Richard Strauss, Second Sequence of Waltzes from Rosenkavalier
The Orchestra Now
Der Rosenkavalier was the great triumph of Germany’s most celebrated 20th century composer; Richard Strauss. He was the son of Franz Strauss, a composer and virtuosic horn player himself. Growing up in the heart of Bavaria, the young Richard often found himself in the company of Munich’s most influential musicians. Among them was Hans von Bülow who, despite a venomous relationship with the elder Franz, would soon name Richard the heir apparent to Wagner.
By the age of 10, Strauss was well versed in opera, regularly attended orchestra concerts and was a prodigious talent at the piano. His upbringing was filled with music, in the concert hall as well as the home, and his first compositions were completed by the age of six.
His father was determined that Richard not enter the music profession. Richard’s education was in the classics - literature, history, Greek and Latin - and while Franz wanted to nurture the youngster’s musical talents, he remained weary of the challenges he himself had faced in making a living solely as a musician. But the youngster’s talent was not to be denied. If style is a result of the characteristic traits and background of the composer, it’s no surprise then that Strauss would become the vaunted master of tone poem and opera. Strauss’s letters and diaries demonstrate a keen interest in the theater from a young age. He was an avid reader of plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen and Schiller. Couple this with his years of classics study, opera attendance and the immersion in music in the Strauss home, and his turn towards dramatic and programmatic works seems only natural. By 1909, when he and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal began their work on Rosenkavalier, Strauss was firmly established as a leading composer of the day. His first operas (Elektra, for one, was also a libretto by Hofmannsthal) and tone poems, of which he had premiered all but one, had been well received both critically and commercially. This new venture, however, would be his greatest triumph yet. Rosenkavalier was created very much in the image of Mozart, Lorenzo Da Ponte, and most influentially Molière, the French Baroque playwright. The comic opera overflows with lush melodies, cross dressing, and plenty of Da Ponte-styled hijinks. Rarely one to keep things light and breezy, however, Strauss layers iconography, philosophy and social commentary. All of this was done with a certain stylish sonic spray as he actively worked to subvert audience expectations. Strauss was keenly aware of, and openly repudiated, certain aesthetic presumptions of the day. Wagner and Mahler, the great dramaturg and symphonist respectively, believed in a certain Romantic ideal - the power of music to redeem, heal and transport. Strauss, by contrast, believed in self actualization only through work. And work he did. Strauss’s portfolio consists of sixteen operas, ten tone poems, concertos, lieder, chamber music and solo piano works. In Rosenkavalier, he commits to no particular style, instead invoking the essence of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner, amongst others. Strauss believed that the 20th century sound should be one that intentionally lacks stylistic uniformity. The second sequence of waltzes, Op. 59 is a sampling of dance music from Rosenkavalier. Strauss uses this dance music throughout the opera for myriad uses; humor, love, melancholy, and even in the transcendent final trio sung by the three leads. Rosenkavalier represents the very best of Strauss. He had already seen critical success with Salome and Elektra and he and Hoffmansthal were at the peak of their collaborative powers. Rosenkavalier is funny, heartbreaking, slapstick and thoughtful. This set of waltzes offers a whirlwind tour through the opera and into the impeccably crafted sound world of Richard Strauss.
John Musto, Shadow of the Blues
Poetry by Langston Hughes
The Orchestra Now and Soprano Katherine Lerner Lee
Langston Hughes was one of the 20th century's finest writers, and a distinctly powerful black voice in America's literary history. His writing oozes invention and creativity. His prose spills from the page, liquid and golden on the tongue - his is a uniquely colorful and breezy language. The writing is deeply personal and delicately crafted.
As a child, reading was Hughes’ escape - from a challenging homelife, from poverty, and from the violence of white America. As a young man, he was determined to make his living through writing, and his output was prolific.
Numerous collections of short stories, novels, children's books, poetry, even what some call early rap albums. His poetry is lucid, full of character, and precise. His autobiographies sing like the finest libretti and his descriptions of even the mundane leave any aspiring writer clutching their heart in disbelief.
Hughes was one of the foremost minds of the Harlem Renaissance - a period throughout the 1920s and 30s in which African American arts blossomed. He received a great deal of early success - winning literary prizes and attracting readership all over the country. Throughout his life, Hughes was fascinated by jazz and its expression of the Black experience in America. He believed jazz to be “one of the inherent expressions of Negro life.” He referred to much of his poetry as “songs,” often recorded his recitations with a band, and even wrote instrumental accompaniment to many of his works. Including Silhouette, the first poem set in John Musto’s Shadow of the Blues. Silhouette was published as the first in a set Hughes titled “Three Songs About Lynching” in 1936. He writes that it should be accompanied by “satirically sentimental music,” which Musto echoes in his breezy and sinister setting. There exist a wide variety of jazz styles and traditions - of which the blues is a prominent subgenre. The blues is understood through two perspectives; the form and the emotion. With respect to form, the most common is a 12-bar blues, which makes use of a major scale with lowered scale degrees 3, 5 and 7 and often follows an AAB pattern in the lyrics. Emotionally, the blues is characterized by melancholy, introspection and sadness. In Shadow of the Blues, John Musto makes use of both form and feeling in his setting of four poems by Hughes. In titling the work, Musto hoped to evoke a subtle sense of the blues. That, while the structure is not strictly based on a 12-bar pattern, for example, the music should always hint at the feeling of the blues. Musto grew up in a musical household. From a young age, he and his father would play popular tunes and improvise together, Musto on the piano, his father on guitar. As a young man, he attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he continued his studies as a classical musician. It’s through these two, seemingly contradictory idioms through which Musto developed his own personal style. A self-taught composer, but “certainly not a self-taught musician,” Musto’s musical language is wide-ranging. In Silhouette, there’s a gentile, sardonic swing that contrasts the violent text, while Litany has shades of Copland Americana. Island’s unrelenting virtuosity is quoted from Musto’s first piano concerto and Could Be fits neatly into a swinging blues. The four songs, each distinct and characterful, are bound by an ever-present sense of nostalgia, melancholia, and wistfulness - in short, the feeling of blues. Through the presentation of these songs, Katherine and I hope to honor life long friendship, a deep love of artistic collaboration, and to celebrate two unique compositional voices in John Musto and Langston Hughes.
Kyle Gann, But Even So
World Premiere with the Bard Sinfonietta Project
But Even So is the title of a book of poems by the great American poet Kenneth Patchen, from whose evocative words I have often borrowed titles. I had long wanted to use the title for a piece, and this one seemed to fit, with its deeper emotional truths emerging from a series of seeming counter-arguments. Conductor Colin Roshak asked me to write a piece for a concert series he was organizing, and I am grateful for his faith in me.
Kyle Gann (b. 1955) is a composer and the author of seven books on American music, including books on microtonality, Charles Ives's Concord Sonata, John Cage's 4'33", Conlon Nancarrow, and Robert Ashley. He studied composition with Ben Johnston, Morton Feldman, and Peter Gena, and about a third of his music is microtonal.
His major works include the piano concerto Sunken City, Transcendental Sonnets for chorus and orchestra, the microtonal music theater piece Custer and Sitting Bull, The Planets for mixed octet, a symphony, and the three-and-a-half-hour Hyperchromatica for three retuned, computer-driven pianos. He was new-music critic for the Village Voice from 1986 to 2005, and has taught at Bard since 1997. His music is available on the New Albion, New World, Cold Blue, Lovely Music, Mode, Other Minds, Meyer Media, Innova, New Tone, Microfest, Vous Ne Revez Pas Encore, Brilliant Classics, and Monroe Street labels.