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Category Archives: American Landscapes Concert

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.

Cowboy Rhapsody exists in both an orchestral version (the original) and a band version, arranged with some edits by David Bennett.  The band version was premiered by the University of Michigan Band under William Revelli in 1940.  This performance reportedly inspired Gould to write more for band, leading to his several famous contributions to the literature.  Cowboy Rhapsody uses several famous cowboy songs, including “The Trail to Mexico“, “Little Old Sod Shanty“, “Home on the Range“, “Old Paint“, and others, to create a piece that straddles the line between tone poem and medley.  Gould’s treatment, especially the off-stage echoes in the middle, captures the wide-open atmosphere of the cowboy lifestyle of legend.

I performed this with the Arizona State University Concert Band on March 1. You’ll hear a lot of trumpet given the camera placement, but otherwise this is a solid performance that represents how the piece is supposed to go:

“The Trail to Mexico” performed by country music legend Foy Willing:

“Little Old Sod Shanty” performed by Yodelin’ Slim Clark

“Home on the Range”, still famous across the USA:

A good deal of my Cowboy Rhapsody information came from this dissertation.  It also gets a mention in these program notes, and it is featured (in its orchestral version) on this compilation.  It is a piece that deserves more study and performance.

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.

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.

An Outdoor Overture had its genesis as a commission from Alexander Richter, the music director at the High School for Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School) in New York City.  Richter was looking for music that would appeal to American youth.  Copland responded with a brightly optimistic, wide-open triumph of Americana, in versions for both orchestra and band.  It was premiered in December 1938 (ironically, indoors) at the high school.  Copland describes how the piece progresses:

The piece starts in a large and grandiose manner with a theme that is immediately developed as a long solo for the trumpet with a string pizzicato accompaniment.  A short bridge passage in the woodwinds leads imperceptibly to the first theme of the allegro section, characterized by repeated notes.  Shortly afterwards, these same repeated notes, played broadly, give us a second, snappy march-like theme, developed in a canon form.  There is an abrupt pause, a sudden decrescendo, and the third, lyric theme appears, first in the flute, then the clarinet, and finally, high up in the strings.  Repeated notes on the bassoon seem to lead the piece in the direction of the opening allegro.  Instead, a fourth and final theme evolves another march theme, but this time less snappy, and with more serious implications.  There is a build-up to the opening grandiose introduction again, continuing with the trumpet solo melody, this time sung by all the strings in a somewhat smoother version.  A short bridge section based on steady rhythm brings a condensed recapitulation of the allegro section.  As a climactic moment all the themes are combined.  A brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.

Copland’s greatest works started to appear immediately on the heels of this piece.  He even interrupted work on Billy the Kid, the first of his famous Americana-themed ballets, to write An Outdoor Overture.  It is thus a window into an important period in his career, as he developed the musical language that would be associated both with him and with the broader idea of Americana in classical music in the following decades.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays the band version An Outdoor Overture:

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in the orchestra version:

To see more about An Outdoor Overture, visit the Redwood Symphony, the LA Phil, allmusic, the Fargo-Moorehouse Symphony Orchestra, and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

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.

I’ve played An Outdoor Overture twice with Columbia University Wind Ensemble (2003 and 2007) and once with Columbia Summer Winds (2003).

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.

Ticheli’s 1999 composition Shenandoah is based on an American folk song of the same name whose popularity has not been dimmed by its uncertain origin and meaning – more on that in a minute.  Ticheli himself aptly describes how this song inspired his work for band:

In my setting of Shenandoah I was inspired by the freedom and beauty of the folk melody and by the natural images evoked by the words, especially the image of a river.  I was less concerned with the sound of a rolling river than with its life-affirming energy – its timelessness.  Sometimes the accompaniment flows quietly under the melody; other times it breathes alongside it.  The work’s mood ranges from quiet reflection, through growing optimism, to profound exaltation.

He also gives some historical background on the song:

The Shenandoah Valley and the Shenandoah River are located in Virginia.  There is disagreement among historians concerning the origins of their names.  Some claim that the river and valley were named in  the 1750’s by the Cherokee as a friendly tribute to a visiting Iroquois Chief named Skenandoah.  Others suggest that the region was named not by the Cherokee, but by the Senedo Indians of the Virginia Valley.  In the Senedo tradition, Shenandoah means “daughter of the moon”, and bears no relation to the Iroquois Chief Skenandoah.

The origins of the folk song are equally obscure, but all date to the 19th century.  It has been attributed variously to a coal miner in Pennsylvania, a young protege of Stephen Foster, and to a housewife in Lexington, Kentucky [ed: also to Native Americans or French-Canadian sailors!]. Many variants on the melody and text have been handed down through the years, the most popular telling the story of an early settler’s love for a Native American woman.

More info on Ticheli’s version of Shenandoah can be found here, at his publisher’s website.  This site is also home to a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music – quite a find!

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.

An anonymous band plays Shenandoah:

A vocal version by the Choir of New College, Oxford:

Shenandoah National Park’s video page can give you some idea of the natural beauty that inspired this music.  The photo slideshow on the Shenandoah Valley tourism page isn’t bad either!

Info about the original song Shenandoah on wikipedia.

Finally, one possible set of lyrics to the original tune.  Many versions exist, this is just one of them (from lyricstime.com):

O Shenando’ I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to hear you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away you rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

‘Tis seven years since I have seen you
To hear your rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

O Shenando’ I’ll not forget you
I’ll dream of your clear waters
O Shenando’ you’re in my mem’ry
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

Brooklyn’s Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were among the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1920s and 30s, with countless popular songs and six Broadway musicals to their name.  But George (1898-1937), who wrote all of the music to Ira’s lyrics, longed for a place in the classical music pantheon.  In 1924, his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and band (later orchestra) established his credentials as a serious composer.  Its use of jazz elements within classical structures became a hallmark of Gershwin’s style.  His Piano Concerto in F and An American in Paris continued in this direction, culminating in his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.  Despite his success in the classical arena, Gershwin’s requests for lessons with other major composers were repeatedly denied.  Arnold Schoenberg, for example, told him “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Porgy and Bess is based on DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy.  It follows the adventures of Porgy, a crippled black beggar in South Carolina.  All of its major roles are black characters, which has led some to see the opera as racist.  These concerns have largely given way to the beauty and intensity of the music, helped by Ira Gershwin’s insistence that the opera only be performed with a black cast.  Because of this requirement the opera is rarely given a full staging.  However, the many memorable numbers from the opera can be heard regularly in a variety of arrangements such as the one we are playing.

Porgy and Bess on Wikipedia.

Origin of the opera and detailed story synopsis on classical.net.

A preview of Heyward’s Porgy on Google Books.

Porgy and Bess on PBS Great Performances.

About the composer:

Gershwin.com – the official Gershwin family website.

George Gershwin bio at balletmet.org.

Another Gershwin bio, with portraits, at naxos.com.

And now some video!

The South Jersey Area Wind Ensemble plays the James Barnes arrangement of Porgy and Bess, played be the Columbia Summer Winds in the 2010 under the baton of Bill Tonissen:

There is also a Robert Russell Bennett version of Porgy and Bess for band, called the Porgy and Bess Selection.  Unfortunately there are no decent recordings of this at my disposal, including the CUWE recordings in 2003 and 2006, which are marred by a terrible recording device and a terrible performance venue (Miller Theatre) respectively.

An excerpt from the opera itself, as recorded for film based on a 1986 Glyndebourne Opera production:

There are several other clips like this on YouTube which you can find if you click around a bit.

Finally, a bonus: Gershwin plays his hit “I Got Rhythm” in 1931.