Once again, the world is somewhat lighter with the death of superstar composer Henry Brant at the age of 94. Many excellent obituaries
have been posted (see Frank Oteri's extended video chat with the man
for a vivid account) but I offer a personal story.
As an undergraduate at the bucolic University of California, Santa Barbara, I sat one day eating a sandwich on the grass (in the middle of January--ahh, Santa Barbara) awaiting the start of my composer's forum. That day we were to be favored with a visit from local hero (or eccentric lunatic, depending on whom you asked) Henry Brant. As a fan of his music, I was very much looking forward to the seminar. As I wait and eat, up bounces a spry old guy in a baseball cap and a hooded sweat-suit, sees me gazing to the door in the music department, and asks me, in a way that can only be described as gravelly: "HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF SURROUND SOUND?"
"Of course," I mutter, youthfully sheepish (and a bit frightened to boot)
"I INVENTED SURROUND SOUND. I. INVENTED. SURROUND. SOUND." He was off, leaving me wishing I'd given him a quarter or half of my sandwich or something, as it seemed he needed it more than I.
But you know the end of this story--I had been confronted by our guest of Honor.
Lately, I've been loving his orchestration of Ives' Concord Sonata
; back then, I loved Michael Ingham's record of songs by that same composer, with Henry Brant at the piano. But what I've always loved about his music, aside from the obvious spacial considerations that make it so singular and special, is the gruff sense of humor it reveals. Maybe I am biased after my confrontation--this was a gruff sense of humor writ large, in living (mostly) color--but I always thought I could see the smile through the crags, and hear the deep and unabashed romantic through the rigorous modernism. Maverick is an overused word like genius, but t this one-off collision represents my only in-the-flesh encounter with someone deserving of the name.
So Henry, thanks for it all, and I know wherever you are, the sound is as exquisite as can be imagined.