About this Recording
8.559723 - FUCHS, K.: Atlantic Riband / American Rhapsody / Divinum Mysterium / Concerto Grosso (London Symphony, Falletta)

Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956)
Atlantic Riband • American Rhapsody • Divinum Mysterium • Concerto Grosso • Discover the Wild


Atlantic Riband was inspired by the great ocean liners of the Twentieth Century. As a boy growing up in the 1960s, I made many visits to the piers of New York Harbor. Standing on the edge of the sea wall and gazing up at the massive prow of a liner preparing to set sail across the Atlantic was an unforgettable experience.

I had a special fondness for the SS United States, a marvel of American engineering and technology, which captured the Blue Riband (for the fastest transatlantic crossing) on its maiden voyage, July 3–7, 1952. The ship crossed the North Atlantic from New York in three days, ten hours, and forty minutes, breaking all previous records. It also broke the westbound record on its return from Southampton, making it the fastest ship afloat. To this day, no vessel has surpassed that achievement.

Although a purely abstract musical composition, Atlantic Riband pays tribute to the power and grace of our national ship of state and to an important era in United States history. In the form of an orchestral showpiece, the work expresses the energy and optimism—as well as the foreboding, mystery, and danger—of the ocean-going enterprise. The shipping lanes of the North Atlantic were not only crucial to commerce and industry, but held promise for millions of immigrants. It is their hopeful struggle and ultimate victory of crossing the Atlantic in search of a new life that I wish to express in music.

Atlantic Riband is cast in one movement with two distinct sections. The principal musical elements of the entire composition—the intervals of a dominant seventh chord played as an arpeggio by the vibraphone, followed by three bi-tonal orchestral chords—emerge at the outset from a hushed orchestral texture. In the following fast section, marked Allegro energico, these motives are extended and taken up in various melodic and harmonic combinations and provide the basis for musical development and transformation throughout the remainder of the composition.

Atlantic Riband is dedicated to my maternal grandfather, Joseph Cornelius Van Hoek (1898–1989), who emigrated from Rotterdam to the United States with his family in 1907. His father served as an engineer for the Holland-America Line.

American Rhapsody is a romance for violin and orchestra. The work takes its creative impulse from the first few measures of the second movement of my composition Where Have You Been? (String Quartet No 2). The principal melody and accompanying harmonies of that work, composed in 1993, provided the starting point for musical development in this lyrical work.

The impressionistic musical language of American Rhapsody is created from a melodically arpeggiated minor eleventh chord presented by the solo violin in its opening phrase. The wide-ranging melodic arc of the solo violin theme, as well as the widely-spaced pan-diatonic harmonies of the work, have an open quality suggesting the stylistic elements of the American symphonists, from whom I continue to draw inspiration. The work is cast in a continuously evolving single movement. The soloist serves as the catalyst for symphonic development of the musical ideas through interaction with various players and sections of the orchestra.

During my first two Naxos recording projects with the London Symphony Orchestra (September 2003 and November 2006), I became acquainted with Paul Silverthorne, principal violist of the orchestra. A virtuoso, Silverthorne is a fervent champion of new music for the instrument. Over the course of our work together, a mutual friendship developed from our shared enthusiasm for the viola, and he graciously agreed to let me compose a concerto for him.

Divinum Mysterium takes its creative impulse from the Protestant hymn tune known as Of the Father’s Love Begotten. The tune is built upon a scalar motif of four notes, extended by sequences and inversions. It is based upon the 11th-century Sanctus trope most commonly referred to as “Divinum Mysterium.”

My intention in composing this concerto was not to create a work invoking a particular religious theology, but one that grows out of the spiritual and searching quality of the original plainsong melody. Divinum Mysterium places the viola soloist in the role of a celebrant, leading the players of the orchestra on a journey of musical discovery from a hushed opening string texture to an energetic conclusion, affirming the power of massed orchestral color. The work is in four sections, taking the form of a single-movement tapestry of fantasy variations based upon characteristic intervals and scalar fragments of the hymn tune.

Concerto Grosso (for String Quartet and String Orchestra) is based upon music from my String Quartet No 4. The quartet was originally composed in 1998 for the Bergonzi String Quartet, in residence at the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

The newly fashioned Concerto Grosso, like the earlier quartet, is a purely abstract musical work, cast in one movement with three distinct sections. The first section—Energico—introduces the principal musical elements of the entire composition: a pulsating tremolo figure (an ascending major second followed by an ascending perfect fourth) first played by the solo viola, a lyrical fragment (a series of descending major seconds) first played by the solo violoncello, and a series of tutti chords played by both the solo quartet and the string orchestra. These elements, taken up by and bandied back and forth between the two groups, provide the basis for musical development and transformation throughout a lyrical middle section—Meno mosso—and fast closing section—Vivo.

Discover the Wild is cast in the form of a three-part orchestral overture. The principle musical elements of the composition include a motive based upon the interval of the perfect fourth robustly stated in unison at the outset by four French horns. A lyrical theme follows, characterized by the interval of the perfect fifth. These musical elements are taken up in various melodic and harmonic combinations by the entire orchestra and form the basis for the musical development throughout the remainder of the composition.

Kenneth Fuchs

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