About this Recording
FECD-0007 - RIEGGER: Variations / Symphony No. 4

Wallingford Riegger

Wallingford Riegger


Wallingford Riegger may have an undeservedly obscure place in today’s concert scene, but few people have played such a central role in the maturing of American musical life, and served as a bridge from Ives to composers active today. As an activist in establishing “independent” American music, Riegger was a friend and colleague to composers that included Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Conlon Nancarrow, Carl Ruggles, Carlos Salzedo, Charles Seeger, and Edgard Varèse. As a mentor to younger composers, he was a teacher of Robert Ashley, Henry Brant, Michael Colgrass, and Morton Feldman, and a friend to many others, including John Cage.


Riegger was born in Georgia in 1885, but grew up in Indianapolis and New York, where he was a member of Julliard’s first graduating class (1907). Later, his musical studies took him to Germany, where he polished his skills, becoming a talented cellist and conductor. Upon return to the United States in 1917, Riegger was unable to sustain a career as a conductor, and after some college teaching stints, he became devoted to composition and the advocacy of new American music.


It was in New York in the 1920s that Riegger became involved with a circle of composers now regarded as the “American Five”: in addition to Riegger, the group consisted of John J. Becker, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, and Carl Ruggles. Both compositionally and culturally, these composers and others self-consciously advocated the legitimacy of “independent” American music, free of the shadow of European traditions. Riegger was deeply involved in Cowell’s New Music Society and its affiliated publications and recordings, and he also was active in the inception of the Pan American Association of Composers, a group which represented composers of the western hemisphere.


Riegger used the term “ultramodernism” in describing his work and the movement he was a part of. His interest in connecting new music to other avant-garde activity led him to collaborate and write music for some of the founding choreographers of modern dance, including Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, and Jose Limon. His own political and populist persuasions led him to activity in the 1930s with a Communistoriented group called the Composers’ Collective, which included Marc Blitzstein, Cowell, Seeger, Elie Siegmeister, Stefan Wolpe, and others (an association which led to his 1957 testimony before the McCarthy Committee).


But in addition to these significant roles in nurturing an American new music perspective and community, Riegger’s enduring legacy is his extraordinary music. Of the “American Five”, Riegger alone had European training, which became manifest in his compositional sensibilities and technique. His music incorporates the free use of serialism and twelve-tone technique in a highly chromatic language of great lyricism. His treatment of motivic development was assisted by masterful and playful counterpoint, and the frequent use of passacaglia, fugue, and canon with great dramatic and emotional effect. In Riegger, we hear the vocabularies of Schoenberg and Bartòk meeting Copland and Harris. It is a spectacular intersection that Wallingford Riegger was uniquely equipped to give voice to.


- John Kennedy



Variations for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 54


The following notes by Wallingford Riegger are reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


As originally conceived, this work was to be purely orchestral, somewhat in the nature of a symphonic poem, and as such occupied several weeks of creative effort. However a fugue theme that I had evolved from the original twelve-tone series seemed fairly to clamor for the keyboard, whereupon I toyed with the idea of turning the work into a piano concerto. What finally emerged was the present theme and variations, twelve in number, with the above-mentioned fugue serving as (a) coda.


The work begins with orchestra alone, the piano not entering until in the course of the first variation. The other variations follow, with a slight break between each and a brief interlude between the eleventh and twelfth, the latter then leading directly into the coda, i.e., the fugue. The work closes with a complete restatement of the original theme, this time with the piano participating.


- Wallingford Riegger


This disc unites for the first time, three magnificent works from the last decade of Riegger’s life which are among his strongest compositions. The Variations for Piano and Orchestra was composed first, and became a model for the companion piece Variations for Violin and Orchestra. Using the theme and variations form as concerti gave Riegger the vehicles for fully integrating his approach to a free dodecaphonic (twelve-tone) style. Each work has 12 variations on a theme, and opens with a clear statement of the pitch series. In the Variations for Piano and Orchestra, the clarity of the subsequent variations on the series is remarkable, each having a tuneful statement, with wonderful iterations and echoes. Riegger’s sense of contrast is intensely musical, and even occasionally comic, as in the swinging, dance-like feel of Variation VIII.


- John Kennedy



Variations for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 71


The following notes by Wallingford Riegger are reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


This work was written in the wake of my Variations for Piano and Orchestra, while I was still variation-minded. It consists of a theme and twelve variations, besides a cadenza. The theme, and hence the variations are in a compact ternary or three-part song form. In its technique the work is dodecaphonic or twelve-tone, although certain of the variations have a way of deviating from the strict application of serial technique, a procedure which I have felt to be justified under the circumstances.


I am indebted to Mr. Harth for valuable suggestions about the violin part.


- Wallingford Riegger


The Variations for Violin and Orchestra opens with the bold stroke of the statement presented by solo violin in pizzicati. This work presents chromaticism and “atonal” style in a flowering of tremendous lyrical beauty. Riegger’s brilliant orchestrations utilize the orchestra in exotic and unexpected ways. In Variations IV through VI, we are treated to a dialogue between solo violin and contrabassoon and tuba, an expressive violin soliloquy above luminescent harp chords, and a jaunty exchange between the violin and bass drum and cymbals.


- John Kennedy



Symphony No. 4, Opus 63


The following commentary and analysis by Klaus G. Roy is reprinted from the original First Edition Records release.


The Symphony was dedicated by Mr. Riegger to the memory of his wife.


Movement I - The first movement, an Allegro moderato, in clear divisions like those of sonata form, begins and ends on the tonality of B. One cannot call it major or minor; it is modal, and purposely fluid.


Movement II - The material for the second movement is taken from a dance composed in 1936 for Martha Graham and her group. Called “Chronicle,” it dealt with the suffering of the Spanish people during the years of their civil war; this, the composer has pointed out, accounts for the Spanish flavor of the middle section, as well as its tragic overtones.


Movement III - The Finale opens Sostenuto, with a serious and expansive melodic arch treated in free canon or imitation. The tempo quickens, and the same melodic is heard in compressed form from the flute; although the theme is not twelve-tone, it gives somewhat the feeling of it during its angular path.


The motion picks up further speed, and we find ourselves in a triple-time Presto, essentially a scherzo movement….The general atmosphere is that of a satiric dance, with many intriguing juxtapositions of sonorities….this becomes more and more apparent as the arching theme begins to dominate in the scherzo-like movement, closing the music in a few slower and declamatory measures. Revealingly, it is the dissonant or unresolved interval of the major seventh which rules the final chord, with F-sharp in the bass instruments and F natural in the treble.


- Klaus G. Roy


Riegger’s Symphony No. 4 is one of the great American symphonies. The work begins with a theme in the strings evocative of Bartòk, a theme which starts darkly and opens up, as if light coming through clouds. Throughout the work, Riegger’s use of meter and rhythm is deceptively simple, yet is propelled with great and insistent energy by counterpoint, iteration, and additive process. Here again, Riegger’s orchestration is spectacular, with a wide palette of color and chordal sonority. In Riegger’s music, chromatic freedom finds itself singing with a wide and generous fluidity. He indeed created a new, ultramodern, American music, in which the dictates of serialism were freely modified with tremendous expressivity and imagination.


- John Kennedy

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