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American Masters, Part I

The first of several weeks exploring great but lesser-known American composers from the 20th century. This week focuses on Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, Paul Creston, Ruth Crawford, Henry Cowell, Roy Harris, Virgil Thompson and William Grant Still.

Program 1

Born in Nebraska, Swedish-American Howard Hanson studied at Northwestern University and spent three years in Rome studying with Respighi. Among the highlights of this program are his Symphony #1: Nordic which paid tribute to the homeland of his ancestors and influence of Sibelius, Symphony #2: Romantic, Merry Mount Suite and Symphony #7: A Sea Symphony (following the path of Benjamin Britten in setting the words of Walt Whitman to music). Hanson was the Dean of the Eastman School of Music for more than 40 years and his works influenced generations of American composers.

Hanson: Symphony #1 In E Minor, Nordic
   I. Andante Solenne, Allegro Con Forza

Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Hanson
Mercury 4756867

Hanson: Symphony #2, Op. 30, Romantic
   II. Andante Con Tenerezza,
   III. Allegro Con Brio 

Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Hanson
Mercury 432008
6:38, 7:17 (excerpt)

Hanson: Merry Mount Suite (excerpts)
Prelude To Act II and Maypole Dances

Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Hanson
Mercury 4756867

Hanson: Piano Concerto
   II. Allegro Molto Ritmico,
   III. Andante Molto Espressivo
   IV. Allegro Giocoso

Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Hanson
Alfred Moledous, piano
Mercury 4756867

Hanson: Symphony No. 7, A Sea Symphony
   I. Lo, The Unbounded Sea (Largamente) 

Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale/Schwarz
Delos 3705

Program 2

Long associated with Harvard University, where he influenced legions of American composers, Walter Piston was the grandson of a sailor from Genoa, Italy, served in the Navy during World War I, and studied with Dukas and Boulanger in Paris in the 1920s before embarking on a storied career as a composer and educator. This program features excerpts from Piston's 1st and 4th symphonies, Divertimento and the ballet suite The Incredible Flutist.

Piston: Symphony No. 1: (excerpts)
New York Chamber Symphony/Schwarz
Delos 3126
:22, 1:07, 6:17

Piston: Symphony No. 4, I & II
Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy
Albany 256

Piston: Psalm & Prayer Of David- "O Sing Unto The Lord A
New Song"

Seattle Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Schwarz
Delos 3126

Piston: Divertimento, I & III
New York Chamber Ensemble
Albany 175

Piston: The Incredible Flutist (Ballet Suite)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Schwarz; Goff, fl.
Delos 3126
17:47, :59

Program 3

This program focuses on a pair of New York-born, near contemporaries, Roger Sessions and Paul Creston, who had enormous influence in the mid-20th century.

Sessions taught an astonishing array of younger American composers including John Adams, Milton Babbitt, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Del Tredici and a host of others. Bill provides commentary on two key works by Sessions: the Suite from the Black Maskers (a play) and the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

Creston (originally born Giuseppe Guttoveggio to Sicilian parents) was a largely self-taught composer whose compositions explored here include a Tarantella dance, a symphony inspired by medieval mysteries, and the Hollywood Quartet performing a movement of Creston's String Quartet.

Sessions: Childhood Memories- March, Waltz For Brenda &

Arzruni, p.
New World Records 80590

Sessions: Suite From The Black Maskers- Dance & Scene
Julliard Orchestra/Zukovsky
New World Records 80368

Sessions: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, III & IV
Monadnock Festival Orchestra/Bolle; Ole Bohn, v.
Albany 938

Creston: Partita for Fl., Vln. & Strings, op.12- Tarantella
Seattle Symphony/Schwarz; Scott Goff, fl.; Ilkka Talvi, v.
Delos 3114

Creston: Symphony No.3, I (The Nativity)
Seattle Symphony /Schwarz
Delos 3114

Creston: Symphony No. 4, II
Albany Symphony Orchestra/Miller
Albany 737

Creston: String Quartet, Op. 8, II
The Hollywood String Quartet
Testament 1053

Paul Creston: Concerto #2 For Violin & Orchestra, Op. 78
IV. Presto
Albany Symphony Orchestra/Miller; Fulkerson, v.
Albany 737

Program 4

One of the first widely-known female American composers, Ruth Crawford collaborated with Carl Sandburg, was the first woman to win a Guggenheim and studied in Berlin - Ruth Crawford's harmonically challenging music is unlike anyone else's.

Born in northern California, Henry Cowell was a home-schooled musical genius who produced unique works such as his haunting "The Banshee" (for prepared piano) and his Suite for Violin and Piano.

Roy Harris was born in a log cabin on Abraham Lincoln's birthday in Nebraska and was very much a composer of the American west. Bill plays Harris' popular Symphony No. 3 performed by the New York Philharmonic and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  

Crawford: Diaphonic Suite #1 For Flute
Naxos 8.559197
Crawford: Music for Small Orchestra
Schoenberg Ensemble
Knussen DG 449925
Crawford: Andante for Strings
Schoenberg Ensemble
Knussen DG 449925
Crawford: Rissolty Rossolty
Schoenberg Ensemble
DG 449925
Cowell: The Banshee
Cowell, p.
Smithsonian Folkways 40801
Cowell: Suite for Violin and Piano
Gearhart, v.; Tardif, p.
Koch 7268
Harris: Symphony No. 3 (1938)
New York Philharmonic/
DG 419780
Harris: American Ballads
The Bird & Black is the Color
Johanna Harris, piano
CRI 818


Program 5

In the final hour of this week on American Masters who rose to prominence in the 1920s and 30s, Bill introduces Virgil Thomson and William Grant Still (with some detours into George Antheil's rollicking Jazz Symphony and Duke Ellington's "Black, Brown and Beige").

Thomson, from Kansas City, was one of the great writers on music in the 20th century and this program features his music for the film "The Plow that Broke the Plains," several of his "Portraits in Music" and "Pigeons on the Grass Alas" from his experimental opera "Four Saints in Three Acts" based on writings of Gertrude Stein as well as other short pieces.

Still was the first African-American composer to have his work performed by major U.S. orchestras. Bill introduces his "Frog Went A-Courtin'" and "Jesus is a Rock in the Weary Land," Suite for Violin ("Mother and Child") and Piano and excerpts from his "Three Visions."

Thomson: Northeastern Suite(excerpt)
Smith, fl.; Cohen, ob.; Haroutunian, bsn.; Tommasini, p.
Northeastern 240
Thomson: Suite fr.The Plow That Broke the Plains
LA Chamber Orchestra/Marriner
EMI 06612
George Antheil: A Jazz Symphony, I
Ensemble Modern/Gruber
RCA 68066
Thomson, arr. Dushkin: Portraits for Piano, 1940
(excerpt)II. Tango Lullaby
Quint, v.; Wolfram, p.
Naxos 8.559364
Thomson: Portraits for Violin Solo (excerpt)
IV. Miss Gertrude Stein as a Young Lady
Quint, v.
Naxos 8.559364
Thomson: “Pigeons on the Grass Alas”
Sylvan, bar.; Tommasini, p.
Northeastern 240
Fine: “The Frog and the Snake”
Miller, ms.; Biltcliffe, p.
Vox 5129
Still: Frog Went A-Courtin’ & Jesus is a Rock in the Weary Land fr. Miniatures for Flute, Oboe & Piano
Shanley, fl.; Davis, p.; Christ, ob.
Crystal 321
Still: Suite for Violin and Piano
II. Mother and Child
Gearhart, v.; Tardif, p.
Koch 7268
Still: Three Visions
I. Dark Horseman
Hinderas, p.
CRI 629
Still: Three Visions
II. Summerland Hall
Thompkins, v.; Ketter, p.
MSR 1278
Duke Ellington: Come Sunday fr. Black, Brown and Beige
Duke Ellington Orchestra; Nance, v.
Sony 89281



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