“Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings”: Howard Hanson’s Musical Marriage Proposal

“To Peggy.” This is the simple inscription which appears on the title page of Howard Hanson’s Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings, Op. 35. In the summer of 1945, the 50-year-old Hanson (who had been a lifelong bachelor) met Margaret Elizabeth Nelson while attending the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. The Serenade was written as a kind of musical marriage proposal. The couple was married a year later on July, 24. Hanson’s Serenade floats into a colorful, …

Read more“Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings”: Howard Hanson’s Musical Marriage Proposal

Howard Hanson’s “Nordic” First Symphony: A Majestic, Neo-Romantic Soundscape

At one time, twentieth century American composer Howard Hanson (1896-1981) was dismissed as a hopelessly conservative musical renegade. In the 1950s and 60s, at a time when atonality was dominant among the academic establishment, Hanson’s music embraced a warmly melodic, Neo-Romantic sound world. Born in the small prairie town of Wahoo, Nebraska to Swedish immigrant parents, Hanson wrote music which grew out of the austere harmonic language and dark, brooding orchestration of Scandinavian …

Read moreHoward Hanson’s “Nordic” First Symphony: A Majestic, Neo-Romantic Soundscape

Happy Birthday, Serge Koussevitzky

Today marks the 143rd anniversary of the birth of the legendary conductor, composer, and double-bassist, Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951). Born in Russia into a Jewish family of professional musicians, Koussevitzky was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949. During his unusually long twenty-five year tenure, the Boston Symphony established a reputation as one of the world’s greatest orchestras. In 1937, Koussevitzky was instrumental in developing the Tanglewood Music Center, the …

Read moreHappy Birthday, Serge Koussevitzky

Two Hanson Pastorales

American composer Howard Hanson’s Pastorale for Oboe, Harp, and Strings, Op. 38 begins with a plaintive oboe call. It’s a sound which carries faint nostalgia, evoking ancient connotations of shepherds on hillsides and the serenity of the pasture. But there’s also a hint of anxiety lurking under the surface in this music, which Hanson wrote in 1949 and dedicated to his wife, Peggy. Perhaps an “anxious pastorale” was the only kind possible in the …

Read moreTwo Hanson Pastorales

Three Musical Portraits of Cuba

Cuba is home to one of the world’s richest musical melting pots…the vibrant convergence of west African and European (especially Spanish) musical traditions over 500 years of history. From rumba and son cubano to Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa, this Latin musical stew often features dizzying rhythmic complexity while retaining a suave sense of “cool.” Clave rhythm, the source of this “cool” complexity, gives Latin music its unique sense of swing. It’s a rhythmic …

Read moreThree Musical Portraits of Cuba

Howard Hanson and the Sounds of the Wide Open Prairie

More than any other composer, Aaron Copland is credited with establishing the virtual soundtrack of the American West. Listening to Copland ballet scores such as Rodeo and Billy the Kid, or his music for the film The Red Pony, instantly evokes images of wide open prairie spaces and the rough and tumble adventure of a mythical frontier. These associations have been re-enforced by countless film scores which generously borrowed Copland’s sound (the opening of Elmer Bernstein’s score for The …

Read moreHoward Hanson and the Sounds of the Wide Open Prairie

Merry Mount at Carnegie

Last Wednesday the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra presented an outstanding concert performance of Howard Hanson’s opera, Merry Mount at Carnegie Hall as part of the Spring For Music festival. In a previous post I provided some background on Hanson and the opera, which had not been heard in New York since its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1934. If you missed the performance and the live radio broadcast, you can listen to it here. Read reviews of the performance …

Read moreMerry Mount at Carnegie

Send this to a friend