GOULD: Fanfare for Freedom (1942). Saint Lawrence Suite (1958). Jericho
Rhapsody (1941). Derivations for Clarinet and Band (1955).
Symphony No. 4 "West Point"(1952).
Stephanie Zelnick (clarinet); University of Kansas Wind Ensemble/Scott
Naxos 8.57269 TT: 62:00.
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At least two classics. Morton Gould wrote a lot of music for band and
wind ensemble, mostly because patrons commissioned him, but sometimes
personal desire. At least one of his children played in the Florida State
University marching band. His work in this area spans a wide range, both
in ambition and in style, and a lot of it has entered the American band
repertory. This disc represents only a small proportion of his output
in the genre, and two items on the program -- Jericho Rhapsody and
Lawrence Suite -- were previously unknown to me.
Gould was one of the most prodigious musicians since Mozart. He published
his first piece of music at the age of six. By his mid-teens (it was
the Depression), he found a lucrative career as a musical director at
City Music Hall in New York and as a composer, arranger, and conductor
on the radio. The pressures of radio increased his natural facility.
He wrote some of his most popular works in a single night, directly into
score. People have stuck him with the label of "light composer," but
he could do many other things. He wrote for Toscanini, Balanchine, Robbins,
and DeMille. He early on beat the drum for Charles Ives and, to some extent,
absorbed the older man's influence. He was Leonard Bernstein before Bernstein
was out of high school. Incidentally, the two feuded from the Forties on,
and Bernstein effectively kept Gould's music out of the main venues in
New York. Gould usually recorded his concert works in Chicago. Despite
the fact that through his popular work (he helped developed the instrumental "concept" LP)
he earned an income most other composers could only sigh over, he had the
respect and friendship of a good many of his peers. He currently awaits
major critical reassessment.
During World War II, conductor and composer Eugene Goossens commissioned
major American composers for fanfares. Most of these have been totally
forgotten, although one -- Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common
Man -- is one of that man's biggest hits. Jorge Mester recorded the complete
on Koch once upon a time (deleted, but still available through Amazon).
Almost every fanfare was dedicated either to an ally (Virgil Thomson's
Fanfare for France) or to some branch of the service (Hanson's Fanfare
for the Signal Corps). Copland and Gould were the only two who chose
to celebrate the values we fought for. The Copland, of course, has long
a deserved classic. It re-imagines the fanfare in a way that fits brass
and percussion like a Saville-Row suit. The Gould doesn't soar quite
so high. Instead, it steps quick and lively, putting out brilliant variations
on simple triads (do - mi - sol; C-E-G, for example). Harmonically, one
hears some Prokofieff side-slipping, but the rhythm is pure American.
Gould wrote the Saint Lawrence Suite on commission from the U.S.-Canadian
regional power authorities near Niagara Falls (the work premiered on
the Canadian side). It features for half of its four movements two "dueling" solo
trumpets -- that is, placed antiphonally left and right of the orchestra,
which some have seen as the separation of the two countries calling to
one another. The last movement symbolically joins them. In the evocative
first, the trumpets trade phrases from either shore of the orchestra. In
the second, "Quickstep," they rattle off quasi-military fanfares.
Reeds come to the forefront in "Chansonette." The "Ceremonial
March" finale raises the marching band to a whole other level. It's
not a particularly profound work, but it's pretty as hell. "Prettiness" is
a strong part of Gould's music, which leads many to dismiss it, as if a
pretty girl can't also be smart or deep.
Jericho Rhapsody exemplifies Gould's fascination with jazz and spirituals.
He has written many pieces that take off from the music of African-Americans.
This one, essentially a program piece, portrays Joshua's victory at Jericho.
If you know other works by Gould inspired by these sources, you may recognize
little bits. Motives from the Spirituals for Orchestra, perhaps his greatest
work in this genre and written in the same year as the rhapsody, dominate
the opening sections. The piece overflows with amazing counterpoint and
brilliant orchestration and rhythms.
Gould wrote Derivations as a mini-concerto for Benny Goodman. Along with
Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, this concert gem comes closer
to the improvisatory spirit of jazz than any other I can think of. I
it a Perfect Piece: every note necessary and no note out of place. It's
also a lesson in spectacular counterpoint. Solo clarinet and a "ten-tet" of
instruments (various saxes, two trumpets, bass, piano, and two percussionists)
play mainly as soloists or in pairs. The sound is mostly sparse, which
emphasizes the counterpoint. The work consists of four movements: "Warm-up," "Contrapuntal
Blues," "Rag," and "Ride-Out." The composer provides
a note on the character of each movement, but this piece deserves a heavier
analysis, more than what I can do here. Throughout the entire work, players
just seem to blow whatever comes to mind, influenced by what they've already
heard. This reaches its peak in the slow and smoky "Contrapuntal Blues" --
more counterpoint than blues, although the lines are based on different
blues modes. "Ride-Out" evokes the "killer-diller" arrangement
(think the Goodman Orchestra's "Sing, Sing, Sing") and an evening
of inspired soloing. To me, one of the best works by an American, it makes
me think of Stravinsky with a jazz beat.
Impressed by William Revelli's University of Michigan band, Gould began
to think of a more sophisticated band music. He wrote two symphonies
for this type of ensemble (Scott Weiss's liner notes claim only one;
mentions two): the "West Point" and the "Centennial" (1983).
The work has two movements: "Epitaphs" and "Marches." For
its first two-thirds, "Epitaphs" moves like an Elizabethan fantasia,
although he does contrast two main ideas, as in a conventional symphony.
Nevertheless, lines weave in and out, and "Taps" seems never
very far away. The argument then moves to an unusually quick passacaglia,
with the tuba taking up the bass line. Gould kicks the counterpoint into
even higher gear and raises the level of pure animal spirit. Also in this
section, one of Gould's most controversial orchestral effects appears.
He specifies a "marching machine," usually rendered by the instrumentalists
stamping their feet while they play. I think it cheapens the music, turns
it laughable. He would have done far better with snare and bass drum. At
any rate, the passacaglia breaks up for the return of the opening material,
and we end on a fragment of "Taps." This would have been a highly
poetic movement, if only we didn't have to hear Those Marchin' Feet.
The modest title, "Marches," sells the second movement short.
Gould starts out with a pert march that evokes a smart 19th-century parade
ground, and then you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a complicated
fugue. The fugue settles into a "fife-and-drum" section featuring
canon (rather than cannon). Gould then gives us the most conventional march
music yet, but he's just setting us up. Suddenly, the march pulls itself
up short, and we plunge into one of the most breathless finales I've ever
heard, based on the movement's opening material. Brilliant.
Some of these works have received previous recordings, including those
led by Gould himself, by no means a shabby conductor. In the Fanfare
for Freedom, I can't find a ha'penny's-worth of difference between Weiss
the kids from Kansas and the composer leading the London Symphony. The
Saint Lawrence Suite comes across as capable and Jericho as brilliant,
if a trifle loose (to me inherent in the score). On the other hand, Derivations is available on a classic Sony recording with Goodman as soloist and
Gould leading the "Columbia Jazz Band," obviously a group of superb,
anonymous studio guys. The LP, titled "Jazz at the Summit," presented
Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, Stravinsky's Ebony
Clarinet Concerto, the Gould, all with Goodman and all conducted by the
composers. The CD (Sony 42227) adds Bartók's Contrasts, with Goodman,
Szigeti, and Bartók -- the original performers in, necessarily,
a mono account.
The Columbians offer a slicker Derivations than the Kansans. They're
rhythmically sharper, and they have a stronger jazz "feel." On the other hand,
the Kansans (by the way, almost always slower), emphasize the contrapuntal
basis of the work, which Gould's own performance often slights and takes
for granted. In both cases, the soloists -- Goodman and Zelnick -- seem
way too reticent, Goodman more so. I don't know whether this is bad microphone
placement, Gould's miscalculation (I doubt it), or soloist jitters. Naxos
has recorded the piece much more clearly than Sony.
The Kansans' "West Point" competes with the classic performance
by Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble (see my <a href=" http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/m/mrc34320a.php">review</a>).
They split the honors. Weiss does far better than Fennell in clarifying
the narrative of "Emblems," while Fennell and his band blow off
the roof in "Marches." On the other hand, the Kansans have nothing
to reproach themselves for. All in all, a wonderful disc.
S.G.S. (July 2011)