About this Recording
8.559749 - DAUGHERTY, M.: Mount Rushmore / Radio City / The Gospel According to Sister Aimee (P. Jacobs, Pacific Chorale, Pacific Symphony, St. Clair)

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)


Mount Rushmore (2010) for chorus and orchestra was commissioned by Pacific Symphony, Carl St Clair, Music Director and Conductor, with assistance from VocalEssence, Philip Brunelle, Artistic Director. The world première was given by Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale under the direction of Carl St Clair at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, California on February 4, 2010.

Mount Rushmore (2010) for chorus and orchestra is inspired by the monumental sculpture located in the Black Hills of South Dakota of four American presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). Created during the Great Depression against seemingly impossible odds, the American sculptor Gutzon Borglum supervised a small crew of men in the carving of these figureheads into the granite mountainside of Mount Rushmore from 1927 until his death in 1941. Drawing from American musical sources and texts, my composition echoes the resonance and dissonance of Mount Rushmore as a complex icon of American history. Like Mount Rushmore, my libretto is carved out of the words of each President.

For the first movement, I have divided the choir into two sections to reflect two phases in the life of George Washington, first as commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War and later as the first President of the United States. Choir I performs fragments of Chester, the popular Revolutionary War anthem by William Billings, in the bright straight tones of shape-note singing common to the period. Following orchestral echoes of Yankee Doodle, Choir II sings a fragment from Washington’s letter, written upon retirement from public life: “I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my Fathers.”

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of America, was a brilliant political writer and also an accomplished violinist, who wrote that “Music is the passion of my soul.” As the American Minister to France (1785–89), the recently widowed Jefferson met Maria Cosway in Paris, and fell in love with this young, charismatic, Anglo-Italian society hostess, musician, and composer of salon music. The second movement of my composition intertwines a love song composed by Cosway for Jefferson (Ogni Dolce Aura) together with a love letter composed by Jefferson for Cosway (“Dialogue of the Head vs. the Heart”) and key fragments from Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence”.

The third movement is based on the words of America’s 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was a great explorer of the uncharted wilderness. While President, Roosevelt created the National Park Service and successfully protected, against great opposition from commercial developers, over 234 million acres of natural plains, forests, rivers and mountain ranges of the American West. It was during his retreats into the barren Badlands of North Dakota (not far from Mount Rushmore) that Roosevelt, as a young man, realized that the “majestic beauty” of the American wilderness needed to be left “as it is” for future generations. I have composed music to suggest the robust and mystical sense of Roosevelt’s “delight in the hardy life of the open” and “the hidden spirit of the wilderness.”

The fourth and final movement of Mount Rushmore is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, who successfully reconciled a divided United States and initiated the end of slavery. I have set the rhythmic cadences and powerful words of his “Gettysburg Address” (1863) to music that resonates with echoes of period music from the Civil War. I create a musical portrait of the 16th President of the United States, who expressed his vision with eloquence, and with hope that the human spirit could overcome prejudice and differences of opinion in order to create a better world.

Radio City: Symphonic Fantasy on Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (2011) for orchestra was commissioned by Pacific Symphony, Carl St Clair, Music Director and Conductor and MITO, Settembre Musica International Festival of Music, Enzo Restagno, Artistic Director, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.

The world première was given by the Filarmonica ’900 under the direction of David Kawka, at the Auditorium RAI ‘Arturo Toscanini’, Torino, Italy on September 11, 2011. The American première was given by Pacific Symphony under the direction of Carl St Clair, at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Cosa Mesa, California on February 23, 2012.

Radio City is a symphonic fantasy on Arturo Toscanini who conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, from NBC Studio 8-H at Rockefeller Center in New York City, in live radio broadcasts heard by millions across America from 1937 to 1954. Born in Parma, Italy, Toscanini (1867–1957) was internationally recognized as the most gifted conductor of his time, famous for his definitive interpretations of operatic and symphonic repertoire. At the height of his career as Music Director of La Scala in Milan, Italy, Toscanini was forced into exile for his refusal to become part of Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Like the aging magician Prospero, exiled from Milan to an island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the seventy-year-old Toscanini sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the island of Manhattan, and cast his magic spell upon all who heard him conduct.

I. O Brave New World (O Mirabile Nuovo Mondo). The first movement begins with four French horns playing a grandiose musical theme, announcing Toscanini’s entry into the “Brave New World” of America. From the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center, otherwise known as “Radio City,” Toscanini conducted Vivaldi to open his first NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast on Christmas Day in 1937. I create a baroque tapestry of Vivaldi violins and kaleidoscopic orchestral fragments of Verdi’s La forza del destino, accompanied by sleighbells. The music, periodically interrupted by dissonant brass chords, is reminiscent of a “brave new” Manhattan. After a slow, bluesy section with clarinets playing in octaves, the first movement builds to a grand, magical ending à la Toscanini.

II. Ode to the Old World (Ode al Vecchio Mondo). I imagine Toscanini, exiled in America during World War II, standing alone at the top of the Rockefeller Center skyscraper. As he gazes across the spectacular view from the Manhattan skyline to the Atlantic Ocean, he remembers when he first conducted Verdi’s Aida as a young man and wonders when, if ever, he will be able to return to his beloved Italy. The music of this movement is melancholic, mysterious, and turbulent. In addition to cloud-like cluster chords echoing in the glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, and chimes, we also hear nostalgic string melodies performed con passione, contrasted with rousing orchestral tutti sections marked agitato.

III. On the Air (In Onda). In 1939, Life magazine reported, “the world knows Toscanini as a great conductor with a fearful temper, an unfailing memory, and the power to lash orchestras into frenzies of fine playing.” And in 1944, Toscanini conducted Tchaikovksy’s The Tempest: Symphonic Fantasy for a live radio performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Just as Shakespeare’s Prospero calls upon the spirit of Ariel to fly through the air at his command, so also Toscanini commanded the radio waves for his broadcasts “on the air” across America. In the final movement of Radio City, I have composed music that captures Toscanini’s tempestuous temperament, his musical intensity, and the frenzied tempos of his performances.

The Gospel According to Sister Aimee (2012) for organ, brass and percussion was commissioned by Pacific Symphony, Carl St Clair, Music Director and Conductor, and the San Diego State University School of Music and Dance (SDSU) for its 75th anniversary celebration and SDSU Wind Symphony, Shannon Kitelinger, conductor. The world première was given by Pacific Symphony under the direction of Carl St Clair, with Paul Jacobs, organ soloist, at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, California on February 23, 2012.

The Gospel According to Sister Aimee is my musical meditation on the rise, fall and redemption of Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944), the first important religious celebrity of the new mass media era of the 1930s. Also known as Sister Aimee, she was able to combine Pentecostal “old-time” religion, patriotism and theatrical pizzazz like no other religious leader of her time. For over 35 years, Sister Aimee, bible in hand, delivered legendary sermons, often speaking-in-tongues, and practiced faith healing from coast to coast at revivals held in tents, town squares, opera houses and boxing rings across America.

In order to bring her evangelical message to an even greater audience, Sister Aimee preached her conservative gospel in progressive ways by utilizing radio, movies and journalism. Her fundamentalist “Foursquare Gospel” warned standing-room-only crowds at revivals and radio audiences that drinking, gambling, dancing, Hollywood and the teaching of evolution all represented “agencies of the devil to distract the attention of men and women away from spirituality.” On the other hand, Sister Aimee was ahead of her time in campaigning for the right for women to vote. In later life, she was the target of numerous critics, including other evangelists, who viewed her lavish life style, opulent fashion wardrobe, over the top theatrics, and questionable love life as hypocritical and “modernist.”

After a decade living a nomadic life and preaching from town to town in revivals across America, she eventually settled in Los Angeles. Raising over a million dollars in donations, she built the spectacular Angelus Temple near Echo Park, a five thousand-seat mega church that opened in 1923. Sister Aimee’s extravagant Sunday services, which were broadcast on her radio station and attended by thousands of followers from all walks of life, were accompanied by the Silver Brass Band and a mighty Kimball pipe organ.

I. Knock Out the Devil! In the first movement, I summon the organ, brass and percussion to call to mind a revival held by Sister Aimee after a boxing match in a San Diego amphitheatre. To publicize the revival, Sister Aimee, wearing her trademark white robe, walked throughout the crowd with a huge sign inviting the audience to join her after the fight to “Knock out the Devil!”

II. An Evangelist Drowns/Desert Dance. On May 16, 1926, Sister Aimee, who was at the peak of her fame, went for a swim near Venice Beach, California and mysteriously vanished. Believed to have drowned, thousands gathered on the beach to pay their respects. But had she really drowned? Newspapers across America asked “Where is Sister Aimee?” In response to her disappearance, Upton Sinclair, one of Sister Aimee’s most vocal critics, fictionalized her life in Elmer Gantry (1926), his seminal novel on religious hypocrisy, and wrote a sarcastic poem An Evangelist Drowns (1926):

What’s this? A terror-spasm grips
My heart-strings, and my reason slips.
Oh, God, it cannot be that I,
The bearer of Thy Word, should die!
My letters waiting in the tent!
The loving messenger I sent!
My daughter’s voice, my mother’s kiss!
My pulpit-notes on Genesis!
Oh, count the souls I saved for Thee,
My Savior-wilt Thou not save me?
Ten thousand to my aid would run,
Bring me my magic microphone!

Around a month after her supposed death, Sister Aimee was discovered in a Mexican village across the border from Douglas, Arizona. She claimed she had been kidnapped for ransom and held in Mexico only to escape by walking days through the desert to freedom. The Los Angeles District Attorney did not believe her story: he accused Sister Aimee of faking her disappearance in order to run off with Kenneth Ormiston, a married man who was the radio engineer at the Angelus Temple. The scandal was a serious blow to Sister Aimee’s reputation. In the second movement, slow descending, mysterious chords evoke Sister Aimee’s “drowning”, while a virtuosic dance for organ foot pedals calls forth her wandering the desert for “40 days and nights.”

III. To the Promised Land. After the scandal, Sister Aimee slowly rebuilt her reputation by focusing on charitable endeavors for the needy and selling War Bonds during the Second World War. The night before she was to preach her popular “Story of My Life” at a revival, Sister Aimee accidentally took a fatal dose of sleeping pills and never woke up. In To the Promised Land, I create a hymn for Sister Aimee in her final hours, as she meditates on her humble beginnings as a child in the Salvation Army, and her rise and fall as America’s most admired evangelist. The music builds to a dramatic conclusion, as she dreams of her final comeback, returning to the “pearly gates” of heaven and the biblical “promised land.”

Michael Daugherty

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