3/15/09 – Pulling Strings
Dr. Cynthia Johnston Turner
Fanfares from “Libuše”
by Bedřich Smetana, Vaclav Nelhybel
by Pierre Mercure
Hounds of Spring
by Alfred Reed
Jug Blues and Fat Pickin’
by Donald Freund
by Eric Whitacre
“March” from Symphonic Metamorphosis
by Paul Hindemith, trans. Keith Wilson
Overture to ”Candide”
by Leonard Bernstein, arr. Clare Grundman
Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884) was a child prodigy in a musical family of Prague. Although he founded several music schools promoting Czech music, he struggled with poverty, the tragic deaths of his wife and three young children, and a lack of recognition in his own country. Recognition finally came in Sweden, and upon returning to Prague he worked as a conductor at the National Theater until he went deaf at the age of 50. Smetana conceived Libuše, the fourth of his nine operas, as a festival piece and a tribute to the Czech nation. Completed in 1872, it opened the National Theater in 1881. Princess Libuše, the opera’s divinely inspired heroine, is considered the ancestral matriarch of the Czech people. Although she proves herself a wise ruler, according to legend some of her male subjects refuse to accept female authority and insist that she marry. Rather than taking a husband of noble blood, she chooses a wise and kindly peasant farmer, thereby founding the first Bohemian dynasty. The words of her final vision in the opera have been a rallying cry for Smetana’s countrymen in times of national stress: “My beloved Czech nation will not perish; gloriously she will vanquish the terrors of hell.”
Pierre Mercure, a composer and bassoonist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, began experimenting with various styles of composition while studying in Canada and France. Now recognized as the inception of Canadian wind band composition, Pantomime (1949) was one of Mercure’s earliest works. The piece takes the form of a palindrome, suggesting a sleeping figure that first awakes, then frolics joyfully, and finally returns to rest. Mercure became a television producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, promoting contemporary music while continuing to explore new techniques and sonorities in his compositions. His life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in 1966.
“When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces” begins a magical picture of young love in the springtime. The poem, Atalanta in Calydon by Algernon Charles Swinburne, was based on ancient Greek mythology and published in 1865. Alfred Reed’s musical setting of Hounds of Spring was commissioned by the John L. Forster Secondary School Symphonic Band of Windsor, Ontario, and premiered in 1980. A native New Yorker, Reed (1921–2005) was playing trumpet with small hotel combos in the Catskill Mountains by the time he was in high school. During his three and a half years with the 529th Army Air Corps Band in World War II, he produced nearly 100 compositions and arrangements for band. After his discharge, Reed began studying musical composition, eventually gaining his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees while conducting the Baylor Symphony Orchestra. His interest in the development of educational music led him to serve as executive editor of a music publishing firm from 1955 to 1966. He left that position to become a professor of music at the University of Miami until his retirement in 1993.
Jug Blues & Fat Pickin’ was written in 1986 and revised in 1990. Originally commissioned for Tennessee’s “Homecoming ’86,” it celebrates the bluegrass banjo style of “pickin” and was further inspired by the Memphis Jug Band, the most recorded and perhaps most popular of the jug bands to appear on Memphis’s Beale Street in the late 1920s. Don Freund has composed over 100 performed works, ranging from solo, chamber, and orchestral music to pieces involving live performance with electronic instruments, music for dance and large theatre works; he is also active as a pianist, conductor, and lecturer. From 1972 to 1992 he was chairman of the Composition Department at Memphis State University and is now Professor of Composition at the Indiana University School of Music.
An accomplished conductor and lecturer, Eric Whitacre (still in his mid-30s) quickly has become one of the most popular and performed composers of his generation. The Los Angeles Times has praised his compositions as “works of unearthly beauty and imagination, [with] electric, chilling harmonies,” while the Philadelphia Inquirer has called him “the hottest thing in choral music.” Whitacre was kicked out of his high school band, but despite this inauspicious start, his first experiences singing in college choir changed his life. He completed his first concert work at the age of 21 and went on to Juilliard, studying with composer John Corigliano. For the setting of Lux Aurumque (Light and Gold), Whitacre used the Latin translation of an Edward Esch poem, “Light, warm and heavy as pure gold and the angels sing softly to the newborn baby.” Originally a full choral work, the composer has arranged Lux Aurumque for male chorus, brass ensemble, string ensemble, and concert band.
A theorist, teacher, violist, conductor, and composer, Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) is regarded by many as the foremost German composer of his generation. His musical ideas did not match those of the Nazi Party, however, and in 1937 he and his wife were forced to move to Switzerland. Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber was originally intended to be a ballet based on the music of the German early Romantic composer Weber, with choreography by Leonid Massine. Artistic disagreements between Hindemith and Massine led to the project being scrapped in 1938. After fleeing to America, Hindemith revived the work in 1943, transforming it into an orchestral suite of four movements. Symphonic Metamorphosis evolved into a virtuoso exercise in variation technique, in which Hindemith adapts thematic material borrowed from Weber, “metamorphosing” it through colorful orchestral effects beyond what Weber would have heard in his lifetime. The fourth movement, March, is derived from Weber’s Eight Pieces for Piano Four Hands, Op.60, published in 1818. Believing that March should be available for band, also, Hindemith asked his Yale colleague, Keith Wilson, to do the transcription, which was completed in 1961.