|About this Recording
8.573121 - Wind Band Music - CRESTON, P. / SCHWARZ, G. / GRAINGER, P. / COPLAND, A. (Above and Beyond) (The President's Own United States Marine Band, Schwarz)
Above and Beyond: Music for Wind Band
Paul Creston (1906–1985): Celebration Overture, Op. 61
The life and career of Paul Creston is a classic American success story. He was born Giuseppe Guttoveggio to Sicilian immigrants living in New York City and grew up in a humble working class household. His father worked as a house painter, but was keenly aware of his young son’s musical gifts and managed to scrape together enough money to pay for piano lessons. By the time Creston was a teenager he began to compose, but at the age of fifteen he was forced to drop out of school to help support his family. He worked at a variety of jobs over the ensuing years, from bank clerk to insurance examiner, but never relinquished his desire to become a composer. Using whatever materials he could get his hands on, Creston continued to study harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration in every spare moment he could find. He could often be found after work poring over books checked out from the public library until the early hours of the morning. His indefatigable self motivation also drove him to study the classics of the humanities, and he even found time to teach himself to play the violin.
It was common practice among immigrants of the time to adopt an Americanised name. Creston’s was derived from his nickname “Cress” after the character Crespino he portrayed in a school play. He simply liked the name Paul. In 1926, when he was twenty, Creston finally found his first employment as a musician, playing organ in a silent movie house. In 1934, he was appointed organist at St. Malachy’s Church in New York, where he remained for the next 33 years. His career as a composer was launched in 1939 when he received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. Just two years later, he won the New York Critics Circle Award and suddenly became one of America’s most promising young composers. Although Creston’s star shone brightly for a time, his decidedly tonal music fell out of favour as serialism began to occupy the musical mainstream in the 1950s and 60s. For the remainder of his career, the conservative Creston was adamant that this progressive and fashionable musical movement was an ill-advised escapade that that would eventually run its course.
Creston was particularly fascinated by rhythm, and it is a subject about which he wrote extensively. His complete mastery of harnessing the rhythmic energy in music is on full display in his Celebration Overture of 1955. Unexpected accents and playfully irregular phrases punctuate this festive work, which was commissioned by the famous band-leader Edwin Franko Goldman and the American Bandmasters Association. The work revels in the clarity of its unique and purely musical building blocks. As Creston himself described: “I was preoccupied with matters of melodic design, harmonic colouring, rhythmic pulse, and formal progression, not with limitations of nature or narrations of fairy tales. The intrinsic worth of a musical work depends on the interrelation of musical elements toward a unified whole.”
Aaron Copland (1900–1990): Emblems
There is no greater figure on the landscape of twentieth-century American music than Aaron Copland. His unofficial title, “Dean of American Composers,” was earned through his relentless efforts to promote the work of his fellow artists and to cultivate a varied but identifiable American “school” of compositional style. He was tireless in his attempts to advance the cause of new music, and his work blazed a trail for many other composers. The trail began in Paris, where Copland studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s. He was so exhilarated by the experience that he recruited other Americans to do the same. Musicians ranging from Virgil Thomson to Philip Glass eventually consulted with Copland’s Parisian muse in their own efforts to find their compositional voice. While studying with Boulanger, Copland was impressed with the confluence of artistic activity in Paris and dreamed of achieving a similarly fertile atmosphere in the United States. Soon after his return to America, while still struggling to make a name for himself as a composer, Copland began a series of ventures designed to establish collaborative efforts to promote American music. He helped establish several musical organizations, wrote extensively for important musical periodicals, and along with Roger Sessions, organized the influential Copland-Sessions Concerts, which featured new or rarely performed American music by composers such as Charles Ives. While he was a strong advocate for new music, Copland had no desire to be a musical elitist safely ensconced in the ivory tower of academia. He was firmly committed to the idea that a composer should be able to write music that is both personally rewarding and appealing to general audiences. He believed that education was a major key to achieving this goal, and he wrote several texts designed to help the “average” citizen to understand music. Many of these books are still used in music appreciation courses today.
Although Copland composed in a wide variety of genres and experimented with styles ranging from jazz to twelve-tone serial techniques, his music is consistently and almost immediately identifiable. Even though many present at the 1964 première of Emblems considered it to be uncharacteristic of Copland, it is actually quite consistent with much of the composer’s most highly regarded music. Copland’s affinity for wide intervals, sparse instrumentation, and pungent harmonies is evident throughout this work. Also present is his remarkable ability to borrow a traditional folk melody in a way that is simultaneously respectful and inventive, a technique that countless American composers have subsequently tried to emulate. Copland provides the following comments about Emblems in his preface to the score:
Gerard Schwarz (b. 1947): Above and Beyond
One of the most striking characteristics of music for the concert band is that much of the core repertoire was composed over the last century. While the band does not enjoy the same historic breadth of repertoire as does the symphony orchestra, it has staked a large claim in the ever-evolving world of contemporary music. What has resulted is a canon of works that are often realized with the composer’s direct participation, a process that is defined by a vibrancy and authenticity that is much more difficult to achieve with the score alone. That collaboration between ensemble and composer reaches its zenith when the composer takes the podium to bring his own work to life. Maestro Schwarz offers the following thoughts about the world première of his Above and Beyond:
Percy Grainger (1882–1961): Lincolnshire Posy
Although Percy Aldridge Grainger was born an Australian, he spent the majority of his professional life in England and America. His mother Rose was an accomplished pianist, and thus Grainger’s earliest musical studies were kept within the family. He showed tremendous promise at the keyboard and began a professional career as a concert pianist in England in 1901. During this time, Grainger also composed feverishly and began to take particular interest in the native folk-songs of his new homeland. In 1905, he set about in Brigg, Lincolnshire, on the first of what would become countless trips to the English countryside to collect and document the tunes often sung by the native residents. First on paper, and then with the newly developed wax cylinder, Grainger eventually documented over 700 English and Danish folk-songs. He delighted in the nuances and “imperfections” rendered by each singer and arranged dozens of these tunes for various ensembles and otherwise included them in his original compositions.
After the outbreak of the First World War, Grainger moved to New York in 1914 and called America his home for the remainder of his life. In 1917, he decided to join the U.S. Army in support of the war effort. He served with the Coast Artillery Band until 1919, playing both oboe and saxophone (which he had taught himself to play, among many other instruments). This was Grainger’s first true experience with a concert band, and he was immediately taken with the unique sound and capabilities of the ensemble. This encounter proved to be the beginning of Grainger’s long and fruitful relationship with the band, resulting in dozens of significant works for the medium. When he died in White Plains, New York, in 1961, he left behind a collection of works that has become the cornerstone of the concert band’s repertoire.
Lincolnshire Posy is Grainger’s seminal work for wind band. In a colourful and remarkably extensive 1939 program note included with the score¹ (excerpted below), the composer describes the inspiration for this collection of folk-song settings:
Bernard Rands (b. 1934): Ceremonial
The music of Bernard Rands has firmly established him as a major figure among his generation of composers. His oeuvre of more than one hundred works written in a wide range of genres possess an originality and distinctiveness that has been described as teeming with “plangent lyricism” and “musicality and clarity of idea allied to a sophisticated and elegant technical master.”
Rands was born and raised in Sheffield, England, and studied music and English literature at the University of Wales, Bangor. His early studies in composition were with Pierre Boulez and Bruno Maderna in Darmstadt, Germany, and with Luigi Dallapiccola and Luciano Berio in Milan, Italy. Rands held residencies at Princeton University, the University of Illinois, and York University before emigrating to the United States in 1975 and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1983. He has since taught at the University of California, San Diego, The Juilliard School, Yale University, Boston University, and Harvard University. Rands’ many significant commissions include orchestral works for Suntory Hall in Tokyo; for the New York Philharmonic’s one hundredth anniversary, the centenary of Carnegie Hall; the Los Angeles Philharmonic; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and The Philadelphia Orchestra, where he served as composer-in-residence from 1989 to 1995. He has also served in that role for both the Aspen Festival and Tanglewood Music Center. His chamber opera, Belladonna, was commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival for its fiftieth anniversary in 1999. Among Rands’ many awards and honours is the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for his Canti del sole for tenor and orchestra, and the recording of his Canti d’amor by the men’s vocal ensemble Chanticleer won a GRAMMY® Award in 2000. In 2004, Rands was elected and inducted into The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Commissioned by the University of Michigan in 1993, Ceremonial is a monothematic composition in which a single, extended melody is repeated ten times over the course of the work. The melody, first stated by a solo bassoon, is subsequently played by various combinations of instruments, always increasing in density and in complexity of timbre. This latter quality serves as the nucleus of the work’s development, which employs unconventional mixtures of instrumental groups—sometimes in extreme registers—in service of the melody’s continual transformation. Each statement of the theme is separated from the next by a dense harmonic idea that creates a momentary (and futile) interruption to the ever-evolving melodic flow. At first, both harmonic and melodic ideas float free of any discernible meter or pulse, but as rhythmic ideas are introduced and accrue in the percussion section, the music gradually takes on an incessant pulse that propels it to its concluding climax. The mood and pace of the music gradually, deliberately, and inevitably moves through its ritual.
Samuel Barber (1910–1981): Medea’s Dance of Vengeance, Op. 23a
Samuel Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, into a family with a rich musical heritage. Not only was his mother an accomplished pianist, his aunt, Louise Homer, was a well respected contralto at The Metropolitan Opera and his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a successful composer of American art songs. Barber himself began composing at the age of seven and wrote his first operetta three years later. In a charming letter to his mother written when he was nine years old, the youngster courageously confessed his career plan:
At only fourteen, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to study voice, piano, and composition simultaneously. He flourished in all three disciplines while at Curtis and also developed a lifelong friendship with fellow student and composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who would later write the libretto to Barber’s 1958 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Vanessa. By the time Barber reached his twenties, his music was quickly attracting attention and he began receiving première performances from many of the luminaries of the day, including Vladimir Horowitz, John Browning, Leontyne Price, and Francis Poulenc. In 1935, Barber continued his study abroad as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, and in 1938, at age twenty-eight, his status as a major orchestral composer came to fruition when Arturo Toscanini performed his Adagio for Strings with the NBC Symphony. Barber had sent the score to Toscanini earlier in the year, and the conductor almost immediately returned it without comment. Barber took it as a rejection from the maestro, only to learn that Toscanini had programmed the work for a radio broadcast and had returned the score because he had already committed the music to memory. The widely lauded première was a significant feather in the young composer’s cap, as Toscanini rarely performed works by Americans. Although Barber began composing much earlier than most, he was by no means prolific, and was known to be a harsh self-critic who withdrew and destroyed works that did not meet his approval. However, nearly every one of his remaining published works has since entered the standard repertoire and he is one of only three composers to win the Pulitzer Prize twice, earning another award in 1963 for his Piano Concerto, Op. 38.
Much of Barber’s music was directly or indirectly inspired by works of literature. In 1946, he was commissioned to write a ballet for the famed choreographer Martha Graham based on Euripides’ mythical tale of Medea and Jason. In 1955, Barber revisited the music and captured the most evocative parts of his ballet music in a new concert piece rescored for a larger orchestra. In the composer’s words, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance:
Samuel Barber: Commando March
Barber served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war. While assigned to the Technical Training Command in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he was asked to compose a march for the band stationed there. He completed the work in 1943 and described it as representing a “new kind of soldier, one who did not march in straight lines” but “struck in stealth with speed, disappearing as quickly as he came.” It was premièred by the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command Band in Atlantic City on May 23, 1943. Sergey Koussevitzky admired the work and commissioned an orchestral version for performance by the Boston Symphony that same year.
Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880): Marines’ Hymn
The Marines’ Hymn is the oldest official song of the United States Armed Forces and the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. Although the actual composer of the song as we know it today is unknown, it is largely known and recognized that the melody is based on the Gendarmes’ Duet from the opera Geneviève de Brabant by Jacques Offenbach. The lyrics of the Marines’ Hymn are based largely on the Marines’ historical battles and conflicts “…From the halls of Montezuma—to the shores of Tripoli…” giving reference to the war with the Barbary pirates and the Mexican American war. Each conflict since has yielded a new unofficial verse. However the accepted version sung today features only three verses. These mention the aforementioned campaigns but also give mention to campaigns in the tropics and northern snowy lands as well as the multi-purposed rôle of the United States Marine Corps “…We fight our country’s battles—In the air, on land and sea…”.
¹ Percy Aldridge Grainger, “Program-Note on ‘Lincolnshire Posy’” in Lincolnshire Posy (Cleveland: Ludwig Music, 1987), 75.
² The first movement, Lisbon, was originally scored for woodwind quintet in 1931 and entitled Dublin Bay.
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