January 21, 2001 at 3pm
Places in New England
Born October 20, 1874 in Danbury, CT
Died May 19, 1954 in New York, NY
Slonimsky had the following to say about Ives:
Charles Ives, born in Connecticut (New England), has written four symphonies, three suites for full orchestra, and a number of pieces for piano, voice, and chamber music. As a pupil of Horatio Parker (a famous American academic), Ives broke with tradition from the start of his career and made it his business to fuse folk elements of rural and urban America with symphonic forms. Thus he created two village orchestras that alternately play popular songs with different rhythms and styles.
Three Places in New England provides a critical key to how Slonimsky's European concerts came about. In 1930, Ives had submitted the work to the ISCM for possible performance in its annual European new-music festival, and the jury turned it down. Ives then financed Slonimsky and the Chamber Orchestra of Boston to premiere the work in Town Hall in January 1931; after that, he sent it on an oceanliner for concerts abroad. Given the degree to which historians have depicted Ives as an outsider, there were surprising reactions from European critics. Alfred Einstein called him "the most original and national" of "the radical group of [American] composers." And Boris de Schloezer, especially well-known for his writing about Stravinsky, described Ives as "stand[ing] totally apart; . . . he is not an imitator; he has something to say." He went on, "His art is at times coarse and clumsy, but in him there is genuine strength and inventiveness, thematically as well as rhythmically."
Places in New England (assembled by Ives in 1913-14, restored and
edited by James B. Sinclair in 1975) has three movements: "The
'St. Gaudens' in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored
Regiment)," "Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut," and
"The Housatonic at Stockbridge." The first movement, which
takes its inspiration from a bas-relief depicting an African-American
Civil War regiment, comments on race in America, fusing Stephen
Foster's Old Black Joe with Battle Cry of Freedom and Marching
through Georgia, both rallying tunes of the Civil War. The
composer's prose preface reads as follows:
Moving-Marching-Faces of Souls!
Marked with generations of pain,
Part-freers of a Destiny,
Slowly, restlessly-swaying us on with you
Towards another Freedom!
The man on horseback, carved from
A native quarry of the world Liberty
And from what your country was made.
You images of a Divine Law
Carve in the shadow of a saddened heart-
Never light abandoned-
Of an age and of a nation.
Above and beyond that compelling mass
Rises the drum-beat of the common-heart
In the silence of a strange and
Moving-Marching-Faces of Souls!
The second movement, as H. Wiley Hitchcock has vividly described it, "is a boy's fantasies as he surveys a Revolutionary War memorial at an old campsite; it combines the gay, brassy music of a Fourth of July picnic . . . and the boy's hallucinatory vision of ghostly military musicians." The composer's preface to this movement reads:
Near Redding Center, Conn., is a small park preserved as a Revolutionary Memorial; for here General Israel Putnam's soldiers had their winter quarters in 1778-1779. Long rows of stone camp fire-places still remain to stir a child's imagination. The hardships which the soldiers endured, and the agitation of a few hot-heads to break camp and march to the Hartford Assembly for relief, is a part of Redding history.
Once upon a '4th of July," some time ago, so the story goes, a child went there on a picnic, held under the auspices of the First Church and the Village Cornet Band. Wandering away from the rest of the children past the campground into the woods, he hopes to catch a glimpse of some of the old soldiers. As he rests on the hillside of laurel and hickories, the tunes of the band of the songs of the children grow fainter and fainter; -when-"mirabile dictu"-over the trees on the crest of the hill he sees a tall woman standing. She reminds him of a picture he has of the Goddess of Liberty, -but the face is sorrowful-she is pleading with the soldiers not to forget their "cause" and the great sacrifices they have made for it. But they march out of camp with fife and drum to a popular tune of the day. Suddenly a new national note is heard. Putnam is coming over the hills from the center -the soldiers turn back and cheer. The little boy awakes, he hears the children's songs and runs down past the monument to "listen to the band" and join in the games and dances.
The repertoire of national airs at that time was meager. Most of them were of English origin. It is a curious fact that a tune very popular with the American soldiers was "The British Grenadiers." A captain in one of Putnam's regiments put it to words, which were sung for the first time in 1779 at a patriotic meeting in the Congressional Church in Redding center; the text is both ardent and interesting.
work concludes, again in the words of Hitchcock, "with a
riverside revery . . . in which murmuring waters, swelling then
ebbing, and mists in the river valley are evoked in meandering
chromatic swirls, with 'cloud sounds' circling above them, while a
gently curving, freely developing melody spins itself out in the
middle of the texture." Ives prefaces the movement with excerpts
of a poem by Robert Underwood Johnson:
river! In thy dreamy realm-
The cloudy willow and the plumy elm..
Thou hast grown human laboring with men
At wheel and spindle; sorrow thou dost ken;&ldots;
Thou beautiful! From every dreamy hill
What eye but wanders with thee at thy will,
Imagining thy silver course unseen
Convoyed by two attendant streams of green&ldots;.
Contented river! And yet over-shy
To mask thy beauty from the eager eye; Hast thou a thought to hide from field and town?
In some deep current of the sunlit brown
Art thou disquieted-still uncontent
With praise from thy Homeric bard, who lent
The world the placidness thou gavest him?
Thee Bryant loved when life was at its brim;&ldots;
Ah! There's a restive triple, and the swift
Red leaves-September's firstlings-faster drift;
Wouldst thou away, dear stream? Come, whisper near!
I also of much resting have a fear;
Let me tomorrow thy companion be,
By fall and shallow to the adventurous sea!
Born September 12, 1891, in Baltimore, MD
Died February 21, 1971, in Van Nuys, CA
In his Berlin program notes, this is how Slonimsky presented Weiss to the Deutschlanders:
Adolf Weiss, was born in Baltimore in 1891 and studied with Schoenberg in Berlin. As a protagonist of the twelve-tone system and creator of ingenious "tropes," he does not subscribe to atonal music alone. Thus he composed an oratorio in the tonal style [probably The Libation Bearers of 1930]. In American Life (original title: "A Work of Atonal Jazz") he endeavors to fuse American rhythms with the twelve-tone system. This work was premiered in 1930 by the "Conductorless Orchestra" in New York.
Weiss was in fact Schoenberg's first American pupil (1926), and he went on to be a teacher of John Cage (1933). As for the Conductorless Orchestra, it was founded in New York in 1928-the same year as the PAAC-and conceived as a cooperative. The players put up expenses for the concerts, negotiated with one another on fine points of interpretation, and chose the repertory.
American Life (1929) had another distinction: it was the first work published in Henry Cowell's "New Music Orchestra Series," which was inaugurated in 1932. European reviewers gave mixed reactions. Josef Rufer, an assistant of Schoenberg who later published a major treatise on twelve-tone writing, called Weiss a "clever, fine musician, technically the most mature of these composers."
American Life represents a fascinating transatlantic fusion. Here was an American composer of German heritage who studied in Germany and became a disciple of one of its most influential early twentieth-century composers, then turned around to write a work incorporating gestures from American jazz. The "jazz" component of the work is far from rigorous, consisting mostly of syncopated rhythms, occasional call and response, the prominence of trumpet and saxophone, and the use of brushed snare and a version of high-hat cymbal. Writers since Slonimsky-notably Gilbert Chase and David Baker-have declared the work's harmonic structure as not being twelve-tone but rather quartal (based on a fourth). It delivers a zippy, five-minute surge of restless energy.
Born March 11, 1876, in East Marion, MA
Died October 24, 1971, in Bennington, VT
Inscribed at the head of Ruggles's score to Men and Mountains (1924) are the words of William Blake: "Great things are done when men and mountains meet." Using dissonant counterpoint to generate ecstatic sublimity, Men and Mountains illustrates the yin-yang fusion of American ultramodernisn, a blend of the radical compositional craft promoted by Charles Seeger and the mystical reveries of Dane Rudhyar. Unlike Three Places in New England, Men and Mountains does not find its national character in the quotation of folk tunes or the evocation of historic sites. Rather it does so through lofty ideals and grand utterance.
Slonimsky introduced Ruggles to the Berliners just as nimbly as he had Weiss and Ives. Here too he was searching for images that would help translate what they were about to hear. In doing so, he elevated what might otherwise have seemed provincial:
Carl Ruggles was born in 1883 [recte 1876] in Marion Massachusetts and lives in the state of Vermont, New England. Of a romantic nature, internalizing and bordering on mysticism, he keeps far away from the rumble of modern life. His musical etymology is based in the twelve-tone system but runs independent from Schoenberg's school. His inspirations are derived from the works of visionary poets such as William Blake in his score to Men and Mountains and Robert Browning in The Sun-Treader.
Men and Mountains falls in three movements: "Men, A Rhapsodic Proclamation," "Lilacs," and "Marching Mountains." Although the entire score is extremely concentrated and intense, the middle movement stands out for projecting an ethereal sense of space. Each of its two internal sections swell deliberately and contemplatively.
Men and Mountains was published by Henry Cowell in the New Music Quarterly, and Lou Harrison was among those who first encountered Ruggles's music through that score, discovering it in the San Francisco Public Library Music Department. "I was instantly aware," Harrison recalled, "that while this music was in the chromatic dissonant style and showed a certain resemblance to Berg and Schoenberg, it also held something rare, something different. . . Its special form of polyphony instantly gave off a freshness, a lift, that made the familiar materials of dissonant counterpoint seem new and right at the same time."
Born March 11, 1897, in Menlo Park, CA
Died December 10, 1967, in Shady, NY
Slonimsky's assessment of Cowell was full and enthusiastic:
Henry Cowell is one of the most courageous pioneers of the modern movement in the United States. Born in California in 1898 [recte 1897], he began studying music without being biased by a particular school. His musical career, independent in nature as well, is a never-ending sequence of research: thus he created "tone clusters," groups of notes that are played on the piano with the help of the fists and underarm. His piano concerts include his own compositions and have gained a strong following in Europe and the United States. Cowell has just published his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra which uses tone clusters. Another work, a suite for strings and percussion-piano, realizes a wealth of new effects. Cowell is full of energy and new ideas: he founded New Music, a publishing house of ultramodern music, and is president of the American chapter of the Pan American Association of Composers, music director of the New School of Social Research in New York, and author of a book on new musical resources as well as numerous published articles in the most diverse European and American magazines. In collaboration with inventor Leon Theremin he created the rhythmicon, an electrical instrument capable of realizing exact polyrhythms. Synchrony was composed in 1930 and was performed first in concerts in the United States in June 1931 under the direction of Nicolas Slonimsky.
Conceived for Martha Graham but never performed by her, Synchrony was intended as a multimedia work. As is typical of Cowell's early compositions, it represents a blend of convention and daring. The guru of experimentalism often kept one foot on familiar ground. Clusters and intensely dissonated triads unfold with an atonal melody, but there are also diatonic gestures.
de "La Rebambaramba"
Born July 12, 1900 in Paris, France
Died March 7, 1939, in Havana, Cuba
An African-Cuban composer, Amadeo Roldán stands as an icon of Cuban history. In Havana today, both the High School for the Performing Arts and a large concert hall are named for him. Back in the early 1930s, the PAAC gave Roldán the extraordinary opportunity of having his music performed in New York and Europe. Slonimsky also conducted a concert of the PAAC in Havana in 1933.
Slonimsky made the following observations about his Cuban contemporary:
Amadeo Roldán was born in Cuba in 1901 [recte 1900]. He studied in Paris where he learned orchestration. To the conventional instruments of the symphony orchestra, he added Cuban instruments: claves, maracas, and guiro. Rebambaramba is a word from the Afro-Cuban dialect that, in keeping with the sound of its syllables, means "a glittering party." The work was composed for a ballet in two scenes for a production by Alejo Carpentier in a penitentiary in Havana, where the author had been kept as a political prisoner. The plot of the ballet is set in colonial Havana around 1860 during the Negro festival of the Feast of the Three Holy Men. The first movement is composed in a typical Cuban 6/8 meter. Following a brief interlude, the third movement is designated "Locum," the name of a Negro tribe of men that were brought to Cuba as slaves. The fourth movement, "Play of the Snake," is composed to themes of ritual Afro-Cuban music which accompany this captivity.
Carol J. Oja is author of Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s (Oxford University Press, 2000). She is on the faculty of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.