Friday, November 27, 2009

Sunday Classics preview: American treasures, Copland-style


Thanks to skillful organ registration (and of course skillful playing), this 1995 rendition of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man on the organ of Washington National Cathedral by the cathedral's organist and choirmaster from 1985 to 2002, Douglas Major, works surprisingly well, doesn't it?

by Ken

The Fanfare for the Common Man originated as one of 18 fanfares premiered at the start of concerts in the 1942-43 season by the Cincinnati Symphony's music director, Eugene Goossens, who had similarly commissioned fanfares for concerts during World War I. Goossens commented of Copland's effort, "Its title is as original as its music." The composer subsequently recycled it as the opening of the fourth movement of his Third Symphony.

Since its creation, the Fanfare has tended to take on a more upbeat character, and tonight it herald's a Sunday post of some just-for-fun American treasures, including more Copland.

Here, by the way, is how the Fanfare sounds in more conventional orchestral form, conducted by the composer:

COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man

London Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded October 1968

[The Copland-conducted Fanfare for the Common Man seems to have been issued in at least 50 couplings. I don't think you can do better, though, than the remarkably inexpensive two-CD Copland Celebration, Vol. 1, "Famous Orchestral and Chamber Works," including such Copland classics as the Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo," the Billy the Kid suite, El Salón México, the Danzón Cubano, and the original chamber version of the "Ballet for Martha [Graham]," Appalachian Spring (with the bonus of 17 minutes' worth of rehearsal with the all-star "Columbia Chamber Ensemble" assembled for this historic 1973 recording).]


from Jet magazine, Nov. 29, 1951

In 1950, inspired by his friends the English singer/composer-pianist tandem of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, who frequently performed traditional English songs in Britten's arrangements, Copland arranged a set of five Old American Songs for voice and piano, which he recorded the following year with bass-baritone William Warfield (1920-2002). In 1952 he arranged a second set of five songs, and he and Warfield recorded them the following year. Copland subsequently orchestrated both sets, and in 1962 he and Warfield made a simply gorgeous stereo recording, which still hasn't been bettered. (Did Pears and Britten ever perform these songs? I don't know.)

We're going to hear "I Bought Me a Cat" from Set 1 and "At the River" from Set 2, in both versions -- with Warfield sounding that decade (more or less) younger and fresher in the piano-accompanied ones.

COPLAND (arr.): Old American Songs

Set 1, No. 5: "I Bought Me a Cat"

William Warfield, bass-baritone; Aaron Copland, piano. Columbia/Sony, recorded Aug. 16, 1951

William Warfield, bass-baritone; Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded May 3-4, 1962

Set 2, No. 4, "At the River"

William Warfield, bass-baritone; Aaron Copland, piano. Columbia/Sony, recorded Aug. 18, 1953

William Warfield, bass-baritone; Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded May 3-4, 1962

[The piano-accompanied version of the Old American Songs is included in Vol. 2of the Sony Copland Celebration, and the orchestral version in Vol. 3.]




At 10:44 PM, Blogger Dr. Tex Nology said...

I was just talking to my kids about how one of the most interesting and fantastic things about music, compared to other artforms, is that there is no "definitive" canvas. A composition can be like a road map that evolves over time ... and an orchestra can get from the beginning to the end in many different and equally interesting ways.
I love Copland and I loved hearing the variation in these clips.
Thanks for posting.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Daro said...

Organ restoration... he said organ restoration hehehe.. ahehe.. he...

At 12:14 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Actually, Daro, it was "organ registration." Organs do often require "restoration," and you hope that that too is skillfully done, but this was skillful organ registration.

Thanks for the observations, Dr. Tex. I can't tell you how much I disbelieve in the idea of "definitive" performances, which is why I've been trying to include multiple performances, with the idea that beyond being "better" or "worse" (although of course some are), they may simply be different, and tell us more about the possibilities built into the music.

Maybe one of these days we'll revisit the Old American Songs in an assortment of performances. (You'll notice that I discreetly bypassed the most famous of them, "Simple Gifts.") The difficulty is that I don't know that many good recordings. A lot of singers like to get either cute or folksy with this material, or condescend to it. I think that perhaps is why both sets of Warfield recordings hold up so well; he sings "up," not down, to the material, really giving it everything he's got.

By the way, if anybody knows of a recording of the Old American Songs by the bass-baritone Donald Gramm, I'd love to know about it. As far as I know, he never recorded them commercially, but he did sing them in recital, more beautifully than anyone I've heard.


At 4:30 AM, Blogger Daro said...

shot down again!

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

Thanks Keni, interesting.

Love Copland AND Warfield.


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