Henry Brant (1913-2008) was America’s foremost composer of acoustic spatial music. The positioning of groups of performers in specific locations, both on stage and throughout the concert hall, was an essential factor in his work. Brant’s pioneering spatial music has been guided by three ideas taken from Charles Ives: spatial separation, uncoordinated rhythm and the polyphonic possibilities of simultaneous, contrasted styles. Henry’s masterly use of position and directionality enabled the listener to discern details of timbre, texture and line not perceptible in conventional proscenium arrangements.
Brant regarded space as music’s “fourth dimension” (after pitch, time and timbre). In his first spatial work, Antiphony I (1953), each of five, widely separated orchestral groups plays music of different timbres, textures and styles. Antiphony I predates Stockhausen’s Gruppen by five years.
Brant’s experiments have shown that space affects harmony, polyphony, texture and timbre in specific and powerful ways, which result in a radically expanded range and intensity of musical expression. Electronic materials are not used in his music, nor did he permit amplification.
In 2002 Brant was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Ice Field. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he received two Guggenheim Fellowships and was the first American composer to win the Prix Italia. Brant was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan University, and the Paul Sacher Foundation in Switzerland has acquired his complete musical archive.
Widely recognized as a master orchestrator, Brant experimented with new combinations of acoustic timbres throughout his career, in his own music and in unique transcriptions of music by other composers. In 1994, Brant completed A Concord Symphony, his orchestration of Ives’s Concord Sonata, a project begun in 1958. Brant also completed the Unfinished Symphony of Schubert by orchestrating the scherzo and finale from that composer’s Death and the Maiden string quartet.
Born in Montreal of American parents, Henry Brant moved to New York in 1929, where he worked commercially in radio, film, ballet and jazz. In the 1930’s and 1940’s he completed orchestration projects for Antheil, Copland, Thomson, Douglas Moore and others. He taught at Columbia University, Juilliard and Bennington College. Between 1960 and 1988, he orchestrated ten films by Alex North. Brant lived in Santa Barbara, California from 1981 until his death in 2008.