Conlon Nancarrow

The expatriate American experimentalist composer Conlon Nancarrow is increasingly recognized as having one of the most innovative musical minds of this century. His music, almost all written for player piano, is the most rhythmically complex ever written, couched in intricate contrapuntal systems using up to twelve different tempos at the same time. Yet despite its complexity, Nancarrow's music drew its early influence from the jazz pianism of Art Tatum and Earl Hines and from the rhythms of Indian music; Nancarrow's whirlwinds of notes are joyously physical in their energy. Composed in almost complete isolation from 1940, this music has achieved international fame only in the last few years.

Born in 1912, the son of the mayor of Texarkana, Nancarrow fought in the Lincoln Brigade, then fled America to Mexico City to avoid being hounded for his former Communist affiliations. The author travelled to Mexico City to research Nancarrow's music and to discuss it with him. He analyses sixty-five works, virtually the composer's complete output, and includes a biographical chapter containing much information never before published.

The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, Cambridge University Press, $49.95

Read an excerpt of Nancarrow's biography from The Music of Conlon Nancarrow

See A Nancarrow Chronology

See an annotated List of Nancarrow's Complete Works

Praise for The Music of Conlon Nancarrow:

"...this cannot help but be an important book, coining a vocabulary which can only be indispensable for future analysts, and containing much invaluable spade work."
London Times Literary Supplement

"The story is well told in this excellent new title by Village Voice critic Kyle Gann, the first book on the composer and a compendious survey of his work.... The appearance of this book is a fine celebration of what must be one of the strangest, most single-minded achievements in modern music."
Wire Magazine

"Scrupulous and thorough.... This is an intelligent, well-written book based on attentive and unstinting study and research..... Gann's stimulating study... illuminates the rhythmic structure of Nancarrow's music with exemplary clarity and precision."
Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide

"Kyle Gann's brilliant and authoritative study... is a tour de force of analytic insight... He writes with infectious enthusiasm and a gift for explaining formidable numerical schemes in lively analogic terms.... Gann has also assembled the best-documented account of Nancarrow's life to date."
Philip Rupprecht, Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter

return to the home page