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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was a nationalist Russian composer and master orchestrator famous for symphonic works like Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol.  He was born into a family with a history of military service in which he eventually followed.  He started piano lessons at age 6 and composition at 10. Around the time of his graduation from military school, he met Mily Balakirev, who introduced him to fellow young composers César Cui and Modest Mussorgsky, heightening Rimsky-Korsakov’s interest in a composition career.  Eventually, with the addition of Alexander Borodin, these composers would call themselves The Five and advocate for a specifically Russian approach to composition.  Later in his career, Rimsky-Korsakov became the Inspector of Bands for the Russian Navy as well as a professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which now bears his name.

Procession of the Nobles (Cortége) was written in 1889 as part of the opera-ballet Mlada.  Although it was originally begun in 1872 as a collaborative effort with three other composers, the initial project fell through.  Rimsky-Korsakov completed it himself  nearly 20 years later.  I defer now to Eric Bromberger’s excellent program note for the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada, first produced in 1892, almost defies the effort to describe it. In form it is half-opera and half-ballet, and its libretto is unbelievably complex, even by the standards of opera librettos. Set a thousand years ago in an imaginary kingdom called Retra on the shores of the Baltic, Mlada tries to fuse Wagnerian opera with ancient Russian legend, and the result is an absolutely fantastic story. Princess Mlada, a role that is danced rather than sung, has been murdered by her rival Voyslava, who sets out to secure the love of Yaromir, Mlada’s lover. The story involves magic, evil spirits, and trips into the underworld, and at the climax an entire village is submerged by an overflowing lake and Yaromir and Mlada are seen ascending on a rainbow.

Mlada has not held the stage, and the only familiar music from it is the Procession of the Nobles, the orchestral introduction to Act II, which begins with a festival of tradespeople. The music bursts to life with a rousing brass flourish, soon followed by the processional music, a noble tune for strings in E-flat major. This is music of color and energy, and in the opera it is punctuated by shouts from the crowd at the festival. A central section just as vigorous as the opening leads to a return of the march tune and a rousing close.

Rimsky-Korsakov made an orchestral suite from the opera, of which Procession of the Nobles is the final movement.  You can see the full score here.  Also, there is another great program note from the University of Wisconsin bands.

Here is the standard band transcription, arranged by Erik Leidzen:

And now the original orchestral version:

There is also a very nice version for young band arranged by Jay Bocook:

Want to read a biography of Rimsky-Korsakov on the Internet?  You have a lot of options!  Try Wikipedia, allmusic, ClassicalNet, and Encyclopedia Britannica.  Also check out his collected works on IMSLP.

I conducted this at my very first concert with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble in 2002.  It was then conducted by Ena Shin at our joint concerts with the Yale Concert Band in 2007.  This summer (2013) Bill Tonissen will conduct it with the Columbia Summer Winds.

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Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric Ewazen (b. 1954) is a composer and teacher at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he has been on the faculty since 1980.  He studied at Juilliard and the Eastman School of Music with Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, Joseph Schwantner, Gunther Schuller, and Warren Benson.  His works, which have won him many awards, have been performed and recorded by prestigious ensembles and artists all over the world.

Celtic Hymns and Dances was one of the very first pieces I conducted with the Columbia Wind Ensemble, and for that reason it holds a special place in my heart.  It is an entirely original work, not based on any specific Celtic folk tunes, but rather on a generally Celtic feel.  Says Ewazen in the score:

Celtic Hymns and Dances was commissioned by and is dedicated to James Fudale and the Berea (Ohio) High School Symphonic Winds who premiered the work in March 1990. The one movement work draws its inspiration from medieval and renaissance music. Although the melodies and themes are original creations, the modal harmony, the characteristically energetic rhythms and the use of colorful wind orchestration calls to mind music of ancient times. Within the piece one finds pastoral ballads, heroic fanfares and joyful dances culminating in a lively sonorous finale.

The recording that Ewazen’s publisher uses to promote the piece:

Eric Ewazen has a Wikipedia page and his own web site.  He is also featured in interviews with the Juilliard Journal and Bruce Duffie, and on the Luncheon Project.  There is a great entry on Celtic Hymns and Dances on the Wind Repertory Project.  It also features prominently in this extensive paper by Darren Brooks (scroll down to page 63 for the Celtic Hymns section).

Objectively, Les Misérables stands as a genuine cultural phenomenon of 3 different centuries: it was originally a hugely popular novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862; it was adapted into a French language musical by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel in 1980, then translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer for a still-running London production in 1985, followed by a 1987 Broadway production that won 8 Tony Awards and set records for the length of its run; in 2012 that musical was adapted into a film, which won 3 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway as Fantine.

It tells the story of Jean Valjean, who is about to be released from prison as the story opens.  Valjean violates his parole and starts his life anew as a good man, only to be pursued for by Javert, a justice-obsessed police inspector.  These two and the many other characters are set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, culminating in the last stand of a band of young revolutionaries (one of whom is in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter) at a street barricade during the 1832 Paris Uprising, 17 years after the story begins.

The music from Les Misérables has become well known all over the world, and has been arranged for band many times.  The arrangement we are playing was done by Warren Barker in 1987, right when the musical first hit Broadway.  Here it is, played by the Acadian Wind Symphony:

One note: I am not a fan of drum set parts in symphonic music, even semi-pop tunes like this, so we will leave them out of our performance.

To go to the source, here are some performances of the songs in the arrangement.  It starts with “At the End of the Day”, a primarily choral number which depicts the misery of the lower classes in early 19th-century Paris.  This performance comes from the musical’s 10th anniversary concert staging at London’s Royal Albert Hall:

“I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo about her unfulfilled dreams, sung as she faces the darkest days of her life, having lost her job and her daughter and been forced into prostitution.  This is Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning performance, intercut with other scenes from the film:

“Master of the House” is our introduction to the Thénardiers, a corrupt innkeeper and his wife who have been caring for Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (and taking her money) while neglecting her and showering gifts on their own daughter, Éponine.  This performance comes from the 2006 Broadway revival.  The meat of the song starts around 1:00:

The teenage Éponine sings “On My Own” as she realizes and accepts that the revolutionary leader, Marius, is in love with Cosette rather than her.  Sung by one of the classic Éponines, Linzi Hateley:

“Do You Hear the People Sing” is the big choral number in which the young revolutionaries rally the people of Paris to their cause.  Here it is as sung by 17 different Valjeans from around the world:

Dutch composer Johan de Meij (b. 1953) studied trombone and conducting at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague.  He now resides in the New York City area. He rose to international fame as a composer with his Symphony no. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”.  Written between 1984 and 1987, it was premiered in Brussels, Belgium in 1988.  It went on to win first prize in the Sudler International Wind Band Composition Competition in 1989, and a Dutch Composers Fund award in 1990, and has since become a cornerstone of the repertoire for high-level bands worldwide.  His subsequent compositions have also won numerous awards.  He remains active as a composer, euphonium and trombone player, and guest conductor of ensembles on five continents.

Songs from the Catskills was completed on St. Patrick’s Day, 2011.  De Meij provides his own program notes:

The Catskill Mountains is a beautifully preserved region in Upstate New York, flanked to the east by the Hudson River. From the moment my wife and I settled in 2008 in Saugerties, a quaint Hudson Valley town 100 miles north of Manhattan, I started immersing myself into the area’s rich musical history. Discovering a fascinating mix of American, Irish and Scottish folk music, ultimately, it was not easy to choose from such abundance. I ended up using the following six songs:

The Foggy Dew – is of Irish origin, but was adopted with another text into the local folk song repertoire;
Last Winter was a Hard One – tells the story of two Irish immigrant women who complain that their husbands can not find work, and that ‘Those Italians’ steal their jobs;
A Poor and Foreign Stranger – a gorgeous, heart-breaking ballad;
The Bluestone Quarries – describes the hard work in the nineteenth-century stone quarries. This song is very similar to When Johnny Comes Marching Home;
The Arkansas Traveler – made famous by folk singer Pete Seeger (If I Had a Hammer) The music makes a side trip to The Old Tobacco Box before coming to a festive conclusion.

Songs from the Catskills was commissioned by Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) and Scott A. Jones, Director of Bands, for its 2011 Honor Band Weekend. In April 2011, the work was premiered during this event, conducted by the composer.
The work is dedicated to Marilyn and Travis Rothlein, our dear friends and neighbors in the Catskills.

Website for Johan de Meij and his publishing company. Includes an extensive bio and works list, as well as a link to the above program notes.  Also check out de Meij’s Facebook fan page and his Wikipedia entry, or follow him on Twitter.

The Rio Bravo Wind Ensemble performs the full piece:

Now to dig into those folk songs: the first, The Foggy Dew, comes with several different texts attached. A British version is about a young man trying to woo a serving girl.  The Irish version, featured in the video below, depicts a scene from the Easter Uprising of 1916 (lyrics are in the video description).  Several more versions are collected here, including several different love stories, one of which has to do with the Bogle Bo (boogeyman). Here it is as performed by Sinead O’Connor and the Chieftains:

Last Winter Was a Hard One doesn’t have any play that I can find on YouTube.  Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that, as de Meij says, it curses out “Those Italians” that steal Irish immigrants’ jobs.  Read the lyrics, see the melody, and listen to an excerpt here.

A Poor and Foreign Stranger also has a life as A Poor Wayfaring Stranger.  Here, Peter Hollens and the Swingle Singers put on a very contemporary a cappella version of it that leaves the melody and the lyrics largely untouched:

For a more authentic, unadorned take, listen to Burl Ives:

The tune that de Meij calls Bluestone Quarries is also known as Pat Works on the Railway.  The lyrics differ only in the nature of the backbreaking labor that the young Irishman is engaging in.  Listen to a performance of the Railway version below:

The Arkansas Traveler used to be Arkansas’s state song.  It’s famous now as both a fiddle tune and the children’s classic My Baby Bumblebee.  It was used to lampoon country yokels in several Looney Tunes cartoons.  Watch Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys perform it:

The Old Tobacco Box, or There Was an Old Soldier probably dates from the Civil War era, given the wooden leg of its soldier protagonist.  It can be sung to the tune of Turkey in the Straw, but has its own tune that matches another called The Red Haired Boy:

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric Ewazen (b. 1954) is a composer and teacher at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he has been on the faculty since 1980.  He studied at Juilliard and the Eastman School of Music with Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, Joseph Schwantner, Gunther Schuller, and Warren Benson.  His works, which have won him many awards, have been performed and recorded by prestigious ensembles and artists all over the world.

Ewazen’s notes from the score of Hymn for the Lost and the Living:

On September 11, 2001, I was teaching my music theory class at the Juilliard School, when we were notified of the catastrophe that was occurring several miles south of us in Manhattan. Gathering around a radio in the school’s library, we heard the events unfold in shock and disbelief. Afterwards, walking up Broadway on the sun-filled day, the street was full of silent people, all quickly heading to their homes. During the next several days, our great city became a landscape of empty streets and impromptu, heartbreaking memorials mourning our lost citizens, friends and family. But then on Friday, a few days later, the city seemed to have been transformed. On this evening, walking up Broadway, I saw multitudes of people holding candles, singing songs, and gathering in front of those memorials, paying tribute to the lost, becoming a community of citizens of this city, of this country and of this world, leaning on each other for strength and support. A Hymn for the Lost and the Living portrays those painful days following September 11th, days of supreme sadness. It is intended to be a memorial for those lost souls, gone from this life, but who are forever treasured in our memories.

A Hymn for the Lost and the Living was commissioned by and is dedicated to the US Air Force Heritage of America Band, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, Major Larry H. Lang, Director.

Here is the original recording by the Air Force Band.  Note that Ewazen revised the piece after this recording, particularly after m. 115.

While it was originally written for band, Hymn for the Lost and the Living also exists in versions for orchestra, trumpet and piano, and trombone and piano, all arranged by Ewazen himself.  For a taste, here is the trumpet and piano version:

Eric Ewazen has a Wikipedia page and his own web site.  He is also featured in interviews with the Juilliard Journal and Bruce Duffie, and on the Luncheon Project.  There is a great entry on Hymn for the Lost and the Living on the Wind Repertory Project.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was an influential French composer and head of the Paris Conservatoire for 15 years in the early 20th century.  Although his own works were for the most part highly lyrical, he is thought to have spanned the gulf between the Romanticism that dominated the musical circles of his youth and the Modernism of his later years, in large part due to his role as head of the Conservatoire.  He was revered by the French people and fellow composers even to the end of his life, which is all the more remarkable given that his last years came after tumultuous changes in the music world that left many more conservative composers out of favor.

Fauré wrote Chant Funéraire (Funeral Song) in 1921 on a commission from the French government to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Napoleon‘s death.  He wrote it at age 75, after having retired from the Paris Conservatoire.  Despite his ill health, he continued to compose, creating 2 cello sonatas and numerous other pieces that seemed to posses a youthful energy.  He re-used the Chant Funéraire nearly verbatim as the second movement of the first cello sonata, showing that he must have had some affection for the material.  Fauré did not orchestrate the Chant Funeraire himself.  He left that to Guillaume Balay, who conducted the premiere performance with the Gardé Republicaine Band.  Myron “Mike” Moss created a new orchestration in 2003.  Says Moss in his score notes:

Balay’s orchestration offers the power called for by the state occasion of the premiere, but it is weighed down by the band music conventions of its time.  The scoring is thick throughout (a phenomenon found nowhere in Fauré’s own orchestrations), the score’s quiet moments are especially over-instrumented, and Fauré’s clean and sonorous voice leading is often obscured through inconsistent octave doublings.  The present orchestration emulates the transparent and clear scoring of Fauré’s own style.

There are a bunch of great internet sources for Chant Funéraire (and the related cello sonata): the Wind Repertory ProjectHal LeonardClassical Archives, the Trinity International University Concert BandNaxos, a session from the 2008 Midwest Clinic, and a review of the First Cello Sonata.  Fauré himself is featured on Wikipedia, a Facebook page, a YouTube artist pageNaxosNPR, and the BBC.

There appears to be only one recording of Chant Funéraire on YouTube.  Thankfully, it is a good one: Moss’s orchestration with Kevin Sedatole conducting a Texas regional honor band:

And here is the second movement of the First Cello Sonata, which uses exactly the same material:

Finally, two early gems of Fauré’s work that have personal meaning for me.  First, the Cantique de Jean Racine, which gave me one of my first profound experiences as a choral singer at Laurel Music Camp in between 9th and 10th grade:

Now the Chanson d’amour, which was sung during my wedding ceremony: