Friday, 13 July 2012

14 and 15 July


Intro:  Fanfare For The Common Man: Copland (3.15 min)  

Hullo.  This is Classical Break, and

I’m Rupert Kirkham.  Today’s programme,

researched and written by Mike Burrows,

is a tribute to the music

that established the United States as

a pioneer-nation in the mainstream

of cosmopolitan art-music.

We have just heard the Fanfare

For The Common Man by Aaron

Copland.  Written after the United States

had entered the Second World War,

to a commission awarded by the

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, this is a

crucial work in the history of

North American music, and must have

seemed so from its first play-

through.  At a time when the

world seemed nightmarishly split along racial

lines, a New York Jew had

written music for a great nation

of races, seeming to express the

idealism and determination of this nation’s

response to Pearl Harbour.  In gong-

and timpani-strokes, massed trumpets, more

throaty horns and trombones, fourths, fifths

and triads of purity and brazen

clashes, the stride and power of

the titan is evoked with permutations

of a phrase and answer:  but

in deliberate white-note music, this

is American humanity on the march.

Copland said that he had written

as he imagined others were feeling. 

The Sleeping Dragon has been awoken. 

The brash circus-world of Sousa

marches or music-theatre jazz is

a world away.

We think of this music as

‘American’.  Actually, its jagged aesthetic owes

greatly to Stravinsky, Janacek and Les

Six as well as to what

might be characterized as a settler-

rhetoric.  Copland, like most of his

American contemporaries, studied in Paris.  

Our next piece was written in

a similar style: some fifty years

on.  Saving Private Ryan, a Spielberg

portrayal of the Omaha landing on

D-Day and a small force’s

attempt to return a Mother’s last

surviving son home, suffers from histrionics

and cynically manipulative scenes of mayhem,

but no such faults mar John

Williams’ music, the piece Hymn For

The Fallen, in particular.  True, Bach’s

Air On A G-string turns

up, along with a less noticeable

echo of Delius’ Song Of Summer,

but for the rest, the side-

drum, stoical, close-harmony theme, Coplandesque

brass, not to mention the glockenspiel

and busy string-figuration at the

climax, are both emotionally true-sounding

and affecting.  There is a power

in the deliberately limited melody grouped

about a modal clash between major

and minor, between home-spun harmonies

and the tritone.  This is like

a marching song for ghosts or

for those who knew them.  It

is a fine piece and may

cause one to forget how the

Copland ‘Common Man’ style has been

hijacked for just about any feature-

film that aimed for pathos, patriotic

or spiritual uplift, in the past

thirty years.

Track 2:  Saving Private Ryan, Hymn To The Fallen, John Williams. (6.07 min)

This is Classical Break on Somer

Valley FM, and I’m Rupert

Kirkham.  Today’s programme looks at American


A Hymn To The Fallen from

the 1990s reminds us that America

has always had a strong tradition

of non-conformist psalm-singing, from

the early years of European settlement

until the period of 19th Century

religious revivals, the days of the

‘camp-meetings’.  Our concept of hymn-

singing dates back to the days

of Methodism and the Wesley brothers -

and the Church of England had

no official hymnal until the 1860s

or so.             

In the main, at first the

music was rudimentary and in unison,

and trained singers led a congregation

with greater or lesser accuracy.

By the 18th Century, Tune-books

were in use.  Here is a

hymn by John Antes, a Pennsylvanian

of this period, How Beautiful Upon

The Mountains, in a comparatively ‘classical’

contemporary arrangement for singers, chorus and


Track 3:  How Beautiful Upon The Mountains, John Antes (3.24 min)

A hymn like Simple Gifts, we

owe to the American Shaker sect,

of course.  The much later Episcopalian

setting of Nearer My God to

Thee by Lowell Mason resounds from

its use in films on the

Titanic disaster.  From numerous westerns and

small-town films, besides the dances

at hoe-downs or balls, hymns

such as The Shining River have

been a valuable scene-setter.

One of the stranger and stronger

figures in United States music was

the recluse Charles Ives, born in

Danbury, Connecticut in 1874.  The

son of a Civil War bandsman,

town bandsman and banker, he was

taught music by his father, who,

fascinated by resonance, free tonality and

chance musical happenings, encouraged his children

to sing in one key whilst

accompanying themselves on the piano in

another.  Ives grew up to be

a fine organist and pianist, playing

in his local church, encountered academic

music at Yale and, after a

spell as organist and choirmaster at

a New York church, went into

insurance and continued to compose in

his own manner.  A fervent transcendentalist

to whom everything sang, between boyhood

and his late thirties, he created

a huge quantity of music that

anticipated every development in modernism by

twenty years.  At the same time,

tunes such as Hail Columbia, Dixie

and Turkey In The Straw - or

ragtime - provided this intensely patriotic liberal

Democrat with raw material, sentimental value,

for reworking in context.  Here is

one of his eerier works, Hannover

Street North, the third and final

piece from his Orchestral Set No

2.  It is a description of

coming into New York as a

commuter the morning the news broke

of the sinking of the Lusitania: 

he remembered that an organ-grinder

began to play the gospel hymn

In The Sweet Bye and Bye -

and one by one, the passengers

joined in - their efforts uninterrupted even

though a train came into the

station.  By its dying fall, this

work has liberated the ear from

fixed notions of rhythm or harmony

in a piano-concertante texture (Ives

was a formidable pianist) that shows

all things in an almost filmic

equality of significance, with broken and

ultimately baleful brass - listen for the

crowd’s voice raised full-throatedly in

its hymn - and treble register ‘atmosphere’. 

The close is as quiet as

the opening, but one has experienced

an event in human experience, an

epiphany of New York America.

Track 4:  Hannover St North, Ives (7.15 min)


Before pioneers such as Ives, popular

music, with its intermixed roots in

the world of slave-trade, settlers,

labourers, the Civil War, Indian Wars

and industrialization might have seemed to

be staring the hi-falutin in

the face as a potential source

of inspiration in the 19th Century. 

The folksongs of many European nations,

negro spirituals and work-songs, revivalist

and episcopal hymns, Indian chants, military

marches, parlour- and theatre-songs and

dance-sets, South American ‘latino’ rhythms

and jazz were not only mixed

from the roots but cross-fertilizing

apace in the incredibly varied climate,

topography and demography of the fifty

States.  With the growth of the

railways from Atlantic to Pacific and

North to South, mass-education and mass

publication-methods, the musical establishment remained

an establishment by the skin of

 its teeth.

The open fourths-fifths and pentatonic

style that most think of as

American is present in most countries’

folk-music, owing to systems of

tuning:  the chromatic accompaniment of such

music is artistic licence or literally

accidental.  Like rubato, it permits variety

of emotional nuance, usually on a

descending scale - a flatward tendency in

harmony.  Certainly, it is a demonstration

of skill to find the unovbvious

right wrong note.  Jazz - the word

originally denoted sexual excitement - is founded

on such tricks; spontaneous improvization was

the origin of all folk-music. 

The Land of The Free was

built on conquest and oppression:  folk-

music, to an extent - was

a reaction to rural and urban

oppression of ‘labor’ and crash social

and economic change.

Let’s hear the famous folk-tune,

Ashoken Farewell.  Justly famous, easily as

fine a tune as Shenandoah, it

has come down to us in

many variations and arrangements.  This one

is played on instruments that would

have been available to country people

and ordinary urban folk alike.  It

leaves the darkie-songs and parlour

muse of composers of the Mid-

19th Century, such as Stephen Foster,

for dead.

Track 5:  Ashoken Farewell, Trad. (4.36 min)

The transformation from a land whose

academies had grown modern by recognizing

the genius of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and

Dvorak rather than Liszt and Wagner,

took the better part of a

quarter of a century everywhere but

in the minds of Charles Ives and

Charles T Griffes, a man whose

world was of dreams and such

visions as Xanadu, and whose music

was influenced by the whole-tone

experiments of Debussy and Scriabin.  He

did not represent a nationalist’s dream

of American music, but his success

was possibly to build on the

aesthetic change discernible in the Grieg-

-influenced music of another, earlier ‘modernist’,

Edward Macdowell, and cause comparisons between

the music of an American and

that of the impressionist musicians of

France and Spain, and the mystical

tendency, such as it was, in

Russia.  Here is the second of

his Two Sketches Based on Indian

Themes for String Quartet, Allegro Giocoso.

Track 6:  No 2 of Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes, Charles T Griffes (3.54 min)

Next, let’s hear a piece by

another maverick, Henry Cowell (18-

97-1965).  This was

a man who wrote several symphonies

and other large-scale works in

an idiom not far removed from

that of Ives.  He could be

inspired by a good old Fuguing

Tune, but in many of his

pieces, instruments were played in novel

ways; he specialized in tone-clusters,

microtones and many other innovations, directing

a pianist, for example, to play

with his fist, or pluck and

play glissandi on the strings as

if on a zither.  Here is

his magical miniature, the third piece

of his three movement Irish Suite for

String Piano and Small Orchestra:  Fairy


Track 7:  Fairy Bells Henry Cowell (5.54 min)

The works of the urban negro

composer, Scott Joplin, born three years

after the end of the Civil

War and famous for his rag-

time, less so for an opera

about plantation-life, Tremonisha, took

up an uneasy position between Art-

music and popular songs and dances

and the world of the bar-

room, bordello and musical theatre.  He

made a name for himself in

spite of his colour, his uncertain

education and poor health, working himself

hard as a performer and arranger

as well as composer, but died

before he could realize his ambitions

as a serious artist - Tremonisha’s trials

proved fatal to him.  George Gershwin

and others were to fare better

in this direction later on, with

hits like Porgy and Bess and

Show-boat.  Of course, working within

the idiom of cakewalks and other

such black institutions, an idiom whose

holiday strut or weary worksong bluesiness

captivated whites, he was a useful

composer, a money-spinner for others. 

The pathos and efficient melodic and

rhythmical resource of his rags have

conquered the world since his death,

the film Sting - which plugged The

Entertainer - provoking a new wave of

sympathetic attentions from musicians, musicologists and

Civil Rights supporters.  As a kid,

I recall, there were two pieces

the unmusical pianist was certain to

know how to murder, The Moonlight

Sonata - the opening few bars, that

is - and The Entertainer.  Let’s hear

the Maple Leaf Rag.

Track 8:  Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin  (3m15s)

Another black musician:  the violinist, composer

and arranger of Negro music, H

T Burleigh, was taught composition by

Dvorak at the New York Conservatory,

during the great composer’s brief reign

of terror as a professor.  Much-

respected - and liked - by his students,

Dvorak was known behind his back

as Borax, owing to his blunt

but abrasive reactions to their exercises. 

Dvorak’s views on black music were

remarked on; he believed that an

American music of the future might

well be built on the traits

of negro themes and harmonies.  In

his American music -  the Cello Concerto,

the Nigger Quartet - as it was

once known - an American Suite, The

American Flag and the New World

Symphony, he does seem to have

taken his own advice!  Harry Burleigh

admired the dour Czech greatly; and

Dvorak’s respect for folk-song certainly

left its mark on his pupils. 

Of peasant-stock himself, Dvorak had

not impressed the great musical and

other thinkers at Cambridge when there

to receive an honorary doctorate:  “Did

you try him on pigs?” one

of these characters had asked a

colleague who had tried to get

a word out of the man. 

But Dvorak was an inspired composer,

if not the world’s greatest theoretician,

and his good-hearted belief in

and practising of true art electrified

his students.  It may not be

too much to say that Dvorak

was a founding father of the

new American music - Nadia Boulanger of

1920s Paris later to become

a founding mother.  Let’s hear a

spiritual arranged by Burleigh, who himself

became an academic,  My Lord, What

A Morning.

Track 9:            My Lord, what a Morning, Arranged HT Burleigh (3m01s)

Pace Ives, there was a lot

of fine music written between the

1890s and the First World

War by conservatives such as George

W Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Henry Hadley

and Daniel G Mason, some of

which has an undoubted American accent. 

Foote’s String Quartet in D-major,

of 1911, is a work

as inspiring as anything in an

American idiom by Borax - or, indeed,

anything written since.  Unlike most Americans

of the late 19th Century up

until the modernist period, Foote, a

good teacher of music, never studied

abroad.  Born in 1853, he

died in 1937.

This is the song-like, sustainedly

varied slow movement, Andante Espressivo.  It

shares its inheritance with Brahms and

Borodin, but something of its accent,

its melodic turns remains American.

Track 10:  String Quartet in D Major, 3rd Movt, Andante Espressivo, A Foote (7.02 min)  

And that’s it for our programme

of American music - except...  Bernard Herrmann

(1911-75) wrote music for

a film, The Devil And Daniel

Webster, a fable set in New

England, in which a farmer is

led to a hoard of War

of Independence gold by Scratch, the

devil, and proceeds to sell his

soul for wealth and an easy

life as the rest of the

local tenant farmers live and suffer

hard times, and he grows rich

at their expense.

Here is an evocative cue from

the film:  Swing Your Partners.  In

this barn-dance sequence, Scratch strikes

up with a fiddle in Mephisto-

New England-style!

This is Classical Break, and I’m

Rupert Kirkham.  Today’s script was written

and researched by Mike Burrows.  We

hope you have enjoyed our survey

of American music and will join

us again, soon.  Swing Your Partners!

Tracks 12:  Swing Your Partners, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Herrmann (2.34 min)