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Morton Gould (1913-1996) was an American conductor, composer, and pianist.  He was recognized as a child prodigy very early in his life, and as a result he published his first composition before his seventh birthday.  His talents led him to become the staff pianist for Radio City Music Hall when it opened in 1932.  He went on to compose movie soundtracks, Broadway musicals, and instrumental pieces for orchestra and band while also cultivating an international career as a conductor.  Among the honors he received were the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, the 1994 Kennedy Center Honor, a 1983 Gold Baton Award, and a 1966 Grammy Award.  By the time of his death in 1996 he was widely revered as an icon of American classical music.

Gould wrote Ballad for Band in 1946 on commission from Edwin Franko Goldman and his Goldman Band.  They premiered it on June 12 of that year in New York City. It is constructed from original melodies (as opposed to using existing folk material as Gould often did) based on his impressions of African-American spirituals.  He elaborates:

I have always been sensitive to and stimulated by the sounds that I would call our “American vernacular”—jazz, ragtime, gospel, spirituals, hillbilly. The spirituals have always been the essence, in many ways, of our musical art, our musical spirit. The spiritual is an emotional, rhythmic expression. The spiritual has a universal feeling; it comes from the soul, from the gut. People all over the world react to them … I am not aware of the first time I heard them. It was undoubtedly a sound I heard as a child; maybe at a revival.

Ballad is cast in a broad ABA form, with each slow A section unfolding at a leisurely, unhurried pace.  The central B section is lively and rhythmic, but seems only like a brief episode interrupting the reverie of the outer sections.  Gould again had something to say about this structure:

Ballad for Band is basically an introverted piece that starts slowly, is linear, and has a quiet lyricism; it is not big band in the sense that there is little razzle-dazzle. A discerning listener who is programmed to appreciate the nuances and subtlety of a contemporary piece would respond favorably to this, but others merely find it from relatively pleasant to slightly boring. Only certain listeners respond to what this piece represents musically.

The President’s Own United States Marine Band plays Ballad:

To see where Gould got his inspiration from, here is a choral version of the famous spiritual, “Oh Freedom”:

Read more about Ballad at SUNY Potsdam, GIA Publications, WindBand.org, the US Marine Band, and the Wind Repertory Project.

There are several short biographies of Gould on the Internet.  Each one is more glowing than the last:

Wikipedia – concise biography and list of works.

G. Schirmer – Gould’s publisher gives a much more eloquent account of the composer’s life (which wikipedia seems to have stolen and mangled).

Kennedy Center – Heaps yet more praise on the composer.

There is even an entire book dedicated to the biography of Morton Gould, by Peter W. Goodman.  It is called American Salute.

Google books preview of the book here.

Review of said book here.

German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was a true Wunderkind, with over 100 compositions to his name by the age of 18.  The vast majority of these were juvenilia, but some them, like his Serenade for Winds, written when he was 17 and given opus 7, sound like mature pieces and remain in the repertoire.  Strauss’s early career was distinguished by his tone poems, including Don JuanDon QuixoteSinfonia DomesticaEin HeldenlebenTill Eulenspiegel, and others.  Through his deft handling of the orchestra in works like these, Strauss is alleged to have claimed that he could depict a knife and fork (and other such mundane objects) through music.  His later career involved writing some of the most shockingly modern of early 20th century operas, including Salome and Elektra, a later gradual return to a more conservative, tonal style, a brief period of questionable association with the Nazi party (from which he was later absolved), and a final distinguished resurgence.  He was writing up to his death: some of his last compositions are marked as “opus posthumous,” despite being premiered during his lifetime.

Strauss’s contributions to the wind band are substantial, beginning with the aforementioned Serenade and extending to the two multi-movement sonatinas written in the last years of his life, with some fanfares and a Suite in between.  The Happy Workshop is one of the two sonatinas from the 1940s (written in 1944-1945, to be precise).  Its original title was Sontatina no. 2 “Fröhliche Werkstatt”.  This was changed to Symphonie für Bläser “Fröhliche Werkstatt”  by Strauss’s publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, and that title has stuck.  B&H had their reasons for the change: the work is in four movements in a traditional symphonic plan, and it is nearly 50 minutes long in total.  It was premiered in 1946 in Switzerland with the very living Strauss in attendance, and yet it still contains the designation “opus posthumous,” as noted above.

This is not a piece to be trifled with.  Aside from its length and the concentration required to stay engaged for so long, it is technically challenging for each player and full of ensemble traps.  (To put it in the words of one of Arizona State’s wind faculty, who played on a recent performance of this, “pick a key and stick to it for more than a bar!!”)  Also, it requires some unusual instruments.  There are parts for clarinet in C and basset horn, as well as a bass clarinet part written in bass clef!  I made alternative versions of some of these while doing TA work at ASU:

Here it is, played by the Netherland Wind Ensemble (unfortunately in four chunks):

For more on Strauss (and this just scratches the surface), see his Wikipedia bio, his Encyclopedia Brittanica entry, this profile on mfiles, this profile on a website about music and the Holocaust, an essay about him in the New York Review of Books, and the official website dedicated to him and run by his family.

The Happy Workshop is no stranger to recording or writing.  Find out more about it at Presto Classical, Philly.com, and this blog.  It is also on IMSLP, though it is not in the public domain in the US just yet.

Willem van Otterloo (1907-1978) is best remembered as a conductor of international stature.  He began his career in his native Netherlands, conducting the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra in the 1930s and 40s.  From 1949-1973 he was the chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague.  From this post he built an international career, conducting orchestras around the world and landing other music director positions in Australia, first in Melbourne, then in Sydney.  What compositions he left behind largely come from the period before 1945, when he was still firmly based in the Netherlands and had not yet taken off as a conductor.

The Symphonietta for sixteen winds is among those early compositions, dating from 1943.  This was a dark time in The Netherlands, which was under the occupation of Nazi Germany with no end in sight.  This darkness is reflected in the Symphonietta, especially in its first movement, which alternates between abject despair and pleading desperation.  The mood lightens considerably in the second movement, an octatonic scherzo in sonata form.  A solo cadenza connects these two movements, as it does the second and the third.  Movement three is a quiet, reflective song anchored by D-flat.  The fourth and final movement continues after the slightest pause, again lightening the mood with running sixteenth notes on an octatonic scale.  It is currently available from Floricor Editions.  Here is a good, recent performance of the whole thing:

Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

It was from this perch in sunny Hollywood that Stravinsky wrote his Ebony Concerto in 1945.  In it, he distilled American jazz through his own compositional lens.  The score (untouched since its first edition in 1946) has this to say about its origin and inspiration:

Ebony Concerto was written by Igor Stravinsky for Woody Herman and his Orchestra.  It was introduced by that orchestra in a memorable concerto at Carnegie Hall, New York, on March 25, 1946, to the acclaim of public and critics alike.

Igor Stravinsky is one of the greatest and most representative figures in modern-day music.  His music has shocked, delighted, amazed, and irritated, but never bored people.  Stravinsky’s revolutionary musical precepts, his constant search for the new, for the true mirror of our changing world, find expression in music that is based on sound musicianship and great genius.  That is why his Firebird SuiteRite of Spring, and Petrouchka, to name only a few of his major works, are modern classics.

That is why Stravinsky was so impressed by the Woody Herman Orchestra and by their recordings of Bijou, Goosey Gander, and Caldonia.  His creativeness, invention, and deep sense of the modern, matched the characteristics of the Herman Orchestra.  A few months after Stravinsky had met Woody Herman, he presented the popular bandleader with Ebony Concerto… a composition that marks an epochal collaboration between the “jazz” and the “modern” schools of thought.

In truth, this origin story is somewhat romanticized.  Another account (see the Chicago Tribune link below) has it that a member of Herman’s band boasted of a meeting with Stravinsky which never actually happened, leading their mutual publisher to arrange the commission for the cash-strapped composer.  Regardless, Stravinsky did possess enough affinity for jazz that he did not hesitate in completing the project.

Listen to the original recording, and notice the delicious clash of styles happening:

Now listen to another recording that Stravinsky conducted, this time with Benny Goodman as the soloist:

The astute listener in possession of a score will have noticed that in both recordings, Stravinsky does not take his own printed tempos.  The interpretations on these recordings have now become standard.

The tunes mentioned in the program notes give great context to what inspired Stravinsky.  Here is Bijou:

And here is Caldonia:

For further reading on the Ebony Concerto, visit the Center for Jazz Arts, the Chicago Tribune, New York City Ballet, and Boosey & Hawkes.  Get a partial look at the score here.

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as a Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Rodeo was originally a ballet choreographed by Agnes DeMille and scored by Copland in 1942 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  It premiered that year at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City with DeMille in the title role to great acclaim.  Copland converted the music into an orchestral suite, Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, which was premiered by the Boston Pops in 1943.  This version, whose chief difference from the ballet music was the removal of one movement and the trimming of other sections, became one of Copland’s most popular and enduring works.  This is especially true of the first movement, Buckaroo Holiday, and the last, Hoedown.  Both of these have been arranged for band.

First, a snippet of the original ballet as performed by the American Ballet Theatre in 1973.  This clip includes an interview with Agnes DeMille and most of the opening Buckaroo Holiday scene:

Sadly, there is no good version of Buckaroo Holiday as arranged for band (very capably by Kenneth Megan) on the internet.  This adds to the heap of evidence that it is actually very difficult to play any of Copland’s music, despite the ease and accessibility of his sound.  I hope to be able to add a video of Columbia Summer Winds playing this movement once I conduct my two performances with them this July.

Here is Hoedown in its original version, in a zippy live performance:

Conductors, DO NOT hold your baton like that guy – his grip leaves him zero wrist flexibility!

Here is a good (if primitively recorded) rendition of Mark Rogers’s band transcription:

Of course, you can’t talk about Hoedown without mentioning the ad campaign that introduced those of us of a certain age to the piece in the early 1990s:

Finally, the completionists out there will enjoy both this full recording of the complete Four Dance Episodes:

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

Morton Gould (1913-1996) was an American conductor, composer, and pianist.  He was recognized as a child prodigy very early in his life, and as a result he published his first composition before his seventh birthday.  His talents led him to become the staff pianist for Radio City Music Hall when it opened in 1932.  He went on to compose movie soundtracks, Broadway musicals, and instrumental pieces for orchestra and band while also cultivating an international career as a conductor.  Among the honors he received were the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, the 1994 Kennedy Center Honor, a 1983 Gold Baton Award, and a 1966 Grammy Award.  By the time of his death in 1996 he was widely revered as an icon of American classical music.

Cowboy Rhapsody exists in both an orchestral version (the original) and a band version, arranged with some edits by David Bennett.  The band version was premiered by the University of Michigan Band under William Revelli in 1940.  This performance reportedly inspired Gould to write more for band, leading to his several famous contributions to the literature.  Cowboy Rhapsody uses several famous cowboy songs, including “The Trail to Mexico“, “Little Old Sod Shanty“, “Home on the Range“, “Old Paint“, and others, to create a piece that straddles the line between tone poem and medley.  Gould’s treatment, especially the off-stage echoes in the middle, captures the wide-open atmosphere of the cowboy lifestyle of legend.

I performed this with the Arizona State University Concert Band on March 1. You’ll hear a lot of trumpet given the camera placement, but otherwise this is a solid performance that represents how the piece is supposed to go:

“The Trail to Mexico” performed by country music legend Foy Willing:

“Little Old Sod Shanty” performed by Yodelin’ Slim Clark

“Home on the Range”, still famous across the USA:

A good deal of my Cowboy Rhapsody information came from this dissertation.  It also gets a mention in these program notes, and it is featured (in its orchestral version) on this compilation.  It is a piece that deserves more study and performance.

There are several short biographies of Gould on the Internet.  Each one is more glowing than the last:

Wikipedia – concise biography and list of works.

G. Schirmer – Gould’s publisher gives a much more eloquent account of the composer’s life (which wikipedia seems to have stolen and mangled).

Kennedy Center – Heaps yet more praise on the composer.

There is even an entire book dedicated to the biography of Morton Gould, by Peter W. Goodman.  It is called American Salute.

Google books preview of the book here.

Review of said book here.

Born in Missouri and educated at Louisiana State University and the Eastman School of Music, Herbert Owen Reed (1910-2013) served on the theory and composition faculty at Michigan State University from 1939 to 1976.  He wrote music in a variety of genres, and has especially made an impact in the wind band world, where several of his compositions are widely performed.  Among these, La Fiesta Mexicana stands out as his masterpiece.

Reed came to write La Fiesta Mexicana after receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship for study in Mexico for six months in 1948-49.  While there, he heard Mexican music from the many different cultures that make up the country’s heritage, including Aztec, Roman Catholic, and mariachi music.  He used these various ideas, often quoting them nearly verbatim, and stitched them together with elements of his own contemporary style in La Fiesta Mexicana‘s three movements.  He provides conductor’s notes in the work’s score (bear in mind the composition date of 1949 while reading).  Numbers he mentions are rehearsal marks in the score:

The Mexican, as a result of his religious heritage, feels an inner desire to express love and honor for his Virgin.  The Mexican fiesta, which is an integral part of this social structure, is a study in contrasts: It is both serious and comical, festive and solemn, devout and pagan, boisterous and tender.

“La Fiesta Mexicana,” which attempts to portray musically one of these fiestas, is divided into three movements.  These movements, plus possible choreographic notes, are described below.

I. Prelude and Aztec Dance
The tolling of the church bells and the bold noise of fireworks at midnight officially announce the opening of the fiesta (opening pages of the score).  Groups of Mexicans from near and far slowly descend upon the huge court surrounding the old cathedral–some on foot, some by burro, and still others on bleeding knees, suffering out of homage to a past miracle.

After a brave effort at gaiety, the celebrators settle down on their serapes to a restless night (No. 1) until the church bells and fireworks again intrude upon the early quiet of the Mexican morn (No. 4).

At midday a parade is announced by the blatant blare of trumpets (No. 5).  A band is heard in the distance (No. 6). The attention is focused on the Aztec dancers, brilliantly plumed and masked, who dance in ever-increasing frenzy to a dramatic climax (No. 7 to end of the movement).

II. Mass
The tolling of the bells is now a reminder that the fiesta is, after all, a religious celebration.  The rich and poor slowly gather within the walls of the old cathedral for contemplation and worship.

III. Carnival
Mexico is at its best on the days of the fiesta, a day on which passion governs the love, hate and joy of the Mestizo and the Indio.  There is entertainment for both young and old–the itinerant circus (first part of the movement), the market, the bull fight, the town band, and always the cantinas with their band of mariachis (Nos. 22-28)–on the day of days: fiesta.

The score also contains a dedication: “To Lt. Col. William F. Santelmann and the U.S. Marine Band”, the conductor and group that premiered the work in 1949.  It further contains a subtitle: “A Mexican Folk Song Symphony for Concert Band”, making it perhaps the first full symphony for band written by an American-born composer.

An anonymous band performs the piece:

I. Prelude and Aztec Dance

II. Mass

III. Carnival

The mariachi episode in movement III is a direct quote of “La Negra”, played here along with old-timey mariachi photos:

The first movement uses another tune which Reed calls “El Toro”.  This is not showing up easily on YouTube (nor is it particularly easy to search, given the number of other things out there called “el toro”), so we must survive without a video for now.

Finally, here is a taste of an authentic Aztec dance:

Read more about H. Owen Reed on Wikipedia and a nice article for his 103rd birthday.  La Fiesta Mexicana is featured at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikia Program Notes, MusiClassical.com, and Alfred Music.

Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

Shortly after Claude Debussy died in 1918, Stravinsky began sketching a piece in his honor.  He called it Symphonies of Wind Instruments, yet it was not a typical symphony.  Instead, Stravinsky meant the term in the more ancient sense of a group of instruments sounding together.  He thus constructed the piece in one movement as a disjunct procession of these varied instrumental groupings.  It first appeared publicly as a fragment from the end of the piece in piano reduction in the Parisian publication La Revue musicale, part of an issue dedicated to Debussy’s memory, in 1920.  The complete version was premiered under Serge Koussevitzky that same year, but gave Stravinsky little satisfaction in performance: he said that “Koussevitzky executed the work, in firing-squad fashion.”   It lay unpublished and largely unperformed until Stravinsky fled Europe and moved to Hollywood.  There, he substantially revised the piece between 1945 and 1947.  This revised version, which retains the dedication to Debussy’s memory, is the most often performed today.

The defining feature of Symphonies of Wind Instruments is Stravinsky’s use of the various instruments to create distinct symphonies of sound.  These groups often contrast and rarely overlap.  Tempo is another important factor in the piece.  Stravinsky uses three main tempos (essentially quarter note = 72, 108, and 144), always maintaining the eighth-note pulse within each one when using mixed meters.  These often change abruptly, but they are related by the ratio 2:3:4, and so easily performable exactly as Stravinsky asks.  Both the instrumentation blocks and the tempo sections usually end abruptly and without transition, creating a block form that is typical of Stravinsky’s broader output.  The general form of the piece has flummoxed analysts for nearly a century, with no two scholars able to agree on an exact formal plan.  The changes in orchestration and tempo, though, provide clues.  The piece is in two main sections, divided at rehearsal 42 (the first fermata).  Before that, Stravinsky introduces six different musical blocks and three types of transitions that are shuffled around and stated in various orders, never overlapping save for a broader transitional section at rehearsal 11.  After 42, only two of those blocks and a new transition type get any treatment, with the final chorale-like block occupying most of the second half.  Thus, Symphonies of Wind Instruments makes an overall move from activity and variety to stasis and sameness.  In the process, Stravinsky uses at least 37 different combinations of instruments.

The Netherlands Wind Ensemble plays the 1947 revision of the Symphonies in a very well-conceived video presentation.  Like the piece itself, the video focuses only on certain musicians at any given time:

Symphonies of Wind Instruments has inspired much scholarship, but little agreement.  Analyses have been attempted by Edward Cone, Thomas Tyra, Robert Wason, Jonathan Kramer, Jeremy Matthews, Alexander Rehding, and many others.  Less scholarly accounts of the piece can be found at Wikipedia, Boosey & Hawkes, the Kennedy Center (which did not check all of its facts!), the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic.  For a conductor’s perspective, read about David Vickerman’s quest to find the perfect tempos on a recording.  These are just a handful of the dozens of internet articles about the piece, so go explore!

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as a Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

Suite Française is a true classic of the wind band repertoire and a personal favorite of mine that I have been studying on and off for years and have conducted twice in concert.  It hasn’t appeared on this blog until now only because I have known that it would take a tremendous effort to really do this piece justice, even in my relatively un-scholarly format, as evidenced by the three days it has taken me to put this post together.  I hope that what follows proves enlightening for the uninitiated.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was a prolific French composer and teacher and a member of Les Six early in his career.  He was born to Jewish parents and grew up in Aix-en-Provence, France.  He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, graduating in 1915.  His composition career took off from there.  He traveled to Brazil (Rio) and the United States (Harlem), where he heard the uniquely New World sounds of Brazilian music and American jazz, both of which would influence his compositional style.  The Harlem experience inspired him to write the jazz-tinged ballet La creation du Monde in 1922, before even American composers were making serious efforts to blend jazz with concert music.  The Nazi occupation of France put Milhaud in serious danger: not only was he a prominent Jewish figure, he also was often confined to a wheelchair due to severe rheumatoid arthritis.  He fled for the United States 1940.  While there, he secured a teaching position at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his notable students included Burt Bacharach, William Bolcom, Peter Schickele, and Dave Brubeck.  Once France was liberated, he resumed his career there, alternating years at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire from 1947-1971.  His music further distinguished itself through its unique and unabashed use of polytonality.  Milhaud wrote two autobiographies.  The first (1953)was called Notes Without Music.  Despite having dodged Nazi persecution and spent years in pain confined to a wheelchair, Milhaud titled the second (1972) Ma vie heureuse (My Happy Life).  He died in Geneva at age 81.

There are several internet biographies of Milhaud.  See Wikipedia, Naxos, Universal Edition, the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, the Music Academy Online, and American National Biography Online.  Also, Milhaud’s former student Dave Brubeck offers reflections on his beloved teacher in this movie clip and this very moving audio excerpt (the Milhaud section starts around 14 minutes in).

Milhaud wrote Suite Française in 1944 on a commission from Leeds Music, which published the piece in 1945.  They were looking for a piece fit for high school bands, and Milhaud delivered beautifully.  It was premiered by the Goldman Band in New York City on June 13, 1945.  Milhaud also created versions for orchestra and for 4-hands piano, although the wind band version came first.  Says Milhaud of the piece (from the band score):

For a long time I have had the idea of writing a composition fit for high school purposes and this was the result. In the bands, orchestras, and choirs of American high schools, colleges and universities where the youth of the nation be found, it is obvious that they need music of their time, not too difficult to perform, but, nevertheless keeping the characteristic idiom of the composer. The five parts of this Suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground of the liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence (my birthplace). I used some folk tunes of these provinces. I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought to defeat the German invaders, who in less than seventy years have brought war, destruction, cruelty, torture, and murder, three times, to the peaceful and democratic people of France.

In addition to the folk tunes (which I will discuss below), Milhaud provided some melodies of his own.  Each movement is uniquely of its place, as you will see in the videos below.  “Normandie” uses two lively Norman folk songs: “Germaine”, about a warrior coming home through the eyes of a young woman; and “The French Shepherdess and the King of England“, about a comic meeting between the two title characters.  Milhaud added some original material to help him depict the region where so many American servicemen landed in France during World War II:

A fog-horn announces the beginning of “Bretagne“, a province with deep ties to the sea. The movement uses the sea shanties “La Paimpolaise” and “Les marins de Groix“, as well as “La chanson des metamorphoses“, a song that imagines the singer’s lover transformed:

Ile-de-France” depicts the bustle of Paris with lively, largely carefree folk material.  It begins with “A ma main droite j’ai un rosier” (I tend a rosebush with my right hand), a children’s round that alternates bars of 3 and 2, and which Milhaud sets in 4 while still retaining the accents of the original.  The lyrical melody that soon crops up is “Voici la Saint-Jean“, a summer festival song.  “La belle au rosier blanc” (The Fair Maid of the White-Rose Tree) also make an appearance:

Alsace-Lorraine” takes a more melancholy turn, suggesting distant artillery fire around a solemn funeral procession, fitting for a region that borders Germany and was taken over during the war.  Still, the movement’s ending suggests hope and triumph to come.  The main melody is apparently a Milhaud original.  The primary countermelody that sounds so distant desolate at first is “Voici le moi de Mai” (Here is the month of May), a spritely tra-la-la of a tune.  The clarinet interlude in the middle comes from “Le mois de Mai”, a different but still spritely festival tune:

Provence“, Milhaud’s childhood home, is joyous and innocent and uses the most original material of any movement.  The only folk song is “Magali“, another story of a lover transformed:

I owe a large debt to Robert Garofalo’s fantastic study guide on this piece, without which I would not have been able to even begin identifying the folk material in the suite.  His book goes much farther than this page in giving background information and context.  Here is a look at some of the folk songs that he names:

I. NORMANDIE – Sadly, none of these songs seem to be recorded in internet form.

II. BRETAGNE

“La Paimpolaise”, of which Milhaud only uses the major-key refrain (presented first in this performance):

“Les marins de Groix”, which Milhaud slows down dramatically.  If you listen carefully, you’ll recognize the tune once the tempo picks up:

III. ILE DE FRANCE

“A ma main droite j’ai un rosier”:

“Voici la Saint Jean” seems to be one set of lyrics with several different tunes attached.  Here is one that closely resembles that which Milhaud used.  Listen carefully to the top vocal and you’ll hear it:

IV. ALSACE-LORRAINE

Listen to a recording of “Voici le mois de Mai” in English.

V. PROVENCE

“Magali” orchestrated:

Additional material on Suite Française can be found at the Wind Repertory Project, this program notes wiki, and the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra Blog.  In addition, Tim Reynish has a nice page with interpretive notes on the piece, and David Whitwell wrote a paper on it.  Finally, see the full score of the orchestral version with Leonard Bernstein’s markings at the New York Philharmonic Archive.

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.  He 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.

Profanation
is the second movement of Bernstein’s Symphony no. 1 Jeremiah.  The Symphony is based on the biblical story of Jeremiah, a prophet who warned his people of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, was mocked by them for it, and famously lamented when it came to pass.  Bernstein wrote the Symphony in 1942 in order to enter it in a competition at the New England Conservatory.  He did not win, but the piece went on to bring him great success, earning him the New York Music Critics’ Circle award for best classical composition in 1944 and helping him reconcile with his father, to whom he later dedicated the score.  Profanation is the Symphony’s scherzo.  It dramatizes the savage mockery that Jeremiah experiences from the priests of the Temple of Solomon when he warns them that their corrupt ways will bring about its destruction.  It opens with a distorted version of a liturgical melody, which multiplies into a chaotic pagan celebration.  Jeremiah’s warning from the first movement (Prophecy) returns later, only to be drowned out by the chaos.

Video 1: Band version, arranged by Frank Bencriscutto, in a nearly flawless rendition by Michael Haithcock and the University of Michigan Symphony Band:

Video 2: Original version for orchestra

Now some links:

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.

Program notes on Profanation from the Williams College Symphonic Winds.

Program notes on the entire Symphony from the Kennedy Center and Bernstein’s website.

More information on the Prophet Jeremiah and his Book of Lamentations.