SOUNDS FROM THE FIELD – Anthony Burgess in Iowa City: How Clockwork Orange’s Author Came to Write a Symphony for the University of Iowa

by Nathan Platte

anthony burgessThe English novelist Anthony Burgess visited Iowa City in 1975 to teach at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. His course received endorsement in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Daily Iowan. “I would like to thank the Iowa English Department for arranging such a unique class as Problems of the Modern Novel and for arranging to have Mr. Anthony Burgess teach this subject,” wrote Kevin Cookie. “I can honestly say that Anthony Burgess did present in fine form a considerable number of problems.”

In a move that distinguished him from other visiting writers, Burgess brought with him a new symphony. He had written it specially for James Dixon and the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra.

Explained Burgess:

I’d had a long-standing invitation to visit the University of Iowa, internationally known for, among other things, its Writers’ Workshop, but something always got in the way of acceptance. Then I received a letter from Jim Dixon—not the hero of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim but the conductor of the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra—asking me if I had anything in stock, musical of course not literary, that the orchestra might perform when, if, I came there. This seemed too good to be true. Neglect of my music by the orchestra of the Old World was what mainly turned me into a novelist, but most of this music had by now been blitzed, lost, torn up, and I had nothing in stock. So just before last Christmas I bought myself a half-hundredweight of scoring paper and starting writing a symphony.

Composition of the “Symphony in C” began in Italy, around Christmas of 1974. Burgess conceded that some passages were composed under the influence of “Christmas bibulosity,” though “the writing seems sober enough.” The rest was penned during a tour of the United States, with Burgess laboring mightily midst airport muzak. “Do the people responsible for this bland abomination,” mused Burgess, “realize that there are people around desperately trying to compose music of their own?”

When Mr. Dixon brought the work before the orchestra, Burgess responded with delight: “I attended the first rehearsal and was awed at the large competence of all those delectable kids in blue jeans…I had written over 30 books, but this was the truly great artistic moment.” It wasn’t all perfect, of course. Some of what Burgess had written needed fixing. Plus, “young people do not take kindly to pianissimo markings: they like to saw or blast away.”

Not all the blue-jeaned musicians were exactly kids. The bass section included Laird Addis, who had received his bachelors and Ph.D. degrees from UI and was serving as a philosophy professor. (In addition to his forty-year tenure as a UI faculty member, Laird spent decades playing in the Quad City Symphony and cofounded the Iowa City Community String Orchestra. His passing in 2018 is keenly felt.) The violin section was helped by the presence of Candace Wiebener, another UI alumna who was by then already serving as City High School’s Director of Orchestras. (She retired in 2012 and is active in the local music scene; she also plays in the Iowa City Community String Orchestra.) Googling the names of other musicians from the program produces a vivid illustration of what happens to young musicians who train intensively together and then disperse across the country: they teach, perform, and grow musical communities.

concert program symphony orchestra october 22 1975
Program from the October 22, 1975 UI Symphony Orchestra concert

In A Clockwork Counterpoint, Paul Phillips begins his study of Burgess’s music and music-infused writings with the Iowa City premiere of the symphony. His reason is simple: the concert affirmed within Burgess his calling to write music. This was no mere pat on the back; it was a rebalancing of the soul. Phillips notes that “unlike Paul Bowles and Bruce Montgomery, who compartmentalized writing and composing as independent activities, Burgess constantly sought ways to unite both halves of his creative personality.” It was not always easy, as demand for Burgess’s writings far outstripped interest in his many–over 250–compositions. It is telling, for instance, that Burgess compared his own exasperation over A Clockwork Orange’s rampant notoriety to a composer’s plight: Rachmaninoff, who came to begrudge audiences’ obsession with his Prelude in C# Minor. Upon hearing the UI Symphony Orchestra play his own opus, Burgess realized that Iowa City was that rare space where his talents as writer and composer might be appreciated together, where the problems of the modern novel might coexist peaceably with a new symphony: “how blessed the opportunity, however brief, to communicate without preaching, without being groused at for delivering no or the wrong message—to communicate in pure sound, form, pattern.”

Burgess left the manuscript score of his symphony—inscribed affectionately to James Dixon–with the university, where it is kept in the Canter Rare Book Room of the Rita Benton Music Library. Whatever distractions the Christmas celebrations and airport muzak posed, they have left relatively few signs of distress in the score itself, which is written neatly in ink. At one point Burgess lost or emptied his black pen, forcing an abrupt to switch to blue ink in the middle of the first movement. There are also some irreverent remarks printed in Arabic. Evidently proud of these idiosyncratic improprieties, Burgess referenced them in multiple commentaries on the symphony.

As a whole, the symphony exudes an affable eclecticism of styles, somewhat akin to the spirit of Leonard Bernstein’s concert works. Also similar to Bernstein, the music’s charismatic appeal to listeners is balanced by substantive challenges for players. No one gets off easy. Large swaths of the work flicker with rapid activity, intense contrasts in orchestral color, and rhythmically intricate handoffs. As a result, players must execute challenging passagework under very exposed circumstances. Burgess may have thought he was writing a symphony, but the players are tasked with a concerto for orchestra.

Given the sheer musical interest—and fun—of the symphony, it is surprising the work is not better known. (The symphony remains unpublished.) Dixon’s own intention to release a professional recording with the UI Symphony is a plan that remains to be realized by a future director.

Even so, Dixon’s invitation to Burgess and the composer’s enthusiastic response call us to reassess our own capacity for versatile creativity—as well as our opportunities to elicit such creativity from others. “It follows,” wrote Burgess, “that all novelists should also be symphonists and that their works should be performed in Iowa City. Good for their souls as well as for their primary craft. And it might also give them a chance to write gratefully about people like Jim Dixon and orchestras like the one he trains and conducts.”

The Story behind the Story

I learned about Burgess’s Iowa Symphony from Theodore Ziolkowski’s Music Into Fiction: Composers Writing, Compositions Imitated, which music librarian Katie Buehner helpfully displayed on the new book shelf. I checked out the book because I liked the title and then placed it carefully alongside other well-titled books in my office. When I finally got around to opening it, I was surprised to find a reference to the symphony’s premiere at UI.

A few searches in the catalog and further correspondences with Katie, Amy McBeth, and Christine Burke led to the printed program for the concert, Burgess’s manuscript score, and the university’s archival recording of the concert itself. Before seeing the score or hearing the recording, I was already hooked by Burgess’s program note, which introduced the symphony to listeners in terms that were alternately engrossing and endearingly self-deprecating. At this point, the story seemed to be taking me by the hand. Being the obliging sort, I followed.

I studied Burgess’s manuscript full score at the staff work table tucked behind the patron counter at the music library. This setup was different from my visits to collections with devoted tables for researchers. In those spaces—such as the University’s Special Collections–researchers are set up with rare materials at a large table and left to commune with their selected sources. Score study of Burgess’s symphony, in contrast, was fit alongside the daily work of student staff. My encounter with Burgess’s music happened amidst the inner workings of the library itself, as students Alex, Anastasia, Ramin, and Shelby bound new music scores, loaded book carts, and helped patrons. I liked being close to these familiar rhythms, which reminded me of working as a student employee at the University of Michigan music library. That early experience of being surrounded by music and music scholarship had helped me find my way; UI’s music library offers similar opportunities today.

And it is not a stretch to imagine Burgess approving as well, knowing that his music for Dixon and the UI Symphony contributes to the curiosity-driven economy of research, by which music-making sustains and is sustained by the efforts of staff and librarians. Burgess would be pleasantly surprised to know that the recording of the premiere has benefited from the library’s care. “The work went on to tape,” he noticed, “to be blurred by the magnetic apparatus used in airport security checks, eventually to be snarled up or to wear out or to be accidentally wiped off.” While nothing material lasts forever, the university’s records of that special Iowa City performance are for now well kept at the Rita Benton Music Library, where ongoing efforts to enliven local history—including historic premieres by our student ensembles—provide current students with means to pursue music studies and designs of their own.

Select Bibliography

Burgess, Anthony. “A Clockwork Orange Resucked (1986).” In A Clockwork Orange. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1962, 1986.
Burgess, Anthony. “How I Wrote My Symphony.” New York Times. 28 December 1975, 73.
Burgess, Anthony. “Symphony in C.” Note published in the University Symphony Orchestra program. 22 October 1975.
Cookie, Kevin. “Burgess as Teacher.” Daily Iowan. 31 October 1975.
Phillips, Paul. A Clockwork Counterpoint: The Music and Literature of Anthony Burgess. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010.
Ziolkowski, Theodore. Music into Fiction: Composers Writing, Compositions Imitated. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2017.

About the Author

Nathan Platte’s research and teaching interests include American film music, opera, collaborative creativity, and musical adaptations across media. He has presented papers at national and international conferences, including the Society for American Music, Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the American Musicological Society, and the British Library. His articles and projects have received recognition from the University of Michigan (Louise E. Cuyler Prize in Musicology), Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (Dissertation Fellowship), the American Musicological Society (Publication Subvention), and Society for American Music (Mark Tucker Award and Wiley Housewright Dissertation Award).

Platte’s publications explore film music of Hollywood’s studio era from a variety of angles, including the collaborative process of film scoring, the intersection of technology and music, the role of studio orchestras, and soundtrack albums. His articles have appeared in many journals, including The Journal of Musicology, 19th-Century Music, and The Journal of the Society for American Music. Platte’s work has also been published in anthologies, including Music in Epic Film: Listening to Spectacle (Routledge, 2017), where he contributed an essay on the Tara theme from Gone With the Wind, and Sound: Dialogue, Music, and Effects (Rutgers University Press, 2015), to which he contributed a chapter on production practices in postwar Hollywood. Platte’s books include The Routledge Film Music Sourcebook (Routledge, 2012; coedited with James Wierzbicki and Colin Roust) and Franz Waxman’s “Rebecca”: A Film Score Guide (Scarecrow Press, 2012; coauthored with David Neumeyer). His most recent book, Making Music in Selznick’s Hollywood (Oxford University Press, 2018), investigates the scores for films like Gone With the Wind, Since You Went Away, and Spellbound.

Platte received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, where he also completed bachelor’s degrees in history and trombone performance. Before joining the faculty at the University of Iowa in 2011, he taught at Michigan and Bowling Green State University.

Students Investigate: A Deeper Dive into H. S. Perkins’s The Nightingale

William Oscar Perkins and Henry Southwick Perkins, The Nightingale: A Choice Collection of Songs, Chants and Hymns, Designed for the Use of Juvenile Classes, Public Schools, and Seminaries; Containing Also a Complete and Concise System of Elementary Instruction (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1860)

by C. A. Norling

h s perkins the nightingale title page
Title page of Perkins’s The Nightingale

Advertised in University catalogues as providing “peculiar advantages to students,” the University of Iowa’s first music courses utilized a repertoire grounded in larger, nineteenth-century trends in American music education and represent the subject’s institutional foundation at the University prior to the establishment of a permanent School of Music.1 The academic sessions, held annually at the local Normal Academy of Music, were created to “give complete courses of instruction” in music performance, “both vocal and instrumental.”2 Written in part by the institution’s founding principal Henry Southwick Perkins, The Nightingale demonstrates a direct connection to the beginnings of American musical education itself. Originating in the eighteenth century, singing schools flourished throughout the United States with the use of simple songs arranged in three or four parts, a method standardized by eminent music educator Lowell Mason of Boston in the 1840s.3 Perkins himself studied under Mason and operated singing schools nationwide and, as such, prefaced his manual with a course of instruction for music beginners.

Beyond its pedagogical contents, The Nightingale features nearly two hundred pages of part-songs composed by prominent American composers that often reflect nationalistic themes. From the patriotic “Hail Columbia” and “Our Country’s Flag” to hymns by Perkins himself, the academy founded its day-to-day music instruction on domestic educational methods and a national repertoire.4 Perkins’s own patriotic anthem, “My Native Hills” (shown here), is descriptive of both its American surroundings and democratic ideals when it asserts that “my native hills are thine.” In addressing the goals of the volume, Perkins wrote that the selections are “pleasing and practical in character . . . [and] may contribute largely to the pleasure and education of the rising public,” a testament to egalitarian impulses of the nation’s then-budding public music education.5

page from perkins the nightingale song my native land
Note the penciled annotation in the title of this song from Perkins’s Nightingale

1 Catalogue of the State University of Iowa for the Year 1866-67 (Davenport, IA: Lush, Lane & Co., 1866), 47.
2 Henry Southwick Perkins, “The Iowa State Normal Academy of Music at Iowa City,” Annals of Iowa 1872, no. 1 (1872): 62.
3 Edward B. Birge, History of Public School Music in the United States (Washington D.C.: Music Educator’s National Conference, 1966), 26.
4 Foundational American music historian Oscar Sonneck wrote extensively regarding the origins of “Hail Columbia” and overtly draws ideological associations between the anthem and the “Star Spangled Banner.” Oscar Sonneck, “Critical Notes on the origin of ‘Hail Columbia,’” Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft 3, no. 1 (1901): 139.
5 William Oscar Perkins and Henry Southwick Perkins, The Nightingale: A Choice Collection of Songs, Chants and Hymns, Designed for the Use of Juvenile Classes, Public Schools, and Seminaries; Containing Also a Complete and Concise System of Elementary Instruction (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1860), [3].

About the Author

cody norling headshotCody Norling is a PhD student in historical musicology at the University of Iowa. Apart from his research on American operatic traditions, he maintains research interests Midwestern History and has contributed writing to the Annals of Iowa and a forthcoming volume on nineteenth-century identity formation in the Midwest. Cody is currently the instructor for a course titled “Midwestern Identities” in the University of Iowa’s Department of Rhetoric.

image of philip bezanson, aaron copland, himie voxman, and james dixon

Students Investigate: A Deeper Dive into the SUI concert of Copland compositions, March 5, 1958

State University of Iowa Orchestra concert of Copland compositions, March 5, 1958
Represented by original concert program and picture of Himie Voxman and Aaron Copland from the composers 1958 visit to Iowa City

by Jenna Sehmann
photograph of copland visiting the university of iowa in 1958
left to right: Philip Bezanson, Aaron Copland, Himie Voxman, and James Dixon

On March 5, 1958, Aaron Copland attended a concert by the State University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra as an honored guest. Copland’s visit, culminating in this performance, reflected as much upon Copland’s achievements as it did upon the achievements of American Music, and the musical achievements at the University of Iowa.

Copland’s visit to the University was well received by students, faculty, and local residents. Attendance was at full capacity for the Symphony Orchestra concert as well as a lecture Copland gave titled “The Emergence of American Music.” In this lecture, Copland detailed that the “Emergence School of American Music” was “in the running,” implying that American Music could stand up to its European predecessors.1 This emergence that Copland referenced in his lecture is reflected in his own compositions performed by the SUI Symphony.

At this concert, the orchestra performed three works from a wide range of Copland’s compositional style and time periods: The Suite from the Ballet Billy The Kid, Copland’s Third Symphony, and a concert version of his opera The Tender Land. In a review by Donald Justice, the orchestra was praised for their performance, noting that Billy The Kid and Third Symphony were “two excellent performances.”2 The performance of Copland’s rarely performed opera The Tender Land was especially suitable for the composer’s trip to the Midwest. The opera is set on a Midwest farm, making it particularly reflective of the lives and upbringings of many students and community members.3

University of Iowa symphony concert program march 5 1958
State University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra concert program from March 5, 1958 featuring works by visiting composer, Aaron Copland


1 “Emergence School of Music In the Running: Copland,” The Daily Iowan, March 4, 1958,
2 Justice, Donald, “Chasing Billy- Copland’s Music- Pleases Audiences,” The Daily Iowan, March 7, 1958,
3 Perlis, Vivian, “The Tender Land,” Oxford Music Online, Grove Music Online omo-9781561592630-e-5000905177. (accessed September 10, 2018).

About the Authorjenna sehmann

Oboist Jenna Sehmann is a performer and teacher currently located in Iowa City, IA. Ms. Sehmann serves as the oboe studio teacher at Cornell College (Mount Vernon, IA) and Mount Mercy University (Cedar Rapids, IA). She is also the Teaching Assistant for the oboe studio at the University of Iowa, where she is pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts in performance and pedagogy under Dr. Courtney Miller.

She holds a Master of Music degree in oboe performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Music degree in both music performance and music industry from Eastern Kentucky University. Regionally, Jenna has performed with Orchestra Iowa, Dubuque Symphony, Dayton Philharmonic, Evansville Philharmonic, and the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas. To learn more about Jenna, visit her website

STUDENT EXHIBIT: In Our Lives: The Beatles Yesterday and Today


IN OUR LIVES was designed in the Fall 2018 offering of Donna’s “World of The Beatles” course. Participating students studied her materials–donated in Donna’s name to the Rita Benton Music Library–and worked together to flesh out the different themes that now define their multimedia, multidirectional account of the enduring legacy of The Beatles that stretches across each fin. The exhibit design is a tribute to the rich learning experiences Donna created for University of Iowa students, and a preview of the valuable learning experiences her collection will support for years to come.

We invite you to journey through the World of The Beatles in the following ways.


panel 3 from the in our lives exhibitsEach of the four exhibit panels represent the combined efforts of the corresponding topic subgroups (notated as “Deeper Dives” on the front of each Exhibit Panel).

The Musicians: Band Image/Identity, Working Together, Going Solo, Songwriting

  • Who were The Beatles as Public Figures? Do details of particular songs speak to their Personal/Public experiences?

The Music: Catalog Overview, Albums Early, Albums Late 1, Albums Late 2

  • What behind-the-scenes events became factors in the production of their albums?

Beatlemania!: Tours, Magical Mysteries, Yellow Submarines, Theories

  • What was a Beatles concert tour like? How did other types of Beatles media (e.g., fan newsletters, magazines, films, etc.) sustain mass interest in The Beatles? What does the “Paul is Dead” hoax teach us about Beatles fandom?

The Beatles of Today: Managing, Symbolizing, Celebrating, Recreating?

  • Who were the “fifth Beatles”? What can we learn from classic Beatles art/imagery about how The Beatles are remembered? What does it mean to pay tribute to a group like The Beatles?

Student Collection Highlights and Blog Posts

As part of their work on the exhibit, participating students familiarized themselves with the vast array of reference books, documentaries, and Beatles memorabilia that Donna’s family donated to the library in her name. Visit the Rita Benton Music Library website throughout the semester to read blog posts by the participating students, faculty, and library staff, which will examine the objects and themes of this exhibit in greater depth.