I was a student of Hugh Aitken during my time at William Paterson College, and he was primarily known to music students as the teacher of “Form and Analysis,” the third-year component of the music theory courses, and a notoriously a tough grader. I was lucky to become friends with Hugh due to my interest in composition. I reached out to him before Form and Analysis began classes, and he offered to look over some of my music. I provided scores, and then he invited me for a walk on campus that went through wooded areas while he asked me questions about my work. He seemed brilliant and intellectually aggressive, but I also sensed that he was curious about me in a nice way. I learned later that he had studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Julliard School in New York, had taught at Julliard for twenty years in the Literature and Materials of Music program, and still had strong ties to the school.
We had this walk during the first week of school in 1976, and his class started during the same week. I believe it was on the first day that he gave us one of his organizing principles of the course. This came in the form of three quotes; these first two are from Hegel:
“The true is the whole”
“Nature has neither shell nor kernel”
He invited us to ponder these before the next class, and said that he would give us the third quote sometime later in the semester. The ensuing discussion was stimulating, and is some type of testament to the staying power of these ideas that I have never forgotten the quotes.
Aitken liked to call his approach ‘holistic analysis’ and
said that by analogy his course looked at music through a telescope, while Dr. Jeff Kresky's course
(my second year theory teacher, and also for private composition lessons) looked at music through a microscope. If this was an accurate description then for
me both points of view were valid and invaluable in fostering my growth. And to be accurate, we all stared through the microscope many times during his class. The first piece we studied was the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite in C Major, and toward the end of the class we had to do a thorough and accurate harmonic analysis of the first movement of the Franck Violin Sonata.
Hugh gave me a paper he had written with many of his ideas ("The Split Fifth"), I still have it, and then saw that he published a book in 1997 called “The Piece as a Whole: Studies in Holistic Musical Analysis” (available on amazon and other outlets) that is an expansion of the paper and definitely a good read.
He never gave us the third quote directly, but hinted at it on the last day of class – three words found in Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” Act V Scene II. We rushed to look it up:
“Ripeness is all”
I found ultimately that Hugh was a tough grader because he expected students to really know their stuff and did not stand for anything less. We got along well, and I’ve kept the quotes in mind about many pursuits and disciplines, as well as with life itself. He was a true artist, and I was lucky to cross paths with him.