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Category Archives: Reed-Alfred

Alfred Reed (1921-2005) was born in New York City.  He studied composition at the Juilliard School with Vittorio Giannini after a tour in the US Air Force during World War II.  He was later a staff arranger for NBC in the 1950s and a professor of music at Miami University from 1966 to 1993.  He is remembered today as a distinguished educator, conductor, and composer.  His impact was the greatest in the wind band world, where he left behind more than 100 frequently performed works.  He was particularly popular in Japan, where he developed a close relationship with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and where many of his works are required literature for all bands.

Alfred Reed biography at C. L. Barnhouse music publishing.

Reed wrote Imperatrix as a middle school band piece in 1972.  While it isn’t a specifically programmatic piece, the title (it’s the Latin word for empress) suggests something elegant, epic, and ancient.  Says Reed about Imperatrix:

Imperatrix, A Concert Overture for Band, was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, the G. P. Babb Junior High School Band of Forest Park, Georgia, and its director, Donald E. Wilkes.  The work was written early in 1972, and the first performance took place on April 7th, 1972, when the Babb Junior High School Symphonic Band appeared at a concert given for the Georgia Music Educators Association All-State Junior High School Band and Orchestra meeting, with Mr. Wilkes conducting.

The music is in sectional form, opening with a broad introduction that states all of the thematic material from which the work will be built.  This is followed by a brilliant Allegro, commencing with a fanfare-like figure in the Brass and proceeding through a hard-driving development in non-traditional harmonic structures that finally dies away as the third section begins.  This contrasting episode is built up from a long, lyrical line sung by all of the Flutes in unison over a rich, warm and quiet background in the Clarinets, Baritones and Tuba.  The closing cadence of this section, like that of the first, leads back to the Allegro once again, which this time drives on into the Coda where all of the themes are restated in the brightest colors of the Band.  The work ends with a joyous and triumphant conclusion.

Imperatrix on Youtube:

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Today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

“Komm, süsser tod” (Come, Sweet Death) is often counted among the chorales.  But it was originally published for solo voice and basso continuo as a set of 69 songs that Bach contributed to a collection in 1736.  Harmonic shortcuts aside, it follows the basic form of many of the chorales, with several short phrases separated by fermatas, and considerable harmonic rigor: each of the 12 chromatic tones gets intelligently used at some point in the 21-measure song.  Having been written with no particular instrumentation indicated, “Komm, süsser tod” has been performed and arranged in many different guises, including symphony orchestra, voice and organ, mixed choir, concert band, and just about every other imaginable combination.  Here are my favorite 2 performances from YouTube:

Leopold Stokowski’s moving orchestra transcription:

Klaus Martens sings while Ton Koopman plays:

Alas, the wind band recordings of this don’t do it justice.  They all take it way too fast, and aren’t as rigorously attentive to intonation as they need to be.  Perhaps this will change some day.

Finally, for those of you who have gotten this far, there are a whole bunch more links to check out!

“Komm, süsser tod” has its own wikipedia page which includes the original German lyrics and an English translation.  Well worth a look – it’s downright cheery!  Also very worth a look is the original publication of “Komm, süsser tod“.  The vocal line is in soprano clef (C is the bottom line of the staff), and the bass line uses figured bass.  But if you can navigate those, you’ll find it to be a great, authentic resource.

J. S. Bach on wikipedia, his own home page, Dave’s J. S. Bach page, and Facebook.  And that just barely scratches the surface!

Let’s not forget about Alfred Reed, the arranger of the wind band version in question.  Read his bio and more at the page for one of his great compositions, The Hounds of Spring.

Alfred Reed (1921-2005) was born in New York City.  He studied composition at the Juilliard School with Vittorio Giannini after a tour in the US Air Force during World War II.  He was later a staff arranger for NBC in the 1950s and a professor of music at Miami University from 1966 to 1993.  He is remembered today as a distinguished educator, conductor, and composer.  His impact was the greatest in the wind band world, where he left behind more than 100 frequently performed works.  He was particularly popular in Japan, where he developed a close relationship with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and where many of his works are required literature for all bands.

Alfred Reed biography at C. L. Barnhouse music publishing.

The Hounds of Spring was inspired by the poem Atlanta in Calydon by Algernon Charles Swinburne.  Reed quotes it and describes the inspiration it gave him in his own program notes on the piece:

When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain

And soft as lips that laugh and hide
The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

Algernon Charles Swinburne
Atlanta in Calydon

Program Notes

When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,” a magical picture of young love in springtime, forms the basis for the present purely musical setting, in traditional three-part overture form, of this lovely paean… an attempt to capture the twin elements of the poem, exuberant youthful gaiety and the sweetness of tender love, in an appropriate musical texture.
The poem, a recreation in modern English of an ancient Greek tragedy, appeared in print in 1865, when the poet was 28 years old.  It made Algernon Swinburne literally an overnight success.
The Hounds of Spring was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, the John L. Forster Secondary School Symphonic Band of Windsor, Ontario, and its director, Gerald A.N. Brown.  The first performance took place in Windsor on May 8th, 1980, by the aforementioned group, under the direction of the composer.

The full text of Atlanta in Calydon.

An anonymous band plays The Hounds of Spring on Youtube:

This piece is a senior selection for trumpeter and scholar Aaron Liskov.