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STEPHEN HARTKE  

(b 1952 )

Much of Stephen Hartkes music is concerned with communicating a sense of place, from the cultural mix of Asian and Latin elements in the concert overture Pacific Rim of 1988 to his Clarinet Concerto Landscapes with Blues, a piece that reflects his interest in the rhythms of West Africa, his own New York roots, and the great blues tradition of the Mississippi Delta. One of the most singular voices in American contemporary music, Stephen Hartke was born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1952, and grew up in Manhattan, where he began his musical career as a professional boy chorister. He encountered at an early age much of the music which has shaped his language ever since: the plainchant of medieval liturgical drama, the music of Machaut and Dufay, the great Tudor composers, especially Tallis and Weelkes, as well as the music of Britten and Stravinsky. But equally important to his evolution as a composer, he came of age in the New York of the Uptown/Downtown divide of the late 1960s, in which the structuralist atonality of Carter and Babbitt was pitted against the chance music of Cage and the happenings of Kaprow. While enjoying many aspects of both, Hartke has written that his sense of the expressive limitations inherent in these approaches sharpened his awareness of a need for variety of effect, not just from piece to piece but within individual pieces, such as one encounters all the time in Beethoven, but never, for example, in the high modernism of Boulez, and while not alone in reacting against the excesses of the various avant garde movements, Hartkes response has not been to move in a neo-romantic direction; indeed, as Alex Ross observed in his article in the New Grove on Hartke, his music tends to avoid the lush textures and cinematic gestures common to many composers of that school. Rather he has constructed a highly personal language based on an often-stated objective of wanting to write music reflective of his personal experience as a listener, as a fellow member of the audience.
Role: Classical Composer 
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