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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a German composer whose musical theatre works have come to exemplify the Weimar Republic period in Germany.  He was born in Dessau to Jewish parents.  By World War I, when he was a teenager, he was a professional theatre accompanist.  He studied composition in Berlin, composing standard instrumental fare like tone poems and an orchestral suite.  In the 1920s, he began to make his mark on German music with theatrical pieces that played with American dance rhythms.  In many of these works he collaborated with the writer and political activist Bertolt Brecht.  His fortunes turned sour in the early 1930s, as the new Nazi regime ramped up a propaganda campaign against his popular, politically subversive works.  He fled first to Paris in 1933, then to the United States in 1935.  In America, he continued his successful career as a music theatre composer, collaborating with Ira Gershwin and Langston Hughes, among others.  He was still active on the Broadway scene when he died of a heart attack at age 50.

One of Weill’s most famous pieces was Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).  He wrote the music in 1928 to words by Bertolt Brecht, based on The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay.  It tells the story of Macheath (Mack the Knife), a murderer in Victorian London.  In the spirit of the Weimar Republic, it also lampooned German society and capitalism.  It was one of the most popular works of the period: within five years, it had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times in Europe.  It had also attracted the attention of the serious music establishment in Germany.  Just four months after its premiere, conductor Otto Klemperer commissioned Weill to create a concert suite from the opera in the tradition of opera suites for winds from Mozart’s day.  Titled Little Threepenny Music (Kleine Dreigroschenmusik), Weill’s suite retains all of the unique character of the opera, with instrumentation that includes saxophones, a rudimentary drum set, and combination of guitar, banjo, and bandoneon among the more traditional wind instruments.  He even added some musical material, presumably because the original opera was written for actors who happened to sing rather than trained singers.  The suite comes in 8 movements:

I. Overture
II. The Moritat of Mack the Knife
III. The Instead-of Song
IV. The Ballad of the Easy Life
V. Polly’s Song
Va. Tango
VI. Cannon Song
VII. Threepenny Finale

The Ball State University Wind Ensemble plays the whole suite, bandoneon and all:

The number “Mack the Knife” took on a life of its own as a jazz standard and pop song with worldwide popularity that persists today.  Louis Armstrong is among the many renowned musicians to have recorded a version of the song:

I have to admit, when I think of Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, I can’t help but think of this:

And this:

both of which were certainly influenced by Weill’s work.

Read up on Kurt Weill on Wikipedia and the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.  More info on The Threepenny Opera can be found at Wikipedia and its own website, run by the same Kurt Weill Foundation.  There is also a great entry on Little Threepenny Music at the Wind Repertory Project.

Joy and Joy Revisited both appeared in 2005.  They are companion pieces based on the same material, with Joy being geared for younger players and Joy Revisited designed for a more mature ensemble.  As usual, Ticheli describes his thinking in the scores:

Above all, Joy is an expression of its namesake: simple, unabashed joy.

A boisterous, uninhibited quality is implied in the music, not only at climactic moments, but also by the frequent presence of sudden and dramatic stylistic contrasts. The main melody and overall mood of the work (and its companion piece, Joy Revisited) were inspired by a signal event: the birth of our first child. The intense feelings that most any father would feel on such a day were, in my case, accompanied by a simple little tune which grabbed hold of me in the hours preceding her birth, and refused to let go throughout the day and many days thereafter. Indeed, until I jotted it down in my sketchbook, it did not release its grip.

Seven years and two children later, I stumbled upon that old sketch and discovered (or rediscovered) that it would serve perfectly as the foundation for a joy-filled concert band overture.

About Joy and Joy Revisited

Joy, and its companion piece, Joy Revisited, are the results of an experiment I have been wanting to try for many years: the creation of two works using the same general melodic, harmonic, and expressive content. In other words, I endeavored to compose un-identical twins, two sides of the same coin – but with one major distinction: Joy was created with young players in mind, while Joy Revisited was aimed at more advanced players.

Thus, Joy is more straightforward than its companion piece. Where Joy sounds a dominant chord (as in the upbeat to measure 10), Joy Revisited elaborates upon that chord with a flourish of 16th-notes. While Joy Revisited moves faster, develops ideas further, and makes use of a wider register, Joy is more concise.

Despite these and many more differences between the two works, both come from the same essential cut of cloth, both were composed more or less simultaneously, and both were born out of the same source of inspiration. In short, Joy and Joy Revisited serve as two expressions of the feelings experienced by one expectant father (who happens also to be a composer) on one wonderfully anxious and exciting day.

Here’s a nice professional recording of Joy:

And a comparable rendition of Joy Revisited.  The parallels between the two pieces are clear, as are the more rigorous challenges of the latter:

Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!  Click the links for more from them on Joy and Joy Revisited.

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

For those who have forgotten, here’s my short bio on Frank Ticheli: Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was an influential German composer who explored the fringes of tonality through his music and who was teacher to many a great name in composition.  He grew up and began his career in Germany, but a complicated relationship with the Nazi regime in the 1930s sent him elsewhere.  During that period, he was invited to Turkey, where he helped to reorganize the music education system there.  In 1940, he emigrated to the United States, where he taught primarily at Yale University.  He became an American citizen in 1946, but moved to Zurich in 1953, where he remained for the rest of his life.  He developed his own system of tonality that was not diatonic, but which ranks musical intervals from most-consonant to most-dissonant while still relying on a tonal center.  While this approach sounds purely academic, it resulted in playful, accessible music in Hindemith’s hands.  He was very interested in understanding instrumental technique, to the point that he is said to have learned to play every one of his instrumental sonatas (and there are many, including trumpet, clarinet, trombone, harp, tuba, flute, violin, viola, and bass) on the instrument for which he wrote it.

The Symphony in B-flat is a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire.  Hindemith wrote it in 1951 on a commission from “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band.  Its three movements use classical and baroque approaches to form and thematic development in Hindemith’s unique harmonic idiom.  Below, I’ll include my thumbnail analysis of each movement above separate videos of each, all by the extremely capable North Texas Wind Symphony.

The Symphony’s first movement, marked, “Moderately fast, with vigor” is in sonata allegro form.  Hindemith introduces two themes immediately.  The first is lyrical and rhythmically intense, spanning 10 bars.  The second, a short burst of five 8th notes, is hidden in the bluster of the first beat of the movement, not emerging fully until the two themes merge.  Another pair of themes is introduced at letter D.  Together, they grow into semi-climax before being interrupted by another dotted-rhythm theme, which dominates the development until the second initial theme returns.  The recapitulation of the first two themes is shrouded by changed textures, but the second pair of themes returns with confidence, ending the movement in a solid B-flat major.

The second movement is broadly in three sections.  It begins with a dolorous duet between alto sax and cornet.  There are hints of Hindemith’s Weimar Republic roots in the melody, which sounds like the lamentation of a tired cabaret singer.  A much more lively middle section features tambourine accompaniment, suggesting some angry dance.  The two contrasting feelings are thrown together in the third section.

The “Fugue” is actually two fugues.  The first begins after a short introduction in which we hear the first fugue subject stated by itself.  The second uses a broader, triplet-based subject.  The two come together late in the movement, only to be joined by the first theme from the first movement as the piece heads to its cacophonous closure.

Find out more about Hindemith at Wikipedia, the Hindemith Foundation, Schott Publishing, and DSO Kids.

Read up on the Symphony in B-flat at Wikipedia, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the Classical Archives.

Samuel R. Hazo is a music educator and composer of several band works.  He provides his own program notes for Ride:

RIDE was written as a gesture of appreciation for all of the kind things Jack Stamp has done for me; ranging from his unwavering friendship to his heartfelt advice on composition and subjects beyond.

During the years 2001 & 2002, some wonderful things began to happen with my compositions that were unparalleled to any professional good fortune I had previously experienced. The common thread in all of these things was Jack Stamp. I began to receive calls from all over the country, inquiring about my music, and when I traced back the steps of how someone so far away could know of my (then) unpublished works, all paths led to either reading sessions Jack had conducted, or recommendations he made to band directors about new pieces for wind band. The noblest thing about him was that he never let me reciprocate in any way, not even allowing me to buy him dessert after a concert. All he would ever say is, “just keep sending us music,” which I could only take as the privilege it was, as well as an opportunity to give something back that was truly unique.

In late April of 2002, Jack had invited me to take part in a composer’s forum he had organized for his students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was to present along side Joseph Wilcox Jenkins, Mark Camphouse, Bruce Yurko and Aldo Forte. This forum was affectionately referred to in my house as “four famous guys and you.” It was such a creatively charged event, that everyone who took part was still talking about it months after it happened. Following the first day of the forum, Jack invited all of the composers to his house, where his wife Lori had prepared an incredible gourmet dinner. Since I didn’t know how to get to Jack’s house (a/k/a Gavorkna House) from the university, he told me to follow him. So he and his passenger, Mark Camphouse, began the fifteen minute drive with me behind them. The combination of such an invigorating day as well as my trying to follow Jack at the top speed a country road can be driven, is what wrote this piece in my head in the time it took to get from the IUP campus to the Stamp residence. RIDE was written and titled for that exact moment in my life when Jack Stamp’s generosity and lead foot were as equal in their inspiration as the beautiful Indiana, PA country side blurring past my car window.

Sam Hazo’s website, including his bio and the full program notes for Ride.

Finally, a YouTube rendition of the piece – not much to look at, but a note-perfect performance.

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Ye Banks and Braes O’Bonnie Doon is among Grainger’s many folk song settings.  He first set it for “chorus and whistlers” in 1903, and created the band setting in 1932.  The folk song comes from Scotland.  The melody first appeared in print as The Caledonian Hunts Delight in a collection of songs published by Neil Gow in 1788.  In 1792, it was paired with a poem by Robert BurnsThe Banks of Doon, and this pairing has been handed down through the generations.  The poem describes a love story around the River Doon, which flows through Ayrshire from Loch Doon in Scotland:

Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu’ o’ care!

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o’ the happy days
When my fause Luve was true.

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings beside thy mate;
For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
And wist na o’ my fate.

Aft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the woodbine twine,
And ilka bird sang o’ its love;
And sae did I o’ mine.

Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Frae aff its thorny tree;
And my fause luver staw the rose,
But left the thorn wi’ me.

Read more about Ye Banks and Braes at windband.org, the Wind Repertory Project, the Percy Grainger Society program notes page (scroll down to find it), the Internet Archive, and Contemplator.org.

The North Texas Wind Symphony plays Ye Banks and Braes:

The actual folk song recorded in a studio:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Morton Gould (1913-1996) was an American conductor, composer, and pianist.  He was recognized as a child prodigy very early in his life, and as a result he published his first composition before his seventh birthday.  His talents led him to become the staff pianist for Radio City Music Hall when it opened in 1932.  He went on to compose movie soundtracks, Broadway musicals, and instrumental pieces for orchestra and band while also cultivating an international career as a conductor.  Among the honors he received were the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, the 1994 Kennedy Center Honor, a 1983 Gold Baton Award, and a 1966 Grammy Award.  By the time of his death in 1996 he was widely revered as an icon of American classical music.
There are several short biographies of Gould on the Internet.  Each one is more glowing than the last:

Wikipedia – concise biography and list of works.

G. Schirmer – Gould’s publisher gives a much more eloquent account of the composer’s life (which wikipedia seems to have stolen and mangled).

Kennedy Center – Heaps yet more praise on the composer.

There is even an entire book dedicated to the biography of Morton Gould, by Peter W. Goodman.  It is called American Salute.

Google books preview of the book here.

Review of said book here.

From the score of the Symphony for Band:

This Symphony was composed for the West Point Sesquicentennial Celebration, marking 150 years of progress at the United States Military Academy.  The composer was invited to contribute a composition for this event by the Academy and Major Francis E. Resta, commanding officer of the United States Military Band and director of music at the Academy.

Composed during the months of January and February, 1952, this Symphony was first performed on April 13th of that year at the Academy with composer conducting the United States Military Academy Band.

The Symphony is in two movements.  The first, “Epitaphs”, is somber and reflective in character, looking backward on the generations who have served at West Point and inspired by the cemetery on the grounds.  It goes on to build a huge, multi-layered passacaglia texture that features a marching machine in the percussion section.  “Marches” opens quietly to an upbeat march rhythm, which grows as the movement progresses.  Gould’s Symphony is a masterwork for winds.  It is among the earliest American symphonies for bands, but it was in good company: Paul Hindemith, Vincent Persichetti, Alan Hovhaness, and Vittorio Giannini all composed their first symphonies for band in that same decade.

Listen to William Revelli and the University of Michigan Symphony Band perform the first movement of the Symphony:

As well as the second movement:

Read more about the Symphony at G. Schirmer, The Wind Repertory Project, and windband.org.

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 Hometown:

I wrote Hometown for Scott Sharnetzka and the Bel Air (Maryland) Community Band.  This fine ensemble has been incredibly supportive of my music and I wanted to express my gratitude to them by writing a piece for them.  Hometown is a musical depiction of my impressions of beautiful Harford County, Maryland and the people I know there.  The words of Garrison Keillor capture the idea of this piece wonderfully:

That yard, the tree–you climbed it once with me,
And we talked of cities that we’d live in someday.
I left, old friend, and now I’m back again,
Please say you missed me since I went away.

Patrick Burns main website. – includes a full biography and information on all of his music.  You can also leave the website open 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 Hometown in the grade 4 section.

Also check out Patrick Burns’s YouTube channel, which has performances of the great bulk of his music.  Here, for instance, is Hometown performed by the Luther College Wind Ensemble:

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

The Promise of Living comes from The Tender Land.  It was transcribed for band by Kenneth Singleton, who provides this program note in the score:

Aaron Copland’s only full-length opera (the 90-minute Second Hurricane of 1937 was written for student performance), The Tender Land was begun in 1952 and completed in 1954, with a libretto by Erik Johns (using the pen name Horace Everett).  Although containing some of Copland’s most lyrical and heart-felt music, the opera took time to establish its place in the repertoire.  In 1958 Copland extracted a three-movement orchestral suite, using music from the introduction to Act II and the love duet, the square dance from Act II, and the vocal quintet from the end of Act I.  The composer conducted the first performance of the suite in April, 1959 with Boston Symphony Orchestra, and he later recalled: “the reviews were far better than they had been for the opera.”

The final movement of the suite, The Promise of Living, is based largely on the folk song “Zion’s Walls (the first full appearance is after letter G – in 9/8 time) and epitomizes Copland at his most lyrical and direct.  The entire movement is cast in F major, with no chromatically altered pitches.

Mallory Thompson conducts the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble in The Promise of Living.  Alas, the video doesn’t allow embedding, so you’ll have to settle for a link.  Very much worth a click!

promise-living-%E2%80%93-aaron-copland-symphonic-wind-ensemble

Here is the version from the orchestral suite set to a bunch of old movies.  It is, indeed, appropriate nostalgia music:

John Williams arranged The Promise of Living for chorus and orchestra:

Finally, here is a semi-staged presentation of The Promise of Living in its original operatic setting:

Bonus: a choral version of Zion’s Walls, the folk song Copland uses in The Promise of Living.

To see more about The Promise of Living and The Tender Land, check out the LA Phil and US Opera.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) came to France from Venezuela with his family at age 3.  By age 10, he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire alongside Maurice Ravel.  He published his first song, a setting of a poem by Victor Hugo, when he was 13.  He was a child prodigy on the piano and a fine singer: even at that young age, he would often accompany himself in performances of his own songs.  At 19, he met the not-yet-famous writer Marcel Proust.  The two were briefly lovers, and remained close friends until Proust’s death in 1922.  In his autobiographical novel Jean Santeuil, Proust described Hahn as an “instrument of genius” who “moves our hearts, moistens our eyes, cures us one after the other in a silent and solemn undulation. Never since Schumann has music painted sorrow, tenderness, the calm induced by nature, with such brush strokes of human truth and absolute beauty.” Hahn remained best known for his songs, and he adhered to a conservative style of composition that prized elegant melodies and an aesthetic of beauty.  He was a constant presence in the high-society salons of Paris, and was known for charm and good looks.

Hahn wrote the ballet Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in 1905.  Music for winds was in vogue in Paris at the time thanks to the success of groups like Paul Taffanel’s Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments á Vent (Wind Instrument Chamber Music Society) and Georges Barrére’s Societé Moderne d’Instruments á Vent (Modern Wind Instrument Society), both of which were rediscovering the Harmoniemusik of Mozart and Beethoven while also commissioning new works like Gounod’s Petite Symphonie.  Hahn may have been inspired by their success – he was definitely involved in a concert of the Societé Moderne in 1903.  That group premiered Le bal on March 28, 1905 as part of their tenth anniversary concert.

Le bal presents an imagined evening in the court of Beatrice (1475-1497) of the House Este, a treasured princess of the Italian Renaissance.  She became the Duchess of Milan in 1491 when she married Ludovico Sforza.  Both were known as patrons of the arts and humanities: Leonardo Da Vinci completed his Last Supper under their patronage.  They were also known for hosting fine balls.  Hahn’s composition is in seven movements, scored for 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, percussion, 2 harps, and piano.  It opens with the fanfare, Entrée pour Ludovic le More, or Ludovico’s entrance music.  Three of the inner movements are Renaissance dances (LesquercadeRomanesque, Courante) interspersed with a portrait of Beatrice’s sister Isabella (Iberienne), and a musical impression of a Da Vinci painting (Léda et l’Oiseau).  The Salut Final au Duc de Milan puts a regal bookend on the piece.

The Orchestre de Paris once performed Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in its entirety on YouTube, but that recording has disappeared.  There is a partial recording of the Idaho Falls Youth Symphony doing some of the movements, but it doesn’t really do the piece justice.  If you want an idea of what each movement sounds like, check out the examples of this Hyperion recording: simply click the music notes before each movement title for a short excerpt.

Now some context.  Those dances in the interior movements are intended to be legitimate Renaissance dance styles.  The Lesquercade as a dance appears to have been lost from our collective memory.  The Romanesque is even harder to find specific information on.  That leaves just the Courante.  Alas, Hahn wrote his Courante in duple meter (cut time), but it was a triple meter dance.  So, instead of getting specific, here is a video with a whole range of Renaissance dances.  It starts with an introduction in Dutch, but the dances really get going around the 1:00 mark:

Bonus: Hahn’s first published song, “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (If my verses had wings)

Le bal de Beatrice d’Este links: nice program note at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, information page related to this doctoral dissertation by Jared Chase, who created new critical edition of the piece.

Reynaldo Hahn links: Wikipedia page, Classical Archives page (click the about/bio tab), Naxos info page, Reynaldo Hahn Society page (in French).