Posts By: willcwhite

Clara Schumann “Three Romances for Violin” – – solo vln – str

This version of Clara Schumann’s “3 Romances” for violin follows the composer’s score exactly; it is only an orchestration of the piano accompaniment, rendering the piece suitable as a concert work for solo violin and orchestra.

I haven’t included the solo violin part, which can readily be downloaded from imslp here. An editorial suggestion, however, would be to ignore most of the dynamics that Schumann writes in the solo part; even with the piano accompaniment, they are frequently underwritten, and in a performance with orchestra (even an orchestra of the modest dimensions called for in this version), the violinist will need to play dynamics well above the level of what appears in the score.

A further suggestion is to eliminate the eight bars of solo violin pizzicato in the third romance, which seem to add little in performance with orchestra.

Word of Mouth

Last month, I (along with like, 120 other people) gave the world premiere of my latest work, also my biggest work, also my first stab at something akin to an opera, a piece called Cassandra:

And now I’ve got a problem, because I want to do it again.

Well, I don’t necessarily have to do it again; I’d be more than happy for someone else to take the baton, not to mention all the behind-the-scenes planning and production work that would be required to mount it.

The piece is an opera-oratorio, which means that it could be presented in a concert setting or in a fully-staged production. But naturally, I want the whole enchilada: costumes, sets, dancing, acting — all of it.

Cassandra was very well received, probably the greatest triumph of my career thus yet. And the number one comment I got was: “when are we going to see it again?” (sometimes rendered as “when are we going to see it on stage?”)

And the truth of the matter is: probably not until I decide to program it again! Big pieces are a tricky business for a composer, and this piece is big in two dimensions: it’s too long to convince someone to put on a symphonic program and the orchestra is too large to convince someone to mount operatically.

Like most composers, my most successful pieces are the little guys: my duet for clarinet and violin, my concert opener orchestra piece, my little string orchestra piece, and my far-and-away bestseller, my duet for tuba and marimba. My symphony, my choir concerto, and my horn trio languish.

Those are the very few of my pieces that have achieved liftoff and gotten past the orbit of my immediate circle of performer-friends. And hey, that’s not to besmirch the colleagues of my acquaintance who have done what they could to champion my music — I am eternally grateful to them all!

But the thing is, I just don’t know many people who would be in a position to mount a piece like Cassandra. I’ve had many folks suggest conductors I could get in touch with, and that’s very kind of them, but here’s the thing: if you know a conductor who would be open to examining this work, YOU need to get in touch with them.

Composers are considered the least reliable sources on their own music, and nobody is ever looked upon with greater suspicion than a composer trying to promote a large work. Asking someone to spend an hour listening to a piece of new music is a hard sell on its own.

So you, you out there, if you were at the concert, or you watched the recording, and you heard something special, and you know someone in a position of programming authority who would even be willing to give it a listen, please give me a little help. So far, this piece has achieved a 100% success rate in engaging an audience and leaving them wanting more. In the past month, I’ve encountered many people who were at the concert, and they have shared with me their genuine enthusiasm for this piece, and I can tell the difference between real emotion and mere politesse.

And while you’re at it, see if you can get them to program a big festival of my stuff that includes all those other pieces too. 😉

Cassandra, op. 58

Cassandra is an opera-oratorio in two acts which was premiered on April 6, 2024. Here are the program notes from that performance:

September 2023 – January 2024

Program Listing
Act I, Scene 1: The Temple of Apollo
Prologue: Chorus — Cassandra’s Incantation — The Entrance of Apollo — Duet — Cassandra’s Trance

Act I, Scene 2: The Palace of Troy
Chorus — Duet — Scena — The Entrance of Priam — The Herald — The Trojan Horse — The Destruction of Troy — Insane Cyclones

Interlude: The Voyage Across the Sea

Act II: The Court of Mycenae

Chorus — Clytemnestra’s Lamentation — The Return of Agamemnon — Scena — Clytemnestra’s Rage Aria — Scena — Cassandra’s Final Prophecy — The Trojan Women — Cassandra’s Renunciation — Scena e Finale

Plot Summary

Act I: Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, is a priestess of the god Apollo (also known as Phoebus.) When the act opens, we find her praying in the temple. As a child, Cassandra had been given the power of foresight by Apollo. Now that Cassandra has matured to womanhood, Apollo descends from heaven seeking her physical favors. Cassandra rebukes him, and Apollo curses her: all her prophecies will be true, but will not be believed. Apollo departs and Cassandra sees a premonition of the horrors that are about to visit Troy via the Trojan horse.

Act II: In the court of Troy, Cassandra’s mother Hecuba and Cassandra’s sister-in-law Andromache sing a song of praise to Apollo, as the Greeks have left Troy, ending the siege. Cassandra runs into the palace to tell her family about the vision she has seen. Cassandra’s father Priam enters and barely has time to hear her prophecy before a herald arrives from the city gates to announce the arrival of the Trojan horse. Cassandra pleads furiously for her father to listen to her, but to no avail. The horse is brought in and Cassandra, in a last ditch effort, grabs a spear to charge at the beast single-handedly. She is removed to her temple annex. The chorus narrates the destruction of the city of Troy.

Act III: Cassandra has been taken captive by Agamemnon, and is brought as a prisoner across the sea to Mycenae. In Mycenae, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra lies in wait, having nursed a deadly grudge against her husband for a decade. Agamemnon celebrates his festive return, though Cassandra foretells his doom. Clytemnestra works up her nerve to murder Agamemnon, and when Cassandra tries to cool her rage, she rejects the notion that she won’t go forward with the murder. Cassandra tells Clytemnestra that she will soon die at the hand of a family member, her son, Orestes. This is the final straw for Clytemnestra, who tells Cassandra to proceed into the palace to receive the same fate as Agamemnon. Cassandra rips off her priestly headdress, rejecting the powers of Apollo, and walks calmly into the palace in acceptance of her fate.


It’s often hard to say how a piece comes to existence in its composer’s mind, but in this case, I can point to a moment when the swirl of ideas coalesced. It was in my home studio, and I was coaching Ellaina Lewis in her solo bits of a new oratorio by one of Harmonia’s great collaborative composers, Huntley Beyer. Huntley had written a pair of soprano arias with (as far as I know) no particular performer in mind. When I heard Ellaina sing them, they seemed to fit like a glove. I had worked with Ellaina before (in Handel’s Messiah) but hearing her sing this wholly different sort of music, I got to thinking that it would be a great idea to write something for her specifically.

Ellaina is a high soprano, and her voice is at its peak purity and resonance in the upper part of her range. With that fact in mind, I started thinking about what sort of music would best take advantage of this high  register, in which she can be both ethereal and dramatic. It occurred to me that something “incantatory” would work well. Then I started thinking “who does incantations?” and I started thinking about prophetesses and priestesses. I did a little googling and came across Cassandra.

Like anyone else, I knew that “a Cassandra” was a female prophet, but I didn’t know the whole story, namely that her curse was to prophesy the truth and never to be believed. When I read that, everything clicked into place.


Once I had the concept in place, I ran into a problem: there’s no Cassandra text, no Ancient Greek or Roman play that treats her subject as its main theme. Cassandra appears as a character in several plays, stretching back as far as Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in the 5th century BC, but her throughline was never given its own treatment, in spite of the fact that she’s one of the main characters to experience the Trojan war and its aftermath.

This was a wonderful challenge, because it meant the opportunity to create a dramatic piece that would be at once ancient and original. And the fact that there was so much Cassandra-based material — scenes, lines, poems — meant that it would be possible to assemble it into one story and create a Frankenstein’s monster of a libretto.

The task was daunting, because it would require one to know vast amounts about the ancient literature. I don’t happen to have that kind of knowledge, but luckily I knew someone who did. My cousin Jillian is a Classics scholar specializing in Latin, currently a PhD student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. I reached out to her asking for help, and she signed up immediately.

The first step in creating the libretto was to outline Cassandra’s character arc using what we knew of the plots of the various pre-existing plays that included her as a character. We settled on a three-act structure and a dramatis personae, and I started thinking about where there were opportunities for arias, duets, ensembles, and choruses.

The next step was to sift through the sources and find the pertinent scenes and lines. With Jillian’s knowledge, this wasn’t too difficult, but when we took stock of what we had, it was clear that we had copious amounts of material for the second and third acts of our outline, but very little for the first act.

All along, the plan had been that we would write our own original lines of dialogue and narration for bits where we couldn’t find old sources. This meant that I ended up writing quite a bit of the text for the first act (basically everything except for Apollo’s aria.) Jillian then translated my original English text into Latin.


I have called this piece an “opera-oratorio” and here I have taken inspiration from Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. I should say that Oedipus Rex was an inspiration for this piece in many respects — in the use of Latin (as opposed to Greek), in the style of the music, and in the overall scope of the piece.

Where I depart from Stravinsky is in the use of the chorus. Stravinsky uses the chorus as the crowd, leaving the role of narration to a spoken narrator. I have chosen to give the narration, sung, to the chorus.

So what is an “opera-oratorio”? I know of no work other than the Stravinsky that has been given that genre assignment by its composer. I can think of only a few works that might find a home in that category: several of Carl Orff’s later works are settings of Greek tragic texts in a declarative style (usually barely-pitched screaming accompanied by a couple of xylophones; basically unlistenable.) Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Delila might also profitably be grouped with these pieces, as it started life as an oratorio and was changed into an opera while SS was writing it.

For me, an opera-oratorio is a musical work that has the structure and flow of an opera, but the trappings of an oratorio. Put another way, it’s operatic in that it has an unbroken musical flow, with the music shouldering the weight of the storytelling. It’s oratorio-like in that it has a chorus that narrates and comments on the action, and in that I imagined it being presented in concert, with musicians in tuxedos and dresses staring at the audience.

Opera Theory

I’ve been thinking for twenty years (or more) about what kind of opera I’d want to write if I ever got the chance to write an opera.

I saw my first opera when I was in third grade on a field trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. — Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. I have no idea how that was cleared with the principal or the PTA, but it was a life-changing moment for me, and I was besotted with Puccini throughout my teens. Around the same time, I became obsessed with Mozart’s operas. (My “way in” was the character of Mozart describing the Act II finale of The Marriage of Figaro in the film of Amadeus.)

Those works (plus Verdi’s Aïda and a few others) gave me, via osmosis, a sense of what an opera could and should be. But my heart, in many ways, was drawn much more compellingly to the Broadway stage, because that’s where I got to participate in the making of theater, like so many high school students. From the musicals (and the movie musicals) I got the idea that musical theater was a genre for songs and dances.

What really set my mind on the question of “what should an opera be” was when I was confronted by an opera that didn’t seem to live up to any of the standards that I had imbibed thus far. This happened when I was about 18 or 19 years old. I was wandering through the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, deep in the book stacks devoted to scores, where I found an opera by a composer who had become a favorite. The composer was Bernard Herrmann and the opera was Wuthering Heights.

This was a source of tremendous excitement, and I checked out the score and took it back to my dorm so I could play through it. I loved Herrmann’s scores for the Hitchcock films, so it seemed to me natural that his opera would be like those scores but elevated to a new dramatic level with incredible scenes and unforgettable melodies.

Well, I was tremendously disappointed. The music seemed to just sit there, with none of the frisson of Psycho, Vertigo, or Marnie. So in some ways, I’ve been wanting to write a “proper” Bernard Herrmann opera for twenty years. I’m not laying claim to having done so (and of course, it was not the entirety of my goal in this project), but it was definitely in the back of my mind.


Cassandra is a story about the difference between Truth and Reality. It’s often said that “the truth will set you free.” Well, maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. Certainly we have seen plenty of instances where people are armed with the truth, but this does nothing to save them. Truth is a human construct, and there are many truths, some of which can even be deceptive (even to the holder of that very truth!) In a fight where truth is “spoken to power,” it’s often power that wins.

Reality is the sum total of activity in the universe, and “power” has no power over it. In the end, Cassandra’s truths were not listened to, but because they were reflections of reality, the events she predicted came to pass. As much as we might like to think that reality offers a “karmic justice,” that is once again a human construct. Reality is simply reality. The interaction between reality and an individual human life is known as “fate.”

Many of the philosophical ideas contained in Cassandra are indeed imported straight from Ancient Greek thought (truth, reality, fate) and they translate perfectly well into the 21st century. Other themes contained in this libretto are thoroughly 21st century, however. Certainly, the story can be read in a feminist “believe women” light that would likely have been largely incomprehensible to the bards of Athens and Sparta.

The structure of the libretto would also be totally foreign to Greek tragedians, as it breaks the unities of time, action, and place, choosing to use a single character arc as the throughline. Cassandra is the only character who appears in all three acts of the libretto. (In that regard, the libretto is structured unlike not only Greek drama, but unlike many modern plays and operas as well.)

Musical Style & Influences

The chorus is given music that emphasizes its narrative role: it mostly sings in unison, evoking the declamatory sound of an Ancient Greek chorus. There are several moments where the chorus takes the role of “the people” (in “Agamemnon’s Return,” for example.) They are also folded into the orchestration as “vocal instruments” (much in the way they are in Holst’s Planets or Ravel’s Daphnis.

Cassandra’s prophecies utterances are given a mystical halo of sound in the orchestra and chorus with the use of string harmonics, tinkly percussion instruments (finger cymbals, triangle, crotales), uncanny warbling by the choral sopranos and altos, and a low piccolo that doubles all of her mystical incantations. The horrors that Cassandra describes are accompanied by thick chords in extremely dissonant clusters.

The score makes extensive use of Danny Elfman style “Batman chords” — brass-dominated figures that make huge crescendos before being violently cut off. 

The orchestra is given two extended passages: “The Trojan Horse” and the interlude between acts II and III, “The Journey Across the Sea,” which offers the one extended instrumental solo, a plaintive song for the English horn.

The climax of Act II, “The Destruction of Troy,” is the most extensive number in the piece, a dissonant, mixed meter orgy of sonic destruction.

Aside from Stravinsky and Herrmann, many of my usual musical influences make themselves known: Alfred Schnittke, Stephen Sondheim (as in Sweeney Todd), Gustav Holst, Mozart-Handel-Vivaldi (Clytemnestra’s Rage Aria), Carl Orff, and Béla Bartók.


Cassandra’s cursed existence is used as the framework for a truly dramatic story: the truth she knows that nobody will believe is that her city, Troy, is about to be invaded by the Greeks, who are going to enter the city gates hidden inside the belly of a wooden horse, and who will then proceed to rain death and destruction in an orgy of violence upon the city.

It might surprise you to know, but I find this intensely compelling, and personally so, and that’s why this clicked with me. I’ve got all sorts of unpopular opinions that nobody wants to hear or believe in spite of the fact that they are so clearly true, and that are so clearly pertinent to the very health and existence of every being on this planet.

I know that I’m not alone in having felt Cassandra’s pangs; in fact, I think being ignored, distrusted, or disbelieved is a fairly universal experience. And universal experiences like that make for excellent, excellent drama.

Honegger on Composition

About a week ago, I attended a performance of Arthur Honegger’s third symphony, the “Liturgique” and I was drawn to this little quote in the program notes: “Composing is not a profession. It is a mania — a harmless madness.”

I think that’s bang on the money, so I dug up its source, a little book called I am a Composer, and I thought I’d share some other choice quotations. Honegger is refreshingly realistic (cynical, even) in his perspective about life as a composer in the modern age (1952), and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Let’s start here:

The profession of composer of music offers the peculiarity of being the activity and the preoccupation of a man who exerts himself to manufacture a product which no one is eager to consume. I might even compare it to the manufacture of top hats, button shoes, and whalebone corsets. The contemporary composer is therefore a sort of intruder who persists in stubbornly trying to impose himself at a banquet to which he has not been invited.

And now onto the process of composition itself, this masterly metaphor:

To be as frank as possible, a great share of my work eludes my conscious will. To write music is to raise a ladder without a wall to lean it against. There is no scaffolding: the building under construction is held in balance only by the miracle of a kind of internal logic, an innate sense of proportion. I am at once the architect and the spectator of my own work: I work and I judge. 

When an unforeseen obstacle arrests me, I leave my construction and sit in the seat of the listener, saying to myself: “After having heard the foregoing, what shall I hope for that will give me, if not the thrill of genius, at least the impression of success? What, logically, must happen to give me satisfaction?” And I try to find the next step, not the banal formula which would occur to everyone, but, on the contrary, an element of freshness, a rebound of interest. Step by step, following this method, my score is accomplished. 

This is the funniest one I’ve come across so far, where he talks about his work as a professor of composition:

My class always begins — and you can confirm this — with a little speech of which this is roughly the substance:

“Gentlemen, do you sincerely wish to become composers of music? Have you reflected carefully on what awaits you? If you write music, you will not be paid and you will not earn a living. If your father can afford to support you, then nothing prevents you from putting black marks on paper. You will learn that, wherever you go, what you value above all other things will have but a secondary importance for others; they will show no impatience to discover you and your sonata. Your only excuse is to write honestly the music that you wish to express, to bring to it all the pains, all the knowledge, which a man of probity would give to the most serious actions of his life. Suppose for a single moment that you thirty-seven men are — I do not say men of genius, but of talent — and that each one writes in a single year one worhty composition which deserves to be produced; that would unloose a veritable catastrophe in the musical world.”

And finally, the opening quote fleshed out into its full paragraph:

Composing is not a profession. It is a mania — a harmless madness, because it is rare to see an unknown composer give way to violent demonstrations and disturbances of the public peace, unless in a concert hall at the performance of a rival’s work. More often he is preoccupied, distraught, saddened by the proofs of incomprehension on the part of his contemporaries. If he is not ridiculous because of his arrogance and presumption, he will be as timid as a person afflicted by some abnormality which, it so happens, is not constantly on exhibition for all to see. And there you are!

Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose!

This post is slightly expanded from a column in my weekly Substack newsletter, Tone Prose.


How copyright law promotes bad behavior in the world of classical music

This post is slightly adapted from an edition of my newsletter, Tone Prose. Subscribe for more ranting and raving!

I’ve got a concert coming up on April 6, 2024 which will feature the premiere of my new opera-oratorio Cassandra, but the program is equally exciting because it will bring me once again into collaboration with the great young pianist Joseph Vaz. Joey’s going to play Rhapsody in Blue, and having received the performance materials for this work, I’m struck by outrage, and I wish to make it known!

The publisher of Rhapsody in Blue, European-American Music, has abused its copyright privileges to offer a substandard product to interpreters of this work, and thus made the correct execution and performance of Gershwin’s music much more challenging than it should be. And while I (Will) am happy to name and shame EAM, they are simply representative of the industry-wide malfeasance. The real problem though, is the law itself.

What is Copyright?

Essentially, a copyright is a monopoly on a piece of intellectual property, such as a book, movie, recording, or, in the present case, a piece of music.

Now I don’t think you have to be the most rapacious libertarian capitalist in the world to reach the conclusion that monopolies are bad. But you don’t have to be a pinko commie tool to think that a limited monopoly granted to an artist might be good. After all, if you create an original work, shouldn’t you get some period of exclusivity in which to exploit your creation?

The first copyright law in the United States, the Copyright Act of 1790, did just that: it gave authors exclusivity on their works for a period of 14 years with an optional 14 year extension. That, I will grant, is a reasonable way of doing things. Of course, if you create a successful bit of IP, you’ll want to exploit it for as long as possible, so as corporations came on the scene and lobbyists started doing their dirty work, the original copyright provisions got distended to grossly disproportionate forms, culminating in the famous “Sonny Bono” Act of 1998. Cui bono? Sonny!

[A brief aside: don’t let Sonny Bono’s cameo on The Golden Girls fool you — he was one bad hombre. Aside from his rotten-to-the-core copyright extension act designed to protect Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse, he was also a raging NIMBY exclusionist zoning champion as mayor of Palm Springs, and gave Newt Gingrich PR advice.]

The Baroque State of U.S. Copyright Law

In the US, we are currently operating under a dual copyright regime:

  1. For works created prior to 1978, the maximum copyright duration is 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
  2. For works created in or after 1978, the maximum copyright duration is “life of the author” + 70 years.

As to the question of Rhapsody in Blue, attentive readers of Listener Laurie’s comment will have noted that 2024 is the centennial of this great masterpiece of symphonic jazz. So, you might ask yourself, shouldn’t the music be in the public domain? Can’t you just download the parts from the Internet Music Score Library Project? Why does a publisher have to be involved at all?

Enter Ferde Grofé

First thing first: the original score of Rhapsody in Blue *is* in the public domain, and you *can* download it from imslp. The problem is, the original version of Rhapsody in Blue isn’t the version that anyone actually plays.

Well, it’s not *no one* who plays it — in fact, there’s a very cool recording of the original version, scored for Paul Whiteman’s dance band in 1924, performed by George Gershwin himself on a piano roll, with MTT conducting. (The tempi are nuts.) But Gershwin didn’t *orchestrate* the Rhapsody. That job was left to American composer Ferde Grofé (of “On the Trail” fame). Grofé revised and expanded this version in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1942 that he scored it for a normally-constituted symphony orchestra, and that’s now the version that “everyone” plays.

Material Interests

This 1942 version of Rhapsody in Blue remains under copyright until 2038. Which means that the publisher, European-American Music, retains a monopoly on the performing materials for another 14 years.

As we all know, the problem with a monopoly is that the monopolizer has no incentive to provide their customer with a decent product or service, and that’s exactly the problem here. First off, I placed Harmonia’s rental order for these materials back in May of 2023. I signed a contract that stated exactly when the sheet music was to arrive. That date came and went, and when I contacted EAM, it turned out they had lost track of the order.

Then things got worse: EAM sent me a freshly printed set of parts. These parts were engraved in 1942 using 1942 technology and 1942 Broadway notational conventions. When you first glance at the music on the page, it doesn’t look too shabby. But take a closer look:

Notice, for example, that after the first line of music, the clef is never re-printed, and neither is the key signature. That’s very poor indeed. The problems don’t stop there though: these parts were written so that the piece could be performed with any hackneyed, ill-constituted civic band, and so the parts are laden with cues to such an extent that they are almost impossible to read. This tendency reaches its ne plus ultra in the first violin part, which is clearly designed as a quasi conductor’s score for concertmasters who are also the leaders of their bands.


And now for the pièce de résistance: EAM doesn’t just sent the parts, they also send a printout of the 30-page errata list of corrections that need to be marked into all the parts.

Just think about this for a second: the parts were engraved in 1942. This errata list was compiled in 1990. That means that the publisher has had 34 years during which they could have re-engraved the piece so as to incorporate all these corrections.

But why would they? That might cost… oh a few thousand bucks I guess? It’s so much easier to make the renters of this material do the work themselves (as I did.) Who are the renters going to complain to? What competitor are they going to turn to? There is none — that’s the whole point of a monopoly!

Bad Actors, Bad Incentives

This whole thing reminds me of the problem with drivers.

Bad drivers should certainly be held to account for speeding and running stop signs. It’s antisocial behavior that can easily get people hurt or killed. But the real criminals are the transportation engineers and urban planners who have designed the road infrastructure that encourages speeding. The real criminals are the lobbyists who have been working on behalf of the auto manufacturers for a century to ensure that America is designed for car dependence. The real criminals are the lawmakers and politicians who have created a permissive legal structure where killing someone with a private automobile isn’t even considered a case of criminal conduct.

Preaching, Practicing

I’d be a fool if I didn’t mention that I, as a publisher of my own music, try to do everything that EAM doesn’t. First off, for the most part, I sell rather than rent. People can buy my music directly from this web site, print out their own copies (in whatever numbers they like) and perform it to their heart’s content. I also try very hard to make sure that the editions offered on this site are free from mistakes (though I am convinced it is a metaphysical impossibility to get them all.)