smaller companies in the
70s were doing things, they couldn’t afford to spend a whole lot of money.  So, we would record in churches, which are very popular now, but they were not then because the acoustics.  We also did a lot of recordings with the college group because they were available.  Things like that just happened in the business, unfortunately.

BD:   Is there any such thing as a perfect recording?

moryl RM:   Probably not.  But you get a performance one in a while, like my String Quartet, which was the last thing that was recorded.   I think they did a beautiful job, but actually the first time they played it was the best it’s ever been played.  There was just a magic about things being in the right places
the little things that aren’t written in the music.  For instance, a pause between the notes, or something like that.

BD:   This brings up the idea of interpretation.  How much latitude do you like when performers get hold of your music and want to do their own interpretation?

RM:   I’ve discovered that our notation system is far from perfect, and when you have good players playing, many times they will do something that was a much better idea than you had.  I’m talking about something very small
maybe to go on to a note, or attack something with a different dynamic level.  The only thing that counts is that you try to make music within whatever context you’re operating in at that particular moment.   Having been a performer for a long time myself, the joy in playing is that response to the moment, and the people playing around you and everything else.  That will help a composer most times.

BD:   Tell me about your experience as a performer.

RM:   I came up through the ranks everywhere as a woodwind player, from bands to symphonic works.  I stopped playing about fifteen years ago.  I was a clarinet major in college, but I also played flute and alto sax.  I came up playing in the
Borscht Circuit’ [a resort area in the Catskill Mountains of New York that was patronized primarily by Jewish guests], doing Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, the whole business.  So I had a very eclectic experiences as a musician.

BD:   Is that a good experience, or just an experience?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interview with Elliott Carter.  The recording of Moryl
s Salvos is discussed later in this interview.]

RM:   I think it was all good.  Being a musician is a very special opportunity, and being an artist is something very special.  I feel rather good about that the fact that I’ve spent my life trying to be an artist.

BD:   Have you succeeded?

RM:   Up to a point, yes.  I also happen to be a rather good abstract painter, and I’ve been doing that all my life.  And for the last five years I’ve been doing a lot of professional photography.  So, I’ve had my hands on a lot of things because I’ve had the need to do these things.  It relates to that moment of artistic decision, or whatever you call it.  I consider myself a very fortunate person just to have had the chance to try and be an artist in any way.

BD:   Is there a line connecting the photography, which is an exact recreation, to abstract art, which is an inexact recreation, to music which is a completely new creation?

RM:   Abstract art is a little bit like music in one sense.  You put down a color, and then you build on it, and the process of painting is extremely exciting.  It’s very much like composition.  It’s just that you see something grow, and you change this and you change that, and then finally you have to reach a point when you say it’s done.  I’ve done what I can do with it.  What I think about doing with abstract art is that you’re just dealing with shapes and colors.  I do a lot of abstract landscapes, and if you look at the paintings, you might wonder if they are really landscapes.  They have horizontal bands of colors, and things like that.  I’m very interested in art, and I know a lot about it, and I go to museums all the time.  I have shelves full of art books, so it’s been one of those hidden things that I’ve enjoyed doing all my life.

BD:   Have you ever given an exhibition of your own works and had your own music playing at the gallery?

RM:   I did something interesting a few years back.  We had a gallery exhibition of my paintings, and gave a concert of my music at the opening.  I don’t know if anybody else has done that... maybe Schoenberg did because he also painted.  But that was interesting, and I think the paintings are a lot like music
at least the music in the 70sbecause I like sound and I like colors.  The world could be a very beautiful place if you stopped to look at it.

BD:   Then let me cut through all of this and ask the big question.  What is the purpose of music in society?

RM:   To communicate values.  Now that’s the professor in me talking!  I’ve spent most of my life thinking about it.  Artists are very special people
and have always been in societybecause they try to give the world some beauty.  The rest of it makes no sense.  It’s pretty ridiculous, but if we look at the artist, we see the great dictator of values in every period, in every country, at any time.  They put their finger on the pulse of what society is about... even today’s Rock music, which I’m not too happy with because it’s a celebration of amateurism.  But we’re living in a world where the amateur is the thing.  Nobody wants to practice anymore to be good.

BD:   Is there no correlation between today’s amateurs and last century
s Hausmusik?

RM:   Yes, absolutely.  There’s no way an artist can get away from his time, and if one looks deep enough, the artist is reflecting some aspect of that time.

BD:   You say the musician puts a finger on the pulse of the society.  Is it the pulse of society as it is, or the pulse of society as it’ll be just a few years hence?

RM:   No, I think it is as he interprets it, and his success is how we’ll look at it.  That’s where we’ve lost it completely.  I’m afraid that the boys from Princeton in Columbia have been going in the wrong direction for quite a while with the twelve-tone system.  I happen to think that tonality was one of the greatest intellectual accomplishments of Western man.  The fact that you can go and see Parsifal for five hours, and in the last twenty minutes come away feeling you’ve been in heaven somewhere says a lot about the system.  The artist today forgot that he was communicating values, and those values had to, somehow, be agreed upon between the communicator and the listener.  We lost track of that completely in this part of the twentieth century.

BD:   Did music lose it exclusively, or was it a case of humanity for a time misplacing all of its values, and music being part of that?

RM:   No, it wasn’t music by itself.  I have been preaching the demise of art,
believe it or not, for twenty-five years.  Its only that I’ve seen it coming.  I went through the 60s, which were exciting, especially the end of the 60s.  For me, the 70s in the arts was the most exciting time.  I had a good contemporary ensemble.  We did a lot of performing, and we did a lot of theater pieces using actors, mime, slides, and things like that.  We were just having a great time, but it was also in the air.  Then we hit the 80s , and suddenly we get Bonzo in the White House, and the whole thing changes.  Reagan being in the White House says something about society, too.  It’s no accident.  None of it is an accident.  I have a video tape of one of my favorite American painters, Georgia O’Keeffe, and when somebody tells her it must be nice to be famous, she says, I could have been a much better painter, and somehow no one would have ever recognized my works.  Somehow, I was in tune with my times.  That’s the bottom line, you have to be in tune with the time.  Somebody like Philip Glass is filling a need for a lot of people who are too old for rock, and classical music is something they don’t want to get into.  So, he’s kind of filled the cracks there.

BD:   If the musician is so in tune with his times, can his music outlive his times?

moryl RM:   I don’t think it’s going to happen anymore.  The days of masterpieces are over.  The last guys who made it were Bartók, and maybe Shostakovich.  I love Shostakovich.  He’s a very fine composer, and I know the Manhattan String Quartet has just discovered his String Quartets, and they’ve done them all now.  They’re doing them in the Town Hall next year.  But I really think the world is much too eclectic.  Computers have taken information and chopped it into little pieces.  Everybody’s a specialist in some very narrow range, so I don’t think any style of music now would appeal to a large group the way it did in the Baroque period.  You may have had the Italian Baroque, and you may have had some German Baroque, and Handel doing something else in England, but there was a certain agreement on musical vocabulary.  We started to lose that in the Nineteenth Century with the Romantic composers.  By the end of the Nineteenth Century, it’s amazing who was alive at the same timeeverybody from Brahms to Debussy to Mahler and Bruckner.  The list is amazing.  I checked it out one time for my class, and we couldn’t believe who was living in the last twenty-five years of the Nineteenth Century.  [Both laugh]  Everyone who was anyone was living then, and once we hit the Twentieth Century, we saw the social changesthe ‘isms’, like communism, socialism, and everything else.  The artist is a pawn of all of this.  We opened up there for a while in the 60s and 70s, but...

BD:   So each one is now speaking his own language?

RM:   I don’t know.  I don’t think they know what they’re doing.  I have quote I use from T.S. Elliott, where he says,
Nothing can be new unless it is somehow related to the past, and I think he’s right there.  The new music comes out of manipulating the past, and extending it, and we’re not capable of doing that anymore.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   I want to pursue this in a slightly different direction.  If each artist, or each composer, or each small school of composers is working in his or her own language or languages, are we not compensating for this by the instantaneous communications, whereby one person, instead of being isolated and only knowing one language, now can hear languages from all over the globe so quickly?

RM:   This is true, globally.  I happen to be very interested in non-western music.  I teach a course in the structure of World Music.  When it comes to western music, it was pretty much laid down.  The tonal system, as I said before, is one of the most intelligent things that we ever devised.  The relationship of those pitches have allowed numerous masterpieces to be written because we, as westerners, and since we are children, expect to hear ‘Sol’ (V) going to ‘Do’ (I).  What happened is that composers started to ignore that, and they put no expectancies in its place.  The twelve-tone system says that all notes are equal, and if you do that, you don’t have a system.  There is no such system.  It has to be a tension and release.  That’s what basically art is
the understood tension and releaseand a series of those make art if it’s well done.

BD:   Have we exhausted the tonal system?

RM:   No, we have not exhausted it.

BD:   Are you writing in the tonal system?

RM:   I writing in the tonal system but it’s quasi, a little bit the way Stravinsky did in his early works.  He would zero in on a particular pitch, and gravitate around it.  There are a lot of ways making a cadence without going V-I.  You can just slow down, you can get softer...  People really want to be involved in art, and the Twentieth Century has left them out.  Everybody’s going out and doing their own thing.

BD:   When you’re working on a piece, for whom are you writing?

RM:   When I write a piece of music, I’m thinking about my heroes
Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and people like thatand I’m trying, somehow, to emulate what they were capable of doing by communicating those human values.  This brings up a big argument I used to have with composers a number of times.  I think art is always optimistic.  In other words, all of these people who wrote a Requiem had an optimistic attitude towards life, and I think contemporary music has been nothing but pessimistic.  I think great art is optimistic, and when it is optimistic, it becomes human, and when it’s human it reaches out.  In a sense, that’s what I try to do.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of the art?

RM:   I am optimistic about people, but the way the world is going
with something new happening every thirty secondsI don’t see how art is going to survive anymore.  Its purpose has changed.  We’re keeping these museumsopera houses and symphony hallsopen, and eventually we’re not going to have the patrons anymore.  Certainly the youngsters aren’t going.  In our freshmen class at the University this year, probably seventy-five per cent of them played guitar.  And yes, we have a jazz major now.  [Both sigh]  I can’t blame the kids.  That’s the instrument!  Why would you want to play the violin or the oboe, or do a Mozart piano concerto when you can become famous with a guitar?  That’s where the world’s going.

BD:    So their goal instant fame?

RM:   Oh, yes, because you can buy books on just about anything in supermarkets now.  I have a great belief in mankind because I don’t think we’ve changed since the caves.  In other words, I think we still have it.  We want to share our emotional world, and that’s what art is about.  When it does it well, you look at a painting and say,
Wow, you know that has something to do with me and the world around me!  You hear something by Mozart done very well, and there’s a sense of togetherness that all of us human beings really need.

BD:   Now you brought up the word a couple of times that I want to zero in on just a little bit, and that’s
greatness.  Would you explore for a moment the idea of greatness in music?  What are the things that contribute to making a piece great?

RM:   Making a piece of music great?  Again, it’s the manipulation.  I hate to use that word, but I’ve been teaching theory for a very long time, and we do a lot of writing in my classes and a lot of analysis of great composers.  What you see is a system of expectations in the tonal system, manipulated in the sense for the sake of art.  In other words, it is the use of embellishing tones, the ability to be able to refine sounds.  One of the things that makes music very difficult, and I only discovered this recently, about ten years ago, is that it takes place in time, and it has a problem that a lot of other art forms don’t have.  It requires a listener to pay attention to what’s happened, what’s going on, and to anticipate.  The great artist is the one that’s in control of a piece with time going by.  You see in Mozart the sudden turn at just the right moment.  I read a very interesting review in The New York Times two or three years ago, and one of the critics was saying that he has heard more well-written third-rate pieces all his life that he doesn’t know what to do any longer!  We all have!  There are a lot of well-written pieces that don’t make art, and maybe the problem is that one has to have a hell of a lot of talent to be good at it.

BD:   Where should this balance be between the artistic inspiration and the technical ability?

RM:   I tell my students,
I cannot teach you to be a composer, but I can teach you to think like a composer, and to ask the right questions.  Then, if you have any talent, you might make it.  I think we’ve been asking all the wrong questions.  Mozart was a thorough professional.  He would know where to fool around in a piece.  All you have to do is look at Mozart, and the scenes are quite secondary to all the bridge passages, and the little extensions, and the codettas, and things like that.  Art has to do with the psychological and emotional need to put material together.  In Mozart, even if you don’t know what he’s doing, sometimes you can assume and that the whole thing will balance out right, and you come away with a feeling that he somehow understood on some kind of strange level.

moryl BD:   Let me ask another balance question.  In your music, or music in general, where isor where should bethe balance between the artistic achievement and an entertainment value?

RM:   I don’t know about the word ‘entertainment’ because it has such a darn negative connotation.  But my string quartet is an interesting thing because I’d never written one before.  When I was asked to write one, I said,
My God, what am I going to do?  My competition is pretty toughit’s Mozart, it’s Schubert, it’s Beethoven and, in the twentieth century, it’s Bartók, and it’s Debussy!

BD:   This is the one where you’ve asked the string players to also play various percussion instruments?  [Because of its complexity, each player reads from a full score, not just their own individual part as is customary.  A portion of that score is shown at right.]

RM:   Yes.  For the last ten years, I had been writing pieces that have extra-musical connections.  Within that time, all of my pieces have drawn on some kind of literary idea, a little bit like the Nineteenth Century composers did.  But the most interesting thing about this is that the piece is played unlike my other pieces.  Usually my works are on a program of all-contemporary music.  Here, it’s sandwiched in between this guy called Mozart and another one called Beethoven.  It’s interesting, because you sit there and wonder how the audience is going to deal with this, and so far it’s been absolutely super.  I can’t believe it!

BD:   Do you feel that all of your works would benefit from being isolated
rather than on an all-contemporary concert, being on a mixed concert?

RM:   Not necessarily, no.  There’s something special about a string quartet, and maybe I was more of a success this way.  We did a lot of touring, and usually got very good audience response because I’m very much interested in the audience getting involved in what I’m doing.  I’ve been always dealing with life and death, and you can’t go wrong with that.  That’s been the big question since the beginning of time, and so my subject matter has always been either dealing with that, or with the music of the spheres.  These are questions that man has been asking since the beginning of time, and that always appeals to me tremendously.  I was trying to reach out with my music even though it was rather abstract.  Our tour took us to South Carolina, and it was amazing the response.  People who’d never heard anything like this in their whole lives somehow understood.  I’d like to think that they understood it because it was another human being speaking in a slightly language.  I’ve been very conscious of the audience all along.

BD:   What do you expect of that audience that comes to hear a piece of your music?

RM:   I would hope that they could come with an open mind, and just see how well I’ve done with what I’ve tried to do.  Maybe the big question is whether it’s worth doing.  I just come up with that idea in the last couple of weeks, and have a feeling that a lot of things are just not worth doing, and yet people do them, and they’re never going to work.  But I would like the audience to come away saying,
He tried to reach out to us!  He’s using a different language, but there was something in the music that I recognized.  I’ve tried very hard never to ignore the audience for any technical reason.

BD:   Has the response generally been good?

RM:   Every place except New York City!  [Both laugh]

BD:   They’re too jaded?

RM:   Yes!  In New York it’s only been on the concerts with other guys from Columbia University, where I’ve been considered an outsider all along.  I’ve been writing theater-type pieces and other things like that for about the last fifteen years, and everybody else in New York is leaping all over the place with the twelve-tone system.  So, I’m kind of an outsider.

BD:   Are they just putting your piece on the program to make themselves look good?

RM:   No, I don’t think it’s that as much as they’re trying to give an honest representation of what’s going on.  But I would prefer failing doing what I believe in, because I believe that I’m trying to reach out to the audience.  I’m making a very strong effort, and I’m trying to manipulate that system
which I love so muchin the best way I possibly can.  Whether I’ve succeeded or not is something else.

BD:   Do you feel you’re succeeded?

RM:   No, I really wanted to be Mozart.  [Laughs]  Then I discovered
about sixty years agothat I wasn’t.  As I said a little earlier, I feel good that was fortunate enough to be intelligent enough to become an artist, and to get out there and probably do the hardest thing for any human being to do, and that is to really communicate on this highly emotional level the values of what it is to be a human being.  I’ve spent my whole like doing that, and I think I’m pretty lucky.  So, if I’ve succeeded even in the small way, that is fine.  I don’t think that success is just as important as how you live your life.  I got into photography because I needed another outlet, and I’ve enjoyed it very much.  To get interested has made my life richer, and I haven’t stopped composing or painting because of it.

BD:   You continue to compose, you continue your painting, and you’ve taken up photography.  Do you get enough time to compose?

RM:   I don’t compose that much anymore because I don’t have a reason to compose anymore.  I’ve been working on another string quartet for the last three years on and off, and I must have rewritten it ten times.  Then I’ll say to myself that the world doesn’t need another piece from me
or maybe from anyone elseso until I come up with something that’s really important...  It’s all in your head, obviously, and as you go through life things change and the world changes.  Probably the world and the things that happen around us have a greater effect on us than we are ever willing to admit.  I was doing exciting things when a lot of other people were doing exciting things in the late 60s and the 70s.

BD:   You’re not burned out, are you?

RM:   No, I don’t think it’s a matter of being burned out.  It’s just that life is too short to spend it trying to write Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony again.  I’m just trying to look around and enjoy life, and meanwhile do other things.

moryl BD:   Should we continue to write Beethoven’s Ninth, or are we up to Beethoven’s Twenty-third by now?

RM:   [Laughs]  If we could do his Ninth, we’d be doing pretty well.  Unfortunately, these guys can be so damn good, and we those of us who have lived in the Twentieth Century really want to live in the Nineteenth Century.  We see the Nineteenth Century as that great time of the romantic novel, and the artist is God, and the hero, and everything else like that.

BD:   But I would think we’d want to take our conveniences of today back there with us.

RM:   [Laughs]  Yes, that is so!  But today, the hero is some guy with yellow hair and flashing lights, playing three chords on a very loud guitar.  The environment for an artist doesn’t exist anymore.  Some of the art forms are making out better
dance is doing quite well in recent years, and paintings you can always hang on the wallbut music is something entirely different, and I really don’t know what it has become.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s talk about a few of the recordings that are out.  Let’s start out with the one we’ve been talking about, the String Quartet, which is on Opus One.

RM:   That’s the most recent thing, and it’s called The Golden Phoenix.  It has to do with that legend of immortality, which has been around for a long time because we are mortals.  It’s just that I needed something in order to put a piece together.  I felt that I had to reach out somehow from myself into the audience, and it’s had very good audience response.  Believe it or not, the members of the string quartet don’t like to play percussion.  In fact, when I was telling them I was writing another one, the first violinist of the Manhattan String Quartet said to me,
I hope you’re not using any of those ‘things’ in it.  [Both laugh]  How do you like that?  It was the percussion instruments which were the ‘things’, and that hurt a little bit because I don’t see anything wrong with including them.  Those are the things that make the piece reach out to the people who have been warned.

BD:   What if another string quartet, say the Kronos, said they were so glad you put all those ‘things’ in it?

RM:   Yes, but they would wear funny outfits, color their hair, and do everything else, too.  No, other people have played it, including the Pro Arte, but I know a lot of quartets who wouldn’t play it because they feel it’s below them if they have to play percussion instruments.

BD:   I think it’d be right up the Kronos’s alley.

RM:   It would be, only my understanding is that they play everything once, and then that’s it.  That’s one of the things that has gone wrong, too.  Nobody knows whose bandwagon to get on, and good examples are Bartók and Mahler.  Bartók would not have made it had not certain conductors been willing and eager to push the works out there and play them.

BD:   Another piece that has been recorded is Modules.  [That Serenus LP (shown below-left) also has pieces by Charles Whittenberg, Leonardo Balada, and Arthur Custer.]

RM:   That’s the first thing of mine that was ever recorded, and I was just happy to get it recorded, but I don’t consider it one of my good pieces, to be very honest with you about it.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  It’s got Bert Turetzky on it, so it can’t be too bad!

RM:   Bert’s a good friend of mine.  I love Bert.  He’s crazy, and I love Bert very much, but that was an early work, and I was trying to do something, and I don’t think I succeeded.

BD:   Then let’s move over to Das Lied.

RM:   That was a take-off on Das Lied von der Erde of Mahler.  I used the same poetry, and I’ve got the best people on it with Jan DeGaetani and Gerry’s [Gerard Schwarz] conducting.  It’s a pretty good piece.  It’s a little too long, probably.  Mahler knew how to be long without making it a workout.  I’m not sure I did, though.  [Laughs]  The recording is a pretty good recording of it.  It was dealing with an aesthetic.  You could possibly be dealing with an aesthetic that people are not all that interested in.  I happen to like that in George Crumb.  He’s a friend of mine, and I also like him as a composer.  I think George has had a very small audience too, and he’s a very sensitive writer.  Somehow I’ve gotten into that for the last fifteen years, so I never look down at my audience.

BD:   Should your music be for everyone, rather than this narrow audience?

RM:   No, it’s not.  I don’t know if there’s such a thing as music for everyone.  There are actually people who are afraid of being very sensitive and poetic.  I never have been.  Whether I’ve done it right or wrong, I’ve tried to follow the way I felt, and I tried to do what I felt would reach out to people.  I wasn’t afraid of a corny melody... not really corny, but I wasn’t afraid to get romantic for a few bars, or repeat something.

BD:   Another recording is Salvos with Gerard Schwarz [shown above].  

RM:   That, I think, is one of my better pieces.  I did it for Gerry when he was just a trumpet player!  [Both laugh]  No, he was very good, and he was with the American Brass Quintet.  That was back in the late
60s, and he was doing an album, and he said, Write me a piece!  I said, I’m going to write something absolutely wild, and that’s what I did.  The word salvos has to do with the shooting of canons, of course.  Gerry has played it a lot in person, and I don’t think there’s another piece like it, to tell you the truth, that covers that kind of range.  So that’s one of my successes!

BD:   Is there anything for the trumpet that you didn’t put in that little piece?

RM:   Probably not.  I used to be a jazz arranger, too.  In the Service I was in Special Services, and I wrote arrangements.  I’ve done a lot of that kind of stuff.  I also was a jazz player at one time, so I know all the kinds of things one does in jazz writing... and in legit writing too.  I just knew Gerry was such a great player.  I used to go over to Gerry’s house.  He was living in New York then, and we’d go down to the cellar and I’d say,
Can you do this?  Can you play a pedal-note and hum at the same time?  And what note can you do it on?  He would hum and play, and I’d say, Great!  I’ll wrote that down.  How high can you go?  Now what else can you do?  So we worked it out that way.  The piece was built around Gerry, even though it’s been played by others as far away as South Africa.  It was written for Gerry because he was such a phenomenal player.  So, we worked out a lot of little things that I wasn't even sure could be done by anyone else, but at least it was crazy, and I enjoyed it very much.

moryl BD:   So if you didn’t have Gerard Schwarz to work with, you might have put in something that was truly impossible?

RM:   I probably would have written a different kind of piece.  I’m a great believer in talking to the player, and seeing what he can do, and to try and work around that and not ask him to do something he can’t do.  At that time, Gerry was happy to do something which would just knock everybody right out of their seats, and it usually does when he plays it in person!  It’s very visual, too, with that plunger.  The plunger goes back to the early Duke Ellington band, so he did that ‘wah, wah, wah’ and all that funny stuff, and the audiences used to laugh.  My wife used to get very upset, but I said it’s okay.  It is kind of comical.  It’s a highly virtuoso comical piece, but I think that’s fine.

BD:   I’m glad you’re getting the reaction you want.  Continuing with your recordings, there are a couple of pieces on a Desto record, Chroma and Illuminations.  [LP shown at right.]

RM:   I think Chroma was okay but it was an instrumental piece.  I was doing what everybody was doing at one particular time, and that was following Xenakis and Penderecki.  Illuminations is probably a better piece.  My publisher, Paul Kapp, was a crazy guy, but he loved to collect books.  He had a whole set of illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages.  I remember going up to his apartment, and he showed me one, and I
knew I had to write a piece.  So, I called it Illuminations, and in fact there’s one part in the piece where there is a famous portion that was used during the Middle Ages, and I used it with the chorus singing.  So that piece has a special meaning to it.  There was a girl called Candy Cohen who used to play it on a New York radio station all the time.  It was so funny, I got a call from her and she said, My name is Candy Cohen, and I work for one of the New York stations, and I love that piece.  I’ve been playing it all the time, which is a nice thing to hear, especially from someone whom I didn’t know.

BD:   Is that especially gratifying
to have someone call up out of the blue and say they especially liked your piece?

RM:   Yes, of course it is.  It doesn’t happen to us very often, and I don’t kid myself about what I can and can’t do.  You can tell from how someone says something whether they’re very sincere or not about what you’ve done.  When that happens, it’s like a thousand people patting you on the back for a few seconds.  We all need that.  In fact, that’s one of the problems today.  Success brings on success, but if you spend your whole life struggling, it becomes very frustrating.  Everybody knew Mozart was great, Beethoven was great, all of these guys were great.  There was no question about it, and the public waited for the next piece.  Nobody’s waiting for pieces from the contemporary composers.

BD:   Not even from someone like Elliott Carter?

RM:   Elliott’s got his own little thing going there.  I like the man, but his music reminds me of Roger Sessions.  It always sounds like swimming around in mud with a lot of notes looking for a piece.  Even though Carter has a nice balance sometimes with shapes, I think the music is too abstract to be anything but to wonder ho
w he put down all those notes.  I don’t think it reaches out, and I don’t think there’s much humanity in that music.

BD:   There’s one more record [shown below] which is called The Music of Richard Moryl.  You’re the conductor of two of the works [Arthur Weisberg conducts another], so let me ask, are you the ideal interpreter of your music?

RM:   Absolutely not!  I always remember a story about Stravinsky, who wasn’t the nicest guy in the world when it came to giving out compliments.  He had a piece called the Duo Concertant for violin and piano, and he had recorded it.  Then somebody came out with it ten years later and Igor said,
Now that’s the way it goes, not the way I played it!  [Both laugh]  No, I have conducted a lot of my music only because of necessity.  Composers are probably the worst interpreters of their own music.  You’re just a little too close to it, and other people probably see things and make sense of it, things you probably never could understand.  So, in my case, it was just expedient.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   I asked earlier you if you’re pleased with the recordings.  Are you pleased with the performances that you’ve heard of your music over the years?

RM:   I would say for the most part yes, only because I have been a professional for a very long time, and have had my stuff played by very good people.  You get very little rehearsal time, and that’s the name of the game.  They usually play the notes, and sometimes they even make music, but that’s part of being in the music business.  Beethoven’s Fifth must have sounded like Hell the first time they did it, and maybe even the tenth time they did it from what I understand.  Ludwig was bending down below the stand to do a diminuendo.  He’d get small, and then he’d get higher when he wanted a forte.  It must have been a riot!  But that is something every composer understands.  If the players are good, they’re going to do the best they can, but they can just give you so much rehearsal.  That was one of the good things about being at the University
it was like having your own group.  My wife and I were at the Charles Ives Center for American Music [which they established in 1985.  It was dissolved in 1994, and is not to be confused with The Ives Center for the Arts].  One of our guests was John Cage, and he asked me directly how he could get his works played.  I said there’s only two ways, and one is to have your own group.  He has done that a little bit with some of his things, but having your own group certainly helps.  It’s a really complicated situation, but I can’t complain about my performances.  It’s what it’s about, and I honestly think that the piece has to be able to survive bad performances to make it.  I’m sure some of the great masterpieces have been really butchered by people, but somehow they’ve been played well enough times, and people remember the good performances.

moryl BD:   Is that’s what separates a masterpiece
that it can be destroyed and still survive?

RM:   Probably one of the things, yes.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  There’s so much good stuff in there.  I’ve been analyzing some pieces with my class for quite a few years, and every time I look at somebody’s work, I discover something new.  I can listen to a piece a thousand times and still never get bored by it because I’m obviously discovering.  You’re always somebody else when you’re listening.  That’s the wonderful thing about it.  It depends on what you’ve had for supper and everything else.  You are always a different person.

BD:   Are you a different person each time you come back to a piece that you’re writing?

RM:   Oh, yes!  I look back at some of the old stuff and wonder how did I do that?  But at the moment I did it, that’s who I was.

BD:   Are there pieces you come back to and are glad you did what you did?

RM:   Yes.  Salvos is one.  Das Lied has a lot of good stuff in it.  From what I tried to do, I think it’s a little too long.  It has some wonderful moments in it, and I wish I could think of some way saving it.  The String Quartet and some of the early things were a product of that particular time in history when everybody was working that way, and I was like everybody else.  I was trying to explore those particular avenues.

BD:   Then what distinguishes your music from everyone else’s?

RM:   Ah!  [Thinks again]  The difference would be that in my works, no matter which one you listen to, whether I succeed nor not, I really never belonged to a group of composers.  I was never held down.  My wife and I run the Ives Center, and we’ve had over two hundred composers there, and what I hear, basically, is they’re studying with certain kinds of teachers, and what the teachers are saying to them is that they’ve got to have a lot of technique.  That’s the whole ball game.  I think the whole ball game is to put a little of yourself in your music.  The word I keep on coming back to is humanity.  Music needs that reaching-out, even you’re writing very abstract stuff, and not forgetting the audience.  I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten the audience
except in that first piece, Modules!  [Laughs]  Whether I succeeded has to do with having a lot of talent.  Very few people have the kind of talent that it takes to survive.  Probably when I wrote Modules, that technique was what I was thinking about.  Whether I could do any better, I don’t know.

BD:   When you were writing... I hate to use the past tense, but you seem to be telling me that you’ve not really given it up, but you’ve slacked off quite a bit.

RM:   Right.

BD:   Were you always in control of the pencil, or were there times when that pencil was really controlling you?

RM:   Oh, no!  I used to be like a stream-of-consciousness writer a little bit.  I’m not a pianist, but I would write at the piano, and would almost try to take myself out of my body and go across the room to listen to who’s doing it, and try to be objective about it.  If I thought something sounded great at that particular moment, I would put it in and try to deal with it.  I tried to approach it that way.  I tried very hard to somehow not be very rigid about what I was doing.  It’s hard to describe because composition is a matter of just kind of adding to something, and then this addition has to finally end up to being a whole piece that somehow works in time.  It’s really a matter of timing more than anything else
doing the right thing at the right time, and that’s not very easy to do.  I would depend on just letting things happen sometimes, using ideas that I hadn’t thought about that just seemed to want to come next.  The hard thing in music is to know which idea to put next.  There are a million of them, but usually only one or two are the right ones, and that’s hard to do.

BD:   How do you know when it is the right one?

RM:   [Thinks a moment]  That’s very difficult.  I feel that sometimes I’ve succeeded more than others.  I’ve always expected to, and a lot of composers do it, and they probably do it in other ways.  I’ve always expected the audience to have a temperament at a particular moment that I might have, and I probably take chances on just letting something maybe happen too long.  But that’s hard dealing with our emotions, and expecting somebody else to hear them.  In the String Quartet and in Salvos and a few other things, I probably did a better job of reaching out in an understandable way to the audience.

BD:   Even though you’ve said before that the composer is not the best judge?

RM:   No, but you finally are the person who has to make the decisions.  That’s what composing is about.  Being creative is decision-making.  That’s what it is.  What are you doing to do next?  What is going to come next?  That’s what it’s all about.

moryl BD:   Is composing fun?

RM:   It used to be.  It isn’t now only because I don’t see anybody doing anything half-way decent in quite a few years now, and I’m wondering what’s gone wrong.

BD:   It’s not something you can find the answer to?

RM:   I don’t kid myself about that.  I’ve had plenty of chances to do it, and I’ve done it up to a point.  But I’ve reached a point where I realize I’m getting a little older now, and I look at how many years I have left, and wonder if I want to spend them sitting in front of that piano, or do I want to just spend the living life the best way I can.  That’s a difficult question for me.  I read a lot, and we have a place in Nova Scotia that’s absolutely beautiful, and I walk out on the beach, and sometimes that’s as good as anything by Mozart or Shakespeare.  I just want to pull in as much of life as I can.  On the other hand, when the Juilliard Quartet asks me to write a piece, I would be only glad to do it.  What I need is just that need to do it, and that’s really not there anymore.  I’ve been in the business for a long time, like a lot of other people of my age, and even maybe ten years younger.  I don’t think it’s too easy to be a composer today.  There aren’t as many outlets as there used to be.

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

RM:   Get a job!  [Both laugh]  I really don’t know what to tell them.  What I try to do is have them understand what the situation is, that it is a language, it’s a matter of communication, it’s a matter of being able to be good at using this language, and to never forget that you’re a human being.  When you’ve got that going for you, and if you could somehow speak to other human beings in a way they’ll understand, you might be able to say something.  Don’t follow any kind of doctrine by any good teachers or anyone else.  That’s why I tell them I can’t teach them to be composers, but I can teach them to ask all of those question that Mozart must have asked himself.  I don’t know what Beethoven was doing there, always revising things, but certainly they always came out absolutely in a spectacular way.  What I try to do is to psych them into what it is to be creative, and to think creatively.  After that it’s up to them.  But I also tell them that being a composer is the best thing in the world to be, and the best way to spend your life is to try to be creative and try to figure that out.  It’s a wonderful way to use up your time on Earth, and to try to express yourself.

BD:   A few of them will succeed?

RM:   Few have ever succeeded really, but it’s a battle worth fighting.  My whole life has been art, and the beauty of art
looking at it, listening, readingand I’ve been very fortunate.  That’s a wonderful way to get through life.

BD:   It’s a great attitude, and a great outlook on the whole proceedings.

RM:   We should all try to do like you say.  That’s what life’s about.  The artists have done the best job of pointing this out to all of us, and I think that’s wonderful.  When I finally go, I hope to give a smile and say that somehow I tried to make sense of it.  I saw a lot of beauty, and I tried to contribute to it, but that’s not as important as to have enjoyed it all my life.

BD:   I just get this nagging feeling that I wish you were still writing.

RM:   I would love to write and everything else, but as you get a little older, things change a little bit, and you start to think about the world in different terms.  I’ve been a relative success.  I’ve got forty works published, and several works recorded.  I’ve won a lot of awards from the NEA, but I guess I wanted a lot more.  I have reached the point where I’m getting older, and that I have to live as much of life as I can now, and not lock myself up in a room to write.  Even though I would love to do it, I just feel that life is passing me by, and I don’t want to let that happen.

BD:   [Being optimistic]  Maybe you’ve made your contribution in this area, and now you’re moving on to another area.

RM:   Not even that so much, because the others things I’m doing kind of feed me.  I enjoy doing them, and that’s what music did for me.  I enjoyed sitting down at the piano and composing.  I couldn’t wait until we played the works and gave concerts, and I wish I felt that way, but I don’t anymore.

BD:   You never know!  Maybe when you’re seventy, it’ll come back.

RM:   I hope so.  No, no, I haven’t given up.  It’s that I’ve suddenly evaluated things, and I’m not sure I have the proper prospective, to be honest with you.

BD:   As you approach your sixtieth birthday, what is perhaps the most interesting or surprising thing that you’ve noted about music?

RM:   I don’t think that much about my own music, to tell you the truth, but in general I look at music and I look at what great artists did, and I just think it’s really great to be a human being, and these are the men who said it.  I’m in love with the great things that have happened.  They’ve contributed a lot to my life.


moryl



BD:   We’ll do a special program in February for your sixtieth birthday...

RM:   Terrific!  I can’t wait, but I don’t want to be sixty!  Actually it’s not as bad a fifty.

BD:   [Surprised]  Fifty is harder???

RM:   Fifty was harder because it was like that was the top of the hill, and after that I was going down the other side.  Now that I’m sliding down, it’s not as bad.  I feel a lot smarter about the whole thing.  I can look back and kind of enjoy it, and then look forward to the future too.  Believe it or not, even though I don’t sound like I’m doing that too often.  I’m very optimistic about the rest of my life, and maybe I’ll be doing things.  I want to enjoy live, and still do a good job.

BD:   I’m glad you’re still optimistic.

RM:   [Laughs]  I sure didn’t sound it, did I?  It’s because it’s not a very optimistic world.  Let’s face it, it’s a pretty beat-up place with all the wars and everything else.  It’s kind of hard to think about art at times like this.

BD:   Maybe at times like this is when we need art the most.

RM:   Yes, you’re probably right there.  I think you’re on the right track.

BD:   I’m the eternal optimist!

RM:   Send me some by the mail!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Right, six pounds of optimism.  [More laughter]  Thank you for spending the time with me this evening.

RM:   Oh, I enjoyed it, Bruce, very much indeed.






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© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on October 1, 1988.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following February, and again in 1994 and 1999.  This transcription was made in 2018, 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.

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.

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.