Three Youthful American Overtures: Music of Barber, Copland, and Schuman

Festive American music will be as much on the menu as hot dogs and hamburgers this week as we celebrate Independence Day across the United States. In anticipation of the holiday, here are three thrilling and festive American overtures from the mid twentieth century. The indomitable spirit of youth permeates all three of these pieces: Barber: Overture to “The School for Scandal,” Op. 5 This was the young 21-year-old Samuel Barber’s first …

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Copland’s “Quiet City”: The Trumpet’s Mystic Call

HARK, some wild trumpeter, some strange musician, Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night. I hear thee trumpeter, listening alert I catch thy notes, Now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me, Now low, subdued, now in the distance lost. – opening lines of “The Mystic Trumpeter,” Walt Whitman Aaron Copland’s Quiet City begins with primal open intervals (fourths and fifths) which seem to emerge from a vast, wide-open landscape. The expansive pandiatonicism of …

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“El Salón México”: Aaron Copland Conducts the New York Philharmonic

Today marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990). In celebration, let’s listen to a clip of Copland conducting his exuberant orchestral tone poem, El Salón México, as part of a New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert, recorded on November 12, 1960. In the episode, entitled Happy Birthday Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein stresses the youthful, distinctly American vitality of Copland’s music, from An Outdoor Overture, to the Hoe Down from Rodeo, to excerpts from Early American Songs, …

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An Obscure Corner of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge; Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends And northward reaches in that violet wedge Of Adirondacks! – Hart Crane, The Bridge: The Dance Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring is usually heard in its concert suite form for full orchestra. (Leonard Bernstein’s 1982 recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic remains one of my favorite performances of the suite). But the 1944 ballet, written for Martha Graham, was originally a more intimate chamber …

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New Release: Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra’s “All In”

In September, the Louisville Orchestra released All In, its first recording in nearly 30 years. The album, which reached number one on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, is filled with youthful energy and a thrilling disregard for boundaries. It opens with the music of the Louisville Orchestra’s dynamic, 30-year-old Music Director Teddy Abrams, a conductor, composer, clarinetist, pianist, and force of nature. Unified Field unfolds in four continuous movements and runs the gamut from cinematic impressionist colors, to …

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John Henry

According to legend, the African American folk hero John Henry was one of the strongest and fastest steel-driving men to work on the railroads in the post-Civil War era. The steel-driver’s work involved hammering a steel drill into rock. Explosives were placed in the crevice in order to blast away the rock to construct railroad tunnels. In the late nineteenth century, manual labor was replaced by the steam-powered hammer. John Henry entered …

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Aaron Copland’s “Letter from Home”

Aaron Copland’s Letter from Home seems strangely appropriate for the solemn, reflective spirit of Memorial Day. It’s music filled with distant voices, from the lonely nostalgia of the opening clarinet statement to the plaintive nobility of the solo trumpet, with all of its distant battlefield connotations. This is a piece concerned with memory. Letter from Home was written in 1944 in support of the war effort. Commissioned by the bandleader Paul Whiteman for live …

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