Monthly Archives: April 2010

Edward MacDowell, Curt Cacioppo, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now eight years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, May 1st, 2010, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908). Second Suite, “Indian,” IV. Dirge (1891-95). Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa. Naxos 8.559075, Tr. 9. 6:19

Curt Cacioppo (b.1951). Lenape Refrains (2009). Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman. Live recording. 33:30

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (b.1968). Shakamaxon, II. Moccasin Game (2008). Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman. Live recording. 9:15

One of the ways to understand a nation’s music is to listen to the music of its indigenous peoples. On this Discoveries we’ll hear music written by, and inspired by, American Indians.

Dvorak said that Americans should use their nation’s folk music to create a national identity. MacDowell didn’t buy it, not accepting the idea of so-called “American” or any other kind of music. Music was music, whether it came from Germany (where he studied), or a book of American Indian tunes, where he found inspiration for his Indian Suite. The “Dirge” especially moved him, and scholars have pointed out its recurrence in later works of his. He told people that he wrote it partly to honor the death of his teacher, Joachim Raff. In any case, he wasn’t trying to write anything authentically American or American Indian. He was simply composing, using whatever materials attracted him. “I do not believe in ‘lifting’ a Navajo theme,” he once wrote, “and furbishing it into some kind of a musical composition and calling it American music. Our problem is not so simple as all that.”

William Birch. Penn’s Tree, with the City & Port of Philadelphia, on the River Delaware from Kensington. 1827

Curt Cacioppo’s Lenape Refrains is an extensive work built on tribal songs and rhythms. Along with the string orchestra it involves American Indian percussion, harp, clarinet, chanting by the instrumentalists, and, in this performance, solo singing by the composer himself. American Indian music and performance practice have been passionate studies of Cacioppo’s for many years. He has traveled around the country learning and performing, and he often incorporates elements of this music into his concert works.

Lenape Refrains is played without pause: I. Intimations under the Elm, II. Colloquy in the Branches, III. Sunlight through the Leaves, IV. Braiding Song and Circle Dance [listen for percussion and solo voice], V. Storm, Parody and Lament, VI. Blessing Song [a beautiful clarinet solo here], VII. Stomp Dance and Lullaby, VIII. Tarantella.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a fast-rising composer, and as a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, he brings the experience of his own heritage into music for the concert hall. His flute concerto Tracing Mississippi, for instance, depicts the tragedy of the forced relocation of the Chickasaws and others in the 1830s, infamously known as the Trail of Tears. Shakamaxon takes its name from the Lenape Indian village situated on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, on what is now Penn Treaty Park. It was here (under the same elm referenced by Cacioppo), that the 1682 Treaty of Friendship between William Penn and Chief Tamanend was signed. As a model of enlightened cooperation, it became famous throughout the world. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that “few events in history have stronger claims on our serious reflection, on our humanity, our sense of rights… [it] furnishes a practical lesson on the influence which intelligence, real friendship, and justice may acquire.”

The Moccasin Game evokes Lenape dances. Tate writes, “Moccasin games can be very intense and have always fostered healthy competition within American Indian communities. This movement is meant to depict the natural banter of the game, and to honor the determination and perseverance of the Lenape people.” Shakamaxon was commissioned by the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, as was the Cacioppo and the soon-to-be-premiered Wissahickon Scenes by Maurice Wright. In their various ways they help us understand a bit more about America and its music.

Diabelli Variation

Network for New Music asked me and 24 others* to write new variations on the Diabelli theme to celebrate their 25th Anniversary. Each variation was to be under two minutes, and for any combination of a small choice of instruments. All of the pieces are to be performed in some sequence of Network’s choosing on 2 May 2010, at Settlement Music School, Queen St., Philadelphia. The final variation will be a substantial one by Network’s Conductor Jan Krzywicki.

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I stayed with solo piano for a few reasons, the first being the challenge of working in Beethoven’s own milieu for the theme. Then there was my itch to write something virtuosic for the instrument. I’ve written only a few pieces—not extravagantly difficult—for solo piano, and so here was a chance to try something out after a long absence. Finally, the pianist was to be Charles Abramovic, and any chance to work with that wonderful artist is a chance devoutly to be wished.

I reacquainted myself with the Beethoven. I don’t know which aspect of his music stuns me more, the depth or the inventiveness, but he emboldened me in the way masters often do. They take us to a meadow of wildflowers, an entire landscape of individual beauties, and say, “Go ahead, pick one, any one. They’re all right there, just for you.”

Diabelli’s child-like tune kept suggesting to me a nugget of two notes, E and F. And then something else. I’m not sure when it came to me, but it was after I had started the piece. The idea presented itself to try to work in a quote of Beethoven’s, as he had honored Mozart by quoting a Leporello aria from Don Giovanni in the 22nd Variation. I thought of what I might quote that would be appropriate to the celebration, and wandered over to the “Ode to Joy” theme. It was obvious that the least snippet of its beginning would be immediately recognizable, and—even better—that it held the exact nugget of the two notes already going through my head (and already in the beginning of the piece). I repeated one note, added the next in line, and E, F became E, E, F, G. Joyful, joyful.

Happy birthday, Network!

*Ingrid Arauco, Kyle Bartlett, Richard Brodhead, Robert Capanna, Andrea Clearfield, Gene Coleman, Cynthia Folio, Jeremy Gill, Jan Krzywicki, David Laganella, Gerald Levinson, David Ludwig, Andrew McPherson, Robert Maggio, Philip Maneval, James Primosch, Jay Reise, Arne Running, Melinda Wagner, Joseph Waters, Anna Weesner, Richard Wernick, Thomas Whitman, Maurice Wright.

update 20 Sep 2010:

Here’s the premiere:

and here’s the 4-page score:

Diabelli Variation

A particularly special oddity

Just a bit of German, although I wish it were more. And 130 is true. Daniel Denvir, in the 23 Mar 2010 Philadelphia Weekly, his description of a stroll through the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central branch, where they’ve let me work, lo, these… how many years?!:

We re-emerge to find ourselves in the Fleisher Collection, a particularly special oddity. The room contains more than 21,000 full musical scores and performance materials, the largest such collection on earth. The Free Library is the top lender of these materials to orchestras worldwide including some of the estimated 130 orchestras in the Philadelphia metro region. Curator Kile Smith has worked here 29 years, and every day he fields long-distance calls from music directors. “I got a call once and a guy said, ‘I am in Tokyo, do you speak German?’” recalls Smith, who fortunately does speak a bit of German.

Hugo Alfvén

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now eight years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Hugo Alfvén.  (1872-1960). “Shepherd Girl’s Dance” from Bergakungen (The Mountain King) (1923). Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi. Bis 585, Tr 4, 3:59

Alfvén. Symphony No. 4 (1918). Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi. Bis 505, Tr 4, 47:21

Composers write music about love all the time. Hugo Alfvén—urbane, well-trained, and rising in all the right circles—began one such piece as a young man in his twenties. It so overwhelmed him, however, that 20 years later it had mutated into a craggy three-quarter-hour symphony of four movements played without break, a luxuriant, ardent, and stunning wordless tale of such power that some critics thought it too suggestive for public performance.

He originally called the piece A Tale from the Archipelago. It became his Symphony No. 4, subtitled “From the Outskirts of the Archipelago.” The orchestra is huge and includes two instruments rarely seen in orchestral concerts: wordless singers. The soprano and tenor take the “roles” of the lovers. The trajectory of their love is played out against, and amplified by, the elemental forces of nature. The rocks of the skerries, the crashing of the waves, and the sunlight and moonlight on the sea all contribute to this über-Romantic showpiece for orchestra. To counter the criticism of propriety, Alfvén pointed out that the symphony is dedicated, after all, to his daughter.

He started his musical career as a violinist in the opera orchestra, but he soon gave that up to have more time to compose. But he was also an influential choral conductor, leading three different choirs—one for 53 years. In addition to being Director of Music at Uppsala University from 1910 to 1939, he was an accomplished painter and well-respected writer.

But it’s as one of the great Swedish composers of the early 20th century (along with the one-year-older Wilhelm Stenhammar) that we know Hugo Alfvén. The “Shepherd Girl’s Dance” from his ballet Bergakungen, or The Mountain King, is a good introduction to his music. It shows his love of Swedish culture, as the symphony exhibits his love for the Swedish landscape that crops up in so much of his work. All in all, expansive work from a great, and passionate, painter of sound.