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Category Archives: Summer 2005

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric Ewazen (b. 1954) is a composer and teacher at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he has been on the faculty since 1980.  He studied at Juilliard and the Eastman School of Music with Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, Joseph Schwantner, Gunther Schuller, and Warren Benson.  His works, which have won him many awards, have been performed and recorded by prestigious ensembles and artists all over the world.

Celtic Hymns and Dances was one of the very first pieces I conducted with the Columbia Wind Ensemble, and for that reason it holds a special place in my heart.  It is an entirely original work, not based on any specific Celtic folk tunes, but rather on a generally Celtic feel.  Says Ewazen in the score:

Celtic Hymns and Dances was commissioned by and is dedicated to James Fudale and the Berea (Ohio) High School Symphonic Winds who premiered the work in March 1990. The one movement work draws its inspiration from medieval and renaissance music. Although the melodies and themes are original creations, the modal harmony, the characteristically energetic rhythms and the use of colorful wind orchestration calls to mind music of ancient times. Within the piece one finds pastoral ballads, heroic fanfares and joyful dances culminating in a lively sonorous finale.

The recording that Ewazen’s publisher uses to promote the piece:

Eric Ewazen has a Wikipedia page and his own web site.  He is also featured in interviews with the Juilliard Journal and Bruce Duffie, and on the Luncheon Project.  There is a great entry on Celtic Hymns and Dances on the Wind Repertory Project.  It also features prominently in this extensive paper by Darren Brooks (scroll down to page 63 for the Celtic Hymns section).

The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E-flat Major, Op. 42, more conventionally known as the 1812 Overture, may be one of the most recognized pieces of Western art music.  Tchaikovsky wrote it in 1880 on a commission for performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.  It was intended to be part of a festival to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1812 Battle of Borodino, in which Russian forces turned back Napolean’s invading Grande Armee outside Moscow.  This was an utterly improbable victory: the French forces were well-trained, battle-hardened, and large, numbering around 150,000. They had state-of-the-art artillery, and they had never lost a battle.  The Russians had no hope of matching them on any level.   However, the French were exhausted from a long campaign, while the Russians had their people from which to draw reserves.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties during the battle, but the French ultimately felt their losses more profoundly.  The Russians, though, were forced to retreat from Moscow.  Yet in doing so, they burned a large portion of the city, denying the French quarter in the cold.  A deep freeze set in, which froze much of the French artillery to the ground.  At this point, the Russians were able to force a retreat of the exhausted French forces, turning their own artillery against them.  Only about 23,000 Frenchmen made it back across the Russian border.

The 1812 Overture portrays the events in and around that battle.  It opens with a hymn based on the Russian Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross as the Russian people, hearing of the impending invasion, pray for deliverance.  Tense preparations for battle follow.  The French can be heard approaching to the tune of La Marseillaise, which grows ever more prominent as they gain the upper hand in battle.  A folk dance (“At the gate, at my gate”) comes in, depicting the Tsar appealing to his people to join the cause.  The battle continues with the French still dominating, followed by more appeals to the people.  With Moscow burning, the tide finally turns as the opening hymn returns punctuated by icy woodwind scales, heralding divine intervention by deep freeze in the Russians’ favor.  The famous finale features scored cannon shots and clanging bells, meant to reflect the Russian appropriation of the French artillery and the celebratory ringing of church bells at the conclusion of the battle.

Tchaikovsky was a rather miserable fellow, and that is evident in his feelings about this piece, which he saw as little more than a vapid propaganda exercise.  There are some truly choice quotes in this discussion of his correspondence relating to the 1812 Overture.  My favorite: “It is impossible to set about without repugnance such music which is destined for the glorification of something that, in essence, delights me not at all.”

Here’s a rousing recording, complete with pealing bells and roaring cannons at the end:

1812 Overture on Wikipedia, the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra, classical.net, and the Hollywood Bowl.

A nice article from 2003 about how this Russian overture became an American 4th of July tradition.

Tchaikovsky info on DSO Kids, wikipedia, and Tchaikovsky Research.

The 1812 Overture has inspired countless pop culture responses.  Here are just a few:

Vodafone made an ad in which they used 1000 cellphones to recreate the finale of 1812.

An online game in which you fire cannonballs at the conductor.

A Subway commercial uses the finale music to good comic effect.

In case you were wondering, I do not endorse any of the stuff in these commercials.

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Here are some well-researched program notes on Stars & stripes from the Band Music PDF Library.

Stars and Stripes Forever (march) is considered the finest march ever written, and the same time one of the most patriotic ever conceived.  As reported in the Philedelphia Public Ledger (May 15, 1897) “… It is stirring enough to rouse the American eagle from his crag, and set him to shriek exultantly while he hurls his arrows at the aurora borealis.” (referring to the concert the Sousa Band gave the previous day at the Academy of Music). (Research done by Elizabeth Hartman, head of the music department, Free Library of Philadelphia.  [Quote] taken from John Philip Sousa, Descriptive Catalog of his Works (Paul E. Bierley, University of Illinois Press, 1973, page 71)).

The march was not quite so well received though and actually got an over average rating for a new Sousa march.  Yet, its popularity grew as Mr. Sousa used it during the Spanish-American War as a concert closer.  Coupled with his Trooping of the Colors, the march quickly gained a vigorous response from audiences and critics alike.  In fact, audiences rose from their chairs when the march was played.  Mr. Sousa added to the entertainment value of the march by having the piccolo(s) line up in front of the band for the final trio, and then added the trumpets and trombones [to] join them on the final repeat of the strain.

The march was performed on almost all of Mr. Sousa’s concerts and always drew tears to the eyes of the audience.  The author has noted the same emotional response of audiences to the march today.  The march has been named as the national march of the United States.

There are two commentaries of how the march was inspired.  The first came as the result of an interview on Mr. Sousa’s patriotism.  According to Mr. Sousa, the march was written with the inspiration of God.

“I was in Europe and I got a cablegram that my manager was dead.  I was in Italy and I wished to get home as soon as possible.  I rushed to Genoa, then to Paris and to England and sailed for America.  On board the steamer as I walked miles up and down the deck, back and forth, a mental band was playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Day after day as i walked it persisted in crashing into my very soul.  I wrote in on Christmas Day, 1896.” (Taken from program notes for the week beginning August 19th, 1923.  Bierley, John Philip Sousa, page 71.)

Researched by Marcus L. Neiman, Medina, Ohio

 

The wikipedia article on Stars & Stripes is bit thin on references, but it does allow you to listen to a vintage recording of Sousa himself conducting the march, from 1909.  The Stars & Stripes page at the Dallas Wind Symphony has other old recordings and Sousa’s original lyrics for the march.

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

Stars & Stripes is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free.  I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.

Check out this legit performance of Stars & Stripes, courtesy of the President’s Own United States Marine Band.  If you don’t like the conductor’s very informative monologue, skip to the performance at around 1:00.

Now, the Muppets’ take on Stars & Stripes:

Finally, an inspiring trombone choir version:

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an influential British composer and folk-song collector.  His powerful and expressive orchestral music is notable for its very “English” sound.  His early adventures collecting folk songs in the English countryside profoundly influenced his later compositions.  Along with Gustav Holst, his works for wind band form a foundation for the serious literature in that medium.

The English Folk Song Suite is one of those foundational works. It was written in 1923 and premiered at Kneller Hall, home of Britain’s finest military music academy.  It uses as its source material several English folks songs.  It is cast in 3 movements: a “March” subtitled “Seventeen Come Sunday”; an “Intermezzo” on “My Bonny Boy”; and another “March” subtitled “Folk Songs from Somerset”, which incorporates several different tunes.  A good summary of the movements and the folk songs involved in each is available at Wikipedia.  The original composition also included a fourth movement, Sea Songs, which Vaughan Williams later decided to publish separately.  While the English Folk Song Suite is a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire, it is not fully demonstrative of Vaughan Williams’s compositional powers.  Only the “Intermezzo” approaches the harmonic daring and lyricism that mark the rest of his work.  The remainder of the piece is a fairly straightforward, faithful setting of the folk songs.

Program notes on the Suite.

For curiosity’s sake, here’s a Facebook discussion board dedicated to the Suite.

A chapter on British wind band music from an online History of the Wind Band by Dr. Stephen L. Rhodes. Vaughan Williams and the English Folk Song Suite feature prominently.

So now let’s listen to the Eastman Wind Orchestra (one of the best in the world) play these movements:

The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society – the source for anything you might ever possibly want to know about the composer.

Vaughan Williams on Wikipedia.

Respighi, a renowned Italian composer of late Romantic-era music, wrote this piece in 1932, his only original composition for wind band. It is dedicated to Edwin Franko Goldman and the American Bandmaster’s Association. His inspiration for the piece came from a visit to Huntingtower Castle in Scotland.

A performance of Huntingtower on Youtube:

Huntingtower Castle on Undiscovered Scotland – lots of photos of the castle!

Huntingtower Castle on Wikipedia.

Respighi biography on Wikipedia.

Respighi biography and discography on Naxos.com.

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.

Percy Grainger 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 PosyIrish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Handel in the Strand is one of Grainger’s early light orchestral pieces, written in 1911, before he enlisted in the US Army during World War I.  Grainger had no trouble allowing other musicians to arrange his music to suit their needs, so Handel in the Strand has existed in several different versions.  After its original massed piano and string orchestra setting came versions for full orchesra, piano (solo and 4 hands), organ, trombone choir, and two different settings for band (Goldman and Sousa).  Grainger gives an amusing anecdote on its origin:

My title was originally “Clog Dance”. But my dear friend William Gair Rathbone (to whom the piece is dedicated) suggested the title “Handel in the Strand,” because the music seemed to reflect both Handel and English musical comedy [the “Strand” — a street in London — is the home of London musical comedy] — as if jovial old Handel were careering down the Strand to the strains of modern English popular music.

Handel in the Strand on YouTube, performed by the North Texas Wind Symphony:

Program note on the orchestral version of Handel in the Strand from the Kennedy Center.

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

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