If the truth be told, Mr. Nancarrow, born in Texarkana, Ark., but a citizen of Mexico for the last 30 years, has not always been easy to find. He is a gentle and grandfatherly figure; his reputation is that of the mystery man of modern music whose isolation is as much a result of choice as of circumstance. Even now, as acclaim finally descends on him for his pioneering work on the player piano, he remains much better known to his fellow musicians than to the concertgoing public.
The composer and conductor Gyorgy Ligeti, for instance, calls Mr. Nancarrow’s work ”the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives.” Since first coming across some of Mr. Nancarrow’s piano pieces in a Paris record store in 1980, he has vigorously championed Mr. Nancarrow’s jagged and elaborately contrapuntal music, both from the podium and in print.
”His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, constructive and at the same time emotional,” Mr. Ligeti has written. ”For me, it is the best music by any living composer of today.”
Mr. Nancarrow also has acquired, much to his surprise, something of a cult following in the pop music world. The guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, whose own work reflects Mr. Nancarrow’s fondness for dense textures and multiple interweaving melodic lines, says he has been an ardent admirer since 1967, when he was introduced to the composer’s work by Jimi Hendrix’s recording engineer.
Mr. Zappa said that what initially struck him about Mr. Nancarrow’s work was ”that the mechanics of design are often more important than their relation to normal harmonic concepts.” With the passage of time, he added, his appreciation for Mr. Nancarrow’s ”unique spiritual build and expression of character, his willingness to take chances,” has also grown. ”In terms of individualism, I think he ranks up there with Webern, Stravinsky, Varese and Schoenberg,” Mr. Zappa said in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. ”There’s been nothing like him before or after.” [Source]