Composer Alan Stout
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Alan Stout (b. 1932) is an American
composer. He studied concurrently at Johns Hopkins University (BS 1954) and
the Peabody Conservatory. After a year at the University of Copenhagen, he
completed his formal musical training at the University of Washington (MA
1959). His teachers included Henry Cowell, Wallingford Riegger, Vagn Holmboe,
and John Verrall. In
1962 he joined the Northwestern University School of Music. His diverse musical
interests are reflected in the various societies to which he belongs. He
is a founding member of the International Gong Society and the International
Double Reed Society, a patron of the Schoenberg Institute, and a member of
the board of directors of the International Percy Grainger Society. In addition,
he has completed numerous performance editions and realizations of unfinished
works of composers such as Charles Ives, Anton Webern, and Percy Grainger.
He is also an advocate of Scandinavian music.
A prolific composer, Stout has written over 100 works. His style exhibits
a blend of American experimentalism and more traditional writing. Often based
on a relaxed application of the 12-note system, his music makes use of tone
clusters, transcriptions of natural phenomena, and rhythmic notations that
allow performers a certain degree of rhythmic flexibility. A consistent concern
for timbre is also characteristic of his music. Many of his works revise
and re-use material from earlier compositions. The Music for Oboe and Piano (1966) and the
Music for Flute and Harpsichord
(1967), for example, rework sections of the Second Symphony (1951–1966). That work,
as well as the George Lieder (1962),
the Fourth Symphony (1970) and Passion (1975) were given premières
by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Adapted from Kathryn Gleasman Pisaro's article in Grove Music Online.
-- From the Northwestern University
-- Throughout this webpage, names which are links refer to my Interviews
elsewhere on my website. BD
In this age of full disclosure, let me say up front that my guest for
this conversation, Alan Stout, was a colleague of mine at Northwestern University.
Having grown up in Evanston, I knew of him while in high school, and after
undergraduate work elsewhere, I returned to earn my Master's degree at NU
in 1973. As the Graduate Assistant to Dr. Thomas Willis, I
knew most of the faculty no matter which department they were in. After
teaching instrumental music in Evanston for the next two years, I began my
quarter-century at WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago.
As part of my series devoted to mostly American composers, it was a special
pleasure to look up this distinguished man for a 65th birthday program in
1997. Portions of this interview were used on the air along with the
few commercial recordings of his music which were available at that time.
The station was sold and changed format in 2001, and a year later, the Dean
of the School of Music invited me to return to NU as a lecturer. It
was great fun to do the Introduction to Music classes for the next few years
in both the regular and the Continuing Education programs — the
day school and the evening school, if you will. I ran into Stout on
many occasions in the office, and indeed, it was my old friend who showed
me his secret shortcut between the Music Administration Building
— the old white building as it’s known —
and the then-new location of the music library elsewhere on campus.
All of the interviews I have done are important to me and special in some
particular way. Usually I keep this bit of personal memento to myself,
but somehow it seems fitting to share it as I present our entire conversation
. . . . . . .
I assume that music is your all-consuming passion?
Alan Stout: Yes,
one could say so.
BD: Is it too all-consuming?
AS: I don’t know.
What does that mean? I always feel that there’s more that I have to
BD: You have more
to learn. Do you also have more to teach?
BD: For many years
you have been teaching at Northwestern. Did you get enough time to
AS: No. Nobody
AS: No. No
teacher that I know does. Northwestern doesn’t give sabbaticals.
You have to take time off when you can get it. It’s a bit better now,
but when I was full-time there it wasn’t the case.
BD: Is a major
teaching institution a good place for a composer who wants to compose?
AS: Where else
is there? Unless you’re extremely wealthy, I don’t know the answer
to that. But I think yes, it is a good place because it brings you
in contact with very bright minds. We have very good students there, and
I get a lot from the students.
BD: Actual ideas,
or just the inspiration to create your own ideas?
AS: They’re very
aware, and it’s also very gratifying if you can spur them on to do things.
You can’t do everything yourself, despite what I said that I like.
I feel that I always have something to learn. But there are students
that you can sort of steer in certain directions, and they turn out to be
experts in those fields.
BD: So you’re guiding
them with a gentle push, rather than an exact direction.
AS: Yes, and it’s
not just composition. When I think back over the students I’ve had,
one comes to mind especially, and that’s Daniel Stepner, who’s the leader
of the Lydian Quartet and also the Director of the Aston Magna Music Festival
of early music in Connecticut. He has been Concertmaster of the Orchestra
of the Eighteenth Century, and Concertmaster of what they call the Handel
and Haydn Society of Boston. He plays both Baroque and modern violin.
He was somebody that I think I guided in a certain way.
BD: Have you basically
been pleased with your students over the years?
I’ve had two that have had national or international reputations in composition
Schwantner is one, and Augusta Reed Thomas is the other. And then
there are others. I had a student at the exact same time I had Augusta
Thomas, named Steven Taylor. He’s now teaching at Illinois State University,
and he had a major performance with the American Composer’s Orchestra last
BD: You’re able
to inspire them in what they’re doing?
AS: Well, not anymore.
They’re on their own. [Laughs].
BD: Is that your
ideal position, then — to cut them loose and get them on their own?
BD: Do they ever
call you and say, “I need a little tip here and there?”
AS: Augusta does.
She still sends me things for comments.
BD: Are there times
when you would like to send your compositions to someone else to look at
and maybe make suggestions?
AS: No. There’s
nobody I really would send them to. The person I suppose I’m closest
to is the British composer and conductor Oliver Knussen, and I
trust his opinion very much.
BD: He has performed
AS: He hasn’t,
but he’s been responsible for performances. When he was director of
the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Center — I think he had that position for
five years — he scheduled a work of mine, and he’s also done some of my Grainger Reconstructions in various places.
He’s done them in Australia and he’s also done them in the Netherlands.
BD: When you write
a piece of music, are you aware of who’s going to be listening to it here
or anywhere in the world?
AS: I have no idea.
BD: Does it please
you to know that someone a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand miles away will
It’s always surprising when I learn that people have heard a piece.
I never know when it’s going to happen. I don’t do anything to promote
myself, as you know.
BD: Should you?
AS: No... well,
if you want a superficial type of recognition. But it’s another thing
that I don’t like about what’s going on in this country, that composers have
agents who are hawking their scores.
BD: How should
the music get around, then?
AS: There’s always
been a strong underground network. I think that’s one of the best ways
of getting knowledge around.
BD: Would you be
more pleased if there were more performances of your pieces in various places?
AS: I don’t know.
I’ve had good performances of certain pieces, and not good performances of
others. I would like to have good performances of pieces, and then
have those performances preserved somehow or other.
BD: You don’t look
at a composition as being a one-shot, do you?
AS: No, but some of the performances I’ve had have
really been quite poor.
BD: Have there
been any that have been perfect?
AS: There’s no
such thing. But I’ve had some awfully good performances from Sir Georg Solti [shown with Stout in photo at right] and
from Margaret Hillis
and from the late Thor Johnson and various other people. There’s a
conductor at Northwestern who does not have a conducting position.
He’s the orchestra librarian, named Mitchell Arnold, who’s another former
student. I now give premiers to him because he conducts my music very
well. And one of Thor Johnson’s students, Harold Bauer, who’s out in
Dupage County, does very good work. There have been others, but when
you start mentioning names you’re bound to leave someone out.
BD: I assume that
when you write, you’ve been asked to write a certain piece?
Right now I just write pieces that I want to write. I don’t care whether
anybody asks for them or not.
BD: Then why do
you write them?
AS: Because I want
to write them. They’re exploring things which I’m interested in.
BD: Is that what
you are, a musical explorer?
AS: In a certain
way, I guess I am.
BD: Then are the
compositions the discoveries, or are the performances the discoveries?
AS: The composition
BD: Then you share
the discovery through the performance?
BD: You never have
the audience in mind at all?
AS: Well, the audience
is a strange thing. It will respond if the music is strong. No
matter what idiom the piece is in, the audience will respond if the piece
itself is a strong piece. That’s why I’m dissatisfied with the excessive
tendency to praise ‘comfortable music’,
as I would call it.
BD: You don’t want
your music to be comfortable at all?
AS: No. Not
BD: Do you want
it to be uncomfortable?
AS: No, but I want
it to be something that you don’t listen to passively. I don’t know
if you’ve noticed the programs of most orchestras these days —
say, within the last twenty years — but unless you
are a very established composer the contemporary work is the light piece
on the program. It serves the same function that the obligatory overture
did in the earlier days. Instead of Oberon or Meistersinger Overture, you’ve got the
contemporary work, and it’s generally an upbeat, easy to listen to piece.
BD: But not all
composers are writing like that, are they?
AS: Of course not,
but that’s what gets played.
BD: I see.
If you could be manager of an orchestra for a while...
AS: ...I would
look at something like the Cleveland Orchestra, which I think has probably
the best programming in the country.
BD: What is it
they do that is so significant?
AS: They’ll perform
difficult works, and they have an extraordinary work ethic there. They
get four rehearsals for every concert, and the orchestra has the ethic to
want to get things right. I also think that Esa-Pekka Salonen is doing
a marvelous job of programming in Los Angeles, and Michael Tilson Thomas is
exploring some very unusual repertory in San Francisco. Even though
it’s not contemporary music, Sawallisch has dug
up some interesting things in Philadelphia. He knows every note Richard
Strauss ever wrote and he’s been doing pieces that ordinarily wouldn’t be
heard in this country.
BD: So if you could
give one bit of advice to managers, it would be to expand the repertoire
no matter what?
How many orchestras play the symphonies of Franz Berwald? That’s just
one that comes to mind.
BD: [With optimism]
Any orchestra that has Herbert Blomstedt involved
with it, probably.
AS: I think he’s
much too fast, but he actually edited the Sinphonie Singulière for the Berwald
collected edition. So he’s somebody who would be very good with Berwald,
but that’s one name that comes to mind.
BD: What about
Stenhammar? The Chicago Symphony did his Second Piano Concerto with Cristina Ortiz a few years
yes, but not the First Symphony.
There are only really two orchestra pieces by Stenhammar — one
is the Second Symphony and the other
is the Serenade.
BD: Where did you
get this real intense interest in things Scandinavian?
AS: I don’t know.
I’ve have it for a long, long time. I got a Danish government grant
in 1954, and lived there and studied with Vagn Holmboe. He’s another
composer that, as far as I know, has never been performed by a major orchestra
in this country. Oh wait, yes, he has... Sixten Ehrling, when
he was conductor of the Detroit Symphony, did the Tenth Symphony, I believe.
BD: He’s getting
some recordings now, so that’s a help.
They finished all the symphonies and now they’re on the string quartets and
the chamber concertos. He wrote a lot.
BD: Do you try
to write a lot?
AS: I used to,
but I do less now. It’s physically hard. I get knotted up muscularly.
One thing I find that’s very hard for me to work on is orchestra music, because
the scores are just too large. It’s too painful to work on a page very
BD: But the ideas
are still there?
BD: You should
rig up some method of dictation...
AS: There should
be a way, but I haven’t found out yet what it is.
BD: If there was
some new computer gizmo that could take your ideas and put them directly
into the computer for transcription, would that work?
AS: That might
be possible. It’s funny. I like the look of computer print-outs,
but I don’t like to do the actual writing at the computer.
BD: You’ve never
worked with electronics?
AS: No, I haven’t.
I don’t find electronics per se
that interesting, although I like the combination of electronics with live
players. I think the great future is in the realm of computer and live
players. What computers can do in response to the stimulus of a live
performer is quite remarkable.
BD: Is the stimulus
the composition, or is the stimulus the performance?
AS: I really don’t
BD: Or should it
AS: It should be
both. I remember how astonishing the performance of Répons of Boulez was about ten years
ago in the old gymnasium.
BD: Do you believe
in putting musical performances in any space at all?
AS: If the space
works; if the space has the sort of acoustic you’re looking for, certainly.
I think we’re not like England or Sweden or Denmark. Our churches are
not used very much, but churches very often are extremely flattering, acoustically.
BD: Because of
the big reverberation?
Sometimes it’s too much, but there are some churches that have just the ideal
amount of reverberation. That’s why so many churches in these countries
are being used for recording studios.
BD: Not too many
of your works have been recorded.
AS: No, they haven’t.
I’ve never tried to get them recorded.
BD: Should you
AS: Well, I don’t
know. I don’t know how to approach people and say, “I need X number
of dollars for a recording.”
BD: Of the recordings
that are out, are you pleased with those?
AS: Yes, for the most part.
BD: For better
or for worse, the recording will have a certain kind of universality.
I was present at the recording of my Cello
Sonata because that took place in Milwaukee. [Photo of record jacket is farther down on this
webpage.] I couldn’t be present for the recording of my big
organ piece because the recording session was during exam week at Northwestern.
So another composer I knew, Robert Cogan was sent in my lieu. [Note: A piece by Cogan is also on the record,
as is a piece by his wife, Pozzi Escot. Photo
of that record jacket is at right.]
BD: That’s something
I never thought of — asking someone who has your kind
of sympathy to be present if you couldn’t be there!
AS: Yes, but that
recording could be better because the acoustics at Harvard Memorial Chapel
are too dry. They actually put microphones in the stairwells to get
some extra resonance.
BD: Would you be
appalled if they would tweak it a little electronically now, even after the
fact, to add a little more reverberation or resonance?
AS: I would have
to hear the end result. I have heard some good results along that line,
and I’ve heard some terrible results. I’d like another recording done
in a building that’s acoustically more sympathetic. It was written
for Millar’s organ here at Northwestern, and nobody’s ever bothered to record
BD: Are there some
good tapes of performances that maybe could be licensed?
AS: Yes, I think
so. Certainly Ken Sotak’s performance is excellent, and Jim Leland,
for whom I wrote the piece... I don’t know if there are any tapes of Jim
playing the piece.
BD: [With a slight
nudge] You should get out there and work harder at promotion.
BD: Is it really
the job of the composer to promote the composer’s music?
AS: If you’re
a real composer, I don’t know that you have time. A lot
of composers, in my experience, are actually quite shy people, and I just
don’t see myself, or a lot of my colleagues in the field, pushing themselves.
But I have seen composers do this sort of thing in a quite flagrant fashion.
BD: For someone
such as yourself who wants to concentrate only on the music, wouldn’t it
be good if you had the agent doing the legwork you would do if you had another
two or three lives?
AS: I don’t know
because I don’t know what the agent does, except that some composers are
getting lots of performances and I don’t know how they’re doing it because
I don’t think the music is that good.
What is it that makes a piece of music good, or perhaps even great?
AS: It has a certain
staying power. It’s something that doesn’t yield all of its secrets
on first hearing. It’s something you keep coming back to because there
are riddles to be solved.
BD: So then you’re
really demanding quite a bit of action on the part of the audience.
AS: Oh yes.
Whether Elliott Carter
thinks about the audience or not, that’s the sort of music he writes, and
that’s certainly music you keep coming back to and finding more things in.
It is the same thing, in a completely different style, with Harrison Birtwistle.
BD Do we find that
in the music of Alan Stout?
AS: I would hope
so, but I don’t know.
BD: That’s not
something that you can purposely write into the score?
AS: No. It’s
like saying, “I’m a naïve person.” If you say something like that,
then you’re not really naïve. I don’t go out of my way to be complex
the way Brian Ferneyhough does, but I like to think that there’s more than
BD: So you’re always
trying to find the deepest level possible?
AS: Or levels,
BD: Should there
be, perhaps, an introductory level for a general audience, too?
AS: Yes, but the
introductory level is something which would speak to somebody who doesn’t
have any musical background. A non-specialist hearing a piece of Varèse
can capture the strength of the music, and can feel that, and may not know
what Varèse is doing, but the strength is there and the reaction to
the music is there.
BD: Let me ask
the very easy question, then. What’s the purpose of music?
AS: Maybe it doesn’t
have a purpose. It’s something that’s in human beings because every
culture has music.
BD: Is it in some
humans, or in all humans?
AS: It’s in all
humans. I don’t think there’s a culture in the world that doesn’t have
BD: Is it in every
AS: People who
say they’re unmusical or unresponsive to music are kidding themselves, because
people are in some way responsive to music. They may not be able to
hear the difference between a major third and a minor third, but you can
tell when a line goes up or down.
BD: Is it, then,
the responsibility of each individual to try and find that musicality, or
is it the responsibility of the composer to nudge that music out of him?
AS: One thing that’s
gone by the wayside is that schools aren’t teaching anything about music
anymore. That’s a terrible thing. No matter how inadequate we
may have thought the teaching was, at least people were exposed to music.
I’m not speaking about concert music, but any type of music.
BD: I would think
that there was an overabundance of exposure to commercial music and to rock
music these days.
AS: There probably
BD: But that doesn’t
carry over into concert music?
BD: Should it?
AS: The interesting
music should, yes. I haven’t seen, nor have any desire to see, the
film Shine, which is a very sad
bit of exploitation of a very unfortunate person, from what I can tell.
I never heard him play, but that’s not what the music is about. The Three Tenors is not what music is
about, even though one of them is a good singer. [Laughs]
BD: Then what is
AS: Well, both
John Cage and Lou Harrison came up
with similar definitions a number of years ago — music
is something that quiets the mind and makes it susceptible to divine influence.
Cage found it in Zen, and Lou Harrison in early Irish mystic.
that they would both come to the same kind of conclusion from very different
The basic western Mass is a sung
event, and the singing is because people could hear better when something
was sung than when something was spoken. If you have ever attended
an Eastern Orthodox service, that’s entirely sung.
BD: So that is
music for one purpose?
AS: Yes, that’s
for one purpose. There’s music for entertainment, which can be on a
very high level, or it can be trivial music. There’s a book by Carl
Dahlhaus called Trivial Music for the 19th
Century, which deals with all sorts of parlor pieces and Biedermeier
pieces, and things of that nature.
AS: Yes, but on
the other hand you have the Mozart Serenades,
which are glorious pieces of music, as are the Divertimentos.
* * *
BD: Where is music
AS: I don’t know.
About thirty years ago, Leonard Meyer wrote a book called Music, The Arts, and Ideas, and he foresaw
what happened today — that all types of music are co-existing.
So we can have Barber and Babbitt at the same time.
BD: Are they co-existing
comfortably, or is there always stress?
AS: Well, no, they’re
existing fairly comfortably.
BD: Coming back
to the idea of commercial music and concert music, it seems that there’s
always a great conflict.
AS: I don’t think
of Barber as commercial. I think he’s a good craftsman, and a good
composer. Meyer felt that we were tended toward a period of stasis
in which all of these types of musics could exist simultaneously. He
saw it as a period similar to a period in Chinese history when all sorts
of things co-existed simultaneously. The same thing, in a sense, is
true in Japan, when you have indigenous music from various periods existing,
each in its own niche, together with western music.
BD: Are they going
to stay separate, or are they going to influence each other and then maybe
become more homogenous?
AS: The indigenous
music seemed to be pretty separate — except one of
the Japanese composers, the late Toru Takemitsu, did combine instruments
that didn’t play together normally in Japanese music. He used shakuhachi
and biwa together, and that would be like having a clavichord and a tuba,
or something like that — things you don’t normally
expect to find together. [Both laugh]
BD: Did it work?
AS: Oh yes, with
western orchestra. He’s also written for those two instruments by themselves.
They work very well together.
BD: So then the
common thread is the music?
BD: Can music be
a common thread that would unite five billion people?
AS: I think it
can. It has, at times, but there are a lot of those five billion that
I have no idea how much musical experience they’ve had of any kind.
I wonder what a lot of the people in the former Soviet Republics of Asia
BD: They obviously
have some kind of sympathy for it, but not a lot of experience with it.
AS: Yes, yes.
There’s a fascinating culture in Mongolia, but how much experience do Mongolians
have of non-Mongolian music?
BD: Should they
have experience in non-Mongolian music?
AS: They must have
some, but I don’t know how much.
BD: Does it behoove
us to give them this experience, or does it more behoove us to learn from
AS: It works both
ways. We have learned from them. There are certain methods of
singing that people in Mongolia have that have fascinated quite a number
of people in the west recently, when Mongolia became more open to western
visitors and such.
BD: What advice
do you have for someone who wants to write concert music at the end of this
millennium, and the beginning of the next millennium?
AS: Do it, and
don’t expect immediate results. A lot of composers, I’ve discovered,
are not interested in writing for conventional ensembles anymore. The
orchestra doesn’t interest them anymore because the orchestra has taken no
interest in younger composers, except for a very few.
BD: So, if you
say the heck with me, then I say the heck with you?
AS: That’s essentially
what it is. One of the most successful composers in Europe right now
is Louis Andriessen. He creates extraordinarily unlikely ensembles
for his compositions and gets them played.
BD: Does he create
the music and try to find the ensemble, or does he write for the ensemble
AS: He has a whole
bunch of ensembles at his disposal, and he can combine them in all sorts
of different ways. He thinks nothing of writing for eight flutes and
four violas and contrabass clarinet and electric guitars and synthesizer
and six sopranos, and so forth. There are people there in the Netherlands
that can do things like that. There are ensembles that can be combined.
BD: Imagine that
they’re getting a group together to perform that piece, and I want you to
write a piece for that same ensemble. Will you do it for me?
AS: It would be
very hard, because I don’t think the way Louis Andriessen does.
BD: Are we back
to the common thread of music?
AS: Yes, but what’s
going to happen when those ensembles fall apart — which
they eventually will, I think. As it stands now, if you have eight
flutes you’ve got some from one ensemble and some from another ensemble.
I’m just using an exaggeration. I don’t know if he calls for any flutes
BD: I understand,
but are we going back to the idea of almost being like a Chinese menu, a
little bit from this a little bit from that and combining what you need?
BD: When you sit down to write a piece, if it’s
not been commissioned for a specific group, how do you decide what kind of
ensemble it’s going to be? Does that come first, or do the musical
ideas come first?
AS: They come simultaneously.
I wrote one piece called Pulsar,
which was for three brass groups, and that was from the beginning the idea
of the ensemble — eight horns, six trumpets, cornet,
five trombones and a tuba, and three sets of tympani.
BD: Sounds like
an unwieldy group.
AS: It is, but
I had two precedents for that piece. One was one of my teachers, Wallingford
Riegger, wrote a piece in 1949 called Music
for Brass Choir, which was for eight horns, ten trumpets, ten trombones,
two tubas, and percussion. So I was within the limit of Riegger’s group.
Then a few years later, Henry Brant wrote a piece that used Riegger’s ensemble,
plus six saxophones and two euphoniums, more percussion and a coloratura
BD: Of course,
Brant was concerned with the spatial ideas, too.
AS: That’s a fascinating
piece, and I wish we could do it around here. It would take a special
hall to do it in.
BD: Should we get
the civic leaders to build a hall for contemporary music? Or is it
possible even to build a hall for contemporary music?
AS: No. I
think what Boulez did in Paris is about as close as you’ll come. It’s
interesting, because Stockhausen was talking about such a building the first
time I ever heard him speak, which was in 1959. He was conceiving a
new type of hall, and that new type of hall has been built, but it was built
by Boulez, or under the directorship of Boulez rather than Stockhausen.
BD: Does that please
AS: I hardly think
BD: Does it please
AS: Yes, because
you can do all sorts of things. You can control the amount of reverberation.
You can shape the walls any way you want.
BD: How much control
do you as a composer want to have?
AS: When I write
the piece, I like to be able to give it to the performers and hope that the
notation is clear enough that they don’t have to come back and ask questions
all the time.
BD: Do you expect
them to put their own personal input into it?
BD: How much?
that I’ve mentioned. I’ve never really had to say very much to the
conductors I’ve mentioned about what they were doing;
they simply did it. The Lydian Quartet that played my Sixth and Tenth Quartets, learned the pieces, and
then when they came here they played them for me. In the second movement
of the Tenth Quartet they said,
“We think this movement would sound better muted,” and I agreed with them.
It was their idea and it was their input, and I agreed with them completely.
BD: Did you then
change the score?
Sure. It worked out much better.
Are you optimistic about the future of music?
AS: Not overly.
I’m not as pessimistic as some people are, though, because I keep seeing
young composers come through that are really good. I am pessimistic
because this country’s one of the worst in terms of the exposure people get
to what younger composers are doing. I’m now approaching ‘old
composer’ status. [Laughs] I’ll
be sixty-five this year.
BD: Are you pleased
at being sixty-five?
AS: It doesn’t
bother me one way or the other.
BD: Are you pleased
with what you’ve accomplished so far?
AS: No. I’d
like to have done more. I have a whole pile of stuff that I want to
work on. Probably now the summer will be time to do some good, sustained
BD: If you were
free from any other responsibilities and just were able to compose, would
that be enough time?
It would be enough time, but it would be a very lonely time because composition
is a lonely thing, and I do like to have contact with people on occasion.
BD: Is composing
It’s also work. I think the title of one of Elliott Carter’s
pieces sums it up very well. It’s a four-minute piece, but it’s called
One Hundred Times One Hundred and Fifty
Notes. You have to put all those notes down on paper.
BD: It is true
that each little note gets its moment?
AS: Well, there’s
some you can’t hear because the textures get so dense, but there’s something
BD: But when you’re
writing a piece, are you conscious of each little note, each little dot and
AS: Yes, absolutely,
if they go under whatever controls I’m imposing in that particular piece.
I find there are some places that are very healthy music atmospheres.
I think the Netherlands is extremely healthy, not that there’s that much
great music, but at least they’re about twenty years ahead of us in terms
BD: [Playing Devil’s
Advocate] If there’s not that much great music, then perhaps
the healthy atmosphere doesn’t engender more great music.
AS: Well, it’s
starting to, because the Netherlands wasn’t known for major composers.
It’s getting them, and both Finland and Denmark right now have produced some
remarkable composers — Magnus Lindberg in Finland, and somebody that I went
to school with in Denmark, Per Nørgård, and some
of Per’s students, Hans Abrahamsen, Poul Ruders, Bent Sørensen
and Karl Rasmussen are all quite remarkable. It’s a very, very intense
musical scene there.
BD: Is Alan Stout
a remarkable composer?
AS: I don’t know.
I don’t think about things like that. [Both laugh]
BD: You don’t need
to concern yourself with that?
BD: You just do
it, and let someone else decide?
AS: Sure, sure.
BD: Thank you for
all that has come so far, and all that will come in the future.
AS: I hope they
BD: Thank you for
all of the wonderful years at Northwestern. The students there have
benefited immensely from your guidance, I’m sure.
AS: I hope so.
I hope I’ve stimulated them in some way.
--- --- --- --- ---
© 1997 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded at the home of Alan Stout in Evanston,
Illinois, on June 12, 1997. Portions were broadcast (along with recordings)
on WNIB later that year. This transcription was made in 2014 and posted
on this website at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
and posted on this website, click here.
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.