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Tag Archives: 1950s

Spokane native Frank Erickson (1923-1996) was a composer, conductor, arranger, and educator known primarily for his band works.  Among these are three symphonies, a Symphonette, and the famous Air for Band, as well as many others.

Erickson wrote Air in 1956 and subsequently revised it in 1966. It is simple in conception, with A and B sections that lead to a climactic coda.  It was one of the first original (as in non-transcription) slow and pretty pieces that was playable by young bands.  As such, it showed the way for future composers to explore phrasing and delicate playing with younger players.  Here it is, ably handled by the University of North Texas Wind Symphony:

Much has been written about Air for Band.  The highlights from the internet include this conductor’s outline, this study guide from a website dedicated to small bands, and this Prezi by a teacher for her band.  Erickson himself has bios on Wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.

California native John Cage (1912-1992) pushed the boundaries of what was considered music throughout his distinguished career.  Among his most iconic creations was 1952’s 4’33”, presented here in its version for band:

It also exists in versions for orchestra:



And Death Metal combo:

To name a few.  Read more about it here.  Happy April Fools!

Born in the Bronx, William Schuman (1910-1992) dropped out of business school to pursue composition after hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time.  He became a central figure in New York’s cultural institutions, leaving his presidency of the Juilliard School to become the first director of Lincoln Center in 1962.  All the while he was active as a composer.  He received the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for music in 1943.  He shared a fondness for wind music with his Juilliard contemporaries Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, from which came many classic works for wind band.

Schuman wrote George Washington Bridge in 1950.  It was premiered that summer at the Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan.  From the score:

There are few days in the year when I do not see George Washington Bridge.  I pass it on my way to work as I drive along the Henry Hudson Parkway on the New York shore.  Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic and, of course, my own mood as I pass by.

I have walked across it late at night when it was shrouded in fog, and during the brilliant sunshine hours of midday.  I have driven over it countless times and passed under it on boats.  Coming to New York City by air, sometimes I have been lucky enough to fly right over it.  It is difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the piece:

The bridge itself is an iconic monument connecting New York City to Fort Lee, New Jersey.  For some facts about it, visit this website, run by the town of Fort Lee.

Read more on George Washington Bridge the piece at Music Sales Classical, WQXR, and the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra blog.  Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.

Massachusetts native Frank Perkins (1908-1988) made his name as a composer while working for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles.  His works crossed genres from songs, notably “Stars Fell on Alabama”, to light classics like Fandango to a wealth of television and film music.  He was nominated for an Oscar for his work on 1962’s film version of Gypsyin which he served as conductor, arranger, and music supervisor.  He graduated in 1929 from Brown University (with an economics degree), then toured Europe as a pianist in the 1930s before returning to the US and forming his own dance band.  Subsequent work with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians led to the job at Warner Brothers in 1938, where he stayed until retirement in the late 1960s.

Floyd Werle (1929-2010) was a University of Michigan alumnus who served as the arranger for the US Air Force Band for 32 years.  He created hundreds of arrangements and was renowned for his harmonic daring and orchestrational finesse.  He arranged Perkins’s Fandango in 1954.  Here it is (with the first 8 or so bars cut off) performed by a very fine German band:

And here is Perkins’s own orchestra performing his original version:

The fandango is a song and dance form from Spain and Portugal that originated in the early 1700s.  It became popular as an instrumental form for serious treatment by composers by the end of the 18th century.  It is a 3/4 dance that is accompanied by castanets and often features a descending harmonic progression.  See one early treatment by Luigi Boccherini:

And another that focuses on the castanet-bearing dancers:

Sadly, Fandango for band is currently out of print.  Write a review of it on the JWPepper site so we can push to get it back!

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. – 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

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.

Louisiana native William Latham (1917-2004) was a composer and teacher who had a distinguished teaching career at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of North Texas.  He wrote 118 pieces throughout his career, many of which have been performed internationally.

Brighton Beach was Latham’s first work for wind bands, written the same year he finished his doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music (1954).  Despite the descriptive title (apparently chosen by the publisher), it has no specific program.  It is built like a British march, yet the marked tempo of 126-132 beats goes against the British march convention of 116 bpm.  Thus, performances of it vary from stately to speedy.  Here is a slower performance by the Washington Winds, who take it at 114:

On the other hand, here is the Arizona State University Concert Band under my direction.  We took it at 132.  Please excuse the conductor view of the video.  This was originally my reference recording, but I could find no other decent version of this piece at this (what I feel is the correct) tempo, so I share this with you for your reference as well.

Walter Piston (1894-1976) was a composer and professor of music.  He spent his entire career at Harvard University, where Leonard Bernstein and Leroy Anderson were among his students.  While there, he also wrote famous textbooks on harmony (2 of them), counterpoint, and orchestration, which are still used at universities around the world.  He began his composition studies while an undergraduate at Harvard, after which he traveled to Paris and was among the many American composers to study with Nadia Boulanger.  His works include eight symphonies, many other orchestral works including a number of concertos, and a wealth of chamber music.  His most famous piece is also his only work for the stage, the ballet The Incredible Flutist.

Tunbridge Fair (1950) is based on a real event, the Tunbridge Fair in Vermont, a large agricultural festival which has run almost every September since 1867.  The piece uses the form ABABA.  The A sections feature an angular, syncopated theme depicting the lively activity of the fair.  These contrast with the B sections, which are much more lyrical and flowing, perhaps depicting the fair’s more tender or nostalgic moments.  It is Piston’s only original work for full band.  It was commissioned by the American Bandmaster’s Association at the behest of famous bandleader Edwin Franko Goldman.

The US Marine Band plays Tunbridge Fair:

For more on this piece, see the Wind Repertory Project, Classical Archives (which makes an inexplicable connection between this piece and Holst’s Hammersmith), Boosey & Hawkes, and this book (Google Books preview).  Also take a look at this analysis of the piece.

Walter Piston has profiles on Wikipedia, The Cambridge Room, PBS, and the American Symphony Orchestra.

If you don’t want to read William Schuman’s bio, skip down to the bottom of the page for a video version of sorts.  For those who do: Born in the Bronx, William Schuman (1910-1992) dropped out of business school to pursue composition after hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time.  He became a central figure in New York’s cultural institutions, leaving his presidency of the Juilliard School to become the first director of Lincoln Center in 1961.  All the while he was active as a composer.  He received the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for music in 1943.  He shared a fondness for wind music with his Juilliard contemporaries Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, from which came many classic works for wind band.

Chester is the third movement of the New England Triptych, a collection of three pieces based on tunes by the colonial-era New England composer William Billings.    Schuman wrote the collection in 1956 on a commission from Andre Kostelanetz and the orchestra at the University of Miami.  Schuman created his own versions for band later, one movement at a time.  Chester came first, right on the heels of the original.  The orchestration of the two versions is obviously different in important ways, and unlike the other movements, Schuman actually expands his treatment of Chester in the band version.  It begins as a chorale before being broken into pieces in an intense development that comprises most of the piece.  Much later (1988) Schuman also produced a set of piano variations on the tune.

Nobody could describe the history of Chester better than Schuman himself (from the band score of the piece):

The tune on which this composition is based was born during the very time of the American Revolution, appearing in 1778 in a book of tunes and anthems composed by William Billings called THE SINGING MASTER’S ASSISTANT. This book became known as “Billings’ Best” following as it did his first book called THE NEW ENGLAND PSALM SINGER, published in 1770. CHESTER was so popular that it was sung throughout the colonies from Vermont to South Carolina. It became the song of the American Revolution, sung around the campfires of the Continental Army and played by fifers on the march. The music and words, both composed by Billings, expressed perfectly the burning desire for freedom which sustained the colonists through the difficult years of the Revolution,

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys. 

What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.

Billings himself is described by William Bentley, of Salem, a contemporary, as “the father of our New England Music.  Many who have imitated have excelled him, but none of them had better original power.  He was a singular man, of moderate size, short of one leg, with one eye, without any address, and with an uncommon negligence of person.  Still he spake and sang and thought as a man above the common abilities.”  Billings, born in Boston in 1746, started his career in life as a tanner’s apprentice but soon gave up this trade for music in which he was apparently self-taught.  He organized singing schools, composing music for them which was all the more welcome because relations with England had reached the breaking point and the colonists were glad to have their own native music.  Billings’ many “fuguing tunes” achieved great popularity, but by the time he died in 1800 this kind of music gradually fell into disfavor leaving Billings poor and neglected.  Today given the prospective [sic] of history we see Billings as a major figure in American music.  His indomitable spirit still shines through the sturdy tunes he wrote.

The Ball State University Symphony Band plays the band version of Chester:

The orchestral version, while broadly similar in its chorale-allegro design, takes a very different form than the band version does, and it is about half as long:

Schuman appeared as the mystery guest on the game show “What’s My Line” in 1962.  Sadly, his episode of the show was removed from YouTube.  Instead, you can watch this video portrait of the composer made by his publisher:

More on Chester at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikia Program Notes, an analytic paper by Christopher Ritter, and a high school listening assignment based on the piece (try it!).  Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.  And William Billings has at least one giant column of a website devoted to him and his music.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was an influential German composer who explored the fringes of tonality through his music and who was teacher to many a great name in composition.  He grew up and began his career in Germany, but a complicated relationship with the Nazi regime in the 1930s sent him elsewhere.  During that period, he was invited to Turkey, where he helped to reorganize the music education system there.  In 1940, he emigrated to the United States, where he taught primarily at Yale University.  He became an American citizen in 1946, but moved to Zurich in 1953, where he remained for the rest of his life.  He developed his own system of tonality that was not diatonic, but which ranks musical intervals from most-consonant to most-dissonant while still relying on a tonal center.  While this approach sounds purely academic, it resulted in playful, accessible music in Hindemith’s hands.  He was very interested in understanding instrumental technique, to the point that he is said to have learned to play every one of his instrumental sonatas (and there are many, including trumpet, clarinet, trombone, harp, tuba, flute, violin, viola, and bass) on the instrument for which he wrote it.

The Symphony in B-flat is a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire.  Hindemith wrote it in 1951 on a commission from “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band.  Its three movements use classical and baroque approaches to form and thematic development in Hindemith’s unique harmonic idiom.  Below, I’ll include my thumbnail analysis of each movement above separate videos of each, all by the extremely capable North Texas Wind Symphony.

The Symphony’s first movement, marked, “Moderately fast, with vigor” is in sonata allegro form.  Hindemith introduces two themes immediately.  The first is lyrical and rhythmically intense, spanning 10 bars.  The second, a short burst of five 8th notes, is hidden in the bluster of the first beat of the movement, not emerging fully until the two themes merge.  Another pair of themes is introduced at letter D.  Together, they grow into semi-climax before being interrupted by another dotted-rhythm theme, which dominates the development until the second initial theme returns.  The recapitulation of the first two themes is shrouded by changed textures, but the second pair of themes returns with confidence, ending the movement in a solid B-flat major.

The second movement is broadly in three sections.  It begins with a dolorous duet between alto sax and cornet.  There are hints of Hindemith’s Weimar Republic roots in the melody, which sounds like the lamentation of a tired cabaret singer.  A much more lively middle section features tambourine accompaniment, suggesting some angry dance.  The two contrasting feelings are thrown together in the third section.

The “Fugue” is actually two fugues.  The first begins after a short introduction in which we hear the first fugue subject stated by itself.  The second uses a broader, triplet-based subject.  The two come together late in the movement, only to be joined by the first theme from the first movement as the piece heads to its cacophonous closure.

Find out more about Hindemith at Wikipedia, the Hindemith Foundation, Schott Publishing, and DSO Kids.

Read up on the Symphony in B-flat at Wikipedia, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the Classical Archives.

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.
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.

From the score of the Symphony for Band:

This Symphony was composed for the West Point Sesquicentennial Celebration, marking 150 years of progress at the United States Military Academy.  The composer was invited to contribute a composition for this event by the Academy and Major Francis E. Resta, commanding officer of the United States Military Band and director of music at the Academy.

Composed during the months of January and February, 1952, this Symphony was first performed on April 13th of that year at the Academy with composer conducting the United States Military Academy Band.

The Symphony is in two movements.  The first, “Epitaphs”, is somber and reflective in character, looking backward on the generations who have served at West Point and inspired by the cemetery on the grounds.  It goes on to build a huge, multi-layered passacaglia texture that features a marching machine in the percussion section.  “Marches” opens quietly to an upbeat march rhythm, which grows as the movement progresses.  Gould’s Symphony is a masterwork for winds.  It is among the earliest American symphonies for bands, but it was in good company: Paul Hindemith, Vincent Persichetti, Alan Hovhaness, and Vittorio Giannini all composed their first symphonies for band in that same decade.

Listen to William Revelli and the University of Michigan Symphony Band perform the first movement of the Symphony:

As well as the second movement:

Read more about the Symphony at G. Schirmer, The Wind Repertory Project, and