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Conlon  Nancarrow

Born: October 27th, 1912
Died: August 10th, 1997
Country of origin: Mexico
Upcoming :
Orchestra: Ensemble Resonanz
2018-01-23 | Hamburg (Germany), Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal
Orchestra: Ensemble Resonanz
2018-01-24 | Hamburg (Germany), Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal
This music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives… his music is so utmost original, enjoyable, constructive and at the same time emotional... for me it's the best music of any today living composer. (György Ligeti) 

Conlon Nancarrow was an American-born composer who lived most of his life in Mexico. Nancarrow is remembered almost exclusively for the pieces he wrote for the player piano. He was one of the first composers to use musical instruments as mechanical machines, making them play far beyond human performance ability. He lived most of his life in complete isolation, not becoming widely known until the 1980s. Today, he is remembered as one of the most original and unusual composers of the 20th century. His music has a mathematical beauty and elegance that happily coexists with musical expressiveness and a puckish sense of humor. Nancarrow did not see a clear delineation between the two approaches and he never worried about it. This natural, organic 'double-esthetic' is one of his most relevant contributions to music history.

Nancarrow was born in Texarkana, Arkansas. He played trumpet in a jazz band in his youth, before studying music first in Cincinnati, Ohio and later in Boston, Massachusetts with Roger Sessions, Walter Piston and Nicolas Slonimsky. He met Arnold Schoenberg during that composer's brief stay in Boston in 1933. Temporarily buoyed by an inheritance, Nancarrow traveled to New York City in 1947, bought a player piano, and had a machine custom built to enable him to punch the piano rolls by hand. The machine was an adaptation of one used in the commercial production of rolls, and using it was very hard work, and very slow. He also adapted the player pianos, increasing their dynamic range by tinkering with their mechanism, and covering the hammers with leather or metal so as to produce a more percussive sound.

Nancarrow's first pieces combined the harmonic language and melodic motifs of early jazz pianists like Art Tatum with extraordinarily complicated metrical schemes. The first five rolls he made are called the Boogie-Woogie Suite (later assigned the name Study No. 3 a-e) and are probably the most jazzy of all his works. Later works tend to be more abstract, with no obvious references to any music apart from Nancarrow's. Many of these later pieces (which he generally called studies) are canons in augmentation or diminution or prolation canons. While most canons using this device, such as those by Johann Sebastian Bach, have the tempos of the various parts in quite simple ratios, like 2:1, Nancarrow's canons are in far more complicated ratios. The Study No. 40, for example, has its parts in the ratio e:pi, while the Study No. 37 has twelve individual melodic lines, each one moving at a different tempo.

Having spent many years in obscurity, Nancarrow benefitted from the 1969 release of an entire album of his work by Columbia Records as part of a brief flirtation of the label's classical division with modern avant garde music. It was most notably György Ligeti who, fascinated by the music of his Mexican fellow composer, supported Nancarrow and became the most important advocate for the worldwide recognition of his musical lifetime achievement.
In 1982 he received a MacArthur Award which paid him 0,000 over 5 years. This increased interest in his work prompted him to write for more conventional instruments, and he produced several pieces for small ensembles. Still more recently, Nancarrow's entire output for player piano has been recorded and released on the German Wergo label. Some of his Studies for Player Piano have also been arranged for musicians to play. In 1995, composer and critic Kyle Gann published a full-length study of Nancarrow's output, The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 303). Jürgen Hocker, another Nancarrow specialist, published Begegnungen mit Nancarrow (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Schott Musik International, Mainz 2002, 284 pp.).

The complete contents of Nancarrow's studio, including the player piano rolls, the instruments, the libraries, and other documents and objects, are now in the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel.
Orchestra: Ensemble Resonanz
2018-01-23 | Hamburg (Germany), Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal
Orchestra: Ensemble Resonanz
2018-01-24 | Hamburg (Germany), Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal

Gallery

per page
  1. Begegnungen mit Conlon Nancarrow

    Begegnungen mit Conlon Nancarrow

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Author: Hocker, Juergen
    Edition: edition with CD
    Language: German
    Order No.: NZ 5003
    €39.90
  2. Piece for Tape

    Piece for Tape

    arranged for percussion solo by Dominic Murcott (2009)
    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Instrumentation: percussion
    Edition: single sheet
    Order No.: BAT 50
    €7.00

    Out of stock

  3. Study No. 33

    Study No. 33

    arranged for string quartet by Paul Usher
    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Editor: Usher, Paul
    Instrumentation: string quartet
    Edition: score and parts
    Order No.: ED 22281
    €29.00

    Out of stock

  4. Studies for Player Piano

    Studies for Player Piano

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Interpreter: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: 5 CDs, 140-page booklet
    Order No.: WER 69072
    €63.50
  5. Studies and Solos for Piano

    Studies and Solos for Piano

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: CD
    Order No.: WER 66702
    €18.50
  6. Die Kunst des Tempokanons

    Die Kunst des Tempokanons

    Edition: CD
    Order No.: ARTS 81032
    €12.60
  7. Quartets & Studies

    Quartets & Studies

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: CD
    Order No.: WER 66962
    €18.50
  8. As Fast As Possible
    €18.50
  9. Late and Unknown: Works on Rolls

    Late and Unknown: Works on Rolls

    recorded on the composer’s original player pianos
    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: CD
    Order No.: WER 67542
    €18.50

per page
Profile
This music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives… his music is so utmost original, enjoyable, constructive and at the same time emotional... for me it's the best music of any today living composer. (György Ligeti) 

Conlon Nancarrow was an American-born composer who lived most of his life in Mexico. Nancarrow is remembered almost exclusively for the pieces he wrote for the player piano. He was one of the first composers to use musical instruments as mechanical machines, making them play far beyond human performance ability. He lived most of his life in complete isolation, not becoming widely known until the 1980s. Today, he is remembered as one of the most original and unusual composers of the 20th century. His music has a mathematical beauty and elegance that happily coexists with musical expressiveness and a puckish sense of humor. Nancarrow did not see a clear delineation between the two approaches and he never worried about it. This natural, organic 'double-esthetic' is one of his most relevant contributions to music history.

Nancarrow was born in Texarkana, Arkansas. He played trumpet in a jazz band in his youth, before studying music first in Cincinnati, Ohio and later in Boston, Massachusetts with Roger Sessions, Walter Piston and Nicolas Slonimsky. He met Arnold Schoenberg during that composer's brief stay in Boston in 1933. Temporarily buoyed by an inheritance, Nancarrow traveled to New York City in 1947, bought a player piano, and had a machine custom built to enable him to punch the piano rolls by hand. The machine was an adaptation of one used in the commercial production of rolls, and using it was very hard work, and very slow. He also adapted the player pianos, increasing their dynamic range by tinkering with their mechanism, and covering the hammers with leather or metal so as to produce a more percussive sound.

Nancarrow's first pieces combined the harmonic language and melodic motifs of early jazz pianists like Art Tatum with extraordinarily complicated metrical schemes. The first five rolls he made are called the Boogie-Woogie Suite (later assigned the name Study No. 3 a-e) and are probably the most jazzy of all his works. Later works tend to be more abstract, with no obvious references to any music apart from Nancarrow's. Many of these later pieces (which he generally called studies) are canons in augmentation or diminution or prolation canons. While most canons using this device, such as those by Johann Sebastian Bach, have the tempos of the various parts in quite simple ratios, like 2:1, Nancarrow's canons are in far more complicated ratios. The Study No. 40, for example, has its parts in the ratio e:pi, while the Study No. 37 has twelve individual melodic lines, each one moving at a different tempo.

Having spent many years in obscurity, Nancarrow benefitted from the 1969 release of an entire album of his work by Columbia Records as part of a brief flirtation of the label's classical division with modern avant garde music. It was most notably György Ligeti who, fascinated by the music of his Mexican fellow composer, supported Nancarrow and became the most important advocate for the worldwide recognition of his musical lifetime achievement.
In 1982 he received a MacArthur Award which paid him 0,000 over 5 years. This increased interest in his work prompted him to write for more conventional instruments, and he produced several pieces for small ensembles. Still more recently, Nancarrow's entire output for player piano has been recorded and released on the German Wergo label. Some of his Studies for Player Piano have also been arranged for musicians to play. In 1995, composer and critic Kyle Gann published a full-length study of Nancarrow's output, The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 303). Jürgen Hocker, another Nancarrow specialist, published Begegnungen mit Nancarrow (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Schott Musik International, Mainz 2002, 284 pp.).

The complete contents of Nancarrow's studio, including the player piano rolls, the instruments, the libraries, and other documents and objects, are now in the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel.
Works
Performances
Orchestra: Ensemble Resonanz
2018-01-23 | Hamburg (Germany), Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal
Orchestra: Ensemble Resonanz
2018-01-24 | Hamburg (Germany), Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal
Gallery

Gallery

Products

per page
  1. Begegnungen mit Conlon Nancarrow

    Begegnungen mit Conlon Nancarrow

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Author: Hocker, Juergen
    Edition: edition with CD
    Language: German
    Order No.: NZ 5003
    €39.90
  2. Piece for Tape

    Piece for Tape

    arranged for percussion solo by Dominic Murcott (2009)
    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Instrumentation: percussion
    Edition: single sheet
    Order No.: BAT 50
    €7.00

    Out of stock

  3. Study No. 33

    Study No. 33

    arranged for string quartet by Paul Usher
    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Editor: Usher, Paul
    Instrumentation: string quartet
    Edition: score and parts
    Order No.: ED 22281
    €29.00

    Out of stock

  4. Studies for Player Piano

    Studies for Player Piano

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Interpreter: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: 5 CDs, 140-page booklet
    Order No.: WER 69072
    €63.50
  5. Studies and Solos for Piano

    Studies and Solos for Piano

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: CD
    Order No.: WER 66702
    €18.50
  6. Die Kunst des Tempokanons

    Die Kunst des Tempokanons

    Edition: CD
    Order No.: ARTS 81032
    €12.60
  7. Quartets & Studies

    Quartets & Studies

    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: CD
    Order No.: WER 66962
    €18.50
  8. As Fast As Possible
    €18.50
  9. Late and Unknown: Works on Rolls

    Late and Unknown: Works on Rolls

    recorded on the composer’s original player pianos
    Composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
    Edition: CD
    Order No.: WER 67542
    €18.50

per page
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