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Concert Program Cover

First Concert of the 70th Season

Our Homegrown Legacy: Earth

Sunday, October 26th, 2008
Cordier Auditorium
Scott Humphries, Conductor

  An Outdoor Overture Aaron Copland  
  A Night on Bald Mountain Modeste Mussorgsky  
  Dance in the Hall of the Mountain King,
from Suite No. 1, Op. 46 of Peer Gynt
Edvard Grieg  
  Grand Canyon Suite Ferde Grofé  

Program Notes by James R. C. Adams

  An Outdoor Overture Aaron Copland

Few composers have been able to sound as "American" as Aaron Copland. What Gershwin did for the sophisticated urban side of American life, Copland did for "the wide open spaces." His early life was spent in Brooklyn, where he was born. At the age of twenty-one he was able to go to Paris, where he studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. He was her first American student, and she was sufficiently impressed to commission him to write an organ concerto for her to perform during her American tour.

In the 30s, Copland began to express his social concerns in a number of ways. Sometimes it was choice of subject: conflict between society and the outlaw (Billy the Kid), but it was also a change of direction. Copland decided to write music that was more accessible to the people, both in terms of audience, and in terms of performance. "I felt that it was worth the effort to see if I couldn't say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms."

During this period, Copland used more folk material, and he also turned toward what Paul Hindemith called gebrauchsmusic...that is, music with a particular utilitarian purpose such as film scores and school productions. His opera, The Second Hurricane (1936), was written for children, with a chorus for parents. Alexander Richter, head of the music department of the High School of Music and Art, had heard a performance of that short opera, and was impressed enough to encourage Copland to write An Outdoor Overture. Richter was trying to start a movement to provide more new music that school groups could perform. He was to have a series of concerts under the slogan of "American Music of American Youth." Copland couldn't resist. The work was first performed by a school orchestra in 1938, the same year as Billy the Kid. You will notice similarities between the two pieces and the ones to come shortly after: Rodeo and Appalachian Spring.

This tendency of Copland's led to criticism in the late 40s that he was "imitating himself." All composers tend to repeat certain motifs, chord progressions, and harmonies, and that is thought of as their "style." Copland's reputation suffered not so much because of those traits as the fact that he was trying to simplify his music, which some critics thought of as "dumbing-down," and the fact that he was writing film music, which is not taken seriously by American critics (it is elsewhere). An Outdoor Overture, however, was not without its champions. Elliott Carter, a highly regarded composer of very complex music, declared that the piece "...contains some of the finest and most personal music. Its opening is as lofty and beautiful as any passage that has been written by a contemporary composer."

The work opens with a fanfare, reminding us of themes from Billy the Kid, which he composed in the same year. It quickly moves to a trumpet solo with an ostinato of three rising notes. The Billy the Kid motif speeds up, and turns into a lively tune. It becomes a jaunty, swaggering cowboy tune before coming to a sudden stop, after which the fanfare returns, but gradually subsides. This is followed by a pensive melody played by the clarinet, followed by the flute, over a series of plunking chords. Then a staccato melody picks up the pace, followed by a determined march, then a return to the fanfare. After another series of three notes rising, there is another march...this time, driving and accelerating, positively triumphant. The work ends with a reprise of the opening fanfare.

  A Night on Bald Mountain Modest Mussorgsky

Mussorgsky was a member of the Russian Five (Balakiref, Cui, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov), whose principal trait was the strong promotion of nationalism. Musically, Mussorgsky showed his trait more than any of the others. His most successful work is the opera Boris Godunof, which ran afoul of the czarist censors. It did not achieve its success until later.

Mussorgsky was born into a wealthy family. He went into the military, during which time he worked on an opera. At this time, he had little theoretical knowledge, and soon resigned to study and to devote more time to composition. He became friends with Rimsky-Korsakov, who helped make his music more "presentable." Several of his most famous works were in this way "touched up" by others. His Pictures at an Exhibition was not successful until orchestrated by Ravel.

Mussorgsky was a likeable and enormously talented person, but he was also an alcoholic, a fact which prevented him reaching his full potential, and which cut his life short at forty-two.

A Night on Bald Mountain is the result of several revisions. It began as an orchestral fantasy, was redirected towards being a balletic interlude to an opera, and finally re-orchestrated (by Rimsky-Korsakov) as the programmatic tone-poem we hear today.

It was conceived as a dramatization of a Black Mass held on St. John's Eve (itself, probably a hold-over from the pagan celebration of the summer solstice). The story is vague. The witches dance and carry on, only to be dispersed by the sound of church-bells from the nearby village, heralding the coming of dawn.

  In the Hall of the Mountain King,
from Suite No. 1, Op. 46 of Peer Gynt
Edvard Grieg

Grieg was an avowed nationalist. He was very specific about it. He did not write Scandinavian music; he wrote Norwegian music! Those pieces which do not attest to their Norwegianness by their names, Norwegian Peasant March, Norwegian Bridal Procession, do so by their tunes.

He was a friend of writers such as Björnson and Ibsen, and wrote incidental music to the latter's Peer Gynt. He wrote some twenty-three separate numbers for Peer Gynt, and the music was so popular, he was persuaded to select some for a suite. Then, he selected more for a second suite. Charming rogues, or anti-heroes such as Ruy Blas, Till Eulenspiegel, and Háry János have served as inspiration for many composers, from Verdi and Strauss, to Kódaly. Peer Gynt was such a rogue. (It's pronounced "pair goont," by the way.)

Perhaps best-known from the first suite is "Morning," but surely the second best-known is In the Hall of the Mountain King. After many adventures in exotic places, Peer returns to Norway, where he is beset by mountain trolls. He makes such a clamor that the mountain comes tumbling down on the trolls, and saves him.

  Grand Canyon Suite Ferde Grofé

Ferde Grofé is the Norman Rockwell of music. That is, he is beloved by the people, and scorned by the critics. Grofé is not mentioned in my edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, nor in Music in a New Found Land, a book devoted to American composers. In fact, although a lot of space in that book was devoted to George Gershwin, no mention was made of the fact that Rhapsody in Blue, as we know it, was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. Gershwin wrote it only as a piano score, and intended it to be accompanied by a jazz band.

It could be that Grofé's association with jazz music might have discouraged the critics from taking him seriously. However, many highly-regarded composers have incorporated jazz motifs in their "serious" music (Ravel, Milhaud, Shostakovich, Poulenc) without suffering the scorn of the critics. Perhaps the difference with Grofé is that he was trying very hard to make jazz respectable by adorning it with classical trappings. He certainly tried that with Rhapsody in Blue, and in several different, and ever more elaborate orchestrations. It is also true that most of his music is "programmatic." That is, it tells a story, something that was not popular among twentieth-century critics (or composers).

Grofé IS recognized as a rich orchestrator, and he had a knack for tunes. He incorporated a wide range of instruments in his works, as can be heard in the Grand Canyon Suite.

As you might have gathered, all of the composers in this program were strong nationalists. Each made use of folk tunes to one extent or another. Grofé rarely did that, except in his Mississippi Suite, which is virtually a medley of folk-tunes. His themes are mostly original. he, like Copland, made a conscious effort to write American music. He writes about his early days, seeing the country, working at many occupations (bookbinder, truck driver, usher, newsboy, elevator operator, lithographer, typesetter, steelworker), and he credits those experiences with his ability to write music to which a wide variety of Americans can respond. If anyone's music can be described as "tone-painting," his can. he writes about being moved by what he sees, and feeling that he can express his reactions only in music.

In 1929 he was camping with friends in the Grand Canyon when he watched the sunrise, and was so impressed by the experience that he began to sketch his feelings in music. But it took him until 1932 to finish orchestrating the rest of the suite, which is in five movements.

I. Sunrise
II. Painted Desert
III. On the Trail
IV. Sunset
V. Cloudburst

On the Trail is by far the most popular work he ever wrote. Perhaps partly because it was the theme song for a long-running radio show. You will recognize the clip-clop of the burro, and the final braying, suggested by the trumpets.


Manchester Symphony Orchestra Personnel

  Violin I
Dessie Arnold, Concertmaster
Regan Eckstein
Janice Eplett
Ervin Orban
Ilona Orban
Moo Il Rhee
Liisa Wiljer

Violin II
Joyce Dubach *
Martha Barker
Erin Cole +^
Heather Hufgard +^
Jennifer Iannuzzelli +^
Linda Kummernuss
Paula Merriman
Emma Naragon +^

Naida MacDermid *
Jessica Jacoby +^
Julie Sadler
Margaret Sklenar

Tim Spahr *
Tony Spahr
Rosemary Bond +^
Erica Hedges +^
Najah Monroe

Darrel Fiene *
Sam Gnagy
Brad Kuhns

Jena Eichenlaub

Kathy Urbani *
Sarah Curry +^
Jena Eichenlaub

George Donner *
Nyssa Gore +^
Deana Strantz +^
Lila D. Hammer *
Mark W. Huntington
Amy Reidhaar +^

Bass Clarinet
Mark W. Huntington

Erich Zummack *
Karen Labuda

Chip Owen

John Morse *
Nicole Anderson +^
Brittany Cook
Josh Murray
Tammy Sprunger

Steven Hammer *
Nicholas Kenny +^
Kim Baney

Jon Hartman *
Tim Sandborn

Robert Lynn

Dave Robbins *

Joshua Faudree +^
Olyesa Savenkova +
Robin Jo Steinman +

Grace Bauson

Alan Chambers

* Denotes principal
+ Denotes MC student
^ Denotes Keister Scholarship recipient