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Category Archives: Fantasy Concert

Robert Jager is an American composer educated at the University of Michigan.  He has written dozens of works for several media.  He is the only composer to have won the Ostwald Prize from the American Bandmasters’ Association three times.  He wrote Esprit de Corps in 1984 on a commission from the United States Marine Band and its conductor, Colonel John Bourgeois.  The piece is a fantasy on The Marine’s Hymn, taking the familiar theme in new, exciting directions.

From the title page of the Esprit de Corps score:

Based on The Marines’ Hymn, this work is a kind of fantasy-march, as well as a tribute to the United States Marine Band. Full of energy and drama, the composition has its solemn moments and its lighter moments (for example, the quasi-waltz in the middle of the piece). The composer intends that this work should display the fervor and virtuosity of the Marine Band and the musical spirit and integrity of its conductor, Colonel John R. Bourgeois, for whom the initial tempo marking, “Tempo di Bourgeois,” is named. Colonel John Bourgeois is a dramatic, spirited conductor, who reflects the excitement of the music being played. When a tempo is supposed to be “bright” he makes sure it is exactly that. Because the tempo of Esprit de Corps is to be very bright, the marking just had to be “Tempo di Bourgeois!”

Robert Jager’s website – including bio, list of compositions, and more.

Esprit de Corps page on Robert Jager’s website including a better-quality audio recording of the last minute or so of the piece.

Official history of The Marines’ Hymn
on the United States Marine Band website.

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band website. They are, without question, one of the finest bands in the world, no matter who is president.

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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.

John Steinbeck’s 1933 novella The Red Pony was adapted into a feature length film of the same name in 1949.  Aaron Copland composed the score for the film.  The Oklamhoma City University band program note database provides more information on the music and its origin:

Copland wrote the music for the film The Red Pony in 1948, on the studio lot of Republic Pictures in the San Fernando Valley, California.  The orchestral concert suite, completed during August of the same year, was prepared in response to a commission from Efrem Kurtz, who included it in his first program as conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra on October 30, 1948.  The band version of The Red Pony was made by the composer in 1966.  Four movements of the six-part orchestral suite were retained as best suitable for band transcription.  The first performance of this work was scheduled for the U.S. Navy Band under Anthony Mitchell at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December 1968.

John Steinbeck’s well-known tale is a series of vignettes concerning a ten-year-old boy named Jody and his life in a California ranch setting.  In the first movement, “Dream March and Circus Music”, Jody has a way of going off into daydreams.  Two of them are pictured here:  in the first, Jody imagines himself with the cow-hand Billy Buck at the head of an army of knights in silvery armor; in the second, Jody is a whip-cracking ringmaster at the circus.  The fourth movement, “Happy Ending”, contains a folk-like melody suggesting the open-air quality of country living and then builds to a climax.

Wikipedia article on the original novella.

Scoredaddy blog entry on Copland’s Red Pony score. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a link to download the original LP recording of the full soundtrack.

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.

Now some videos.  At last, a full band recording has emerged.  This comes from the Gustavus Wind Orchestra:

Here are a couple of the movements (Dream March and Circus Music) in the orchestra version:

Some highlights of the rest of the music in this trailer/preview for the movie:

French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) is a unique figure in music history.  He never mastered one single instrument, dabbling in the guitar and flute early in his life.  He initially studied medicine before leaving school to become a composer.  His most famous work is among his earliest: the Symphonie Fantastique.  He developed a great love for Shakespeare, basing several of his composition on the bard’s work.  He was prone to fits of passion and obsession in both his life and his music.  As a young man he fell madly in love with Harriet Smithson, an actress whom he saw play Ophelia in Hamlet.  He pursued her for years and finally convinced her to marry him, only to have the marriage fall apart in short order.  He wrote his music on a grand scale: his Requiem, for example, was scored for: 20 woodwinds; a brass section of 12 horns, 4 cornets and tubas, and 4 additional antiphonal brass choirs of 38 musicians total; 26 percussionists on 16 timpani, 10 cymbals and more; more than 100 strings; a choir of at least 210 voices, plus a tenor soloist.  That’s over 400 musicians in total.  His experience with such immense musical forces lent him great expertise in instrumentation and orchestration, and led him to write a treatise on the subject.  He was prolific as a writer and critic throughout his life, often supporting his family on his writer’s income between compositions.

The “March to the Scaffold” is the fourth of five movements in the Symphonie Fantastique.  The symphony as a whole tells the story, in music, of a troubled young artist and his quest for his true love.  The true love is represented musically by a melody known as the idee fixe (fixed idea).  This melody appears in every movement of the symphony.  The first movement introduces the idee fixe and chronicles the beginnings of the young artist’s quest.  The second is a waltz, moving the action to a fabulous-sounding ball.  The third moves to an imagined countryside where a storm is brewing, reminiscent of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.  The fourth movement takes on a nightmarish character: having taken opium, the young artist dreams that he has killed his true love and is about to be executed for his crime.  This movement thus depicts the artist’s forced march to the scaffold.  The idee fixe appears only once, as a sudden remeniscence just before the guillotine strikes the young man’s head right off and the movement comes to a perversely joyous conclusion.  The symphony’s final movement imagines the young artist, still in his opium dream, transported to hell.  Here he sees his true love, now grotesque and distorted in comically demonic fashion.  The creatures of hell amass around the artist, gleefully celebrating his demise.

Berlioz wrote his own program to the piece, which he provided for audience members to read as they listened.  Two versions of it are reprinted here.  I prefer the first.

There is one go-to site on Berlioz: The Hector Berlioz Website. Go here for literally everything you could possibly want to know about him, including a detailed biography, descriptions of every work, and also downloadable scores of several of his works.

Symphonie Fantastique has many varied descriptions and tributes on the web:

Wikipedia

NPR

An AOL member. Includes a manuscript of the idee fixe.

A British rock musician. He modernizes the program and discusses why Berlioz is still relevant.

This just scratches the surface.  Google it for even more!

The band version of “March to the Scaffold”:

Finally, “March to the Scaffold” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France:

I don’t know what I could possibly say about Star Wars or John Williams that hasn’t already been said.  So I’ll start by reproducing Donald Hunsberger’s preface from the score of his version of Star Wars Trilogy (bear in mind this was published in 1997, before any of the prequels appeared):

The phenomenal success twenty years ago of STAR WARS and its two companion films, RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, renewed interest in movies as huge spectacles. Although set in futuristic terms for we earthbound travelers, the three films are in many ways historical in nature.  Frequently described as “the morality plays of film,” the stories in the TRILOGY share a common theme of the primary struggle between good and evil and the eventual success of love conquering all.

Created originally to be a nine-part series, each film is complete within itself while remaining open-ended for its eventual position in the nine tales.  The characters obviously grow older and the production technology develops more and more as each year goes by.  The current [again, as of 1997] re-release of the films in the United States has generated massive interest and box-office success for the shows.

Of musical interest, the STAR WARS project brought to international prominence the talents of John Williams, one of the most gifted composers for film and television.  Williams worked in a totally different compositional style for the late 1970s in that he did not write short “cue music” for individual scenes, but rather composed large free-standing compositions that accompanied large segments of the film.

The five excerpts gathered in the TRILOGY are each capable of individual contrast, excitement and beauty.  The themes for Leia and Yoda have received recognition, and the “Darth Vader Death March” and “The Main Title Music” are some of the best known film music performed today.  The hidden gem in this set is the third movement, “The Battle in the Forest,” from RETURN OF THE JEDI, an extremely humorous Prokofiev-esque vivace which supports the little Ewoks in their fight with the huge metallic giants.

There is obviously much available on the web about this.  Here is just the tip of the iceberg.

Starwars.com – features all the new stuff and merchandise as well.

Wookieepedia – The online encyclopedia devoted specifically to Star Wars and its many, varied spinoffs.  Enjoy!

Star Wars in 30 seconds, reenacted by bunnies.  Yes, bunnies.

John Williams’s official website.

A John Williams fan website (better than the official one!)

John Williams on Wikipedia.

Now get ready for some serious YouTube action!

Imperial March for orchestra, nearly identical in form to the one found in the Trilogy:

Leia’s theme, in the original orchestra version, identical in form to the Hunsberger:

Battle in the Forest – again nearly identical, but has a few extra bars in the middle and the end not found in the Hunsberger version:

Yoda’s theme (same as Hunsberger version until about 2:30):

Star Wars main theme in thrilling live performance with the composer conducting.  Not quite the same as Hunsberger, but all the pieces are there:

Finally, perhaps the most realistic version of the Imperial March: