Random Truths About… Stephen Hartke

Stephen Hartke

Stephen Hartke is one of the most exciting contemporary composers, writing orchestral and chamber music that blends the most experimental aspects of concert music with simpler elements of folk songs, and the comprehensible structures of song forms. Listen to his piece “The King of the Sun.”

1. What’s the first piece of music you listened to today?
The sound of finches dive-bombing the windows of my house to pick off the moths that had taken refuge on the glass during the night.  I know this sounds rather like a John Cage sort of answer, and, to be honest, I don’t have much use for John Cage. The fact is, I don’t listen to recorded music every day. I rather think we hear too much music nowadays, and it ceases to be special. When I was younger, I certainly did listen to recordings a lot, and attended far more concerts, but now I’m more inclined to sit quietly and remember pieces or to flip through a score or play something. Later this morning, after the finch attack was over, I played through a couple of the Bach English Suites and a few Scarlatti sonatas.

2. What are your vices?
My musical vices include a fondness for unison orchestral doublings of flutes, oboes and clarinets. Some folks think I am overfond of natural harmonics in the strings, but there’s no twelve-step program for that (most string instruments can’t get past the eighth step partial anyway). I also take perverse and anachronistic delight in the vibraphone with the motor on.

3. What is one of your prejudices?
I heartily dislike popular culture, especially rock and roll.

4. In what way do you think music has the ability to change the way people live their lives?
This question suggests that you think that such an ability might be a good thing. I’m not so sure. Music makes life worth living, but I don’t know if it is because it might have a power to change someone’s life. Certainly most music written with a political purpose does not achieve its aim. The Three-Penny Opera was intended as a work of musique-engagee and was tremendously successful as a work of musical theater, but it did nothing to alter the course of German political or social life, more’s the pity.

5. At what age did you first feel distrust?
At the age of 54 when I was first posed this question by you.

6. What is the best piece of music you’ve ever created, in your opinion?
My favorites shift according to my mood and my ever-evolving perspective as I write more. However, at the moment I’m inclined to say "Cathedral in the thrashing rain."

7. Right now, how are you trying to change yourself?
By relaxing.

8. If you had the time, what else would you do?
Learn a few more languages.

9. What social cause do you feel the most strongly about (negative or positive)?
Bringing an end to all superstition and releasing mankind from the thralldom imposed by religion.

10. What are your fears?
That religionists will hasten the demise of life on this planet through their vainglorious belief that the world was created for them by some sort of uber-parent.

11. What is your favorite joke (tasteful or tasteless)?
A nice old lady meets a 9-year old child and starts an innocent little chat.  "What do you want to be when you grow up?" she asks. The kid replies: "A dry-cleaner."

12. Who is your favorite author?
Joaquim Machado de Assis

13. What is your favorite movie?
Fellini’s Eight and a Half

14. Favorite album(s) from the last few years?
The Complete Sacred Music of Henry Purcell (Hyperion)

15. What would you like to know more about?
Just about everything.

16. What is one thing you would like to do/see/accomplish before you die?
I’d like to visit Japan.

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