American Holiday

American Holiday

The American Independence Day holiday is fast approaching.  I updated the Post Series page on Good Music Speaks to include the series of three posts I wrote on the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg.  Then I tried to think of what might make an appropriate musical subject for the upcoming Fourth of July here in the States.

 

Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland

When I try to think of a composer that had gone out of his way to create a distinctly American flavor in some of his music, I alway think of Aaron Copland first.  Some of the greatest successes of this Brooklyn-born “Dean of American Composers” are the works in his populist style, mostly from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  One of my favorite Copland pieces from those years is his Lincoln Portrait of 1942.

Lincoln Portrait is a work for orchestra and narrator that lasts about 15 minutes in performance.  The texts of the narration are taken from several of Abraham Lincoln’s actual speeches, including the Gettysburg Address.  It is a moving work, full of dramatic moments, and one that is very accessible.  It doesn’t require a great deal of analysis to get the message of this music.  I’ve included a performance by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra with Gerard Schwarz conducting.  The esteemed voice of Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones, is the narrator.  I hope you can find a quarter of an hour between the hot dogs, apple pie and firecrackers this weekend to give it a listen.  The text Copland set to music is included below.

Aaron Copland, Lincoln Portrait

From Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.”

That is what he said. That is what Abraham Lincoln said.

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility.” [Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862]

He was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana, and lived in Illinois. And this is what he said. This is what Abe Lincoln said.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we will save our country.” [Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862]

When standing erect he was six feet four inches tall, and this is what he said.

He said: “It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says ‘you toil and work and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.” [Lincoln-Douglas debates, 15 October 1858]

Lincoln was a quiet man. Abe Lincoln was a quiet and a melancholy man. But when he spoke of democracy, this is what he said.

He said: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of these United States, is everlasting in the memory of his countrymen. For on the battleground at Gettysburg, this is what he said:

He said: “That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

 

Milestones and Memorial

This week marks a full year that Good Music Speaks has been in operation.  The success of this blog is beyond anything I could have imagined.   That was really part of the point of the whole experience, to give it a try and see what happens.  One year and 100 posts later, I am really happy I gave this blogging stuff a try.  I have heard from some old friends, and made a few new ones. Along the way, I’ve garnered over 2,000 followers and 12, 000 views in a span of only twelve months.  I am truly blessed and grateful for all who have stopped by and read a bit of my writing.

Schubert

Schubert

The very first post was about Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.  Looking back, it is not quite as bad as I remember.  Every long journey begins with the first steps, and many of the first steps in the beginning were about learning the basics of using WordPress.  Here is that post again, if you weren’t one of the twenty or so friends/family who read it the first time around.

Symphony in B minor, Franz Schubert

 

gould goldbergBy far, the most read post came when I was fortunate enough to have the blog featured on Freshly Pressed.  I had a concept of three very successful albums that would have been owned or heard by a college student in the 1960’s.  The first post in this series was about Glenn Gould and his legendary recording of the Goldberg Variations.  My blog received a large increase in views and followers as a result of being featured by WordPress, a positive effect I am still experiencing four months later.  I have nothing but gratitude for that good fortune.

College Albums 1:  Glenn Gould

Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland

The vitally useful statistics page at WordPress indicates that the least read post was one that was first published in July 2014.  The entire summer had a small dip in readership, I’m guessing because people were outside enjoying the good weather.  I spent the entire month of July writing about American composers, trying to tie things in the with big American holiday of Independence Day on the Fourth of July.  One of the unique things about this rarely read post, is that it  was (unofficially) the first time  Aaron Copland and the movie Fight Club have been written about in the same article.

Surprise Endings

Clark Terry

Clark Terry

As I was mulling over ideas for this post, I heard that the legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry died over the weekend.  Clark Terry had a long and amazing career, playing in the big bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington before a stint with the Tonight Show Orchestra.  He led small groups, played with every great musician you can name, and was a pioneer in jazz education.  Clark Terry was a man of great humor, exceedingly generous spirit, and a giant influence on anyone who ever picked up a trumpet and even pretended to play jazz music. He died at the age of 94, in hospice surrounded by family and friends.  If I live to be 194 years old, I doubt I could reach as many people, touch as many lives, and put as many smiles on faces as Clark Terry did.  If there is a VIP entrance to heaven, Clark Terry should be given the first place in line.

Clark Terry on Trumpet

Clark Terry singing his trademark  “Mumbles”

Clark Terry on Flugelhorn

 

 

Surprise Endings

Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland wrote his Symphony No. 3 at the end of World War II, and it was premiered in October of 1946.  It was his largest, grandest orchestra piece to date, born in an atmosphere where America was full of a sense of accomplishment, victory, relief, and celebration as its boys returned home from the war to end all wars.  (Well, until the next war I suppose).  It is a public statement on a big scale, written in the populist/Americana style with which Copland had so much success.

Copland’s symphony reminds me of one of those movies with the surprise ending or big twist in the middle.  My favorite movie that fits this description is Fight Club, based on  the novel by Chuck Palahniuk.  You watch the movie cold the first time and everything lays out one way until you get to the big secret.  The second time you watch the film, every action has a second layer of meaning now that you know what is coming.  I’m not going to spoil the movie for you, in large part because the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.  The second rule of Fight Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB!Fight_Club_poster

The surprise twist in Copland 3 is in the finale.  It opens with a slightly altered version of his ever popular Fanfare for the Common Man.  Fanfare was written a few years earlier, and takes its name from a statement then Vice-President Henry Wallace made about it being the “Century of the Common Man”.  The fanfare has had great success and seems to be played at every noble occasion in America.

Fanfare for the Common Man

(On a completely different tangent, the composer Joan Tower did a brilliant play on the title of Copland’s signature work when she wrote her Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.  I have always preferred the company of an uncommon woman over a common man. )

Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman

Back to Copland.  When you listen to the third symphony from the beginning for the first time, it is everything you expect from a symphony.  Grand orchestration, themes with motives to be developed, all adding up to a big public statement for the composer.  You hear Copland’s wide open diatonic harmonies, economy of form, continuity and contrast, really the whole symphony shopping list.

Then you get to the finale.  The Fanfare shows up like a guest of honor that you didn’t realize was coming.  A familiar friend which Copland develops further and shows us more of the potential of the Fanfare theme.  Big finish for a signature American work by a signature American composer.

Aaron Copland, Symphony No. 3

When you go back an listen to the work a second time, it becomes apparent that so much of the thematic material and motives used in the entire work were taken from the pre-existing Fanfare.  Now that you know it is coming down the pipe, the musical building blocks of the symphony have a different connotation.  We have a different relationship to the piece, because we now know the grand statement up to which we are building.  That is one of the things that makes good music really, really good.  The quality to stand up to repeated listening with a depth of character that wears well.

That’s enough for now.  I have a meeting to go to tonight.  Do you know about Tyler Durden?