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ClassicsOnline Home » ADLER, S: Of Musique, Poetrie, Art, and Love / Flute Sonata / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Pasiphae
Professor-emeritus at the Eastman School of Music, Samuel Adler has published more than 400 works and has won many prestigious awards. Wild, colourful and complex, Pasiphae was inspired by Jackson Pollack’s huge canvas of the same name, while Four Composer Portraits salutes a diverse quartet of great American musicians, and the Three Piano Pieces are dedicated to virtuoso interpreters of Adler’s music. Of Musique, Poetrie, Art, and Love sets poems by the 17th-century cavalier poet Robert Herrick. Soundings demands immense technical prowess of the performers, as, in their different ways, do the Piano Concerto No. 3 and the Flute Sonata.
By Michael Cameron
By Uncle Dave Lewis
Samuel Adler (b. 1928)
Of Musique, Poetrie, Art, and Love • Flute Sonata • Piano Concerto No. 3 • Pasiphae
A prolific and gifted composer, Samuel Adler was born in Mannheim in 1928, the son of a cantor and composer of Jewish liturgical music. He moved with his family to the United States in 1939 and studied with Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson, acquiring expertise as a conductor under Koussevitzky at the Berkshire Music Center. In the American army he conducted the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra, earning the Army Medal of Honor, and went on, after military service, to a career as a conductor and composer. In 1957 he became professor of composition at North Texas State University and in 1966 moved to the Eastman School of Music, serving for twenty years from 1974 as head of the composition department. He went on to teach at the Juilliard School and has won considerable distinction in his long career, with a series of compositions that range from the diatonic to the serial.
The following notes are by the composer.
Three Piano Preludes
The Three Piano Preludes were written during 1999 and 2000 for three piano virtuosi who are good friends of mine. Each one of them had performed my piano music, and I wanted to give each a present by dedicating one of these pieces to them.
These are “occasional” pieces which are character studies, not so much studies of the pianist for whom they were written, but studies that explore moods and paint pictures through the medium of the piano, in the spirit of the Preludes for Piano by Claude Debussy. A tempestuous opener is followed by a rather contemplative center piece and contrasted with a vigorous finale. These pieces can be performed as a set or separately. If only two are performed, I would suggest doing Dream Sequence first, followed by either Rushing Waters or Paradelle.
Paradelle is a French poetic form first appearing in the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas, in which the first two lines as well as the third and fourth lines of each of the first three stanzas are identical, and the final stanza contains all the words of all the previous stanzas. This short piece is loosely constructed on those principles.
Of Musique, Poetrie, Art, and Love
A song cycle on poems of Robert Herrick (1591–1647) When the California Trio, Musique, consisting of mezzo-soprano, flute and piano asked me to write a song cycle for them, I was rereading the poetry of Robert Herrick and his poem To Musique, to becalme his Fever. Consequently I found other poems about Poetrie, Art and all of them about Love in its many manifestations. I was very excited about these wonderful poems, which to me are great commentaries about these particular subjects close to my heart. Also these texts seemed perfect for a song cycle since they had such a tremendously broad emotional content and would lend themselves to a great deal of contrasting treatments. The set was written in 1978 and given its première in California the next year. As far as the voice is concerned, it can be performed by either a soprano or a mezzo depending on the range of the person’s voice. The flute uses three different instruments during the course of the performance. Besides the regular flute, the performer is asked to play the alto flute in the third song (His Poetrie His Pillar) and the piccolo in several poems especially in the final one.
Four Composer Portraits
I have always enjoyed writing pieces based on names, especially in this case of four composers whom I have known and admired for many years, on the occasion of their birthdays. These are birthday cards or tributes to these four men. The first is a tribute to my good friend Milton Babbitt on the occasion of his 85th birthday. This piece was performed for the first time at the birthday party for him at the Juilliard School. As in all four pieces, the musical material is based on his first name: C – A flat – B – G – D – C sharp. These pitches were arrived at by using A as the pitch C and going on from there if there is no musical equivalent such as a=A. This set of pitches lends itself well to a twelve-tone piece and even though I would never claim to be able to write music like any of these great composers, I tried to evoke their style in these short birthday cards.
The second Portrait is of Ned Rorem with Ned as the theme C sharp – E – D. I found this combination of pitches very useful in approximating to Rorem’s lyrical style.
The third movement was for Gunther Schuller’s 76th birthday and again based on his first name which netted the following pitches: G – G sharp – C sharp – A – B (for H) – E – D (for Re). The substitution of the syllable re for D was to give me seven separate pitches which made a better set for this piece.
The final portrait is of David Diamond who was my neighbor for many years while I was at the Eastman School of Music. The style, which is more contrapuntal and canonic than in the three other pieces, is indicative of his practices.
Sonata for Flute and Piano
The Sonata for Flute and Piano was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Juilliard School and is dedicated to Carol Wincenc who gave the première of the work in New York City on 14th September 2005. It was written in the fall of 2004 and is in three movements. When I was asked to write this work for the Juilliard anniversary I was reminded of my early college days when my classmates and I played chamber music every single day for hours. I recalled the wonderful feelings of making music, discovering the great and inspiring literature of that genre, and being transformed by the beauty of music from Baroque to the latest creations. That spirit returned to me in the writing of this work. I hope that it will exude the spirit of excited music-making.
The first movement is entitled Dialogue and explores the idea of two equal partners engaged in constant dialogue. At times the piano leads the conversation and the flute follows with its reply and at other times the rôles are reversed. It is characterized by a constant flow of energy.
The second movement, Meditation, is a contrast to the first movement and allows each player to have moments of meditation and reflection. It is a very short piece that ends after a very brief cadenza by the flute.
The third movement entitled Scherzo–Finale sees a return of the energy of the first movement only this time in the spirit of a waltz which relentlessly and tirelessly weaves its way to a rousing ending.
Soundings, for Alto Saxophone and Piano
After writing Line Drawings and a Concerto for the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, the Alto Saxophone player of the quartet asked me if I would write him a solo work, since he was leaving the quartet at that time. I certainly obliged and wrote Soundings which is dedicated to John-Edward Kelly. The work was written in 1989.
I enjoy beginning a piece with a slow movement and then following it with a rapid one, and this is also the form of Soundings. The contrasting mood also gives me an opportunity to introduce the listener to the essential harmonic language of the entire work. As mentioned, therefore, this piece begins with a slow introduction which not only sets forth the harmonic language but also introduces the intervallic relationships of the melodic ideas which hold true in both the introductory slow section as well as the very vigorous fast section which follows without a pause. While there are no new techniques used here in writing for the piano, the saxophone is asked to use its very high register and also tongue and key clicks. These days we composers are fortunate to be able to have interpreters of our music who have no technical problems and since the two artists for whom I wrote this piece fall very well into this camp, I felt very liberated to be able to express myself easily and know that the extreme technical prowess which this piece demands is not beyond the artists for whom it was written and many who are trained so beautifully today.
A musical portrait for piano and percussion.
I had just visited the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts in New York City when I received a letter from James Avery and Steven Schick asking me to write a work for their piano and percussion duo. The most remarkable image which I just could not shake from my museum visit was the huge canvas of Jackson Pollock called Pasiphae, an imaginary portrait of that Greek mythological figure. The painting is wild, colorful and complex with never a moment of real restfulness. I used these impressions of the painting as a starting-point of this work.
The beginning pictures a most peaceful mood but because of the intensity I always feel in a museum, one of agitation and mystery within, with interior sounds here represented by the percussionist playing inside the piano with timpani mallets. Then, as happens in great museums the spectator is overwhelmed by a sudden exciting image of a spectacular painting as I was with the Pollock work. From that moment on the piece takes off with total abandon and using many different percussion colors to engage the piano. In other words the piece is to depict the multitude of emotions and feelings which are generated while looking at an incredibly exciting abstract painting. The two instruments continually play different rhythms and gestures against one another, seldom, except toward the end, getting together in a march-like statement but then again wildly taking off in their own directions. A great variety of percussion instruments are used in the work: wood-blocks, temple-blocks, tom-toms, timbales, a conga drum, Glockenspiel, as well as timpani mallets playing the strings of the inside of the piano.
Piano Concerto No. 3 for Piano solo, and String Orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 3 was written in summer 2003, commissioned by and given its première at the Rivers Music School in Weston, Mass., for its 26th Seminar on Contemporary Music for Young People. The work’s single, continuous movement is divided into two parts. The first part is a slow introduction, leading into the second, a fast and energetic section allowing for a display of the soloist’s technique. The strings partake in a dialogue with the pianist, sometimes gentle, other times quite excited. The dialogue leads to a modified free passacaglia (in 6/8 rather than 3/4 time) and then on to a recapitulation of the introductory material.
This project was funded in part by the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music at the College of Musical Arts of Bowling Green State University.
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ADLER, S: Of Musique, Poetrie, Art, and Love / Flu...