Born: September 15, 1913
Country: Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Studies: Juilliard School of Music
Teachers: George Antheil, Aaron Copland, Wallingford Riegger
Henry Brant is America’s foremost composer of acoustic spatial music. The planned positioning of performers throughout the hall, as well as on stage, is an essential factor in his composing scheme and a point of departure for a radically expanded range and intensity of musical expression. Brant’s mastery of spatial composing technique gives him access to textures of unprecedented polyphonic and/or polystylistic complexity, providing maximum resonance in the hall and increased clarity of musical detail for the listener. His catalogue comprises over 100 spatial works.
Brant’s spatial music has been widely performed and recorded in the U.S. and Europe, and his long career has been recognized by numerous awards and honors, most recently the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Ice Field (2001). Other honors include two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Prix Italia (which he was the first American composer to win in 1955), and the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction in 1982: “a pioneer of spatial and antiphonal music and a continuing influence on succeeding generations.” He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1979. Brant received an ASCAP/NISSIM Award in 1985, a Fromm Foundation grant in 1989, and a Koussevitzky Foundation award in 1995 as well as Ford Foundation and NEA awards. Brant’s work has found municipal recognition in an official Henry Brant Week in Boston (1983), in a special week of ten all-Brant concerts at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam (1984), and in New York City’s Certificate of Appreciation (1992). The Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel has acquired Brant's complete archive of original manuscripts including over 300 works (1998). Brant received the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Wesleyan University in September, 1998.
Recent performances include Antiphony I (1953), Brant’s first spatial work, on June 3 & 4, 2005 by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam’s Gashouder on a program of spatial music conducted by Markus Stenz. On November 19, 2004 Brant’s Wind, Water, Clouds & Fire was premiered in Milwaukee’s St. John’s Cathedral, with a repeat performance on November 21. This oratorio for three women’s choruses, a children’s chorus, woodwinds, six trumpets, percussion, harp, piano, ten violins and organ was commissioned by Present Music and conducted by Kevin Stalheim with the composer playing pipe organ. Tremors, a Getty Research Institute commission, for 4 singers and 16 instrumentalists, was premiered on June 4, 2004 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, with a repeat performance in a Green Umbrella concert at LA’s new Disney Hall on November 1, 2004. Ghosts & Gargoyles, a concerto for flute solo with flute orchestra, had its Toronto premiere in May 2002. Ice Field, for large orchestral groups and organ, was commissioned by Other Minds for a December 2001 premiere by the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas and assisting conductor Brad Lubman.
In 2008, Brant completed his textbook on orchestration: Textures & Timbres, a project started in 1950.
Wind, Water, Clouds & Fire will be released on Innova Recordings’ Volume 3 of The Henry Brant Collection in January 2006. Also in early 2006: Ghosts & Gargoyles will be released on a New World Records CD of Brant’s music for flute, and Brant’s Glossary (2000) will be included on a double-CD release of works commissioned by New Music Works in Santa Cruz, California.
Over the last decade Brant enjoyed a lively career with many premieres of his spatial music at home and abroad. Three Brant works were completed and premiered in the year 2000 in Amsterdam (Prophets), in Santa Cruz, California (Glossary), and in Austria at the Festival Klangspuren 2000 (Crystal Antiphonies). In October 1994, Cultuurcentrum De Oosterpoort in Groningen, Holland, presented Brant in Nederland, a 7-hour “marathon” of all-Brant concerts, comprising 22 works both spatial and non-spatial composed over a 60-year span including the premiere of Trajectory (1994). Trajectory presents acoustic, spatial, independent music for concert/theatrical performance simultaneous with an abstract silent film. All the concerts were broadcast live by VPRO Radio. Also in 1994, Henry Brant completed A Concord Symphony, his orchestration of Ives’s Concord Sonata, a project begun in 1958. He conducted its premiere in Ottawa in June 1995. Dormant Craters (1995), was conducted by Brant at an outdoor premiere in Lincoln Center, New York in August 1995. Brant’s Plowshares and Swords (1995), for orchestra spatially deployed throughout Carnegie Hall, and with a separate part for each player, received its premiere in February 1996. At the same concert, Brant conducted A Concord Symphony in its American premiere. In Vienna’s Musikverein, Dennis Russell Davies conducted the Vienna Radio Orchestra in the premiere of Brant’s completion of Schubert’s B minor Symphony on October 14, 1997, and the first European hearing of the Ives-Brant A Concord Symphony, on October 21.
From The New Grove Dictionary of American Music:
A far-reaching innovation came in 1953 with the performance of Antiphony I for five widely separated orchestral groups positioned in the auditorium and on stage. This example of “spatial music” predated Stockhausen’s Gruppen by five years. Unlike Stockhausen, however, Brant followed and expanded Ives’s concepts of stylistic contrast and spatial separation. In Antiphony I and almost all of Brant's subsequent spatial works each group is assigned music quite unrelated in timbre, texture, and style to that of other groups. Rhythmic coordination is maintained within each ensemble, often by conductors, but in order to allow for possible time lags in the hall, Brant has devised procedures to permit overall non-coordination within controlled limits.
In the early 1950’s Brant came to feel that “single-style music…could no longer evoke the new stresses, layered insanities, and multi-directional assaults of contemporary life on the spirit.” At this juncture Brant began to explore spatial music, and his principal large-scale works and chamber music since 1950 are all spatial. In keeping with Brant’s belief that music can be as complex and contradictory as everyday life, his larger works often employ multiple, contrasting performing forces. Brant’s spatial experiments have convinced him that space exerts specific influences on harmony, polyphony, texture and timbre. He regards space as music’s “fourth dimension” (after pitch, time and timbre). Brant continues to experiment with new combinations of acoustic timbres, even creating entire works for instrumental family groups of a single timbre: Orbits for 80 trombones, Ghosts & Gargoyles for multiple flutes, and others for multiple trumpets, flutes and guitars. This predilection for ensembles of a single tone quality dates from Angels and Devils (1932). Brant does not use electronic materials or permit amplification in his music.
Born in Montreal of American parents in 1913, Henry Brant began composing at the age of eight. After moving to New York in 1929, he composed and conducted for radio, film, ballet, and jazz groups, while also composing experimental works for the concert hall. Starting in the late 1940’s, he taught both at Columbia University and Juilliard. For 24 years (1957-1980), he taught composition at Bennington College. Beginning in 1981, he made his home in Santa Barbara, California.
Works for Percussion
Four French Baroque Pieces - Percussion Trio
Ice Age - Multiple Percussion; Clarinet; Piano
Symphony for Percussion - Percussion (16)
Textures & Timbres, An Orchestrator's Handbook - Orchestration Textbook
Spatial music progress report - Theoretical Paper
- Bennington College Quadrille, 1979