The Writings of Norman Cazden – Composer and Musicologist

by Herbert Haufrecht
Originally published in the American Composers Alliance Bulletin, (1959) Vol. VIII #2. pp 2-6.

Herbert Haufrecht is a long-standing member of ACA and serves on its Board of Governors. He is well known as the composer of such works as Square Set for string orchestra, A Woodland Serenade for woodwind quintet, a Symphony for brass and timpani, and the folk opera, Boney Quillen. Especially popular are his many children’s records and arrangements of folk song material. Mr. Haufrecht is at present a staff music editor for Associated Music Publishers, Inc.

The proper evaluation of a composer’s music must, of course, be objective, so let it be stated at the outset that, although I have been a friend of Norman Cazden for almost thirty years, I shall not be sentimental or given to exaggeration in my judgment.

From the fact that Cazden was already a brilliant pianist at an early age it is natural that he should utilize the piano as a medium for his composing. It is especially evident when surveying his early works that, with the exception of two, all his works through Opus 16 are for the piano. Familiar with the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and aware of other modern trends, his musical style and texture extend from these sources. In these works are displayed brittle percussive themes in extreme registers, often sparse two-voiced counterpoint alternating with full bitonal or polytonal chord passages and regular four-square meter contrasting with polymetrical sections. Although these devices are employed in most of his works, as well as in the music of other composers, they reveal in his piano writing a more distinctive character, his figuration never becoming trite. His Three Satires, Op. 2 and Sonatina, Op.7 are typical.

The latter work embodies many of Cazden’s ideas and techniques. Its germinal motif is of rising fourths (Ex. 1). This is transformed in various sections and movements of the Sonatina, at first chromatic and irregular rhythmically, then diatonic and regular; also its diminution becomes a pianistic figuration. In the second movement it is calm and lyrical, and here it is used as a counterpoint to the new main theme. In the final Allegro it appears as part of a march-like theme. Composed throughout with economy, yet varied in its treatment of the material, the work is indeed durchkomponirt.

However, Cazden would be the first to criticize me for merely dealing with some of the technical aspects of the composition. He would be justified in calling such a view formalistic, for the essence of the music transcends such narrow analysis, or rather is merged with it. This music reflects the turbulent period of the nineteen-thirties when it was written; it has dramatic clash. The upward striving of the main themes and the resolute march of the final pages express a forward movement. This consciousness of the world about him is directly manifest in much of Cazden’s music. In the work for band: Elegy on the Death of a Spanish Child, Op. 20 he expresses a poignant sympathy for the tragedy and human suffering in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. Cast in the mood of a funeral march, it is given greater freedom and expressivity by extending and contracting the meter in accord with the needs of the musical phrases. Incidentally, also effective in his accumulative harmony: the piling up of chords of the fourth.

[Insert Example 1]
Example 1: Sonatina for piano, Op. 7. Copyright 1940 by New Music Edition. Used by permission of the copyright owner.

The musical play, Dingle Hill, Op.QQQ deals with the subject of social conflict, the “Down Rent Wars” of the eighteen-forties against the wealthy landowners. In actions similar to the Boston Tea Party, the local farmers in the vicinity of the northern Catskill Mountains, masquerading as Indians, attacked the rent collectors. They were protesting a form of indentured servitude that perpetually bound them in debt to the patroon, a sort of baronial landowner. For background material, Cazden, in his characteristically thorough manner, unearthed a number of folk songs and political broadsides of the period dealing with the situation. Weaving them into the play, he has thus given the music topical authenticity. Very little of his total output has been devoted to the voice or the stage, and it is hoped that with greater activity in this area, there will evolve a more fluent and individual vocal style. The keen philosophical and social views that are observed in his prose writing will then, too, be more clearly articulated in his music.

Another phase of Cazden’s work, one stemming from his needs as a piano teacher, is his Gebrauchsmusik. Among his numerous pieces for piano study are: Twenty-one Evolutions, Op. 4, Ten Progressions, Op. 5, and Six Demonstrations, Op. 6. These are studies on an elementary level which embody the materials of contemporary music. This approach of utilizing modern devices in practical settings with relatively easy technical requirements carries over into certain of his chamber music compositions. In this category are the Ten Conversations for two clarinets, Op. 34, Three Constructions for woodwinds, Op. 38, Three Directions for brass, Op. 39 and Six Discussions for various wind combinations, Op. 40. In each work the themes are germane to the special instrumental grouping. For example, Three Constructions are well suited to the woodwind quintet: the second movement is lyrical and exploits long and legato lines; it is especially effective. The third movement contrasts bright staccato with legato, sometimes in counterpoint, elsewhere in juxtaposition (Ex. 2). In like manner Three Directions for brass quartet use characteristic material for this combination, yet it is never treated in a commonplace way.

[insert example 2]
Example 2: Three Constructions for Woodwind Quintet, Op. 38. Copyright 1951 by Edwin F Kalmus. Used by permission.

The Entrée, with its homespun tune, punctuated background and oom-pah bass, suggests the small town band, though it is full of urbane surprises. In Teamwork the ensemble has vigorous and syncopated fanfares, and in the middle section a repeated note figure is a natural for the brass group (Ex. 3).

[insert example 3]
Example 3: Three Directions for Brass Quartet, Op. 39. Copyright 1949 by Associated Music Publishers, Inc., New York; used by permission.

Having worked with dancers over a long period of time and having become thoroughly acquainted with the problems and their solutions inherent in composing for this medium, Cazden has written for several modern dance groups the New Dance Group headed by Jane Dudley, the Humphrey-Weidman Company and José Limón.

Cazden has always been adventuresome in quest of new forms or shaping the older ones to his needs. His Three New Sonatas, Op. 53 for piano are preceded by an essay which he calls program notes on the meaning, or rather the various meanings, of the term sonata. Not written in the standard textbook form, these have the scope and the ingredients of the classical sonata. The third one, for example, employs contrasting themes, episodic passages and development, but not a development section. There is no recapitulation, or one might say, it is in the “wrong” place– just before the end. The meter is not indicated because of the frequent changes, though the unit of measure, an eighth note, is constant.

The Symphony, Op. 49, composed during the same period as the fore-mentioned sonatas, uses similar techniques but with greater scope. Examples of Cazden’s free and extended evolution of a melody are found here. At the opening of the work, the ‘cellos announce the theme in a short motif. Each of the ensuing phrases derive logically from the preceding, ever propelling the theme forward. This is also manifest in the oboe solo of the second movement (Ex. 4).

[Insert Example 4]
Example 4: Symphony for orchestra, Op. 49. (ACA-CFE)

Most of the dance forms of the baroque and classical period have served as a mold for his imaginative use of their basic rhythmic patterns. His Suite for violin and piano, Op. 43, consists of a Prelude, Gavotte, Sarabande and Reel. The Prelude has a beautiful, long single line folk-like statement for solo violin that begins in the low register and slowly mounts to the extreme high notes (Ex. 5). Then there is a contrasting harmonic reply by the piano alone. These two ideas are developed in no set pattern, but of a logic derived from the nature of the themes. The Gavotte and Sarabande are written with invention and modern embellishments much as Ravel and Prokofiev have treated this genre. The Reel is not merely the background music for a square dance; here it takes its rightful place in a dance suite by an American composer. Thus the Gavotte and Sarabande are brought up-to-date; or conversely, the modal folk song and the Reel are set with respectability in the classic suite. Cazden has utilized many other dance forms, among them: the Waltz, Trot, Rumba, Stomp and Clod.

[Insert Example 5]
Example 5: Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 43. (ACA-CFE)

Of another type, the Variations for piano, Op. 26 have considerable interest and again show Cazden’s individuality in adapting an old form to his needs. He pointedly does not name the work “Themes and Variations.”  The main idea is hardly a suitable theme for variations in the generally acceptable sense.  Its harmony does not move from the G Chord for nine measures.  Its melody consists of broken up blues-like motifs.  The main idea, nevertheless, seems to piece itself together into a long line with a feeling of movement, comparable to a large structure built of little bricks. (Ex. 6) Also, the variations have neither a beginning nor an end, and they certainly do not stop and start as in more formal variations.  The work has continuous flow that develops to greater complexity and then returns to its original appearance. No grandiose finale here, no fugue, no virtuoso display—just back to the “blues”; so simple, but bold in its simplicity.

[Insert Example 6]
Example 6: Variations for Piano, Op. 26. Copyright 1941 by Maxwell Weaner Publications. Used by permission of Mercury Music Corp., New York.

Not all the works of Norman Cazden are as accessible or as effective. In some he seems to be carried away by the intellectual problems at hand. In the Passacaglia Op. QQQ for piano, the difficulties for the performer as well as for the audience make it forbidding. Its theme, in a meter of five, is highly chromatic—almost in tone-row style, and is combined with a complex and thick superstructure. The work, though of interest, does not capture one’s heart. Some of his works seem somewhat dry for the opposite reason: they are too thin in texture. Two of the Three Chamber Sonatas for solo viola and solo clarinet, Op. 17 are and are well written for them. The limitations set by the composer, however, though of value for the performer, are too restricting for the audience.

Since Cazden is essentially eclectic, he has at the same time been influenced in another direction away from the above-mentioned, somewhat academic style. He has been drawn into that great stream of composers who base their writing on the folk traditions of their country. Though here and there, even in his more formal and abstract works, are folk-like motifs, he has also written a group of compositions that are frankly and almost totally derived from folk sources. Many composers have had a casual interest in folk music and some have attempted to apply folk song themes to their creative work. Too often their study of the field has been academic, or their investigation has been of the moment, or superficially they have been seeking the “quaint” or exotic sources. Not so with Norman Cazden. Since the early thirties he has pursued a continuing search for a real understanding of the folk tradition. His numerous works embodying this material are testimony that he has absorbed it and has molded it into his own creative composition with craftsmanship.

The Three Ballads from the Catskills for orchestra, Op. QQQ, are noteworthy. In each a different solo instrument is the focal point. In The Lass of Glenshee, Op. QQQ, the viola conveys the lyrical quality of the band. The solo ‘cello elicits the mood of tragedy in The Dens of Yarrow, and the orchestra brings out the violent conflict of the drama. The buoyancy of the solo violin sets the sprightly mood of The Old Spotted Cow, Op. QQQ. One might say that the ballads are treated in a kind of free variation form.

But among these works in the folk vein, the most distinctive is Stony Hollow for orchestra, Op. 47. It is like a montage of the music at a square dance. One of its features is the treatment of the trumpet as the voice of the caller (Ex. 7). Sometimes the calls are announced in a regular patter, elsewhere merely as interjections or as addenda to a phrase. The country fiddler is audible as is also the concertina-accordion player with his in-and-out tonic and dominant harmony (measures 146-151). The sudden shifts of tonality and meter (measures 93-94) within the framework of the basic beat, the varied themes unified with the main motif, the skillful combining of themes (measures 152-160) where six independent melodic lines occur simultaneously including Yankee Doodle in the bass—all these make Stony Hollow an outstanding work deserving a place in regular orchestra repertoire.

[Insert Example 7]
Example 7: Stony Hollow for Orchestra, Op. 47. Copyright 1949 by Associated Music Publishers, Inc., New York; used by permission.

In 1943 Cazden began to make field trips in the Catskill Mountains in co-operation with Norman Studer, director of Camp Woodland, collecting and notating local folk songs and instrumental music. This was a continuation of the project I had initiated in 1941 and 1942. At the present time Cazden has amassed literally hundreds of folk songs and instrumental dance tunes. With scientific accuracy he has recorded them on tape and in notation.  He has arranged many of them for various practical ensemble combinations, and has also written several essays on the subject.

Among the arrangements are Dances from Woodland Op. QQQ, piano settings with square dance calls and directions; and 200 Reels Op. QQQ, Jigs and Squares Op. QQQ, 200 Traditional Dances Op. QQQ, and 142 Olden Times Dances Op. QQQ, all for violin and piano. In addition to many short arrangements for piano and for recorder groups, Cazden has made a monumental collection of the Catskill Mountain folk songs. This gathering of songs, the harvest of fifteen years of effort, has copious annotations that give the background of each ballad, and includes comparative studies with other collections of the same songs found elsewhere. A portion of the work has been newly published in The Abelard Folk Song Book with piano and guitar accompaniments.

*Insert reference to Catskills book

Another, and by no means unimportant, facet of Norman Cazden’s career is his theoretical writing and criticism on music and aesthetics. Cazden, in line with such predecessors as Mattheson, Fux, Schumann, Wagner, Debussy and Hindemith has examined the materials of his craft. Armed with a sharp polemical pen, he has challenged some time-encrusted theories as well as some newly heralded ones. His first major paper was his doctoral dissertation, “Musical Consonance and Dissonance,” a portion of which was published by the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. In it he debunks the theory that consonance and dissonance are determined by mathematical ratios, or by the physical properties of the overtone series. Also, he points to the fallacy of attributing such qualities to isolated intervals or chords. He defines dissonance as tension, and consonance as resolution not inherent in the notes themselves, but rather in their function in a given context and within a given cultural area.

“Perception of interval qualities, though they do not arise on natural foundations, are neither arbitrary nor accidental. They are conditioned responses derived from the structural relations of a specific musical language and its history. In western music of the past few centuries, consonance and dissonance are the poles of a relation of resolution expectation.  We recognize them because this relation exists in all the music we have heard. Structurally, one might say grammatically, consonance and dissonance are the polar forms of stability-instability, completeness-incompleteness, passivity-activity. This polarity is parallel and interlocked with other prominent features of our musical language: tonality (tonic-dominant), modality (major-minor), rhythm (relaxation-tension). In this broader sense, resolution may be described as the dialectic structure of our musical language.”

Cazden goes on to say, “These qualities are not inherent in perception as such, but are learned responses, adaptations to an existing pattern of the social group. Historical movements, changes in the social function of music, and not the harmony of the spheres, control and direct transformations in the musical structures. It is suggested that where radical innovations in our musical system are proposed their real basis be sought in the needs of humanity, in the cultural movements of our historic time.”

At a meeting of the Music Teachers National association in 1952, Cazden read his paper dealing with “Tonal Function and Sonority in the Study of Harmony.” Here he defines his terms: “Every chord possesses both a tonal function and an absolute sonority. Tonal function and sonority thus refer to two aspects of the same phenomena; the tonal function essentially dealing with what the harmonies do, the absolute sonority comprising what harmonies are. Tonal function deals with the dynamics, with the laws of motion of harmonies; absolute sonority deals with statics, with the internal and composite structure of harmonies.”

Cazden brings under analysis many of the devices used by contemporary composers. He points to the new academism, which is like a mirror reflection of the old dogmas. Despite the verbal rejection of traditional harmony and counterpoint, the new pathfinders often base their schools (which are equally restrictive and proscribed as the old ones) on the diametrically reversed rules. In “Hindemith and Nature,” that composer’s theoretical writings in the “Craft of Musical Composition” are attacked. Many of the arguments previously related are here discussed in greater technical and scientific terms.

In two essays Cazden has grappled with the problem of an oft misused and maligned term, realism. In the first of these, “Towards A Theory Of Realism In Music,” he deals with the over-all problem including programme music, pictorialism and naturalism. In “Realism in Abstract Music,” the second paper, he attacks the very sanctuary of the snobs, escapists, abstractionists, etc. He observes that abstract music usually refers to the instrumental concert music of west-central Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He proceeds to show that even then it is not as abstract as one would think. Many of the references of realism are to the then current musical forms and styles as well as to music of prior periods with the associations and imagery that they evoke. Cazden considers the concert instrumental music of the classic era as the fullest flowering of realism in western music.

I have dwelt at length on the theoretical writing of Norman Cazden because, aside from its intrinsic merits, it gives one insight as regards his compositions. It parallels his musical logic, painstaking care with detail and broad view of art in relation to life. One might say that despite his varied activities Cazden is thorough and purposeful in the pursuit of each aspect of his creative work. And his work is creative in each area. As a composer, musicologist, folk song collector, teacher and pianist he has made a significant contribution to society.

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