Lee Hyla

Amnesia Breaks (1990)

Amnesia Breaks was commissioned by Quintet of the Americas with funding provided by the New York State Council on the Arts in 1990 and was premiered by them the same year. Lee was another NY “Downtown” composer introduced to the group by oboist Matt Sullivan. The piece involves extreme contrasts wild and raw with gentle and calm. Directions in the score include words such as “honking”. “emphatic,” “jagged”, “abrasive,” “with abandon,” “bluntly,” “exuberantly,” “relentlessly,” “frenzied,” “acerbic,” “aggressive,” “sputtering,” “pointed accents,” “brutal and sustained,” shriek,” “ferocious, “wild and emphatic,” “heavy, with grit,” as well as “veiled,” “calm,” “like a waltz,“ “suspended, sustained,” “delicately,” and at the end “whispered.”  

The work is recorded on the CRI label Quintet of the Americas Self Portrait

Parts and score available at

Lee (Leon Joseph) Hyla (1952-2014) was an award-winning American composer from Niagara Falls, New York. He held degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music and SUNY – Stony Brook. He was part of the New York Downtown arts scene for over ten years. In 1992 he returned to Boston to teach at the New England Conservatory, where he eventually became co-chairman of the composition department. In September, 2007 he left for Chicago to become the Harry N. and Ruth F. Wyatt Chair of Music Composition at Northwestern University. He left us way to early. We are grateful for this piece he left us.

Lee Hyla’s music is a mix of influences of postwar American Expressionism represented by composers such as Stephan Wolpe and Elliott Carter, the gritty urban style of avant-garde Jazz, and aspects of the rougher styles of Punk Rock.  

Notable among his works are the 1984 Pre-Pulse Suspended for chamber orchestra, Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra No. 2 (1991), Howl (1993), written for the Kronos Quartet and Allen Ginsberg’s recitation of his famous poem, and the 1996 Trans, for chamber orchestra.

Lee Hyla wrote for numerous well-known performers including Tim Smith, Tim Berne, Rhonda Rider, Stephen Drury, Mia Chung, Judith Gordon, Laura Frautschi, Midori, Vadim Repin and Mary Nessinger, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Kronos Quartet (with Allen Ginsberg), Speculum Musicae, Lydian String Quartet, Boston Musica Viva, Firebird Ensemble, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. He received commissions from the Koussevitsky, Fromm, Barlow and Naumburg Foundations, Mary Flagler Charitable Trust, Concert Artist’s Guild, and was the recipient of two Meet the Composer/Reader’s Consortium Commissions. He was also the recipient of the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Goddard Lieberson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Rome Prize. His music is available on the Nonesuch, New World, Avant, CRI, Tzadik and BMOP Sound labels.

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