CHADWICK: Symphony No. 2 / Symphonic Sketches (Alexander Hornostai/ Theodore Kuchar/ Ukraine National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos American Classics: 8.559213)
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George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931)
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 21 Symphonic Sketches (1895-1904)
The life and career of George Chadwick reads like thequintessential Horatio Alger American success story.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts to a family tracing itsroots to the 1630s, Chadwick entered the world undertragic circumstances. His mother died fromcomplications of his birth, leading to a strainedrelationship with his father. In a sense, these earlystruggles provided the fuel leading to the greatness ofhis achievements. An older brother taught Chadwickmusical rudiments and by the age of fifteen he workedregularly as an organist. He did not complete highschool but earned enough as a clerk in his father'sinsurance office to attend the New EnglandConservatory. Realising the need for more rigoroustraining, he travelled to Leipzig in 1877 studyingcomposition at the conservatory and winning awards.
Additional study in Munich and Giverny, France,broadened his outlook, skills and confidence. A'finished' musician upon his return to Boston in 1880,he began his career in earnest as organist, teacher,conductor and composer. His genius as an educatorblossomed in 1882 when he joined the faculty of theNew England Conservatory. Chadwick became directorin 1897, reshaping it into a modern conservatory. Histextbook Harmony: a Course of Study became aninstant classic. By the 1890s Chadwick wasacknowledged as one of America's finest composers, ifnot the finest. His impact on American music isinestimable as he taught many of the composers of thefollowing generation and influenced others,demonstrating that there could be a distinctivelyAmerican style of classical music comparable in qualityto Europe. The arrival in the 1920s of a generation ofcomposers of immigrant origin, Gershwin, Copland andothers, pushed Chadwick into obscurity. The post-World War II resurgence of interest in the roots ofAmerican music has re-established Chadwick'simportance.
Chadwick was undoubtedly America's greatestsymphonist between the Civil War and the 1920s. Hisorchestral works are his most distinctive. The twoworks on this album, the Second Symphony andSymphonic Sketches, are his most popular symphonicworks and wonderful introductions to the essence of hisstyle. The Second Symphony of 1886 was created over athree-year period. The scherzo had its first performanceindependently in 1884 to great acclaim; the firstmovement, known as Introduction and Allegro,appeared the following year. Chadwick's understandingof symphonic logic creates a unified whole.
The work begins with unaccompanied hornintoning a melody serving as a unifying motto inRomantic fashion. The pentatonic or five-note scalefound in folk-music flavours the motto, imparting anAmerican feeling reminiscent of Native American andAfrican-American music. A rhythmic figure extractedfrom the motto provides impetus, leading to the fastermain body of the movement. The Allegro unfolds insonata form as expected, providing many echoes ofearly Romantic symphonies, particularly Schubert'sFifth and Schumann's Spring, all coincidentally in thekey of B flat major. The fresh, open-air feeling of themusic is enhanced by hunting fanfares in the horns.
Solo horn presents the contrasting second theme, againwith distinctive pentatonic colouring. In therecapitulation, solo trumpet takes over this theme.
Throughout, there is a wonderful lightness andquicksilver grace in the music and Chadwick's skilfulorchestration. A faster coda brings the movement to aproud, joyous close.
The scherzo follows. The most distinctive andoriginal movement, it demonstrates Chadwick's geniusat writing light, elfin music in the Mendelssohnianstyle. Solo oboe followed by other winds presents themain theme, again based on the pentatonic scale.
William Foster Apthorp captured the spirit of themovement, calling it 'a gem. The themes ... are ...
original' with a 'quasi-Irish humorousness' in the maintheme ('it positively winks at you'). The bouncy, wittymood is sustained by deft, magical orchestration.
The slow movement is the deepest in emotion,reflecting the influence of Tchaikovsky. A sombremelody at the opening rises to brass fanfares andDvořak-flavoured wind colours. A much faster middlesection features brass flourishes and a noble theme inthe strings. The return of the opening mood is capped bya hymnic coda reflecting the Protestant New Englandhymnody of Chadwick's background.
The finale returns to the affirmative extroversion ofthe earlier movements. Again in sonata form, a thrillingopening with interlocking string figures gives way to asecond theme in low strings with a breathless,syncopated accompaniment. The mood is reminiscentof the finale of Schumann's Spring in its freshness andenergetic peacefulness as it builds to a happy close. TheSecond Symphony confirmed Chadwick's stature as amajor American composer; Phillip Hale found it 'thework of a musician by birth and breed. It is an honor notonly to (him) but to his country'.
Like the Second Symphony, the Symphonic Sketchescame to fruition over time, Jubilee and Noel in 1895, AVagrom Ballad the following year, and Hobgoblin in1904. It was not only Chadwick's most successful workbut possibly his greatest. A symphony in all but name, itis also his most American in its portrayal of scenes ofcontemporary American life in the manner of NormanRockwell. It is typical of his later work in which hisstyle traits are intensified with sprinklings ofcontemporary modernism. Each movement is prefacedby poetry indicating the mood or scene expressed.
The dichotomy expressed in the poem's two stanzasof Jubilee determines the music's form, even itsinstrumentation. Fast, loud and extremely colourfulmusic is contrasted, rondo-style, with slower, reflectivemusic. Chadwick's student and close friend HoratioParker heard the flavouring of 'Negro tunes' in the fastsection and 'Americanness' 'in the high and volatilespirits...the sheer rough and tumble of it at its fullestmoments'. A habanera rhythm supports a pentatonicmelody reminiscent of Camptown Races withharmonica and guitar-like sounds in the orchestra.
Parker also found the abrupt juxtaposition of the twomoods 'American'.
Noel paints a scene worthy of Currier and Ives. TheChristmas manger scene reminded Chadwick of hisbeloved wife and their second son Noel, calling forthmusic of great tenderness and emotion. A slow tempo,many sustained notes and legato muted strings create astatic winter landscape over which the English horn,one of Chadwick's favourite colours, spins its melody.
It builds to passionate, warm colours before coming torest in the maternal peace of harp harmonics and soloviolin.
Hobgoblin, prefaced by a couplet from AMidsummer Night's Dream, calls to mindMendelssohn's great scherzo, but Victor Yellin,Chadwick's biographer, rightly hears this 'English Puckdomesticated to Massachusetts in October'. It is aHalloween piece with fantastic colours in the orchestraand crisp rhythms.
A Vagrom Ballad is the most adventurous in idiomand portrayal. It depicts a tramp or hobo skit fromvaudeville days. A lugubrious cadenza for the bassclarinet, a parody of the Act V solo from Meyerbeer'sLes Huguenots, improbably launches a bassoon/bassclarinet 'soft-shoe' melody. Various interruptions,including trumpet and snare drum fanfares, andxylophone solo, threaten to break the music apart,indicative of American 'fooling around' in Parker'sopinion. The melody runs headlong into a slow sectionin which impressionistic effects such as harp glissandi,woodwind trills, and ponticello paint a bathetictransformation of the melody. As it sinks lower inrange, it calls forth the bass clarinet cadenza. Withoutwarning, the opening returns prestissimo as the actor,ha