I would like to give a warm welcome and thank you to each of you for sharing this evening with us. I am honored and sincerely humbled to take the stage with Calliope for the first time as Interim Artistic Director. It is my great luxury to work with such dedicated musicians each week, and I am grateful to grow together. Calliope is a passionate organization of genuine individuals who care deeply about music, and I could not be more proud to stand in front of such an ensemble.
Our program this evening is a celebration of the American music tradition past and present. "American Battlefield" showcases several of the best-known composers and pieces of this country, as well as a couple hidden gems unknown to most. Often associated with great composers like Copland, Ives, and Bernstein, the American music tradition took root generations before and was forged in metropolises like Boston and New York. Tonight's program is meant to present a different side of the early bloodshed that led to the foundation of the United States. We honor the sacrifice and the loss, but turn instead to respect, reflection, and reverence.
Thank you, again, for joining us for "American Battlefield." I hope that you leave refreshed and with a renewed appreciation for the great composers and music of this country. We hope to see you again for a program in the future!
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was the last in a family line two centuries long that provided musical directors of the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca, Italy. Pursuing music was more of a family profession than a personal passion for Puccini, at least early in his life. He turned to opera after attending a production of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida. Puccini chose to study at the Milan Conservatory, and his successes as a student led to commissions at La Scala and a lifelong association with the music publisher Giulio Ricordi. Following the death of his mother, Puccini ran off with a married woman, Elvira Gemignani, and settled in Monza, near Milan, for the birth of their son. Unfortunately, Puccini's relationship with Elvira proved difficult, and his troubles were compounded by the failure of his second opera, Edgar. Nevertheless, Puccini quickly rebounded with several of his most famous works. Puccini's four mature works (La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and La fanciulla del west) all feature a dramatic love story focused on a female protagonist. While Puccini turned his attention to Fanciulla, Elvira grew jealous of a young servant employed by the Puccinis, Doria Manfredi. Elvira drove Doria from the house, threatening to kill her. Doria, traumatized by the event, took poison, and the Manfredis brought charges against Elvira for persecution and calumny. Elvira received a guilty verdict, which created one of the most famous scandals of the time. Through legal negotiation, Puccini paid damages to the Manfredis, and the charges were dropped. Shortly after the ordeal, La fanciulla del west premiered under the baton of Arturo Toscanani, one of the most prominent conductors of all time. Fanciulla was met with tremendous success and would later mark the end of his mature period of composing.
America's first successful female composer, Amy Beach (1867-1944), was regarded as a prodigy in childhood, memorizing over forty songs before age two, teaching herself to read by age three, and performing public recitals by age seven. Her recitals regularly featured the works of keyboard masters Chopin, Beethoven, and Handel. Beach made her Boston debut in 1883 and performed Chopin's Concerto in F Minor just two years later with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the same year, Beach married Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a physician and Harvard lecturer. At his request, Beach limited her public performances and instead turned her attention to composing. She had only received one year of formal training in harmony and counterpoint, so she relied heavily on her own study, including translating documents such as Hector Berlioz's treatise on orchestration. In 1892, Boston's Handel and Haydn Society performed her Mass in E-flat, which ignited her widespread recognition as a composer. Four years later, she became the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony when the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered her "Gaelic" Symphony. Her success in large-scale orchestral composition led to commissions for vocal and choral works. For Beach, the text was paramount in writing music for voices. She was given the text of St. Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Sun," translated by the poet, Matthew Arnold, in 1915 by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New York, Dr. Howard Duffield, who urged her to set it. The piece was premiered at St. Bartholomew's in New York City in 1928, but did not feature an orchestra until a 1930 performance of the Toledo Choral Society. When recounting the story of the Canticle's creation, Beach said, "The music came from my innermost heart."
According to many, America's choral tradition begins with William Billings (1746-1800). Born in Boston, Billings worked as a tanner to support his family following the death of his father. It is possible he studied music under one of the New South Church choristers, John Berry, but much of his development as a musician was on his own. As an adult, Billings was close with New England heroes of the American Revolution, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and, though there are few parallels between the two, William Billings and W.A. Mozart were penning pieces an ocean apart at the same time. Almost all of Billings music was written for four-part a cappella chorus. Among these are numerous hymns, anthems, psalms, and fuging tunes, most of which are grouped into six different collections published from 1770 to 1794. Billings music typically features very straight-forward harmony and rhythmic vitality and is often patriotic in nature. Billings gathered many of his texts from Isaac Watts and other poets, though he also wrote the text to a dozen of his own compositions. He wrote detailed prefaces with instructions in performance practice and showed his dedication to music education by opening and teaching at a Singing School. Up until 1798, two years before his death, Billings' name could be found under "singing master" in the Boston city directory. Though Billings enjoyed a successful career and was very popular, he suffered because of the very basic copyright law of the time. Even though the law was strengthened during his career, many of his pieces had already been reprinted in hymnals across the country. When tastes in music changed, Billings rapidly lost popularity. Toward the end of his life, Billings worked as a Boston street sweeper, and his music was largely neglected following his death. However, his tunes traveled southward and westward thanks to their inclusion in shape note hymnals and spurred the Sacred Harp singing tradition. A resurgence of Billings' music came in the late 20th-century after a complete scholarly edition of his works was published.
Twentieth century Pulitzer Prize winning composer, arts administrator, and former president of the Juilliard school, William Schuman (1910-1992) is as recognized for his music as he is his impact on education. After attending a performance of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Arturo Toscanini, Schuman, overwhelmed and astonished by the 'sea of stringed instruments,' decided to become a composer. His compositions largely embody an American theme, whether they are orchestrated tunes such as his famous New England Triptych or American Festival Overture, or his settings of text by America's most profound poets. New England Triptych sets three pieces by William Billings and is effectively an expansion of Schuman's 1943 William Billings Overture (though the piece was never published and later withdrawn by Schuman). Commissioned by Andre Kostelanetz and the Orchestra of the University of Miami, New England Triptych was premiered in 1956. Rich in theme and variation and employing the full force of the orchestra, New England Triptych portrays Billings' tunes in terrific contrast to how they had been presented for nearly two-hundred years prior.
Originally from Faribault, MN and now one of Canada's most well-known composers, Stephen Chatman (b. 1950) currently serves as Professor of Composition at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, where he has taught since 1976. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Chatman's compositions span chorus, orchestra, and solo piano, and they have earned him numerous "Classical Composition of the Year" awards as well as an appointment to the Order of Canada. In 1988, Chatman became British Columbia's first 'composer in residence,' a position that called for several works for Vancouver's Music in the Morning concert series. His work earned him additional residencies and composer exchange programs, including the "First Exchange of Canadian and Chinese Composers" in Beijing and Shanghai. Chatman has been highly sought after through commissions, and he is a member of a select group of living composers to have earned prestigious awards for both orchestral and choral music. Chatman's compositional style can be broken down into two major periods of his career. Prior to 1982, his works were more complex and even atonal, requiring a virtuosic touch to perform successfully. Chatman enjoyed writing across a range of musical traditions and aesthetics and felt strongly that he would not be bound to one type of product. In 1982, he began a series of more 'accessible' choral music emphasizing diatonic tonal language, lyricism, and melody. Composed in 2002, Remember is clearly indicative of the latter part of Chatman's career. Remember is the second of two pieces in a commissioned set entitled 'Two Rossetti Songs,' taking text from Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti. Remember is meant to be ever-flowing with no strict ties to any meter. Its folk influence and reflective Italian sonnet text are meant to create a moment of tranquility amid the uncertainty around us.
Like many of New England's most prominent composers, Randall Thompson (1899-1984) studied at Harvard University, earning both a bachelor's degree (1920) and a master's degree (1922). While at Harvard, he was rejected from the famed Glee Club, giving him a lasting chip on his shoulder. Many of his compositions came in response to this rejection, and he left such a large influence on male choral music that he became the first recipient of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. Upon graduation from Harvard, Thompson earned an assistant professorship and choral director position at Wellesley College before receiving a doctorate from Eastman School of Music. Continuing his illustrious tour through the nation's top institutions, he taught at University of California-Berkeley and Princeton University. Thompson became director of the Curtis Institute of Music and was later brought in as the head of the music division at the University of Virginia. Finally, he returned to Harvard to teach. At both Harvard and Curtis, Thompson taught a young Leonard Bernstein alongside a number of other budding composers and performers. Throughout his career, Thompson earned numerous awards and honorary doctorates from colleges around the United States. Thompson's composition style is conservative and neoclassical while also displaying a heightened sense of form and counterpoint. His works were often grounded in the more traditional styles of previous generations while still maintaining a 20th-century influence. His music inspires themes we associate with the 'American genre,' and several of his works are directly related both thematically and textually to American culture. Alleluia, arguably Thompson's most famous composition, was commissioned by the great Serge Koussevitzky in 1940 to celebrate the opening of the Berkshire Music Center. Initially, Koussevitzky wanted Thompson to compose a fanfare for the occasion, but Thompson insisted he could not due to World War II and the Fall of France. Using only two words of text and seventy-eight measures, Thompson created one of the most treasured pieces in the a cappella choral canon.
The Second New England School of American composers of the late 19th-century, more fashionably known as the Boston Six, included Horatio Parker, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, and George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931). Chadwick, born in Lowell, MA, dropped out of high school in 1871 to work for his father's insurance business. He used most of the money earned to travel to Boston and other cities to attend concerts and other cultural events rooted in the arts. Chadwick studied at the New England Conservatory as a "special student," which basically gave him the right to study without satisfying the entrance or degree requirements. After traveling to Germany where he studied with Josef Rheinberger at the Hochschule fur Musik in Munich, Chadwick returned to Boston to settle and teach privately. During this time, his works were frequently performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Harvard Musical Association. Chadwick's prominent commissions included an ode for the opening ceremonies of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and his awards include a prize for his third symphony by the National Conservatory of Music under the directorship of Antonin Dvorák. Chadwick returned to New England Conservatory as a teacher in 1882 and was promoted to Director of the Conservatory in 1897, which he held until 1930. He was responsible for moving New England Conservatory to its present location on Huntington Avenue where Jordan Hall was built just a few years later. Chadwick transformed NEC's curriculum to model it on the conservatories in Europe. This included an opera workshop, a student repertory orchestra, and courses in orchestration and harmony based on the actual music rather than the principles of composition. Chadwick composed Phoenix Expirans using a text from William Alard's 1849 publication Sacred Latin Poetry in 1891 during his time at NEC. The piece was premiered in 1892 in Springfield, MA at the Music Festival of the Hampden County Musical Association. Phoenix Expirans exists only in its original manuscript and is rarely performed or recorded, despite its appeal and accessibility. Chadwick clearly towed the line between the Romantic and the 20th-century, relying on influence from both eras to produce Phoenix Expirans.