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ClassicsOnline Home » WALDEN, S.: Maquettes / Sh'mah / 5 Similes / Horn Trio (Spectrum Concerts Berlin)
A native of Brooklyn, New York, the composer, clarinetist, conductor, actor, film director and educator Stanley Walden has written orchestral, chamber and solo works, as well as operas and musicals including Oh! Calcutta! This disc of chamber and instrumental works features Maquettes or “models” for two pianos, the five miniatures for solo piano Similes, Sh’mah for violin and cello, developed from sources of traditional Jewish music, and the Horn Trio, written “out of a controlled sadness and rage at the events of Sept. 11, 2001”. Walden’s affiliation with Spectrum Concerts Berlin began in 1997.
By David Denton
If you live outside of the United States the name of Stanley Walden might not spring to mind, though he was among the most prolific American composers in the second half of the Twentieth century. His works cross every musical border, from avant garde classical through to film music and musicals, the latter including the top selling Oh! Calcutta!. I resist listing his many other achievements as He was also a performing clarinetist, conductor and that of an actor and stage director. Here we have a survey of some recent chamber and instrumental works. Charles Ives is lurking behind Maquettes, commissioned and played by the husband and wife team of Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang. Sh’mah for violin and cello is based on Jewish melodies, and as such is a mainly tonal work; Five Similes are each dedicated to a friend or colleague, and again I hear the guiding hand of Ives; the Horn Trio is yet another work that was propelled by the terrorist raid on New York’s Twin Towers. If you want Walden at his most convincing start with the opening track, Maquettes, challenging, dynamic and full of high-velocity virtuosity.Though the performances from Spectrum Concerts Berlin show considerable technical expertise, I am not going to pretend that this is music I would personally want to live with, but it and this disc is important in showing the way atonalist composition in the States is heading. Excellent sound quality.
Stanley Walden (b. 1932)
Maquettes • Horn Trio • Five Similes • Sh’mah
Stanley Walden was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932. A graduate of Queens College, he studied composition privately with Ben Weber, a student of Schoenberg. As a clarinetist he performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and many others. He was a faculty member at the Juilliard School, The State University at Purchase, Sarah Lawrence College and guest composer at the Eastman School, S.M.U. and Yale. He was musical assistant to Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins and Jose Limon. In 1990 he founded the Department of Musical Theater at the Berlin Universität der Künste, which he led until 2003. Among his commissions are Invisible Cities for the Philadelphia Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf, Weewis for the Joffrey Ballet, the chamber symphony After Auschwitz for Musica Viva under Sydney Hodkinson (which Walden also conducted with the Potsdam Philharmonic, and the Budapest Chamber Symphony in Cividale). Circus is recorded on Lousiville Records under Jorge Mester, and was also played by the Chicago Symphony under Seizi Ozawa and in Cleveland, under Louis Lane. He has written chamber and solo works for Jan DeGaetani (Some Changes/Albany Records), Reri Grist, Robert Levin, Gilbert Kalish, Joel Krosnick and Carole Cowan.
Among Walden’s many musical-theater works are the operas Liebster Vater for the Bremen Stadtheater (also in Berlin, Weimar and New York), Bachs Letzte Oper (Erfurt) and Doctor Faustus Lights The Lights (Cologne and New York) and the musicals Oh! Calcutta! (with Jacques Levy and The Open Window), performed throughout the world, Miami Lights (Miami, Palo Alto), Back Country (Boston), Café Mitte (with Volker Ludwig, Grips Theater Berlin [Sony Records]), Die Bettleroper (Berlin). Also Endangered Species (Martha Clarke, BAM), The Serpent and Mutation Show (The Open Theater) and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Arena Theater, Washington, D.C.).
Alongside his activity as composer and conductor, Walden has participated as actor and director in over fifty stage productions in the United States and Europe, many with the director George Tabori. Among his film scores are Desperado City (Camera d’or, Cannes) and Frohes Fest (Mannheim Film Prize). Together with his wife Barbara he published the standard instructional text Life Upon The Wicked Stage.
Maquettes, for two pianos, was a commission from Robert Levin and his wife, Ya Fei. Although at least a generation older than he, I, as many of my colleagues, had always been in awe of his musicianship and abilities. I chose Maquettes as a title because, for me, these are work “models” (as are the maquettes used by sculptors and architects) that focus on elements of the two-piano sonic world … in the nineteenth century they would have been called “Etudes”.
Fanfare deals with the massed sonorities available with 176 keys.
Song is about solo and accompaniment.
Timbre explores the possibilities of playing on the keys and the strings and various pedalings.
Air, in both senses, i.e. as “tune” and “texture”. (Before this piece starts, the players are directed to imagine four bars of an unplayed jazz waltz [notated in their parts for bass and drums] which the audience never hears).
Por Chucho; Chucho Valdes is an extraordinary Cuban piano virtuoso and composer, founder of the group Irakera. Cuban music and much of the entire Latin-American music world would be inconceivable without the Valdes family.
Sh’mah, for violin and cello, is based on material originally composed for the Burg Theater (Vienna) production of George Tabori’s Mein Kampf. The material is developed from three sources of traditional Jewish melodies. 1. The Shmah yisroel, one of the oldest and most central of the Hebrew texts: ”Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” (it is important to think of the title Sh’mah as being in the imperative). 2. Eli, Eli (also appearing as the last words of Christ on the cross) and 3. T’keeyaw, the text intoned along with the blown shofar (ram’s horn) for the New Year.
Similes, five miniatures for solo piano. 1989 was not a good year for my circle: we lost six of those – relatives, friends, colleagues – who help to define who and where we are. Having spent the first six months in Berlin, I felt more free-floating than usual, and the many deaths affected me deeply. Whenever I finish a piece (and sometimes before I begin) I am beset with the need to dedicate it – sometimes in memoriam - because, as Arthur Miller put it: “Attention must be paid”. Dedications, aside from those obeisant to a patron, are one of the few avenues available to the creative artist in which publicly to proclaim his or her gratitude or love and, since art is always a public act (no matter what the ars gratia artis crew may maintain), the dedication serves the purpose that publishing banns does for the engaged. A set of piano miniatures offered the possibility of paying several “attentions” in the same piece. The Similes are not meant as portraits – we are all much more complicated than that – but allusions are appropriate.
1. Like a sigh… (Terry Gittleman); 2. Like bullets... (Zelda Dolgin); 3. Like memory… (Stephen Sell); 4. Like a shadow… (Tony and Sandy Black); 5. Like a smile… (Jan DeGaetani).
The Trio for horn, violin and piano was written at the request of the pianist Gilbert Kalish. Only after I had started the first movement (Dolente) did I realize that I was writing out of a controlled sadness and rage about the events of Sept. 11, 2001 – the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. At the beginning of the movement I ask both the violin and the horn to employ “practice mutes”, those devices that reduce the sound to an almost inaudible level (hence their being used to “practice” in semi-public spaces). This choked-off sound represents for me the almost inchoate feelings that well up when I think of that awful act and, as I said, I was surprised when they made themselves manifest. Passamezzo is an old dance form, better known in the French form Passepied. Salsa and Trio is an obvious play on the classical form of Minuet and Trio. Battaglia is my venting of my rage at the terrorists. I do not know if it is appropriate for a composer to allow his emotions to so intrude into his music, but vide Picasso with Guernica.
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