John Knowles Paine was born in Portland, Maine, on January 9, 1839, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 25, 1906. He composed the Overture to As You Like It in 1876. Theodore Thomas led his orchestra in the first performance at Sanders Theater on the Harvard campus on November 21, 1876. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, tenor and bass trombone, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 10 minutes.
John Knowles Paine, the first professor of music at Harvard, and thus the founder of a long and distinguished line of composer‑teachers (who passed the torch directly from Paine to Edward Burlingame Hill to his student, Walter Piston) deserves recognition as the father figure of the first real school of American composers of concert music, a varied and talented group that arose in Boston in the half‑century between 1875 and 1925. As with the others, Paine’s musical education was “finished” in Germany, where he absorbed the rich traditions of romanticism that dominated most European and American music for the better part of the century. Like all leading Bostonian musicians, he revered Beethoven (Paine’s First Symphony, completed in 1875, pays overt homage to Beethoven’s Fifth, and Gunther Schuller has called it “the best Beethoven symphony not by Beethoven”), but he also knew and admired the work of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and eventually Wagner.
The overture to As You Like It was Paine’s second work for orchestra alone. It was premiered in Sanders Theatre by the Theodore Thomas Orchestra on November 21, 1876, and received at least seven other Boston performances before Paine’s death in 1906. But it has been heard all too rarely since then. Like Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture, the work was not composed with a stage production in mind, but simply to capture in music some of the joyous spirits of Shakespeare’s comedy. There are no themes designed to capture the Forest of Arden (unless perhaps the slow introduction be considered a kind of “Forest murmurs”) or the lively Rosalind, of Orlando pining for love, or the clown Touchstone, nor is there, to be sure any attempt to translate the most famous monologue in the play—”All the world’s a stage”—into music. The overture is cast in the normal design for such works—a slow introduction with a clarinet melody that foreshadows the principal theme, followed by the Allegro in sonata form. The mood is occasionally vigorous and energetic, but for the most part the 6/4 rhythm skips along light of heart, as does the Shakespeare play that inspired it.
Appalachian Spring, Ballet for Martha
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 14, 1900, and died in New York on December 2, 1990. He composed Appalachian Spring in 1943‑44 as a ballet score for Martha Graham, writing for an ensemble of thirteen instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, four violins, two violas, two cellos, and double bass). The work was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and was first performed in the Coolidge Festival at the Library of Congress on October 30, 1944. The following year Copland prepared a version for full orchestra; this was immediately premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. The orchestral version calls for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and trombones, as well as a substantial percussion section consisting of timpani, xylophone, two snare drums, bass drum, cymbals, tabor (long drum), wood block, claves, glockenspiel, and triangle, plus harp, piano, and strings.
In the cultural development of the United States, music is often perceived as having lagged far behind the arts of painting and literature. Already by the time of the Revolution we had noted artists like Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley; soon after that we had writers like Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper, who were able to create an image of America not only for Americans themselves but for the rest of the world. Yet it took another century for American music to begin to make the same kind of international impact. When it did, the composer most strongly identified with this country, the composer most readily conceded to be our greatest, was Aaron Copland. It is not that there was no American music before Copland. On the contrary, music arrived here with the first settlers and remained an important part of American life through all the centuries after--but it consisted of hymn tunes and “fuging tunes,” theatrical songs and popular ditties, dances and marches: not the kind of music we usually mean when we talk about “culture.” Eventually, beginning in the middle of the last century, permanent symphony orchestras began to spring up all over the country (about the same time, incidentally, that the same development was taking place in Europe). A large number of composers appeared who strove to win artistic laurels for their native land. They produced much attractive music (some of which could easily be revived with great success today), but they did not yet strike most listeners as being “American” composers in the same way that Walt Whitman and Mark Twain were clearly American voices in literature. In fact, they had to do what nationalist composers all over Europe--in Hungary, Bohemia, Russia, Scandinavia, and England--were all doing at about the same time: demonstrate that they could compose serious music as well as any German composer--in the dominant German style--before they would be taken seriously as composers in their own homeland.
The desire to write in a nationalistic, “American” style ran deeply before Aaron Copland created one way of doing so in the 1920s. His desire to become recognizably “American” led at first to an encounter with jazz elements (though never with actual jazz composition) in the Organ Symphony, Music for the Theater, and the Piano Concerto. Though these works marked Copland as a man to watch and hinted at the course of things to come, they were regarded by many as “difficult” scores. And his style became still more complex at the beginning of the 1930s with the Symphonic Ode, the Short Symphony, and the granitic Piano Variations.
But the social changes of the 1930s brought a general interest among the leftist artists and thinkers with whom Copland was friendly in attracting a wider audience than ever before, in addressing the common man and expressing his hopes, dreams, and desires by artistic means. Copland was one of a generation of composers who shared this desire; he accomplished the change of viewpoint with notable success, simplifying his style for greater accessibility, but never ceasing to be utterly individual in sound or approach. The simplicity heightened certain elements that had not been apparent in his music earlier--most notably an extraordinary tenderness that never becomes sentimental. At the same time, Copland’s music retained its energy and verve, its sense of space and color in laying out orchestral lines; thus his music is instantly recognizable as proceeding from the same musical imagination, no matter what its style.
Copland had already had two popular ballet successes (Billy the Kid and Rodeo) based on western themes--a striking achievement in imagination for a composer city-born and city-bred--when Martha Graham asked him to compose a ballet for her. She chose the title from a poem by Hart Crane. In fact, Copland had already completed the score (thinking of it in his own mind simply as “Ballet for Martha”, its present subtitle) before he ever heard the title by which it has become known. The scenario is a simple one, touching on primal issues of marriage and survival, on the eternal regeneration suggested by spring. It is set in the Pennsylvania hills early in the nineteenth century.
The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.
The orchestral version contains the substance of the ballet, omitting a few passages that Copland felt were of interest only when accompanying the danced story.
All of Copland’s three major ballet scores make use of old folk melodies, but Appalachian Spring uses the least; the only tune to pre-date the composition is the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” which serves as the basis for a series of variations near the end of the ballet. But the tune also plays a background role in unifying the entire score; from the introduction on we frequently hear a three-note motive that is easily recognizable as the first five notes of “Simple Gifts” in outline form.
From this motive comes the entire triadic “sound” of the ballet. From beginning to end, through all its changing moods, Copland’s score calls up a sense of the optimism and courage, the vigor and energy, and the deep wellspring of faith and hope that we like to regard as characteristic of the American experience.
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897. He completed his First Symphony in 1876,though some of the sketches date back to the 1850s. Otto Dessoff conducted the first performance in Karlsruhe on November 4, 1876. The symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 45 minutes.
Brahms was only too aware that he was treading in the footsteps of giants. He knew the music of his great predecessors Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, and others, better than almost anyone living at his time (or any other time, for that matter), and he did not welcome direct comparison to their achievements. Beethoven in particular was an overwhelming gray shadow behind him, because by the middle 1850s, when Brahms’s career as a composer got going in earnest, Beethoven was rapidly approaching the position he has never since left, that of being the one composer to whom all others must bow in homage. Brahms keenly felt the power of Beethoven’s example. His fear of direct comparison and his own high standards made it difficult for him to create works in any medium that Beethoven had made uniquely his own. Thus Brahms was fully mature before he created a string quartet that he was willing to allow out into the world, and even older before he began a symphony. It was not for want of trying! He had started symphonies time and again for nearly two decades, but he ended up turning all of that music into some other kind of piece (such as his First Piano Concerto or his Requiem), or he simply destroyed it.
Finally, at the age of forty‑three, in 1876, Brahms completed a symphony that met his standards and let it out into the world. But he had been working on it at least since 1868, when he wrote to Clara Schumann quoting the horn theme of the finale. It was a tough nut for first listeners to crack. Brahms himself admitted that it was “not exactly amiable.” The work traces a lengthy progress from the dark tension of its opening C minor to a glorious and sunny conclusion in C major. In this respect it follows a plan similar to that of two of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies, the Fifth (in its choice of key) and the Ninth (in achieving its bright conclusion with the aid of theme of such direct and simple melodic appeal that it lingers forever in the ear).
The symphony opens with a tense and dramatic introduction that provides the principal musical germs of the first movement (it is hard to believe that this slow introduction is an afterthought, so closely knit is it to what follows, but that is in fact the case). This introduction—pounding timpani strokes and rising chromatic line—seems to begin in the midst of some titanic struggle. Yet this lengthy moderato opening prepares the main argument of the movement; the Allegro takes up the idea of the timpani strokes (abstracted into the other instruments of the orchestra) and the rising chromatic line. It is prevailingly somber, its darkness only slightly relieved by the horn and wind colors in the secondary theme.
As the work continues, Brahms’s concern for unity reveals itself through the reworking of musical ideas from one movement to another: there are frequent references in later movements to the passing chromatic notes of the first movement’s introduction; an oboe theme in the slow movement seems to predict a clarinet theme in the next movement; and so on. These inner movements are essentially lyrical, expanding on the character of the dolce (sweet) and espressivo (expressive) markings that appear occasionally in the opening movement. The oboe theme in the second movement is wonderfully calm and expansive, though the middle section threatens its stability.
The third movement is entirely grazioso (graceful), far removed in mood from the struggles of the first and last movements. It is also harmonically far afield from the home key. Indeed, Brahms has planned a symmetrical architecture in which each movement appears in a key a major third higher than the previous one. After beginning in C minor, the second movement appears in E major. Its middle section (in G-sharp minor) anticipates the key of the third movement, A-flat major (A-flat and G-sharp are the same note, differently written). Finally, following the barely-resolved conclusion of the third movement, one more rise of a major third brings us back to C, closing the circle.
Like the opening movement, the finale begins with a lengthy introduction which plays an important part in the character of the whole movement. It starts out in the minor mode (as the whole symphony had done), but there is a constant sense of struggle, of reaching for a new goal, and this is finally achieved with the arrival in C major and the appearance of the magnificent horn theme that Brahms had sent to Clara in 1868. (This long-breathed theme offers a trompe-l’oeil to the audience: it sounds like a solo melody, but Brahms has divided it between the first and second horns to allow it to seem virtually unending.) The trombones enter, for the first time in the entire symphony, with a chorale melody, building up to the first statement of the main theme—a hymnlike C-major melody first hinted at (though in the minor) in the opening bar of the movement. Brahms was short-tempered with those who pointed out that it sounded like a rerun of Beethoven’s Ninth: “Any ass can see that!” he retorted. It marks the onset of the final struggle to establish C major, which is finally achieved with a climax for the entire orchestra on the trombone chorale melody and a powerful affirmation of C-major, achieved through a carefully crafted battle plan that conquers all in the end. The shade of Beethoven would have been pleased with his pupil.
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