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ClassicsOnline Home » GOULD, M.: American Ballads / Foster Gallery / American Salute (Ukraine National Symphony, Kuchar)
Morton Gould (1913-1996)
American Ballads (1976); Foster Gallery (1939); American Salute (1947)
Morton Gould was a phenomenally talented composer, pianist, conductor, arranger and orchestrator. A prodigy who grew up writing music at his family's kitchen table in New York, he eventually became one of the most influential and prolific American composers, writing in a wide variety of musical forms, from ballet to Broadway, classical orchestral works to film and television scores. The legacy he left has yet to be fully appreciated.
Gould was born in Richmond Hill, Long Island New York, on 10th December 1913 to James H and Frances R (Arkin) Gould. His fantastic musical gifts became apparent at an early age At the age of four he was playing the piano and composing; at six he had his first composition, a waltz called Just Six, published and performed at The Academy of Music in Brooklyn. By the time he was eight he was playing on New York radio station WOR broadcasts and at the same age he was awarded a scholarship by Frank Damrosch, then director of the Institute of Musical Arts, forerunner of The Juilliard School. Subsequently he took piano lessons from Abby Whiteside and also studied composition and theory with Vincent Jones of New York University.
Following the completion of his music studies, Gould earned his living in theatre, vaudeville, and radio as a solo pianist and member of a two-piano team. At the age of eighteen he became a staff musician at Radio City Music Hall and a year later accepted a position with the National Broadcasting Company. Working seven days a week, he played the piano, electric piano or celesta for the widest variety of performances. In 1934, at the age of 21, he began a long and fruitful association with radio as conductor of an orchestra for the WOR Mutual network. Radio afforded both an outlet for his talents and a national showcase for his orchestral settings of popular music as well as many of his early original works, providing a basis of experience for his later work. He drew early attention also with his piano transcription of Ravel's famous Boléro, in which he employed tone clusters, recorded first as a piano roll for the Ampico Corporation, and again in the late 1930s for RCA Victor, along with one of his original piano compositions, Satirical Dance. On 2nd January 1936 Leopold Stokowski, conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, introduced Gould's Chorale and Fugue in Jazz. This and other of Gould's early concert works typically combined jazz and popular elements with the classical style, a synthesis of the resources of serious music and American popular idiom. Stokowski became the first of countless famous conductors who championed Gould's music, from Toscanini to Solti.
In the 1940s, Gould was music director of Cresta Blanca Carnival and The Chrysler Hour, both immensely popular radio programmes heard on the Columbia Broadcasting System, writing music that often found its way into symphonic repertoire. One of his most significant works from this period was the Foster Gallery. Composed and scored from September to November 1939, this was dedicated to Fritz Reiner, at whose suggestion it was written. Reiner conducted the first performance at a concert of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in Pittsburgh, on 12th January 1940. The work was first recorded by the Boston 'Pops' Orchestra, directed by Arthur Fiedler. For that first concert and subsequent early performances of this work, Gould provided programme notes explaining that the work was based on the songs and dances of Stephen Foster, some of the well known, and some perhaps now used for the first time since their initial publication, much of the material drawn from the Lilly collection of Fosteriana, 'Foster Hall'. He went on to praise the fertility and power of Foster's invention, a reflection of an important period in American culture. His note continues by outlining the form of the work, in, as it were, thirteen variations, with some of the characteristics of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. 'The work opens with the Camptown Races, and this theme recurs as a variation section throughout the composition, linking it together much as the Promenade in Mussorgsky. Some of the movements use their respective themes only as the starting emotional scheme, and then are worked out in a general variation form. Other of the movements make a more literal use of the material'. He went on to list the movements: 1. Camptown Races; 2. Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming; 3. Canebreak Jig; 4. Swanee River, a variation for what Foster described as the 'social orchestra', here scored for flute, trumpet, trombone, solo violin, and banjo; 5. Camptown Variation; 6. Old Black Joe and My Old Kentucky Home; 7. Village Festival-Quadrilles und Waltzes (based on themes from Foster's quadrilles Nellie Bly and Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight); 8. Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair; 9 Camptown Variation; 10. Hymns Where is Thy Spirit Mary and The Angel, are Singing unto Me; 11. Variation on Comrade, Fill No Glass for Me and Kitty Bell; 12. Camptown Variation; 13. Oh, Susanna; (Finale). The work, in which some movements follow each other without pause, is scored for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, cor anglais three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contra-bassoon, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones tuba, percussion, harp, banjo and strings.
In the 1940s Gould composed three of his four symphonies, the very popular Latin American Symphonette (1941), Spiritual, for Orchestra (1941), the Cowboy Rhapsody (1942), Interplay for Piano und Orchestra (originally called American Concertette) (1943), Violin Concerto (1943), Fall River Legend (1947), Philharmonic Waltzes (1948), Minstrel Show (1946) and Holiday Music (1947). His brilliant orchestral adaptation of the famous American popular song by Patrick Gilmore, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, also became Gould's most popular and most-performed work. Gould adapted the robust Civil War marching-song and called the new composition American Salute, for an all-American music concert broadcast over the Mutual Radio Network on 12th February 1942. 'I have attempted,' Gould wrote some years later ‘a very simple and direct translation in orchestral idiom of this vital tune. There is nothing much that can be said about the structure or the treatment because I think it is what you might call "self-auditory".’
Gould also wrote during this period music for two Broadway musical comedies, Billion Dollar Baby in 1945 and in 1950 Arms and the Girl. He wrote the music for the 1944 film Delightfully Dangerous, in which he also appeared, and also composed the background score' for Cinerama Holiday (1955) and Windjammer (1958) and music to a 26-week documentary series for television, World War I (1964-65). Music for other television shows included The Secret of freedom (1960), The Turn of the Century (1960), Verdun (1963), The World of Music (1965), F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (1976) and Holocaust (1978).
The instantly recognizable American sounds of Gould's music, with its imaginative use of jazz, blues and gospel in masterly orchestration, brought many important commissions, including three for the United States Bicentennial in 1976. The resulting works were the cantata, Something to Do, celebrating Labor Day, the Symphony of Spiritual, performed by Aldo Ceccato and the Detroit Symphony on 1st April 1976, and American Ballads. This last was commissioned by the Queens Symphony Orchestra through grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the US. Historical Society Gould conducted the Queens Symphony Orchestra in the first performance at Queens College, New York City, on 24th April 1976. Writing the notes for that concert, he explained his use of familiar American 'chestnuts', recalling the fact that he had been born and grew up in Queens, moved as a boy by the sound and image of America the Beautiful and admiring the strength of The Star-Spangled Banner. The work also included use of Year of Jubilo, a freedom song from the Civil War period by Henry C Work, Taps expressed in a few basic notes, the jaunty colonial marching-tune The Girl I Left Behind Me, once used in satirical taunting of 'Gentleman Johnny' Burgoyne on his defeat at Saratoga, indicated in the Saratoga Quickstep and the gospel-rooted We Shall Overcome, a national hymn of hope and inspiration. The work was completed on 7th February 1976, its individual movements performable alone or in any order.
Much honoured during his lifetime, Morton Gould received a Grammy Award in 1966 for his important recording of Ives's First Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and in 1983 the American Symphony Orchestra League's Gold Baton Award. 1995 brought a Pulitzer Prize for Stringmusic, commissioned by the National Symphony for the final season of Mstislav Rostropovich as director, preceded in 1994 by the Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of lifetime contributions to American culture. In the same year he was Musical America's Composer-of-the Year. A long-time member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, he served as president from 1986 until 1994. In 1986 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He also served on the board of the American Symphony Orchestra League and on the National Endowment for the Arts music panel. He died on 21st February 1996 while serving as artist-in-residence at the newly established Disney Institute in Orlando, Florida. Gould was one of the most vital advocates of American music, a great musical communicator who, with enormous mastery and élan, was able to achieve a synthesis between concert and popular music.
Marina and Victor Ledin
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