Joel Hunt

Indeterminacy in the Music of Henry Brant: Toward a Framework for ‘Controlled Improvisation’

Henry Brant rejected notions of indeterminacy in his music, claiming that even in his most complicated spatial compositions, the element of chance is “not much greater than in an average classical work.” However, much in the way that Lutoslawski’s ‘controlled aleatoricism’ generates intricate textures by superimposing fixed passages in an approximate manner, Brant’s spatial compositions superimpose spatially separated instrumental groups, each bound by traditional notation, within a relatively flexible combinatorial scheme. Analyses of Brant’s postwar compositions reveal that this variety of ‘controlled aleatoricism’ was the genesis of a more extensive involvement with indeterminacy. Brant’s loosening of compositional control can be seen to progress from flexibility in temporal/structural design to ‘controlled improvisation’, in which he governed surface detail without traditional notation, but with written instructions for improvisation. In the following paper, I will examine Brant’s compositional development in terms of his growing interest in indeterminate techniques. In so doing, I will shed light on a previously unknown thread in Brant’s creative evolution, and expose a collection of works that has eluded most scholars of indeterminate music.