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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  He rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Profanation
is the second movement of Bernstein’s Symphony no. 1 Jeremiah.  The Symphony is based on the biblical story of Jeremiah, a prophet who warned his people of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, was mocked by them for it, and famously lamented when it came to pass.  Bernstein wrote the Symphony in 1942 in order to enter it in a competition at the New England Conservatory.  He did not win, but the piece went on to bring him great success, earning him the New York Music Critics’ Circle award for best classical composition in 1944 and helping him reconcile with his father, to whom he later dedicated the score.  Profanation is the Symphony’s scherzo.  It dramatizes the savage mockery that Jeremiah experiences from the priests of the Temple of Solomon when he warns them that their corrupt ways will bring about its destruction.  It opens with a distorted version of a liturgical melody, which multiplies into a chaotic pagan celebration.  Jeremiah’s warning from the first movement (Prophecy) returns later, only to be drowned out by the chaos.

Video 1: Band version, arranged by Frank Bencriscutto, in a nearly flawless rendition by Michael Haithcock and the University of Michigan Symphony Band:

Video 2: Original version for orchestra

Now some links:

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

Program notes on Profanation from the Williams College Symphonic Winds.

Program notes on the entire Symphony from the Kennedy Center and Bernstein’s website.

More information on the Prophet Jeremiah and his Book of Lamentations.

David Del Tredici (b. 1937) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer whose works range from intimate piano sonatas and string quartets to giant orchestral and choral epics.  Born in California, he now resides in New York City, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Music at The City College of New York.  His composition career has gone through phases: he showed an early interest in setting the poetry of James Joyce, moved on to a decade-long obsession with Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland, and has spent recent years creating settings of gay American poets.  He has won praise and accolades throughout his career, including from Aaron Copland, who said (according to Del Tredici’s website) that he “is that rare find among composers — a creator with a truly original gift. I venture to say that his music is certain to make a lasting impression on the American musical scene. I know of no other composer of his generation who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.”  He has also been recognized twice by OUT magazine as a person of the year.

Acrostic Song originates from Del Tredici’s Alice period.  It is the last aria in Final Alice, an epic series of arias and dramatic episodes that tells the story of the final chapters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Acrostic Song uses a seven-verse acrostic poem that Carroll wrote based on the real Alice‘s name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.  Del Tredici sets it with all the simplicity and regularity of the poem, preserving the simple, three-line stanzas in the musical phrasing.  The result is a profound musical experience wrapped in deceptively simple and familiar musical trappings.

A band in Texas performs the Acrostic Song as arranged (at the composer’s request) by Mark Spede:

Here is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing the Acrostic Song in its original from with soprano Hila Plitmann (yes, that’s Eric Whitacre‘s wife).  Note: the form is largely the same as the band version, but it’s in a different key.  And the ending veers off in an entirely different direction:

On February 18, 2013 David Del Tredici came to a Columbia Wind Ensemble rehearsal to hear us play through the Acrostic Song.  It was his first time hearing the arrangement live.  We ended up working through the entire arrangement bit by bit, making several changes along the way, thus creating sort an ur-text edition of the arrangement.  Those changes are listed below.

Changes to Spede arrangement of Acrostic Song:
m. 1: cresc.
m. 2: dim.
m. 3: cresc.
m. 4: dim.
m. 7: cresc.
m. 8: dim.
m. 9: cresc.
m. 10: dim.
mm.13-16 oboes rest
End of m. 18: no breath mark, connect right into m. 19
mm. 19-20: oboes rest
m. 24-25: no breath
m. 40: oboes rest, all flutes on G
mm. 47-53: all flutes play 1st part, 1 clarinet 1 8va (all others as written)
m. 53: PIU Mosso
mm. 57-60: molto molto accel to quarter=160 in m. 61, then rit.
m. 72: trombone 2 on C (2nd space), trombone 1 on G (top space), horn 2 on written G (2nd line), horn 1 on written D (4th line), ALL OTHERS REST
m. 75: subito piu mosso, anyone with 8ths dynamic should be ff
m. 82: add suspended cymbal roll starting pp, cresc. for beats 1 & 2, dim. for beats 3&4, release on downbeat of m. 83
m. 83: all winds and brass who played in 82 sustain whole note through 83

The performance, with some introduction:

There is so much extra material out there on Final Alice, including hugely extensive program notes from the Kennedy Center, a review of the definitive recording, Del Tredici’s own notes at Boosey & Hawkes, and a tribute by Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post.  For the curious (and curiouser), here is Carroll’s original poem, “A boat beneath a sunny sky”:

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

Patrick Burns (b. 1969) is an American composer and music educator.  He has written extensively for wind bands at all levels.  He founded the Bloomfield Youth Band in New Jersey when he was 17, and continues to direct that group today.   He teaches at Montclair State University and New Jersey City University.  His compositions, which range from beginning band to professional level,  have been performed on at least 3 continents.  He has received commissions from around the country.  He is much in demand as a guest conductor and clinician.

Burns offers his own program notes on Count Not the Hours, which he wrote based on a tune attributed to Francis O’Neill:

Count Not the Hours was commissioned by the Franklin Avenue Middle School Band (James Frankel, Director), Franklin Lake, New Jersey, as a retirement gift for outgoing Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edward J. Sullivan.  The piece takes its title from an Irish jig of the same name.  The melody is here set as a waltz and therefore presents itself much less forthrightly than O’Neill’s original tune.

Patrick Burns main website. – includes a full biography and information on all of his music.  You can also leave the website open and just listen as it automatically plays a random sampling of Burns’s music.  He’s written a lot of it, and it’s all good!  For our purposes, though, check out especially the “music” page, where you can download a free recording of Count Not the Hours in the grade 2 section.

Also check out Patrick Burns’s YouTube channel, which has performances of the great bulk of his music.  Here, for instance, is Count Not the Hours as performed by the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Wind Ensemble.

Have a look at the original tune (pdf).  Or learn to play it on guitar.  It appears to be just a fiddle tune with no lyrics attached.

William Himes (b. 1949) is an American composer of works primarily for wind band, specializing in music for young bands.  He received his education at the University of Michigan.  He has been the music director of the Salvation Army‘s Central Territory since 1977, overseeing their operations throughout the Midwest and conducting the Chicago Staff Band.  This band, like much of Himes’s music, has been heard all over the world.

Barbarossa is one of those ideal young band (grade 2, in this case) pieces that doesn’t sound like it was written for young band.  The musical ideas unfold seamlessly and without sounding limited by technical considerations.  Himes wrote Barbarossa in 1995.  It is inspired by the World War II operation of the same name.  From the score:

By the summer of 1940, World War II was well under way.  Much of Europe was occupied by German troops, and resilient Great Britain was being battered by Germany at sea and from the air.  German dictator Adolf Hitler, along with his generals, now began making plans to invade the Soviet Union.  Germany’s invasion plan was named Operation Barbarossa.

The German invasion on the morning of June 22, 1941 went largely unchallenged, because Russian commanders had orders not to provoke the Germans.  Human casualties and equipment losses were high.  Quickly, however, Russian opposition became much more determined and ferocious, and on July 3, Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, called upon all Russian citizens to fight fervently against the invasion.  The people responded unselfishly.

Adolf Hitler craved the capture of Russia’s capital, Moscow, but the autumn rains had begun to fall, and roads were turning to mud.  By the end of October, rivers had flooded and muddy roads and fields were next to impassable.  Cloudy conditions limited visibility and reduced the number of air attacks by German bombers.  The weather, and the reorganization of the Russian Air Force, helped to slow the German invasion to less than two miles per day.  Yet it was the spirit of the Russian people that continued to provide the strongest defense.

By November, the forces of winter began to prevail.  Hitler, hoping for a Moscow victory by the end of the year, risked sending his troops through the winter elements to advance on the Russian capital.  By the end of the month, the Germans surrounded Moscow 20 miles outside the city, but that was as close as they were able to get.  The Germans lacked warm clothing and food.  Their machine guns froze, and engines had to be kept running, wasting valuable food supplies.  The attack was called off on December 5, 1941.

The next day, the Russians went on the offensive.  Soldiers brought in from Siberia were well prepared for the harsh conditions.  Weapons were winterized with low-temperature oil.  Russian troops were equipped with white winter gear and thick boots, and could withstand -40 Farenheit temperatures for hours.  They achieved great success against the Germans, who were exhausted by the severe weather conditions.  By the end of December, the Russians had recaptured much of the territory lost in the previous months.

None of this would have happened if Hitler had just listened to the lessons of history, namely the very similar conditions under which Napoleon retreated from Russia with his French Army, famously dramatized by Tchaikovsky in the 1812 Overture.  Himes’s approach is not as literal as Tchaikovsky’s.  Barbarossa begins briskly and powerfully, with a unison minor-key shout.  It sustains a nervous energy until a slower, expressive melody takes over.  The agitation of the opening eventually returns, leading to a grandiose finish.

Read more about William Himes and Operation Barbarossa.  Fun fact: “Barbarossa” means “red beard” in Italian, so there was a Holy Roman Emperor with a red beard who went by that nickname in the 12th century.

A professional recording of Barbarossa:

Brian Balmages (b. 1975) is a young, prolific American composer with several new works making their way into the repertoire at all levels, from elementary school bands to professional orchestras.  His music has been performed all over the country, including at Carnegie Hall.  He wrote his own program note about his 2007 composition Starscapes, to which I’ve added pictures of the constellations that inspired him:

Starscapes  is a three-movement work based on various constellations and their Greek mythologies.  Orion (The Hunter), the opening movement, is one of the most well-known constellations, visible in the northern sky during the winter in the northern hemisphere.  While there are several versions of the Orion myth, typically it is agreed that he became the greatest hunter in the world and had incredible strength and stature.  While no consensus exists on the means of his death, it is often suggested that he was killed by the sting of a small scorpion–an ironic death for such a champion.  The movement opens with an introduction that paints a picture of a starry night, then portrays the majestic nature of Orion.

The second movement, Draco (The Dragon), depicts the most common myth that Draco inhabited a cave and killed Cadmus‘s attendants after they were asked to find fresh water as an offering to Jupiter.  Cadmus went into the cave, discovered the dragon, and killed it with his spear.  While there are many translations of Ovid‘s Metamorphosesa particularly vivid one describes Draco as “the serpent of Mars, a creature with a wonderful golden crest; fire flashed from its eyes, its body was all puffed up from poison, and from its mouth, set with a triple row of teeth, flickered a three-forked tongue.”

The final movement, Pegasus (The Winged Horse), pays tribute to the constellation and famous myth of Pegasus.  Pegasus was born as a result of the battle between Perseus and Medusa.  After Perseus killed Medusa, drops of blood fell into the sea and mixed with the sea foam.  The result was the birth of Pegasus, the brilliant white-winged horse.  The movement portrays the galloping of the horse, then takes the listener on a journey through the skies with the magnificent creature.

Follow the links inserted into the text to learn more about anything else there.

The ancient Greeks saw found pictures of many different mythological characters and other things in the stars.  For a list of some other constellations, click here.

Brian Balmages’s website, including bio and extensive works list with many recordings.

Brian Balmages profile at James Madison University, his alma mater (class of 1998).

A moving Baltimore Sun piece on a middle school concert in which Balmages was commissioned to write a piece in memory of slain band members.

A middle school band plays a fine performance of Starscapes:

Finally, you don’t want to miss the professional recording of this piece.