Music of Edward T. Cone

My first serious contact with Ed's music came when Michelle Disco and I performed his "Two Women", a pair of songs for soprano and piano. I'd known his work as theorist (my copies of The Composer's Voice and Musical Performance had become very well thumbed), but I knew only a little about Ed as a composer. "Two Women" was a beautifully made piece. There had to be more where it came from. I discovered that Ed has written some eighty pieces of music over the last sixty years, and that none of this music was publicly available in any recorded form, and that performances, while they did happen, were too few. No matter how resigned a composer might be about having an audience for his work, no matter how tempted he might be by the thought of writing only for the desk drawer, no composer really wants their music to go unheard. No music as well made, as vivid, dramatic, and as beautiful as Ed's deserves to be unheard. Music unrecorded is uncomfortably close to music unheard. I approached Paul Lansky about making a recording and doing a concert of Ed's music. He agreed that the project should proceed and offered the backing of the Princeton Music Department. Superficially and personally, this project has been about creating the compact disc of Ed's music that I couldn’t buy. Seriously, personally, and institutionally, this project is about acknowledging and honoring Ed and his contributions to music, to musicians, to musical scholarship, and to Princeton University. His music is the part of his work that is, I suspect, most personal. I can think of no better way to honor Ed than performing and recording it. -Jeffrey Farrington
Writing music gives me special satisfaction when I have been asked to produce a composition for a performer or group. (I don't say commissioned, because that implies a fee-which, I fear, is very rarely involved.) Most of the works on this disc owe their inceptions to such requests. Unfortunately, the expected performance doesn't always take place. The Duo for Violin and ‘Cello is a case in point. The idea was suggested to me by Felix Greissle back in 1963, when he was directing a radio program devoted to new music. Speaking frankly, he told me that he would like to do a chamber work of mine, but that for financial reasons I should keep the instrumentation to a minimum. So I produced the Duo,-and his program promptly disappeared from the air. (That was not, I trust, an example of post hoc, propter hoc.) Consequently the Duo was not played until 1966, at the American Academy in Rome.
It is in one roughly quadripartite movement, a free rhapsody based melodically and harmonically on a collection of related three-note cells. Each of these consists of two intervals differing by a half-tone, a perfect fourth plus a tritone, or a minor plus a major second. Both of those cells, in fact, can be heard in the opening octave statement, which acts as a kind of recurring motto. In the opening section, contrapuntal treatments of the motto sandwich a central passage featuring a quasi-improvisatory melody for each instrument in turn, punctuated by its partner's pizzicato interjections. After a brief pause the second section attempts to be Tranquillo but is persistently interrupted by a Doppio movimento. That tempo takes over to produce an energetic duet in which a martellato theme (based on the "Fifth Symphony" rhythm) assumes control, leading to a big climax. The movement gradually subsides, and a transition leads to the third main section, a ruminative Adagio. It is followed by what might be termed a double interlude: first a dreamy Moderato that attempts twice to come to rest, once on a D-major and once on a C-major triad; then a tentative return to the motto, which gradually becomes more agitated until it opens into the finale, Allegro molto. When its dancing is ultimately broken by march-like presentation of the motto, the end is near. One last lyrical reminiscence is answered by a brief return to the Allegro to effect a decisive conclusion. (Incidentally, but probably not coincidentally, the final E flat completes a three-note cell initiated by the two previous cadences on D and C.)
Related to the pleasure of composing for specific performers is the joy I experience when making musical settings of poetry by my friends. I am fortunate to have known many first-rate poets, and they have been most gracious about letting me use their verse in this way. The most recent example is New Weather, a cycle on four short lyrics by the eminent young Irish poet Paul Muldoon. The title is derived from the first song, "Wind and Trees." After describing trees in a storm, the poet compares himself to a single tree, concluding that "by my broken bones/I tell new weather. "Although recent medical evidence has tended to question the validity of this kind of prophecy, I found it musically suggestive.
"Blemish" tells of a (presumably beautiful) woman with eyes of different colors. That discrepancy is symbolized by a piano accompaniment that is freely canonical between the left and the right hands, a minor ninth apart. The half-step relationship is brought into the open by the voice when it sings of "one brown, and one blue eye." In "Bran," the poet, despite the pleasure of sexual passion, nostalgically remembers the sheer rapture of his boyhood love for his dog. That was "an oatmeal Labrador," but when I wrote the song I was thinking of a red cocker spaniel.
The longest of the songs is "Hedgehog." That animal has appealed to me ever since I first encountered one during World War II, at an army camp near Tel Aviv. This extrodinary little creature rolls itself into a hard, spiny ball at the first hint of danger but proves to be gentle and friendly when induced to unwind. The poem begins with a description of the steady motion of a snail, which is suggested on the piano by a constantly modulating twelve-tone ostinato for the two hands four octaves apart. In contrast, the hedgehog is depicted by a sudden spasmodic figure that brings the hands close together on a dissonant chord. This motif and its derivations punctuate the poet’s address to the hedgehog—which never unrolls. It is quite right not to "trust in the world": the Arabs told me that they drop the animals into water, slit their stomachs when they try to swim, and eat them.
In a way, animals contributed to the inspiration of Serenade. It was written at the request of Jayn Rosenfeld and the Princeton Ensemble, who wanted a quartet (flute and strings) for a forthcoming concert at the Guggenheim Museum. During the Winter of 1975-76 I was in the habit of taking early morning walks on a nearby golf course with two beloved dogs. On one of those frosty-often snowy-excursions, I pictured to myself a flute-player emerging outdoors in just such weather and trying to persuade her colleagues to join her in some alfresco music-making. According to this program, her companions, at first reluctant, gradually respond one at a time. They are not tuned up, however; in fact, their strings, as revealed by a succession of pizzicato strummings, comprise every note of the chromatic scale. That won't do for the music the flutist has in mind; so they all have to retune in the conventional manner. Then they are able to join in a series of connected movements under her command-for all the musical material of the serenade is derived from the flute’s opening invocation. The first movement is episodic-in turns fugal, recitative-like, conversational, and hesitantly dancing. It comes to rest in a dreamy Adagio interlude, an explicitly tonal point of repose. After it dies away, the flute, with another call to action, urges the strings to bestir themselves anew. This time they produce a more consistent dance-a quasi-waltz, as it were. It consists of two sections, each leading to a climactic flute passage. A moment of relaxation after the first of these offers the prospect of a lyrical theme. That proves abortive, however, for the dance returns. But a second climax, even stronger, issues in an accompanied cadenza by which the flute gradually reduces the tension, inviting her companions to join in a development in the previously suggested lyrical theme. Apparently they have been playing on into the night, for this concluding section is a kind of lullaby in which the flute's extended melody is accompanied by gently rocking strings. Occasionally one of the latter takes over the tune, but the flute always returns and ultimately brings the serenade to a close. Against the final chord, sustained by the flute, violin, and viola, the cello's open-string pizzicatos-still, of course, properly tuned-recall its original scordatura awakening. It is not quite true to say that Philomela was requested. Actually only one of what I subtitle Three Nightingale Songs was written to order. That is the last of the set as it now stands. Based on a poem by Matthew Arnold, it was written in 1954 for a varied group-soprano, flute, viola, and piano-who were giving a recital and wanted one piece to include them all. Later, in 1970, I decided to add two other movements, to poems by Robert Bridges and Sir Philip Sidney, to make the present suite. When I wrote the earliest song I had never heard a nightingale; so there was no question of trying to imitate it. In the other two, composed after I had been fortunate enough to become familiar with the bird's extraordinary performance, there are some vague attempts to copy its phrasing on the flute. In the Bridges I refer to its unique motif of a crescendo on a single reiterated note.
Although the flute in a sense represents the nightingale throughout, its role varies from movement to movement. The Bridges poem is a dialogue between the poet and one of the birds, who thus speaks for herself. As she does so, the flute, in duet with the viola, presents a purely musical, more "bird-like" version of her account: of the birds' desolate home, of their transformation of their longing into nocturnal music, and of their departure before the noisy advent of day. (That last image, though poetically effective, is ornithologically incorrect: the nightingale sings during the day as well.) The Sidney poem depicts the nightingale at home in her natural setting. The flute accordingly blends for the most part with the other instruments to produce a colorful foil for the poet's complaints. The gently ironic attitude and the formality of the verse (two similar stanzas, with identical refrains) suggested a stricter construction than was permitted by the loosely tonal organization of the other two songs. So, although this one is not based on a twelve-tone series, it does proceed by a succession of aggregates, of the voice on the one hand and in its accompaniment on the other. The Arnold poem is a monologue that presents the reactions of one actually listening to the bird. The flute accordingly personifies the nightingale more directly here than in the other two members of the cycle. For that reason I was delighted, when at last I heard a real Philomel, to find that the bravura passages I had written for the flute could be derived-rather fancifully, I admit-from some of its characteristic notes. (Really, its song is so constantly varied that almost any motif can be detected in it.) I envisage the movement as a kind of scena. An instrumental introduction that turns into the accompaniment of a brief recitative presents much of the material for the movement to come. Especially important in this respect are the chords in the piano, all built up by superimposing six or more thirds. The instruments then relax in a lyrical passage that prepares for the speaker’s address to the nightingale. This begins with a cantilena ("O Wanderer") that pictures the bird in its tranquil nocturnal setting. Interrupted once by a return of the introductory material ("Say, will it never heal?"), it leads to a quiet conclusion. After a brief instrumental interlude, it is succeeded by a kind of cabaletta, an Allegro that recalls the painful events of the mythical tale. It is divided into two sections. The first ("Dost thou tonight behold") leads to a rhythmic outburst on the piano that prepares for its complement, an instrumental fugato (the "flight" of the two sisters) to which the voice adds a soaring melody ("Dost thou once more assay"). Its climax again recalls the introduction as the speaker’s thoughts return to the present ("Listen, Eugenia-"). Here the superimposed thirds of the opening reemerge to support the bird’s final message: ("Eternal Passion! Eternal Pain!").
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking those who made this recording possible: especially Jeffrey Farrington ("the onlie begetter") and the other performers.
- Edward T. Cone

Edward Toner Cone was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 4, 1917. He studied composition at Princeton University with Roger Sessions, obtaining his B.A. in 1939, and M.F.A. in 1942. He subsequently held a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Princeton, and joined the Princeton faculty in 1946. He has served as Ernest Bloch Professor at the University of California at Berkeley and as an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Old Dominion Fellowship at Princeton University, and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards.
In addition to his work as a composer, Mr. Cone is an influential analyst, critic and editor. He has written numerous articles in such journals as The Musical Quarterly, Perspectives of New Music, 19th Century Music and the Journal of the American Musicological Society, as well as three books, Musical Form and Musical Performance, The Composer's Voice, and Music: a View from Delft.