Friday, May 08, 2015

Symphony Preview: A 'Fanfare for the Common Man' Friday, May 8, 2015

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You might have noticed that there's no Friday performance this weekend of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus concert version of Verdi's "Aida." That's because Friday is the last of the season's Whitaker Foundation "Music You Know" concerts. David Robertson is on the podium, SLSO cellist Alvin McCall is the soloist, and here's what you can expect.

Aaron Copland: "Fanfare for the Common Man" Although it would later become the basis of the final movement for Copland's patriotic "Symphony No. 3" (which the SLSO performed just over a year ago), the "Fanfare" was originally inspired by "The Price of Free World Victory," a 1942 speech by Vice President Henry Wallace hailing the "century of the common man." "When the freedom-loving people march," he said, "when the farmers have an opportunity to buy land at reasonable prices and to sell the produce of their land through their own organizations, when workers have the opportunity to form unions and bargain through them collectively, and when the children of all the people have an opportunity to attend schools which teach them truths of the real world in which they live-when these opportunities are open to everyone, then the world moves straight ahead." Sadly, the values Mr. Wallace extolled now seem to be in eclipse.

Charles Ives, 1889
Charles Ives (orch. Schuman): Variations on "America" (1891-92, rev. 1949) The "Variations" were originally scored for organ and written for a July 4th concert in Brewster, New York, in 1891—when Ives was only sixteen. The piece isn't so much a set of variations as it is a series of restatements of the classic tune in wide variety of musical styles. The orchestration was done by American composer William Schuman in 1949 and is very true to Ives' tongue-in-cheek original.

Edward MacDowell: "Romanze," op. 35 (1887) for cello and orchestra Edward MacDowell is known to generations of piano students (including me) as the composer of "To a Wild Rose," a lovely little miniature from his 1896 "Woodland Sketches." The "Romanze" for cello and orchestra is a bit of an outlier in his catalog, which runs mostly to solo piano works and songs. MacDowell was typical of a generation of American composers who went abroad to study (mostly Paris in his case) and returned to compose music heavily influenced by Continental trends.

Edward Elgar "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1" in D major (1901) This, of course, is known to generations of college and high-school graduates, who marched down the aisle to it. In Britain, the march's noble second subject became the patriotic hymn "Land of Hope and Glory." A performance of the march—with the crowd singing along lustily—is part of the "Last Night at the Proms" concert in Albert Hall every fall. The other four "Pomp and Circumstance" marches are less well-known but well worth hearing. Numbers 2 and 3, in particular, are composed in minor keys and seem to suggest that the "pomp and circumstance of glorious war" from which they get their title (from "Othello" III, 2) were not viewed by Elgar as uniformly splendid.

Alvin McCall
George Butterworth: "A Shropshire Lad, Rhapsody for Orchestra" (1912) I'm not sure that this really is music that many people know, at least here in the states. "A Shropshire Lad" is a collection of poems by A. E. Housman that had quite a vogue in England early in the previous century. Butterworth set eleven of the songs to music in 1911 and 1912, and then used two of the melodies— "Loveliest of Trees" and "With Rue My Heart Is Laden"—for the 1912 rhapsody you'll hear Friday.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on "Greensleeves" (1934) This, on the other hand, really is music you know. The original tune goes back to (at least) 1580, and there is even a persistent (but undocumented) story that Henry VIII wrote if for Anne Boleyn. Vaughan Williams' rich, textured setting for strings is irresistible.

Emmanuel Chabrier: "España" (1883) French composers seem to have a habit of returning from trips to Spain and then writing music about it, and Chabrier was no exception. This engaging little work inspired at least two "borrowings": Emil Waldteufel's "España Waltz" in 1886 and the pop song "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)," which was a bit hit for Perry Como in 1956. Chabrier's other works display a similar penchant for infectious melodies and are well worth a listen.

Georges Bizet
Georges Bizet: Selections from L’Arlésienne (1872) "L’Arlésienne" ("The Girl from Arles") was, originally, a short story by Alphonse Daudet. In 1872 the author expanded it into a play in three acts and five tableaux with music and chorus. The play tanked, running only 21 performances, but the incidental music Bizet wrote for it has remained popular ever since. Bizet used some folk tunes in his score, including the traditional Christmas Carol "Marcho dei Rei" ("The March of the Three Kings"), which is heard in the "Farandole" finale.

Franz Liszt: "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" (1847) Immensely popular and often parodied (most notoriously by Spike Jones in "Rhapsody from Hunger(y)," where it gets mixed with some Brahms), this solo piano work was arranged for orchestra by Liszt and flute virtuoso and composer Franz Doppler. That's the version you'll hear Friday, and if you know the original, you'll notice that the orchestral version isn't just an arrangement but an expansion as well.

The Essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in "Fanfare for the Common Man," the last of this season's Whitaker Foundation "Music You Know" programs of popular classics. The concert takes place on Friday, May 8, at 8 p.m. at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information:

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