40 Years and One: Philip Corner Plays the Piano

Philip Corner Plays the Piano

40 Years and One:

Crock, the piano gives in — like an entire musical universe under ax-blows. Assaulted, the wood whines and wails, the strings shatter, the keys spatter all around, black separates from white. matter from anti-matter.

-Antonella Moncenovesi

Plunge deeply into the splendid adventure of New York. You are one of these young ones in whom I have faith both for the present and the future

-letters from Paul-Emile Borduas: 28/12/57 & 26/8/58

The music of Philip Corner is the consequence of (he explosion of the classical idea of unity, of the false solidity of matter. If the atoms which form solid matter consist almost entirely of empty space why not isolate, in the air-chamber of silence, the sonic nuclei which unwind the ball of solid centers?

-Antonella Montenovesi


7 joyous Flashes are just that. That is, seven very short pieces which, far from "trying to express" that joy, are expressions of it...... using the potential of all-over chromaticism to exemplify freedom while the unusual predominance of the rich consonances radiates delight rather than anguish.


There are very few independents, very few who just follow their own course, such as....Philip Corner who works, usually with graphics, with relative momentums and weights, sculpting his sounds, so that an extraordinary variety of things become possi­ble at any time: one day I would like to detail his work more fully.

-Dick Higgins

Concerto for Housekeeper belongs to that group of works which may be called "action concepts." The premise is the task implied by the title......whose necessities limit what is left undefined in the realization. Since it is music, the performer (of either sex) concentrates on the dirty keys. Which sound accord­ingly.

There are parallels to the happening in music, for example, in the work of such com­posers as Philip Corner and John Cage, who explore the intermedia between music and philosophy....

-Dick Higgins

extracts from the Short Piano Pieces of 1957

Consider them as self-imposed "composition exercises"—but, evidently, more than just exercises. More like the way training would be ideally given to a young composer........it was while I was studying "Philosophie Musicale" at the Paris Conservatory with Messiaen.......certain analyses revealed principles, which I would try out in a new piece. None of them are imitations, nor "in the style of"; but rather, from a given (and newly learned) starting point, real attempts at composition. Which is, of course, why they might indeed be compositions.


There are avant-gardists who are loud, rude, and nasty. Others, in contrast, are gentle and calm, like Llorenc Barber and Philip Corner. The latter are likely to be the most enduring.


-Ramon Barce

IV An evenly moving, doubled in octaves, melody. Which permutates a 12-tone row (procedure learned from Messiaen, used in a simpler and less cal­culated way than he would) at every repetition, as it phraselessly continues to a cadenceless stop. (The spirit is in the world of Gregorian Chant.)

IX Also a 12-tone melody. But this time more orthodoxly serial: there is a row—but it is never transposed; nor inverted; nor even retrograded. The absence of such manipulations allows the individual tones to be as far-apart-as-possible. Indeed, it begins as just a melody, a lyric and unaccompanied one, which only later gets another voice as counterpoint, and then a few chordal agglutinations.

XIII Very much owing to what i learned from the master. His Modes de Vo/eurs et d'lntensites links each note irrevocably to a duration and a dynamic; as well as to a fixed position in musical space. The sonorous-events so formed are then juxtaposed freely although the serial world-view is still present in the chromatic choice of pitches (and the other factors—i might add). Where Messiaen uses 36 notes (12 X 3), I restricted myself to 10. One accomplishes the maximum shock of a disjunctive continuity.

Why I deliberately followed this with..

Flux & Form No. 2

In this piece i thought to carry the disjunction procedure a bit further.

Here the durations and intensities are still linked; but are joined to intervals as well—yes, always 2 notes sound-struck at a time. (No need anymore for the fixed-tone limitation........the use of harmonic consistency brings in a different level of coherence, which is based on a reduction to three kinds of interval only.)

The reason for this can be seen as rooted in Nature. (And so demonstrates the Reality of all manifestations of Trinity.) The three classes of intervals raised to a concentration of the states of Matter—a triangle of basic Feeling-states.

The soverign slowness of Flux and Form No. 2 is surprising. - Michael Camus




There is a bridge here between serial order and systematic chance.  And, most curious, a new way of returning to an old way of Harmony.......:That is, the essential hierarchies in chords—gradually lost since the Middle Ages. All intervals (they may be equal, but) are not the same.  They may be used, all. But have consequences.

Here (we are modern, of course) it is not a case of compelled resolution or illusions of progress; anything—any one of the three types, and attached to any pitches in the chromatic gamut—can occur right after anything else. Yet, at all instants of their presence, the special quality of each will be directly manifested.

As first written, I-myself—as traditional "composer," made all the sequence choices. But for this recording there is added a section of free performer choice—improvisation within the rules.


Perhaps the single most striking quality of Corner's piano music, beyond the pleasure
of the music, is the crystal clarity of the concepts. Corner moves purposefully from
deep musical thought via these concepts to highly pianistic compositions with a broad
range of affect, much as Bach moves from his deep music via contrapuntal forms to
the unfolding of his keyboard works. There is love for the piano, and in recording the
works, and, in relationship to it, the choice of mastering techniques for each work.  Here he was joyful.

-Charlie Morrow



When Philip plays the piano he always makes me imagine that music is a single great continuum, and that we always live in all of it. We may hear it a portion at a time, but we always live in all of it. I am moved by the ease with which he leads me from here to here to here, each different, always NOW, always familiar, always remembered, yet unexpected, like watching the change, return and passing of the seasons, (n addi­tion to making music, he shows me the reasons for making music.

-Henry Martin

Always there is the presence of touch as play upon, within, around the piano; his playing, the keyboard and frame of instrument singing, of fingers, palms, arms and body, whole..by touch releasing, through gesture sounding, and always mind/sense being one... The piano thereby is transformed, qualities of percussion and human voice all possible, extended and endlessly fulfilled with nuances of articulation and resonance.

-Malcolm Goldstein

Pulse: a 'Keyboard Dance' comes from those explorations in the early 60s towards a reduction of detail to essential constants. A number of those pieces involve an absolutely steady pulse, and the tempo of one's own blood is a good one. Here there is also "progression" in the sense of the inexorable movement of an expanding tone-cluster; yet there is no "goal": the limits of the keyboard being no more than the naturally given end-of-possibilities.

As an interface with other interests at that time, the "Keyboard Dances" constitute a huge array of action-performance possibilities, written on various sized paper scraps rolled into the compartments of an egg box; this object is now in the Silvermon Fluxus collection.

I let that final "dissonance" "resolve" into the three-note basic form of a C Major Chord.

As the score (Something Else Press, The Four Suits, 1965) says "You can do anything you like provided it is a C Major Chord." (I will later work my way into extended-play on other chords too........B Major/Bb minor 9 with Carles Santos; The Mozart Material as part of Cage and Miller's HPSCHD; Satie's Rose+Cross chords; the Mystic Chord of Skryabine and all the other contributions of this kind to the As A Revelation series.)

The way it first sounds here recalls the skeptic who asked, "You mean I could just play this?" and plunked down the three keys triad which is the first thing children learn at their piano lessons. Of course i was forced to reply, "Yes!" (That would be a realization of One Note Once.) Now it continues.....emerging..... in a left hand alone version, pedal down, with a repetition-coaxed sensuality overflowing our understanding of that simple concept. Eventually retuned to pure resonance, and then silence.

I felt throughout some constantly positive affinity—you/me—special to this occa­sion......! mean something like 'I heard light', 'felt light like a zone of the mind's ear'; a "barrier", yes, but warmly penetrable—not at all a suffusion some-such, but rather that which makes "zone" and "tone" rhyme rightly.......that some overlapping areas of the brain receive audio and visual as of buzz.......their eventual "blossoming" can be a gentle 'explosion'of an almost as is every con­ceivable sound, making the structure of the piece, most of it, purely rhythm, either of pulse or timbre (texture as rhythm) exemplum ofOlson's "Of rhythm is image/Of image is knowing/and of knowing there is a construct" ......more frenetically gathered about some central cluster of notes, as if in relationship to the FIRE of light........not flames, so to speak, but more that quality of light which (as you have it in sound in the mind) is as Pound in The Cantos has it gathering against "gloom", as if to draw all to it—as gold seems to gather light. ......which suggests, in the context, the fire within rock (photographed for "Dog Star Man", using black light)—something of that pulse which is all Luminescence.

-from letters from Stan Brakhage

......the Eichendorff poem "A song sleeps in all things"seems a suitable motto for the music of Philip Corner.

-Helga de la Motte-Haber

Philip has vision, he did something nobody else did, he brought the expressive into indeterminacy. (He calls it 'non-compulsive indeter­minacy.') He's also one of the only composers I know who can give you a handful of words (notes) for a score, suggestions and alternat­ives for a realization and create wonderful expansive vistas of music and sound.

Philip loves sound(s), he really listens and relishes (cherishes) the sensual aspect of perception. When he plays the piano there is a tre­mendous sensitivity (sensibilite), his own art of touching and caressing the keyboard. He also loves embellishments, whether in Korean classical music or in the late French baroque ofMarin Marais or Francois Coupehn. There's humor too, he's very funny (as many of his 'fluxus' performance and art works will show) and his universal and non-conformist approach to life is extremely refreshing in a (music-al) world still dominated by the dull mainstream of academia.

-Anton Lukoszevieze

"perfect" is a kind of thing i have imagined, kept in my mind, and played around with, since some time in the 70s. For this recording was the time to finally realize it in audible matter (see the score—that also set down two years after the performance) for which i set things into vibration on the piano strings. A round-bottomed object may keep its oscillations for a long time, with an effect of incredible sensitivity.

I would do well not to interfere too much. And i did not. (I became so fasci­nated, that the piece came out just long enough.........especially as I luckily (They were gesticulating wildly from the control booth!) finished just before the tape ran out.)

A picture to sing, an imitation to improvise with a composer and other musicians. The start of a collaboration and a new way of making music. Instructions written with spare, poetic clarity, setting optimal conditions for democracy. Singing it, singing all Philip's music, was an experience of democracy at its best.

The musical events.......are precise and evocative, the formal structure based on simultaneity and dynamics. Disciplined freedom. Adult play. I found Philip a special kind of musical genius, able to create a form that inspired/required me to improvise freely, stretching my vocal, musical, and imaginative resources, while happily bound to a whole that had solid, delightful integrity.

-Norma Harder

40 years (and what remarkable music thinkers—in addition to composers—he and some of his peers hove been).

The example of his music embodies a lifelong commitment to an integral radicalism—a quality seemingly missing now in the younger generations. This is a venerable tradition that Philip has written so eloquently about, and continued in his.


A tradition that stems from "Charlie" Ives through John Cage and Lou Harrison. All
of these composers would ultimately admonish us to do one tiling: to open our

ars—and LISTEN!

-Peter Garland


Let this recording be in dedication to Dorothy Taubman, for so many years my wonderful and dear piano teacher, with­out whose instruction I might well be playing another instrument!