The vinyl recordings released by the Louisville Orchestra were, for many listeners, their first real contact with the world of modern American orchestral music. In addition to music by William Schuman, Roy Harris, and Aaron Copland were pieces by Carlos Chavez, Paul Hindemith, Roger Sessions, Luigi Dallapiccola, and many, many others.
Thanks to the First Edition Music label, the Louisville Orchestra’s entire catalog–over 400 works by over 250 composers–is being systematically released on compact disc. The unique mission of the Louisville Orchestra recording project, a long and fascinating story, is summarized in the First Edition Music CD booklets.
These new recordings have wonderful presence. They prove that this quality can be achieved in one-track mono! They also show that with the proper amount of rehearsal, twenty minutes of usable recorded music can be generated in forty minutes of studio time. (Unions required a twenty minute break for each hour of recording.)
Orchestral music of the prolific Vincent Persichetti (1915–1987) is featured on a new First Edition reissue. Serenade No. 5 appears with the Symphony for Strings (Symphony No. 5) and Symphony No. 8. When were these pieces written? 1950, 1953 and 1967, respectively, but it turns out dates don’t matter so much with this composer. In an interview with Rudy Shackelford in The Musical Quarterly, Persichetti declared that his music is not like a woman, that is, it does not have periods! From the Serenade for Ten Instruments, Op. 1 (written when the composer was thirteen, in 1928) to his last completed piece, “Winter Solstice,” for solo piano (1987), all of Persichetti’s music sounds remarkably like the voice of a singular and determining personality.
Each of these orchestral pieces points to an interesting aspect of Persichetti’s work. Every composer may be said to have a dominant genre; for Persichetti this genre is Wind Ensemble. Even the Symphony for Strings is preoccupied with rhythmic articulation and attack and less concerned with sostenuto and decay in the sound.
The conclusion to Eighth Symphony points to one of Pershichetti’s important influences: the Big Band music of the thirties and forties. The constant and restless syncopation, the parallel interval patterns, and the pile up of tertian sonorities, common features of Big Band music, find their way into almost every work by Persichetti. Persichetti had an over-riding faith in the development of a new common practice as evidenced by his famous book Twentieth-Century Harmonic Practice. These three pieces demonstrate that his music of mid-twentieth century America was not only practical to execute, but expansively rhetorical in expression while at the same time not self-consciously nationalistic. This music’s lack of intellectual pretense and its conspicuously direct message seem like statements from a bygone era when we as individuals were optimistic and full of hope for the future. Perhaps this is exactly what we need now.