SCHUMAN: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 9 / Circus Overture / Orchestra Song (Gerard Schwarz/ Seattle Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos American Classics: 8.559254)
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William Schuman (1910-1992)
Symphonies Nos. 4 and 9 Orchestra Song Circus Overture
Born on 4th August, 1910, in New York City, WilliamSchuman centered his first musical studies on the violin,though a passion for jazz and popular music led him toteach himself a variety of instruments. On hearingArturo Toscanini conduct the New York Philharmonicin 1930, he withdrew from the School of Commerce atNew York University after a two-year stint there andembarked upon private studies in harmony with MaxPersin and counterpoint with Charles Haubiel.
Following studies at Columbia University (BA fromTeachers College, 1935) and at Juilliard with Roy Harrishe joined the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College and in1943 won the first Pulitzer Prize in music for his cantataA Free Song. Two years later he left academe to assumedual r??les as director of publications of G. Schirmer,Inc. and president of the Juilliard School of Music.
From 1962 to 1969 he served as president of LincolnCenter for the Performing Arts.
Balancing multiple careers as teacher andadministrator, Schuman was able to write a largeamount of music. His Second Symphony (1937) caughtthe collective attention of the musical world when it wasperformed the following year in New York City. Hisbest-known works are New England Triptych, based onmusic written by the eighteenth-century Americancomposer William Billings, and his orchestration ofCharles Ives's wittily irreverent Variations on\America". He died on 15th February, 1992, in NewYork City.
Schuman composed his Symphony No. 4 in 1941,entrusting its premi?¿re to the Cleveland Orchestra underArtur Rodzinski on 22nd January, 1942. A mere monthand a half after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thenew symphony's essentially positive emotional climatesounded an optimistic note during a very dark time. Theopening movement begins quietly with solo Englishhorn intoning a long-spun melody over solo bass, and iseventually joined by the rest of the wind section. Thebass line functions as a Baroque-style ground bass,above which textures change kaleidoscopically,dynamics increase and counter-rhythms contrast withthe steadfast gait of the quarter-note-laden bass part.
This introduction yields to a rhythmically alive sectionmarked Vigoroso con spirito. Echoes of Copland andHarris impart a distinctly American accent to the music.
Schuman's mastery of polyphony is very much inevidence here. The movement ends with a grand brassfilledclimax.
The second movement, marked Tenderly, simply,begins quietly in the violins and violas, underscored bya slow, steady tread generated by pizzicato chords in thecellos. The mood is melancholy yet infused withmediating warmth. A sense of intimacy is enhanced bythe violins and violas playing con sordino (with mutes).
Eventually winds and brass enter, but the mood remainsunderstated until a concluding section marked Ferventeraises the emotional temperature before the solo oboepassage marked dolce initiates the quiet closingmoments. The Finale begins with an animated dialoguebetween strings and winds. The music is energetic,forward and, again, distinctly American. Sonorous brassenter, also strongly insistent, before yielding to renewedconversation, this time between wailing winds andpunching brass. Pizzicatos in the lower strings add to theimpetus. Overall the music conveys elan and optimism.
Section by section more instruments have their say, andwhile momentum is sustained contrasting densities oftexture and a jaunty fugato provide contrast. Timpanipunctuate and further animate the music toward the endof the movement, echoed by increasing power anddynamics in the rest of the orchestra.
The 1963 Orchestra Song is a deft arrangement fororchestra of an old Austrian folk-song. AndreKostelanetz led the premi?¿re with the New YorkPhilharmonic on 11th April, 1964. Short and catchy, it isan affectionate take on a very rustic and simple tune in3/4 time. At times brusque and elsewhere unaffectedlysweet, the little ditty features a nice trumpet solo,colourful timbres from the percussion, biting lower brass,and bow-struck strings. Not inappropriately, it conjuresup sonic images of calliope music.
The Circus Overture dates from 1944. Originallybearing the title Side Show, it was intended for use in amusical revue under the title "The Seven Lively Arts"conceived for the Broadway stage; producer Billy Rosechanged his mind, and the revue was dropped. Shortlythereafter, Schuman rescored the light-hearted piece forfull orchestra from its original pit-band orchestration.
With its new title Circus Overture received its firstperformance in the spring of 1944 under MauriceAbravanel conducting a theater orchestra in Philadelphia.
Fritz Reiner led the premi?¿re of the full orchestral versionon 17th December, 1944, with the Pittsburgh SymphonyOrchestra.
The Overture begins with timpani and percussionleading all forces in an exuberant fanfare mode. Thewhole piece suggests preparation for the arrival of themain event. A very energetic timpani part plays offbarking brasses before the winds enter. Typically for thecomposer, Schuman's rhythmic verve carries the musicforward with relentless drive, even though the mood hereis lightly festive. Adding a sense of piquancy andwhimsy, there is a colourful and droll Fellini-esqueepisode in 3/4 time.
In the spring of 1967, Schuman and his wife were inRome, intending to visit the Ardeatine Caves, the site of ahorrific Nazi atrocity in 1944, when 335 innocent Italianmen, women and children were murdered in reprisal foran ambush by the underground in which 32 Germansoldiers had been killed. In an effort to hide the slaughter,the Nazis bombed the bodies. A priest at the nearbyCatacombs heard the reverberations from the explosion,and when the Nazis left the city, the citizens visited thecaves to see what had transpired. The site eventuallybecame a shrine known in part for its grand architecture.
In notes Schuman provided for the originalrecording of the Ninth Symphony, subtitled Le FosseArdeatine (The Ardeatine Caves), the composer wrote,"The mood of my symphony, especially in its openingand closing sections, is directly related to emotionsengendered by this visit. But the middle section, too,with its various moods of fast music, much of it far fromsomber, stems from the fantasies I had of the variety,promise and aborted lives of the martyrs... The workdoes not attempt to depict the event realistically...
"The work is in three parts, played without pauseand developed as a continuum. The Anteludium beginsquietly, with a single melodic line separated by twooctaves, played by the muted violins and cellos... Themusic of the Anteludium leads without pause, but withidentifiable transition, to the Offertorium, which formsthe bulk of the work. The moods are varied and rangefrom the playful to the dramatic...The climax of theOffertorium is reached with a...faster tempo and asonorous climax for full orchestra...The music of thePostludium at first echoes, in slow tempo, someelements of the climax just heard. Finally the openingtheme of the symphony is again stated, but in an evenslower tempo than at first... The symphony draws to aclose with a long, freely composed, quiet endingcharacterized by an emotional climate that sums up thework and eventually leads to a final concludingoutburst."Eugene Ormandy, long-time music director of thePhiladelphia Orchestra, conducted the premi?¿re on 10thJanuary, 1969. A year later, Leonard Bernstein gave theNew York premi?¿re with the New York Philharmonic.Steven Lowe
?® 2005 Seattle Symphony"