George Rochberg, Music Theory and “Freund Coffee”

George Rochberg

A picture of Rochberg that hangs in Linton’s Studio given to him by the composer.

Twice a year we feel compelled to do a giant overhaul in the area of tidiness. Once, during that transition from the blistery cold to the gradually more-pleasant warmth of spring – collectively and rightly known as ‘spring cleaning’; and then again, as we prepare for the onslaught of company during the fast-approaching holiday season. Much to my wife’s chagrin this typically consists of me transferring one giant stack of papers from location A to albeit a much “neater” stack of papers at location B – generally just a few inches away.

Refinersfire composer Mike Linton was perhaps engaged in his own version of this ritual when he came across a letter written to him by the late great American composer George Rochberg. In it Rochberg responds to Mike Linton’s proposal for a biography (the “offer”) and talks about the first chapter of Linton’s music theory book Play On. Such a magnificent treasure to just stumble upon, and the language that Rochberg uses is a gem in and of itself, I begged Mike to let me scan it and post at least part of it here for everyone to read. The handwriting is somewhat difficult to make out so I’ve transcribed it as best I can.

And if someone can tell me where I can get some of this “Freund coffee” this day in age I would be greatly appreciative!

Rochberg letter - p1



Rochberg letter - p2



Rochberg letter - p3

Jan. 17, 1996

Dear Mike,

I’ve read your letter of Jan. 11 a couple of times, pondering your “offer” — and your reasons for it.  More on that in a minute.  First, I wanted to say a few words about your “What is Music” chap Uno of your theory book.  It is as fresh a point of view as I can imagine about very thorny questions.  Your writing style is  [?] engaging.  I said to Gene:  It reminds me of what when we were young (before WWII) we called “Freund Coffee”:  a delightful concoction on the top of which floated a layer of heavy cream that had been carefully spooned in — ever so slowly — so that when you sipped it (you never “drank” it down) the first sensation was of something wonderfully cool and sweet, the second of the hot, dark fluid we simply call “coffee.”  Like many wonderful things of that era (habits of mind, words, phrases, mixed metaphors like “intellectual passion”) “Freund coffee” has just disappeared (and cappuccino is no adequate substitute or replacement).  On the surface your style is casual, conversational, easy, enjoyable but underneath heavy dark stuff, knotty matters not so easy to unravel.  I didn’t think it was possible any longer to present music to undergraduates (or anyone) this way. . .

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