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Chamber Music Society, Lincoln Center – Program

Season Listing | Biographies | Program & Notes

Program for ‘New World Spirit’ tour

Southland Sketches for Violin and Piano

Henry T. Burleigh Born December 2, 1866, in Erie, Pennsylvania. Died September 12, 1949, in Stamford, Connecticut.
Composed in 1916.

Henry Thacker Burleigh was a pioneer in securing a place for African-Americans in this country’s concert music. Burleigh’s father died soon after Henry (sometimes also known as Harry) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1866, so his mother entered service to the city’s prominent Russell family, who encouraged the boy’s talent for music by hiring him as the doorman for their household musicales so he could listen in. Burleigh began taking piano lessons and singing as baritone soloist with several of Erie’s churches as a teenager. In 1892, at age 26, he won a scholarship to the new National Conservatory in New York City, where he met Victor Herbert and became a student of Antonín Dvořák, then directing the school, who was deeply influenced by his performance of spirituals and other traditional American songs. (“I am convinced,” Dvořák stated, “that they can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States.” His “New World” Symphony shows their effect on his music.) Burleigh’s appointment as soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan in 1894 met with controversy, but he quickly became much admired there for the quality of his singing and for his many arrangements of spirituals, and he held the post for the next 52 years. He toured widely through America and Europe (King Edward VII summoned him for a performance when he passed through London), and wrote nearly 300 songs and made a like number of concert arrangements of spirituals for solo voice and for chorus that were programmed by such leading artists as Schumann-Heink and McCormack. He was also a soloist at New York’s Temple Emanu-El (1900-25), an editor for the prestigious music publisher Ricordi (1911-49), and a charter member of ASCAP. On May 16, 1917, Henry T. Burleigh was presented with the Spingarn Medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the highest achievement by an American citizen of African descent during the previous year. Though Burleigh was known for his songs, choral pieces, and vocal arrangements, he also wrote a handful of instrumental compositions, including the Southland Sketches for violin and piano. The Sketches are delightful miniatures, the finest kind of salon pieces, characterized by folk- and spiritual-inspired melodies, catchy rhythms, and appealing harmonies, but they also signify a seldom-remarked aspect of Burleigh’s legacy to American music—they were among the first works by an African-American composer available to an international audience. Burleigh’s songs were first published in 1898 by the New York firm of G. Schirmer, which issued others of his works until he signed on with the brothers George and William Maxwell in 1902. William ran his own publishing house, which became the principal outlet for Burleigh’s songs for the next decade; George was the New York representative for both the London music publisher Boosey & Hawkes and the Milan firm of G. Ricordi, publisher of Verdi and Puccini. George hired Burleigh as an editor for Ricordi, in which capacity he not only oversaw the publication of his own music, including the 1916 Southland Sketches, but also freely offered his advice to his African-American colleagues and promoted the publication and performance of their compositions. George also worked during those years with Victor Herbert, Burleigh’s teacher, to establish an organization to protect the copyright of musicians, writers, and publishers. When they founded the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914, Henry Burleigh was among its charter members.

Quintet in E-flat major for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Cello, Op. 97, “American”

Antonín Dvořák Born September 8, 1841, in Nelahozeves, Bohemia. Died May 1, 1904, in Prague.
Composed in 1893. Premiered on New Year’s Day, 1894, in Boston by the Kneisel Quartet and violist M. Zach.

On June 3, 1893, Antonín Dvořák left his apartment at 327 East 17th Street in New York City, and journeyed via Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago to Calmar, Iowa. An hour after arriving at Calmar, a carriage deposited him, his wife, their six children, a maid, and the composer’s secretary at the doorstep of a sturdy two-story brick house in Spillville, a settlement of a few hundred souls founded some 40 years before by a “Bavarian-German” named Spielmann. It was not the Germans, however, who followed Spielmann to the open spaces of Iowa, but the Czechs and the Bohemians, Dvořák’s countrymen, among whom were members of his secretary’s family, the clan Kovařík. Though Dvořák was certainly not uncomfortable in his position as Director of the National Conservatory in New York (he boasted in a letter to one friend about his $15,000 salary, an enormous sum in the 1890s), he missed Prague, and hearing Czech spoken in the streets, and the pigeons, and the traditional songs, and so was easily persuaded by Papa Kovařík, Spillville’s school teacher and choirmaster, to spend the summer of 1893 in the little slice of his homeland that had dropped onto the Midwestern prairie. In his Reminiscences, Kovařík recorded the following information: “The Master’s day in Spillville was more or less as follows: He got up about four o’clock and went for a walk—to the stream or river—and returned at five. After his walk, he worked; at seven he was sitting at the organ in church, then he chatted a little, went home, worked again, and then went for another walk…. Almost every afternoon he spent in the company of some of the old settlers. He got them to tell him about their bitter and difficult beginnings in America…. He liked being there.” Though there was little musical stimulation for him there (considerable energy had to be expended just to find a piano for his rooms), Dvořák’s creativity blossomed in Spillville. Just three weeks after he arrived, he completed the F major Quartet (Op. 96, known since it was new as the “American”), and immediately began a quintet for two violins, two violas, and cello which was completed on August 1st, just before he left for a week to participate in a “Czech Day” at the Chicago World’s Fair. In mid-September, before returning to New York, Dvořák wrote to Dr. Emil Kozánek in Kromĕříž, “The three months spent here in Spillville will remain a happy memory for the rest of our lives. We enjoyed being here and were very happy, though we found the three months of heat rather trying. It was made up to us, however, by being among our own people, our Czech countrymen, and that gave us great joy.” Both the quintet and the quartet were officially unveiled by the Kneisel Quartet in Boston on New Year’s Day, 1894; the performance was repeated 12 days later at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The opening movement of the E-flat major String Quintet grows from a pentatonic theme previewed in a shimmering setting that serves as an introduction. The music becomes more animated for the formal presentation of the main theme. The dotted-rhythm complementary subject, introduced by the second violin above the cello’s pizzicato, bears a folkish quality that recalls passages from the “New World” Symphony, composed just a year before this quintet. The development section includes permutations of both themes, and leads to their heightened restatements in the recapitulation. The following Allegro, the quintet’s scherzo, begins with a mock drum-beat from the viola, and continues with another pentatonic melody of simple construction. The central section is given over to a long, minor-mode melody initiated by the viola. The third movement is a set of five variations on a two-part theme (minor, then major) that Dvořák sketched in December 1892, the first scrap of music he wrote after arriving in America. (He is said to have considered for a time composing a new national anthem utilizing the second half of this melody for the text “My country, ’tis of thee.”) The Finale is an invigorating blend of rondo and sonata elements, much of which is based on the skipping rhythms of the opening measures.

 

INTERMISSION

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

Leonard Bernstein Born August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Died October 14, 1990, in New York City.

Composed in 1941-42. Premiered on April 21, 1942, in Boston, by clarinetist David Glazer and the composer as pianist.

Leonard Bernstein had already accumulated a formidable curriculum vitae by the time he wrote his Clarinet Sonata at the age of 23. Born in 1918 to a Russian Jewish family who had settled in Massachusetts, he attended the prestigious Boston Latin School as a youth and took piano lessons from Helen Coates and Heinrich Gebhard. In 1935, Bernstein enrolled at Harvard, where he studied with some of the country’s most distinguished music pedagogues: Tillman Merritt (theory), Walter Piston (counterpoint and fugue), and Edward Burlingame Hill (orchestration). After his graduation in 1939, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to polish his already impressive piano technique with Isabelle Vengerova, and further his skills in conducting (with Fritz Reiner) and composition (Randall Thompson). He spent the summers of 1940 and 1941 at Tanglewood, where he became a student, protégé, and eventually assistant of Sergei Koussevitzky, Music Director of the Boston Symphony.  At the end of the 1941 Tanglewood season, Bernstein traveled to Key West, Florida to seek some relief from persistent autumn attacks of hay fever, and there he began what became his first published piece, the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. The sonata was completed in February 1942 in Boston, where Bernstein had gone to teach and continue his studies with Koussevitzky; the score was published the following year. The sonata was premiered by the composer and clarinetist David Glazer at the Institute of Modern Art in Boston on April 21, 1942. The work is in two concise movements. The first, lyrical rather than virtuosic, is much under the influence of Hindemith, who was in residence at Tanglewood in 1941. The second movement, which juxtaposes several sections in alternating slow and fast tempos, begins with a reflective theme based on a tiny arch-shaped motive. The fast episode in bristling 5/8 meter that follows presages some of Bernstein’s dance music of later years. The reflective music returns in transformation and passes through a Latin-influenced bridge passage Bernstein said was a souvenir of his visits to Key West nightclubs. A final traversal of the nervous fast music closes this early product of Bernstein’s incomparable genius.

Appalachian Spring Suite for Ensemble

Aaron Copland Born November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York. Died December 2, 1990, in North Tarrytown, New York.

Composed for chamber orchestra in 1944. Ballet premiered on October 30, 1944, at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, one of America’s greatest patrons of the arts, went to see a dance recital by Martha Graham in 1942. So taken with the genius of the dancer-choreographer was Coolidge that she offered to have three ballets specially composed for her. Graham chose as composers of the music Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith, and an American whose work she had admired for over a decade—Aaron Copland. In 1931, Graham had staged Copland’s Piano Variations as the ballet Dithyramb, and she was eager to have another dance piece from him, especially in view of his recent successes with Billy the Kid and Rodeo. She devised a scenario based on her memories of her grandmother’s farm in turn-of-the-20thcentury Pennsylvania, and it proved to be a perfect match for the direct, quintessentially American style that Copland espoused in those years. Graham was taken at just that time with the name of a poem by Hart Crane—Appalachian Spring—and she adopted it for her new ballet, though the content of the poem has no relation with the stage work. Edwin Denby’s description of the ballet’s action from his review of the New York premiere in May 1945 was reprinted in the published score: “[The ballet concerns] a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the 19th century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end, the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.” When Appalachian Spring was premiered on October 30, 1944 at the auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the limited space allowed Copland to use only a chamber orchestra of 13 instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, and nine strings). The production was repeated in New York in May to great acclaim, garnering the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Music Critics Circle Award as the outstanding theatrical work of the 1944-45 season. Soon after the ballet’s New York premiere, Copland revised the score as a suite of eight continuous sections for full orchestra by eliminating about eight minutes of music in which, he said, “the interest is primarily choreographic.” In 1958, he arranged the suite for the original 13 instruments, thus restoring the intimacy and immediacy of his original conception to a concert adaptation of the music.

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