We'd like to thank Judy Kirkham for the reading of two quotations in the course of this programme.
Track 1:Introit, The Peace, Let not your heart be
troubled, Suite for Trumpet and Piano, Stephen Shewan
This is Classical Break and
I’m Rupert Kirkham.Today’s programme,
researched and written by Mike Burrows, is an anthology of music from the
We have just heard The Peace, Let not your heart be troubled, the
second movement ofthe Suite For Trumpet and Piano, by Stephen
Shewan.The Suite was written for the New
York composer’s life, in 1995.A New
Testament verse provided the melody for The
Peace, which first saw the light of day as a hymn for soprano and piano.
Taught composition by Samuel Adler, Shewan has a tonal though often dissonant idiom
inflected by jazz, religious chant and the hymnal.
Actually, there in one
sentence may lie the astonishing power of American Music:its culturally rich and creative mix.It achieves frequently what other countries’
musicians have struggled to do, squaring the circle of musical theory and self-expression
with an appeal for others.In American
music today, there are tonalists, pantonalists, serialists, jazz-composers, minimalists,
folk-lorists, populists, all of whom, on their day, have the ability to bring
the listener into intense communion.
Imagine how exciting it must
be to belong to the evolution of a music in a country that has thriving
academic departments and outreach in every major city, supported by a school
and municipal system that values music as a communal expression...Choirs, orchestras, operatic and chamber
ensembles, combos, bands:record
companies whose interest is drawn by the music of every stripe and colour of
Art-music...The frontier spreads, the
possible ethnic and aesthetic syntheses of music
continue to be made.The philosophical achievement is great and
healing for one of the world’s more inequitable and divided of societies.
Shewan is regarded as
America’s John Rutter.This is not held
against him by a nation that values the accessible and whose cognoscenti do not
necessarily seek to prevent the lower orders from trespassing on the preserves
of the affluent and privately-educated.
Vijay Singh is director of the
Vocal Jazz Program at Portland State University.Here is his song of Winter for mixed choir, A Glimpse of Snow and Evergreen.This piece, faithfully reflecting the
sentiments of its little verse, is set not
a million miles from the Shakerish simplicity of quieter moments from
Appalachian Spring -its harmonies,
movement with passing notes, and even melodic shape from the days when United
States art-music strove to escape the influences of German academe.
“So free, pristinely at peace,
So free, and free for all,
So peaceful, tranquil, beauty fair,
The cool white hush of snow.”
Track 2:A Glimpse of Snow and Evergreen, Vijay Singh
A New Yorker, Joseph Fennimore
was trained at the Eastman and Julliard, and won a Fullbright Scholarship to
study further in London.He has written
in most genres.He made his name as a
pianist and was director of the annual Hear America First concert series for
five years before turning to full-time composition of music and libretti.His style is eclectic and often
introspective, akin to that of Shostakovich – unexpected dissonant melodic
turns or progressions causing one to question romantic expectation. Here is the opening movement from hisCello Sonata no 2, Fast, anguished.
This piece dates from 1984.
The restlessness of the music
acts on the surface of music that owes much to romanticism – Brahms, for
example - and Impressionism as well as social realism.There are clear contrasts in harried attempts at repose in cello, agitation
and flightiness in the piano.
For an idea of the stylistic
mix to be found in American music, the second movement of this Sonata, for which
we sadly don’t have time, is in the tempo of a Mariachi (Mexican band-style)
waltz, and sounds like Brahms or Dohnanyi gone wrong.
Track 3:Cello Sonata No 2, Fast, anguished, Fennimore
Joseph Lucasik’s Concertino
for Alto Saxophone and Electronic Sounds was first performed at the World
Saxophone Congress at Pesaro (the birth-place of Rossini!), in 1992.It is an intriguing piece, the accompaniment
of the flighting soloist unearthly in shiny tingling timbres, long pedal-notes,
unresonant harmonies and rhythmical crispness.Jazz – specifically the improvisatory music of John Coltrane – is
clearly the idiom of the piece, the saxophone’s often rapid, high--pitched
riffs in the outer movements requiring skill of a high order to perform.The middle, slow, movement is a night-piece,
haunting, possibly influenced in its subtlety by the night-music of Bela
Bartok, who succumbed to poverty and Leukaemia in the United States.The music moves meditatively through various
consistentshifts in mood and style –
the accompaniment consisting of sudden percussive knocks, oscillations, held
harmonies and at times, a slow tread, under the gathering, rising and relapsing
song of the saxophone.Loneliness in the
city, a favourite subject with American composers since the days of Charles
Ives and later, Aaron Copland?All ends
inconclusively.The composer is a
staff-member at the music theory and jazz faculties at the University of
Colorado.Here is the Nocturne from his
Track 4:Concertino for Alto Saxophone and Electronic
A song for children, now, by
Bill Crofut.The Chipmunk’s Day.The poem was written by Randall Jarrell.The melody and style of accompanimentshows that traditional manners of folksong
remain hardy in music of the United States.
Track 5:The Chipmunk’s Day, Bill
“There came to me
in this case, a melody which the air had strained, and which had conversed with
every leaf and needle of the wood; that portion of the sound which the elements
had taken up and modulated and echoed from vale to vale.”
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden heads
the score of Brian Banks’ tone poem for small ensemble, Forest Echoes.This transcendental
evocation of the wilderness began as a piece for bass clarinet solo; the composer added other parts
that act as ‘albeit abstract accompaniment’.String quartet, flute and percussion encircle the bass clarinet with
fine-drawn or menacing Ravelian
harmonics and held notes, bird-calls, strokes of the wood-blocks and clash of
gong, echoes perhaps of the Great (and deep) Spirit at centre:all reaches a level of intensity and fades
Track 6:Forest Echoes, Brian Banks
In the Winter of 1942-3, almost a third of a million men
of the German 6th Army were trapped by multiple forces of the Red Army at the city that they had
been sent to take - Stalingrad.Efforts were made in freezing blizzard-weather to supply them
with food and equipment by air, but failed with huge losses in men and transports.From Berlin, the Leader gave the Commander in
the field the order to fight to the death.
Shortly before the surrender, a final mail-run was
afforded the troops, so that they could send home
their last thoughts to loved
ones or friends (in fact so that the state of morale, ie, loyalty, at Stalingrad
and at home could be gauged).These
letters were not passed on, but preserved on file,
names and addresses excised, by
the Nazi Authorities.
Elias Tanenbaum, a modernist
and jazz-musician from Brooklyn, was taught composition by a number of fine
composers, including Wallingford Riegger and the Czech, Bohuslav Martinu.
In 1981, at a time of extreme
internationaltension, he took twelve of
the hoarded letters and created a powerful statement against War.Last
Letters From Stalingrad – for
Baritone, Guitar, Viola and Percussion.
The cycle has the immediacy
and strange authenticity (not to mention expressionistic procedures) of
Schoenberg’s A Survivor From Warsaw.A kind of speech-song is employed, with
unnerving occasional use of a high falsetto register.The instrumentation is harsh, the violist
required to play frequent harmonics and microtonal slides, the guitar oddly
like a reminder of home, the percussion – various drums, bells, marimba- inimical, cold or funereal.The Winter chill, wreckage and threat of
violence of these men’s last environment are palpable.The listener is entrapped.
The Gregorian funeral chant, Libera
nos is referredto at every
fourth song; during the last, the viola
plays the German folksong, How Glorious Is Youth.
Let’s hear one of the songs - During The Last Two Nights. At its close, one hears a fragment of the Libera nos, to strokes of a passing--bell.
Track 7: No 4 of Last
Letters From Stalingrad, No 4, Elias Tanenbaum
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914, Robert Ward studied at
the Eastman and Julliard Schools of Music and the Berkshire Music Center –
latterly with Aaron Copland.Another of
his tutors was Howard Hanson.Here is a
duet from Act 2 of his opera of 1964, LadyKate.Kate emigrated to England with her English husband, but the couple have now returned to
their farm, disappointed in their hopes of wealth and social success; she is
comforted by her friend, Eve, who is given a theme of certain faith
and hope and some beauty.
The idiom of this piece is
romantic, tonal, lyrical; less searching than that of Bernard Herrmann, and
inhabiting, some might say, a zone that stretches between opera and musical
theatre. In the US, later than in most
other parts of the world, there was a vein of lyrical, period opera, mimicking
the gold of European Late Romanticism, misnamed
Grand and mined into the ‘Sixties and even ‘Seventies by many composers besides
Virgil Thomson, whose opera, Byron, was
perhaps the last gasp of the genre.
Eve, I can’t lie to
an old friend, by Robert Ward.
Track 8: Lady Kate, Eve, I can’t lie to an old friend,
Four years older than Robert Ward, Read Gardner, from
Illinois, studied at Northwestern University and the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan.A symphonist at his most ambitious, his
strongest gift in composition was for writing art-songs.His choice of verse was wide, ranging from
American and English poets of various epochs to Chinese poets in translation
and Rabindrath Tagore.His painstaking style
ranges from impressionistic modal and whole-tone work to a more abrasive expressionism.Here’s his ‘Lullaby For A Man-Child’, a setting for soprano, flute, harp and
string quartet of a poem by Jean Starr Untermeyer, from his collection, Songs To Children, Opus 76, of 1947-9.
Track 9:Lullaby For A Man-child, Read Gardner
Another song for children by Bill Crofut, now,again, setting Randall Jarrell, The Bird of Night.
Track 10:The Bird of Night,
Leo Sowerby is remembered as
“the Handel of Michigan”.It was the
city in which he lived for most of his life.He was prolific, producing 550 works in all the art-genres save ballet
or opera.Like many composers of his generation
– he was born in 1899 – he learned to use modern techniques as they came along,
and relied on a grounding in traditional styles that helped him to evolve with consistency,
rather than this or that mark of fashion.His songs evolved as he did, from the idiom of Macdowall or Cadman
through impressionism to astringent chromaticism.He was descended from English North Country
people, and always felt an affinity with English music.This can be heard at every turn.
Here is his gaunt but determined Lyric of Spring, from 1944-6, a setting of Jeanne DeLamarter.
Track 11:Lyric of Spring, Sowerby
Our latest journey in the
United States ends with the second movement of a diptych for wind orchestra, from
1979, After A Gentle Rain,by Anthony Iannacone.Iannacone was born in 1943, another alumnus
of the Manhattan and Eastman Schools of Music.
The movement is entitled TheDark
Green Reflects with Old Reflections. “The
light reflecting off moist green foliage as a metaphor for ‘reflections’
(thoughts) on old memories” is, according to the composer, the subject of
this music of vivid colours, in which impressionistic musical ideas seem
indissolubly one with instrumental scoring.The composer believes that the music of Debussy – to be specific, the Prelude
for piano, Les Collines d’Anacapri -
was an unconscious influence on his methods in this work.Certainly, there is a use of short phrases,
motifs and sequences and unsparing progressions through modal or whole-tone
dissonance that might just be the work of the later Debussy.
This was Classical Break, and
I’m Rupert Kirkham.Today’s programme on
music from the United States was researched and written by Mike Burrows.We hope you enjoyed it and will tune in again
Track 12:The Dark Green Reflects with Old Reflections,