Why have just one late post when you can also can have a second? I figured I should post at least one
"American" music disc, after all it was (well, 3 hours earlier anyhow) Thanksgiving here in the states. I'm not a fan of the holiday, other then the food that is. It's wonderful when you are a child taking in the sights and scents and sounds, but wholly different I feel as an adult; it's a misguided holiday, one only needs an inkling of history to grasp this. Ok moving along.... music :)
Perhaps the most obvious post would have been anything by the most American of American masters, Aaron Copland. (my favorite Copland work has always been the music for "Our Town", it's just so very tender, poignant and beautiful) However Roy Harris's "Folksong Symphony" (Symphony No. 4) is ridiculously "American", with civil war tunes (When Johnny Comes Marching Home, The Girl I Left Behind Me), lonesome prairie songs (Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie, He's Gone Away) and the negro folk spiritual "De Trumpet Sounds It In My Soul" ("Negro Fantasy" is the actual title Harris has given the movement) which is my favorite section. Roy Harris (1898-1979) was born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, a coincidence that impressed him to such an extent that the "shadow of Abe Lincoln" became the inspiration for much of his music. His father was a farmer who moved the family to California when Roy was still a child. By the time he was 18, Roy Harris had a farm of his own, shortly before he enlisted for WW 1. It was only after the war that he enrolled as a music student at the University of California, driving a dairy cart to cover his expenses. His music is profoundly American. His style is so subjective, though, that when he makes use of actual American folk tunes in the symphony, the material acquires his personal imprint.
Harris commented "The moods which seem particularly American to me are the noisy ribaldry, the sadness, a groping earnestness... Our rhythmic impulses are fundamentally different from the rhythmic impulses of the Europeans; and from this unique rhythmic sense are generated different melodic and formal values... An asymmetrical balancing of rhythmic phrases is in our blood" The Folksong Symphony was Harris's Fourth, and the only one with chorus. It's material is drawn from the anthology by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, Cowboy songs and other Frontier Ballads, and from the The American Songbag by Carl Sandburg. Harris first named the symphony "Folksong Jamboree" but his publisher (G. Schirmer) said the title was too self-consciously folksy, and suggested the less florid "Folksong Symphony". The work was premiered under Howard Hanson in Rochester, NY on April 26, 1940. Harris soon added two orchestral preludes to give the singers rest as the chorus is engaged rather heavily. It was performed in it's expanded version by December of that year with the Cleveland Orchestra, Rudolph Ringwall conducting, and two months later Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony performed it. On New Year's Eve, 1942, the New York Philharmonic, Dmitri Mitropoulus and a chorus of several hundred NYC high school students performed it; the concert was taped and broadcast later to American troops in North Africa during WW 2.
*Roy Harris contributed his own comments concerning the circumstances of the composition of the symphony, also including information on each movement and the particular songs and tunes used; I don't know if anyone is interested, but I will type out these notes if anyone wants them.
Paul Creston (1906-1985) was born of immigrant Italian parents and rose from obscurity to become a prominent American composer. His many compositions include works for orchestra, voice, and chamber ensembles. The National Symphony premiered several of his symphonies and the Houston Ballet choreographed his Marimba Concertino, among other premieres by important American musicians and orchestras.
While the Harris symphony is pure Americana (perhaps with a bit of 'Ameri-corny' here and there),
Paul Creston's "Gregorian Chant for String Orchestra" is a quite different affair, with a lyrical beauty not unlike Vaughan William's Tallis Fantasia, but based on the Gregorian modes of pitch organization. The strings surge, they rise and fall, with lovely responsory creating what I think of as a majestic cathedral of sound. It's the Creston work in particular (I don't believe it has ever received a second recording, and it's doubtful that there's been any performances either sadly) that it easily worth the price of admission imo. Enjoy....