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Monthly Archives: April 2015

Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943) is an American composer and teacher.  He grew up in Chicago playing guitar and tuba.  He had early success at composition, winning the National Band Camp Award in 1959 when he was just 16.  He went on to undergraduate studies at the American Conservatory in Chicago, then masters and doctoral work at Northwestern University, which he finished in 1968.  He has served on the faculties of the Eastman School, the Juilliard School, and Yale.  His compositions have won him the Pulitzer Prize (1979), several Grammy nominations, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  He is known for his eclectic combination of compositional techniques and his mystical orchestrations.  His important wind band works include …and the mountains rising nowhere (1977), From a Dark Millennium (1980), and In Evening’s Stillness (1996).

His Percussion Concerto first came into being as the Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra in 1994.  It was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for their 150th anniversary, and written with the percussionist Christopher Lamb as its intended soloist.  Lamb and the Philharmonic premiered the piece at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on January 5, 1995.  It has subsequently been transcribed twice: once for two pianos and percussion, making it accessible to the recital repertoire, and again (by Andrew Boysen) for wind ensemble and percussion.  In both cases, the solo part is unaltered from the original.  The soloist uses an entire world of equipment in two different setups (behind the ensemble in the first and third movements, and dramatically in front in the second).  The three movements are motivically unified, making the piece a long development of a small amount of material.

Here is the wind band version by the University of Michigan Symphony Band (in three parts):

And the orchestral version, with Lamb as soloist:

Finally, here is the two piano version, with Bryan Hummel as soloist.  I had the privilege of conducting Bryan and the Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra in the first movement of the orchestra version on February 4, 2015.  He’s a pro, and it shows here!

Bonus: the composer and percussionist Evelyn Glennie discuss the piece, with some performance and rehearsal footage:

To learn more about the concerto itself, visit the Schott page, read the LA Philharmonic’s program notes, read Shawn Michael Hart’s dissertation about it, or see what the Boston Conservatory has to say.  Joseph Schwantner has a biography on Wikipedia and his own website.

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German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was a true Wunderkind, with over 100 compositions to his name by the age of 18.  The vast majority of these were juvenilia, but some them, like his Serenade for Winds, written when he was 17 and given opus 7, sound like mature pieces and remain in the repertoire.  Strauss’s early career was distinguished by his tone poems, including Don JuanDon QuixoteSinfonia DomesticaEin HeldenlebenTill Eulenspiegel, and others.  Through his deft handling of the orchestra in works like these, Strauss is alleged to have claimed that he could depict a knife and fork (and other such mundane objects) through music.  His later career involved writing some of the most shockingly modern of early 20th century operas, including Salome and Elektra, a later gradual return to a more conservative, tonal style, a brief period of questionable association with the Nazi party (from which he was later absolved), and a final distinguished resurgence.  He was writing up to his death: some of his last compositions are marked as “opus posthumous,” despite being premiered during his lifetime.

Strauss’s contributions to the wind band are substantial, beginning with the aforementioned Serenade and extending to the two multi-movement sonatinas written in the last years of his life, with some fanfares and a Suite in between.  The Happy Workshop is one of the two sonatinas from the 1940s (written in 1944-1945, to be precise).  Its original title was Sontatina no. 2 “Fröhliche Werkstatt”.  This was changed to Symphonie für Bläser “Fröhliche Werkstatt”  by Strauss’s publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, and that title has stuck.  B&H had their reasons for the change: the work is in four movements in a traditional symphonic plan, and it is nearly 50 minutes long in total.  It was premiered in 1946 in Switzerland with the very living Strauss in attendance, and yet it still contains the designation “opus posthumous,” as noted above.

This is not a piece to be trifled with.  Aside from its length and the concentration required to stay engaged for so long, it is technically challenging for each player and full of ensemble traps.  (To put it in the words of one of Arizona State’s wind faculty, who played on a recent performance of this, “pick a key and stick to it for more than a bar!!”)  Also, it requires some unusual instruments.  There are parts for clarinet in C and basset horn, as well as a bass clarinet part written in bass clef!  I made alternative versions of some of these while doing TA work at ASU:

Here it is, played by the Netherland Wind Ensemble (unfortunately in four chunks):

For more on Strauss (and this just scratches the surface), see his Wikipedia bio, his Encyclopedia Brittanica entry, this profile on mfiles, this profile on a website about music and the Holocaust, an essay about him in the New York Review of Books, and the official website dedicated to him and run by his family.

The Happy Workshop is no stranger to recording or writing.  Find out more about it at Presto Classical, Philly.com, and this blog.  It is also on IMSLP, though it is not in the public domain in the US just yet.

Spokane native Frank Erickson (1923-1996) was a composer, conductor, arranger, and educator known primarily for his band works.  Among these are three symphonies, a Symphonette, and the famous Air for Band, as well as many others.

Erickson wrote Air in 1956 and subsequently revised it in 1966. It is simple in conception, with A and B sections that lead to a climactic coda.  It was one of the first original (as in non-transcription) slow and pretty pieces that was playable by young bands.  As such, it showed the way for future composers to explore phrasing and delicate playing with younger players.  Here it is, ably handled by the University of North Texas Wind Symphony:

Much has been written about Air for Band.  The highlights from the internet include this conductor’s outline, this study guide from a website dedicated to small bands, and this Prezi by a teacher for her band.  Erickson himself has bios on Wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.

Edwin Franko Goldman (1878-1956) was one of America’s premiere bandmasters.  He was born in Lexington, Kentucky to a musical family.  They moved to New York in his youth, where he studied composition with Antonin Dvorak and later began his career playing trumpet in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra.  In 1911, he formed the organization that would become the Goldman Band, a professional concert band that played outdoor concerts in New York City.  He also founded the American Bandmasters Association, an important and exclusive professional organization for band directors.  Through these groups, Goldman would commission and premiere numerous new works that are now standard repertoire for wind bands.  He was also a composer in his own right, with over 150 original works to his name.

He wrote The Chimes of Liberty in 1922 for the Goldman Band.  It is a standard American march, but with a chimes solo in the trio and a piccolo solo that sounds like it was ripped straight from The Stars and Stripes Forever. Like other Goldman marches, the trio section had words:

They’re the chimes of liberty,
Chimes that ring for you and me,
Where every loyal heart beats true,
They bring joy anew;
‘Tis a song of loyalty,
Of a nation brave and free,
Let us pray that they will ring for aye,
Our country’s chimes of liberty!

Feel free to sing along as The President’s Own United States Marine Band plays the march:

Loathe as I am to quibble with the US Marine Band on march style, I like to do a few things differently from this performance, which is largely by the book of the latest Schissel edition.  These changes add variety and excitement to the piece, and can be applied to any number of other marches.  They are based on my studies of march form with Wayne Bailey at Arizona State University, and have been tested in performance.

  • In the first strain, have the trombone countermelody folks play a little under dynamic the first time, then have them play out the second time.
  • In the second strain, take out everyone except tubas, horns, saxes, and clarinets the first time, and have the clarinets play down an octave.  Everyone who does play should stay at piano throughout.  Second time, as written.  All of these changes start on the PICKUP, by the way.
  • Trio first time, have the trumpets play the last note of their fanfare figure long.  Dr. Bailey also had them use cup mutes in this section.
  • Speed up ever so slightly in the last four bars, and place the stinger a hair early.

Read more about Goldman and his band.  If you’re looking for more information on the Goldman Band, look at print sources like Frank Battisti’s The Winds of Change or Richard Hansen’s The American Wind Band: A Cultural History. The websites that do exist (goldmanband.org and goldmanband.net) are relics from the Band’s acrimonious last days in 2005 (and have not been updated since), and they contain little in the way of history.