Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town”
Instrumentation: flute, oboe, alto saxophone, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings
Performance time: 5 minutes
If Leonard Bernstein were still alive, he would be in his 100th year. Indeed, there are numerous Internet sites celebrating “Bernstein at 100” (next year actually brings the centennial of his birth). He has been described as one of the most talented and successful musicians in U. S. history, and his name is among the best-recognized among American composers. Almost everyone (at least among adults) has heard songs from his 1957 musical, t (the movie came out in 1961). Besides this musical, which brought his name to prominence, he has written half a dozen other musicals, opera, ballet, film scores, choral works, chamber music, piano pieces, and three symphonies.
After undergraduate work at Harvard, Bernstein went to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; finishing there, he moved to New York, and in 1957 became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he retained until 1969. Today, decades after his death, he remains probably the most identifiable conductor in the public imagination.
Bernstein has been characterized as occupying a broad middle ground of musical style in the early twentieth century, together with such composers as Mennin, Persichetti, Palmer, Dahl, Fine, Siegmeister, Imbrie, and Hovhaness–names now mostly forgotten except in academe. The New Oxford History of Music forty years ago described Bernstein as “A protean composer, whose serious symphonic works derive from Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Copland (1900-1990) . . . but whose most convincing accomplishments so far [this was in 1974] are in the popular musical theatre.” There is no question that his brilliant accomplishments in both serious and popular music made him one of the most spectacular figures on the American scene in the twentieth century.
Our selection this afternoon reflects the composer’s lighter side. Bernstein had supplied the music for “Fancy Free,” a ballet by Jerome Robbins, and two of the men involved in the production wished to capitalize on Bernstein’s talent and turn the ballet into a musical. The result was On the Town, from which three dance numbers were later extracted as an orchestral suite. The third of these is today’s opening number.
– Dr. N.W. (“Nick”) Miller
Corbin Foster (b. 1981)
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings
Performance time: 5 minutes
Snoqualmie Falls is a 268-foot waterfall, located east of Seattle. It is one of Washington’s most famous scenic attractions, with more than 1.5 million visitors that visit. For the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, the Falls and the surrounding forest lands are considered sacred, housing ancient burial grounds where the remains of generations of their people are forever resting. At times the river is high enough to flow across the entire precipice, which creates an almost blinding spray, taking on an almost curtain form. The mists rising from the base of the waterfall are said to serve to connect Heaven and Earth, according to the Snoqualmie People.
Snoqualmie Falls, for orchestra, was written for the Redlands Community Orchestra, in celebration of its 5th season (2017-2018). When considering the first few seasons, it is remarkable to realize how many things have changed. At the same time, though, much has stayed the same. Snoqualmie Falls is a 268 ft waterfall on the Snoqualmie River in Washington. Along with being one of Washington’s most famous scenic attractions, it is also located near where I was born. After a recent trip back, Snoqualmie Falls is inspired by the experience of the passing time and how change is perceived about duration, much as a waterfall can be nearly the same for centuries. The work begins articulated by undulating strings, adding the additional instruments, one at a time. Wind and brass instruments form the peaks, fading in and out as the work unfolds. Over the course of the composition, new rhythmic textures are added.
“I began with an idea and then it becomes something else” Pablo Picasso. I began with an idea to take a single melodic entity and stretch it, overlap it with harmonies, and group them based on register, timbre, and rhythm. By this process of stretching lengths of rhythms and even the tempo would create density and activity of each section. To apply this to an orchestral setting, I would employ two of my favorite techniques: hocketing and process. Hocketing is a medieval technique, where the alteration of notes, pitches, and chords are shared alternately from one voice to another. This characteristic was used during what was known as the ars antiqua, during 14th-century secular vocal music. Process music, perhaps more popularly known as minimalism, is a process of choosing and arranging notes through pitch and time, often involving a long-term change with the limited amount of musical material. Perhaps the genre’s greatest champion, Steve Reich put it best, “the process of composition but rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form simultaneously.” Steve Reich “Music as a Gradual Process (1968).”
– Corbin Foster
Howard Hanson (1896-1981)
Symphony No. 2, in D-flat major, Op. 30, W45, “Romantic”
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings
Performance time: 28 minutes
Howard Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, in 1896. His education began at Luther College in Wahoo, and he received a diploma in 1911. He then studied at the Institute of Musical Art in Manhattan, predecessor to the Juilliard School. From there he went to Northwestern, graduating in 1916. In 1921 he won the Prix de Rome, which funded a sojourn in Italy for three years. In 1924 he was appointed by George Eastman of Kodak fame (and wealth) to head the Eastman School of Music, a post he held for 40 years.
Hanson completed his Second Symphony in 1930, during an era when many new musical currents were flowing in American music. The New Oxford History of Music (1974) offers this perspective: “All composers of any standing were ‘modern.’ Some inclined more than others towards experiment for its own sake, or towards the exploration of new musical resources. But even some of the most conservative composers felt that they were part of an important tide. Thus, for example, Havoward Hanson wrote symphonies and other large-scale works in a romantic style.” The NOHM had characterized the 1920s as a decade “in which new art–whether music, painting, or literature–was not taken for granted. By mid-century, novelty as such was assumed as a matter of course to be a sine qua non in art; the composer was expected to produce a new technique or a new theory each week.” In other words, there was little respect for the conservative composer.
Despite this prevailing attitude, Hanson eschewed the avant-garde for the more traditional forms and procedures of his art. He became a champion of American classical music. His first symphony, the “Nordic,” appeared in 1923. In 1944 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Fourth Symphony. But his most successful work was the Second Symphony, which represents a proclamation of his faith in romanticism. This work was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 50th anniversary in 1930.
The harmonic language of the Second Symphony has been described as “complex but euphonious,” the orchestration, “invariably effective.” (Hanson certainly liked the brass section.) One theme in the first movement stands out, in particular, having been used (without permission) on the soundtrack for the movie Alien in 1979, the so-called Interlochen Theme, named thus because it is traditionally used at the conclusion of all concerts at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Though his theme was pirated, Hanson declined to sue. (Listen for this tender melody about five minutes into the first movement.)
The symphony comprises three movements. The first opens with slight dissonance supporting a three-note rising motif spanning a minor third. This builds and then fades, whereupon the brass announce a new descending figure. A bit further on, an oboe solo introduces a new theme that builds and then ushers in a return of the brass motif. Soon a solo horn states another tender and romantic melody played over throbbing basses. A transitional section leads to the return of earlier material and to a restatement of the “Interlochen” theme. The movement ends quietly with low strings alone.
The second movement brings a melodic theme in the winds, forming a short A-B-A structure, whereupon a crescendo prepares a contrasting middle portion, which is nonetheless dominated by the opening motif. Toward the final third of the movement, the themes from the first movement reappear, both the rising minor-third motif and the “Interlochen” melody. The movement returns to its opening theme for the close.
The third movement starts off with great energy and agitation, occupying the cellos in particular with much activity. Before long, soft winds recall the second movement’s main theme. Renewed energy in the horns and then the full brass section builds a climax, and presently the principal theme from the first movement returns. One more push to a grand climax brings a boisterous close with fortissimo brass.
– Dr. N.W. (“Nick”) Miller