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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Hamburg native Walter Ingolf Marcus became Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970) upon emigrating from Switzerland to the United States in 1939.  He ended up in southern California, where he joined a large community of European expatriate composers.  In 1945 he began teaching at the University of Southern California.  He remained there for the rest of his career.  His compositions include a Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble, the Sinfonietta, and many orchestral works.  He is considered one of the most important American composers for the saxophone.  He was also involved in the broader entertainment industry, creating arrangements for Tommy Dorsey and Victor Borge, and touring with Edgar Bergen and Gracie Fields.  Work with Igor Stravinsky and his music was a strong influence on Dahl’s composition.

Dahl wrote the Sinfonietta in 1961 on a commission from the College Band Directors National Association Western and Northwestern Division.  It received its premiere in 1962 from the University of Southern California Wind Ensemble under William Schaefer.  Dahl said of the piece:

First of all, I wanted it to be a piece that was full of size, a long piece, a substantial piece–a piece that, without apologies for its medium, would take its place alonside symphonic works of any other kind. But in addition, I hoped to make it a “light” piece. Something in the Serenade style, serenade “tone,” and perhaps even form.

Arthur Honneger once was commissioned to write an oratorio (King David) for chorus and an ill-assorted group of wind instruments. He asked Stravinsky, “What should I do? I have never before heard of this odd combination of winds.” Stravinsky replied, “That is very simple. You must approach this task as if it had always been your greatest wish to write for these instruments, and as if a work for just such a group were the same one that you had wanted to write all of your life.” This is good advice and I tried to follow it. Only in my case it was not only before but after the work was done and the Sinfonietta was finished that it turned out to be indeed the piece that I had wanted to write all my life.

(from the CBDNA website)

The form of the piece is a broad arch spread over its three movements.  Says Dahl:

The sections of the first movement correspond, in reverse order and even in some details, to the sections of the last…The middle movement itself is shaped like an arch…the center of the middle movement which the center of the whole work–a gavotte-like section, and the lightest music of the entire Sinfonietta–is the “keystone” of the arch.

Dahl further says that the “tonal idiom” of the work is based on overtones, and thus he uses more consonant intervals than he might have otherwise.  The outer movements are based on a six-note set: A-flat, E-flat, C, G, D, and A.  These are most obvious as the opening of the third movement, though they form the basis for a whole host of melodic and harmonic features of both that and the first.  The second movement uses lighter scoring and a different pitch basis (E-flat, F, G-flat, A-flat), setting it apart from the outer movements.  The entire piece is something of a concerto for band, with extended solos for clarinet, alto clarinet, saxophone, trumpet trio, bassoon, English horn, oboe, e-flat clarinet, and no shortage of demanding section solis.

Movement 1 – Introduction and Rondo:

Movement 2 – Pastoral Nocturne:

Movement 3 – Dance Variations:

Read up on Dahl at Wikipedia, this doctoral dissertation, or in his biography, The Lives of Ingolf Dahl.  See more about Sinfonietta at the Wind Repertory Project, Koops Conducting, this blog, and CBDNA.

Leslie Bassett (b. 1923) is an American composer who spent most of his career at the University of Michigan.  He began as a trombonist in the public schools of Fresno, California.  He enlisted during World War II and served as an arranger and performer in their bands.  Following the war he began his studies at Michigan, which eventually led to his longstanding faculty position there.  He has won numerous awards, including the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for his Variations for Orchestra, and the 1961-3 Prix de Rome.

Bassett wrote Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols in 1978 for the University of Michigan Symphony Band on a commission from its conductor, H. Robert Reynolds, who led the premiere performance on March 17.  It was Bassett’s second piece for wind band, after 1964’s Designs, Images, and Textures.  Sounds is in four untitled movements, each of which creates a unique, non-melodic soundscape by juxtaposing distinctive sonorities and textures against each other.

Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols is a complex piece that has spawned almost more literature than performances.  Russell Mikkelson is a leading authority on the piece, having written both his doctoral dissertation and a Conductor’s Guild Journal article about it.  Christopher Chapman wrote a chapter on Bassett and his wind music for the collection A Composer’s Insight (Google Books preview here).  It is listed among the Greatest Works for Wind Band.  It is mentioned in Frank Battisti‘s The Winds of Change.  It is also featured on the Wind Repertory Project.

As for Bassett himself, he has his own website, a profile on the Living Composer’s Project, a mention in Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winnersand a profile at the American Composer’s Alliance.  In addition, Larry Rachleff conducted a fascinating interview with him.

Listen to the University of Michigan Symphony Band under Michael Haithcock play Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols:





Walter Piston (1894-1976) was a composer and professor of music.  He spent his entire career at Harvard University, where Leonard Bernstein and Leroy Anderson were among his students.  While there, he also wrote famous textbooks on harmony (2 of them), counterpoint, and orchestration, which are still used at universities around the world.  He began his composition studies while an undergraduate at Harvard, after which he traveled to Paris and was among the many American composers to study with Nadia Boulanger.  His works include eight symphonies, many other orchestral works including a number of concertos, and a wealth of chamber music.  His most famous piece is also his only work for the stage, the ballet The Incredible Flutist.

Tunbridge Fair (1950) is based on a real event, the Tunbridge Fair in Vermont, a large agricultural festival which has run almost every September since 1867.  The piece uses the form ABABA.  The A sections feature an angular, syncopated theme depicting the lively activity of the fair.  These contrast with the B sections, which are much more lyrical and flowing, perhaps depicting the fair’s more tender or nostalgic moments.  It is Piston’s only original work for full band.  It was commissioned by the American Bandmaster’s Association at the behest of famous bandleader Edwin Franko Goldman.

The US Marine Band plays Tunbridge Fair:

For more on this piece, see the Wind Repertory Project, Classical Archives (which makes an inexplicable connection between this piece and Holst’s Hammersmith), Boosey & Hawkes, and this book (Google Books preview).  Also take a look at this analysis of the piece.

Walter Piston has profiles on Wikipedia, The Cambridge Room, PBS, and the American Symphony Orchestra.