About this Recording
FECD-0021 - ROREM: Eleven Studies / Piano Concerto
English 

Ned Rorem

Ned Rorem

 

An artisan boat-maker advertises his boats as “floating songs.” A restaurant reviewer describes a house-specialty as a “song.” The Old Testament includes “The Song of

Songs.” Be it vocal or instrumental, informal or organized, self-made or vicarious, we humans cherish our songs. We rely upon songs to inspire and stimulate us, and to express the entire range of our emotions.

 

Ned Rorem (b. 1923) fathoms the nature of, and our cravings for, song. For more than five decades, he has been composing copious amounts of it, both as instrumental song and as … well, songs. Clearly, for Rorem, art songs are not mere addenda to his instrumental works: his songs span the time period from before 1948, when he wrote the Music Library Association awardwinning composition, The Lordly Hudson (1948), to the present. Rorem’s choices of texts by such writers as William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden, Homer, and himself (as in the 1964 Laudemus Tempus Actum), reflect both his gentle character and literary sensibilities. (He is the author of seventeen books.)

 

Rorem was raised in a Quaker, pacifist, and intellectually stimulating environment. His mother was a civil rights activist; his father was an eminent health economist. As composer Troy Peters, a former Rorem student at The Curtis Institute of Music, describes, “From his mother, Ned seems to have gotten a powerful sense of justice and idealism, and from his father, a powerful aversion to wasted effort and sloth.” Clearly, the young composer learned these lessons well: idealism, a love of peace, and a sense of justice pervade Rorem’s work, while its sheer magnitude - as well as the fact that at eighty he remains active - point to a prolific artist.

 

Instrumental song, lacking the tangibility of words, is intrinsically more abstract than its vocal counterpart. Nevertheless, in his instrumental works, Rorem manages to impart songlike lyricism and directness of expression. In addition, these works reflect his predilection for tonality; avoidance of overstatement (he teaches that “genius is knowing when to stop”); and imaginative uses of form, timbre, and rhythm. Rorem’s instrumental works are first-rate, as evidenced by his 1976 Pulitzer Prize, awarded for Air Music (1974). Eleven Studies for Eleven Players (1959), and the Piano Concerto in Six Movements (1969) which comprise this First Edition collection, are both reissues of world premiere recordings.

 

Eleven Studies for Eleven Players is an intriguing musical soda-fountain, with the composer behind the counter, serving treats ranging from the modest dish of ice cream in section 6, to the banana splits of movements 1, 8, 9, and 11. The lyrical solo passages are characteristically composed for the various instruments and are, at the same time, highly original, as in movements 1, 3, 6 (in which the percussion instruments sing through timbre and rhythm), 7, and 9. Movements 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 are programmatic. Rhythm comes to the fore in sections 5 and 6. Rorem achieves overall unity within an unusual eleven-movement form through a theme and variations: the theme is introduced by the trumpet, beginning in measure 3 of the first movement, and the variations are woven into parts 2 and 8-11.

 

Piano Concerto in Six Movements shares with Eleven Studies for Eleven Players such characteristics as lean, understated textures; and imaginative uses of timbre and rhythm. In contrast to the 1959 composition, however, the style of the concerto is markedly more percussive, particularly in movements 2, 3, and 6. Also, in contrast, the entire concerto is programmatic. Finally, despite the concerto’s far greater dissonance, Rorem’s trademark lyricism is always evident, as is his uncanny ability to provide that which we crave: song.

 

- David Kaslow

 

 

Eleven Studies for Eleven Players

 

The following is reprinted from the original First Edition LP release.

 

1. I. Prelude (11 players: trumpet solo) 1:53

2. II. Allegretto (9 players) 1:32

3. III. Bird Call (4 players: flute solo)

    from Tennessee Williams’“Suddenly Last Summer” 1:42

4. IV. The Diary (6 players) from “Suddenly Last Summer” 2:16

5. V. Contest (5 players) from “Motel” 1:01

6. VI. Invention for Battery (2 players) 1:55

7. VII. In Memory of my Feelings (after a poem by Frank O’Hara) 5:07

    “The reactions music evokes are not feelings, but they are

    the images, memories of feelings.” - Paul Hindemith

8. VIII. Fugato (11 players) 2:42

9. IX. Elegy (11 players: English horn solo) “… Death is that remedy

all singers dream of…” - Allen Ginsburg 4:33

10. X. Presto (5 players) 0:57

11. XI. Epilogue (11 players: clarinet solo) 2:56

 

The main concern is to use each of the eleven players over the course of the whole work as virtuoso soloists. Not all of the players play on all of the numbers; certain movements have as few as from two to five performers. So the sum total comprises normal sonorities of sonatas, trios, quartets and a chamber orchestra. Six of the eleven sections are variations of a theme. They are the first two and the last four.

 

- Ned Rorem

 

 

Piano Concerto in Six Movements

 

The following is reprinted from the original First Edition LP release.

 

Each of the six movements is based on the same material, the kernal planted by the soloist during the first two measures of the entire work. As to whether this material is developed serially, it may be, but I would be the last to declare it.

 

Each of the six movements of the Concerto suggests either a kind of action or a kind of sound: Strands, Fives, Whispers, Sighs, Lava, Sparks… Beyond what may be evoked by these names, I am reticent to add much.

 

Strands, a long slow opener, is so-called precisely because it is made up of strands: the piano plants a long hard seed from which orchestral tendrils emerge, one by one, until they form a Medusa’s knot which is never unraveled (as, say, a fugue would normally be) but rather resolves itself through sheer exhaustion. In the entire first movement the pianist uses only his right hand.

 

Fives is loud and fast and based on various combinations of quintuplet figures.

 

Whispers is soft and fast and meant to sound like its title.

 

Sighs, long and slow, a theme with variations.

 

Lava, murky and slow, serves as an introduction to Sparks which is, expectedly, a glittering finale.

 

- Ned Rorem


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