From the Psalter
The compositional and intellectual wisdom of Milton
Babbitt has influenced a wide range of contemporary musicians. An array of distinguished musical
achievements in the dodecaphonic system and important writings on the subject
have generated increased understanding and integration of serialist language
into the eclectic musical styles of today. Babbitt established his reputation with an astonishing command of American jazz and popular music language,
along with his pioneering achievements in synthesized sound. His piece All
Set for jazz ensemble reveals an extraordinary
compositional flexibility that is uniquely American and vintage Babbitt.
Babbitt was a founder and member of the
Committee of Direction for the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and
a member of the editorial board of Perspectives
of New Music. A recipient of numerous honors and commissions, he was
awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize Citation for his life’s
work as a seminal American composer. Babbitt was also a member of the American
Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
In the Composer’s Own Words
text of From the Psalter conjoins
Psalm 13 with two stanzas each from Psalms 40 and 41, as realized in verse by
Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586). As one would expect of the author of the
celebrated The Defence of Poesy and the immense sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella, these versions of
the Psalms are scrupulously formed, particularly in their syllabic and terminal
rhyme structure. The three instances I have chosen feature a predominant
10-syllable line that alternates with a three-syllable line (in Psalm 13), with six- and eight-syllable lines (in Psalm
40), and with six-syllable lines (in Psalm 41). This verbal, metrical constancy
was an initial, defining condition of the composition, and is mirrored musically in the genidentity of the
musical “settings” by way of their shared referential norm.
I think of this composition as an accompanied recitative, dedicated to
Judith Bettina and American Composers Orchestra.
Trail of Tears
Michael Daugherty is one of the most commissioned, performed, and recorded composers on the American concert-music scene today. With music rich with cultural
allusions and bearing the stamp of classic modernism, Daugherty first came to
international attention when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed his Metropolis Symphony at Carnegie Hall in
1994. In 2011, the Nashville Symphony’s Naxos recording of Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony and Deus ex Machina was honored with three
Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Performances
with ACO include Fire & Blood in
2004 and Oh, Louis! in 1989.
Daugherty studied music composition at the
University of North Texas and the Manhattan School of Music, and received his
doctoral degree from Yale University, where his teachers included Jacob
Druckman, Earle Brown, Roger Reynolds, and Bernard Rands. He has also
collaborated with jazz arranger Gil Evans in New York and pursued further
studies with composer György Ligeti in Hamburg, Germany. After teaching music
composition through 1990 at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Daugherty joined
the music faculty as professor of composition at the University of Michigan in
Daugherty has received numerous
awards and distinctions for his music, including a Fulbright Award, the Kennedy
Center Friedheim Award, and the
Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His recordings can be heard on Albany,
Argo, Delos, Equilibrium Music, Klavier, Naxos, and Nonesuch labels.
In the Composer’s Own Words
of the tragedies of human history is the forced removal of peoples from their homeland for political, economic,
racial, religious, or cultural reasons. In America, the forced removal of all
Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River began with President
Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. In 1838, 15,000 Cherokee men,
women, and children were forcibly taken from their homes by the US Army and
placed in stockades and camps in Tennessee.
From November 1838 to March 1839, the Cherokee, with scant clothing and
many without shoes, were forced to
make an 800-mile march for relocation in Oklahoma during the bitter cold of
winter. Suffering from exposure, disease, and starvation, nearly 4,000 Cherokee
died during the five-month march known as the “Trail of Tears.”
My flute concerto is a musical journey that explores how the human spirit
discovers ways to deal with upheaval, adversity, and adaptation to a new
environment. The first two movements of the concerto are played without pause.
The first movement reflects on meaningful memories of the past, inspired by a
quotation from the Native American leader Geronimo (1829–1909): “I was born on
the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light
of the sun.” The end of the first movement becomes a death march, marked “Trail
of Tears,” and concludes with a turbulent instrumental coda. The reflective
second movement, entitled “incantation,” meditates on the passing of loved ones
and the hope for a better life in the world beyond. The third and final
movement, “sun dance,” evokes the most spectacular and important religious dance
ceremony of the Plains Indians of 19th-century North America. Banned on Indian
reservations for a century by the US government, the dance is practiced again
today. I have composed my own fiery musical dance to suggest how reconnecting
with rituals of the past might create a path to a new and brighter future.
Copland’s name is synonymous with American music. It was his pioneering
achievement to break free from Europe and create concert music that is
characteristically American. In addition to writing such well-loved works as Fanfare for the Common Man, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring, Copland also conducted, wrote books on music,
organized concerts, and served as an American cultural ambassador to the world.
While studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, Copland became interested in
incorporating popular styles into his music. Upon returning to the US, he
advanced the cause of new music through lectures and essays, and organized the
famed Copland-Sessions concerts.
Copland was one of the most honored cultural figures in the history of the US:
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honors, an Academy Award, and
the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany were only a few of the honors and awards he
received. In 1982, the Aaron Copland School of Music was established in
his honor at Queens College.
About the Music
Commissioned by Benny Goodman, the Clarinet Concerto was
premiered in November 1950 in a radio broadcast by Goodman and the NBC Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner. Two weeks later, clarinetist Ralph McLane
gave the piece its public premiere with The Philadelphia Orchestra. The
following year, choreographer Jerome Robbins set his ballet The Pied Piper to the concerto, which
helped the piece gain critical and audience acclaim.
Copland’s work from this period blended popular and serious styles in a productively intimate synthesis. The
concerto, with its jazz influence, is such a blend. The piece’s structure and
instrumentation are unconventional; Copland explained his instrumentation this
instrumentation being clarinet with strings, harp, and piano,
I did not have a large battery of percussion to achieve jazzy effects, so I
used slapping basses and whacking harp sounds to simulate them. The Clarinet
Concerto ends with a fairly elaborate coda in C major that finishes off with a
clarinet glissando, or “smear” in jazz lingo.
Written in two
movements rather than the traditional three-movement concerto form, the first movement, “Slowly and
expressively,” showcases the clarinet’s ability to blend with strings and play
lyrically. The virtuosity that audiences expect from a “concerto” doesn’t
appear until the cadenza that links the two movements. Fans of Leonard
Bernstein might hear hints of his style in the cadenza, as the soloist leaves
the wistfulness of the first movement behind and transitions into the
Latin-jazz–influenced second (“Rather fast”). The piece has been recorded many
times, including a recording by Goodman himself.
Composer and performer Gabriel Kahane is a peerless
musical polymath, invested equally in the worlds of concert, theater, and
popular music. Launched by his 2006 song cycle Craigslistlieder—heard frequently both in august concert halls and
dirty bars—Kahane’s rapid ascent as a composer of concert works came into focus
during the 2010–2011 season with the premieres of three commissioned works: The Red Book, a string quartet for the
Kronos Quartet; a hybrid sonata-song cycle for cellist Alisa Weilerstein and himself;
and a large chamber work for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
a performer, Kahane moves with ease between musical realms. His self-titled
debut album—featuring performances by Sam Amidon, Sufjan Stevens, and Chris
Thile—was released in 2008 and was followed up by a second LP in fall 2010.
Among his various credits as a performer, he has appeared with Rufus Wainwright
on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle television
series, sung lieder with pianists Jonathan Biss and Jeremy Denk, and performed
as a pianist with bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff in recital throughout Europe.
In demand as a theater composer, Kahane was commissioned to write music and
lyrics for February House at The
Public Theater, where he was named the inaugural Musical Theater Fellow in 2008.
Kahane has also received commissions from the Signature Theatre in Arlington,
Virginia; and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which produced his show Caravan Man in 2007. A 2010 MacDowell
Colony Fellow and 2009 composer-in-residence at the Orcas Island Chamber Music
Festival, Kahane makes his home in Brooklyn, in close company with a
century-old piano and many books.
In the Composer’s Own Words
is a meditation on the Brooklyn Bridge that juxtaposes settings of stanzas from
Hart Crane’s poem “To Brooklyn Bridge” with songs set to my own lyrics in
response to Crane’s text. I’ve literalized the idea of “the bridge” in the
sense that two distinct musical vocabularies are in play and cross paths—the
first being the more formal language heard in the introduction and first
several stanzas of the Crane, the second being the vernacular or pop-based
harmonic language in the songs with my own words. As the piece reaches a kind
of peripeteia around the line “O harp and altar,” it’s as if the two languages
meet on the bridge and are exchanged: The final song with my own lyrics begins
in a dense and dissonant setting before giving way to the final stanzas of the
Crane poem, which are set in an unapologetically open harmonic atmosphere.