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FECD-0001 - COPLAND / DALLAPICCOLA / CARTER / IVES: Variations for Orchestra

Variations for Orchestra

Variations for Orchestra


Among the extraordinary gems in the Louisville Orchestra’s commissioning legacy and the First Edition Records archive are three vital works of variations for orchestra, composed in a short span in the 1950s by three of the most important composers of the Twentieth Century: Elliot Carter, Aaron Copland, and Luigi Dallapiccola. The variation form provided these composers with the structure to create an orchestral essay at a time when the genre of the symphony was widely considered obsolete as a vehicle of expression. What links these works is not only their remarkable origin, commissioned by, composed for, and given their world premiere performance and recording by the Louisville Orchestra less than six years apart; but also that each work is among the strongest orchestral works in the catalog of each composer.


These works emanate from an intellectually fervent decade, and from minds deeply involved in the debates of their day. “Variations” was a fertile concept that, as Elliot Carter alludes to in the enclosed notes, provided the construct for more than musical machinations. Collectively, these pieces are variations of modernist postures, uniting classical construct with serialist technique, and utilizing high degrees of formalist process while not sacrificing expression in any way. Perhaps the variation form, divorced from programmatic intent, provided the space for these composers to exercise their considerable musicality and assert their formidable personalities - with what Luigi Dallapiccola referred to as liberation.


Aaron Copland’s Orchestral Variations, which is an orchestration of his masterful Piano Variations of 1930 and is from his unpopular “severe” style, employs a quasi-serialist five-note row. Yet this is unmistakably Copland, with wide open intervals (albeit diminished or dissonant) and dance-like rhythmic motives which bear remarkable similarity to his Americanist works. The sensibility of his musical personality transcending and even mocking the vagaries of outside opinion, is in this work strongly reminiscent of Shostakovich.


Luigi Dallapiccola’s ability to create serene musical moments is widely admired, and in his Variazioni per Orchestra, an orchestration of Dallapiccola piano variations entitled Analibera’s Notebook, that serenity is brilliantly juxtaposed with moments that are strange and disorienting. In a February 20, 1957 letter to Louisville Orchestra manager Richard Wangerin, Aaron Copland cited Variazioni, commissioned and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra just three years earlier, as encouragement for Copland to orchestrate his own Piano Variations of 1930 to fulfill his Louisville commission.


How enervating is Elliot Carter’s Variations for Orchestra, which uses themes like dramatic characters, rushing them through profound sweeps of emotional contrast and scenarios of unpredictable variety! Variations thoroughly expresses the complexity of its time, with wonderfully twisting lines moving at different speeds and with intersections forever changing.


With its polytonality and sense of collision and audacious proclamation, Charles Ives’ Variations on “America” is a prescient cultural artifact. Ives transforms an ubiquitous national hymn into a reflective, congenial metaphor for the often paradoxical countercurrents of things American. Composed for organ in 1891, with interludes added shortly thereafter, the work was expertly orchestrated by William Schuman in 1963 on a commission from BMI. For Ives, there was more than one “America,” a notion that Robert Whitney and the Louisville Orchestra later embraced with their dedicated commitment to communicating the variations heard on this vital recording.


- John Kennedy




Aaron Copland - Orchestral Variations


The Orchestral Variations were completed on December 31, 1957. The work is an orchestral transcription of my Piano Variations composed in 1930 and first played by myself at a concert of modern music given by the League of Composers in New York on January 4, 1931.


I had for a long time wanted to make an orchestral version of my Piano Variations. This is an eleven minute work and is generally considered to be among my most serious compositional efforts. I noted that Luigi Dallapiccola fulfilled a Louisville Orchestra commission through a similar orchestral transcription of a series of his piano variations.


My purpose was not to create orchestral sounds reminiscent of the quality of a piano, but rather to rethink the sonorous possibilities of the composition in terms of orchestral color. This would have been impossible for me to do when the work was new, for at that time the piano tone was an integral part of its conception. But with the perspective of 27 years it was a comparatively simple matter to orchestrate as I have in the past, using the original as a piano sketch with orchestral potentialities.


The overall plan of the work remains as it was: an eleven-measure theme, dramatic in character, followed by a series of twenty variations and a Coda. The intention was to make each variation cumulative in effect, with the Coda as a kind of summation of the emotional content of the work.


Nothing has been added to the notes themselves except for a few imitative voices. These were needed in an occasional variation to fill out what otherwise might have been too thin a texture. Although the rhythms have remained the same, the bar lines have been shifted in some cases to facilitate orchestral performance.


The brass, in subdued tones, open the work and the theme is presented in a restrained vein. The quiet feeling persists until Variation VII when the mood becomes bolder. In Variations VIII and IX, the singing string tones predominate, and in XI, the oboe is heard in duet with a solo flute. From Variation XII on, the climax builds steadily by an increasing use of brass. Variation XVIII is a Scherzo, with flute and clarinet taking the lead. A section for drums closes the last Variation and leads to a brilliant-sounding Coda.


The Piano Variations were dedicated to my friend, the American writer, Gerald Sykes.


- Aaron Copland



Luigi Dallapiccola - Variazioni per Orchestra


In an essay published in the English review Music Survey (October, 1951), I have explained my progress along the route of the twelve-tone system, a rather strange and very long progress. Outside the works of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, I have received very extraordinary explanations (exactly in the twelve-tone domain) through the literature of Proust and Joyce. Such a declaration, strange as it may seem, should lead us to the conclusion that the arts, at a specific moment of history, have a common problem. If I were competent in painting, I am sure that even in this art I could find very striking analogies with twelve-tone music.


Variazioni per Orchestra are not at all variations in the traditional sense of the word. At the base of the whole composition there is the same twelve-tone row that I am using for my Songs of Liberation, a work for chorus and orchestra now in progress, and that I used for Annalibera’s Notebook for piano. The Variazioni represent the orchestral interpretation of the latter. Annalibera is the name of my little daughter, and her name stems from the same root as liberation. In the notebook I have tried to explain the treatment of the twelve-tone row applied to different elements of music.


In the orchestral version I have eliminated the original titles of Annalibera’s Notebook (shown here in parenthesis) and kept only the tempo indications. The twelve-tone row is varied in each piece in a different way and the indications of tempi are as follows:


• Quasi lento, misterioso (Symbol) - where in spite of the difficulties of the twelve-tone system I have based this on the name of B.A.C.H.

• Allegro confuco (Accents)

• Mosso scorrevolo (Contrapunctus primus)

• Tranquillamento mosso (Lines)

• Poco allegretto, alla serenata (Contrapunctus secondus)

• Molto lento, con expressione parlante (Friezes)

• Andantino amoroso (Contrapunctus tertius)

• Allegro, con violenza (Rhythms)

• Affettuoso, cullante (Color)

• Grave (Shadows)

• Molto lento, fantastico (A quatrain constructed like a strophe of four verses).

Variazioni per Orchestra is dedicated to Robert Whitney.


- Luigi Dallapiccola



Elliot Carter - Variations for Orchestra


My Variations for Orchestra was written for the Louisville Orchestra during 1955 from sketches made in 1953 and 1954. The project of writing such a work had interested me for some time as I was eager to put into concrete musical terms a number of ideas I had had about this old form. Traditionally, of course, this type of composition is based on one pattern of material, a theme or succession of harmonies out of which are built many short contrasting pieces or sections of music.


The theme and each little section form musical vignettes usually presenting one single, unchanging mood or character and often only one musical idea or technique. Viewed as a series of separate pieces of sharply defined character, a set of musical variations resembles certain old literary works such as the collection of brief, trenchant delineations of Ethical Characters by Theophrastus held together by one common idea or purpose. Such a set implicitly gives expression to the classical attitude toward the problem of “unity in diversity.”


In this work I was interested in adopting a more dynamic and changing approach. The general characteristics of the form are maintained - one pattern of material out of which a diversity of characters comes, but the principle of variation is often applied even within the scope of each short piece. In some, great changes of character and theme occur, in others, contrasting themes and characters answer each other back and forth or are heard simultaneously.


By these and other devices, I have tried to give musical expression to experiences anyone living today must have when confronted with so many remarkable examples of unexpected types of changes and relationships of character uncovered in the human sphere by psychologists and novelists, in the life cycle of insects and certain marine animals by biologists, indeed in every domain of science and art. Thus the old notion of “unity in diversity” presents itself to us in an entirely different guise than it did to people living even a short while ago.


- Elliot Carter


Below is a letter from Elliot Carter sent to Louisville Orchestra conductor Robert S.Whitney on the occasion of the orchestra’s twentieth anniversary, just ten months after the completion of the orchestra’s recording of the composer’s masterpiece. Reprinted with kind permission from Mrs. Robert S. (Clarita) Whitney.


Mr. Robert Whitney

The Louisville Orchestra

Louisville, Kentucky


February 27, 1957


Dear Mr. Whitney,


It is good to know you are celebrating a twentieth birthday of your orchestra. Conductors and orchestras in the USA and elsewhere whose great fortune it is to have their repertory enlarged by the Louisville Project - a project which for a time has staved off the danger of stagnation in the world of orchestral music, which unenlightened public taste lacking in vision and foresight constantly tends to encourage - should be the ones more than any composer to wish you and your orchestra many more happy birthdays in which to continue such projects as the one you have carried forward recently.


Instead, it is the composers who will do so, composers who usually have to supply years of time, reams of paper and much ink and pencil as well as thought, free of charge and unthanked - whose birthdays are uncelebrated, who in our field are the real philanthropists, they will praise your efforts and thank you as I do - for just for a moment in their lives, the troubled burden of composing in our time received a bit of the kind of recognition everyone agrees it should but never does.


—Elliot Carter



William Schuman / Charles Ives - Variations on “America”


The following is excerpted from Charles Ives and His Music, Henry and Sidney Cowell (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 24.


I remember how the great waves of sound used to come through the trees when things like Beulah Land, Woodworth, Nearer My God to Thee, The Shining Shore, Nettleton, In the Sweet Bye-and-Bye and the like were sung by thousands of “let-out” souls. The music notes and words on paper are about as much like what they were at those moments as the monogram on a man’s necktie may be like his face.


Father, who led the singing, sometimes with his cornet or his voice, sometimes with both voice and arms, and sometimes in the quieter hymns with a violin or French horn, would always encourage the people (at Redding, Connecticut outdoor camp-meeting services) to sing their own way. Most of them knew the words and music (their version) by heart and sang it that way. If they threw the poet or composer around a bit, so much the better for the poetry and the music. There was power and exultation in these great conclaves of sound from humanity.


- Charles Ives



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