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ClassicsOnline Home » JONES, S.: Roundings / Cello Sonata
By Francois Juteau
By Mark L. Lehman
American Record Guide
By Victor Carr Jr.
Samuel Jones was born in Inverness, Mississippi in 1935,
Composer in Residence of the Seattle Symphony, he is considered by many to be
the foremost contemporary exponent of the American Symphonist School,
continuing the tradition of the great American Tonalists Barber, Hanson,
Thomson, Piston, Copland, and Harris, Though one may hear glints of these and
other twentieth-century masters in his work, he nevertheless speaks with his
own strongly recognizable voice, in which dissonance (often polytonally
generated) and line create strong patterns of tension and release and in which
melodic line and
orchestrational color figure prominently.
Samuel Jones has enjoyed a close relationship with the
Amarillo Symphony for over a decade, having been commissioned to compose two
major works for that orchestra. (In addition to Roundings, he wrote his Third
Symphony, “Palo Duro Canyon", for them.)
His numerous works for orchestra, as well as his chamber, choral, vocal, and
operatic compositions, have had frequent performances by many of America's
greatest ensembles and musicians. He served for eight years as a conductor of the
Rochester Philharmonic, after completing earlier tenures as conductor of the
Saginaw Symphony, music advisor of the Flint Symphony, and founder of the Alma
Symphony. In 1973 Jones established the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University
and served as its dean for six years. A guest conductor of many major
orchestras and universities, he is a past president of the Conductors' Guild
and a frequent master teacher at conducting workshops throughout the States.
Jones is the recipient ofa Ford Foundation Recording and Publication Grant, a
Martha Baird Rockefeller fellowship, a Woodrow Wilson National fellowship, the Tribbett
Award, two Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Music Awards, NEA grants,
an International Angel Award, and numerous ASCAP awards.
Roundings: Musings and Meditations on Texas
New Deal Murals
(Symphonic Suite): Note by the composer
My symphonic suite Roundings was commissioned by
the Amarillo Symphony to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The suite
was premiered movement-by-movement throughout the anniversary season, and it received
its first complete performance on 8th April, 2000, by the Amarillo Symphony
under the baton of
its music director, James Setapen.
Each movement of Roundings takes its point of departure
from one of the public murals created during the Depression era under the
auspices of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The five central movements are
descriptive of familiar images representing the development of life in earlier
times leading to modern day Texas. The outer movements add historical and
philosophical context. Throughout the entire suite the solo cello is used to
introduce all but one of the movements. The title of the suite refers not only
to the circular motions depicted in each of the murals, but also to the large
cycles represented in life itself.
The Prologue, "Hymn to the Earth" sets
the stage for all that follows. A disarmingly simple piece, it consists
entirely of slow chords which move in whole steps. These chords set up
relationships which are explored in each of the following movements. Windmill
depicts the motions of the wind, the wheel and pump which harness the wind, as well
as a calling out for water. Oil Well has a main theme the shape of which
constantly reaches for successively deeper pitches, mirroring the actions of an
oil rig Sounds such as iron pipe and chains add to the description of drilling.
The middle section suggests the upward flow of oil once the oil-bearing layer
has been reached
Locomotive commemorates the importance of the coming
of the railroad to the establishment of a community in inland portions of the United
States. The music describes the sound one hears at the depot as a passenger
train approaches, comes to a halt, empties its passengers and cargo, then
departs, slipping into the distance. Lariat paints a picture of an old cowherder
bragging of his skills with the rope to his younger colleagues, as fragments of
cowboy songs, and eventually two complete songs, are sung around the campfire.
Plow quotes an old Presbyterian hymn tune, entitled Dresden ("We
plow the fields"). It also utilizes the celebrated Dresden Amen. The movement
presents three statements of the hymn tune, each varied from the other. The
second statement portrays the repetitive physical labor of plowing, and the
final statement uses expanding and contracting instrumental voices, as well as
the recorded sound of an old tractor, to illustrate the coming of mechanized
The Epilogue, "To Every Thing There Is a Season"
portrays the spirit of the famous passage from Ecclesiastes, "The wind
blows south, the wind blows north, round and round it goes and returns full circle."
(Eccl. 14-6.) Interruptions in the brasses proclaim the message of the Preacher
("Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!"), but eventually even this admonition
is seen itself as vanity, and what remains is an abiding faith in the mystery
of life itself, and of its Source.
Sonata for Cello and Piano
My Cello Sonata was written in 1996 and premiered
on 14th March, 1997 by the Fischer Duo, for whose 25th wedding anniversary it
was commissioned. It has subsequently been championed by the Lopez/Parr-Scanlin
Duo, who performed it on
a tour of the eastern U.S. before the present recording.
The number and tempi of the movements (three; fast-slow-fast),
the precise formal structure, including a clear sonata-allegro form for the
first movement, and the use of poetic repetition and paired phrases, so studiously
avoided by many composers in the last few decades, all bear wituess to this
work's evolution from the models of the classical era But the respectful nod to
history notwithstanding, there are many considerations of style and idea which
mark the work as very much a child of its time.
This work utilizes what I refer to as structural programmaticism,
that is, it uses extra-musical allusions not in a story-telling sense but at
the level of the basic tonal material of the work itself. In this work it is
present in the very opening sonority, a bitonal structure composed of two
triads (F major and A flat major, both in first inversion) sounded
simultaneously. The musical idea came first, but soon I came to view this
sonority as the musical embodiment of a good marriage, the coming together of
two strong individuals. As the sonata progresses, and particularly in the
apotheosis which closes the work, the two triads discover how to resolve into a
completely new entity, the sonority of D major, symbolizing what happens when
the two people have created a new, unified life together.
The slow movement had special poignancy for me as I
composed it. Since, according to Jeanne Kiermann (the pianist of the Fischer
Duo), the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony seemed to keep
reappearing at important moments in the life of their family, I used it as
commentary upon the extended song which forms the corpus of the movement. I
originally wrote the song (a setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How Do
I Love Thee?) for my wife as a wedding-day gift in December, 1975 She
graciously allowed me to quote it here
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JONES, S.: Roundings / Cello Sonata