Copland and Barber
November 11, 2017 | 8:00 pm | Keefe Center for the Arts (Parking and Directions)
Christine Brewer, soprano
DIAMOND Rounds for String Orchestra
DELLO JOIO New York Profiles
BARBER Knoxville: Summer of 1915
COPLAND Appalachian Spring
Join Symphony NH for an all-American program featuring Grammy Award-winning American soprano Christine Brewer performing Barber's Knoxville: Summer 1915, a musical portrait of a dreamy summer night in the American South, and Music Director Jonathan McPhee conducting Copland's Appalachian Spring.
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Listen to the Works
Click on the tracks below to listen to the music on this program.
Rounds for String Orchestra
David Diamond (1915-2005)
American composer David Diamond, known for his tonal and sometimes modal works, was at the height of his popularity in the 1940’s and 50’s, thanks to the support of conductors such as Koussevitzky, Bernstein, Ormandy, Munch, and Mitropoulos. He wrote 11 symphonies as well as other orchestral pieces, concertos for violin (three), cello, flute, and piano, much chamber music and solo piano works, and some vocal music. In the late 1950’s less tonally centered music somewhat eclipsed the popularity of Diamond, but his music has been revived in this century especially by Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony.
Commissioned by Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1944, the Rounds for String Orchestra is perhaps his most popular and well-known composition. Mitropoulos had been conducting much 12-tone music and asked Diamond to “Write me a happy work. These are distressing times…” In a review of Koussevitzky’s performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the noted critic Olin Downes wrote, “...admirably fashioned, joyous and vernal...there is laughter in the music. And no wasted notes!"
The work is in three movements. The folksy first movement, Allegro molto vivace, pays homage to Stephen Foster, with generous syncopations and some punctuating pizzicatos. The Adagio second movement starts with a series of long held chords which alternate high/low and loud/soft. A second lyrical and meditative melody gains prominence. The Allegro vigoroso third movement is fugal with insistent rhythms, and driving without being abrasive. The contrasting middle section with longer less accented lines leads to hints of first theme which gradually brings the movement back to its opening music.
New York Profiles
Dello Joio (1913-2008)
Normal Dello Joio grew up in New York City and each of the four movements of his New York Profiles constitutes a sonic picture of a specific location in the city. Gregorian chant was a part of his heritage and references to this musical genre provide much of the thematic material for the Profiles.
The influence of Gregorian chant is most clearly evident in the first movement The Cloisters. The Cloisters is a medieval art and architecture museum housed in a building consisting of sections of several Romanesque and Gothic European monasteries. It is sited in a serene location in a park in upper Manhattan that overlooks the Hudson River but is located just a few miles from the commotion of the city. Melodies derived from medieval mass services are the source material from which The Cloisters movement is constructed.
The second movement evokes Central Park. Material derived from Gregorian chant is present but is not as clearly heard. The hustle and bustle of the city is expressed in this sprightly music through the incorporation of children’s songs into this playful movement.
The third movement, entitled The Tomb, is a hymn-like meditation in which chant is again central. The incorporation of a musical quotation from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” serves to identify the tomb in question as Grant’s Tomb, which also overlooks the Hudson a few miles south of the Cloisters in Manhattan.
The work concluded with Festal Dance-Little Italy. A recurring theme again derived from Gregorian chant serves as the source material for this evocation of the San Gennaro festival that is held each summer in the Little Italy section of lower Manhattan.
Knoxville:Summer of 1915
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
American Samuel Barber was a child prodigy. At age 9, he wrote a letter to his mother (quoted by Barbara Heyman in her biography of the composer):
I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don't cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlet [sic]. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I'm sure. I'll ask you one more thing.—Don't ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I've been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very).”
The next year he tried to compose an opera, and was a church organist by the age of 12. Through his aunt, the famous Metropolitan Opera contralto Louise Homer, he met many singers. His first great work for voice was Dover Beach, Op. 3 (1931) for baritone and string quartet, on a Matthew Arnold poem of the same name about World War I:
“Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
He won the prestigious Prix de Rome at age 25.
Knoxville: Summer of 1915 was written at the request of the great American soprano Eleanor Steber who premiered the piece with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky. The text is taken from a James Agee (1909-1955) prose poem of the same name, which later became the impetus and prologue for his posthumous autobiographical masterpiece A Death in the Family (1957). The poem begins:
“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.”
The novel is based on the events that occurred to Agee in 1915 when his father went out of town to see his own father, who had suffered a heart attack. During the return trip, Agee's father was killed in a car accident. The novel provides a portrait of family life in Knoxville, showing how such a loss affected the young widow, her two children, her atheist father, and the dead man's alcoholic brother.
Agee’s view of writing the prose poem, quoted from the Boston Symphony program cited by Heyman:
“I was greatly interested in improvisatory writing, as against carefully composed, multiple-draft writing: i.e., with a kind of parallel to improvisation in jazz, to a certain kind of "genuine" lyric which I thought should be purely improvised... It took possibly an hour and a half; on revision, I stayed about 98 per cent faithful to my rule, for these "improvised" experiments, against any revision whatever.”
The piece opens gently in the orchestra, and then a rocking chair accompaniment introduces the soloist.
“It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently …”
A second section is more agitated as:
“A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping, belling and starting; stertorous [characterized by heavy snoring]; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed…”
After the streetcar passes, calmness gradually returns…
“…the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew.”
…back to rocking on the porch.
The clarinet’s lyrical melody introduces a section of family, quilts, and stars:
“On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there....They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, ...with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me.”
A premonition of what is to come is shown in some more agitated music, ending with a prayer.
“By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.”
The opening music returns as the child goes to bed…
“After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home”
…but asserts some mixture of independence tempered with longing…
“…but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.”
…and finally falls asleep.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
In 1941, Aaron Copland expressed his dissatisfaction with the increasing complexity of much of the music being composed at the time and was concerned that this could lead to a breakdown of the bond between composers and their public. He committed himself “to see if I couldn’t say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms”.
His Appalachian Spring was first performed with Martha Graham in 1944 and this is the version we are performing. Perhaps anticipating its popularity, the following year Copland scored a suite based on this music for concert performance. The composer described the action of the music as “a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania Hills in the early part of the last century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer- husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house”. To many, much of the music of Appalachian Spring sounds familiar from the first listening but it makes use of only one pre-existent melody, the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts”. Copland’s brilliance distilled the essence of American folk music in creating something almost completely new that still gave the impression of using traditional melodies.
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