Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
• Born: August 25, 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts
• Died: October 14, 1990, New York City
• Work composed: On the Town musical 1944; Bernstein extracted Three Dance Episodes from the score later that same year
• Premiere: On the Town musical: December 28, 1944, New York’s Adelphi Theatre (the movie version premiered in 1949). Three Dance Episodes: February 3, 1946, San Francisco, Leonard Bernstein conducting the San Francisco Symphony.
• Instrumentation: flute (incl. piccolo), oboe (incl. English horn), 3 clarinets (incl. E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet), alto saxophone, 2 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, suspended cymbals, triangle, wood block, xylophone, drum set, piano, strings
• CSO notable performances: Two previous subscription weekends | Premiere: May 2011, Paavo Järvi conducting | Most recent: April 2014, David Robertson conducting | This work also has been a popular choice for Young People’s Concerts, and the “Times Square” movement was played on the 2014 New Year’s Eve concert, John Morris Russell, conductor.
• Duration: approx. 11 minutes
Bernstein’s fame from writing Broadway shows grew simultaneously with his career as a classical conductor and concert composer. The ease with which he moved back and forth between popular and serious music set him apart from contemporaries in either field. He was, quite simply, a genius for whom conventional divisions and distinctions between “high” and “low” forms of music had little significance.
Bernstein wrote the musical On the Town in 1944, shortly after his first symphony (Jeremiah). This time the 26-year-old composer tackled a subject that was definitely non-biblical: three sailors on shore leave decide to sink their teeth into the Big Apple; not surprisingly, as they explore New York City they also discover romance. (The plot has some similarities with Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free, written earlier in the same year, but musically the two works are unrelated.)
Bernstein himself insisted that “the subject matter was light, but the show was serious.” He was referring to the show’s musical sophistication, which far exceeded previous Broadway practice. Dissonances that one would think are at home only in modern “classical” music blend easily with Bernstein’s dynamic, jazz-influenced musical idiom.
KEYNOTE.The Three Dance Episodes begin with “The Great Lover,” based on the musical’s hit song “New York, New York.” The three newcomers take a look around the city and begin to savor all that it may offer. In “Lonely Town,” the show’s major lyrical song, the sailor Gabey grieves over not finding that special someone without whom even a big city can seem empty and desolate. “Times Square 1944” is based on the tune “I Get Carried Away,” a comic duet originally sung by the show’s two lyricists, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra
• Born: September 26, 1898, Brooklyn, New York | Died: July 11, 1937, New York City
• Work composed: May-November 1925
• Premiere: December 3, 1925 in New York’s Carnegie Hall with the composer as soloist and Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony
• Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, slapstick, snare drum, suspended cymbals, triangle, wood block, xylophone, strings
• CSO notable performances:Seven previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1927, Fritz Reiner conducting; George Gershwin, pianist | Most recent: October 2009, William Eddins, conductor and pianist | The CSO performed this work on its first World Tour in 1966 (in Seoul, Tokyo, Okinawa, Taipei, Manila, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Istanbul and at the Dubrovnik and Athens festivals), Max Rudolf conducting and Lorin Hollander, pianist; the Orchestra recorded the work in 1953 under Thor Johnson with Alec Templeton, pianist, and in 1988 under Erich Kunzel with William Tritt, pianist. Oscar Levant, who appeared in films performing works by Gershwin and others, was pianist for CSO subscription weekends and special concerts in 1942, 1944, 1946 and 1952
• Duration: approx. 31 minutes
In February 1924 a New York audience heard an unusual new work by a 25-year-old who had previously been known for his songs and musical shows but who was all but unknown as a classical composer. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is neither symphonic nor jazz nor blues, but rather it is one of the earliest examples of what is today known as crossover music. It has the infectious melodies and engaging rhythms of the best American popular music of the ‘20s, and it has the scope and sweep of a romantic concerto.
It is hardly surprising that classical music circles were eager to exploit the success of Gershwin’s “symphonic jazz.” Hence Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony, commissioned Gershwin to compose a full-fledged piano concerto for the following season. The New York Symphony Society was not generally known for its support of living composers, but the society’s president knew that Gershwin was good for the box office.
The composer was somewhat taken aback, since he had never written any symphonic music (the original version of Rhapsody in Blue was scored for jazz band). But he nonetheless signed the contract just a few days before leaving for London. Once in England, he began to sketch the work, frequently consulting some books on musical structure that he had acquired in order to teach himself about concerto form. Since he had never written for symphony orchestra, he also consulted an orchestration textbook.
Conductor Damrosch must have been concerned about Gershwin’s lack of experience. He asked to see the first few pages of the work while it was still in progress. The manuscript of this “trial orchestration” shows that Gershwin had acquired a reasonable command of the orchestra, but that he also had made several beginner’s errors. The manuscript is full of corrections written in by Damrosch and Gershwin and by several other editors.
Gershwin may have been a novice symphonic composer, but he was an extremely successful writer of songs and musical shows. Hence he was constantly besieged by admirers. After returning from London, he had to flee his New York apartment and rent rooms in a hotel in order to have the privacy he needed to compose the concerto. But even there he was hounded by his public, by friends wanting to help him copy the music, and by relatives. The composer was rescued by Ernest Hutcheson, dean of the Juilliard School of Music, who taught summer master classes in piano at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York State. Hutcheson invited Gershwin to work at Chautauqua, where his quarters were declared off limits to everyone until 4 p.m. each day.
Once the concerto was finished, Gershwin hired an orchestra and a conductor for a trial reading. Although such a procedure was virtually unheard of in the classical music world, theatrical tryouts were common for musical shows and hence Gershwin was used to working in this way. Conductor Bill Daly suggested several cuts, some of which Gershwin adopted.
As the New York Symphony had hoped, the concerto’s premiere attracted a huge and enthusiastic audience. Many came expecting to hear a jazz concerto. But the music, though full of infectious jazz rhythms and allusions to popular dances, is even further removed from true jazz—the largely improvised music of Afro-American origins—than is Rhapsody in Blue. Although the concerto is admittedly less spontaneous than the Rhapsody, its surer and more convincing overall structure has helped secure it a permanent position in the concerto repertoire.
The concerto’s success led several classical musicians to try to persuade Gershwin to abandon popular music and become a permanent denizen of the concert hall. Damrosch, for example, admitted that he “tried to wean him, so to speak, from Broadway, as I felt that he had it in him to develop on more serious lines than the Broadway shows demanded or even permitted. But the lighter forms in which he had become a master proved too strong. Perhaps I was wrong, and his own instinct guided him towards what he felt most able to do.”
Gershwin did in fact compose further works for the concert stage, although they were less successful than the Concerto in F. But his subsequent shows Oh Kay!, Strike Up the Band, Funny Face, Girl Crazy, and Of Thee I Sing, among others, demonstrate in which direction his talents continued to draw him.
KEYNOTE. Gershwin provided a brief program note for the concerto:
The first movement employs the Charleston rhythm. It is quick and pulsating, representing the young, enthusiastic spirit of American life. It begins with a rhythmic motif given out by the kettledrums, supported by other percussion instruments, and with a Charleston motif introduced by bassoon, horns, clarinets, and violas. The principal theme is introduced by the piano.
Certain passages of the opening movement, taken in isolation, invoke jazz-inspired dance music. Blue notes and syncopated rhythms abound. Other passages, however, are firmly rooted in the classical tradition, suggestive of French impressionist harmonies and romantic piano figurations. These different kinds of music are not sharply juxtaposed but rather flow effortlessly one into the next, so that the listener scarcely notices the stylistic disjunctions.
Gershwin’s note continues:
The second movement has a poetic nocturnal atmosphere, which has come to be referred to as the American blues, but in a purer form than that in which they are usually treated. The blues flavor comes not only from blue-note harmonies but also from the jazz-influenced use of muted brass instruments.
The final movement reverts to the style of the first. It is an orgy of rhythms, starting violently and keeping to the same pace throughout.This rondo includes recollections of the first movement. These returns, plus frequent alternations of 2/4 and 3/8 time, belong more to the style of the concert hall than to jazz, although syncopated rhythms and blue notes still abound.
—Jonathan D. Kramer
Three Places in New England
• Born: October 20, 1874, Danbury, Connecticut | Died: May 19, 1954, New York City
• Work composed: 1908-1911 for large orchestra with the original title of First Orchestral Set: Three Places in New England; he revised the work for chamber orchestra in 1929 and rescored it a third time, in 1935
• Premiere: The work was first performed in its 1929 version in New York with Nicolas Slonimsky conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Boston.
• Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes (incl. English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum with attached cymbal, gong, snare drum, 2 harps, celeste, organ, piano, strings
• CSO notable performances:Three previous subscription weekends | Premiere: November 1970, Erich Kunzel conducting, with narration by Charles P. Taft (mayor of Cincinnati 1955–57, and the youngest child of President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen Herron Taft) | Most recent: September 1999, Jesús López-Cobos conducting.
• Duration: approx. 19 minutes
Ives originally called the present work his First Orchestral Set (it is now known by what was originally a subtitle). In it, he memorialized places that he cherished, places that were filled with historical memories from a world that was rapidly changing before his eyes as the growth and modernization of American cities was fundamentally transforming the landscape. The music merges the places with the artist contemplating them. One might say that the recognizable traditional tunes symbolize concrete reality, while the innovative uses of those tunes, their distortions, and other manipulations make us see that reality through the eyes of the composer.
The genesis of Ives’s works is always extremely complicated. Known for endlessly “tinkering” with his musical materials, Ives incorporated earlier compositions in later ones, and repeatedly revised his scores. At one time, it was alleged that during these revisions, he inserted harsh dissonances where none had been present before. Later research, however, has established that these dissonances had been there in the earliest sketches, only to be subsequently removed and finally reinstated; thus, the claims of those who accused Ives of tampering with the evidence in order to bolster his modernist credentials have been refuted.
KEYNOTE. Three Places has come down to us in three different versions: a first scoring for large orchestra assembled between 1911 and 1914, partially based on earlier works; a version for chamber orchestra made in 1929; and a final effort using a midsize ensemble completed in 1935. It was the 1929 version that was first performed (under Nicolas Slonimsky in 1931); the 1935 version was published but not performed until 1948. In the 1970s, James B. Sinclair created a critical edition which combined aspects of all three versions.
I. The “St. Gaudens” in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment)
In Boston Common, the beautiful gardens located in the center of the city, there is a monumental bas-relief by Augustus St. Gaudens memorializing Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the white commander of the all-Black 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which fought valiantly in the Civil War. Many of the men, including Col. Shaw himself, were killed in the Battle of Fort Wagner which was won by the Confederates.
Ives composed a moving elegy in memory of the slain heroes, with snatches of three tunes (Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe,” Henry Work’s “Marching through Georgia,” and “The Battle-Cry of Freedom,” by George Root) woven into a delicate orchestral tapestry filled with complex polyrhythms. At one point, the soldiers start marching. The tempo becomes faster, but Ives instructs the orchestra to “hold back a little, almost imperceptibly,” because, as he wrote, “often when a mass of men march up hill, there is an unconscious slowing up. The Drum seems to follow the feet, rather than the feet the drum.” After a powerful C-major climax, the music sinks back to its initial meditative state.
Ives wrote the following poem about the St. Gaudens, which he included in the score:
Moving—Marching—Faces of Souls!
Marked with generations of pain,
Part-freers of a Destiny,
Slowly, restlessly—swaying us on with you
Towards other Freedom!
The man on horseback, carved from
A native quarry of the world Liberty
And from what your country has made.
You images of a Divine Law
Carved in the shadow of a saddened heart—
Never light abandoned—
Of an age and of a nation.
Above and beyond that compelling mass
Rises the drum-beat of the common-heart
In the silence of a strange and
Moving—Marching—Faces of Souls!
II. Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut
Ives prefaced the score with the following remarks:
Near Redding Center, Conn., is a small park preserved as a Revolutionary Memorial; for here General Israel Putnam’s soldiers had their winter quarters in 1778–1779. Long rows of stone camp fire-places still remain to stir a child’s imagination. The hardships which the soldiers endured and the agitation of a few hot-heads to break camp and march to the Hartford Assembly for relief, is a part of Redding history.
Once upon a “4th of July,” some time ago, so the story goes, a child went there on a picnic, held under the auspices of the First Church and the Village Cornet Band. Wandering away from the rest of the children past the camp ground into the woods, he hopes to catch a glimpse of some of the old soldiers. As he rests on the hillside of laurel and hickories, the tunes of the band and the songs of the children grow fainter and fainter;—when—“mirabile dictu”—over the trees on the crest of the hill he sees a tall woman standing. She reminds him of a picture he has of the Goddess of Liberty,—but the face is sorrowful—she is pleading with the soldiers not to forget their “cause” and the great sacrifices they have made for it. But they march out of camp with fife and drum to a popular tune of the day. Suddenly a new national note is heard. Putnam is coming over the hills from the center,—the soldiers turn back and cheer. The little boy awakes, he hears the children’s songs and runs down past the monument to “listen to the band” and join in the games and dances.
The repertoire of national airs at that time was meagre. Most of them were of English origin. It is a curious fact that a tune very popular with the American soldiers was “The British Grenadiers.” A captain in one of Putnam’s regiments put it to words, which were sung for the first time in 1779 at a patriotic meeting in the Congregational Church in Redding Center; the text is both ardent and interesting.
In this lively march-scherzo, Ives “recycled,” and completely rewrote, two early works for orchestra: the Country Band March and the Overture & March 1776, both written in 1903. The two bands marching in opposite directions actually play in different tempos and different meters at the same time; fragments of several traditional tunes (“The Arkansas Traveler,” “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground,” “Yankee Doodle,” “The Liberty Bell,” “Semper Fidelis,” and more) are added to the mix.
III. The Housatonic at Stockbridge
After two movements celebrating glorious military history, the last movement retreats to the private sphere with what begins as a peaceful nature painting. The inspiration this time was entirely personal as it has to do with the memory of the honeymoon of Charles and Harmony Ives in June 1908. The newlyweds took a hiking trip to the Berkshires where they admired the idyllic landscape of the Housatonic River. As he was walking by the river with his bride, Ives heard the strains of the hymn “Dorrnance” wafting over from a nearby church, and he built the entire movement on fragments of this hymn tune, combined with an evocation of the water and the trees surrounding it in the morning mist.
The poet Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937) had been there before him and wrote a long poem with the title The Housatonic at Stockbridge, from which Ives took the following excerpts as an introduction to his music:
Contented river! in thy dreamy realm—
The cloudy willow and the plumy elm..
Thou hast grown human laboring with men
At wheel and spindle; sorrow thou dost ken;...
Thou beautiful! From every dreamy hill
What eye but wanders with thee at thy will,
Imagining thy silver course unseen
Convoyed by two attendant streams of green...
Contented river! and yet over-shy
To mask thy beauty from the eager eye;
Hast thou a thought to hide from field and town?
In some deep current of the sunlit brown
Art thou disquieted—still uncontent
With praise from thy Homeric bard, who lent
The world the placidness thou gavest him?
Thee Bryant loved when his life was at its brim;...
Ah! there’s a restive ripple, and the swift
Red leaves—September’s firstlings—faster drift;
Wouldst thou away!.....
I also of much resting have a fear;
Let me thy companions be
By fall and shallow to the adventurous sea!
(Interestingly, Johnson had also written a poem celebrating St. Gaudens.)
Ives’s music begins with a complex polymetric texture in the strings, depicting the haze over the Housatonic; it then gradually rises in volume until the grandiose conclusion in which the river quite palpably reaches the “adventurous sea.”
Divertimento for Orchestra
• Work composed:August 1980 in Fairfield, Connecticut; ending revised in September 1983
• Premiere: September 25, 1980, Boston, Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra
• Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, 3 bongo drums, chimes, 2 congas, 2 cowbells, crash cymbals, glockenspiel, maracas, rasp, sandpaper blocks, 4 snare drums, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tambourine, 4 temple blocks, triangle, vibraphone, wood block, xylophone, harp, piano, strings
• CSO notable performances: One previous subscription weekend | Premiere/Most Recent: December 2001, Paavo Järvi conducting | The CSO performed this work on its 2009 Asian Tour under Paavo Järvi.
• Duration: approx. 15 minutes
The Boston Symphony Orchestra was important in Leonard Bernstein’s life. While he was an undergraduate at Harvard, he attended concerts by that orchestra. Although he was deeply moved by the sound of the orchestral ensemble, his impressions of the orchestra’s playing were not always favorable. In a review written for the Harvard Advocate, the young musician complained about “the unbreakable tradition of wrong notes in the French horn department, the phenomenon…of seeing woodwinds blown and not hearing them…, [and] Our Director’s most individualistic conception of tempi—all things we have come to know and love.” Despite such cheeky remarks, Bernstein was actually quite enamored of the BSO and was in particular awe of its conductor, Serge Koussevitzky—”Our Director.”
Koussevitzky accepted Bernstein as a student in his summer courses for conductors at Tanglewood. The elder conductor became something of a father figure for the young one. Subsequently Bernstein’s conducting career took off after he replaced Bruno Walter, who became ill after conducting two of his scheduled three guest performances with the New York Philharmonic one weekend. Bernstein had seven hours warning that he would have to fill in. What he did not have was a rehearsal, or even proper concert attire. He conducted—in a business suit—spectacularly and flamboyantly, and the musical world took notice.
The next logical step for this enterprising musician was to obtain a position as music director of an orchestra—preferably a major orchestra. Not one to set his sights low, Bernstein was eager to be named Koussevitzky’s successor in Boston. In order to make himself the best candidate for this position, Bernstein did as much guest conducting as possible, including an appearance with the Cincinnati Symphony in 1946.
Koussevitzky did in fact want Bernstein to be his successor. He accorded his protégé the unusual honor of conducting the Boston Symphony in Carnegie Hall. Not everyone agreed that Bernstein was the right man for Boston, however. He was seen as too splashy, and his programming as too aggressive. Furthermore, a musician with one foot in the classical music world and the other in the pop world was likely to be regarded with suspicion. Whereas today crossover composers who are comfortable writing both show tunes and symphonies are accepted and even admired as quintessential products of America’s varied musical culture, in the 1940s Bernstein was one of the very few, and his involvement in popular music was sometimes viewed with disdain.
Koussevitzky tried to force the issue by threatening to retire immediately if the BSO board refused to appoint Bernstein. To his amazement, his resignation was accepted, and as his successor the administration turned to the urbane Alsatian Charles Munch. Bernstein was deeply disappointed, and despaired over the future of his career. But he rebounded, and by a decade later was named music director of the New York Philharmonic. Over the ensuing years, as his career mushroomed, he got over his hurt and regained his affections for the Boston orchestra. Thus it was no surprise that the BSO commissioned Bernstein to write a work in honor of its centenary in 1980.
By this time Bernstein was sought after worldwide, He was so busy, in fact, that he took a sabbatical from the podium for the 1980 calendar year in order to concentrate on composing. When two projects—a film score and a musical—both failed to reach fruition, he felt that accepting the Boston commission would force him to complete something and thereby salvage his sabbatical.
In the light of his affection for the BSO of his youth, Bernstein wrote what he thought of as an autobiographical and “fun piece.” He told a Boston reporter, “It reflects my youthful experiences here, where I heard my first orchestral music. I nearly fell out of my chair, I was so exalted!”
America’s musical climate had changed considerably. Now, when Bernstein offered Boston a symphonic work thoroughly imbued with popular music of many sorts, his ebullient mixture of the classical and the vernacular raised no eyebrows.
KEYNOTE. In his preface to the Divertimento score, Jack Gottlieb writes: “The movements are replete with allusions to the repertoire with which Mr. Bernstein grew up in Symphony Hall, some quite obvious, others rather more secret messages for the players themselves.”
All of the work’s eight short movements are based on the notes B and C, which stand for “Boston” and “Centennial.”
The opening fanfare is called “Sennets and Tuckets.” A sennet is a Shakespearean signal call on a trumpet, and a tucket is a trumpet flourish. This piece was originally intended to form the entire work, before Bernstein hit on the idea of writing several vignettes instead of one extended movement. The opening rising figure, which pervades the movement in all sorts of imitative treatments, recalls a trumpet flourish in one of Bernstein’s favorite works, Mahler’s Third Symphony.
The charming “Waltz” for strings is cast in the irregular meter 7/8, which is a reference to Tchaikovsky’s irregular waltz (in 5/4 time) in the second movement of the Pathétique Symphony, a favorite piece of Koussevitzky. Tchaikovsky’s great achievement in that movement was to use an irregular meter in such a manner that the music remains relaxed and urbane. Bernstein matches this compositional feat by making each 7/8 measure sound like a normal waltz measure followed by an elongated one.
Near its end, the “Mazurka”—scored for double reeds and harp—quotes the famous oboe solo from the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Bernstein surely heard this often-played work when he attended Boston Symphony concerts.
The “Samba” is a dance number, typical of the fare often heard on Boston Pops concerts during the long reign of its conductor Arthur Fiedler. This particular samba is reminiscent of Bernstein’s hit show West Side Story.
The “Turkey Trot” is named for a dance popular of the 1920s. Bernstein rescued this movement from his aborted film score of a few months earlier. Like the “Waltz” movement, this one alternates four- and three-beat measures, though less consistently. Since the four-beat pattern precedes the three-beat one, the sense is not of elongation but of a delightfully off-beat truncation.
The enigmatic “Sphinxes” movement is scarcely a minute long. In atmosphere it recalls various operatic tomb scenes. Ironically, it is constructed with a twelve-tone row, stated once in the strings and then repeated a step lower in the winds. The irony comes from Bernstein’s well-known aversion to atonal music: here he uses one of atonality’s most common compositional tools, producing music that does not in the least sound twelve-tone.
The “Blues” movement, for brass and percussion, invokes Bernstein’s visits to smoky Boston nightclubs while he was an undergraduate.
The finale begins with a canon for three flutes, intended to invoke memories of conductors Koussevitzky and Munch and several BSO players who had died. Like “Sphinxes,” this music is twelve-tone. The ensuing march is a spoof of the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss, Sr., which Arthur Fielder performed numerous times with the Boston Pops. The title “The BSO Forever” refers to Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, which is often performed with some players standing. Hence Bernstein instructs the piccolo and brass players to stand near the end.
—Jonathan D. Kramer