The Listening Room
MIT Music | Faculty Composers and Performers
The composers of MIT Music are world-renowned for innovative, exhilarating, and distinguished new works that light up the musical landscape. The unusual concentration of acclaimed composers at one academic institution reflects MIT's deep committment to a creative culture.
On this page, you can listen to works by MIT composers, read their own words about their musical explorations, and find links to additional information. Also included on this page are live performances by several of MIT Music's finest performing artists.
MIT Jazz Choir and Festival Jazz Ensemble
In Praise of MIT
Music and original lyrics by John B. Wilbur '22
Arranged by John Harbison, 2011 | Revised lyrics
Performed by the MIT Jazz Choir and Festival Jazz Ensemble
for the MIT150 Celebration
This great arrangement of MIT's unoffical official song, by Pulitzer Prize-winning MIT composer John Harbison, opens with a short, decorous phrase (a nod to the 1922 original) — then shifts into festive jazz.
Arise all ye of MIT, in loyal fellowship.
The future beckons unto ye and life is full and rich.
Arise and raise your glass on high; tonight shall ever be
A mem'ry that will never die, for ye of MIT.
Thy sons and daughters, oh MIT, return from far and wide
And gather here once more to be renourished by thy side,
And as we raise our glasses high to pledge our love for thee
We join all those of days gone by in praise of MIT.
Peter Child, Class of 1949 Professor of Music
Peter Child, composer
Performed by David Deveau, Senior Lecturer, piano
From "Doubles" (Albany Records, 2009)
Doubles 1999 is a collection of character pieces for solo piano. Many of them are "bitonal" i.e., they are written in two different keys simultaneously, hence the title of the set. Doubles I (Chase, Lullabies, Rat-tat-tat) was written for my daughter Madeleine when she was eight years old (she promptly gave up the piano after that and devoted her musical gifts to percussion). My MIT colleague and friend David Deveau gave the premiere of this first set, and his subtle interpretation revealed to me greater potential of the doubles concept. Doubles II (Inward, Fleeting moment, Tango, Romance, Boogie), is dedicated to David, and in this set a decidedly Romantic temperament predominates.
Michael Cuthbert, Homer A. Burnell Career Development Professor of Music
D'amor languire, ballata a due voci
Edited and Reconstructed by Michael Cuthbert
Antonio Zachara da Teramo (ca. 1405), composer
Performed by Ensemble Micrologus
Antonio da Teramo, called Zachara (“shorty”), was one of the most innovative and influential composers in Europe around the year 1400. He invented a form later called the “parody mass,” where parts of a polyphonic mass would be based on sections from a pre-existing secular song by the same composer. One of his first parody mass movements, the Credo Scabioso, was long thought to have been based on a lost song which was only discovered in the early 1990s in two separate copies. Both copies of the song are incomplete and heavily damaged. Cuthbert reconstructed as much of the song as possible and filled in the missing sections with music extracted from the Credo (ironically reversing Zachara’s process) and with his own music in Zachara’s style. The completion was premiered by the Ensemble Micrologus in Zachara’s home town of Teramo in 2002 and this recording was released in 2008.
David Deveau, Senior Lecturer of Music
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
arr. by Beethoven for chamber ensemble
Performed by David Deveau
I. Allegro moderato
II. Andante con moto
III. Rondo: Vivace
David Deveau, soloist
Andres Cardenes and Carl Levinson, violins;
Rebecca Albers and Megan Mason, violas;
David Hardy, cello
Matthew Frischman, bass
David Deveau, Senior Lecturer of Music
Chopin: Ballade No. 1, Op. 23 in G Minor
Performed by David Deveau
John Harbison, Institute Professor of Music
Double Play for Two Pianos (2009)
John Harbison, composer
Premiere performance by Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, Piano
Kresge Auditorium, April 30, 2010
Variations based on the unofficial anthem of American baseball, the 1908 tin pan alley song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"
Musical allusions commence with the opening chords, and as the composer writes, "The movement titles offer a heavy hint as to the origin of the ground." Diamond Watch was commissioned by Priscilla (Kate) Myrick Diamond as a retirement present for Peter Diamond, MIT Institute Professor of Economics, Nobel prize winner for Economic Sciences — and baseball fan.
1. Leading off
2. Taking a pitch
3. Low and inside
4. High and outside
5. On deck circle
6. Making contact
7. Stealing a base
8. Diamond daze
9. Ahead on the count
10. Swinging for the fences
11. Stroking a hit
played without substantial pauses
"Diamond Watch" was fun to write, a piece for an occasion I envisioned as enjoyable, with cherished performers, attentive listeners, and a location I’ve grown to love, even for its acoustics, Kresge Auditorium at MIT.
The dedicatee, Peter Diamond, is one of the world’s sovereign economists, but his other interests include baseball. I got to thinking about the various intersections between games, statistics, musical shapes, rules, frames, and predictions, and began imagining a series of variations.
In my favorite kind of variation the “theme” itself is not overtly stated. This is the idea of the baroque passacaglias: the bass and its harmony are the real source. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and his solo violin Chaconne proceed this way, as does Corelli’s La Folia.
I have previously written shadow-theme variations on a large scale, for violin, clarinet and piano, and quite brief, in my second piano sonata (for Robert Levin). This one is somewhere between those in duration, about twelve minutes.
Mark Harvey, Lecturer in Music
Mark Harvey, composer
Performed by Peter H. Bloom and Dan Zupan
with the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble
Saxophrenia was commissioned by the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and premiered on May 10, 2002 in Kresge Auditorium by Guest Artists Joe Lovano with the MIT saxophone section. This recording from 2010 is a revised version for full jazz big band. Inspired to an extent by Indian music, the piece moves from meditative to exuberant moods, allowing ample room for improvisational contributions by the players.
Keeril Makan, Associate Professor of Music
Washed by Fire
Keeril Makan, composer
Performed by the Kronos Quartet
From "In Sound" (Tzadik, 2008)
"Collaboratively conceived with choreographer Benjamin Levy, the inspiration for Washed by Fire came from the desire to explore issues of cultural and personal identity. We attempted to explore parallels in our family histories based upon flight from repressive governments and cultures. Levy’s parents are Persian Jews who escaped Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s. My father is Indian but was raised in South Africa, from which he emigrated in the late 1960s to escape Apartheid. My maternal grandfather was a Jew who escaped Russia during the Russian Revolution. This proved to be an impossibly difficult conceptual starting point, which we had to circumvent in order to begin creating.
"We proposed creating materials, both musical and gestural, which we were attracted to in some instinctual way, but would ordinarily be ashamed of because of their simplicity and wouldn't want other people to hear or see. I took this idea to heart. By embracing musical references that my mind often avoids, I was able to reconnect with rhythm, melody, and mode in a way that is markedly different from my other recent music.
"I created a piece that resonated with me on a fundamental level, one in which my emotions are not filtered by abstraction, where the focus is on a visceral connection with time. The piece attempts to be honest about the difficulty of understanding how identity is constructed, but at the same time acknowledges that connections to a cultural and familial past shape means of expression."
George Ruckert, Senior Lecturer in Music
Rag Shenan Mand
Performed by George Ruckert, sarod
Swapan Chaudhuri and Samir Chatterjee, tabla
Nilaswati Productions NS 001, 2008
It is common for a Hindustani classical instrumental artist to conclude a program with a "dhun," or folk melody. In this case, George Ruckert takes Shenandoah and blends it with traditional folk melodies of Rajasthan (Mand) and Bengal in the style of his teacher, Maestro Ali Akbar Khan. He plays the traditional twenty-five stringed lute, the sarod, which is able to slide the pitches owing to its being played with the fingernails on a smooth metal fingerboard.
Elena Ruehr, Lecturer in Music
Elena Ruehr, composer
Performed by Metamorphosen
From "Metamorphosen" (Albany Records, 1996)
Elena Ruehr's Shimmer, for string orchestra, was commissioned by Metamorphosen for their premiere season. Strongly inspired by the energetic string music of Vivaldi, Shimmer uses imitative counterpoint as its basis. However, the harmony, rhythm and form is structured using a cyclical 10 note series instead of traditional tonality. The title refers to the shimmering texture that is created through bowing, trilling and ornamentation.
Story at MIT News | Elena Ruehr website
Charles Shadle, Senior Lecturer in Music
Penny Ballad of Elvious Ricks
Poem by R.G. Villet
Charles Shadle, composer
Performed by the MIT Chamber Choir, William Cutter, Director,
Ada Au, Piano
"This is a setting of R.G. Villet's poem 'Penny Ballad of Elvious Ricks.' A particular glory of Vliet’s writing is the precision with which he delineates the culture of late 19th/early 20th century rural Texas. The speech patterns in the poem are those of the first voices I heard, the culture that of my own childhood.
"I wondered if such a regionally-inflected, personal work would find a performance, and was delighted when Dr. William Cutter, offered to perform the work with MIT's Chamber Chorus. The premier took place on April 29, 2005 in Kresge Auditorium.
"In this setting of 'Penny Ballad of Elvious Ricks' various musical materials evoke the poem’s time and place. The 'cloudy' tonal harmony and the often-pentatonic shapes of the melodies recall folk and early country music traditions. There is a rustic waltz, and reference is continually made to the Protestant hymn tradition. I am deeply grateful to the poet’s wife, Ann Viliet for granting permission to set this work to music, and the score bears a dedicatory inscription to her."
Marcus Thompson, Robert R. Taylor Professor of Music
Synapse for Viola and Computer (1976)
Performed by Marcus Thompson, viola
Barry Vercoe, Professor Emeritus, composer
FAST Festival Music | Machines Concert at the Media Lab
February 5, 2011
Synapse for Viola and Computer (1976) was the first major work to emerge from MIT’s Experimental Music Studio using its graphical Score Editing system and the Music-11 language for audio synthesis on PDP-11 machines. The work was dedicated to American violist Marcus Thompson.
As a construct of the 70’s before the advent of real-time audio processing two decades later, Synapse squarely confronted the problem of integrating live performance with pre-processed and pre-recorded digital audio, where the performer must do all the hard work of maintaining sync. This was aided by an electronic part that provides irregular “jump-off” points—typically at the end of longish viola notes—from which a performer skilled in chamber music can take synapse-like cues to maintain sync.
Synapse has been performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and at the Adelaide Festival in Australia. In 1999 it was given a truly interactive performance in MIT’s Kresge Auditorium using two computers—one pitch-tracking and score-following the performer while a second responded with sensitive tempo-adjusted audio, giving the soloist all the freedom he has ever craved. This performance, however, is a restaging of the original version, with the soloist expressing himself within the confines of an inflexible 70’s digital accompaniment.
Peter Whincop, Lecturer of Music
Keep it sub rosa, or between the cracks, 2008
Peter Whincop, composer
"... quod non potuere vetare,
ex aequo captis ardebant mentibus ambo.
conscius omnis abest; nutu signisque loquuntur,
quoque magis tegitur, tectus magis aestuat ignis."
"... that which could not be forbidden
raged equally in both their captive minds.
They spoke by glances and signs,
and the fire burned more intensely for being covered up."
— Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book IV, lines 55-166, Pyramus and Thisbe. Translation Bullfinch's and mine.
Made from material I recorded at airports across the country, in the snow, from minutely detailed sequences out of vacuum tube devices, layering turntable emulation plugins with feedback, passed through heavy digital and light analog passive filters, some fake tape saturation, and two external samples: Gavin Bryars, Sub Rosa and the previously MIT-related Carrie Okie band's Pixellation.
The archetypal love-crossed tragedy describes a love that grew slowly ("tempore crevit amor"). For me, that is of the poem itself and its language, of painting colorfully and composing in electronic media, all of which have always been both slow to grow, and intense; though, I hope, not to end tragically....
There is a dedication, but it's already in the words and music partly accounting for the rather protracted time this took to put together. To be released by Intransitive in May 2012.
Evan Ziporyn, Kenan Sahin Professor of Music
Evan Ziporyn, composer
Performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Cantaloupe Records, 2006
"I'm quite convinced in some ways that the camera has given us a somewhat blinkered look. We're looking at the world through a hole—we're getting a bit of tunnel vision. And so I'm trying to widen it, trying to put in more than just looking ahead. And when you do, the viewer is pulled in more. So I get quite excited by that. I spent rather a long time experimenting with optics, and actually now my intention is to throw them away and use my two eyes and what I think of the world and look at it, look at the real world. I don't watch television much, I look at the garden, that's the real world I think, so that's what I'm going to do."
— David Hockney, NPR Weekend Edition
"This piece was inspired by a particular frog, in a particular pond on a particularly hot New England summer day. Swimming across a pond in the rampant fecundity of such a summer day, dwarfed by water and sky, ringed by trees and leaves, a body can feel small and unimportant—but also wondrously alive.
"As it turns out, this is close to the frog's-eye view: perched on a rock in shallow water, 99 percent immersed, only its huge panoptic eyes above the water line. Perfect stillness, perfect contemplation, patience, serenity, all that good Zen stuff. Keeping cool while maintaining absolute vigilance.
"He was in fact hard at work, staring intently, waiting for a moment of action and violence, for insects, for food. The view was incidental as far as he was concerned. Meanwhile, back among the humans, we live our directed lives, cutting across the sensory present, intersecting with it, ignoring it, misapprehending, misinterpreting. This is undoubtedly our own biological necessity. We strive for a certain type of awareness, for multilayered perception, and occasionally we get there, but we seem to be built for subjective narrative. We've got to catch the fly to survive. I personally don't have a problem with this, but—like Mr. Hockney—I'm trying to look at my surroundings while still advancing the story line."