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ClassicsOnline Home » CONVERSE: Mystic Trumpeter (The) / Flivver Ten Million / Endymion's Narrative
By Bob McQuiston
By Greg La Traille
By Raymond Tuttle
Frederick Shepherd Converse (1871-1940)
The Mystic Trumpeter
Flivver Ten Million
Frederick Shepherd Converse was born on 5th January 1871 at Newton, MA, and died on 8th June 1940 at Westwood, MA. The youngest of seven children, he began lessons on the piano at the age of ten. His unusual talent was spotted very early on, in particular a gift for composition. In turn, he pursued advanced musical studies at Harvard, from which he graduated summa cum laude. He then tried his hand in business, although it was not long before his passion for music reforged the course of his life. Converse began serious study in composition with George W Chadwick in Boston and followed with work under Joseph Rheinberger in Munich. In a relatively short time, his music began to attract considerable attention. In fact Converse's The Pipe of Desire of 1905 became the first American opera ever to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Today he is best known for a small but hearty collection of orchestral tone poems, three of which are featured on this recording.
About The Mystic Trumpeter of 1904, Converse related that he recast Whitman's Leaves of Grass into five contrasting sections, omitting the fourth stanza. As a tone poem the music follows the new literary scheme in a sequence of five musical events without pause The following has been excerpted from the poem:
1) Mystery and Peace (Moderato molto e tranquillo): Hark, some wild trumpeter; some strange musician, hovering unseen in ail; vibrates capricious tunes to-night I hear thee trumpeter, listening alert I catch thy notes, now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me….thou freest, launchest me, floating and basking upon heaven's lake.
2) Love (Poco più moto, arnoroso): Blow again trumpeter! And for thy theme, take now the enclosing theme of all, the solvent and the setting - Love, that is pulse of all, the sustenance and the pang, the heart of man and woman all for love, no other theme but love - knitting, enclosing, all-diffusing love.
3) War and Struggle (Allegro con molto fuoco): Blow again trumpeter - conjure war's alarums Swift to thy spell a shuddering hum like distant thunder rolls - Lo, where the arm 'd men hasten -Lo, mid the clouds of dust the glint of bayonets, I see the grime-faced cannoneers, I mark the rosy flash amid the smoke, I hear the cracking of the guns;
4) Humiliation (Adagio lamentoso): O trumpeter, methinks I am myself the instrument thou playest, thou melt'st my heart, my brain - thou movest, drawest, changest them at will; And now thy sullen notes send darkness through me...I feel the measureless shame and humiliation of my race…Utter defeat upon me weighs…Yet 'mid the ruins Pride colossal stands unshaken... resolution to the last.
5) Joy (Poco largamente, Grazioso, Allegro molto): Now trumpeter for thy close, vouchsafe a higher strain than any yet, sing to my soul, renew its languishing faith and hope, rouse up my slow belief, give me some vision of the future, give me for once its prophecy and joy...O glad, exulting, culminating song!… Joy! joy! all over joy!
Flivver Ten Million was inspired in part by the success of another graphic in sound, Pacific 231, by Arthur Honegger, who in 1924 used orchestral sound to 'paint' an image of a great steam locomotive. Converse followed in 1927 with a score titled in full. Flivver Ten Million: A Joyous Epic Inspired by the Familiar Legend "The Ten Millionth Ford is Now Serving Its Owner." The term 'flivver' is old American slang that was appropriated by the Ford Motor Company as a nickname for its inexpensive, production-line automobiles. About the piece Converse noted. "I set about it for my own amusement. I wondered what Mark Twain would have done with such a theme if he had been a musician. He who wishes to express American life or experience must include the saving grace of humor:
Flivver is scored as a series of eight musical vignettes played without pause:
1 Dawn in Detroit (sunrise over the city)
2 The Call to Labor (the auto workers report to work)
3 The Din of the Builders (factory noises)
4 The Birth of the Hero - He Tries His Metal (the car wanders off into the great world in search of adventure)
5 May Night by the Roadside - America's Romance (love music via solo violin)
6 The Joy Riders - America's Frolic (happy, have-a great-time music)
7 The Collision -America's Tragedy (poignant, sad intonations)
8 Phoenix Americanus - The hero, righted and shaken, proceeds on his way with redoubled energy, typical of the indomitable spirit of America. (great fun)
Quite early in his career, Converse wrote two work, based on the exquisite poem Endymion by John Keats (1795-1821). Both were set in the lyrical form of the orchestral romance, the first completed in 1900 and titled Festival of Pan, Op.9. This was followed in the spring of 1901 with Endymion's Narrative, Op.10. About the latter Converse wrote that the idea for the piece derived from a scene in Keats' poem at the point where Endymion is withdrawn from the festival by his anxious sister Peona, who leads him to a secluded place. There she divines the source of her brother's sorrow and soothes him with sisterly affection. Converse describes Endymion's despondency as "The struggle of a mind possessed by an idea beyond the common view, and yet bound by affection and devotion to conditions which confine and stifle its surging, internal impulses - one of the most painful spiritual struggles to which a man is subject, whether it be found in the life of an artist, a patriot or a martyr."
Keats wrote Endymion in 1817, set in four books of about a thousand lines each. It is one of the most revered masterpieces in English literature and begins with the celebrated lines:
A THING of beauty is a joy forever
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams,
and health, and quiet breathing.
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CONVERSE: Mystic Trumpeter (The) / Flivver Ten Mil...