About this Recording
FECD-0002 - CORIGLIANO: Tournaments Overture / Piano Concerto

John Corigliano

John Corigliano


A composer should, at the very least, provoke us to listen. If someone is validly communicating ideas, emotions, and skills; this ought to capture our attention. Some do, some don’t. John Corigliano definitely does. His music is synonymous with all that is positive about American music.


There is not a strong sense of the composer’s place in the world. True, he or she may be equated with various cultural transformations, but these are seemingly distant from the global search engine. Anyone reading these notes probably has more than a passing interest in the plight of the composer. They would no doubt agree that John Corigliano has heroically embodied his craft as few others over the last thirty-six years.


Brooklyn-born – son of John, Sr., the concertmaster whose extraordinary musicianship graced the New York Philharmonic for twenty-three years – student of Otto Luening, Paul Creston and Vincent Giannini, he is a composer of heritage and training. The important consequence of this vitae is that John Corigliano turned out to be a composer of consequence. This has become evident in such powerful statements as the 1991 Grawemeyer Award-winning Symphony No. 1 and his first opera, The Ghosts of Versailles. But what of their precedents? This disc provides an entrance – an opening to understanding John Corigliano’s compositional credo. The Louisville Orchestra communicates this spirit of artistic creation in exemplary fashion, and allows us to bear witness to the emergence of a composer of consequence.


John Corigliano’s music is imbued with the textures of a metropolitan upbringing. He embraces it rather than retreating from it. This is someone at ease with an urban topography. But he does not assault us with the obvious. His world is more than gridlock and 911 calls. There is a gift at play that reveals a full range of emotions.


Some composers weave and spin. Some are poseurs. Most opt for a practical path and effortlessly glide over the requirements of their craft. Do they write for the laity or their colleagues? Can vision and cleverness coexist? Workmanlike composers abound. However, John Corigliano has shown that he does not shy away from the challenges of diverse commissions. His responses to the films Altered States and The Red Violin are indicative of this. For Altered States, he immersed himself in Ken Russell’s fractured ethos and gave us a chilling replication of the film’s intent. Likewise, the Grammy-winning Red Violin film score presented a poignant response to a far different world. John Corigliano has shown that his credo is not devoid of consequence. This First Edition collection provides ample access to that credo.


Mark Yacovone


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



Tournaments Overture


The following is John Corigliano’s detailed analysis of the piece.


The work, in three sections, is basically monothematic. After a brief fanfare that announces "the tournament" with a three-note motto in brass and strings, there is a downward rush of woodwinds, and then a jaunty choral-tune (Allegro) expands from the motto to form the raw material of the entire work. Brass, winds, and strings all treat this theme as the piece builds to a climax. Suddenly, a crash introduces a scherzo idea (Molto allegro) for piccolo and double basses in which the theme is compressed into running sixteenth-notes. A short interlude is followed by a return of the scherzo music, this time with the original chorale super-imposed upon it. Canons in the brass lead to a highly rhythmic buildup that reaches an enormous climax.


After a downward rush as at the beginning of the work, the second section begins; a lilting Allegretto. Here, the chorale-theme is inverted, and the result is an almost-waltz where every three measures of _ time alternates with one measure of 7/8 that subtly displaces the waltz effect. The waltz lilts to a climax in which all but five solo instruments drop out, leaving a miniature sound-texture that dissipates into a flute solo and a return of the waltz.


The final section (Allegro) begins with a soft but ominous running passage for piano and lower strings. This new material becomes more intense as it is subjected to canonic treatment, diminution, augmentation, and inversion. At the height of the rhythmic excitement, when the misterioso beginning has been transformed to furioso, the entire brass section enters against the running string pattern, singing the chorale in the original tempo and key. Repetition of earlier music follows: the rhythmic first climax; the opening fanfare; bits of the waltz; and the now telescoped buildup of the chorale, which returns again with heightened intensity only to fall apart during its second repetition with a gradual diminuendo. A brief, frenzied coda brings the piece to a sonorous end.





The following commentary, by Marshall A. Portnoy, is reprinted from the original First Edition LP notes.


Like Tournaments Overture, Elegy was completed in 1965, but it began as a trio for flute, clarinet and harp arranged as background music for a love scene in the off-Broadway play Helen by Wallace Grey. A melancholy opening theme for two solo flutes (repeated by clarinets), an answering theme in the lower strings, and a subsequent orchestral climax are the three building blocks of the piece. All three themes are developed together and independently, culminating in a loud and slow crescendo starting in the horns, proceeding to the strings, and finishing in an ecstatic climax for full orchestra. The elements of the work then die away, finally leaving the two flutes –as in the opening – singing a variant of the first theme.



Concerto for Piano and Orchestra


John Corigliano’s following commentary is compiled and edited by Nan Harman. The writing for both solo piano and orchestra is extremely virtuosic and theatrical. While the work is basically tonal, there are many atonal sections and a section of strict twelve-tone writing. Rhythms throughout the work are highly irregular and meters change often.


The opening movement uses sonata-allegro form in an original way. After a few bars of introduction by the brass section, the piano enters with a large cadenza accompanied by percussion and harp. This highly energetic section introduces the first theme, a savage three-note motto (B flat, B natural, and C). The second theme, first played by the solo horn, is more lyrical. After the piano re-enters with the three-note motto, the development section begins. Each theme is developed separately; this separate development transforms the aggressive three-note motto into a lyrical theme, and the lyrical theme into a savage motto. In other words, one becomes the other. At the end of the development, the first theme is heard in canon while the piano and brass toss about the second theme. The climax leads directly to a second cadenza, which marks the beginning of the recapitulation, followed this time by a diabolic coda.


The second movement is a short and fleet Scherzo that breaks the emotional tension generated in the first movement. Three short repeated chords form the Scherzo’s motto, which is based on the superimposition of major and minor thirds. This interval of a third forms the building block of the movement. The trio is based on a twelve-tone row derived from the piano figures in the beginning of the movement.


All the themes of the third movement are based on six notes. The form is arch-shaped, building to a peak and diminishing to a hushed single-note piano melody that leads directly onto the final movement.


The last movement is a rondo whose main theme is fugue-like, using tone clusters in the orchestra and piano parts. Themes from the earlier movements appear in the three subsections of the movement, concluding with the original three-note motto of the first movement joining in to end the concerto in a burst of virtuosic energy and color.



Gazebo Dances


The title comes from the gazebo-like band stands found in town squares across rural America, where town bands played their concerts. The sense of summer joy and exuberance form the inspiration for this suite. The Overture, a modern, Rossini-like movement, is followed by a peglegged Waltz, in which the um-pah-pah sometimes lacks a pah. Then comes a long-lined Adagio and a final spirited Tarantella, which alternates movements of great pseudo-seriousness with bouncing spirit.


-John Corigliano


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