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Tag Archives: Folks Songs

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.

Wisconsin native Pierre La Plante (b. 1943) is an American composer with French-Canadian roots.  His works for band have been performed internationally.  His approach to composition is informed by his many years teaching both beginning and high school band in Wisconsin.  If you have a chance, look at his very nice website.

American Riversongs was dedicated to and commissioned by the Oberlin (Ohio) High School Band and their director, Stephen Johnson III, in 1988.  La Plante details his inspiration on the cover of the score:

American Riversongs is based on traditional and composed music of an earlier time, when the rivers and waterways were the lifelines of a growing nation.

American Riversongs begins with a rousing setting of “Down the River”, followed by an expansive and dramatic treatment of “Shenandoah” or “Across the Wide Missouri,” as it is sometimes called.  After a brief transition, a brass band is heard playing a quadrille-like version of Stephen Foster‘s “The Glendy Burk.” As the “Glendy Burk” travels along, a second theme is introduced by piccolo, flutes and tambourine.  The second theme is based on a Creole bamboula tune that probably originated in the Louisiana delta region.  Other composers have used this melody, including Louis Moreau Gottschalk in his La Bamboula, Op. 2 for piano and his Symphony no. 1, subtitled A Night in the Tropics. The bamboula theme is marked by an incessant syncopated ragtime rhythm and used to good effect in the coda to bring American Riversongs to a rowdy, foot-stomping close.

An anonymous band gives a mostly quite good rendition of American Riversongs, perhaps with some overzealous performances in the percussion section:

The first song featured is “Down the River”, which is a little lark of a song about being out on the Ohio River.  I first encountered it while teaching elementary school music (I used it to teach contour to second graders), so it is fitting that the best internet source about it is another elementary school music lesson page.  Read Beth’s Music Notes for a taste of the lyrics and the original melody (not much changed in American Riversongs).

Here is just one version of the classic “Shenandoah” (which you can read more about in my entry on Frank Ticheli’s fine version):

“Glendy Burk” is a Stephen Foster song that tells a Mississippi River story.  Here’s a recent arrangement:

Finally, La Plante mentions Gottschalk, whose setting of the bamboula rhythm sounds so very straight-laced compared to what we are used to now, but it caused a sensation in Paris when it was first played in public in 1849:

David Frazier at Kansas State University put together a very good teaching unit for American Riversongs.  Sadly, it is short on information about “Down the River”, but is a wonderful resource for every other aspect of the piece.