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Posted on Saturday, December 03, 2005

05 December 2005,Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, Noon to 2:00PM, EDT, streaming online
Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf
Monday, 05 December 2005


Good Afternoon, Lovers of Fine Music, and welcome to Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, where we will hear the best of 20th and 21st century classical music as well as interviews with occasional guests. Before we begin our program, let’s hear what Liberty Green has to tell us on her weekly Arts and Culture Calendar.

As always, Liberty, we all thank you for the time and effort you have put into producing the WJFF Arts and Culture calendar.

CD 1: Band 1: Elliott Carter (*1908, NY): Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra (2003): Nicholas Hodges, piano; London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen, conductor. Bridge Records CD

Elliott Carter has certainly generated both antipathy and veneration during his long career. Born in New York in 1908, Carter is still composing. Bridge Records has just released what I consider to be an astonishing CD of works Carter has written between 2000 and 2003. John Rockwell, in his book All American Music, writes,

The obsessive knottiness of [Elliott Carter’s] music suggests something . . .
Troubling. That is the too ready equation in our culture between complexity and excellence, and between pedigree and artistic work.” (43)

Quoted in Maestros of the Pen, Mark N. Grant, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1998, 309.

Joseph Horowitz, on the other hand, writes:

Of the composers who first emerged after 1895, Elliott Carter[‘s] capacity for sustained growth was unique. Both Carter’s music and reviews of music . . . exceptionally articulated the challenges – compositional and sociological – confronting the American composer.

Ever since I attended a Friday night open rehearsal, discussion, and explanation of Carter’s harpsichord quartet provided by Judith Pearce and her inimitable Weekend of Chamber Music several years ago, I have been a devotee of Carter’s music, which I find exquisitely well crafted, astonishingly compelling, impossible to ignore, and completely satisfying in every way my limited comprehension allows. I intend to broadcast the recent compositions on this CD during the next few weeks, when I am not engaged in interviews – as I expect to be next week, for example.

We’ll begin today, therefore, with the most recent work, the 2003 Dialogues for piano and chamber music, which appears first on the disc at Carter’s request for reasons that have to do the formal structure of the piece that involve his ensemble or tutti passages, reasons which I’m not sure I understand sufficiently to make clear here.

Carter himself wrote, “Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra is a conversation between the soloist and the orchestra: responding to each other, sometimes interrupting one another or arguing. The single varied movement is entirely derived from a small group of harmonies and rhythms.” (Liner Notes)

After we have heard all four compositions, I think I will play them all on the same program. Of course, if I could figure out a way to interview Elliott Carter, I would jump at the chance. Well, I can dream, can’t I!

Time: 1. Dialogues 13’28

CD 2: Bands 4-7: George Perle (*1915, Bayonne): Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (1990): Michael Boriskin, piano; Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor. Albany Records, Troy 292

In his book The Essential Canon of Classical Music, David Dubal writes, “[George Perle] had da distinguished teaching career at Queens College. His later years have been devoted to composition and the writing of an extraordinary series of books, which include The Operas of Alban Berg, a two-volume work on Berg’s Wozzeck and Lulu, as well as his influential Twelve-Tone Tonality (1978). One of the most searching theorists, he was deeply influenced by Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system, which he used as the foundation of his own expanded tonality.”

Dubal continues:

“Perle’s music stems from the mind of a lucid and aristocratic thinker: he possesses formal elegance, subtlety, and a superb sense of motion. Each tone fits into a luminous pattern, and every work is created with the pain of labor, artfully concealed. His manner is beguiling, and writes his music to last.

“In each decade since the 1940s, Perle has written fine music, but it is the works of his old age – such as the three piano concertos – that are among the significant and fulfilling compositions from the twentieth centuries last years.” (684)

George Perle, who turned 85 last May, wrote his Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra in 1990 must, according to Alexander Coleman’s liner notes, “be thought of as a considerable pièce de résistance in itself and a major landmark in Perle’s career as a composer.

We’ll hear it performed on this Albany Records, Troy CD by ): Michael Boriskin on the piano; and the Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor.

Time: 4. Allegro 10’50
5. Scherzo 03’16
6. Adagio 05’27
7. Allegro 06’38

Total time: 26’11

Running time: 39’40

No doubt both Carter and Perle, because they have been so long-lived, have had the opportunity to grow, evolve, and refine their styles. Neither, I think, would be mistaken for a neo-Romantic; yet each, I submit, is exciting and inviting to listen to.

CD 3: (CD 1/3) Bands 1-10: Igor Stravinsky (1882, Orienbaum, near St. Petersburg – 1971, NY): Apollo (1928; revised, 1947): Columbia Symphony Orchestra (1964), Igor Stravinsky, conductor. SONY Music SM3K 4692

Astonishingly, my umpteen CD boxed set of the complete works of Igor Stravinsky give almost no information about what I consider to be the vital provenance on most of the works they have recorded. For example, today’s selection, Apollo, which was composed in 1928 with the title Apollo Musagète, was revised in 1947. I suppose that the fact that the 1947 title is the revised one means that we are about to hear the revised score, but I wouldn’t like to bet the family farm on it. When it is my turn to be in charge of such things, liner notes will provide accurate, essential information, or heads will roll!

In any case, Stravinsky composed this ballet, which I admit is one of my favorite pieces of music, and has been since it was a kid, in fulfillment of a commission “by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for performance in the Library of Congress,” according to Stravinsky’s own notes. The composer continues:

Apollo and the Muses suggested to me not so much a plot as a signature, or what I already have called a manner. The Muses do not instruct Apollo – as a god his is already a master beyond instruction – but show him their arts for his approval.

The success of Apollo as a ballet must be attributed to the dancing of Serge Lifar and to the beauty of Balanchine’s choreography, especially to constructions such as the ‘troika’ in the coda and the ‘wheelbarrow’ at the beginning, in which two girls support a third carrying Apollo’s lute.

In Apollo, [Stravinsky adds that he] tried to discover a melodism free of folklore. The choice of another classical sugject was natural after Oedipus Rex.

In conclusion, [Stravinsky writes] I may say that I have come to prefer the title Apollo to the original Apollon musagète.

I remember hearing Balanchine say that if listeners knew how to listen to music, ballet would be unnecessary; but, because listeners have not learned how to listen, ballet is what shows them how.

Time: 1. The Birth of Apollo 04’30
2. Variation d’Apollon 02’55
3. Pas d’action 04’37
4. Variation de Calliope 01’29
5. Variation de Polymnie 01’15
6. Variation de Terpsichore 01’30
7. Variation d’Apollon 02’07
8. Pas de deux 03’47
9. Coda 03’18
10. Apothéose 03’09

Total time: 28’37

Running time: 68’17

CD 4: Bands 2-5: John Cage (1912, LA – 1992, NY): The Seasons (ballet in one act) (1947): American Composers Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies, conductor. ECM New Series 1696 465 140-2.

Stravinsky, of course, was hardly the only composer to write for the ballet, although he is arguably the most famous during the 20th century. In 1946, Lincoln Kerstein and the Ballet society in New York commissioned Cage to create a ballet. The result was The Seasons, which, writes Keith Potter, “offered [John] Cage [the opportunity] to write for the full complement of Western orchestral forces for the first time.” (Liner Notes) “(The Seasons is, thought, probably better known in the composer’s own version for solo piano, which was made [also in 1947. The piano] features prominently from time to time in the original, too.)” The ballet was choreographed by by Merce Cunningham who was, as Potter delicately puts it, “by now Cage’s personal as well as professional partner.” With costumes and sets by Isamu Noguchi, The Seasons premiered at New York’s old Ziegfeld Theater in May, 1947.

Potter notes, later on, that }[t]hough Erik Satie was an especially important influence on Cage during this period [of his composing], … this music is closer to Stravinsky.” What do you think?

The Seasons, no surprise, is written in four movements. It might be fun to try to figure out which season leads the parade.

Time: 2. Winter 03’12
3. Spring 03’42
4. Summer 05’51
6. Fall 03’49

Total time: 16’23

Running time: 84’40

CD 5: Bands 7,8: (Dame) Ethel Smyth (1858, London – 1944, Woking, Surry): “Mrs. Waters’ Aria,” from The Boatswain’s Mate (1916). Eiddwen Harrhy, soprano; The Plymouth Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Philip Brunelle, conductor. Virgin Classics CD 9188-2.

Ethel Smyth, as nearly as I can fathom, had to practically claw her way into her professional career as a composer and a conductor. Born in London in 1858, she fought for the right to study music in Leipzig, became a suffragette in 1911 and spent several weeks in gaol (I suppose!), was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1922. Dame Smyth composed The Boatswain’s Mate, a comic opera from which today’s final selections are taken, in 1911. “The action,” according to Peter Avis’s liner notes, in and around ‘The Beehive,’ a small country inn run by Mrs. Waters, a widow . . . who is described as ‘pretty, very neat; [her] manner decided and business–like, [with] an exceedingly attraactive personality with an evident sense of humour; [she is] 28 to 30 years old.’ She is being courted by Harry Benn, an ex-Boatswain, who enlists a discharged soldier called Ned Travers to help him in this task. Before long, Travers himself tries wooing the landlady. However, neither suitor is successful – for, as Mrs. Waters explains in her aria, although you might feel lonely sometimes and dream of being young again, the is no point in giving up your independence for “Mister Wrong.””

We’ll hear soprano Eiddwen Harrhy, and The Plymouth Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Philip Brunelle, conductor on a Virgin Classics CD 9188-2.

Time: 7. Introduction 05’45
8. Aria 03’10

Total time: 08’55

Total running time: 93’35

We have come to the end of another Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf. Today we have heard Elliott Carter’s Dialogues; George Perle’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo; John Cage’s ballet The Seasons; and two arias from Ethel Smyth’s comic opera The Boatswain. I remind you that this Thursday, December 8, at 7:30PM, Anastasia Solberg and The High Strung Community Orchestra will be performing at Selig Theatre, SCCC, at 7:30PM. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, please call 845-647-5087 or go to I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed to day’s selections and that you will tune in next week when we will be interviewing live by phone ‘cellist Madeleine Shapiro,whose CD Electricity has just hit the music stores. Until then, this is Gandalf, Thanking you for listening and wishing you all the joy of New Music!
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