Nordstrom Recital Hall
COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man
ADAMS: Chamber Symphony
BARBER: Adagio for Strings
BARBER: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Maria Mannisto, soprano
Music Director GEOFFREY LARSON on
COPLAND’S FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN
The Fanfare for the Common Man has risen to such popularity that not only is it performed quite often in American concert halls, it is also used in television shows, movies, and at sports events, often to an impressive-sounding deep-voiced narration. Commissioned by Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony in 1942 after the United States’ entry into World War II, it was one of 18 new fanfares intended by Goossens to be “stirring and significant contributions to the war effort.” Copland’s Fanfare stands as a monument to the common hardworking citizen, one whose courage on the battlefield and tireless labor among our workforce supported our nation, and someone for whom few of the rich and powerful may have shown empathy. The composer would later recall, “it was the common man, after all, who was doing all the dirty work in the war and the army. He deserved a fanfare.” Of the works by the 18 composers, Copland’s is the only one that remains in the standard repertoire today, and its nationalistic pride and message remains as strong today as it was seventy years ago.
The Fanfare embodies Copland’s “populist” musical language, a language that many believe represents the beginning of a uniquely American sound in classical music. The short piece opens with powerful beats of the timpani, bass drum, and gong that fade into the distance before three trumpets enter in a powerful unison. Notes leap up in perfect fourths and fifths to begin the melody with an impressive flourish, a powerful statement that immediately grabs the listener’s attention. The leaping gestures that make up the melody seem to each stand on their own, defined by a simple nobility. This melody is elongated and varied as horns, trombones, and tuba join in, passing through moments of great lyricism and great forcefulness. The fanfare’s thundering conclusion leaves the ear hanging on a chord quite foreign to the work’s tonic sonority, creating a powerful feeling of pride and hope. The straightforward melodic simplicity and harmonic bareness is a central part of Copland’s populist aesthetic, a sound that evolved from folk tunes and other music Copland heard on his travels through the American West in the 1930s. The composer chooses very few notes to express his work’s meaning; each note and phrase demonstrates great honesty and importance. The fact that the sound of this music evokes such great emotion in Americans who have never visited the rural places Copland did, and have never heard the folk songs he heard, speaks important truths about the greatest parts of our culture that this music represents: a culture of openness, straightforward honesty, and tremendous hope and pride that is unequivocally American.
Soprano MARIA MANNISTO on
BARBER’S KNOXVILLE: SUMMER OF 1915
“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.” These are the opening words of author James Agee’s prose poem from which Barber selected passages for his composition. Uncomplicated, sincere, and amazingly alive, Agee’s text struck a chord not only with Samuel Barber, but also with several well-known interpreters of this piece. Both Eleanor Steber, the singer who commissioned Barber’s work, and Leontyne Price, another well-known interpreter of Barber’s music, claimed that Knoxville perfectly resonated with their own experiences growing up. Curiously enough, people of very different backgrounds and ages seem able to connect with Agee’s account of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1915. I too find the text deeply meaningful despite being part of a completely different generation. Although specific imagery such as horses drawing buggies and primitive automobiles are no longer relevant to Americans today, the overlying theme of nostalgia for a simpler, more comforting time is something to which we can all relate.
Agee illustrates the innocent state of a child’s being when one gathers information from the outside world and from behaviors of our loved ones, but isn’t able, or burdened with the need, to interpret or understand these actions. His language and descriptions are matter-of-fact and simple, with occasional attempts to explore subjects that are difficult for a child to comprehend (“And who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth?”, “And those receive me who quietly treat me as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: … but will not ever tell me who I am”). Through vivid depictions of sight, sound, taste, and touch (“the dry and exalted noise of the locusts”, “on the rough, wet grass”), Agee draws the reader into the moment. At the beginning of the piece, Barber sets up a rocking 12/8 tempo that returns a few times throughout the piece as a comforting representation of lullabies and rocking chairs. The idyllic mood that Barber sets up is rudely interrupted by orchestral outbursts as the singer tells of “a streetcar raising its iron moan”, and further text painting takes place with the staccato musical phrases under the words “the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it” and the lush, expansive vocal line sung to the text “now is the night one blue dew.” Throughout the piece, the soprano line emphasizes the conversational and innocent tone of the text in its simple, folk-like melodies.
THE TEXT of KNOXVILLE: SUMMER OF 1915
It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, paste-board, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.
A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping: belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks: the iron whine rises on rising speed: still risen, faints: halts: the faint stinging bell: rises again, still fainter: fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten.
Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose. Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes . . . Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.
On the rough wet grass of the backyard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there…. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine . . . with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth, and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.
May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble, and in the hour of their taking away.
After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.
Composer PATRICK BEHNKE on
BARBER’S ADAGIO FOR STRINGS
In November 1938, conductor Arturo Toscanini premiered 28-year-old Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings in a national radio broadcast from New York City. The new work, which was borrowed from the slow second movement of Barber’s own String Quartet of 1936, was an almost instant sensation with the public and critics alike. This initial success alongside other early works such as the School for Scandal, helped to bring lifelong attention to Barber for his clear and deeply emotional musical style. Although Samuel Barber is now heralded as one of the greats in the pantheon of American composers, he never seems to have fully embraced the artistic movement in the 1930’s and 40’s of appropriating American folk music into concert music. His work stands in a large sense between the late romanticism common in Europe at the time and the growing new American aesthetic. Barber crafted a unique musical expression honoring form and clarity over stylization that remains individually recognizable. His craft continues to be emulated by many in the succeeding generations of American composers since his time. The Adagio for Strings is indicative of Barber’s achievement in this sense, and perhaps more importantly, for the enduring scope of emotion portrayed in the music.
Adagio for Strings begins with a held Bb in the violins that transforms into a walking line after the rest of the strings voice their entrances. This simple line moves throughout the entire work in all of the string sections. Barber occasionally changes the meter and stress points through which the line must move, leaving the listener lost in its continuous motion with only the counterpoint of supporting instruments to lend a sense of place. The walking line’s gradual rise to a climax leaves behind all lower and even middle ranges and lingers in a high and searing texture. Barber elegantly relieves the listener from this intensity with a soft return to the lower register, followed by a continuation of his slowly walking line until its quiet finish.
JOHN ADAMS on his CHAMBER SYMPHONY
The Chamber Symphony, written between September and December of 1992, was commissioned by the Gerbode Foundation of San Francisco for the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, who gave the American premiere on April 12. The world premiere performance was given in The Hague, Holland by the Schoenberg Ensemble in January of 1993.
Written for 15 instruments and lasting 22 minutes, the Chamber Symphony bears a suspicious resemblance to its eponymous predecessor, the Opus 9 of Arnold Schoenberg. The choice of instruments is roughly the same as Schoenberg's, although mine includes parts for synthesizer, percussion (a trap set), trumpet and trombone. However, whereas the Schoenberg symphony is in one uninterrupted structure, mine is broken into three discrete movements, "Mongrel Airs"; "Aria with Walking Bass" and "Roadrunner." The titles give a hint of the general ambience of the music.
I originally set out to write a children's piece, and my intentions were to sample the voices of children and work them into a fabric of acoustic and electronic instruments. But before I began that project I had another one of those strange interludes that often lead to a new piece. This one involved a brief moment of what Melville called "the shock of recognition": I was sitting in my studio, studying the score to Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, and as I was doing so I became aware that my seven year old son Sam was in the adjacent room watching cartoons (good cartoons, old ones from the '50's). The hyperactive, insistently aggressive and acrobatic scores for the cartoons mixed in my head with the Schoenberg music, itself hyperactive, acrobatic and not a little aggressive, and I realized suddenly how much these two traditions had in common.
For a long time my music has been conceived for large forces and has involved broad brushstrokes on big canvasses. These works have been either symphonic or operatic, and even the ones for smaller forces like Phrygian Gates, Shaker Loops or Grand Pianola Music have essentially been studies in the acoustical power of massed sonorities. Chamber Music, with its inherently polyphonic and democratic sharing of roles, was always difficult for me to compose. But the Schoenberg symphony provided a key to unlock that door, and it did so by suggesting a format in which the weight and mass of a symphonic work could be married to the transparency and mobility of a chamber work. The tradition of American cartoon music--and I freely acknowledge that I am only one of a host of people scrambling to jump on that particular bandwagon--also suggested a further model for a music that was at once flamboyantly virtuosic and polyphonic. There were several other models from earlier in the century, most of which I come to know as a performer, which also served as suggestive: Milhaud's La Creation du Monde, Stravinsky's Octet and L'Histoire du Soldat, and Hindemith's marvelous Kleine Kammermusik, a little known masterpiece for woodwind quintet that predates Ren and Stimpy by nearly sixty years.
Despite all the good humor, my Chamber Symphony turned out to be shockingly difficult to play. Unlike Phrygian Gates or Pianola, with their fundamentally diatonic palettes, this new piece, in what I suppose could be termed my post-Klinghoffer language, is linear and chromatic. Instruments are asked to negotiate unreasonably difficult passages and alarmingly fast tempi, often to inexorable click of the trap set. But therein, I suppose, lies the perverse charm of the piece. ("Discipliner et Punire" was the original title of the first movement, before I decided on "Mongrel Airs" to honor a British critic who complained that my music lacked breeding.)
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