Richard Maxfield (1927-1969)

Electric Richard Maxfield (June 27, 1974)

On June 27, 1969, Richard Maxfield, 42, jumped out of a window of the Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles, ending his tragically short life during which he became known as one of the earliest and foremost electronic music composers. Maxfield studied at U. C. Berkeley, performed concerts widely, and taught at the New School in New York City and then at the San Francisco State University in the late 1960s. In this program, Charles Amirkhanian plays a selection from Maxfield’s vast output, including “Night Music” and “Amazing Grace”. Also included in this program are excerpts from an interview with Maxfield recorded on November 11, 1960 in which he describes the composition techniques he has used to create his electronic music. In addition this program contains the world premiere of “Jump”, a text-sound composition by Amirkhanian that is dedicated to Maxfield. (KPFA)

The Chamber Music of Richard Maxfield

A selection of early, mostly chamber music works by the American composer, Richard Maxfield. Although perhaps known best for his pioneering work in the realm of electronic music, Maxfield was first an award winning composer of 20th century classical music, who studied with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt. The first work heard in this program is the finale of his “Piano Sonata No. 2” which was dedicated to Roger Sessions. Also included are an excerpt of his 1951 “Symphony” for string orchestra, a string quartet, and “Composition” for violin and piano, as well as “Structures” which is scored for ten wind instruments. Maxfield, who studied at U. C. Berkeley, performed concerts widely, and taught at the New School in New York City and then at the San Francisco State University in the late 1960s, tragically committed suicide in 1969 by throwing himself out a Los Angeles hotel window.

Oak of the Golden Dreams

1. Pastoral Symphony (1960)
Sharply diverging from the earlier careful assemblages of spliced sounds made by Stockhausen, Ussachevsky, Pierre Henry, and others, Maxfield at once took off into the world of continuously generated electronic tones. The work indeed has its pastoral moments, if briefer and less programmatic than Beethoven's work of the same title.

2. Bacchanale (1963)
A musique concrete collage containing no sounds of electronic origin. It opens juxtaposing jazz with Korean folk music; we hear Edward Fields narrating a text of his own over jazz played at the Five Spot in Greenwich Village. Along the way, Fahrad Machkat scrapes on a violin, Robert Block and Terry Jennings play prepared violin and saxophone, and the composer Nicholas Roussakis plays underwater clarinet. A nice historical note is that all the folk music except the Korean was supplied by seminal American composer and ethnomusicologist Henry Cowell, who also taught at The New School, and who clearly never lost his willingness to experiment although he was in his mid-60s by the time this was recorded.

3. Piano Concert for David Tudor (1961)
Tudor, a legendary pianist of the avant-garde, plays live alongside a three-channel montage consrtucted from sounds made on the inside of the piano with chains, spinning a gyroscope on the strings, showering the strings with tiddlywink disks, and other unusual operations

4. Amazing Grace (1960)
Mixed tape loops from two sources: a speech by revivalist James G. Brodie and electronic fragments from an opera Maxfield had made in 1958 entitled Stacked Deck. The next year, Terry Riley would use tape loops in his piece Mescalin Mix (1961), considered the first minimalist piece based on repetition; and in 1965 and '66, respectively, Steve Reich would create the most famous tape-loop pieces, It's Gonna Rain and Come Out.

Notes by Kyle Gann

Richard Maxfield was a composer of instrumental, electro-acoustic, and electronic music.

Born in Seattle, he may have taught the first University-level course in electronic music in America at the New School for Social Research. As a student at University of California, Berkeley, and in Europe in the 1950s, he composed instrumental scores in a neoclassical style and then adopting 12-tone techniques, eventually studying at Princeton University with Milton Babbitt. He also studied for a summer with Ernst Krenek. Encounters with contemporary European innovations, the music of John Cage, and techniques for composing with magnetic tape would however prove decisive in the development of his mature compositions. Among his innovations with tape music were the simultaneous performance of improvised instrumental solos with tapes based upon samples of the same soloist, re-editing of tapes before each public performance so that the pieces were not fixed in a single form, and the use of the erase head of the tape machine as a sound source. He was also an active Fluxus participant and a friend of La Monte Young. Young now maintains the archive of Maxfield's works.

In 1960, he and Young co-curated the early Fluxus concerts at Yoko Ono's loft: the first Downtown concerts. Maxfield made a number of mesmerizing, though gritty, electronic minimalist pieces, a few of which have made it to commercial recording.

Maxfield committed suicide by jumping out of a window on June 27, 1969, at the age of 42.
-From Wikipedia

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