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Category Archives: Summer 2008

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

The Broadway musical West Side Story first came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between Bernstein (as composer), choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthuer Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.  Its story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side, it tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love.  The musical became a film in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Bernstein’s music was often a character itself, giving the film psychological direction in many long dance sequences.  Originally written in English, West Side Story was recently revived on Broadway in a bilingual version, with the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing mostly in Spanish while the white Jets retain their English.

This set of West Side Story Selections comprises sort of a greatest hits collection from the musical.  It is a single movement that transitions smoothly from one tune to the next, focusing on the most popular melodies from the musical.  Here it is in full:

While the playing on that recording is excellent, some of those tempos are flatly bizarre, so do not take that recording as gospel.  Instead, take a listen to the songs as they appear in the film version.  The medley starts with “I Feel Pretty”, Maria’s crazy-in-love song:

Next up is “Maria”, which Tony sings after meeting her for the first time:

This segues to “Something’s Coming”, Tony’s song from early in the film in which he expresses his feelings of endless, unknowable possibilities in front of him:

This is followed by another song of anticipation, “Tonight”, in which Tony and Maria sing of the excitement of their newly discovered feelings:

It is used again later in the climactic number leading up to the Jets’ and Sharks’ big confrontation:

Maria and Tony play at getting married (and it gets rather serious), and they sing “One Hand, One Heart”:

After the rumble, in which each gang has lost a member, the Jets regroup and sing “Cool”, reminding each other to play it cool despite their intense anxiety and anger:

The medley ends with “America”, in which the Puerto Ricans sing of the promise (and pitfalls) of their new life in New York (the song proper starts about 3 minutes in):

There is much material about both Bernstein and West Side Story on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

West Side Story main website.  Includes information on performances all over the world, lyrics to the songs, and other information.

West Side Story the musical on Wikipedia.

West Side Story new Broadway production website.

Preview of West Side Story book (for the musical) on Google Books.

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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.

Ewazen’s notes from the score of Hymn for the Lost and the Living:

On September 11, 2001, I was teaching my music theory class at the Juilliard School, when we were notified of the catastrophe that was occurring several miles south of us in Manhattan. Gathering around a radio in the school’s library, we heard the events unfold in shock and disbelief. Afterwards, walking up Broadway on the sun-filled day, the street was full of silent people, all quickly heading to their homes. During the next several days, our great city became a landscape of empty streets and impromptu, heartbreaking memorials mourning our lost citizens, friends and family. But then on Friday, a few days later, the city seemed to have been transformed. On this evening, walking up Broadway, I saw multitudes of people holding candles, singing songs, and gathering in front of those memorials, paying tribute to the lost, becoming a community of citizens of this city, of this country and of this world, leaning on each other for strength and support. A Hymn for the Lost and the Living portrays those painful days following September 11th, days of supreme sadness. It is intended to be a memorial for those lost souls, gone from this life, but who are forever treasured in our memories.

A Hymn for the Lost and the Living was commissioned by and is dedicated to the US Air Force Heritage of America Band, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, Major Larry H. Lang, Director.

Here is the original recording by the Air Force Band.  Note that Ewazen revised the piece after this recording, particularly after m. 115.

While it was originally written for band, Hymn for the Lost and the Living also exists in versions for orchestra, trumpet and piano, and trombone and piano, all arranged by Ewazen himself.  For a taste, here is the trumpet and piano version:

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 Hymn for the Lost and the Living on the Wind Repertory Project.

The composer known conventionally as Franz von Suppe (1819-1895) was born to an Italian-Belgian father and a Viennese mother  in Croatia, which was then part of the Kingdom of Dalmatia in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  His full name befits his convoluted nationality: his parents named him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli.  His early musical training was in flute and singing.  His parents pushed him to study law, but he continued his musical studies nonetheless.  He eventually moved to Vienna to complete his studies and find work conducting in opera houses.  He went on to compose over 100 works for the stage.

Light Cavalry is a two act operetta written in 1866.  The story revolves around a troop of cavalry men who attempt to unite a young couple through many twists and turns.  The overture has taken on a life of its own, much beyond operetta that spawned it.  It is core repertoire for orchestras and bands everywhere.

Franz von Suppe on wikipedia, naxos.com, and Allmusic.com.

There are all sorts of materials out there on Light Cavalry: a very thin Wikipedia article, program notes from the Amarillo Symphony, more from the Corpus Christi Symphony, a well-written walkthrough of sorts of the piece, and a collection of public domain scores of the piece.

Here’s the overture played by the Indiana University Summer Music Clinic Cream Band conducted by Stephen Pratt:

and now the original orchestral version, conducted by the legendary Herbert von Karajan:

Here’s another great arrangement for horn ensemble:

My first exposure to Light Cavalry came via this amazing Disney cartoon.  Watch all the way to the end for something truly unique.  Warning – you may wince in the meantime!

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:

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

Holst wrote A Moorside Suite for a brass band competition in 1927. Fellow British composer Gordon Jacob arranged the suite for orchestra in 1952 and wind band in 1960.  Of the 3 original movements, the March continues to receive the most attention.

An anonymous band plays Moorside March:

Now the original brass band version:

Gustav Holst’s family website – a major source of information on the composer’s life and works.

Gustav Holst on Wikipedia.

Program note on the Moorside Suite.

Ron Nahass will conduct this piece at the 2011 Columbia Festival of Winds.  I have also conducted it with Columbia Summer Winds in 2008.