SCHUMAN: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 10 (Gerard Schwarz/ Seattle Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos American Classics: 8.559255)
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William Schuman (1910-1992)
Symphonies Nos. 7 and 10
Born on 4th August, 1910, in New York City, WilliamSchuman's first musical studies centered on the violin,though a passion for jazz and popular music led him toteach himself a variety of instruments. On hearing ArturoToscanini conduct the New York Philharmonic in 1930,Schuman withdrew from the School of Commerce at NewYork University after a two-year stint there and embarkedupon private studies in harmony with Max Persin andcounterpoint with Charles Haubiel.
Following studies at Columbia University (B.A. 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 cantata, AFree Song. Two years later he left academe to assume dualr??les as director of publications of G. Schirmer, Inc. andpresident of the Juilliard School of Music. From 1962 to1969 he served as president of Lincoln Center for thePerforming Arts.
Balancing multiple careers as teacher andadministrator, he was able to write a large amount ofmusic. His Second Symphony (1937) caught the collectiveattention of the musical world when it was performed thefollowing year in New York City. His best-known worksare New England Triptych, based on music written by theeighteenth-century American composer William Billings,and his orchestration of Charles Ives's wittily irreverentVariations on \America." He died on 15th February,1992, in New York City.
A dozen years elapsed between the completion ofSchuman's Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. The Seventh,dating from 1960, resulted from a commission from theKoussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library ofCongress to commemorate both the 75th anniversary ofthe Boston Symphony Orchestra and the memory of Sergeand Natalie Koussevitzsky. Charles Munch led thepremi?¿re with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on 21stOctober 1960.
Though laid out in the traditional four-movementclassical symphonic format, the work is played withoutpause as a single continuous entity. Striking contrasts inmood and sonority among the movements ensure a senseof both contrast and continuity. Throughout the SeventhSymphony one notes a balance between the composer'spenchant for relentless energy and ripening Romanticutterance that in retrospect may be seen as a harbinger forthe emergence of the post-serialism of the 1970s andonward among a younger generation of composers.
The initial movement, Largo assai, begins with stark,intensely focused chords. The prevailing mood is stern,even threatening. Chordal strings alternate with ominousinterjections by winds, darkened further by the bassclarinet. No percussion is used. As in much of Schuman'smusic, a strong rhythmic undertow (strongly dotted"packets" of energy) leads us irresistibly forward, creatinga state of anxiety reinforced by chromatic and dissonantharmonies. Psychologically dark sonorities are created bydialogue between the bass clarinet and other instruments,especially the movement-ending cadenza for clarinet andbass clarinet that acts as bridge to the second movement.
Marked Vigoroso, this begins with a brass fanfare thatrecalls Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Thoughthe harmonies retain their forceful dissonance, the mood isincreasingly festive and bright, providing great contrastwith the dark musings of the opening movement. Addedcontrast comes through the prominent use of timpani andpercussion, including piano and xylophone. The aptlytermed Cantabile intensamente third movement, forstrings only, is quieter and calmer though tinged withmystery. The endlessly unfolding melody, in an arch-likestructure, creates an atmosphere of continuous yearningthat finally relaxes into a state of serenity. The concludingScherzando brioso begins with punching energy and usesthe full resources of the orchestral palette, in bold contrastto the strings-only sonority of the previous movement.
Dance-like, with echoes of jazz, the composer's earliestlove, the movement is bright and festive, reflecting thescore's character as a celebration of the Boston SymphonyOrchestra's glorious history.
In anticipation of the nation's bicentennial celebrationin 1976, the National Symphony commissioned Schumanto compose a suitable orchestral work to reflect twocenturies of American experience. He accommodated therequest with his Symphony No. 10, subtitled "AmericanMuse," which reflected the composer's dedication "to thecountry's creative artists, past, present and future". AntalDorati led the National Symphony in the work's premi?¿reon 6th April, 1976.
It was Schuman's wife who suggested that he revisitthe opening music he had written four decades earlier, achoral setting of Walt Whitman's Pioneers! O Pioneers!The composer reflected: "My wife's instinct provedfortuitous, for recalling Pioneers and experiencing againits optimism was precisely what I needed to get me startedon the Symphony. Optimism is, after all, an essentialingredient in understanding America's beginnings."The first movement, Con fuoco (with fire), getsstraight to the point, using drum rolls, percussion and brassinstruments to suggest the brash and assertive spirit of thenation's origins in revolution. Using a tonal vocabularyintensified with pithy dissonance, the music is emphatic,angular, lean-textured and propelled by packets ofenergizing clipped notes. A long-breathed theme fromviolins and horns enters and is underpinned by stronglyinsistent rhythmic prodding from mixed brass, winds andpercussion. A highly contrasted Larghissimo secondmovement begins close to inaudibility with pianississimomuted high strings supported by woodwinds. Out of gentlyinsistent soft, repeated string chords a low melody beginsto unfold in cellos augmented by basses. High in the firstviolins, a Romantic melody unfolds, marked cantabiledolce, quasi parlando. The prevailing harmonies aremodestly dissonant. The music has a quiet, haunting,reflective quality that is frequently nocturnal, bothbeautiful and somewhat anxious. Gradually the dynamiclevel rises as winds and French horns add punctuatingrhythmic figures. Halfway through the movement, a flutemelody enters with a scintillating theme floating overtrumpets. The flutes continue as dynamics rise andstressful sonorities emerge from brass and strings below.
After a portentous climax, the dynamics drop suddenly;anxiety abates immediately, replaced by a return to thespirit and letter of a cantabile indication, ending themovement quietly and with notable consonance. Thefinale, Presto, begins with pizzicato in strings and a pianoin unison. Quirky dialogue evolves between pluckedstrings and mixed winds. The strings assume a legatoarticulation in unfolding a long melody surrounded bychirping winds. Xylophone, glockenspiel and otherpercussion enter in alternating conversation with windsand/or strings. Further contrast in timbre is achievedthrough dense, dissonant brass chords. About halfwaythrough, the mood and sonority change; light-heartedstrings play an animated and syncopated melody againstlong-held notes in violins. Trumpet and other instrumentsenter with equal animation and rhythmic playfulness. Thesymphony ends on an exuberant blast of triple forte energyfrom stratospheric piccolos to deeply resonant stringbasses.Steven Lowe ?® 2005 Seattle Symphony