Dane Rudhyar - music and mysticism

This week's John Foulds moment has uncovered a hidden appetite for obscure and mystical early twentieth century music with Theosophical connections. Which pretty well sums up the music of Dane Rudhyar.

Rudhyar was born Daniel Chenneviere in Paris in 1895, and changed his name when he emigrated to America in 1916. During his first two decades in the US he wrote extraordinary piano music. It uses Scriabin and Debussy as a launchpad into a unique post-Romantic musical universe that embraces dissonant counterpoint. Rudhyar's music is little known today, and was not a major influence on other twentieth-century composers. But his work outside music had considerable influence.

In the 1920s Rudhyar was a central figure in the Halcyon Theosophical community in Southern California. Among those influenced by the community was Henry Cowell, who went on to teach John Cage. After 1934 Rudhyar stopped composing and became a leading advocate of astrology. He wrote more than thirty books on the subject. The Astrology of Personality (1936) is the best known, and remains in print today. In 1976 Rudhyar returned to composing, and his late output included two string quartets.

You can sample Dane Rudhyar's music played by pianist, and sometime composer, Steffen Schleiermacher on an excellent Hat Hut CD. The exemplary sleeve notes are by Kyle Gann, and have been used as one of the sources for this short article. Visit the Dane Rudhyar archival project here.

Now read about what has been described as the best music of any late-twentieth century composer.
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Unknown said…
Fascinating post, thank you!!

Rudhyar's astrological audio files are now available online, too, from Nicki Michaels fine site, beyondsunsigns.com.The Rudhyar archives are here:
Pliable said…
Email received

The-all time "Strange" mystical composer, Sorabji notwithstanding has got to be Thomas de Hartmann.

How long was Gurdgjieff popular for?--five minutes, ten?

David Cavlovic
Civic Center said…
The Other Minds music group in San Francisco has been programming his pieces at their annual fundraiser with pianist Sarah Cahill for the last couple of years, and it's wonderful music.

I had no idea Rudhyar was part of the Halcyon Theosophist community, a place where my family lived in Central California when I was a child in the early 1960s, surrounded by strange-looking old people who had spinning wheels in their houses set in the middle of a eucalyptus forest.

Thanks for the article and the links, and you might want to correct the "Dan Rudhyar" typo in the Labels.
Pliable said…
Thanks for that Mike. What truly remarkable connections these paths throw up.

The typo is now corrected. I just wish there was a composer called John Smith that I could write about.
Pliable said…
David, you mention G I Gurdieff. I have to say Keith Jarrett's ECM disc of his music is a favourite of mine - http://www.ecmrecords.com/Catalogue/ECM/1100/1174.php?lvredir=712&catid=0&doctype=Catalogue&order=releasedate&we_search=%2Bgurdjieff&rubchooser=901&mainrubchooser=9

Vassilis Tsabropoulos' improvisations are also interesting, although a touch 'easy listening' - http://www.ecmrecords.com/Catalogue/New_Series/1800/1888.php?cat=&we_start=0&lvredir=712&we_search=%2Btsabropoulos
Garth Trinkl said…
pliable, do you have the London Decca Head LP of Ferneyhough's Transit (for solo voices and ensemble) which used as its cover a mono-colored version of the astrology graphic you use above? (I'm sure many other groups -- classical and popular -- probably used the same graphic.)

[Last night I listened to my old, rewarding copy of Jean Barraque's 40 minutes of excerpts from his incompleted Hermann Broch "The Death of Virgil" Project. Just as fine as Boulez, if not more so, in my opinion.]
Unknown said…

Monday, September 27, 2010
7pm Panel Discussion, 8pm Concert
Swedenborgian Church
2107 Lyon Street, San Francisco
reception at 6:30pm

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
7:30pm Concert
Valley Presbyterian Church
945 Portola Road, Portola Valley
reception to follow

Dane Rudhyar (1895-1985) was a unique figure in 20th-century American culture: a composer, thinker, painter, poet, novelist, and the pre-eminent figure in astrology. He linked musical dissonance to his studies in comparative religion, theosophy, and metaphysics, was a leader and mentor to fellow composers Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Carl Ruggles, and later influenced a new generation including John Cage, Lou Harrison, James Tenney, and Kyle Gann.

Now, 25 years after Rudhyar's death (1985, in San Francisco), Other Minds presents a celebration of the work of this "seed man" of the avant-garde, with performers David Abel and Julie Steinberg (violin and piano), Sarah Cahill (piano), and the Ives String Quartet. The September 27 program will also include a pre-concert panel discussion with the composer's widow Leyla Rudhyar Hill, and biographer Deniz Ertan (University of Nottingham), moderated by Other Minds Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian. A special exhibition of Rudhyar's paintings, manuscripts, and correspondence will be displayed at both concerts.

CONCERT PROGRAM (same for both dates)
Poem for Violin and Piano (1920)
For solo piano:
Transmutation, tone sequence in seven movements (1976)
Stars from Pentagram No. 3 (1925)
Granites (1929)
Crisis & Overcoming (String Quartet No. 2) (1979)

David Abel & Julie Steinberg (violin and piano)
Sarah Cahill (piano)
Ives String Quartet (Bettina Mussumeli, Susan Freier, Jodi Levitz, Stephen Harrison)

Monday, September 27: $25 / $20 students & seniors
Wednesday, September 29: $20 / $15 students & seniors
All seating is general admission.
Concert doors open at 6:30pm for both evenings.

Rudhyar in Retrospect is presented in association with Leyla Rudhyar Hill and the Estate of Dane Rudhyar, and has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.
For more information about Rudhyar in Retrospect: www.otherminds.org
For more information about Other Minds: 831-620-1332 / www.kathrynkingmedia.com; 415-934-8134 / www.otherminds.org.
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