Friday, 13 July 2012

14 and 15 July

USA 1




Intro:  Fanfare For The Common Man: Copland (3.15 min)  




Hullo.  This is Classical Break, and


I’m Rupert Kirkham.  Today’s programme,


researched and written by Mike Burrows,


is a tribute to the music


that established the United States as


a pioneer-nation in the mainstream


of cosmopolitan art-music.





We have just heard the Fanfare


For The Common Man by Aaron


Copland.  Written after the United States


had entered the Second World War,


to a commission awarded by the


Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, this is a


crucial work in the history of


North American music, and must have


seemed so from its first play-


through.  At a time when the


world seemed nightmarishly split along racial


lines, a New York Jew had


written music for a great nation


of races, seeming to express the


idealism and determination of this nation’s


response to Pearl Harbour.  In gong-


and timpani-strokes, massed trumpets, more


throaty horns and trombones, fourths, fifths


and triads of purity and brazen


clashes, the stride and power of


the titan is evoked with permutations


of a phrase and answer:  but


in deliberate white-note music, this


is American humanity on the march.


Copland said that he had written


as he imagined others were feeling. 


The Sleeping Dragon has been awoken. 


The brash circus-world of Sousa


marches or music-theatre jazz is


a world away.





We think of this music as


‘American’.  Actually, its jagged aesthetic owes


greatly to Stravinsky, Janacek and Les


Six as well as to what


might be characterized as a settler-


rhetoric.  Copland, like most of his


American contemporaries, studied in Paris.  





Our next piece was written in


a similar style: some fifty years


on.  Saving Private Ryan, a Spielberg


portrayal of the Omaha landing on


D-Day and a small force’s


attempt to return a Mother’s last


surviving son home, suffers from histrionics


and cynically manipulative scenes of mayhem,


but no such faults mar John


Williams’ music, the piece Hymn For


The Fallen, in particular.  True, Bach’s


Air On A G-string turns


up, along with a less noticeable


echo of Delius’ Song Of Summer,


but for the rest, the side-


drum, stoical, close-harmony theme, Coplandesque


brass, not to mention the glockenspiel


and busy string-figuration at the


climax, are both emotionally true-sounding


and affecting.  There is a power


in the deliberately limited melody grouped


about a modal clash between major


and minor, between home-spun harmonies


and the tritone.  This is like


a marching song for ghosts or


for those who knew them.  It


is a fine piece and may


cause one to forget how the


Copland ‘Common Man’ style has been


hijacked for just about any feature-


film that aimed for pathos, patriotic


or spiritual uplift, in the past


thirty years.





Track 2:  Saving Private Ryan, Hymn To The Fallen, John Williams. (6.07 min)





This is Classical Break on Somer


Valley FM, and I’m Rupert


Kirkham.  Today’s programme looks at American


music. 





A Hymn To The Fallen from


the 1990s reminds us that America


has always had a strong tradition


of non-conformist psalm-singing, from


the early years of European settlement


until the period of 19th Century


religious revivals, the days of the


‘camp-meetings’.  Our concept of hymn-


singing dates back to the days


of Methodism and the Wesley brothers -


and the Church of England had


no official hymnal until the 1860s


or so.             





In the main, at first the


music was rudimentary and in unison,


and trained singers led a congregation


with greater or lesser accuracy.





By the 18th Century, Tune-books


were in use.  Here is a


hymn by John Antes, a Pennsylvanian


of this period, How Beautiful Upon


The Mountains, in a comparatively ‘classical’


contemporary arrangement for singers, chorus and


orchestra.





Track 3:  How Beautiful Upon The Mountains, John Antes (3.24 min)





A hymn like Simple Gifts, we


owe to the American Shaker sect,


of course.  The much later Episcopalian


setting of Nearer My God to


Thee by Lowell Mason resounds from


its use in films on the


Titanic disaster.  From numerous westerns and


small-town films, besides the dances


at hoe-downs or balls, hymns


such as The Shining River have


been a valuable scene-setter.





One of the stranger and stronger


figures in United States music was


the recluse Charles Ives, born in


Danbury, Connecticut in 1874.  The


son of a Civil War bandsman,


town bandsman and banker, he was


taught music by his father, who,


fascinated by resonance, free tonality and


chance musical happenings, encouraged his children


to sing in one key whilst


accompanying themselves on the piano in


another.  Ives grew up to be


a fine organist and pianist, playing


in his local church, encountered academic


music at Yale and, after a


spell as organist and choirmaster at


a New York church, went into


insurance and continued to compose in


his own manner.  A fervent transcendentalist


to whom everything sang, between boyhood


and his late thirties, he created


a huge quantity of music that


anticipated every development in modernism by


twenty years.  At the same time,


tunes such as Hail Columbia, Dixie


and Turkey In The Straw - or


ragtime - provided this intensely patriotic liberal


Democrat with raw material, sentimental value,


for reworking in context.  Here is


one of his eerier works, Hannover


Street North, the third and final


piece from his Orchestral Set No


2.  It is a description of


coming into New York as a


commuter the morning the news broke


of the sinking of the Lusitania: 


he remembered that an organ-grinder


began to play the gospel hymn


In The Sweet Bye and Bye -


and one by one, the passengers


joined in - their efforts uninterrupted even


though a train came into the


station.  By its dying fall, this


work has liberated the ear from


fixed notions of rhythm or harmony


in a piano-concertante texture (Ives


was a formidable pianist) that shows


all things in an almost filmic


equality of significance, with broken and


ultimately baleful brass - listen for the


crowd’s voice raised full-throatedly in


its hymn - and treble register ‘atmosphere’. 


The close is as quiet as


the opening, but one has experienced


an event in human experience, an


epiphany of New York America.





Track 4:  Hannover St North, Ives (7.15 min)


   


Before pioneers such as Ives, popular


music, with its intermixed roots in


the world of slave-trade, settlers,


labourers, the Civil War, Indian Wars


and industrialization might have seemed to


be staring the hi-falutin in


the face as a potential source


of inspiration in the 19th Century. 


The folksongs of many European nations,


negro spirituals and work-songs, revivalist


and episcopal hymns, Indian chants, military


marches, parlour- and theatre-songs and


dance-sets, South American ‘latino’ rhythms


and jazz were not only mixed


from the roots but cross-fertilizing


apace in the incredibly varied climate,


topography and demography of the fifty


States.  With the growth of the


railways from Atlantic to Pacific and


North to South, mass-education and mass


publication-methods, the musical establishment remained


an establishment by the skin of


 its teeth.





The open fourths-fifths and pentatonic


style that most think of as


American is present in most countries’


folk-music, owing to systems of


tuning:  the chromatic accompaniment of such


music is artistic licence or literally


accidental.  Like rubato, it permits variety


of emotional nuance, usually on a


descending scale - a flatward tendency in


harmony.  Certainly, it is a demonstration


of skill to find the unovbvious


right wrong note.  Jazz - the word


originally denoted sexual excitement - is founded


on such tricks; spontaneous improvization was


the origin of all folk-music. 


The Land of The Free was


built on conquest and oppression:  folk-


music, to an extent - was


a reaction to rural and urban


oppression of ‘labor’ and crash social


and economic change.





Let’s hear the famous folk-tune,


Ashoken Farewell.  Justly famous, easily as


fine a tune as Shenandoah, it


has come down to us in


many variations and arrangements.  This one


is played on instruments that would


have been available to country people


and ordinary urban folk alike.  It


leaves the darkie-songs and parlour


muse of composers of the Mid-


19th Century, such as Stephen Foster,


for dead.





Track 5:  Ashoken Farewell, Trad. (4.36 min)





The transformation from a land whose


academies had grown modern by recognizing


the genius of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and


Dvorak rather than Liszt and Wagner,


took the better part of a


quarter of a century everywhere but


in the minds of Charles Ives and


Charles T Griffes, a man whose


world was of dreams and such


visions as Xanadu, and whose music


was influenced by the whole-tone


experiments of Debussy and Scriabin.  He


did not represent a nationalist’s dream


of American music, but his success


was possibly to build on the


aesthetic change discernible in the Grieg-


-influenced music of another, earlier ‘modernist’,


Edward Macdowell, and cause comparisons between


the music of an American and


that of the impressionist musicians of


France and Spain, and the mystical


tendency, such as it was, in


Russia.  Here is the second of


his Two Sketches Based on Indian


Themes for String Quartet, Allegro Giocoso.





Track 6:  No 2 of Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes, Charles T Griffes (3.54 min)





Next, let’s hear a piece by


another maverick, Henry Cowell (18-


97-1965).  This was


a man who wrote several symphonies


and other large-scale works in


an idiom not far removed from


that of Ives.  He could be


inspired by a good old Fuguing


Tune, but in many of his


pieces, instruments were played in novel


ways; he specialized in tone-clusters,


microtones and many other innovations, directing


a pianist, for example, to play


with his fist, or pluck and


play glissandi on the strings as


if on a zither.  Here is


his magical miniature, the third piece


of his three movement Irish Suite for


String Piano and Small Orchestra:  Fairy


Bells.





Track 7:  Fairy Bells Henry Cowell (5.54 min)





The works of the urban negro


composer, Scott Joplin, born three years


after the end of the Civil


War and famous for his rag-


time, less so for an opera


about plantation-life, Tremonisha, took


up an uneasy position between Art-


music and popular songs and dances


and the world of the bar-


room, bordello and musical theatre.  He


made a name for himself in


spite of his colour, his uncertain


education and poor health, working himself


hard as a performer and arranger


as well as composer, but died


before he could realize his ambitions


as a serious artist - Tremonisha’s trials


proved fatal to him.  George Gershwin


and others were to fare better


in this direction later on, with


hits like Porgy and Bess and


Show-boat.  Of course, working within


the idiom of cakewalks and other


such black institutions, an idiom whose


holiday strut or weary worksong bluesiness


captivated whites, he was a useful


composer, a money-spinner for others. 


The pathos and efficient melodic and


rhythmical resource of his rags have


conquered the world since his death,


the film Sting - which plugged The


Entertainer - provoking a new wave of


sympathetic attentions from musicians, musicologists and


Civil Rights supporters.  As a kid,


I recall, there were two pieces


the unmusical pianist was certain to


know how to murder, The Moonlight


Sonata - the opening few bars, that


is - and The Entertainer.  Let’s hear


the Maple Leaf Rag.





Track 8:  Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin  (3m15s)





Another black musician:  the violinist, composer


and arranger of Negro music, H


T Burleigh, was taught composition by


Dvorak at the New York Conservatory,


during the great composer’s brief reign


of terror as a professor.  Much-


respected - and liked - by his students,


Dvorak was known behind his back


as Borax, owing to his blunt


but abrasive reactions to their exercises. 


Dvorak’s views on black music were


remarked on; he believed that an


American music of the future might


well be built on the traits


of negro themes and harmonies.  In


his American music -  the Cello Concerto,


the Nigger Quartet - as it was


once known - an American Suite, The


American Flag and the New World


Symphony, he does seem to have


taken his own advice!  Harry Burleigh


admired the dour Czech greatly; and


Dvorak’s respect for folk-song certainly


left its mark on his pupils. 


Of peasant-stock himself, Dvorak had


not impressed the great musical and


other thinkers at Cambridge when there


to receive an honorary doctorate:  “Did


you try him on pigs?” one


of these characters had asked a


colleague who had tried to get


a word out of the man. 


But Dvorak was an inspired composer,


if not the world’s greatest theoretician,


and his good-hearted belief in


and practising of true art electrified


his students.  It may not be


too much to say that Dvorak


was a founding father of the


new American music - Nadia Boulanger of


1920s Paris later to become


a founding mother.  Let’s hear a


spiritual arranged by Burleigh, who himself


became an academic,  My Lord, What


A Morning.





Track 9:            My Lord, what a Morning, Arranged HT Burleigh (3m01s)





Pace Ives, there was a lot


of fine music written between the


1890s and the First World


War by conservatives such as George


W Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Henry Hadley


and Daniel G Mason, some of


which has an undoubted American accent. 


Foote’s String Quartet in D-major,


of 1911, is a work


as inspiring as anything in an


American idiom by Borax - or, indeed,


anything written since.  Unlike most Americans


of the late 19th Century up


until the modernist period, Foote, a


good teacher of music, never studied


abroad.  Born in 1853, he


died in 1937.





This is the song-like, sustainedly


varied slow movement, Andante Espressivo.  It


shares its inheritance with Brahms and


Borodin, but something of its accent,


its melodic turns remains American.





Track 10:  String Quartet in D Major, 3rd Movt, Andante Espressivo, A Foote (7.02 min)  





And that’s it for our programme


of American music - except...  Bernard Herrmann


(1911-75) wrote music for


a film, The Devil And Daniel


Webster, a fable set in New


England, in which a farmer is


led to a hoard of War


of Independence gold by Scratch, the


devil, and proceeds to sell his


soul for wealth and an easy


life as the rest of the


local tenant farmers live and suffer


hard times, and he grows rich


at their expense.





Here is an evocative cue from


the film:  Swing Your Partners.  In


this barn-dance sequence, Scratch strikes


up with a fiddle in Mephisto-


New England-style!





This is Classical Break, and I’m


Rupert Kirkham.  Today’s script was written


and researched by Mike Burrows.  We


hope you have enjoyed our survey


of American music and will join


us again, soon.  Swing Your Partners!


Tracks 12:  Swing Your Partners, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Herrmann (2.34 min)










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