We remember a consummate teacher with a gentle and unpretentious manner who laid observations and insights before us to accept or not. His very instructive composition lessons showed me my own compositions — and the work of my peers —through his ears. When he paused at moments lacking clarity, those invariably were the stumbling blocks in our musical journeys. His possessed knowledge of the repertoire vast in reach and minute in focus. Who among us Brandeis composers did he not sent to some measure in some score to consult a particular detail of relevance to our own work, or to a composer’s work in seminar? As I write this, I remember being sent on one such errand, to Brahms’s A-Major Violin Sonata; something I had written evoked in Marty the unusual and idiosyncratic C-sharp-minor/major prolongation at the end of the Allegro Amabile’s development section.
During composition lessons or in seminar analyses of the repertoire, he delivered characteristically compelling and entertaining observations springing from his lifetime of rumination. Playing through a student’s work, he could look bemused, there could be a belly laugh; there could be a diplomatic pause as he imagined how to say what had to be said. If he was considering something that played with formal convention, let us say, in a challenging and compelling way, his discussion would invariably include a hand hovering before the score, the palm slowly undulating, the thumb reversing direction; his voice explaining expectations and subversions in lilting waves, back and forth, somehow conveying the richness of contrasting flavors in a Haydnesque soup. One came away experiencing listening as first and foremost a visceral exercise, while realizing that it is the brain’s duty to track and explain its inclinations and dispositions based on a rigorous analysis of the literature, that is to say, based on reflection on one’s experience of prior practice.
He was at once an ingenuous, open-minded, and highly intellectual. Generous as a teacher, he gave student’s interpretations his full consideration. If he agreed with you, you had a special day, especially if he had not thought of it; if he disagreed, he led you Socratically to his persuasion, and you were glad of it.
I called my classmate and friend Jeffrey Hayes, who, unaware of Marty’s death, had been, for his own reasons, thinking of Marty in the past few weeks. “I felt like, when I met him, my life changed. He had the capacity to change people. He had a way of pulling out my own liveliness and delight in ideas, as no teacher ever has. I’ve carried that idea about him for 30 years. And Marty told me,” he said, “that you should find your composer, and ‘ Throw yourself into that one composer’ — know all of the music, every biographical detail, and you will understand what it is to be a musical personality and an artist.” “So, whom did you choose as your composer?” I ask. “Schubert. Marty helped me with it for a year.” I remembered how Marty credited Beethoven’s influence as formative in how he thought about music.
“And if Marty did that for himself, who was it — Beethoven?” “Yes, you’re probably right.”
“Do you recall,” I ask, “Marty’s analysis of the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” with his argument that the hypermeasure accent is shifted near the end of the Trio, consequently shifting the placement of the accent at the repeat of the theme, from what it had been before — so that the recapitulation of the Scherzo is different?” Yes, he did, and in our back and forth, Jeff said, “It’s a testament to the wonder of Marty that you and I are debating here the details of that class interpretation thirty years later.” (I was happy to find that Boykan later preserved his analysis in his second book, The Power of the Moment: Essays on the Western Musical Canon, in Chapter V, “Resetting the Clock.”)
I remember a group of composition students asking Professor Boykan what one might do with a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory. He teased, “That and a dollar will get you on the T.” (Yes, the price was one dollar at that time.) Of course, Brandeis enjoyed, then as now, a well-deserved reputation, and then as now, it often achieves considerably better than that. More likely he meant, in his playful way, that we are not doing this work for fame or fortune. Feeling depressed in those days by society’s apparent lack of interest in the world of contemporary music, Jeff raised his concern with Marty. “Think how Bach,” Marty said, “had his congregation, and how we have ours.”
This gratifyingly points me to the preface of David and Mendel’s Bach Reader at the start of tonal counterpoint courses: “Bach had good reason to assume his successors would not perform the works he wrote any more frequently than he performed compositions written by his predecessors…” (The Bach Reader, ed. by Hans David and Arthur Mendel, p. 43.)
In a long conversation after my dissertation defense, with but us two left in the building, he told me, “I have been lucky in my career, because I have been able to hear every work played at least once.” It seemed to me to be both a true statement — that such a thing is indeed very lucky — and, at the same time, a humble statement, for a composer of his stature.
Marty’s wife, the artist Susan Schwalb survives him. Marty would joyfully tell his students the story of how they met. Once he shared that they even had an aesthetic affinity, in that they shared a tendency to a kind of objective, classical style; perhaps “Apollonian” is a fitting word.
An impressive list of works, honors, and other accomplishments may be found at the composer’s website HERE.
Currently serving as cantor at Temple Shalom in Medford, Harold Stern received a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Theory, with voice as primary instrument, from the Eastman School of Music (1986). He went on to receive a Masters Degree in Music Theory from the University of Michigan (1989) and a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory from Brandeis University (2001).
An official statement from Brandeis follows.
Martin Boykan, a world-renowned composer, inspirational teacher, published author and prodigious performer, died peacefully at his home on March 6, 2021 at the age of 89. He leaves behind his wife, Susan Schwalb, and his niece Ina Pour El and her family. His funeral took place in New York City on March 8, 2021.
Born in 1931, Boykan studied composition with Walter Piston, Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith, and piano with Eduard Steuermann. He received a BA from Harvard University, 1951, and an MM from Yale University, 1953. In 1953–55 he was in Vienna on a Fulbright Fellowship, and upon his return founded the Brandeis Chamber Ensemble whose other members included Robert Koff (Juilliard Quartet), Nancy Cirillo (Wellesley), Eugene Lehner (Kolisch Quartet) and Madeline Foley (Marlborough Festival). This ensemble performed widely with a repertory divided equally between contemporary music and the tradition. At the same time Boykan appeared regularly as a pianist with soloists such as Joseph Silverstein and Jan de Gaetani. In 1964–65, he was the pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Boykan taught at Brandeis University from 1957 until his retirement in 2009, after which he served as the Irving G. Fine Professor of Music, emeritus. He has been Composer in Residence at the Composers’ Conference, Maurice Abravanel Distinguished Visiting Composer at the University of Utah, Visiting Professor at Columbia University, New York University and Bar Ilan University and has lectured widely in institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and The American Academy in Berlin. Over the years he has taught many hundreds of students including such well known composers as Steve Mackey, Peter Lieberson, Marjorie Merryman and Ross Bauer.
He received the Jeunesse Musicales award for his String Quartet No.1 in 1967 and the League ISCM award for Elegy in 1982. Other awards include a Rockefeller grant, NEA award, Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright, as well as a recording award and the Walter Hinrichsen Publication Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1994, he was awarded a Senior Fulbright to Israel. He has received numerous commissions from chamber ensembles as well as commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress and the Fromm Foundation. In 2011, Boykan was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York.
Boykan has written for a wide variety of instrumental combinations including four string quartets, a concerto for large ensemble, many trios, duos and solo works, song cycles for voice and piano as well as instrumental ensembles and choral music. His symphony for orchestra and baritone solo was premiered by the Utah Symphony in 1993, and his concerto for violin and orchestra was premiered by Curtis Macomber in 2008 with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). His work is widely performed and has been presented by almost all of the current new music ensembles including the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, The New York New Music Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, the League ISCM, Earplay, Musica Viva and Collage New Music.
Boykan’s music is recorded by CRI, Albany Records, and BMOP. Scores are published by Mobart Music Press, and C.F. Peters, NYC. In 2004, a volume of essays, Silence and Slow Time: Studies in Musical Narrative, was published by Scarecrow Press (Rowman and Littlefield). In 2011, a second volume of essays, The Power of the Moment, was published by Pendragon Press.
Of Marty’s impact on Brandeis, composer and colleague Eric Chasalow writes, “The 1950s were still early days for Brandeis, and Marty was important to the development of the music department, along with those musicians most often identified in that role, such as Irving Fine and Leonard Bernstein. Marty’s amazing musicianship and intellect were part of the reason that Brandeis quickly emerged as one of the best places to study music and remains so to this day. I remember Milton Babbitt telling me only a few years before he died that Brandeis was then one of the very few remaining schools with a truly serious commitment to the study of music. If that is indeed true, it is in no small measure due to Marty’s influence. That is his legacy, and we will miss him terribly.”