Music of Howard Boatwright

Howard Boatwright was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1918. He began the study of violin in Norfolk at the age of eleven under Israel Feldman, a pupil of Franz Kneisel. He played his first full length recital at fourteen, and made his orchestral debut playing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the Richmond Symphony when he was seventeen. He was first violinist of the Feldman Quartet, an organization that still exists in Norfolk, and he played solo recitals and concertos with orchestras in Virginia.
In December, 1942, Boatwright made his New York debut at Town Hall. In March of 1943 he was appointed Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Texas (Austin), and in June he married Helen Strassburger, a soprano he had met at the National Federation of Music Clubs Competition in Los Angeles in 1941. Howard gave recitals and was soloist with the Austin and Houston symphonies. Helen sang in opera in Austin and San Antonio. Together they toured Mexico in the fall of 1944.
In 1945, Boatwright left his position at Texas to study theory and composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale, fulfilling a latent desire to compose that had been pushed aside during his early years as a performer. In 1948, after three years of study, Boatwright (at Hindemith's instigation) joined the Yale faculty as Assistant Professor of Theory. For his theory classes at Yale College, Boatwright wrote his "Introduction to the Theory of Music" (Norton, 1956).He was also conductor of the University Orchestra and concertmaster of the New Haven Symphony; and he performed in many chamber music concerts in New Haven and at the Yale Summer School of Music at Norfolk, Connecticut.
As Director of Music at St. Thomas Church in New Haven, he gave a series of performances of old music in New Haven (1952–64), and at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (1954–59). Some of these performances appeared on LP discs; the A. Scarlatti St. John Passion won a Grand Prix du Disque when it was released on Lumen (France) in 1958.
In 1959, Boatwright went to India on Fulbright and Rockfeller grants, where he taught and studied Indian music in Bombay, conducted the symphony, and gave recitals and broadcasts with Helen over All-India Radio. A major project during this year in India was a study of South Indian violin playing, accomplished in two extended visits to Madras, where his teacher was T. N. Krishnan, one of India's greatest musicians.
Upon returning to the U. S. A., Boatwright turned his attention to editorial work on the papers of Charles Ives, which had been donated to Yale. His edition of "Essays Before a Sonata and Other Writings" appeared in 1962 (Norton).
In 1964, Boatwright was called to be Dean of the School of Music at Syracuse University. After a Fulbright Grant to Romania in 1972, he returmed to teaching, and retired as Professor of Music Emeritus in 1983.

About his approach to musical composition, with particlar reference to the works on this compact disc, the composer has provided the following notes:
My music has always been tied to the circumstances of my musical life, as it has been with most composers. Consequently, the music written during the years in New Haven was primarily choral (because of the connection to St. Thomas Church), or chamber music (because of the many concerts at Yale).
The change from New Haven to Syracuse in 1964 brought a change also in the motivations for composing. There was no specific need for church music or chamber music, nor was there any need to hold on to or to teach according to the ideas of my mentor, Paul Hindemith - in particular, his antipathy to the modern Viennese school. An important influence in Syracuse as a colleague and friend was the violinist, Louis Krasner, whose early recording of the Berg Violin Concerto I had treasured since the twelve-inch disks came out in the early forties. Krasner had been a Syracuse faculty member since 1949, and was the founder of the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music. Through him, with his many anecdotes about the circle of Schoenberg and performances that he gave or arranged, I was exposed to more music of the Viennese school than during the whole nineteen years in New Haven.
A result of this change of environment was that I decided I had to come to grips with fully chromatic music not relying on tonal fumctions for its clarity of form and expression. I began to experiment with methods of regulating an even flow of chromatic pitches with methods that did not, however, rely on pre-arranged tone rows. The resulting music would therefore be totally chromatic, but not "serial."
The String Quartet No. 2 was the first work in which I felt that I had fully grasped the possibilities of this technique, though since then I have applied it in various other media. It was commissioned by the Syracuse Society for New Music, and was first performed on April 20, 1975 at the Everson Museum in Syracuse by the Manhattan String Quartet. The same group with some changes of personnel, made the LP recording, CRI SD (1984), which has been digitally re-mastered here.
The String Quartet No. 2 follows traditional formal outlines: 1) a sonata-allegro with development for the first movement; 2) a long-lined, expressive slow movement; 3) a sprightly scherzo employing bouncing bows; and 4) a rondo finale which is introduced by a partial repetition from the second movement.
The Clarinet Sonata is one of a number of works including the clarinet that began through my friendship with Keith Wilson, professor of clarinet at Yale. My Clarinet Quartet (1958), which won the publication Award of the Society for the Publication of American Music in 1962 was dedicated to Wilson. The first performance of the Clarinet Sonata was given in Liverpool, N. Y. in 1984 by Ralph D'Mello, a pupil of Keith Wilson. The version on this CD is a digitally re-mastered tape of a concert performance in 1988 by Michael Webster and Barry Snyder at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, N. Y.
The Clarinet Sonata, like the String Quartet No. 2, is traditional in its formal prodedures, though not in its tonal language. The four movements are:
1) sonata-allegro with development and recapitulation; 2) a large song-form;
3) a light-hearted scherzo; and 4) a rondo with a somewhat march-like main theme and lyrical contrasting sections.
In 1976, I gave an interview for Yale's Oral History Project (directed by Vivian Perlis). The interviewer asked me what I had written for the violin, since I was a violinist. I had to answer that I had written chamber music including the violin, but nothing of a solo character. When she seemed surprised at that answer, I searched for a reason, and said that I had probably been inhibited by the fear that Howard Boatwright, the violinist, would be too critical of Howard Boatwright, the composer.
Some months later in March 1977 I was at a party in Syracuse following a concert of music by John Cage. I had met Cage several times in New Haven and New York, but when we were introduced on this occasion, he gave me an unrecognizing look. Some time later, he came across the room and said, "I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were you!" As we talked, Cage told me that he was taking "violin lessons" with Paul Zukovsky in preparation for writing a set of violin pieces; these turned out to be The Freeman Etudes (1977–80).
I thought immediately of the realization brought to the fore during the Oral History interview described above. Why should Cage, who was not a violinist, be writing a set of solo pieces, while I, a violinist, had not? About a month later, after this unintentional nudge by John Cage, I started to write the Twelve Pieces for Solo Violin . I gave the first performance at Syracuse University in February, 1978, and played them in several concerts elsewhere, including one in New York. The version here is a digital remastering of the tape from the first performance.
The Twelve Pieces reflect my experience with the unaccompanied sonatas and partitas of Bach, and, in some ways, the etudes and caprices from Kreutzer and Rode through Paganini and Wieniawski. Of course, they are not able to make use of the recurring scale and arpeggio patterns of diatonic major and minor keys. Nor do they use the common effects explained in orchestration books, such as tremolo, pizzicato, col legno, sulla tastiera, artificial harmonics, etc. The forms are varied: there are five fugues, lyrical pieces (Prelude and Nocturne), etudes (three Caprices), a fantasy, and a chaconne with variations. Although there is an over-all plan for the design of the whole set, the pieces can be performed in various smaller combinations. As studies, they can be used to prepare diatonically-trained fingers to cope with twentieth century music. - H.B.