Augusta Read Thomas (born 1964) Fanfare of Hope and Solidarity
The 10th of 10 gifted children, Augusta Read Thomas quickly revealed herself to be a music prodigy, playing piano, trumpet, singing in choirs, composing pieces. Pursuing studies at Yale, Tanglewood, Northwestern University, the Royal Academy of Music in London, she very early was championed by major figures in the field such as Leonard Bernstein, Rostropovich, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim. She became the longest serving resident composer of the Chicago Symphony (from 1997-2006), premiering nine commissioned orchestral works, the last of which, Astral Canticle, was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Recent commissions include those from the Boston Symphony, The London Symphony, Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, and her discography includes 90 commercially recorded CDs.
In addition to being one of the most active composers in the world, Thomas is an articulate spokesperson for the arts and a passionate educator. She is the former Chairperson for the American Music Center; Vice President for Music, The American Academy of Arts and Letters; and Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco.
Thomas was named a University Professor at The University of Chicago (only the 16th in its history) in 2010, and founded its Center for Contemporary Composition, an interdisciplinary environment for creating, performing, and studying new music. The Center features an annual concert series featuring the Grossman Ensemble, a multimedia experimental studio, visiting ensembles, distinguished guest composers, performances, recordings, research, student-led projects, workshops, and postdoctoral fellowships. In 2016, Thomas created and spearheaded Ear Taxi Festival which presented over 350 musicians and 54 world premieres in six days of concerts, lectures and sound installations all over Chicago. She was named "Chicagoan of the Year" by Chicago magazine and The Chicago Tribune.
ABOUT Fanfare Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner
In April of 2020, Augusta Read Thomas was approached by the music director of the Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer, to create a new, four-minute fanfare that could be performed by the Symphony players, with the stipulation that the musicians would be performing alone from their homes. The resulting Fanfare of Hope and Solidarity was composed in late April and early May 2020. Certain limitations existed simply due to the nature of the premiere. For example, Thomas was able to write for only a few, small percussion instruments which happened to be stored in the homes of the percussionists. About the music, she writes, "The composition, which features the brass section, is majestic, optimistic, blazing and passionate, yet, in the center of the piece, a robust expressive and eloquent lyrical passage unfolds to reveal a range of emotions. The composition ends as if reaching skyward -- affirming and hopeful -- as the bells' resonance hangs in the air like sunlight ripples."
She continues, "I believe music feeds our souls. Unbreakable is the power of art to build community. Humanity has and will always work together to further music's flexible, diverse capacity and innate power. The magnificence and energy of massed musical resources, such as an orchestra, are humbling, inspiring, and exemplify hope, solidarity and teamwork."
Special note: Thomas not only has perfect pitch, but she hears music in colors. Often, she draws colorful "maps" of her compositions. Here is the map for Fanfare:
Julia Amanda Perry (1924-1979) A Short Piece for Orchestra (1952)
Julia Perry was an inspiring trailblazer who studied and lived in Europe, won major fellowships, wrote music that both celebrated her African American roots and embraced the most current musical thought of her day. She was a prolific composer who wrote over 81 pieces, including 12 symphonies, three operas, a violin concerto, and two piano concertos, among many other works. A brilliant woman, fluent in languages, articulate and humorous in public and on radio interviews, she is only now beginning to be honored and celebrated for her work.
Perry was born in Lexington, Kentucky, into a talented family of musicians and teachers. Her mother was a trained classical pianist. Her father was a physician and an amateur pianist skilled enough to accompany the great tenor Roland Hayes on tour. In 1934, when she was 10 years old, the family moved to Akron, Ohio, where she quickly revealed her musical gifts as a violinist, pianist, singer and composer. After attending Westminster Choir College, she went on to study conducting, violin and composition at The Juilliard School in New York and voice at the Curtis Institute. Though her early works reveal her fascination with spirituals and the blues, in New York she began to explore a more international, complex, modern style. There she met Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola who was so impressed after working with her at Tanglewood in 1951 that he persuaded her to move to Italy continue her studies. In Europe she enjoyed enormous acclaim as a composer, a conductor and a vocal soloist. Winning two successive Guggenheim Fellowships (one for study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris) allowed her to remain abroad off and on for several years. She also traveled throughout Europe as a lecturer and conductor, with support from the U.S. Information Agency. When she returned to the U.S. in 1959, she had success and accolades in the early 1960's as her works were performed, and she received a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1964. Her compositions changed to embrace and reflect the civil rights struggles, drawing on rock and roll and rhythm and blues. Though her health began to decline in the late 60's and she suffered a series of paralytic strokes in 1971, she remained undaunted and taught herself to write with her left hand. She continued to compose symphonies and major works until her death on April 24, 1979, at age 55.
ABOUT A Short Piece Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner
In 1965, A Short Piece for Orchestra made history as the first work by a woman of color to be performed and recorded by the New York Philharmonic (and only the third work by a woman composer). Composed in 1952 while she was in Italy, A Short Piece (also known as A Study for Orchestra) received its premiere there in a slightly different form than it appears now. The music is thorny, reflecting the avant garde style of the time, with spikey dissonances, changes in meters and irregular rhythms, complex contrapuntal textures, surprising shifts of dynamics and textures. But at the same time, there is an embedded eloquence as the piece shifts from powerful and dynamic into sections that are haunted, mysterious, eerie and uneasy. The frantic train whistle gesture that starts the work returns at the close, quickly gathering momentum and shocking us in its abruptness. A Short Piece traverses a tremendous emotional landscape in its brief eight minutes of time.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) Pelléas et Mélisande, suite of incidental music to Maeterlinck's tragedy, Opus 80
Gabriel Fauré was born in Pamiers, Ariège, on May 12, 1845, and died in Paris on November 4, 1924. He composed incidental music for an English production of Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande between May 16 and June 5, 1898; this was premiered at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London, on June 21, 1898, with Fauré conducting. Three movements, the Prélude, Fileuse, and the Molto Adagio, were published in 1901, with a dedication to the Princesse Edmond de Polignac, as the Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande, Opus 80. He added the Sicilienne for a new edition in 1909; it had been composed in 1895 as a work for cello and piano and was orchestrated in 1898 for the incidental music. The three‑movement Suite received its first performance on February 3, 1902 at a Lamoureux Concert in Paris under the direction of Camille Chevillard; André Messager conducted the premiere of the four‑movement Suite on December 1, 1912. The Suite is scored for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, harp, and strings. Duration is about 18 minutes.
Fauré was a long time coming into his own as a composer who could draw an audience. Even in his 50s, though he was highly regarded by cognoscenti as a creator and teacher, he was in no sense a "popular" composer. Much of his music gained a hearing only in the salons of cultivated aristocrats like the Princess Edmonde de Polignac, whose activities as a patron of advanced composers lasted for decades (Stravinsky dedicated works to her in the '20s). Fauré also had a group of devoted English friends who sponsored performances of his music in London, so he spent a substantial part of every year from 1892 to 1900 in the British capital. Thus it was that when he met the famous actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, at the home of a mutual friend, Frank Schuster, in 1898, she commissioned him to write incidental music for a production she was planning of Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist drama Pelléas et Mélisande at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
There had been only one performance of the play in its original French, on May 17, 1893, and it had resulted in general incomprehension. Claude Debussy was in the audience, though, and he began at once to work on an opera, which was not to be performed until 1902. Several other composers have been attracted to Pelléas — Schoenberg and Cyril Scott for orchestral tone poems, Sibelius for incidental music — but Fauré is the only one not to have written his score in the shadow of Debussy's great opera, and, ironically, he wrote it for a production not in the original French but in an English translation.
Fauré was notoriously uninterested in the process of orchestration. Preferring to devote his attention to the creation of the abstract musical concepts, he left the scoring to his student Charles Koechlin, who scored the 17 numbers of the incidental music in May 1898 and prepared a fair copy for Fauré to use at the London performances. Koechlin scored for a pit orchestra of modest proportions. Later, when arranging the movements to be included in the Opus 80 suite, Fauré added extra parts for second oboe, second bassoon, and third and fourth horns. He also made a number of subtle changes in the orchestration throughout and substantially rescored the climaxes for the larger ensemble, so that we may fairly speak of a Koechlin‑Fauré orchestration. The resulting score, dedicated to the Princess de Polignac, has turned out to be Fauré's most important symphonic work.
The air of charming reticence that runs through much of Fauré's music is equally to be found in his incidental music for Maeterlinck; it is an appropriate mood for a play in which virtually nothing happens, in which every effort to do anything leads to tragedy. The first movement serves as the prelude for the play, painting its misty colors with a few dramatic outbursts that may hint at the impetuous Golaud. The movement ends with a transition to the opening scene of the play (in which Golaud, lost while hunting, comes across the mysterious Mélisande by a fountain deep in the woods); even before the overture ends, we hear Golaud's hunting horn signaling his arrival.
The second movement, sometimes called La Fileuse (The Spinner), served as the entr'acte before Act III; its nearly constant triplet turn provides the background hum of the spinning wheel. The Sicilienne, heard before Act II, is characterized by the rocking rhythm of that delicate Italian dance known as the siciliano. All is grace and gentle reflection, entirely appropriate to the mysterious world of the play — even though this movement was composed independently five years earlier! The final Molto Adagio — which introduced Act V — is a quiet, touching depiction of the death of Mélisande. Though Fauré certainly never thought of the Suite as a symphony, it remains his best known and most frequently performed symphonic composition and all we are likely to hear of the 17 selections composed as incidental music, unless someone should undertake a complete revival of the play with Fauré's gentle, fragile, mysterious score.
Notes by Steven Ledbetter
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93
Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. He composed the Eighth Symphony in 1812; it was first performed, in Vienna, on February 27, 1814. The score calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, plus timpani and strings. Duration is about 26 minutes.
As happens so often in his work, Beethoven composed his Eighth symphony in tandem with another — the much larger Seventh. The premiere of the Seventh in December 1813 had been one of the most successful concerts of Beethoven's life, establishing him without question as the greatest living composer — though the work that truly ignited the audience's enthusiasm on that occasion was the potboiler Wellington's Victory, also being heard for the first time. When Beethoven premiered the Eighth two months later, he sandwiched it between repeats of the Seventh and Wellington’s Victory. The size and visceral energy of the Seventh simply overwhelmed the audience at that premiere. But Beethoven was fully aware of the smaller work's value. When his pupil Carl Czerny remarked that the Eighth was much less popular than the Seventh, Beethoven replied gruffly, "That’s because it's so much better."
Surprisingly, the cheerful F-major symphony was largely composed during a period of family strife. Beethoven (a complete puritan in matters sexual) strongly disapproved of a liaison that his 35-year-old brother Johann was enjoying with his young housekeeper. Beethoven even traveled to Johann's home in Linz to obtain a police order that the girl move out. (Johann evaded the issue by marrying her, but not before there had been an ugly confrontation between the two brothers.) With this background, Beethoven was finishing his jovial Eighth!
The opening movement of the Eighth is brief but eventful. The first phrases form a complete melody (how rare that is for Beethoven!), but just as it seems to close in a cadence, the phrases open out and grow in the most astonishing way. False leads cheerfully undermine the tonal solidity that Beethoven had been at such pains to establish in the opening bars, seeming to settle into the highly unorthodox key of D major (instead of the dominant, C) for the secondary theme. Scarcely has the new theme started before it falters, suddenly aware of its faux pas, and swings around to the expected key. The development is one of Beethoven's most masterful demonstrations of musical timing. Its basic melodic idea is the very first measure of the symphony, unheard since its single earlier appearance. Now it dominates the discussion in a long crescendo over its entire length. As the volume increases, phrase lengths become progressively shorter, so that events arrive faster and faster, with mathematical precision, until the movement culminates in the blazing return to the home key, with the bass instruments proclaiming the principal theme. The coda leads into a new harmonic world, another crescendo, and a new version of the main theme in the "wrong" key. After the eventual return to the tonic, the orchestra fades out delightfully, leaving one final salute to the first measure by the strings at the very last instant.
The second movement is a humorous homage to Beethoven's friend Mälzel, the inventor of the metronome, a device that Beethoven found invaluable in giving composers, for the first time, a way to specify precise tempos for their music. The movement is filled with humorous touches (including a suggestion at the end that the mechanical marvel has broken down). Its scherzando marking makes it rather faster than a slow movement was expected to be. Beethoven compensates by making his next movement Tempo di Menuetto, a marking he had long since ceased using in his symphonies. This movement particularly is responsible for the Eighth Symphony's reputation as a Haydnesque "throwback."
Having held his horses back, so to speak, for three movements, Beethoven lets them have their head in the merry rush of the rondo-like tune in the finale; it seems about to come to a close on an normal dominant C when it is suddenly jerked up to a loud C-sharp, only to have the unexpected note drop away as quickly as it had arrived, apparently without consequence. The same thing happens at the recapitulation. The sheer obtrusiveness of that unexpected C-sharp lingers in the ear, demanding an explanation. Finally, in the immense coda, the same bothersome C-sharp returns with harmonic consequences, generating a great new tonal detour before returning safely home. At this pace, which gives us hardly a chance to consider all that is going on, Beethoven's wit leaves us invigorated but breathless.
Notes by Steven Ledbetter
This page was last revised on April 5, 2023.
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