A New Americana Notes

Fanfare for the Common Man

AARON COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man
BORN: November 14, 1900. Brooklyn, New York
DIED: December 2, 1990. North Tarrytown, New York
INSTRUMENTATION: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, and tam-tam
DURATION: About 3 minutes

Aaron Copland trained as a composer in Paris, but his music has a distinctive sound that has become identified with this country’s wide-open spaces. He created music that is invariably associated with the United States and its national idioms.

In 1941, Eugene Goossens, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, contacted composers and asked them to write fanfares for the 1942-43 season. Eighteen new works resulted, written by composers including Walter Piston, Darius Milhaud, Henry Cowell, Morton Gould, William Grant Still, and Howard Hanson. The works’ titles were indicative of the national mood: “A Fanfare for the Fighting French,” “A Fanfare for American Heroes,” “Fanfare for Freedom.” But one work stands out as unique, both because of its title and as the only work on the list to have remained in the standard repertoire.

Aaron Copland considered several titles for his contribution, but his imagination was captured by a May 1942 speech in which Vice President Henry Wallace declared, “Some have spoken of the ‘American Century.’ I say that the century on which we are entering — the century which will come out of this war — can be and must be the century of the common man.”

On receiving Copland’s piece, Goosens informed Copland that it would be premiered on March 12, 1943. Copland later remarked, “I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time.” Fanfare for the Common Man was an instant success, and Copland later expanded it into one of the principal themes of his Symphony No. 3.

Lyric for Strings

GEORGE WALKER: Lyric for Strings
BORN: June 27, 1922. Washington, D.C.
DIED: August 23, 2018. Montclair, New Jersey
DURATION: About 9 minutes

George Walker was born in Washington, D.C. and started piano lessons at age five. When he was 14 years old, he enrolled at Oberlin Conservatory and graduated at age 18. At that point, Walker enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music and became the first black graduate from the conservatory in 1945. After graduation from Curtis, Walker balanced a career as a concert pianist, teacher, and composer — achieving many milestones for African-American musicians in each category.

As a pianist he became the first black instrumentalist to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra when he performed Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto. In 1947, he performed Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and in 1950 he became the first black musician to be signed by a major artist management company, which led to a 1954 tour of seven European countries in 1954. As a composer, Walker wrote more than 90 pieces for solo piano, voice, winds, small ensembles, and orchestra. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for composition in 1996, and has earned dozens of composition awards and prizes including Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Fulbright fellowships.

Written in 1946, Lyric for Strings remains Walker’s best-known and most-performed work. The piece was originally titled Lament and is dedicated to Walker’s grandmother who died the year prior. Walker is known for his counterpoint and has said he likes writing vertically rather than horizontally.

Lyric embodies this thought process as the piece is driven by separate linear melody and accompaniment lines in the strings that occasionally come together for climactic moments of harmony. Somewhat akin to the history of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Walker’s Lyric was originally the middle movement of a string quartet that proved so popular that the composer repurposed it into a larger work.

New Morning for the World ("Daybreak of Freedom")

JOSEPH SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World (“Daybreak of Freedom”)
BORN: March 22, 1943. Chicago, Illinois; now living in Spofford, New Hampshire
INSTRUMENTATION: 4 flutes (including 2 piccolos), 3 oboes (including English horn), 3 clarinets (including bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, vibraphone, glockenspiel, marimba, crotales, xylophone, 3 tom-toms, buttongong, two pairs of timbales, 2 suspended cymbals, 2 tam-tams, 2 bass drums, harp, piano, celesta, strings, and narrator
DURATION: About 27 minutes

New Morning for the World (“Daybreak of Freedom”) is Joseph Schwantner’s 1982 tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The idea of a work honoring Dr. King was first suggested to Schwantner in 1981 by Robert Freeman, Director of the Eastman School of Music. Schwantner writes:

“I was excited by the opportunity to engage my work with the profound and deeply felt words of Dr. King, a man of great dignity and courage whom I had long admired. The words that I selected for the narration were garnered from a variety of Dr. King’s writings, addresses, and speeches, and drawn from a period of more than a decade of his life. These words, eloquently expressed by the thrust of his oratory, bear witness to the power and nobility of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideas, principles, and beliefs. This work of celebration is humbly dedicated to his memory.”

New Morning for the World was composed under a commission from the American Telephone and Telegraph Company for an East Coast tour undertaken by the Eastman Philharmonia. The orchestra first performed the work on 15 January 1983, in the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., and was narrated by the renowned Pittsburgh Pirates baseball star Willie Stargell. Following the premiere performance, the work was subsequently introduced in Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, N.Y.

The work has received hundreds of performances by major orchestras throughout the United States and has been narrated by such noted individuals as Coretta Scott King, Yolanda King, James Earl Jones, Maya Angelou, Danny Glover, Robert Guillaume, Alfred Woodard, and Vernon Jordan. The piece has taken its place alongside Aaron Copland’s famed A Lincoln Portrait in the orchestral repertoire.

New Morning is built from an upward-rocketing fanfare motive, which refracts the colorful prisms of different instrumental combinations. The central section, surrounding the words “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” features beautiful, elegiac music for the strings alone, singing a vision of “the sunlit path of racial justice.”

Jubilate Deo

DAN FORREST: Jubilate Deo
BORN: January 7, 1978. Elmira, New York
INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, harp, percussion, strings, and SATB Choir
DURATION: About 50 minutes

Jubilate Deo brings to life the global aspect of the traditional Psalm 100 text, “O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands,” by setting it in seven different languages and drawing from a wide spectrum of musical influences. Each movement combines some characteristics of its language-group’s musical culture with the composer’s own musical language.

The opening movement sets the ancient liturgical Latin translation of the Psalm in a rather American musical idiom, reflecting various influences from the composer’s native country and introducing key musical motives for the work. The second movement sets the “from age to age” portion of the text in Hebrew and Arabic, evoking ancient cultures from the Middle East. The music intentionally intertwines the two languages in a symbolic gesture of unity between these cultures. Movement three uses Mandarin Chinese in a tranquil setting of the shepherd-sheep metaphor from the traditional text and quotes “the Lord is my shepherd” from Psalm 23, while the orchestra evokes the sounds of traditional Asian instruments. The fourth movement shifts to Africa, setting celebratory portions of the text in Zulu and drawing from African vocal and drumming traditions. Movement five represents Latin America, setting Spanish text to a folk-song style melody and blending traditional folk instrumental sounds with polyphonic textures from the classical choral tradition. The sixth movement, “Song of the Earth,” portrays the Earth itself singing—first wordlessly, but eventually finding its own voice—and leads seamlessly into the final movement. The finale unites many of the key themes and cultures from previous movements with other material, both old and new, as all the earth sings as one, “omnis terra, jubilate!”

Program notes by Matthew Troy.