Currently on ACM Radio’s playlist is William Bolcom’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin & Piano, which The Verdehr Trio premiered at Wigmore Hall in London on March 25, 1994.
For another take on Bill Bolcom, have a look at this video from Youtube. To set the scene, on April 18, 2013, the United States Senate voted down all attempts at gun control legislation, including background checks, which has about 90% support across the country. There were certainly many people who were (and remain) quite angry with the Congress after these votes.
Bill Bolcom took his frustration into his own hands, so to speak. He composed a song “alla Woodie Guthrie” to share his thoughts (and feelings).
Here is a fascinating interview/conversation between Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Irving Fine from Tanglewood in 1950 about “What is American Music?”
American composer Andrew Imbrie was born on April 6, 1921, and to celebrate what would be his 92nd birthday, ACM Radio will feature a one hour program on Imbrie and his music. This program will play at 9 AM EST and again at 6 PM EST from April 6-12.
Andrew Imbrie was a student of Roger Sessions from 1937 to 1948, and, along with Milton Babbitt and others, wrote music that was influenced by the search for a post-tonal language. In the NY Times obituary for Imbrie, Allan Kozinn wrote,“Throughout his career, his works have used dissonance dramatically rather than harshly, and if his themes were often shaped with the angularity that was the common accent of mid-20th century composition, they typically had an intensity that listeners heard as passionate and direct rather than merely spiky.”
Imbrie was on the faculty of University of California, Berkeley from 1949 to 1991 and the San Francisco Conservatory since 1970. He died in Berkeley on December 5, 2007.
For a most engaging and rich entry into the world of Imbrie (which includes learning that he grew up near the home of Albert Einstein, and would see him out walking with his sister in matching shapeless overcoats and long white hair) have a look at this transcript of a conversation with Andrew Imbrie and Milton Babbitt that took place on December 3, 2004, as part of Recent Pasts 20/21 Music Series at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ.
Included on ACM Radio’s playlist for April is the symphonic poem, “The Mystic Trumpeter” (1904) by the Bostonian Frederick Converse (1871-1940). I’ve long been fascinated by Converse (and his contemporaries) as they were drawn to European art music from the hinterlands of the New World, became expert practitioners of composing in the European (usually German) late-Romantic style, often wrote inspired pieces while working tirelessly to develop the beginnings of an American music, only to find the compositional world take a dramatic turn in the 1910s and 20s away from that which they held dear and then lived for roughly 20 years more fully knowing that the musical style which they had incorporated was passé and the musical currents had passed them by.
“The Mystic Trumpeter” is one of my favorite works from these early years of The American Century. A symphonic recasting of Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name from Leaves of Grass, it is gorgeous, evocative, and often just downright thrilling. It is a terrific example of an American composer incorporating the prevailing musical currents of the time while drawing on the literary history of his own country.
Tune in to ACM Radio and The Mystic Trumpeter will appear, akin to the opening lines of Whitman’s poem:
HARK! some wild trumpeter—some strange musician,
Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night.
Here is a biographical sketch of Frederick Converse along with his likeness:
Frederick Shepherd Converse was born in Newton, Massachusetts on January 5, 1871 and died in Westwood, Massachusetts on June 8, 1940.
During his formative years, Converse studied piano, showed an early interest in composition, and entered Harvard (1889-1893) where he studied with John Knowles Paine. After a brief foray into the world of business, he traveled to Munich to continue his musical studies, where he graduated from the Koenigliche Akadamie der Tonkunst with highest honors. Returning to America, Converse and his family eventually moved to a large estate in Westwood, Massachusetts. Converse would become a prominent and highly respected figure in Boston’s musical life for the next four decades.
Converse had a long relationship with the New England Conservatory, serving first as a trustee (an appointment that lasted until his death), then as a teacher (1900-1902 and again 1920-1931), and later Dean of the Faculty (1931-1938). He also taught at Harvard (1903-1907).
Converse was also a leading figure in the creation of the Boston Opera Company (1909-1914), serving on the Board of Directors and as Vice President for all five years. His operas The Sacrifice and The Pipe of Desire were performed by the Company, the latter was also performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910.
Converse wrote music for orchestra, chorus, piano, opera, voice, and chamber ensembles. Included among his output are five symphonies, ten symphonic poems, three string quartets, a piano trio, sonatas for violin, cello, and piano, numerous pieces for chorus, and many art songs.
Converse was one of the last representatives of an American school of composition that had its roots in late German romanticism. Converse’s wife commented that her husband, “always said his work came at the end of an era, that he did not care, because some day his work would be appreciated, that he had had the joy of writing it, and that had made him have a happy life.”
Ah the modern era..
CUNY TV has digitized episodes of Day at Night, the public television series hosted by the late James Day. This interview is 30 minutes, very much worth your time.
My personal favorite moment being, ”I don’t think it’s worthwhile to get excited or confused about the seeming not-going-anywhereness of music or art or painting. It’s much more interesting where it has been than where it is going, because you don’t know anything about where it’s going; it’s hard enough to find out where it is.”
And, having lived in Missouri during the early 2000s, gotta love his pronunciation of MissourUH…
-Scott Parkman, ACM Founder
NPR has done it again – a terrific report on an American composer generally lost to the ages. Margaret Bonds, who would have been 100 on March 3, was one of the few African-American women to gain recognition as a composer. She studied at Northwestern University, was a piano soloist with the Chicago Symphony, and studied further at Juilliard, including with Roy Harris.
She’s probably best remembered for her long friendship and collaboration with poet Langston Hughes.
Here’s the report:
What’s My Line? was a panel game show that ran on CBS Television from 1950 to 1967. It remains the longest-running U.S. primetime network television game-show. Included among the celebrities that appeared on the show during the “mystery guest” round was Van Cliburn, who died yesterday at the age of 78.
The following clip shows Van Cliburn on the show – it is very funny, and conveys his warmth and humanity, both hallmarks of his playing and personality.
If you are not familiar with Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953), the below link will take you to a great program from WQXR in New York. Price was a prolific composer of some 300 works, and studied in Boston with George Chadwick and Frederick Converse. Her Symphony in E Minor was premiered in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony.
The program is called: The Price of Admission: A Musical Biography of Florence Beatrice Price
Please let me assume that for most readers of this blog, the name Charles Wakefield Cadman does not immediately register- and certainly not his music.
Cadman grew up in Pittsburgh and was largely a self-taught composer. During his career he wrote about 300 songs, was involved in the Indianist Movement in American music, including making cylinder recordings of tribal melodies (the American Bartok in this regard) for the Smithsonian Institute.
He also wrote operas, and his work Shanewis or The Robin Woman was premiered by the Metropolitan Opera on March 23, 1918. It was the first American opera to have been presented at the Metropolitan Opera for more than a single season.
Cadman eventually moved to Los Angeles where he helped to found the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and, as he became quite involved with the music scene in Southern California, the LA Philharmonic premiered his first (and only) symphony in 1940.
Check out this audio recording of Mr. Cadman himself introducing his new work, which is subtitled “Pennsylvania Symphony.” It turns out that the performance by the LA Philharmonic was broadcast live on NBC radio. Cadman spends about 5 minutes explaining the work and thanking his supporters for presenting a new symphony by an American composer. Living history, indeed….