Rhapsody in Blue Program Notes

Notes on the program

(José Pablo Moncayo)

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico on June 29, 1912
Died in Mexico City, Mexico on June 16, 1958

In 2011, the Huapango, as a form of Mexican mariachi music, was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - an honor which had also been bestowed upon the healthy Mediterranean diet in 2010 and the Tango in 2009!

Mariachi music, with its typical sound of trumpets and string instruments, became a national symbol of Mexican culture with the success of the film industry from the 1930s until the 1950s and, for some time, even a security risk at airports when members of different families were greeted with simultaneous formations of mariachi musicians.

The Huapango by José Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958) is especially popular; the work was inspired by three traditional Son Huastecas from the state of Vercruz. Moncayo created an unofficial Mexican national anthem with his Huapango from the year 1941; the work has entered into the repertory of classical symphonic music, pop music, and in turn, of mariachi groups as well. In 2008, the LaCatrina Quartet performed a version on our Chamber Classics Series. A version also exists for wind band.

The composer described the genesis of Huapango: "Blas Galindo and I went to Alvarado, one of three places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms, and instrumentations during several days. The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros (musicians) never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back to Mexico, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar; Huízar gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: "Expose the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own thought." And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me."

The piece is in a duple meter version of 6/8 time, but like many pieces in this style, spends a lot of time moving between duple and triple gestures and also juxtaposing the rhythmic elements to create tension. He used three tunes he had collected on the trip, "El Siquisiri", "El Balajú", and "El Gavilancito".

As composer, conductor, pianist, percussionist, Moncayo was, alongside Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez, a representative of Mexican art music - and also part of the Grupo de los Cuatro with Blas Galindo - who also sadly passed away at too young an age. Huapango (8 min.) was premiered by the Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México conducted by Carlos Chávez in 1941 and today is a popular concert opener all over the world. Moncayo's death in 1958 is considered to be the end of the Mexican national school of composition.


(William Grant Still)

Born in Woodville, Mississippi on May 11, 1895
Died in Hollywood, California on December 3, 1978

William Grant Still was given the title of Dean of African-American Composers several years before his death. His career included many first: as a performing oboist in the first African-American Broadway Show Shuffle Along, as conductor of his own radio program The Deep River Hour; his Symphony #1 Afro-American Symphony was the first work by an African-American composer to be performed by a major American orchestra, and his opera Troubled Island, on the Haitian Revolution, was the first to be performed by a major American opera company.

Summerland, like Moncayo's Huapango, exists in several versions. Originally, the middle movement of Three Visions for Solo Piano from 1936, other versions exist for a variety of solo instruments with piano accompaniment, the most popular for flute or violin and piano. Versions also exist for 2 pianos, solo harp and organ, wind band, string quartet and also small and large orchestral versions. This evening, we perform the version for large orchestra. At least nine different versions were created by the composer, rather than outside arrangers.

Still was, if not an outright adherent, very interest in Spiritualism and the concept of the living and the deceased finding paths of communication. Summerland is considered a vision of our home after death. It mixes elements of jazz harmony and European impressionist styles with many parallel harmonic movements and harp-like arpeggios (broken chords). At the time of its first appearance as a solo piano piece in 1936, Still was also writing a lot of music for the film industry, and the piece owes some of its sound world to that style. It has the overall form of ABA, also known as three part song form.


Grande Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 67
(Louis Moreau Gottschalk)

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 8, 1829
Died in Tijuca (Rio de Janeiro), Brazil on December 18, 1869

Again, as in the previous two works on this concert, Gottschalk created several versions of the Grande Tarantelle, a solo piano, piano trio (violin, cello, and piano), violin and piano, 2 violins and piano, and a version for solo piano and orchestra. Several other versions have been created by the composer's colleagues and modern arrangers. Gottschalk was also reputed never to play the same piece in the same way, so there are numerous variations in text and form. This evening's performance is a reconstruction by the American composer Hershy Kay for use by the choreographer George Ballanchine. Hershy Kay also created the longer ballet Cakewalk based on Gottschalk's music for "Mr. B". The composer's own orchestration was lost in Gottschalk's lifetime, but rediscovered, as have more and more of his music and letters in subsequent years.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was regarded as America's first significant concert pianist. Though he was born in New Orleans to a Jewish-American father and a Creole mother, he became a staunch advocate of the Union cause and spent most the American Civil War in the Northern United States and the West Coast. 

In 1859 in Cuba, Gottschalk performed an improvised tarantella with pianist Nicolás Ruiz Espadero and violinist José White at the Liceo Artístico y Literario in Havana. That extemporization would evolve over the years until it reached its final form for piano and orchestra as the Grande Tarantelle, (Op 67). During the last year of his life, which he spent mostly in Brazil, it became Gottschalk's workhorse. When the composer died without leaving a written score for this piece, more than twenty different spurious versions of the Grande Tarantelle surfaced over the years, most of which are far from reflective of the composer's intentions. The textual issues of this and many other piano pieces were complicated by Gottschalk's reluctance to write down many of his pieces in the days before copyright laws, fearing that others would steal his music. His written intentions for the Grande Tarantelle were found in his own handwriting a few years ago, and most modern editions are now based on that text. 

A tarantella is a fast dance that probably started in the Italian town of Taranto. It usually starts on an upbeat, and is in a 6/9 meter with two beats to the measure. Its origins predate the Christian era, and the Roman Senate chose to ban the dance around 136 B.C. because of its cult association. It revived in the early A.D. centuries as a supposed cure for the bite of the tarantula spider thought to be fatal by many.

Composers throughout the ages have been drawn to dance, including many non-Italians, including Medelssohn, Popper, several of the 19th century Russians, including Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. In the 20th century, it was used by John Corigliano and Benjamin Britten. Most of these settings follow the tradition of competitive feats of speed, originally between dancer and drummer, but now between various sections of the orchestra, or in the case of Gottschalk, between the solo piano and the orchestra.


Rhapsody in Blue
(George Gershwin)

Born in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1898
Died in Hollywood, California on July 11, 1937

Rhapsody in Blue was George Gershwin's first extended work, written hastily for performance at a special evening of Big Band Jazz entitled An American Experiment in Modern Music by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in New York City's Aeolian Hall in February of 1924. The original scoring of the work for Whiteman's band, which included strings was done by Ferde Grofe and published in 1926, with an orchestral version that followed, though it was not published until 1942. Gershwin was given the commission just five weeks before the concert, and Grofe did not receive a copy of the two piano score until just over two weeks before the performance. Grofe still managed to complete his orchestration with eight days to spare.

Gershwin claimed to have entirely conceived the piece riding on a train from Boston to New York on December 23, 1923, but in fact, the slow theme (United Airlines used this theme for many years) came to him while playing piano at a friend's party a couple of days later. His brother Ira recalls George speaking about the piece to him and provided this quote to be used in a proposed 1985 film by the director Paul Schrader: "You start with an ice-breaker, an ascending clarinet to get the attention, to start to engine. Just after the first theme, four bars in, I stress an unaccented beat. First bump in the road. Same thing two bars later, but fool with the harmony, too. The second bump is also the first turn! With the second theme, five bars later, you're on your way with the scenery all blue and jazzy - but where are you headed? Keep changing keys, turn, detour seven times before hitting the straightaway A Major, like the cycle of fifths ragtime players use.

Meantime, I am pitting four notes against three so you feel like you are accelerating all the time. Add a few classical conventions and you feel like you are listening to Tchaikovsky or Liszt. It's a rhythm for our time. Not just pep. Our pulse."

Brother Ira, who was his lyricist, also claims to have convinced George to change the title from American Rhapsody to Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin kept apologizing to the musicians as the piece was rehearsed that he had hoped to have more time to create a more polished work, but the musicians and their leader, Paul Whiteman, loved the piece. In fact, the importance of its premiere has been likened to that of Gershwin's Hollywood friend Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

Symphony #2 "America"
(Dan Locklair)

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 7, 1949

Dan Locklair (b. 1949), composer, is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina (USA). He holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Presently, Dr. Locklair is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The music of Dan Locklair is widely performed throughout the U.S., Canada, and abroad, including performances in England, Germany, France, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Korea, Japan, Finland, and Russia. His prolific output includes symphonic works, ballet, an opera, and numerous solo, chamber, vocal, and choral compositions. The Western Piedmont Symphony accompanied harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett in the premiere of Locklair's Harp Concerto in 2005.

The composer has kindly provided the following program notes for this evening's premiere performance:

My Symphony No. 2 ("America") unabashedly celebrates America: "The Land of the Free". Begun in May of 2015, this three-movement composition was completed in July of 2016 and is scored for a large triple-wind symphony orchestra. Approximately 22 minutes in length, each movement is a reflection upon a holiday that is at the heart of America: 1. Independence Day; 2. Memorial Day; 3. Thanksgiving Day. A single, well-known melody associated with the essence of each of these American holidays is heard in each movement.

Because of the immediacy with which I think listeners will experience Symphony No. 2 ("America"), an overly technical program note about the compositional process seems out of place. Thus, my musical notes for this piece are direct and brief.

Independence Day. A modified sonata form, this movement of approximately eight minutes in length is as full of energy and excitement as is the freedom-marking holiday it reflects. After an opening fanfare-like idea begins the exposition, the rollicking first them is heard. Marked by great energy, this first theme (although not related in a rhythmic way) is based on the 1882 melody, MATERNA, by Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903). Since 1910, this stirring melody has been joined with the beloved 1893 poem by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), America the Beautiful (a patriotic hymn felt by many to be the unofficial national anthem of the United States of America). Soon, a soft and lyrical second theme, based on the harmony of MATERNA, emerges. After a repeat of the exposition, a brief development section ensues, which eventually leads to the recapitulation. A coda, with the opening fanfare-like idea in dialogue, returns to end this celebratory first movement.

Memorial Day. Cast in bar form (AAB - the form of The Star Spangled Banner) and approximately six minutes in length, the simple 24-note triadic melody, Taps, is the basis of this serene movement. A military bugle call dating from the 19th century, Taps has had a long and colorful history. It is thought to be the work of Union Army Brigadier General, Daniel Adams Butterfield (1831-1901). Although used over many decades as a functional "Exstinguish Lights" piece within the military, the haunting melody of Taps has become a poignant, reassuring presence at many funerals and memorial services. Near the conclusion of this second movement, the complete Taps is heard played by an offstage trumpet. It should be noted that the Taps melody also appears in the first and final movements, thus making Symphony No. 2 cyclic in design. 

Thanksgiving Day. A rondo form by design, this festive eight-minute movement celebrates America's Thanksgiving Day. Long associated with the Pilgrim's plight of religious persecution, the well-known 16th century folk melody, now known as KREMSER, and text that make up the popular hymn on which this movement is based, is actually of Dutch origin. The text associated with the KREMSER tune was written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius as Wilt heden un treden to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. However, the presence of this hymn in American hymnals since 1903, as well as its appearance at ecumenical services for America's school children over the years, has made We Gather Together the quintessential American Thanksgiving hymn. How appropriate, too, that Symphony No. 2 ("America") should conclude with a movement based on a "melting pot" hymn long associated with a nation whose very heritage is that of a "melting pot"! Symbolizing that, portions of the America the Beautiful tune, MATERNA, superimposed on KREMSER (along with brief hints of Taps), are heard together in the extended chorale-like coda section near the end of the serene conclusion of the movement. 

Dan Locklair, Winston-Salem, North Carolina July 2016 Provided by Subito Publishing Corporation.