Robert Carl (born July 12, 1954 in Bethesda, Maryland) is an American composer who currently resides in Hartford, Connecticut, where he is chair of the composition department at the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford.
Carl studied with Jonathan Kramer, George Rochberg, Ralph Shapey, and Iannis Xenakis. From each respectively, the composer has commented that he feels he learned about time, history, counterpoint/phrasing, and form. His music finds its roots in the spirit of eclectic juxtapositions, transcendentalism, and experiment embodied in the output of Charles Ives and other American "ultramodernists", including Carl Ruggles.
Carl’s music until 1997 tends to explore different styles, and to create unusual syntheses thereof. A history major as an undergraduate at Yale University, he has felt that the musical past is a fertile source to be manipulated for new expressive purposes. Duke Meets Mort (1992) is a saxophone quartet that interprets the harmonic changes of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo in the voice of Morton Feldman. Time/Memory/Shadow (1988) is a double trio (piano quintet and harp) based on a march written in the composer’s adolescence, which is slowly “excavated” in the course of the piece, and only revealed at the end.
From 1998 on, starting with Open for string trio, Carl’s music has become less referential. Since 2001 he has developed a technique of basing his harmonies on the overtone series, with common partials above different fundamentals serving as pivots for progressions and modulations. In American Music in the Twentieth Century, critic Kyle Gann described Carl's more recent style: "(he) has settled into a more serene, meditative idiom, but still with a dissonant edge." More recent works that represent this approach include The Wind’s Trace Rests on Leaves and Waves (2005) for string quintet (premiered by the Miami String Quartet and Robert Black), Marfantasie (2004) for electric guitar and large ensemble, Shake the Tree for piano four-hands (2005), A Musical Enquiry Into the Sublime and Beautiful (2006–07) for chamber orchestra, La Ville Engloutie (2007) for wind ensemble, Fourth Symphony (2008), and Piano Quintet "Search" (2012). Carl also frequently collaborates with sculptor Karen McCoy, creating sound components of installation art works, including pieces for the Sculpture Key Festivals of 2009 and 2010, and the 2013 Wintergreen Festival.
Since 1994, Carl has been a critic for Fanfare magazine, where he writes extensively on new music recordings. In addition, he has completed a book on Terry Riley’s In C, published in 2009 by Oxford University Press. His interest in Japanese music (Carl often performs his own music on the shakuhachi) led to a residency in Tokyo in spring 2007, which resulted in interviews with 25 contemporary Japanese composers. In 2013, Carl published "Eight Waves a Composer Will Ride in This Century" on an emerging common practice period that he observes in twenty-first-century compositional practice, based on the universality of music technology, globalism, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and sonic essentialism.
- Orchestral and ensemble
- Symphony No. 2 "Liberty and/or Death" (1989–1992)
- Marfantasie for electric guitar and large ensemble (2004)
- A Musical Enquiry Into the Sublime and Beautiful for chamber orchestra (2006–2007)
- La Ville Engloutie for wind ensemble (2007)
- Symphony No. 4 "The Ladder" (2008)
- Rocking Chair Serenade for string orchestra (2013)
- Chamber music
- String Quartet No. 1 "A Path between Cloud and Light" (1985)
- Roundabout for contrabass and fixed electronic part (1988)
- Time/Memory/Shadow for double trio (piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, harp or synthesizer/sampler) (1988)
- Duke Meets Mort for saxophone quartet (1992)
- A Sampler of the Senses for viola, cello and piano (1994)
- Open for string trio (1998)
- Violin Sonata No. 2 "Angel Skating" (1999)
- String Quartet No. 2 "Fear of Death/Love of Life" (2001)
- Piano Trio No. 2 "The Blossom" (2002)
- Excavating the Perfect Farewell for viola and piano (2003)
- The Wind's Trace Rests on Leaves and Waves for string quintet (2005)
- A Clean Sweep for shakuhachi and Max/MSP (2005)
- River's Bend for flute duo (2012)
- Piano Quintet, Search (2013)
- Piano Sonata No.1 "Spiral Dances" (1984)
- Braided Bagatelles for solo piano (2001)
- Shake the Tree for piano four-hands (2005)
- Our Heart and Home Is with Infinitude for soprano and piano (1998)
- Simic Songs, 15 Madrigals for 4 voices on poems of Charles Simic (2004)
- Geography of Loss, for soprano, baritone, chamber choir, and eight instrumentalists (2010)
- "Robert Carl : Chair of Composition Department, Professor of Composition and Theory". Harttweb.hartford.edu. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- "Robert Carl: The Time Keeper". NewMusicBox. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- Carl, Robert. "Macro-Structure in Carl Ruggles's Sun-Treader: A Fearful Symmetry", Sonus, Vol.15, No.2 Spring 1995
- Gann, Kyle. American Music in the Twentieth Century. New York: Schirmer Books, 1997. Pg. 250.
- Kyle Gann. "The Symphonic Temperament". PostClassic. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- "from the archives". Artcritical.com. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- NewMusicBox: "A Conversation with Robert Carl, author of Terry Riley's In C" (January 14, 2010). Robert Carl in conversation with Frank J. Oteri.
- [dead link]
- "Book review: In C". Sequenza21.com. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- "Eight Waves a Composer Will Ride in This Century". NewMusicBox. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- Gann, Kyle. Liner Notes for Carl's Music for Strings. New World Records. (2006)
- Smigel, Eric. "Liner Notes for Carl’s From Japan". New World Records. (2012)
- Smigel, Eric. “Robert Carl”, The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. (2013)
- Robert Carl: The Time Keeper by Molly Sheridan
- Robert Carl interview by Bruce Duffie
- Robert Carl's website
- Recordings of Carl's work available on the DRAM music database
- Recording of Carl's work available on Innova Records
- Robert Carl's publisher: American Composers Alliance