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Roaring 20's

In the 1920s, concert halls rocked with everything from jazz to airplane propellers and radio became a multi-billion dollar industry. Art and literature flowed like bathtub gin.  This week, we’ll sample “The Roaring 20s” in New York, Paris and Berlin.

Program 1

New York City and Paris were the hip cities in the 1920s, and this program explores music from New York in that era.

In 1926, John Alden Carter wrote his ballet Skyscrapers which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera.

Next, we hear The Black Maskers Suite by Roger Sessions. Sessions wrote The Black Maskers Suite for a class play at Smith College in 1923.

Edgar Varese, wrote the next piece Octandre. We listen to a performance from 1924. Frank Zappa was a big Varese enthusiast.

Many composers of that era were fascinated by technology and machines, and the 1920s marked the development of the radio. In 1920, there were no commercial radio stations, and by 1922, 2.5 million Americans owned a radio.

One of the most machine-minded composers was George Antheil, born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1900. Antheil spent time composing in France before returning to America for a concert of his pieces at Carnegie Hall. Performed in this program are Airplane Sonata and Jazz Symphony.

George Gershwin also performed at Carnegie Hall, first with Rhapsody in Blue, and then with the piece heard here, Concerto in F. This piece was composed for the New York Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 1925.

The program closes with a perfomance of Duke Ellington's Creole Love Call. The Duke Ellington Orchestra began performing at The Cotton Club in 1927.

Carpenter: Skyscrapers (excerpts)
EMI 49263
2:30, 4:31

Sessions: Dance, Dirge & Finale fr. Black Maskers
Juilliard Orchestra/ Zukofsky
New World 368

Varese: Octandre
Chicago Pro Musica
Reference Records #29
Antheil: Airplane Sonata
Verbit, p.
Albany Records #146
Antheil: Jazz Symphony (excerpt)
New World Symphony/ Tilson Thomas
RCA 68798
Purchase Similar
Gershwin: Concerto in F (excerpt)
San Francisco Symphony/ Tilson Thomas; Ohlsson, p.
RCA 68931
Ellington: Creole Love Call (excerpt)
The Duke Ellington Orchestra
Sony 065841

Program 2

There was a 1920s trend for American composers to go to Paris to study, and many worked with the famous French composer Nadia Boulanger. Three of her pupils, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland are featured in this program.

Piston taught himself the saxophone while he was in the navy, and then applied to Harvard's school of music. From there he went to Paris to study with Boulanger. The work heard here is Three Pieces for Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon. It was written in Paris in 1925 and first heard in New York in 1928 at a Copland-Sessions Concert.

Next, we hear Copland's Music for the Theater. The piece was written in 1925 and is lyrical and jazzy, and also more accessible than some of his earlier writing.

Thomson, the last of Boulanger's pupils featured in this program, is also a great music critic. The piece heard here is a setting of texts by Gertrude Stein, one of Thomson's close friends. The featured movements are Susie Asado and Capital Capitals. Thomson's music is intentionally simple.

Next, we meet a composer who uses simplicity from a different aesthetic standpoint, Henry Cowell. Cowell was a concert pianist and is famous for using tone clusters. We hear Aeolian Heart where the pianist holds down the keys with the left hand and strums the piano strings with the right.

William Grant Still was one of the first African American composers to receive recognition in the 1920s. Still was born in 1895 in Mississippi and lived until 1978. Featured here is piece for piano. The larger suite is called Africa and the featured movement is Land of Romance.

The next piece is by Carl Ruggles of New England and was inspired by William Blake. It is called Men and Mountains. The program ends with Jerome Kern's Ol' Man River.

Piston: Three Pieces for Flute, Clarinet & Bassoon, I & II
Members of the Bohem Quintette
Premier 1006
Purchase Similar

Copland: Music for the Theatre (excerpts)
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra/ Wolff
Teld 2292-46314 v b
Purchase Similar

Thomson: “Susie Asado”
Armstrong, s.;
Northeastern 250
Purchase Similar

Thomson: “Capital Capitals”
Kirby, Kelley, Sylvan, & Ripley, soloists
Northeastern 250
Purchase Similar

Cowell: Aeolian Harp
Feinberg, p.
Argo 436752

Still: Land of Romance from Africa
Oldham, p.
Koch 7084

Ruggles: Men and Mountains, III
Cleveland Orchestra/ von Dohnanyi
Decca 443776    

Kern: “Ol’ Man River” fr. Showboat    
Robeson, bar.
Regis 1056

Program 3

This program focuses on Paris in the 1920s. For the first time in history, it was inexpensive for Americans to travel there, partially because the dollar was worth much more than the franc. American jazz was very popular in Paris, and the first Frenchman to bring jazz back to Paris was Darius Milhaud. He traveled to Harlem in 1921 and returned to France in 1923. That year he wrote his ballet La Creation du Monde.

The first dadaist composer was Erik Satie. His ballet Parade uses a typewriter, siren and a revolver, in addition to an orchestra. The writing was done Jean Cocteau. Satie became the "patron saint" of six composers known simply as Les Six. More on this group tomorrow.

Maurice Ravel, who lived until 1937, was another famous French composer of the era. Here is his Piano Concerto in G Major which was written in 1929. Though Ravel was a big fan of American jazz, there is little jazz influence on the movement performed here. The piece is dedicated to French pianist Marguerite Long.

Also written in 1929 is Jacques Ibert's Divertissement, which is actually incidental music for a play called The Italian Straw Hat.

Milhaud: La Création du Monde
Lyon Opera Orchestra/ Nagano
Era 2292-45820

Satie: Parade
Polygram 434335

Ravel: Concerto for Piano in G Major, II
Orchestre de Paris/ Martinon; Ciccolini, p.
EMI 69568

Ibert: Divertissement (excerpts)
Ulster Orchestra/ Tortelier
Chandos 9023
Ravel: Violin Sonata (excerpt)
Oistrahk, v.; Frida Bauer, p.
Phillips 420777-2


Program 4

Despite actually being Russian, Igor Stravinsky was one of the most famous composers in Paris in the 1920s. His music combined the antiquity of Haydn and Bach with his 20th century sensibilites creating a neo-classicism. Stravinsky's piece Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra was written to be performed by himself.

Another Russian composer working in Paris at the time was Serge Prokofiev. His Piano Concerto No. 3 was completed in Paris in 1921.

Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was also living and composing there. At the time, he was performing a lot with violinist Jelly d'Aranyi. He wrote two sonatas for her in the 1920s. Performed in this show is Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2.

A native of France and the only female member of Les Six was Germaine Tailleferre. She was born in 1892 and lived to the age of 91, composing almost up to the very end. Here is her Ballade for Piano and Orchestra.

Francis Poulenc, another member of Les Six and a favorite of Bill's, wrote his ballet Les Biches in 1929.

Stravinsky: Capriccio for Piano & Orchestra, I
Berlin RSO/ Ashkenazy; Mustonen, p.
Lon 440229

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3, I
Berlin Phil/ Abbado; Argerich, p. 
DG 415062

Bartók: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2, I
Kremer, v.; Maisenberg,  p.
Teld 0630-13597

Tailleferre: Ballade for Piano & Orchestra
Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg/ Froment; Marciano, p.
Vox 8157
Poulenc: Les Biches,  II & V
French National Orchestra/Dutoit
Lon 440229


Program 5

Berlin, "a troubled an interesting city," was also the home to many great composers in the 1920s. Eventaully, all of the composers featured in today's show relocated to the U.S.

The first of these was Paul Hindemith who served in the German army during World War One. Here is his 1921 piece, Kammermusik No. 1, which literally means chamber music.

Throughout this tumultuous time, many Germans longed for peace and structure, and that is evident in some of the music. Violinst and composer Fritz Kreisler, originally from Vienna, showcased this feeling in his piece String Quartet in a minor.

Another composer who relocated from Vienna to Berlin was Arnold Schoenberg, the developer of twelve-tone tonality. Schoenberg arrived in Berlin in 1925 during the period when expressive German cinema was flourishing. This program features a piece he wrote for an imaginary cinama.

Alban Berg was a student of Schoenberg's. Featured is a scene from his opera Wozzeck, first heard in Berlin in 1825.

Finally, we hear from Kurt Weill who worked with the German playwright Bertolt Brecht on his most popular work, the Three Penny Opera. 

Hindemith: Kammermusik No. 1
Royal Concertgebouw/ Chailly
Lon 433816


Kreisler: String Quartet in a minor, I
Kennedy, v., Furniss, v., Hawkes, vla., Dale, vc.
Angel 56626  
Schoenberg: Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene (excerpt)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/ Holliger   
Teld 9031-77314
Berg: Wozzeck: Act III, Scene 1
Met Opera Orchestra/ Levine; Fleming, s.
Sony 53959
Weill: Three Penny Opera (excerpts)
Chicago Pro Musica
Ref 2102
Weill/ Gershwin: “My Ship” from Lady in the Dark
Upshaw, s.
Nonesuch 79345



The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
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