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Bill Matthews (1950-     )

Bill Matthews, composer Bill Matthews studied composition at Oberlin, the University of Iowa, the Institute for Sonologie in Holland, and the Yale School of Music. His principal teachers include Richard Hervig, Gottfried Michael Koenig, and Jacob Druckman. Among his awards and prizes are three BMI Awards to Student Composers, several grants for study abroad, a Charles E. lves Scholarship from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, two ACA recording awards, and a composer-fellowship from the NEA. He has composed music of several types, including solos, orchestral, electronic and chamber music, as well as music for the theater. Teaching at Bates College since 1978, Matthews was named the first Alice Swanson Esty Professor of Music in 1997.

COMPOSITIONS                                                  Bill Matthews Links     ~ ~ ~     Works by Genre    ~ ~ ~    More on Bill Matthews
[under construction]

WORKS BY GENRE                                                        Bill Matthews Links    ~ ~ ~    More on Bill Matthews     ~ top of page ~
[under construction]
The 89 Camels of Hadji Ali, [musical-theater work] (2003) [about the 19th-century U.S. Army Camel Corps in Arizona]

Avalanche, dance work, synthesizers (1996)

Salut!, orchestra (1997)
When the Toads Ring, [orchestra?] (1997)

Soloist(s) w/Orchestra
Double Concerto, violin, viola and orchestra (1996) [based in part on Franco-American tunes]

Letters From Home, 11 musicians (1977?)
A Book of Hours, piano trio/violin, cello and piano (1997)
String Quartet (1999) [Lullabye; Blue Ridge; Cooper Square; Blue Rider; La Marcy]
Duo for Violin and Piano (2000)
For Jonathan Kramer, piano trio/violin, cello and piano (2010)

Solo Instrument
Harlequin Sketches, guitar (1991)
Flute Thing, flute (2010?)
Flurry, flute and laptop computer (2010?)

[Ferns, 2 pianos (????)]
Blackbird, Disklavier, synthesizers and soundfiles (1996)
[Two Preludes, piano (2007)]
Three Pieces for Piano (2010?)

Ear Music, vocalist, pianist and eight channels of digital sound effects (1996)
Rilke Remix Redux, mit Ralf, speaker and [tape] (2002-04) [text: Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets of Orpheus]
Von Amy mit Liebe, [song] (2004) [text: Richard Wagner]

Bingo, incidental music (1996)

Field Guide, computer-synthesized electronic sound [tape] (1976?)
Aurora, A Waltz, tape (1981)
Island, computer generated (1989) [adapting sounds collected on Islesboro, Maine]
Rilke Remix Redux, mit Ralf, speaker and [tape] (2002-04) [text: Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets of Orpheus]
Neck and Neck, video (2010?)

BILL MATTHEWS  LINKS                                                Works by Genre    ~ ~ ~    More on Bill Matthews     ~ top of page ~
Bill Matthews Interview (David Deboor Canfield, Fanfare)
Esty Chair Endowed at Bates - William Matthews (Bates Views)
Friendship Between Bates Composer, Former Student Shines Through on CD (Doug Hubley, Bates News)    also    here
Matthews Composition Featured by Portland Chamber Music Festival (Bates Views)

Composer's website [none at the momemt]   . . .   contact Bill Matthews: here

Bill Matthews @ ANABlog
Bill Matthews @ Avant Garde Project
Bill Matthews @ Bates College
Bill Matthews @ Bates Views
Bill Matthews @ Fanfare
Bill Matthews @ New Music Reblog

Contact composer

Streaming Audio
Bill Matthews @ Michael Gandolfi's Webpage
Bill Matthews @ DRAM Online

Bill Matthews @ ArkivMusic
Bill Matthews @ Albany Records
Bill Matthews @ Capstone Records
Bill Matthews @ DRAM Online
Bill Matthews @ New World Records

Billl Matthews @ YouTube

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More on Bill Matthews

A Book of Hours: Friendship Over Two Decades Shines Through on CD
A 20-year friendship between William Matthews, a composer on the Bates College music faculty, and pianist Duncan Cumming, a former student, has led to the production of a CD. A Book of Hours, released in January on the Albany Records label, comprises four pieces composed by Matthews over a span of more than 20 years. The Capital Trio, a chamber ensemble featuring Cumming, plays on two of them. A third is performed by Cumming and his wife, Hilary Cumming, violinist and Capital Trio bandmate. Rounding out the trio is cellist Sölen Dikener.

Matthews, who has taught at Bates since 1978, is known for his stylistic versatility, dedication to making music for the community and leadership in equipping the college for electronic music-making. A flutist and conductor as well as composer, his compositions include solo instrumental, vocal, chamber, orchestral, choral and theatrical music. The Alice Swanson Esty Professor of Music at Bates and chair of the music department, Matthews has written music for Bates Modern Dance Company performances and an orchestral ode for the 2002 inauguration of Bates president Elaine Tuttle Hansen.

Born in Presque Isle and raised in Wiscasset, Cumming graduated from Bates with highest honors in 1993 and is now a concert musician and assistant professor of music at the University of Albany, State University of New York. "I'd like to think I'm one of the champions of his music," Cumming said of Matthews. "I've played his music from Los Angeles to Aberdeen, Scotland." The Capital Trio will perform two works from the CD in the Northeast and in Europe during the coming weeks. One of them, which Cumming names as his favorite Matthews work, is the composition that gives the CD its title.

Written in the mid-1990s, A Book of Hours is a secular interpretation of the religious practice of holding a daily cycle of worship services. In six movements, "Hours" draws on inspirations as diverse as a catbird's song, the jolt of caffeine, a tranquil twilight and the music of French-Canadian fiddlers and jazzman Thelonious Monk. In fact, the piece occasioned the production of the CD. "We recorded it a few years back," Cumming said, "and on the advice of a colleague I sent it to Albany Records. They wanted to bring it out," which led Matthews to assemble the rest of the music for the disc.

The Duo for Violin and Piano, which ranges across the genres from parlor music to Copland to tango, is also in the trio's upcoming performances. Matthews composed the piece in 2000 as a wedding gift for the Cummings, thinking it would be fun to play when they had time alone together. Instead, "it's a hit for them," said Matthews.

The CD's other Capital Trio track honors the late music theorist and composer Jonathan Kramer, with whom Matthews studied as an undergraduate at Oberlin, as a grad student at Yale and during a summer seminar at Columbia. Completed in 2010, For Jonathan Kramer reflects Kramer's thoughts about counterpoint and musical time. The track also brings to the fore Matthews' involvement with high-tech music-making, as it weaves together three strands: prerecorded sounds, the trio's acoustic performance and Matthews' real-time electronic manipulation of that acoustic music. "What they play is processed or echoed or pitch-shifted, and made mysterious. Every performance will be different," Matthews said.

Island is the CD's one track sans Capital Trio players. Like A Book of Hours, its framework is the passage of time, but this time the raw material comes directly from the world: soundscapes that Matthews recorded during a family vacation in Islesboro, and then edited and processed electronically. Birds, waves hissing across sand, children's voices and a passing lobster boat are collaged into an atmospheric portrait of a day in a life. "I'm very open to environmental influences," the composer said. "I started college in the '60s and I'm very much a student of John Cage’s ideas about getting the sounds of the world into the concert hall, and getting the sounds of the concert hall out into the world."

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood: The Inclusive Musical Language of William Matthews
David DeBoor Canfield/Fanfare Magazine/Sunday, 17 April 2011

Born in 1950, William Matthews is a native of Toledo, Ohio. His earliest musical studies were on the flute, and he began studying composition formally in undergraduate studies at Oberlin College, working with Randolph Coleman, Robert Moore, and Walter Aschaffenburg. Following this, he undertook graduate studies at the University of Iowa, studying with Richard Hervig, Donald Martin Jenni, and William Hibbard, at the Institute of Sonology with Gottfried Michael Koenig and Otto Laske, and concluded with doctoral studies at Yale working with Jacob Druckman, Krzysztof Penderecki, and, in particular, Jonathan Kramer.

The quality of Matthews’s music has gained him grants from the American Composers Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Oberlin Conservatory. He has taught at Bates College in Maine since 1978, currently serving as department chair. Matthews divides his time between acoustic and electro-acoustic composition, the latter sometimes incorporating video elements. He graciously agreed to answer my probing into his life and music.

Q: At what point in your life did you decide that you must be a composer?

A: My first musical experiences growing up were as a performer on the flute. During high school, I played in school ensembles, and with a professional orchestra. I also taught private lessons to beginners, and earned money playing in church and for weddings and private parties. I certainly enjoyed all those experiences and I’ve always had a pragmatic approach to composing for instruments because of them. I’m not sure at what point I started wanting to write music myself, but when it came time to apply to college, I decided to try as a composer rather than a flutist. The conservatory application asked for three compositions; I only had one at the time (!) so in 1967 I wrote two more in about a month and mailed them off. Remarkably, I was accepted, and I’ve been chipping away at my ignorance about music ever since. Oberlin was a hotbed of 60s musical experimentation and enthusiasm at the time, and it was especially exciting to be a composition student at that place in those days.

Q: Let me play the devil’s advocate: In light of today’s abundance of composers, why does the world need another composer, even an outstanding one named William Matthews?

A: John Cage hoped that some day we wouldn’t need artists at all anymore, because everyone would learn to listen with artistic ears and see with artistic eyes. Until then, I think every community should have artists making art for them. I fondly quote a poem by Oberlin faculty poet David Young, “Someone has to take notes, so we have small-town poets.” Someone also has to make notes, so I’m a small-town composer, often writing for local circumstances, local audiences, and local performers. Are there too many composers? Not until everyone gets their minimum daily requirement of new music!

Q: You studied with a large number of composers who write in a wide variety of styles. Were any among them particularly influential in your approach to composing?

A: I was fortunate to study at four very different, mostly great, institutions with correspondingly different artistic profiles. As an undergraduate, I had one professor who wanted “to get the Beethoven monkey off [his] back.” As a doctoral student, my primary teacher was resident composer for the New York Philharmonic and tried his very best to be Beethoven. I don’t think I compose like any of my teachers, but I learned a lot about music and life from all of them equally. The eclecticism of my own style and my openness to trying new things arose from the diversity of my education.

Q: I can relate, having studied with three very different teachers myself. What is most important to you as a teacher of composition? What musical values do you try to instill in your students?

A: I urge them to listen to as much music as they can; even the best liberal arts undergrads today have likely heard little classical music at all, much less music of the 20th and 21st centuries. I try to foster their curiosity about all music and all things musical, especially music psychology these days. There are recent fascinating findings about our perceptual and cognitive capabilities that seem to me will have profound impact on musical pedagogy. In technical terms, I teach my students that we have many tools in the composer’s toolbox these days. You know the old adage, “When we’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you’re holding three chords, everything looks like a folk song. If you’re holding a serial matrix, everything looks shiny and modern. It’s a post-historical, postmodern world we’re in, and the contemporary toolbox is embarrassingly full of styles and techniques, and suggestive of so many possible musics.

Q: Speaking of various musics, I note that you also teach courses in jazz and popular music. Have you also written music in these idioms?

A: I’m friends with some real jazz players, and am in awe of their creative virtuosity, especially in rhythmic and harmonic domains. I wouldn’t dare call myself a jazz composer. Having said that, jazz influence does show up in my work. On this CD, in A Book of Hours, the sixth movement, Le Tombeau de Monk, is a careful and loving remix of ’Round Midnight.

Q: Have you maintained friendships with any of your former students?

A: The pianist on the CD is Duncan Cumming, a former student. He was a hard-working dean’s list liberal-arts undergrad who also managed to practice four hours a day every day. He’s a local Maine boy, and I’ve remained friends with him and his family since we met. He had trouble raising the considerable funding required to attend Bates, so we invited him to live with us one year, in return for his getting up every morning at 5:45 to take our son to a school bus stop across town. I’m not sure if I’m more grateful to him for that, or for the beautiful performances on this CD! He has recently recorded a CD of Carl Maria von Weber’s solo piano music on Weber’s own piano and has just been named teacher of the year in his college at the university at Albany; it’s great to feel as though we had a hand in it.

Q: As someone who writes in a variety of styles myself, I particularly admire your fluency in quite disparate styles of music. Do you do this because of the varying nature of the audience for which the piece is intended? Has the variety of styles you write in ever brought you criticism from any corner?

A: When I left grad school to take a job at a small (excellent!) liberal arts college in a small city in Maine, I learned very quickly that the relatively complex contemporary music to which I’d previously gravitated (by choice) was unfamiliar to my new colleagues and students. Everyone was polite and supportive, they wanted to like my music, but it just never clicked with my campus community. At the same time, the theater department needed incidental music, a history prof needed some original music for his wedding, the dance company needed a lot of music fast, a philosophy prof commissioned a birthday piece for his wife, and could I please use her favorite Japanese folk song in it. The local schools were interested in what a real live composer could do for their pupils, and our summer arts program for kids needed music for an ambitious puppet show accompanied by our local amateur orchestra in the 19th-century bandshell. I don’t recall that I had ever composed a piece of plainly tonal music up to that time, but I needed to figure out how to do it to meet these audiences halfway. A number of very positive community experiences resulted, and stylistically I’ve followed my nose since then. I love living in a cultural world with so many opportunities to be of genuine use.

Q: Whose voices are heard at the beginning of For Jonathan Kramer? Is there any significance meant by beginning this piece with these, which are not heard again after their initial use?

A: In a typically provocative article included in his book The Time of Music, Professor Kramer contended that the first movement of Beethoven’s op. 135 actually ends in measure 10; the rest of the movement is for a listener to “learn the content of the movement that has just ‘ended.’” It seemed appropriate in a memorial piece for him to pay tribute to his wonderfully original thinking about musical time, so I tried to make a piece with an elusive beginning.

At the first rehearsal of For Jonathan Kramer, the violinist Hilary Cumming and cellist Solen Dickener began by discussing and demonstrating how to bow and shape the long note at the outset. To illustrate what they’re saying, they play the first note, tentatively, in several different ways. When the final take performance “begins,” they play the same beginning note confidently. Does the piece really “begin” at the first rehearsal? Which “first” tonic note is the structural beginning of the piece? At the very end of their conversation, I chime in with the word “good,” and the recording is off to the races.

Q: I note a significant connection with Maine in two of the works on the CD that I review below. Do you have other works with connections like this? May we assume that Maine holds a special place in your heart?

A: Indeed. I love Maine and loved raising my family here. We do have our strip malls and sprawl mishaps, but more often it feels like a real place with its own identity. I live in the country not far from the coast, and the quietude, the birds, the water, and the real weather are continually amazing to me. The town I live in is populated by 1,600 people; I serve on our school board and love that connection with the community. The photograph used for the front cover of A Book of Hours is of the Eastern River, just down the road from where I live.

Q: Do you still have your family cabin in Islesboro?

A: Nope. I sold it to buy a year-round house a while back. The sounds in Island on this CD were recorded there, however, and 22 years later they take me back instantly and vividly to our back meadow at dawn, a particular beach in midday, our cove at twilight, and splashing with my now-grown children at ages six and two.

Q: Have you written much in larger-scale works, or for more substantial forces?

A: I’ve composed a number of orchestra or orchestra-and-choir pieces for Bates ensembles. I have an hour-long piece for soloists, orchestra, and chorus about St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. I’ve done a couple of stage musicals, including one yet to be performed on the historical subject of the U.S. Army Camel Corps and their grueling trek across the Arizona desert in the 19th century (it’s an amazing and epic tale—you can look it up!).

Q: Do you have a favorite among your works?

A: The next one!
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William Matthews/Bill Matthews

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