The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 27, 2016

October 27, 1912

Conlon Nancarrow (October 27, 1912 to August 10, 1997) may need some introduction. We quote:

Born in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1912, Nancarrow was active in his early years as a trumpeter, playing jazz and other types of popular music. He attended the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music from 1929-32, and later studied composition and counterpoint in Boston with Nicolas Slonimsky, Walter Piston, and Roger Sessions (1933-36). He values most his work with Sessions: "The only formal studies I did that were important were the studies I had in strict counterpoint with Roger Sessions. That was the only formal training I ever had. And they were rigid! I'd do this strict counterpoint exercise, and then I'd take a piece of my music and say to him, 'What do you think of this?' 'Very interesting; where's your counterpoint exercise?'" Nancarrow also cites Bach and Stravinsky as seminal influences.

In 1937 Nancarrow enlisted in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. On his return to the United States in 1939 he became involved in the New York new music scene, contributing several reviews to Modern Music and associating with other composers such as Elliot Carter and Aaron Copland.

Nancarrow was a dedicated socialist, which made him politically unacceptable in the United States. This was brought plainly home when he applied for a passport and was denied. Angry at such treatment, he moved to Mexico City in the early 1940s, becoming a Mexican citizen in 1956. He died there in 1997.

Nancarrow returned to the player piano partly because of Mexico's extreme musical isolation. Another more compelling reason was his long-standing frustration at the inability of musicians to deal with even moderately difficult rhythms. He goes so far as to say that "As long as I've been writing music I've been dreaming of getting rid of the performers." With the advent of the phonograph, the player piano has been relegated to the status of an object of nostalgia. But not so for Nancarrow, who since the late 1940s has composed almost exclusively for the instrument.
Nancarrow found some recognition in the 1960s and later, for his music. He received a MacArthur Fellowship, in 1982. It sounds like he wanted to resume his American citizenship but couldn't deal with the soul-sucking rigamarole necessary to accomplish this. The picture below may not capture a musician but certainly does a sensitive intellectual.

Image result for nancarrow cat

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