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ClassicsOnline Home » ROREM, N.: Chamber Music with Flute - Mountain Song / Romeo and Juliet / Trio / Book of Hours / Prayers (F. Smith, Leisner, Thomas, Mihae Lee, Pilot)
Ned Rorem’s clarity of emotional expression is perfectly suited to the ‘breathy gold’ of the flute. Covering much of the composer’s career, these pieces range from the early Mountain Song which captures the spirit of a rural Kentucky folksong, to the meditative and spectacular Four Prayers. Rorem worked closely with and was “honored to be so dazzlingly represented by” the performers on this recording, describing flutist Fenwick Smith as “a Faun and a Daphnis all in one.”
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Chamber Music with Flute
Is the flute the most seductive of the winds for all budding composers? Certainly for me that breathy gold wafting through the French forests of the Faun’s syrinx, of Roussel’s spider, of Ravel’s Daphnis and of Varèse’s Density, whetted a pre-adolescent hunger for the flute long before I was aware that oboes and clarinets and bassoons were also individuals. Among my opus-minus-one notebooks are many a flute solo, unused but not forgotten.
My first real work for the instrument is Mountain Song, for flute and piano, written in 1949 as background for a play by Iris Tree. To evoke the décor of the drama, which unfolded in rural Kentucky, I paraphrased a half-remembered southern folksong. The music was eventually published separate from the play, in a version suitable also for oboe, violin, or cello.
The Trio for flute, cello and piano, comes from the summer of 1960, through a commission from Bernard Goldberg, flutist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, who was also the founder of the Musica Viva Trio, which gave the première of the work.
Book of Hours, composed in 1975 for Ingrid Dingfelder, was first performed by her the following year, with the French harpist, Martine Geliot. Romeo and Juliet, also commissioned by Ingrid Dingfelder (in 1977), was first performed by her with guitarist Herbert Levine.
Four Prayers, composed 2006, was commissioned by Frederick Peters in honor of his wife, Alexandra, on the occasion of their thirtieth anniversary as part of the Flute Book for the Twenty-first Century, a project founded by Marya Martin and developed through Meet the Composer’s New Music, New Donors initiative.
I am not much one for describing my own music, either technically or esthetically. And since the subtitles for these various pieces amply illustrate their intentions, I herewith close the program note by stating that Fenwick Smith is a Faun and a Daphnis both in one, and I am honored to be so dazzlingly represented as by him and his colleagues. (For the sake of completion, there is a fifth chamber work for flute—a quintet that includes three strings and piano, called Bright Music—written in 1988.)
Ned Rorem has written, “I conceive all music…vocally. Whatever my music is written for—tuba, tambourine, tubular bells—it is always the singer within me crying to get out.” Rorem is, of course, renowned for an outpouring of vocal music unmatched by any other American art-music composer. Many share Time magazine’s assessment of him as “the world’s best composer of art songs.” At the same time, his instrumental music has achieved widespread acclaim; it was his orchestral suite Air Music that won him the 1976 Pulitzer Prize. His dozens of chamber and instrumental works are widely performed and recorded. Among the distinguished conductors who have performed his music are Bernstein, Maazel, Mehta, Ormandy, Reiner, Rostropovich and Stokowski; the Atlanta Symphony recording of the String Symphony, Sunday Morning and Eagles received a GRAMMY® Award for outstanding Orchestral Recording in 1989.
Ned Rorem’s music strives for clarity. He distrusts the convoluted, the pompous, the grandiose. To some degree this is a legacy of his years in Paris and his exposure to such figures as Poulenc, Auric, and Cocteau. However, Rorem treated the neoclassical aesthetic not with French irony and emotional distance, but with American openness and first-name intimacy, adding clarity of emotional expression to intelligibility of means.
For Rorem, tonal music provides the only harmonic language that can support such intelligibility and clarity. Having carried the banner of tonality faithfully throughout his career (despite a brief flirtation with tone-rows in the late 1960s), he has expressed chagrin at the publicity given those who returned to tonality. “I feel like the Prodigal Son’s brother,” he has said.
Some other aspects of Rorem’s work deserve special mention. Despite a late start in the medium, he has become one of the foremost American composers of organ music. Ecumenical in viewpoint, he has made an invaluable contribution to American sacred choral music. Through his writings—twelve books and innumerable articles—he has been a tireless advocate of the composer and his or her rightful place in our society’s musical culture. The easy charm and occasional flippancy of Rorem’s prose disguised what becomes, in his music, something of a moral imperative: to create that which can come only from one’s unique being. Characteristically, Rorem writes: “Anyone can be drunk, anyone can be in love, anyone can waste time and weep, but only I can pen my songs in the few remaining years or minutes.”
Notes by Boosey and Hawkes
(used with permission)
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