Skip navigation

Category Archives: 2009-10

Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) was an Italian-American composer and teacher.  He wrote operas, songs, symphonies, and a handful of wind band works.  His Symphony no. 3 is one of the staple long-form works in the wind band repertoire.  For most of his career he taught in New York at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.  He also taught at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute and founded the North Carolina School for the Arts.

According to the Oklahoma City University Program Notes Resource for Band Directors, Giannini had this to say about his Symphony No. 3:

The Symphony No. 3  was composed on a commission by the Duke University Band and its conductor, Paul Bryan, during the summer of 1958, in Rome Italy, where I was spending my vacation.  It is my second work for band; the first, Preludium and Allegro, was commissioned by Richard Franko Goldman.

I can give no other reason for choosing to write a Symphony to fulfill this commission than that I “felt like it,” and the thought of doing it interested me a great deal.

I will not go into the technical details of the work.  Basically, the listener is not concerned with them beyond what they can hear for themselves.  I follow no ‘isms’ when I compose; I try to project and communicate a feeling, a thought that is in me at the time, using whatever technique is suggested by my mood to achieve this communication.

The form of the movements is this:  first movement – sonata allegro; second movement – A B A; third movement – A B A B; fourth movement – sonata allegro.  There is no program – only what I heard and felt at the time.  I hope it makes music.

Vittorio Giannini on Wikipedia

Short bio on Giannini from Voices In the Wilderness by Walter Simmons, a book about neo-romantic American composers.

There is a CD of Giannini’s complete band works, available at Naxos, Amazon, and at emusic.  All the sites allow you to play short clips of the tracks, and Naxos MAY even allow folks on campus to listen to full tracks by logging in.  The customer reviews at Amazon have a good deal of information about the Symphony.  For some more information on Giannini himself, read the reviews of the CD on the Naxos site.

Further program notes on the Symphony from Kenyon University (scroll down to the last 2 paragraphs before “about the ensemble”).

The Eastman Wind Ensemble plays the entire symphony:

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Children’s March was written between 1916 and 1919, during the flurry of activity that produced several of Grainger’s miniature masterworks for winds.  The version for full band was premiered by the Goldman Band at Columbia University (yes, OUR Columbia University) in 1919.  As with most of his music, Grainger wrote and orchestrated Children’s March with a very specific vision, but also with a widely flexible instrumentation.  The piece could be played by ensembles as small as woodwind quintet with two pianos to those as large as a full symphonic band, or even a symphony orchestra (minus violins, violas, and cellos) without altering the existing parts.  While this flexibility is not unusual in Grainger’s work, two features the orchestration of Children’s March set it apart from his contemporaneous works.  First is the prominent inclusion of the piano, which was then unusual.  Second are the two 4-part vocal passages in the piece that are intended to be sung by the members of the band.  Furthermore, Children’s March is a rare instance of Grainger using original material.  Most of his other enduring works were based on existing folk melodies, but Grainger devised his own–possibly his most effective original tune–in this case.

These program notes from the Carson-Newman College bands elaborate on the instrumentation (and more) of Children’s March:

In Children’s March Grainger displays his quality skills for scoring in this light and carefree work. Scored for band in 1919, Children’s March had roots within a piano solo which Grainger had composed between 1916 and 1918. At the time it was rescored, Grainger was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Artillery Band and, thus, the march reflects an orchestration to take advantage of that group’s instrumentation. In composition, Grainger was of the opinion that it is in the lower octaves of the band (and from the larger members of the reed families) that the greatest expressivity is to be looked for. Consequently we find in his Children’s March a more liberal and highly specialized use of such instruments as the bassoons, English horn, bass clarinet and the lower saxophones than is usual in writing for military band. The march was first performed by the renowned Goldman Band in 1919 and was also recorded in its original form by the same band with the composer conducting. It was dedicated to “my playmate beyond the hills,” believed to be Karen Holton, a Scandinavian beauty with whom the composer corresponded for eight years but would not marry because of his possessive mother’s jealousy.

Here is a magnificent performance of Children’s March on YouTube by the North Texas Wind Symphony.  Listen for the piano and vocals:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Finally, I know this is already up on the other Grainger pages, but it’s just so good:

One more look at Grainger on YouTube, this time performing on the piano:

Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy:

Eric Whitacre on Facebook.

Eric Whitacre on MySpace.  If you watch the video on either of these, he says how he’s overwhelmed with fan mail.

Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.

Eric Whitacre’s blog.

EricWhitacre.com.

Whitacre even writes his own program notes!  Here they are for Sleep:

Sleep began its life as an a cappella choral setting, with a magnificent original poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri.  The chorale-like nature and warm harmonies seemed to call out for the simple and plaintive sound of winds, and I thought that it might make a gorgeous addition to the wind symphony repertoire.  Sleep can be performed as a work for band, or band and mixed chorus.

What Whitacre leaves out is that the music for Sleep was originally a setting of Robert Frost‘s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening“.  Alas, the Frost estate maintains very strict controls on musical settings of Robert’s work.  Some reports say that Frost himself banned any musical setting of his work after being disgusted with Randall Thompson‘s Frostiana.  So Whitacre has been denied permission to use the Frost text in any performance or recording.  This is where Silvestri’s poem came from – it is a perfect musical match to “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poem:

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed
A thousand pictures fill my head
I cannot sleep, my mind’s a-flight
And yet my limbs seem made of lead

If there are noises in the night
A frightening shadow, flickering light
Then I surrender unto sleep
Where clouds of dream give second sight

What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep,
As I surrender unto sleep.

Sleep is all over YouTube.  We’ll begin with an excellent, straight-up band version:

Here are Eric Whitacre’s own Singers doing the choir version:

Now here’s what it sounds like with band AND choir.  That’s Eric Whitacre conducting, by the way.  The video is slightly off from the sound.

Whitacre has put together another virtual choir for a rather eerily polished version of Sleep:

Finally, a version with the Frost text has made it onto YouTube:

John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school.  His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams.  The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War.  Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools.  Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance.  He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.

Chance wrote Blue Lake Overture in 1971 for the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan.  The outer sections of the piece feature rhythmic intensity brought about by Chance’s free use of both 3- and 2-eighth note groups in 4/4. While this often produces a 3+3+2 pattern which matches the length of the 4/4 bar, more often the note groupings defy that meter altogether, spilling over barlines and creating moments that sound like 5/8, 9/8, and even unknown hybrid meters.  The middle section settles into a circusy waltz with wandering tonality.  Every section of the band gets a soli in this rhythmic thrill ride.

Blue Lake Overture is a much-loved but not much-played piece.  Program notes and reviews of the piece abound.  The highlights:

banddirector.com program notes and analysis.

Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on Amazon.com with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.

Also, here’s John Barnes Chance’s wikipedia bio.

For extra fun, here is the website of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for which this piece was composed.

More performances of Blue Lake Overture are popping up on YouTube.  This one is still the best.  It is a high school band from Florida.  They go quite a bit faster than necessary, but it’s quite exciting that way!

Sousa wrote The Pathfinder of Panama in 1915.  According to naxosdirect.com:

Pathfinder of Panama was composed for the Sousa Band’s long residency at the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition in the summer of 1915. The Sousa Band appeared alongside an all-star symphony orchestra conducted by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com.  Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

Finally, a youtube performance by an unknown band.  Their articulation is great, but they consistently rush the dotted rhythms.  Listen carefully so that ours are better!

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett wrote Symphonic Songs for Band 1957 on a commission from the National Intercollegiate Band, which premiered the piece at Salt Lake City’s Tabernacle.  Subsequent early performances by the Goldman Band and the University of Michigan Symphony Band featured Bennett as guest conductor.  According to George Ferencz, Bennett scholar and editor of the latest full-score edition of the piece, Bennett provided the following note for the piece’s performance with the Goldman Band:

Symphonic Songs are as much as suite of dances or scenes as songs, deriving their name from the tendency of the principal parts to sing out a fairly diatonic tune against whatever rhythm develops in the middle instruments.  The Serenade has the feeling of strumming, from which the title is obtained, otherwise it bears little resemblance to the serenades of Mozart.  The Spiritual may possibly strike the listener as being unsophisticated enough to justify its title, but in performance this movement sounds far simpler than it really is.  The Celebration recalls an old-time country fair; with cheering throngs (in the woodwinds), a circus act or two, and the inevitable mule race.

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Symphonic Songs sheet music for sale on the Canadian Brass website.  Includes a nice bit of history on the piece.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on Naxos.com.

Broadway.com tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Now for a performance.  It’s the Tokyo Kosei!  And they are very fine indeed, but they miss some of the spirit of the piece.  For instance, I think the first movement needs to be a little faster and a bit looser and more heartfelt in the lyricism.  Then they breeze a little too easily through most of the Spiritual.  Their energy at the beginning of the Celebration is perfect, but then they use the wrong kind of whistle in the middle.  So use this recording only as a reference:

William Bolcom (b. 1938) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and a recently-retired professor at the University of Michigan.  His compositions span many genres, from the wind band to piano works to opera.  He performs alongside his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, as part of the cabaret duo Bolcom and Morris.  Recently, the University of Michigan Symphony Band premiered his First Symphony for Band.  He also recently (in 2005) won four Grammy Awards for a recording of his setting of Williams Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience on the Naxos label.

William Bolcom’s official website, with many many links, easily the best portal to understanding him on the web.  I’ll append some highlights below:

Interviews and speeches

Biography

Complete works list

Bolcom & Morris

And some other stuff:

Printed interview with Bolcom

A podcast interview with some music on naxos.com

Bolcom’s page on NPR.com

Bolcom wrote Song (for Band) in 2001 for the retirement of longtime University of Michigan band director H. Robert Reynolds.  The dedication of the piece reads: “In honor of the retirement of H. Robert Reynolds from the directorship of the University of Michigan band, this song is a present for Bob.”

A short sample recording of it is available here by clicking on the speaker icon on the left side.

Here the FSU band performs it (rather slowly in my opinion):

Finally, a response to a comment on the score: “Bandstration realized by MANLY ROMERO”.  The term “bandstration” is often used as a derogatory term for turning other pieces of classical music, most often large orchestral scores, into pieces for band.  So, for example, a version of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma for band would be a bandstration.  I suppose it is starting to have some non-derogatory usage, but to me it still reads like a dig at the supposed inferiority of the wind band medium to that of the symphony orchestra.  My feeling is that the term “orchestration” works just as well for band, since someone who arranges for band is arranging a large number of instrumental parts in a (hopefully) colorful and interesting manner, just as one would if arranging for orchestra.  So here is a history of wind band instrumentation for the intrepid reader, to help you understand where the conventions of wind band instrumentation have come from.  If you’ve ever wondered what a contrabass sarrusophone looked like, here is your answer!

Charles Ives (1874-1954) was a composer and businessman from Danbury, Connecticut. He never made his living from his compositions, instead making a fortune in life insurance.  The unusual nature of this dual life paralleled his music, which not only defied but brazenly toppled the conventions of his era.  For instance, it is at times bitonal, often disjointed, and occassionally reflects the sound of two musical ensembles playing at the same time at a distance from each other. Ives’s music was largely ignored by all but a precious few fans during his lifetime.  However, his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his Symphony no. 3 made the music world begin to take him seriously.  He has posthumously attained a reputation as among the finest of all American composers of all time.

Ives scholar Jan Swafford summarizes Ives’s influence and importance thusly:

For all his singularity, the Yankee maverick Charles Ives is among the most representative of American artists. Optimistic, idealistic, fiercely democratic, he unified the voice of the American people with the forms and traditions of European classical music. The result, in his most far-reaching work, is like nothing ever imagined before him: music at once unique and as familiar as a tune whistled in childhood, music that can conjure up the pandemonium of a small-town Fourth of July or the quiet of a New England church, music of visionary spirituality built from the humblest materials–an old gospel hymn, a patriotic tune, a sentimental parlor song. The way in which Ives pursued his goal of a democratic art, and his career of creating at the highest level of ambition while making a fortune in the life insurance business, perhaps could only have happened in the United States. And perhaps only there could such an isolated, paradoxical figure make himself into a major artist.

This is just the beginning of Swafford’s fabulous short biographical essay on Ives, which can be found here.

Swafford’s essay is just a taste of the treasure trove of information available at the Charles Ives Society website.

More on Ives from Wikipedia.

Biography with a link to an essay about the influence of Ives’s father, George, a local bandmaster.

One more biographical essay from essentialsofmusic.com

Ives wrote Variations on America at age 17 when he was the organist for a local church.  Despite its early origin, it still contains many characteristics of the Ives sound: unapologetic bitonality, themes of patriotism, some sense of playfulness and optimism.  American composer and Lincoln Center president William Schuman transcribed the original organ work for orchestra in 1962, after which it was transcribed for band in short order by William Rhoads.

A concise program note on the orchestral version.

The University of Michigan Concert Band plays Variations on America.

The original organ version performed by flamboyant organ virtuoso Virgil Fox:

Vincent Persichetti was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11.  A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions.  At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory.  His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30.  His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47.  He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band.

Several different program notes on Psalm construct a full picture of the piece and its place in the repertoire.  The US Air Force Band gives us some basic facts about the piece:

Psalm for Band was comissioned by the Alpha Chapter of Pi Kappa Omicron Nation Band Fraternity at the University of Louisville, and was premiered in 1952 by the University of Lousiville Concert Band with the composer conducting.  In the title, Persichetti refers to a poem of worship that was, in ancient times, sung or accompanied by harp.  Using a single musical idea as a foundation for the entire piece, Persicheti explores different facets of the psaml–worship, reflection and celebration.

CD review by Steve Schwartz on classical.net gives further description and context:

Persichetti is a major player in contributing to the modern repertoire for wind band, as opposed to the occasional dabbler, with several large works, including at least one symphony, for this ensemble. The Psalm appeared a year after Mennin’s Canzona. Why Persichetti called it a “psalm” I have no idea. It certainly doesn’t use the conventional idioms of religious music, and it doesn’t call to mind any particular psalm. The solemn opening Persichetti calls a “chorale,” but it’s definitely a chorale filtered through Stravinsky. Persichetti lays out the work in three large sections, each in a noticeably faster tempo, culminating in a brilliant, electrifying allegro molto, which at the very end recapitulates themes from throughout the work. It clocks in at a hefty 8 minutes, but it also takes you on a thrill ride. Like a really good roller coaster, it makes you want to ride again as soon as it’s over.

According the Oklahoma City University Program Note Resource for Band Directors, the composer himself had something to say about the piece:

The composer supplied the following note on the score:  “Psalm for Band is a piece constructed from a single germinating harmonic idea.  There are three distinct sections — a sustained chordal mood, a forward-moving chorale, followed by a Paean culmination of the materials.  Extensive use is made of separate choirs of instruments supported by thematic rhythms in the tenor and bass drums.”

More on Persichetti’s life and works are available at Wikipedia, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.  There is also a Vincent Persichetti Society with a web presence.

Onto a performance: this YouTube video shows a Catholic high school undertaking an excellent performance of Psalm.  The audio quality is not the best, and that is reflected in the relatively limited dynamic range of the video – one can only guess that the live performance was even more thrilling!

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 own program note best encapsulates the impetus for his version of Amazing Grace:

I wanted my setting of AMAZING GRACE to reflect the powerful simplicity of the words and melody – to be sincere, to be direct, to be honest – and not through the use of novel harmonies and clever tricks, but by traveling traditional paths in search of truth and authenticity.

I believe that music has the power to take us to a place that words alone cannot. And so my own feelings about “Amazing Grace” reside in this setting itself. The harmony, texture, orchestration, and form are inseparable, intertwined so as to be perceived as a single expressive entity.

The spiritual, “Amazing Grace,” was written by John Newton (1725-1807), a slaveship captain who, after years of transporting slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World, suddenly saw through divine grace the evilness of his acts. First published in 1835 by William Walker in The Southern Harmony, “Amazing Grace” has since grown to become one of the most beloved of all American spirituals.

The Manhattan Beach Music recording of AMAZING GRACE is performed by the California State University at Fullerton Wind Ensemble, Mitchell Fennell, conductor, Frank Ticheli, guest conductor. AMAZING GRACE was commissioned by John Whitwell in loving memory of his father, John Harvey Whitwell. It was first performed on February 10, 1994 by the Michigan State University Wind Symphony, John Whitwell conductor.

Frank Ticheli
Pasadena, California
May 11, 1994

More info on Ticheli’s version of Amazing Grace 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 Amazing Grace:

There is also a version of Amazing Grace arranged by William Himes:

Info about the original song Amazing Grace on wikipedia.

Finally, the lyrics to the original tune of Amazing Grace, by John Newton (1725-1807).

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.