Program Notes

The Musician's World

Sunday, February 2, 2014, 3:00 PM

McAfee Center, Saratoga

Dr. Edward C. Harris, conductor
Quadre, horn quartet

Fugue à la Gigue

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), transcribed by Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934), edited by Jon Ceander Mitchell

With a background boasting approximately 200 musical ancestors, it is not surprising that Johann Sebastian Bach developed a keen interest in music at an early age. He mastered the violin and clavier and then devoted himself to the study and mastery of the organ. When he became court organist in the town of Arnstadt at the age of 18, Bach developed an interested in composition and devoted every leisure moment to improving his skills. A devout Lutheran, Bach felt that everything he did and believed was spiritual in nature. Many baroque composers believed that their music and art helped protect people against the advance of doubt, which was bred by Renaissance ideas of scientific and rational inquiry. During his lifetime, Bach was more famous as an organist and court musician than as a composer. The public considered his baroque compositions to be too elaborate.

Holst set about transcribing Bach’s Organ Fugue in G Major for band as an exercise in developing his skills in orchestration, and Fugue à la Gigue was published for military band in 1928. He renamed it to reflect the lively nature of the baroque dance. The piece is technically demanding and features unison clarinet passages, as well as contrapuntal play between instrumental sections.

Les Préludes

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886), transcribed by Mark Hindsley

Hungarian by birth, Franz Liszt was taught to play the piano by his father and gave his first public concert at the age of nine. He toured Europe and England at 13 and began to compose at 14. He received wide acclaim as a performer and composer during his lifetime. He was known to combine his virtuoso abilities with flamboyant showmanship. Liszt reportedly borrowed performance mannerisms from Italian violinist Paganini, who was rumored to be in league with the devil. Liszt supported this public association when he titled some of his works Faust Symphony, Dante Sonata, and Mephisto Waltz. In 1847, at the height of his performing ability, Liszt decided to give up paid performances in order to concentrate on composing, and he moved to Weimar, Germany.

Les Préludes is the earliest example of the orchestral genre “symphonic poem,” in which a piece of music evokes the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape or other non-musical inspiration. Liszt’s inspiration for Les Préludes reflects images from the poetry of French author and diplomat Alphonse de Lamartine’s “Ode” in “Nouvelles Méditations Poétiques.”

“What is life? Only a series of preludes to that unknown song whose first solemn note is tolled by death…the tragic storm that cuts short the illusions of youth…the soul has proved itself in battle.”

Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856), transcribed by Arthur Cohen

Born in Germany, Schumann was the son of a bookseller. He showed early ability as a pianist and an interest in composing. Schumann traveled to both Leipzig and Heidelberg to study law but, instead, spent his time in musical, social, and literary activities. Schumann studied and composed for the piano and eventually persuaded his family that he should give up law in favor of a musical career. His performing was cut short by a hand injury. Schumann was a brilliant and perceptive critic, and he founded a music journal in 1834. His writings embodied the most progressive musical thinking of his time, and he drew attention to many promising young composers. Sometimes he wrote under pseudonyms as a critic and as a composer, including Eusebius, representing his lyrical, contemplative side, and Florestan, reflecting his fiery, impetuous persona. Schumann composed exclusively for the piano until 1840. He later composed works for piano and orchestra, many lieder (songs for voice and piano), four symphonies, an opera, and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. Schumann married Clara, the daughter of his piano teacher. Clara was also a noted pianist and composer.

Schumann loved the horn and was one of several composers to write pieces specifically for the instrument. One of Schumann’s inspirations for Konzertstück was the development of the modern valved horn in the 19th century. Schumann originally scored this piece for two soloists to play traditional valveless horns and the other two to perform on modern (valved) horns. Most modern performances feature four valved horns. Konzertstück was composed in 1849 and premiered in Leipzig in 1850. A festive character is established at the outset, with a feverish undercurrent as the excitement builds.

Norwegian March “Valdres”

Johannes Hanssen (1874 – 1967), arranged for concert band and optional antiphonal trumpets by Glenn Bainum

Johannes Hanssen (1874 -1967), arranged for concert band and optional antiphonal trumpets by Glenn Bainum Hanssen was one of Norway’s most active and influential bandmasters, composers, and teachers during the early 20th century. He played in a military band in Oslo as a young boy. He was bandmaster of the Oslo Military Band from 1926 to 1934 and again from 1945 to 1946. Hanssen received many honors in his lifetime, including the Royal Order of Merit in Gold and the Jubilee Medal.

The title of this work has both geographic and musical connotations. Valdres is a beautiful region of central southern Norway. The first three measures of the piece contain the signature fanfare for the Valdres Battalion, which is based on an ancient melody traditionally played on the lur, a straight wooden horn. Other melodies derive from folk tunes and are played over a characteristic Norwegian drone bass line. It was first performed in 1904 by the band of the Second Regiment of Norway, with the composer playing the baritone horn himself.

Sheltering Sky

John Mackey (b. 1973)

John Mackey was born in Ohio and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and a Master of Music degree from The Juilliard School. Mr. Mackey particularly enjoys writing music for dance and for symphonic winds. His works have been performed throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, South America, Australia and New Zealand, at venues including the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center. Mackey has received numerous grants and awards from organizations including ASCAP, the American Music Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has held college residencies at Florida State, University of Michigan, Ohio State, Arizona State, University of Southern California, University of Texas, and many others. Mr. Mackey served as Music Director of the Parsons Dance Company from 1999-2003.

Sheltering Sky was commissioned by the Traughber and Thompson Junior High School Bands in Oswego, Illinois, and was first performed in 2012. The serene and simple melodies are original to the work but have a familiar quality. For some listeners they evoke the familiar folksongs, “Danny Boy” and “Shenandoah.” Sheltering Sky opens with soft harmonies, allowing the emergence of two folksong-like melodies. The oboe offers a sighing descending call, and a trumpet answers with a hopeful rising line. Throughout the piece, each new phrase begins over the resolution of the previous one, creating a sense of motion that does not dissipate until the serene introductory material returns and the opening chords finally come to rest. [Program note by Jake Wallace.]

Caught by the Horns, for Horn Quartet and Band

Burton Hardin (1936 – 2006)

Dr. Hardin earned his Bachelor’s and Doctorate degrees in music education from the University of Oklahoma and his Master’s degree from the University of Wichita. He began his musical career as an arranger and played French horn with the U.S. Army Field Band. He played horn in several symphonies and appeared often as a soloist, and he was a prize-winning composer and arranger. He taught horn, tuba, orchestration, and professional recording at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania, the University of South Carolina and Eastern Illinois University. Hardin also built violins, violas, and cellos. His doctoral dissertation, “A Comparison of Two Methods of Arriving at the Most Suitable Thickness of Violin Plates,” has become a definitive work in the field of violin making.

His first published composition, Caught by the Horns, was written for the U.S. Army Field Band.

Blue Shades

Frank Ticheli (b. 1958)

Frank Ticheli received his Bachelor of Music in composition from Southern Methodist College and his Master’s degree in composition and Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan. He is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Southern California and is the Composer-in-Residence of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. He has composed works for band, wind ensemble, orchestra, chamber ensembles, and the theatre. Ticheli has earned many prestigious awards and scholarships, and the New York Times has described his music as “lean and muscular and above all, active, in motion.”

Blue Shades reflects Ticheli’s love for the traditional jazz music he heard while growing up near New Orleans. The composer provides the following description of his work:

“As its title suggests, the work alludes to the Blues, and a jazz feeling is prevalent — however, it is not literally a Blues piece…The work, however, is heavily influenced by the Blues: ‘Blue notes’ (flatted 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths) are used constantly; Blues harmonies, rhythms, and melodic idioms pervade the work; and many ‘shades of blue’ are depicted, from bright blue, to dark, to dirty, to hot blue. At times, Blue Shades burlesques some of the clichés from the Big Band era, not as a mockery of those conventions, but as a tribute. A slow and quiet middle section recalls the atmosphere of a dark, smoky blues haunt. An extended clarinet solo played near the end recalls Benny Goodman’s hot playing style, and ushers in a series of ‘wailing’ brass chords recalling the train whistle effects commonly used during that era.”

SJWS program notes are edited by Karen Berry from the composers’ notes, Band Notes by Norm Smith and:

Foothill College Symphonic Band
J. W. Pepper
The Wind Repertory Project
Silver Clef Music
Osti Music, program note by Jake Wallace
The Kennedy Center
C. Alan Publications