Southern Sounds Notes

Rusty Air in Carolina

MASON BATES: Rusty Air in Carolina
BORN: January 23, 1977. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes (including piccolo), 2 oboes (including English horn), 2 clarinets (including bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (including contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, electonica, and strings
DURATION: About 13 minutes

Rusty Air in Carolina is a symphonic poem for electronica and orchestra by the American composer Mason Bates. The work was commissioned by conductor Robert Moody, a longtime friend and collaborator of Bates. It was premiered in 2006 by Robert Moody and the Winston-Salem Symphony. The piece was composed as an homage to the culture and climate of the Carolinas.

Rusty Air in Carolina was the first work conductor Robert Moody commissioned as music director for the Winston-Salem Symphony. Bates writes in the score program notes: “When Bob took the helm at The Winston-Salem Symphony recently and asked if I might write a new piece for him, perhaps his own return to the Carolina’s inspired Rusty Air. Though he travels the world, he’s a Greenville boy.” Bates spent a summer in the Carolinas in his youth and reflected that “memories are so vivid from that summer in Brevard, South Carolina - where I spent several months at the music festival there as a teenager - that some sort of homage seemed necessary.” Bates integrated the sounds of katydids and cicadas into the music through the use of live-performed electronica in addition to the traditional orchestra.

Rusty Air in Carolina is composed in four connected movements:

1. Nan’s Porch
2. Katydid Country
3. Southern Midnight
4. Southern Dawn

The Oak

BORN: April 9, 1887. Little Rock, Arkansas
DIED: June 3, 1953. Chicago, Illinois
INSTRUMENTATION: 3 flutes (including piccolo), 2 oboes (including English horn), 2 clarinets (including bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (including contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, harp, piano, and strings
DURATION: About 13 minutes

Florence Beatrice (Smith) Price was the first black female composer to have her work played by a major American orchestra: the Chicago Symphony in 1933, under Music Director Frederick Stock. She had come to his attention the previous year when she won the prestigious Wanamaker Competition.

Although this premiere brought instant recognition and fame to Price, success as a composer was not to be hers. She would “continue to wage an uphill battle – a battle much larger than any war that pure talent and musical skill could win. It was a battle in which the nation was embroiled – a dangerous mélange of segregation, Jim Crow laws, entrenched racism, and sexism.” (Women’s Voices for Change, March 8, 2013.)

Price was born into the racially-integrated community in Little Rock in 1887. She was a brilliant child that gave her first piano recital at age 4. By age 11 she was published as a composer under her mother’s guidance and graduated high school at age 14 as valedictorian. Her mother was a teacher, sold real estate, and served as a secretary, while her father was the only black dentist in town and his patients include the state’s governor. After Price graduated high school, she left Little Rock in 1904 to attend the New England Conservatory. After following her mother’s advice to present herself as being of Mexican descent, she earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1906, the only one of 2,000 students to pursue a double major (organ and piano performance).

After college, she moved back to Little Rock, but eventually left for Chicago in 1927 after racial tensions began to mount following a lynching. Soon after arriving in Chicago she divorced her husband, Attorney Thomas J. Price. She took their two daughters and moved in with her former student, friend, and fellow composer Margaret Bonds in 1928. Price continued to compose throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Her voice is a combination of the romantic style coupled with her black cultural heritage. While planning a trip to Europe, Florence B. Price died of a stroke on June 3, 1953 in Chicago.

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24

SAMUEL BARBER: Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24
BORN: March 9, 1910. West Chester, Pennsylvania
DIED: January 23, 1981. New York, New York
INSTRUMENTATION: 1 flute (including piccolo), 1 oboe (including English horn), 1 clarinet,
1 bassoon, 2 horns, 1 trumpet, 1 percussion, harp, strings, and soprano
DURATION: About 16 minutes

Samuel Barber took the text for his 1947 “lyric rhapsody,” Knoxville: Summer of 1915, from a short prose piece written by James Agee, who later used the work as the preamble to his Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family. “It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street...” begins Barber’s adaptation, hewing closely to Agee’s richly descriptive and nostalgic reverie of his growing up in the American South just after the turn of the 20th century.

Barber was drawn to Agee’s words which struck a chord in him regarding his own childhood, which unfolded several states to the north, but not without significant similarities. “I had always admired Mr. Agee’s writing, and this prose poem particularly struck me because the summer evening he describes in his native southern town reminded me so much of similar evenings when I was a child at home,” Barber told a CBS radio interviewer in 1949. “I found out after setting this that Mr. Agee and I are the same age. And the year he described was 1915, when we were both five. You see, it expresses a child’s feeling of loneliness, wonder, and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.”

There were additional parallels. Agee’s father died in an automobile accident in 1916, making his reminiscence of his family’s idyllic life before that tragedy all the more powerful and poignant. Barber’s father was in failing health and died around the time Knoxville was composed. It was dedicated to his memory. A final similarity is that both pieces were written in such powerful fits of nostalgia that they were completed quickly and without much revision, yet neither shows any negative effects of their rapid composition. Instead, both display a degree of technical mastery only occasionally visited upon works conceived and executed with such spontaneity.

KNOXVILLE: Summer of 1915
We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in that time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.

...It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds’ hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt; a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.

A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping, belling and starting; stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew.

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.
Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes....
Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories
.....hang their ancient faces.
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once
.....enchants my eardrums.

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there....They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine,...with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

- James Agee

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73
BORN: May 7, 1833. Hamburg, Germany
DIED: April 3, 1897. Vienna, Austria
INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings
DURATION: About 40 minutes

Johannes Brahms was an early bloomer. He was just barely out of his teenage years when Schumann introduced him as the heir to Beethoven in the pages of Europe’s most influential music journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Overnight, Brahms encountered the delight of fame and the dread of high expectations. The pressure all but stopped him before he could move on to larger-scale compositions than the piano works that had excited Schumann.

Part of the problem was that Brahms was such a harsh self-critic. He approached the orchestra slowly and deliberately, producing two serenades, a piano concerto, and his German Requiem before retreating to smaller forms.

Meanwhile, the music world expected him to write a symphony, and for years he was determined to join the ranks of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. But by the time he pulled it off with the premiere of his First Symphony, he was already forty-two years old.

Brahms’ First Symphony, fourteen years in the writing, was instantly recognized as the greatest symphony of the past half-century (since Beethoven’s Ninth had first been heard in 1824). Deep down inside, Brahms knew now that he could get it right. In four months he turned out a second symphony during a pleasant summer at the Austrian lakeside resort of Pörtschach. The First Symphony is an epic composition, and the Second, was idyllic. When it was unveiled at the end of 1877, the public loved it.

From the building blocks of the first three notes in the low strings, Brahms generates an opening movement that sounds miraculously varied, one tune leading to another, but somehow always tied to home base. This symphony is almost invariably described as “sunny,” and that is often how it’s approached. But there are clouds in this sky and the coda is a wistful evocation of regret, tempered by the jaunty little tune that is tacked on as an afterthought.

Two such characters are the main players in the second movement, whose opening changes almost immediately into a glorious melody. Throughout this movement, one voice is pensive and searching, the other full of optimism. The Allegretto grazioso that follows is Brahms at his most lighthearted and offers a welcome break after the Adagio.

Program notes by Matthew Troy.