Pictures at an Exhibition – November 5 & 6, 2017
“Peace Corps” from Rockwell Reflections
Stella Sung b. 1957
Stella Sung composed the Rockwell Reflections in 2007 for a short documentary on Norman Rockwell. For “Peace Corps” she used Rockwell’s Peace Corps illustration and archival images of the Peace Corps and President Kennedy.
Composer and pianist Sung describes herself as composer of music for concert, ballet, opera, film and multi-media. A graduate of the universities of Michigan, Florida and Texas, she is currently Professor of Music at the University of Central Florida.
Variations on “America”
Orch. William Schuman
Charles Ives 1874-1954
Charles Ives was one of the few artists with the luxury – and talent – to exercise his full creative energies unimpeded by the need to eke out a living from his art. He was the son a New England bandleader who started him on his way to becoming one of the most innovative and independent composers. He learned the rudiments of polytonality and polyrhythm from his father, who allowed him to bang on the piano with his fist “as long as you know what you’re doing,” and sent him off to learn drums, piano and organ. As a composer, Ives always marched to a different drummer, never abandoning his fists at the piano. Although his father dreamed of his son as a concert pianist, Ives embarked on a successful career in life insurance. He lived a double life, experimenting and composing in his idiosyncratic musical style, as well as applying his creativity and idealism to his business. His important new concepts for the life insurance industry, including estate planning, made Ives & Myrick the largest agency in the country.
At age 14, Ives became the youngest salaried church organist in Connecticut and started composing anthems and sacred songs for church service. Although he worked at music with remarkable discipline for his age, he was partially ashamed of it. When people asked him what he played, he replied, “shortstop.” In 1891 he composed his virtuoso Variations on “America” for organ, based on the old colonial hymn and the British national anthem, “God Save the King/Queen [Victoria].”
The variations include some of his early experiments in polytonality (although some of the polytonal interludes were added in 1909-10). They are full of misplaced fanfares and mock solemnity – a gifted teenager’s caper. Queen Victoria surely would not have been amused.
In 1963, Broadcast Music Inc. commissioned William Schuman to orchestrate Ives’s work. The orchestrated version was premiered in 1964 by the New York Philharmonic under Andre Kostelanetz. Schuman captured Ives’s spirit in a rollicking and zany orchestration.
Armenian composer and pianist Aleksander Arutiunian has spent a lifetime furthering the artistic life of his native country. He studied at the Conservatories in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, and subsequently in Moscow. In contrast to his famous Armenian compatriot, Aram Khachaturian, he did not remain in Moscow but spent 36 years as Director of the Armenian Philharmonic Society and as Professor of Composition at the Yerevan Conservatory.
Arutiunian has composed extensively, for all media, including opera and film. He incorporated the folk music traditions of his native country into classical musical structures, wedding them with the late-Romantic sound favored by the Soviet authorities, who controlled the artistic output of its citizens well into the 1950s and ‘60s
The Trumpet Concerto, composed in 1950, is a virtuoso piece. Arutiunian wrote it for Timofey Dokshitser (1921-2005), trumpeter with the Bolshoy theater from 1945 to 1983. Dokshitser also toured extensively around the world as a soloist, thus introducing Arutiunian’s Concerto to the West.
The Concerto is in a single continuous movement but is made up of three sections, fast-slow-fast, corresponding to the standard arrangement of tempi in this genre. Right from the opening fanfare for the soloist, listeners familiar with the works of Khachaturian will feel at home with Arutiunian’s modal Armenian melodies. The jaunty Allegro that follows shifts to the major key of the Concerto, but it is soon interrupted by a long moody interlude returning to the “native” sonorities and slow tempo. Often in concertos, the composer chooses an orchestral instrument with which the soloist has a special relationship. In this one it is the clarinet, featured here in the slow interlude. In the conclusion to this section, the slower themes pick up speed and are intertwined with the allegro theme.
The slow middle section for muted trumpet is a gentle, slightly melancholy cantilena. The final section, which includes a sparkling cadenza for the soloist, returns to the themes from the first section, thereby creating an overall ABA structure.
Pictures at an Exhibition
(Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel)
Modest Mussorgsky 1839-1881
Modest Mussorgsky, one of the wild cards of nineteenth century Russian music, left very few completed scores by the time of his early death from alcoholism. Of his meager output, the operas Boris Godunov and the uncompleted Khovanshchina, some songs, the short orchestral score St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition, have stood the test of time. Although Boris and St. John’s Night are most often heard in Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov’s “corrected” form, they now are considered among the highlights of Russian music. Mussorgsky was a member of the “Mighty Five” – together with Mily Balakirev, Aleksander Borodin, Cesar Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov – whose goal was to further the pan-Slavic movement and Russian nationalist music.
In July 1873 Mussorgsky’s close friend, the young architect and painter Victor Gartman, died suddenly. The following year a posthumous showing of his drawings, paintings and designs was presented in St. Petersburg. The fantastic and bizarre elements of much of Gartman’s work fascinated Mussorgsky, who set out to create a musical memorial to his friend in the form of a suite of piano pieces. He depicted his impressions of ten of the pictures, portraying himself as the observer in the Promenade that introduces the work and serves as connector between the tableaux.
A striking aspect of the suite is the nearly complete absence of any subjective emotion in a work directly inspired by a great personal loss. Mussorgsky gives us his personal impressions of Gartman’s art, but rarely of his feelings about Gartman’s death. Even in the Promenade, strolling from picture to picture, he usually portrays a cool, objective viewer rather than a grieving friend.
There is no evidence that Mussorgsky ever planned to orchestrate the suite, although many of the pieces stretch the piano to its limits, crying out for orchestration. The score was not published until five years after the composer’s death, at which point other composers started its long history of orchestrated versions. The first arranger was Mikhail Tushmalov in 1890, followed by Sir Henry Wood, Lucien Cailliet, Leopold Stokowski, Vladimir Ashkenazy and others. But the most popular and by far the most successful arrangement is by Maurice Ravel, commission 1922 by the conductor Sergey Koussevitzky.
One of the most striking features of Mussorgsky’s piano version, further enhanced by Ravel’s orchestration, is the vivid tone painting that enables the listener to actually visualize the painting. And it’s a good thing too since the originals of some of Gartman’s works upon which the suite is based are lost.
The musical “exhibition” comprises the “Promenade” and musical renditions of ten pictures:
- Gnomus: A sketch of a little gnome on crooked legs, said to be a design for a nutcracker.
- Il vecchio castello: A medieval castle before which a troubadour sings a love song. The mournful sound of the alto saxophone was Ravel’s stroke of genius.
- Tuileries: Children quarreling and nurses shouting on a path in the Tuileries garden in Paris.
- Bydlo: A Polish oxcart with enormous wheels is heard in the distance as it approaches, passes and gradually disappears again.
- Ballet of chicks in their shells: A design for a scene for the ballet Trilby; the orchestra imitates the pecking birds.
- Two Polish Jews: One rich, the other poor. No picture by Gartman corresponding to this tableau has ever been found. The subtitle “Samuel Goldenburg and Schmuyle” is a late addition, not by Mussorgsky. Ravel uses the basses and a solo muted trumpet to represent the two characters.
- The Marketplace of Limoges: Chattering strings imitate French women haggling violently in the market.
- Catacombs: A sudden, grim shift of mood transports the listener into the catacombs in Paris illuminated by lantern light with the figure of Gartman himself in the shadows.
8a. “Cum mortuis in lingua mortua” (“With the dead in a dead language”): The Promenade, in the minor mode, constitutes the second part of the Catacombs.
- The Hut on Fowl’s Legs: Baba-Yaga, the hideous crone of Russian folklore, who lives in a hut supported on fowl legs and flies around in an iron mortar was Gartman’s design for the face of a clock.
- The Great Gate of Kiev: Gartman’s design for a memorial gate in Kiev in honor of Tsar Alexander II. The design is in the massive Old Russian style, topped by a cupola in the shape of the helmet of the old Slavic warriors. Mussorgsky portrayed the quintessential deep Russian church bells at the bottom of the keyboard; Ravel employs low brass, harps and percussion in the bass with woodwinds and strings for the faster bells.
Program notes by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn