Ketzel, Feline Composer, Dies at age 19

Sad news about a feline composer, from the New York Times:

Ketzel, who won a prize for piano composition in 1997 and went on to be featured in a book, “The World of Women in Classical Music,” died Wednesday in Manhattan. She was 19 and lived on the Upper West Side.

Ketzel was a black-and-white cat.

In the article you can see a picture of Ketzel (whose name means “cat” in Yiddish), and a recording of her one composition, Piece for Piano, Four Paws. It is descending pitch-wise, but has a good sense of timing with a “beginning, middle and end.” The work was transcribed by one of Ketzel’s humans, Morris Moshe Cotel, who retired as chairman of the composition department at the Peabody Conservatory in 2000 and became a rabbi. It would be interesting to see, and even perform the score of Ketzel’s piece at some point.

Her piece one an award in the Paris New Music Review’s One-Minute Competition, and led to exchange between Professor Cotel and Allan Forte, with this observation:

long the way, Professor Cotel said he realized that Ketzel’s “exquisite atonal miniature” used only 10 pitches of the chromatic scale. “The two missing pitches are G natural and B-flat” — the opening notes of Domenico Scarlatti’s famous Fugue in G minor, known as the “Cat’s Fugue.”

Our thoughts go out to Ketzel’s surving human, Aliya Cheskis-Cotel.

Happy 102nd Birthday to Elliott Carter

This evening we at CatSynth wish a slightly-belated 102nd birthday to Elliott Carter. His birthday was this past Saturday, December 11. An inspiring figure, not only has he lived to an impressive age, but continues to be a prolific composer. Indeed, as reported on Sequenza21, he attended a concert in Toronto entirely of works he has composed since turning 100. They also mention that earlier last week he attended a concert in honor of that young upstart Pierre Boulez, who turned 85 this year.

It was also interesting to see him placed in the context of the last century, from a personal connection with Charles Ives, one of the first “truly modern” American composers stretching to the current era. His work, like Ives and those that followed in that tradition, is very often very complex and often very precise in detail (and challenging to perform). Of interest to those like me who are also into mathematics alongside music, many of his formal methods with pitches and harmonies used more complex combinatorial structures than earlier serial composers, including collections of all possible pitches of a particular length – an approach that would later be categories as “musical set theory.” Many of these ideas have been collected in the Harmony Book which was published in 2002 (when Carter would have been 93).