From the Music Library Association listserv:
Henry Brant, Avant-Garde Composer, Dies at 94
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published: April 30, 2008
Henry Brant, an adventurous American composer best known for his spatial
music, in which the placement of performers on the stage and at
carefully specified places around a concert hall is a crucial element,
died on Saturday at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 94.
The composer Neely Bruce, a friend of Mr. Brant's, announced the death.
Mr. Brant's "Ice Field" (2001), which won the Pulitzer Prize for music
in 2002, was inspired by his experience, as a 12-year-old in 1926, of
crossing the Atlantic by ship, which navigated carefully through a large
field of icebergs in the North Atlantic.
The work, first performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco
Symphony in Dec. 2001, was in many ways typical of Mr. Brant's spatial
techniques. The strings, two pianos, two harps and timpani were on the
stage of Davies Symphony Hall. Oboes and bassoons were in an organ loft. The brass and a jazz drummer were in the first-tier seats, and piccolos and
clarinets were at one end of the second tier with pitched percussion at
the other end and other percussion instruments to the side of the
audience on the main floor. Mr. Brant played organ in the first
Mr. Brant was already an established composer of sometimes experimental,
sometimes conventional music when he began to consider space an
important compositional element. In the early 1950s, he began to find
that as his music became more texturally complex, the details of the
individual lines within a work became more difficult to hear.
Inspired partly by the music of Charles Ives, who sometimes juxtaposed
multiple ensembles playing different music, and partly by a work for
five jazz orchestras by Teo Macero, one of his composition students who
later became an important jazz producer and arranger, Mr. Brant began using space as a compositional element. He sometimes called it the fourth
dimension, along with pitch, timbre and duration. His own first spatial
work, "Antiphony I" (1952-3), was composed for five widely spaced
orchestras, each with its own conductor.
Simply distributing the musicians around a concert space was not the end
of Mr. Brant's experiment. Taking advantage of the new clarity that his
expansive placements provided, he also gave each of the widely spaced
ensembles music of a different character. In "Hieroglyphics 3" (1958),
for example, a lachrymose solo viola is set against a timpani rumble or
sometimes an eerie mezzo-soprano line; and tactile, delicately plucked
sounds from a harp contrast with brisk, staccato organ figures. Other
works bring together angular, contemporary writing, ear-catching melody,
arresting jazz rhythms and world music.
Henry Brant was born on Sept. 15, 1913, in Montreal, to American
parents. His father, a professional violinist, encouraged his early
interest in composition. When he was 9, he wrote for an ensemble of his
own invented instruments. At 12, he wrote a string quartet. Mr. Brant
pursued his formal studies at the McGill Conservatorium in Montreal, and
in 1929 he moved to New York to study at the Institute of Musical Art
(which became the Juilliard School) and the Juilliard Graduate School.
He studied privately with George Antheil and Wallingford Riegger.
Early in his composing career, Mr. Brant supported himself by conducting
radio orchestras, arranging music for ballet companies and jazz
ensembles and orchestrating Hollywood film scores. He also taught
composition at Columbia University from 1945 to 1952; at Juilliard from
1947 to 1954; and at Bennington College, from 1957 to 1980.
Mr. Brant moved the Santa Barbara in 1981. Last year he completed
"Textures and Timbres," a textbook on orchestration that he began in the
He is survived by his wife, Kathy Wilkowski; a daughter, Piri Kaethe
Friedman of Portland, Ore.; two sons, Joquin Linus Brant of Esczu, Costa
Rica, and the sculptor Linus Coraggio, of Manhattan; and a brother,
Bertram Brant, of Dayton, Ohio.