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Category Archives: Journeys Concert

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!