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An American Anthem

Ludwig van Beethoven (b. Bonn, Germany December 16, 1770; d. Vienna, Austria March 26, 1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F Major ('Pastoral'), Opus 68—1808

    For concentrated genius, few single events in music can match the benefit concert held in Vienna's Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808.   On that one evening, listeners heard the premieres of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 6, Choral Fantasy, Fourth Piano Concerto, and a host of other works.   The audience members needed all their enthusiasm; contemporary weather reports mention the bitterly cold winter, and on December 22 the Theater's heating system was broken. Nevertheless, the concert went on, and entered history.

     Beethoven himself designated his sixth symphony "Pastoral" and unusually for him, added descriptive titles for each movement that carry out the theme. He once observed, "No one can love the countryside as much as I do." Contemporaries describe him taking country walks in all weathers, armed with a notebook to capture his musical inspirations.  Many of his summers were spent in villages or spa towns around Vienna, where he could stride directly into the countryside for long, contemplative rambles.  He was a great admirer of a book by the Protestant pastor Christian Sturm called Reflections on the Works of God in the Realm of Nature, which described the wonders of nature as direct evidence of the hand of their Creator.  

    Beethoven's intentions for his symphony, however, were much broader than creating musical pictures of nature.  Writing in the manuscript of Symphony No. 6, he warned: "All tone painting loses its value if pushed too far in instrumental music," and stressed that the work is "more an expression of feeling than painting."  A great deal of the fascination of the Sixth Symphony lies in its balance between scene painting, emotional expression, and innovation in symphonic form.

    What we know as Symphonies No 5 and 6 were performed on this concert with their numbering reversed. In fact, the first movement of Symphony No. 6 was begun before its counterpart. Yet the "Pastoral" Symphony occupies a sound-world very different from that of its chronological partner, and particularly in their first movements, the two works are in almost direct opposition.  Where the Fifth is intense and driving, filled with angst and raw emotional vigor, the Sixth begins in a mood both expansive and relaxed.  'Pleasant, cheerful feelings awakened on arrival in the countryside' – the first movement's subtitle -- are suggested by simple, sustained harmonies, much like the drone of a bagpipe, that lull us into a sense of peace, while above them we hear nature's variety in the repetition of brief melodic and rhythmic figures.   

    The first two movements are scored for an unusually small orchestra, just double woodwinds, two horns and strings.  The second movement includes a murmuring brook motive in the muted strings with two eloquent solo cellos, and is highlighted by a famous woodwind cadenza toward the end of the movement, representing three birds, the nightingale, quail and cuckoo.  The movement's unpredictable chord changes suggest a country walk through shifting scenery.

    Most unconventionally. the "Pastoral" contains five rather than the usual four movements.  Its final three movements are linked, with the "extra" (fourth) movement acting as an extended transition between the third and the fifth.  Played without pause, these three movements are given added excitement by the gradual addition of two trumpets, piccolo, two trombones and timpani, from the trio of the scherzo onwards to the symphony's conclusion.  The entire work seems to push towards the finale, which ultimately arrives as a point of resolution or climax.

    The first section of the third movement scherzo, subtitled "Merry gathering of country folk," is built on a happy imitation of a village band. The oboist is given the leading theme, but sounds comically unsure where the downbeat is.  The bassoonist manages only three descending notes, as if in long-suffering response to the oboe's relentlessly peppy, metrically challenged dance.  The contrasting trio section is a rough folk-like dance that appeared in Beethoven's sketchbooks as early as 1803-04.  The scherzo and trio are repeated, until the revels are rudely interrupted by the fourth movement's thunder clouds.  The fifth movement follows seamlessly; and a section that resembles a Protestant chorale brings us to one of the gentlest endings in symphonic history.  Clarinet and horn begin a ranz des vaches, or cow-call that leads into a series of increasingly complex variations.  The muted horn repeats the call one last time in its simplest form; and the Symphony ends.  

    While the "Pastoral" may express Beethoven's love of the countryside, it also unmistakably aligns him with Goethe and the early Romantics who responded to the French Enlightenment call for a retour ŕ la nature.  Symphony No. 6 is a beautifully gauged mix of the explicit and the suggestive, all of which make sense simply as glorious music, so that we never need a key to understand what is going on. As Beethoven wrote: "Even without description one will recognize the whole….anyone who has ever had an idea of country life can imagine for himself what the author intends."  Listening, we can easily imagine the shivering Viennese audience transported from a freezing theater on a December evening into a springtime countryside infused with a new and quite magical radiance.
                                                                    Program Note by Dr. Beth Fleming 

David Amram (b. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November, 1930)
Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie  2007

This Land Is Your Land has emerged for many as an alternative national anthem  -- an 'American Anthem.'  Writing in the heart of a devastating depression, living among those hardest hit by its wreckage, Woody Guthrie created a song that is both hopeful and honest.  His lyrics speak to the Everyman who loves this land while seeing it as it really is.  Both radical and patriotic, Woody Guthrie sought to empower all Americans

This Land is Your Land  by Woody Guthrie
(
chorus) This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island,
From the redwood forest to the gulf stream water,
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway,
I saw below me that golden valley, I said
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
O'er the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,
While all around me a voice was sounding, saying
This land was made for you and me

Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was posted, said "Private Property"
But on the back side, it didn't say nothing --
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun was shining, then I was strolling
In the wheat fields waving, and the dust cloud rolling
The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I saw my people --
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering
if this land was made for you and me?

Composer's Notes at the premiere:
    It was forty-nine years ago, on a cloudy afternoon in 1956 on the Lower East Side of New York,  that I first met Woody Guthrie. Ahmed Bashir, a friend of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and Charles Mingus (with whom I was playing at that time), took me over to meet Woody at his friend's apartment a few blocks from mine.

     Woody was lean, wiry, and brilliant, with a farmerly way that reminded me of the neighbors I grew up with on our farm in Feasterville, Pennsylvania during the late 1930s. In the late afternoons after long hours of work, they would often congregate to chew the fat in the side room of Wally Freed's gas station, across the street from our farm.   I used to get fifty cents to mow Wally Freed's lawn and when I was done I would stay around the gas station eavesdropping on all the conversations of the local farmers and out-of-work men who would commune at Wally's for their late afternoon bull sessions after their chores were done.

     They always told it like it was, without wasting a word or a gesture, leaving space for you to think about what they were saying, and in spite of the grinding, seemingly endless horrors of the Great Depression, they had better jokes and stories than most professional comedians or politicians. Woody had this same quality, and I felt at home with him the minute we met.

     Woody, Ahmed Bashir, and I sat swapping tales and drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table from noon until it was dark outside. Ahmed and I spent most of the time listening to Woody's long descriptions of his experiences, only sharing ours when he would ask, "What do you fellas think about that?" The rest of the time, we sat transfixed as he took us on his journeys with him through his stories. Woody didn't need a guitar to put you under his spell, and when he was talking to us, you could tell that it wasn't an act or a routine. Like his songs and books and artwork, everything came from the heart.

     Looking back at these memorable first few hours with Woody, I still remember the excitement in his voice, as he told Ahmed and me his incredible stories of his youth and subsequent travels. It was as if he himself were rediscovering all the events and sharing them for the first time. Both Ahmed and I marveled at the encyclopedic knowledge of music, literature, painting, and politics that he wove into his narratives, all delivered in a poetic country boy style that was all his own.

     During these descriptions of his travels and adventures around the country, he often included references to events of his early boyhood days in Okemah. Ever since that day we met, I hoped that someday I would get the chance to go to Okemah, but with my crazy schedule I never went. Shortly after Nora Guthrie asked me to compose this piece to honor Woody's classic song, I was invited to perform at WoodyFest, the annual summer festival in Okemah. I have now been there for the past three summers.

    In his hometown, I was able to meet his sister Mary Jo, her late husband, and Woody's remaining old friends from long ago who were still living there. And by playing music and spending time with people who were also natives of Okemah, I felt that I was able to understand Woody and his work in a deeper way.  I was now able to make a connection to the years following that first meeting with Woody half a century ago, during which I have played countless times with his old friend Pete Seeger and his protege Ramblin' Jack Elliot, spent time with Woody's late wife, Marjorie, and performed numerous concerts with his son, Arlo.

    All this helped me when I was writing Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie.

    In the opening Theme and Fanfare for the Road, the percussion introduces the actual theme played by the marimba, followed by a fanfare expressing Woody's desire to go out on that open road.

    Variation l: Oklahoma Stomp Dance is my own melody, depicting Woody attending a nearby Pow Wow on a Saturday night through dawn of Sunday morning, where he hears an Oklahoma Stomp Dance of the Western Cherokee. During the dance, slightly altered versions of the Theme appear, as they do in almost every other variation.   The variation ends quietly, joined by fragments of the initial fanfare, blending with the Stomp Dance.

    Variation ll: Sunday Morning Church Service in Okemah is a musical portrait of bygone times. The oboe, clarinet and harp introduce a mournful melody, restated by the strings, and the theme is heard, as Woody heard it in church played on the organ, but with extended harmonies. The theme is later stated by the English horn and harp;  traces of the fanfare are woven in with the first melody and distant church chimes are heard as the variation ends.

    Variation lll: Prelude and Pampa Texas Barn Dance is the beginning of Woody's journeys from Oklahoma through America. The solo violin introduction to the dance is followed by the double reeds, indicated in the score to sound like Celtic Uilleann Pipes. A lively original melody, composed in the style of Irish folkloric music, is later joined by the trombones and tuba, playing   the theme   as  cantus firmus, in an extended version beneath the dance melody itself.

    Variation IV: Sonando con Mexico (Dreaming of Mexico) is a musical portrait of the Mexican workers with whom Woody spent time, and about whom he wrote some of his most memorable songs.  The opening trumpet call, marked in the score to be played cuivre ed eroico, al torero (brassy and heroic, like a bullfight ceremony) is followed by a nostalgic melody in the strings, suggesting the workers dreaming of their home and families south of the border. The melody is developed and leads to a tuba solo, reminiscent of the Mexican polkas played by folk ensembles throughout the West. The principal song-melody returns, with the theme reappearing in the horns, weaving through the Mexican song as an obbligato, suggesting that Woody could not get this melody and the idea for the song out of his mind.

    Variation V: Dust Bowl Dirge, for strings alone, honors the brave people who survived the national nightmare of losing everything during this ecological catastrophe and still found a way to survive. One of Woody's greatest songs, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh," was reportedly written as a farewell note during one of the terrible storms when it was feared that everyone present with him would suffocate. This minor variation of the theme is played by the violas and then restated by the whole string family.

    Variation VI: Street Sounds of New York's Neighborhoods is a compilation of many kinds of music that Woody loved to hear when walking through the neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn, during an era when music was played everywhere out of doors during the warm season. We hear the lively sounds of a Caribbean Street Festival, with the rhythms of the West Indies, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and the theme appears in counterpoint in the middle of the march. This is followed by a klezmer wedding celebration and the festive sounds of a Middle Eastern bazaar, where again the theme is used with the exotic sounds of Greek, Turkish and Armenian music superimposed over it. The brass family then plays a hymn-like version of the theme (again using harmonies far from the three chords of the original song),  evoking a Salvation Army band, which was a fixture on many corners of New York City's neighborhoods during the late 1940s.

    The same harmonies are used for a short section entitled Block Party Jam, a frequent occurrence to welcome returning veterans of World War Two back to their neighborhoods, where jazz bands played celebratory as well as innovative music.

    Finally the theme returns in a stately fashion, with the original fanfare of the road playing in counterpoint, followed by a rousing conclusion restating the opening of the piece and a triumphant ending.

    Just as in the case of Beethoven's' Symphony No. 6 in F major Pastoral, where he titles each movement with a brief description, these program notes for Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie serve as a guide to the listener but are not essential to enjoying the piece.  Woody's biography simply served as a point of departure for writing the best piece that I could.  I thank Woody Guthrie for sharing his gifts with the world, and hope that this piece can honor his spirit of bringing people together to share our blessings with one another.

The dedication in the score reads as follows:
Dedicated to Nora, Arlo, Joady and all the members of the Guthrie Family, whose devotion to Woody's legacy enables all of us to feel welcome in those pastures of plenty which he sang to us about.
This piece is a thank you note to him for all the joy his spirit still gives to people all over the world.
He showed us the beauty part of this land and all the people who live here, and taught us to honor and respect one another.

The composition was commissioned by Woody Guthrie Publications and received its World Premiere September 29th, 2007, performed by the Symphony Silicon Valley in San Jose California, conducted by Paul Polivnick.

Leos Janácek (b. Hukvaldy, Moravia Czechoslovakia July 3, 1854 d. Moravská Ostrava Czechoslovakia August 12, 1928)
Sinfonietta for Orchestra, JW 6/18—1926

    Patriotism, the excitement of watching a crack military band in action, and deeply felt nationalistic sentiments all inspired Leos Janácek's most successful and popular orchestral piece.  Written just two years before his death, Sinfonietta is a significant example of the composer's mature style.

    All of Janácek's completed mature works were the result of some powerful emotional stimulus.  He had written sonatas, string quartets and other large-scale works for smaller ensembles from his youth on, along with extraordinary orchestral music for operas; and when he was nearly seventy, he began work on a symphony.  It progressed slowly, however, and was still in the sketch stage when he died five years later.  Asked for a piece to celebrate the festival of the Czech Sokol movement, in contrast, he found himself inspired.  Within a few weeks, Janácek had created a five-movement work that, from its first performance on June 26, 1926, became an immediate success.

    Sokol was a gymnastics organization closely associated with Czech nationalism, which was a powerful force in a country founded only eight years before, following the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Janacek's patriotism was roused not only by the festival, but also by the prospect of the Republic's tenth anniversary in 1928. He wrote that his intention in Sinfonietta was "to sing of the Czech people in their spiritual beauty, joy and strength;" and he subtitled each movement after a distinctively Czech locale.

    Just prior to the request for this work, Janácek had listened to a performance by a full-dress military band, and had begun to experiment with military-style fanfares.  He drew on these to open the his new composition, whose early title was, in fact, "Military Sinfonietta." The irresistible urgency of its first movement is based in its stirring fanfare motives for combined brass.  These provide material for each subsequent movement, which show a wealth of invention astonishing in a 72-yer-old composer; and they return at the conclusion of the fifth movement to give a satisfying sense of coming full-circle. 

    Janacek aptly called the first movement "Fanfares," while the second was labeled "The Castle," in reference to a notorious Hapsburg prison.  In it, we hear a festive dance-like motive that represents courtly life in the castle, while a darker underlying theme suggests the unhappy prisoners waiting to create some kind of mournful havoc amid the gaiety. The third movement was subtitled "The Queen's Monastery," after an Augustinian monastery where Janácek had studied as a very young choral scholar. Janácek wrote that this time in his life was solitary and unhappy, a memory captured in the movement's poignant theme. Toward the end of the movement the mood changes, as the composer seems to wrest himself free from his isolation.  The fourth movement, subtitled "The Street," includes instrumental dialogues reminiscent of the overlapping calls of the street vendors on a busy market day; some hear in it a celebration of Czechoslovakia's liberation.  Movement five repeats the triumphant motives from the "Fanfares," but with its own subtitle: "The Town Hall." 

    The title Sinfonietta, a diminutive form of the word symphony, is appropriate for this appealing work.  Its movements are not long or complex enough for a full-scale symphony. Instead each is a quirkily scored segment with its own highly individual and engaging character, effectively communicating Janácek's enthusiasm for life and for his country.
                                                                        Program Note by Dr. Beth Fleming

 

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