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Tag Archives: 1970s

Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943) is an American composer and teacher.  He grew up in Chicago playing guitar and tuba.  He had early success at composition, winning the National Band Camp Award in 1959 when he was just 16.  He went on to undergraduate studies at the American Conservatory in Chicago, then masters and doctoral work at Northwestern University, which he finished in 1968.  He has served on the faculties of the Eastman School, the Juilliard School, and Yale.  His compositions have won him the Pulitzer Prize (1979), several Grammy nominations, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  He is known for his eclectic combination of compositional techniques and his mystical orchestrations.

…and the mountains rising nowhere is the result of a commission from Donald Hunsberger and the Eastman Wind Ensemble with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1977.  It was premiered that year by Eastman at the CBDNA national conference in College Park, Maryland.  It is dedicated to the children’s author Carol Adler, whose poem arioso is excerpted in the score and which inspired the work:

arioso     bells
an afternoon sun blanked by rain
and the mountains rising nowhere
the sound returns
the sound and the silence   chimes

…and the mountains rising nowhere holds a very unique place in the repertoire for wind bands.  It is scored for an extended orchestral wind section: 6 flutes (4 doubling piccolo), 2 clarinets, 4 oboes (2 doubling English Horn), 4 bassoons, 4 trumpets, 4 horns, 4 trombones (the 4th being a bass), and tuba, plus string bass.  It also calls for a six percussion players who play 46 different instruments in the course of the piece.  The feature player is an amplified piano.  In addition to all of the effects that Schwantner achieves with his percussion menagerie and conventional piano and wind sounds, he calls for unusual techniques in the winds like singing, whistling, aleatoric effects, and even tuned glass crystals which the oboists play for more than half of the piece.  These combine to make a mystical soundscape unlike anything that has come before or since.

Structurally, …and the mountains rising nowhere is in three broad sections defined by its beginning around B, its middle move to A-flat, and its final return to B.  Within that framework, there are nine distinct sections plus an introduction and a coda.  Otherwise, the work is unified by its use of sevens: arioso has seven lines, the piece was written in 1977, it is loaded with seven-note chords and seventh leaps in the melody, it uses septuplets and other seven-note groupings, it uses seven groups of whistler, its main tonal centers are related by a diminished seventh, etc.  In addition, diatonic (seven-note) scales are contrasted with octatonic (eight-note) scales for much of the piece.  This is not to say that it is a tonal creation, but neither can it be considered purely atonal.  It does have strong pitch centers for most of the work, but not necessarily in a way that Bach or Mozart would recognize.  This ambiguity is a hallmark of Schwantner’s eclectic use of compositional techniques.  Listen to the result as played by the North Texas Wind Symphony:

More information about …mountains… is available from the Wind Repertory Project, Nikk Pilato‘s doctoral dissertation from 2007 (skip to page 20), the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra blog, two different papers (here and here) by Cynthia Folio, this LiveJournal, University of Texas program notes, a chapter by Scott Higbee, Ronald Montgomery‘s dissertation, and Jeffrey Renshaw‘s articles in The Instrumentalist and Teaching Music through Performance in Band.

Joseph Schwantner has a biography on Wikipedia and his own website.

Anthony Iannaccone (b. 1943) is a composer and conductor on the faculty of Eastern Michigan University.  He studied at the Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School of Music under such notable composers as Aaron Copland, David Diamond, and Vittorio Giannini.  He has published more than 50 compositions which have won him many awards, including the 1995 ABA Ostwald Award for Sea Drift.

Iannaccone wrote After a Gentle Rain in 1979.  He says:

After a Gentle Rain is a work in two contrasting movements – the first quiet, meditative and introverted and the second sparkling, dance-like and extroverted.  The piece is dedicated to Dr. Max Plank and the Eastern Michigan University Symphonic Band and was recorded by the band for Golden Crest Records (ATH-5072).

1. “The Dark Green Glistens With Old Reflections”.  The first movement begins with a gently rippling, arpeggiated figure that contains the main harmonic and melodic idea of the entire piece: two superimposed major triads. The figure subtly changes color as it migrates through various registers, spacings, and doublings.  While the external shape of the sextuplet seems frozen, one can hear an internal, textural progression of changing resonance qualities.  Against this backdrop is painted a wide spectrum of both dark and bright mixtures of soft brass, reeds and percussion.  Those colorful mixtures constantly re-define the background and foreground of this introverted scenario.

The play on words in the title suggests images of light reflecting off moist green foliage in turn evoking reflections “off” old memories in a quiet, meditative context.  Memories, images and colors become bolder and more powerful, culminate in a climax and gradually recede into the past with the same delicate afterglow of soft bell sounds heard in the opening measures.

2. “Sparkling Air Bursts With Dancing Sunlight”.  Extroverted and dance-like in nature this movement gallops with the joy and freshness that seems to fill the air after a gentle rain.  The cleansed air sparkles with a sense of re-birth and the celebration of life.

The Austin Symphonic Band performs After a Gentle Rain:

Read up on Anthony Iannaccone at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikipedia, and his own website.  After a Gentle Rain also has a study guide available, published by GIA.

Leslie Bassett (b. 1923) is an American composer who spent most of his career at the University of Michigan.  He began as a trombonist in the public schools of Fresno, California.  He enlisted during World War II and served as an arranger and performer in their bands.  Following the war he began his studies at Michigan, which eventually led to his longstanding faculty position there.  He has won numerous awards, including the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for his Variations for Orchestra, and the 1961-3 Prix de Rome.

Bassett wrote Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols in 1978 for the University of Michigan Symphony Band on a commission from its conductor, H. Robert Reynolds, who led the premiere performance on March 17.  It was Bassett’s second piece for wind band, after 1964’s Designs, Images, and Textures.  Sounds is in four untitled movements, each of which creates a unique, non-melodic soundscape by juxtaposing distinctive sonorities and textures against each other.

Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols is a complex piece that has spawned almost more literature than performances.  Russell Mikkelson is a leading authority on the piece, having written both his doctoral dissertation and a Conductor’s Guild Journal article about it.  Christopher Chapman wrote a chapter on Bassett and his wind music for the collection A Composer’s Insight (Google Books preview here).  It is listed among the Greatest Works for Wind Band.  It is mentioned in Frank Battisti‘s The Winds of Change.  It is also featured on the Wind Repertory Project.

As for Bassett himself, he has his own website, a profile on the Living Composer’s Project, a mention in Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winnersand a profile at the American Composer’s Alliance.  In addition, Larry Rachleff conducted a fascinating interview with him.

Listen to the University of Michigan Symphony Band under Michael Haithcock play Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols:





Minnesota native Thomas Root is the Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.  His 23 published compositions, including 1977’s Polly Oliver, are played by bands around the United States.  See more about him at Weber State and Grand Mesa Music.

Sweet Polly Oliver is an English folk song that tells the tale of a young woman who dresses as a male soldier to follow her true love off to war.  The lyrics, from Wikipedia:

As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
“Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I’ll ‘list as a soldier, and follow my love.”

So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother’s clothes.
She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London Town.

Then up spoke the sergeant one day at his drill,
“Now who’s good for nursing? A captain, he’s ill.”
“I’m ready,” said Polly. To nurse him she’s gone,
And finds it’s her true love all wasted and wan.

The first week the doctor kept shaking his head,
“No nursing, young fellow, can save him,” he said.
But when Polly Oliver had nursed him back to life
He cried, “You have cherished him as if you were his wife”.

O then Polly Oliver, she burst into tears
And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears,
And very shortly after, for better or for worse,
The captain took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.

An anonymous band plays Root’s varied treatment of Polly Oliver:

English composer Benjamin Britten also composed a treatment of Sweet Polly Oliver for voice and piano.  Here it is with Britten at the piano and tenor Peters Pears:

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:

David Del Tredici (b. 1937) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer whose works range from intimate piano sonatas and string quartets to giant orchestral and choral epics.  Born in California, he now resides in New York City, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Music at The City College of New York.  His composition career has gone through phases: he showed an early interest in setting the poetry of James Joyce, moved on to a decade-long obsession with Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland, and has spent recent years creating settings of gay American poets.  He has won praise and accolades throughout his career, including from Aaron Copland, who said (according to Del Tredici’s website) that he “is that rare find among composers — a creator with a truly original gift. I venture to say that his music is certain to make a lasting impression on the American musical scene. I know of no other composer of his generation who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.”  He has also been recognized twice by OUT magazine as a person of the year.

Acrostic Song originates from Del Tredici’s Alice period.  It is the last aria in Final Alice, an epic series of arias and dramatic episodes that tells the story of the final chapters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Acrostic Song uses a seven-verse acrostic poem that Carroll wrote based on the real Alice‘s name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.  Del Tredici sets it with all the simplicity and regularity of the poem, preserving the simple, three-line stanzas in the musical phrasing.  The result is a profound musical experience wrapped in deceptively simple and familiar musical trappings.

A band in Texas performs the Acrostic Song as arranged (at the composer’s request) by Mark Spede:

Here is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing the Acrostic Song in its original from with soprano Hila Plitmann (yes, that’s Eric Whitacre‘s wife).  Note: the form is largely the same as the band version, but it’s in a different key.  And the ending veers off in an entirely different direction:

On February 18, 2013 David Del Tredici came to a Columbia Wind Ensemble rehearsal to hear us play through the Acrostic Song.  It was his first time hearing the arrangement live.  We ended up working through the entire arrangement bit by bit, making several changes along the way, thus creating sort an ur-text edition of the arrangement.  Those changes are listed below.

Changes to Spede arrangement of Acrostic Song:
m. 1: cresc.
m. 2: dim.
m. 3: cresc.
m. 4: dim.
m. 7: cresc.
m. 8: dim.
m. 9: cresc.
m. 10: dim.
mm.13-16 oboes rest
End of m. 18: no breath mark, connect right into m. 19
mm. 19-20: oboes rest
m. 24-25: no breath
m. 40: oboes rest, all flutes on G
mm. 47-53: all flutes play 1st part, 1 clarinet 1 8va (all others as written)
m. 53: PIU Mosso
mm. 57-60: molto molto accel to quarter=160 in m. 61, then rit.
m. 72: trombone 2 on C (2nd space), trombone 1 on G (top space), horn 2 on written G (2nd line), horn 1 on written D (4th line), ALL OTHERS REST
m. 75: subito piu mosso, anyone with 8ths dynamic should be ff
m. 82: add suspended cymbal roll starting pp, cresc. for beats 1 & 2, dim. for beats 3&4, release on downbeat of m. 83
m. 83: all winds and brass who played in 82 sustain whole note through 83

The performance, with some introduction:

There is so much extra material out there on Final Alice, including hugely extensive program notes from the Kennedy Center, a review of the definitive recording, Del Tredici’s own notes at Boosey & Hawkes, and a tribute by Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post.  For the curious (and curiouser), here is Carroll’s original poem, “A boat beneath a sunny sky”:

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

There are so many reasons that I’m excited to play Slava!  First, the title actually contains that exclamation point.  Second, it’s by Bernstein, a true American character, and he wrote it about Rostropovich, another great character of the 20th century.  Third, it allows me to put on this blog the most jaw-dropping musical performance I’ve ever seen. (More on that later).  Finally, it’s just so much fun to play!  So, about this piece…

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.

Bernstein wrote Slava! in 1977 on a commission from its namesake, the legendary Soviet-born cellist and conductor, Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich.  Rostropovich at that point had just assumed the post of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.  He asked Bernstein to help him present a concert of the composer’s own work early in his first season.  He got three new pieces out of that request: Three Meditations from “Mass”, Songfest, and an untitled “political overture” that was only barely finished in time for the concert.  The latter work turned out to be Slava!, a fun and irreverent tribute and welcome for Rostropovich, who conducted the premiere performance on October 11 of that year.  “Slava” is a common nickname for Russian men whose names contain “-slav”, and Mstislav Rostropovich was known as “Slava” to his closest friends.  “Slava” also means “glory” in Russian.  The program notes at the Kennedy Center, home of the National Symphony, delve deeper and are worth a read.

There is much material about Bernstein 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

You’ve been waiting all this time for that jaw-dropping video.  I found this by searching for “best Japanese elementary school band”.  To really make your jaw drop, look what they’ve done with their music stands.  To make it drop even further, listen until the end of Slava! for the famous chant.  Now, without further ado:

Now here’s a look at Slava himself doing what he did best, which was making beautiful music with his cello:

Sarah Quiroz will conduct the 2012 Columbia University Wind Ensemble performance of Slava! at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 4.

I first heard Chorale and Shaker Dance (1971) when I was a freshman in high school in 1994.  My school was small enough that I had met and become friends with a number of upperclassmen in the band through our Pep Band and Show Choir and things like that.  At the time, though, there were 2 bands at my school: the symphonic band (juniors and seniors) and the concert band (freshmen and sophomores).  We had our end-of-year concert together, and each group got to listen to the other.  I don’t quite remember what we in the concert band played (I’m pretty sure Alfred Reed’s Imperatrix was on the program), but I very clearly remember Chorale and Shaker Dance as played by my upperclassmen friends.  I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  It was so complex, so sophisticated, so riveting!  I thought multiple times, “how are they doing this?!?”.  It was really a mind-blowing experience, seeing my friends do something so big and impressive.

My band director, the legendary Bruce Schmottlach, retired at the end of that year.  My old middle school band director, Dean Coutsouridis, came up to replace him.  Couts (as we called him) programmed Chorale and Shaker Dance again my junior year, giving me the chance to experience it from the inside.  And what an experience it was!  Playing that ascending whole-tone scale trumpet solo always gave me a thrill.

I’ve been sent on this trip down memory lane by the piece’s inclusion in the Hartt School of Music 2011 Instrumental Conducting Symposium.  Looking through the score, 18 years and 2 masters degrees later, has made me reflect on my earlier experiences with the piece.  I can absolutely see why it’s still a classic among high school bands, but it’s so loaded with those intangible “high school band” qualities that I’m not sure I’d ever do it with my college or adult bands.  Still, it certainly helped put me on the path to becoming a band director!

But why talk when we can listen.  Imagine hearing this from the perspective of a small-town 14-year-old and you’ll understand why it stands out for me:

Now the requisite links:

John Zdechlik (the composer) was born in Minnesota, where he still lives and teaches, in 1937.  He has his own website, as well as a biography at Kjos, his publisher.  He wrote Chorale and Shaker Dance in 1971 for the Jefferson High School band in Bloomington, Minnesota.  To learn more about the piece, check out this guy’s “activity page”, the wikipedia article, and this instructional guide.

Bonus video: someone actually made a Chorale and Shaker Dance graphic novel of sorts…

I don’t know what I could possibly say about Star Wars or John Williams that hasn’t already been said.  So I’ll start by reproducing Donald Hunsberger’s preface from the score of his version of Star Wars Trilogy (bear in mind this was published in 1997, before any of the prequels appeared):

The phenomenal success twenty years ago of STAR WARS and its two companion films, RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, renewed interest in movies as huge spectacles. Although set in futuristic terms for we earthbound travelers, the three films are in many ways historical in nature.  Frequently described as “the morality plays of film,” the stories in the TRILOGY share a common theme of the primary struggle between good and evil and the eventual success of love conquering all.

Created originally to be a nine-part series, each film is complete within itself while remaining open-ended for its eventual position in the nine tales.  The characters obviously grow older and the production technology develops more and more as each year goes by.  The current [again, as of 1997] re-release of the films in the United States has generated massive interest and box-office success for the shows.

Of musical interest, the STAR WARS project brought to international prominence the talents of John Williams, one of the most gifted composers for film and television.  Williams worked in a totally different compositional style for the late 1970s in that he did not write short “cue music” for individual scenes, but rather composed large free-standing compositions that accompanied large segments of the film.

The five excerpts gathered in the TRILOGY are each capable of individual contrast, excitement and beauty.  The themes for Leia and Yoda have received recognition, and the “Darth Vader Death March” and “The Main Title Music” are some of the best known film music performed today.  The hidden gem in this set is the third movement, “The Battle in the Forest,” from RETURN OF THE JEDI, an extremely humorous Prokofiev-esque vivace which supports the little Ewoks in their fight with the huge metallic giants.

There is obviously much available on the web about this.  Here is just the tip of the iceberg. – features all the new stuff and merchandise as well.

Wookieepedia – The online encyclopedia devoted specifically to Star Wars and its many, varied spinoffs.  Enjoy!

Star Wars in 30 seconds, reenacted by bunnies.  Yes, bunnies.

John Williams’s official website.

A John Williams fan website (better than the official one!)

John Williams on Wikipedia.

Now get ready for some serious YouTube action!

Imperial March for orchestra, nearly identical in form to the one found in the Trilogy:

Leia’s theme, in the original orchestra version, identical in form to the Hunsberger:

Battle in the Forest – again nearly identical, but has a few extra bars in the middle and the end not found in the Hunsberger version:

Yoda’s theme (same as Hunsberger version until about 2:30):

Star Wars main theme in thrilling live performance with the composer conducting.  Not quite the same as Hunsberger, but all the pieces are there:

Finally, perhaps the most realistic version of the Imperial March:

John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school.  His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams.  The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War.  Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools.  Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance.  He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.

Chance wrote Blue Lake Overture in 1971 for the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan.  The outer sections of the piece feature rhythmic intensity brought about by Chance’s free use of both 3- and 2-eighth note groups in 4/4. While this often produces a 3+3+2 pattern which matches the length of the 4/4 bar, more often the note groupings defy that meter altogether, spilling over barlines and creating moments that sound like 5/8, 9/8, and even unknown hybrid meters.  The middle section settles into a circusy waltz with wandering tonality.  Every section of the band gets a soli in this rhythmic thrill ride.

Blue Lake Overture is a much-loved but not much-played piece.  Program notes and reviews of the piece abound.  The highlights: program notes and analysis.

Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.

Also, here’s John Barnes Chance’s wikipedia bio.

For extra fun, here is the website of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for which this piece was composed.

More performances of Blue Lake Overture are popping up on YouTube.  This one is still the best.  It is a high school band from Florida.  They go quite a bit faster than necessary, but it’s quite exciting that way!