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ClassicsOnline Home » Wind Band Music - KABALEVSKY, D. / STEVENS, J. / GRANTHAM, D. / LAURIDSEN, M. / COPLAND, A. (Southern Harmony) (Ohio State University Wind Symphony)
Under the direction of Professor Russel Mikkelson, The Ohio State University Wind Symphony is a nationally recognized ensemble devoted to the preparation and performance of the finest traditional and contemporary music for band. On this disc from Naxos’s popular Wind Band Classics series, they present a wide-ranging program with global connections, from the overture to Russian composer Kabalevsky’s opera about a Breton master carpenter, Colas Breugnon, to Aaron Copland’s El salón México which takes us ‘south of the border’. Contemporary American composers are represented by Donald Grantham, whose Southern Harmony draws on an 1835 collection of American songs, Morten Lauridsen’s sublimely still O Magnum Mysterium, and John Stevens’s colorfully-scored Symphony.
By Benn Martin
Kabalevsky • Stevens • Grantham • Lauridsen • Copland
Dmitry Kabalevsky: Overture to Colas Breugnon
In contrast to his contemporary, Dmitry Shostakovich, Kabalevsky managed to live a happy life as a composer in Stalin’s Russia, which severely restricted artistic freedoms during the 1930s and 1940s. His musical voice was conservative, lyrical, and optimistic and it accommodated the political preferences of the day.
Kabalevsky’s first opera, Colas Breugnon, was begun in 1936, in spite of Stalin’s denunciation of Shostakovich’s opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, earlier the same year. Colas Breugnon had its première in February 1938 at Leningrad’s Grand Opera House. The
spirited and sometimes comical Overture summarizes the three-act opera based on a novel by Romain Rolland. The story revolves around a sixteenth-century Colas Breugnon, a Breton master-carpenter, who thwarts a villainous Duke, a subject suggesting parallels to the workers of the Soviet Union.
Kabalevsky’s vivacious, brilliantly scored overture is today his best-known work in America. Its high-spirited, often impudent, principal theme perfectly
embodies the indestructible spirit of the protagonist and contrasts dramatically with the love theme which appears in the middle section of the piece. Donald
Hunsberger, long-time conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, has skillfully preserved the melodic spirit and colorful textures which are integral to this attractive operatic appetizer.
John Stevens: Symphony in Three Movements
John Stevens is Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He is also a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, a UW-Madison faculty
ensemble-in residence. As a composer and arranger Stevens is internationally renowned for his works for brass, particularly for solo tuba, euphonium and trombone, tuba/euphonium ensemble, brass quintet and other brass chamber combinations. In 1997 he was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to compose a tuba concerto. This work, entitled Journey, was premiered by the CSO, with tubist Gene Pokorny as soloist in June, 2000, and performed by them again in December, 2003. Recent compositions include the Concerto for Euphonium and Orchestra composed for Brian Bowman, Symphony in Three Movements, a composition for wind band commissioned by a consortium of fourteen American universities, and Monument for solo tuba and strings. commissioned by tuba icon Roger Bobo in memory of the great LA studio
tubist, the late Tommy Johnson.
The composer writes: Symphony in Three Movements was composed over a fifteen-month period from April 2005 to July 2006. This three-movement work, of about 23 minutes in length, is intended to showcase the many colors of a wind band in a work of symphonic proportions. The outer movements open with majestic statements that lead to music that is fast paced, energetic and rhythmically driving. The middle movement provides contrast with a much slower pace and more lyrical and sustained writing. The opening chorale of this movement is taken directly, albeit in a different tempo and dynamic, from the end of the final movement of my brass quintet titled Fabrics (1989). I always wanted to use and develop that material again, and this work provided an apt opportunity.
My thanks to Professor Russel Mikkelson, The Ohio State University Wind Symphony and the members of the commissioning consortium for asking me to create this addition to the wind ensemble repertoire.
Symphony in Three Movements was given its première on 30th November, 2006 in Columbus, Ohio by The Ohio State University Wind Symphony, Russel C. Mikkelson conductor. This is the première recording of the composition.
Donald Grantham: Southern Harmony
Composer Donald Grantham is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes in composition, including the Prix Lili Boulanger, the Nissim/ASCAP Orchestral
Composition Prize, First Prize in the Concordia Chamber Symphony’s Awards to American Composers, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three grants from the
National Endowment for the Arts, three First Prizes in the NBA/William Revelli Competition, two First Prizes in the ABA/Ostwald Competition, and First Prize in the National Opera Association’s Biennial Composition Competition. His music has been praised for its “elegance, sensitivity, lucidity of thought, clarity of expression and fine lyricism” in a Citation awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In recent years his works have been performed by the orchestras of Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta and the American Composers Orchestra among many others, and he has fulfilled commissions in media from solo instruments to opera. The composer resides in Austin, Texas and is Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Professor of Composition at the University of Texas at Austin.
In 1835, William “Singin’ Billy” Walker’s songbook Southern Harmony was first published. This remarkable collection contains, according to its title page, “a choice collection of tunes, hymns, psalms, odes, and anthems; selected from the most eminent authors in the United States.” In fact, few of the numbers in the book are identified as the work of a particular composer. Many are folksongs (provided with religious texts), others are traditional sacred tunes, while some are revival songs that were widely known and sung throughout the South. The book was immensely popular, selling an amazing 600,000 copies before the Civil War, and was commonly stocked “along with groceries and tobacco” in general stores across the American frontier. From 1884 until World War II, an annual all-day mass performance of selections from Southern Harmony, called the “Benton Big Singing,” was held on the Benton, Kentucky courthouse lawn. The event drew participants from Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois. The music of Southern Harmony has a somewhat exotic sound to modern audiences. The tunes often use a modal or pentatonic rather than major or minor scales. The harmony is even more out of the ordinary, employing chord positions, voice leading and progressions that are far removed from the European music that dominated concert halls at the time. These harmonizations were dismissed as crude and primitive when they first appeared. Now they are regarded as inventive, unique, and powerfully representative of the American character. In his use of several tunes from Southern Harmony, the composer has attempted to preserve the flavor of the original vocal works in a setting that fully realizes the potential of the wind ensemble and the individual characteristics of each song.
Donald Grantham and Russel C. Mikkelson
Morten Johannes Lauridsen:
O Magnum Mysterium
The music of Morten Johannes Lauridsen occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the twentieth century. His seven vocal cycles, Les Chansons des Roses (Rilke), Mid-Winter Songs (Graves), Cuatro Canciones (Lorca), A Winter Come (Moss), Madrigali:
Six “FireSongs” on Renaissance Italian Poems, Nocturnes, and Lux Aeterna, and his series of sacred a cappella motets, O Magnum Mysterium, Ave Maria, O Nata Lux, Ubi Caritas et Amor and Ave Dulcissima Maria, are featured regularly in concert by distinguished ensembles throughout the world. O Magnum Mysterium, Dirait-on (from Les Chansons des Roses) and O Nata Lux (from Lux Aeterna) have become the all-time bestselling choral octavos distributed by Theodore Presser, in business since 1783.
A recipient of numerous grants, prizes and commissions, Morten Lauridsen chaired the Composition Department at the USC Thornton School of Music from 1990 to 2002, founded the School’s Advanced Studies Program in Film Scoring, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Composition. In 2006, he was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2007, he was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts from the President in a White House ceremony, “for his composition of radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power and spiritual depth that have thrilled audiences worldwide.” The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.
About this setting, Morten Lauridsen writes, “For centuries, composers have been inspired by the beautiful O Magnum Mysterium text with its depiction of the birth of the new-born King amongst the lowly animals and shepherds. This affirmation of God’s grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in my setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy.”
O Magnum Mysterium
O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum
ut animalia viderent Dominum
natum, jacentum in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
Dominum Christum. Alleluia!
O great mystery,
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn
Lord, lying in their manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear the
Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Aaron Copland: El salón México
In the early stage of his compositional career, Aaron Copland expressed frustration with American concertgoers and their distaste for new music. He wrote
to composer/conductor Carlos Chávez: “It becomes increasingly difficult to have the sense that there is any public for our music—the public that can afford to pay for concerts is quite simply not interested.” This was an important turning point in Copland’s compositional oeuvre. He moved, quite intentionally, from the austere to a simpler style, one more palatable for modern audiences. His first effort in this new direction was El salón México.
The work was completed in 1936 and had its première during the summer of 1937 in Mexico City with the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, Carlos Chávez conducting. It was an immediate success with audiences and critics alike.
Copland provided the following notes for the piece:
During my first visit to Mexico in the fall of 1932, I conceived of writing a piece based on Mexican themes. I suppose there is nothing strange in such an idea. Any composer who goes outside his native land wants to return bearing musical souvenirs. In this case, my musical souvenirs must have been very memorable,
since it wasn’t until 1933 that I began to assemble them in the form of an orchestral work.
From the beginning the idea of writing a work based on Mexican melodies was connected in my mind with a popular dance hall in Mexico City called Salón México. No doubt I realized, even then, that it would be foolish for me to attempt to translate into musical sounds the more profound side of Mexico; the Mexico of the ancient civilization or the revolutionary Mexico of today. In order to do that one must really know a country. All I could hope to do was to reflect the Mexico of the tourists, and that is why I thought of the Salón México. Because of the “hot spot” one felt, in a very natural and unaffected way, a close contact with the Mexican people. It wasn’t the music I heard, but the spirit that I felt there, which attracted me. Something of that spirit is what I hope to have put into my music.
I followed no general rule in the use of the themes that I treated. Almost all of them come from the Cancionero Mexicano by Francis Toor, or from the
erudite work of Ruben M. Campos, El Folklore y la Música Méxicana.
To both authors I owe thanks. Probably the most direct quotation of a complete melody is that of El Mosco, which is presented twice, immediately after the introductory measures—in which may be found fragments of El Palo Verde and La Jesuita.
Russel C. Mikkelson
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