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HAROLD SHAPERO AT BRANDEIS IN MEMORIAM (1920–2013) BENJAMIN BORETZ HE BRANDEIS GRADUATE PROGRAM in music was just beginning when I arrived in 1954 to study with three young American composers whose music had been riveting me since my high school days—Arthur Berger was 42, had arrived from New York a year earlier; Irving Fine was 40 and a refugee from WASP Harvard; and Harold Shapero, local young-turk jazz-pianist all-music wunderkind, was not yet 35, inconceivably young for an actual official professor. The whole music department operated out of Roberts Cottage—Roz Morrison, the secretary (the first Music Department person I spoke to) worked in the kitchen, seminars happened in the living room and bedrooms, and there was a graduate student composer living in the attic. And everybody was talking high-serious nonstop in every kind of people-group. So—coming from a redbrick New York City college—this was an astonishing environment for a school; and the nature and quality of the T Harold Shapero at Brandeis in memoriam (1920–2013) 243 learning space was just like that—an intensely creative–intellectual family deeply engrossed in permanent strenuous conversation and incredibly serious about every aspect of their work and about music. Harold, even more than the other faculty, was also insatiably inquisitive about everything else: basic socioeconomic/political theory, technology, science (especially the astronomical theories of Fred Hoyle), but, first and foremost, philosophy, especially philosophies of consciousness, identity, and existence (Whitehead and James were constantly in his conversation) and, locally accessible, great living philosophers of religion, specifically Judaism (Aron Gurwitsch and Simon Rawidowicz); Herbert Marcuse too was always in powerful evidence at any campus meeting on any controversial subject. Harold himself wrote about “the musical mind” as a manifestation of subconscious processes, and developed a complex of thoughts about the relation of tradition to individual inspiration—something he shared with Arthur Berger. And all of this was included, anything could metastasize anytime (at Harold’s discretion of course), within our nominally formal graduate music classes (which began whenever Harold showed up— usually very long after we’d gotten going on our own). And the interaction , on any subject, crackled with acerbic electricity, more streetgang jamming than new-age kumbaya, or Parisian-elegant (or Harvard-fake-polite) decorous one-upmanship; Harold’s competitive energies permitted no softnose padded discourse; every topic—musictechnical or music-aesthetic or world-examining—was stripped to street essentials and delivered with a brick. So—does it need to be laid out any straighter—he was idiosyncratic, volatile, radically iconoclastic, deep, ubiquitous, and—difficult, and outrageously interesting. His very early fame as a composer (which was a shadow behind this almost defensive pugnacity) was almost certainly tied to the intimidation his particular combination of qualities produced, all of which came through unmediated in his amazing music—chops were a major preoccupation , and he had them beyond mastery, totally transparent to everything his music needed to be. The big one for all of us was the Symphony for Classical Orchestra. (Leonard Bernstein who also did faculty time on a now-and-then schedule always said “hi, Genius” when Harold walked into the room unimaginably late as usual—Lenny got the intimidation vibe—he conducted the Symphony like a dedicated angel.) I wrote my thoughts about the Symphony for a series of broadcasts I did on WKCR in New York on the subject of “The Philosophical Strain in Postwar American Music”—Harold’s Symphony was an inevitable item on that playlist: 244 Perspectives of New Music Harold Shapero’s Symphony is cold as ice and strong as steel; its overt association with a “Beethovenian” model is completely deceptive . Its physicalities are plosives to the solar plexus, or a shove or a nudge from the blind side; its subtleties are moves far more rapid and deft than you could ever match, or ever even really follow ; a demonstration of absolute musical mastery whose subject is absolute musical mastery; whose beauties are the knowledge and control of where musical beauty resides and from whence it arises. It is sui generis, and will never be surpassed: unambiguously, it tells you so. Its affinities are blatant and fierce...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-7180
Print ISSN
0031-6016
Pages
pp. 242-244
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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