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Brant, Henry

music american spatial received

Brant, Henry remarkable and innovative American composer; b. Montreal (of American parents), Sept. 15, 1913. He received rudimentary instruction in music from his father, Saul Brant (1882–1934), a concert violinist, and began to compose when he was only 8. After studies at the McGill Conservatorium in Montreal (1926–29), he went to N.Y. and continued his training with Leopold Mannes at the Inst. of Musical Art (1929–34). He also received private instruction from Riegger and Antheil. He likewise studied conducting with Fritz Mahler. During the 1930s and 1940s, Brant was active as a composer and conductor for radio, films, ballet, and jazz groups in N.Y. while pursuing experimental composition for the concert hall. He taught orchestration and conducted ensembles at Columbia Univ. from 1945 to 1952 and at the Juilliard School of Music from 1947 to 1955. From 1957 to 1980 he taught composition at Bennington (Vt.) Coll., and then settled in Santa Barbara in 1981. In 1947 and 1956 he held Guggenheim fellowships. He was the first American composer to win the Prix Italia in 1955. In 1979 he was elected to membership in the American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters. He received grants from the Fromm (1989) and Koussevitzky (1995) foundations. In 1998 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Wesleyan Univ. His MSS were deposited at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel in 1998.

Brant is a pioneer of spatial music, in which performing forces are placed at specified widely separated points in space on the stage, in the balconies, and in the aisles, with the object of making contrasted, high-impact textures clear and intelligible for the listener. An audacious explorer of sonic potentialities, he has introduced unusual acoustic timbres into large and small ensembles, and complete orchestral ensembles, each comprising only a single tone quality. His vocal writing frequently involves a notated form of scat singing, much expanded in its range of expression, and often deployed in complex polyphony. He also employs jazz and other popular genres simultaneously with classical materials, and utilizes intact original idioms from other cultures—African, Indian, and Indonesian—as well. In conducting his spatial music, he uses an appropriate body language, turning at 90, 135, and 180 angles to address his performers. He also gives cues by actually imitating the appearance of the entering instruments, miming the violin bow, a trombone slide, a piccolo, a drum, etc. by the movement of his body or by facial movements. Brant has expounded the rationale of spatial music in his article “Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition” in B. Childs and E. Schwartz, eds., Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music (N.Y., 1967; 2 nd ed., rev., 1998). His experiments have convinced him that space exerts specific influences on harmony and polyphony and has come to view space as music’s inescapable fourth dimension, the other three being the familiar pitch, time-measurement, and tone-quality. His works exclude electronic materials and do not permit amplification. He finds that recordings do not adequately suggest the spatial resonances, definitions, and contrasts in his music, and thus are only fully intelligible when heard live.

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