10-01: Buffalo Springfield Huntington Beach 1967 - John Blow Venus & Adonis Jacobs 1999 - Booker T & the MG's Greatist Hits 1970 - Roy Harris Symphony 3 : Koussevitsky 1939 | Hanson 1955 + Hanson Symphony 4

1602 – Hernando de Cabezón (Spanish organist & composer)
1609 – Giammatteo [Gian Matteo] Asola (Italian composer, priest & music director)
1708 – John Blow (English composer, organist & choirmaster
1770 – Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (French composer & violinist)
1876 – Henri Jérôme Bertini (English-born French composer & pianist)
1912 – Mary Frances Allitsen (English composer)
1920 – Vladimir Rebikov [Влади́мир Ре́биков] (Russian composer & pianist)
1927 – Wilhelm Harteveld (Swedish composer & musicologist)
1964 – Ernst Toch (Austrian concert & film composer & author, active in France, England & the United States)

1970 – Petar Konjović [Петар Коњовић] (Serbian composer & conductor)
1970 – Hans Poser (German composer, pianist & teacher)
1975 – Al Jackson, Jr. (American R&B & funk drummer, producer & songwriter, Booker T. & the MG's)
1979 – Roy Harris (American composer)
1994 – Scott Dunbar (American blues singer & guitarist)

1996 – Joonas Kokkonen (Finnish composer)
1998 – Pauline Julien (Canadian pop singer, songwriter, actress, feminist activist & Quebec sovereigntist)
1999 – Lena Zavaroni (Scottish singer, child star & television host)
2000 – Robert Allen (American pop pianist & songwriter)
2004 – Bruce Palmer (Canadian rock bass guitarist, Buffalo Springfield)
2007 – Ronnie Hazlehurst (English television theme-song composer & conductor)
2008 – Nick Reynolds (American folk singer, tenor guitarist, drummer & songwriter, The Kingston Trio)

Well... I was wondering if I would ever get through the month of September. But here we are, finally, at October... now that November is just around the corner! I wonder if any of you out there truly appreciate what a burden I've imposed on myself with this montrosity of a weblog. But, it's a labor of love... so I can't complain... (he says while complaining...)

There are two quite-obscure musicians by the name of Scott Dunbar. One of them, pictured below, is still alive. He's a 20-something (or perhaps 30-something - it's not so easy to tell with that layer of dirt covering him) busker from Canada, who lives and works on the streets of Montreal. Yes, a busker... a street musician.

He bills himself as a "one-man band," but he isn't quite the elaborately instrument-encumbered, perambulating specimen that term generally evokes.

However, he does sing and play some pretty mean accordion, guitar, broiler pan, and suitcase kick-drum.

The other Scott Dunbar was a fisherman, tour guide, and country blues singer and guitarist, who was born in Mississippi in 1904. That's him in the collage, between Roy Harris and Joonas Kokkonen. I just want to be sure you Quebecers out there realize that "one-man-band" Scott Dunbar is still alive and still out there, waiting for your loonies and toonies... so give generously... give 'til it hurts! So, maybe this guy can get a hot meal... and maybe even a bar of soap. Et tandis que j'ai l'attention de vous Québécoises, mes condoléances au sujet de Pauline Julien aussi bien.

There are just too many of these musicians to talk about today. Some fascinating Brits... John Blow, who wrote what's considered the first opera in English (although he called it a "masque"), Venus & Adonis... a fine 19th- and early 20th-century composer by the name of Mary Frances Allitsen... Scottish child star Lena Zavaroni, whose life was cut short by the terrible affliction of anorexia nervosa... and Ronnie Hazlehurst, who wrote the theme and incidental music for such television comedies as Are You Being Served?, The Last of the Summer Wine, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, To The Manor Born, and Yes Minister. I'd never seen a photo of Ronnie Hazlehurst before, and somehow he looks exactly like his music made me imagine he would.

I've already mentioned Joonas Kokkonen and Roy Harris. Kokkonen is certainly one of the very most important Finnish composers after Jean Sibelius. Interestingly enough, Sibelius is a meaningful point of departure for Harris, as well. This is because Harris's most famous work, his 3rd Symphony (1939), is in a single continuous multi-sectional movement, just as Sibelius's 7th and final symphony (1924) had been.

The 1st Symphony (1936) of another great American composer, Samuel Barber, had similarly taken the one-movement plan of the Sibelius 7th as its formal model. But with his 3rd, Harris hit upon something so potent and powerful, many people soon began referring to it as "The Great American Symphony" (just as the world of literature had its contenders for "The Great American Novel.")

Some explanation is in order. In the first two decades of the 20th century, American composers (with the exception of a few isolated geniuses, most notably Charles Ives) were still basically mimicking their European counterparts. Many of them were writing good, solid music, but most of it didn't sound particularly "American," and in fact most people weren't exactly sure what "sounding American" would or should mean. Then, after the Great War ended, things began to change. A new generation of American composers was coming of age, and its members would be the first to truly put homegrown American concert music on the map, to answer the question of what "American" sounded like, and to inform the world that America too had great, original composers who were the equal of the best that Europe had to offer.

Ironically, it was through studying in Europe that many of these young Americans began to make their mark. A major catalyst in the movement was Nadia Boulanger, who was appointed in 1921 to the faculty of the Conservatoire Américain, a summer school at Fontainebleau Palace in Paris. Beginning with Aaron Copland, a long string of American composers went to Paris to study counterpoint, harmony, and composition with Boulanger. The many other Americans who studied with Boulanger at Fontainebleu over the years included Walter Piston, Louise Talma, Quincy Jones, Donald Byrd, Joe Raposo, Ned Rorem, David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Elliott Carter, Donald Grantham, Virgil Thomson (whom we remembered only just yesterday), and yes, Roy Harris. Thomson once quipped that every town in America had a five-and-dime and a Boulanger pupil.

Under Boulanger, an emphasis was placed on the study of Renaissance and Baroque music, while at the same time the various rhythmic and harmonic innovations of Igor Stravinsky, in particular, were presented as examples of the best that new music had to offer. Boulanger also encouraged her American students to find inspiration in the emerging jazz and blues of their own country. Composers, above all, were encouraged to discover and explore their own personal artistic voice.

Where I'm headed with this is that the writing, in particular, of symphonies by American composers was a phenomenon peculiar to the 1930s and 40s, one that was associated largely with Boulanger's students, and their students. In the Europe of the time, the writing of symphonies had fallen somewhat out of fashion: Europeans had been writing symphonies for almost 200 years, and after the mammoth and definitive statements by Bruckner and Mahler, many composers considered it to be somewhat of a worn-out genre. But for Americans, it was on the contrary quite natural that through the writing of the symphony - which had been associated since at least as early as 1800 with the very most serious and weighty statements a composer could make using the orchestra as medium - that they would announce that they were here, and that they had finally come into their own on the world stage.

And so finally that brings us to Roy Harris's Symphony No. 3, composed in 1938 and '39. When it appeared, critics recognized it almost immediately as one of the definitive statements in the genre yet by an American, one that packed an extraordinary emotional punch and rigourous heft into its 20-minute duration. More than anything else, this was music that sounded quintessentially American... one could not possibly mistake it for the work of a composer from any other nation. Harris's very personal and frankly virile style (a style whose influence can be clearly heard in the music of his student, William Schuman) encapsulated perfectly the so-called "rugged individualism" of American life, and the hardship and wide-open spaces of the prairie. Moreover, it did so while avoiding almost all of the jejune jazziness and cornball cowboyisms to which Copland's music of this same period is sometimes prone. Instead, what one found were lushly textured harmonies, long, rough-hewn melodic lines, powerful orchestration, and an arresting sense of the dramatic.

And so, why the Sibelius 7th? Why did that particular work inspire not only the Harris 3rd, but the Barber 1st as well, during this period when American composers were asserting their relevance? Well, in the context of what I've already told you, that should be plain. With his 7th and last symphony, Sibelius officially brought the great Romantic symphonic tradition to a close - that symphony, really and truly, is where it ends. By taking it as their formal starting place, Barber and Harris were saying, "WE now claim this tradition. WE pick up where it left off. The European symphonic tradition - now a global symphonic tradition - continues."

Roy Harris's Symphony No. 3 is in five continuous sections, marked Tragic, Lyrical, Pastoral, Fugue - Dramatic, and Dramatic-Tragic. The symphony was premiered in 1939 by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who made its premier recording for Victor that same year.

1 comment:

  1. A little correction to your supplemental reading. The Hanson/Eastman-Rochester is actually in flac. Oh, and is it ever a fine performance! As far as the Harris goes, I'd say every bit the equal of the Koussevitzky... and obviously in much better (albeit also monaural) sound.