Program Notes

The National Game                                      John Philip Sousa (1854—1932)
Sousa composed The National Game in the year 1925, which marked the final decade of his career as America’s “March King”. The work was commissioned by Kenesaw Landis, baseball’s high commissioner, to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the National League. Like many other Sousa marches, it opens briskly with the full ensemble. The central section, labelled “Trio,” provides contrast, usually with softer and more flowing melodies. Already, in this “baseball” march, certain voicings resemble a stadium organ. But the biggest surprise occurs in this march’s Trio, when Sousa asks for a real CRACK of the bat.

Lullaby for Strings                                         George Gershwin (1899—1937)
Instrumentation: String orchestra

This short, blues-inflected lullaby began as a piano piece, which the composer arranged for string quartet. Although George used the opening for the one-act opera Blue Monday (1922), brother Ira did not release the work for publication until 1968. The Juilliard String Quartet made the first recording of it in 1974. The arrangement for string orchestra retains the soft dynamics of the original, but with a fuller sonority. The soft pensive opening melody in the violins recurs throughout the work. Hints of jazz occur in the lilting syncopations and the occasional chromatic chords. Contrast in the middle results in new melodies and short solos featuring section principals. When it returns, the main tune gains a bit of confidence, before subsiding for a quiet close

Casey at the Bat                                                   Randol Alan Bass (1953—)
Instrumentation: Full orchestra and narrator

“Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888” was the original title of Ernest Thayer’s classic tribute in verse to baseball, to small town teams, and to their loyal fans. In telling the story of the game, Thayer deftly fused together jargon-filled play-by-play with capsule player personalities, and the eternal themes of pride, competition, the hope for victory, and the fear of defeat.

Randol Bass’s setting of the poem for large orchestra and narrator dates from 2008. This versatile composer holds degrees from UT Austin, the Cincinnati Conservatory, and The Ohio State University. Casey at the Bat amply demonstrates his facility with orchestration and his special gift for expressing emotional change in music. After an exciting opening flourish and a tricky clarinet cadenza, Bass introduces the work’s main melodic source material: the waltz-like stadium staple “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” composed by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer in 1908. As the sportscaster narrator dramatically retells the events of the game, Bass’s music provides emotion-packed color commentary. Echoes from Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel appear along the way to enhance moods of whimsy and foreboding. After the narrator finishes his part by sharing the results of the final pitch, the music changes mood one last time to remind one and all that there’s always another game.

Americana                                                             Luigi Zaninelli (1932—)
Instrumentation:  Full orchestra

Luigi Zaninelli hails from Raritan, New Jersey, where he began his musical studies with the piano. At the age of seventeen, he was accepted into Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied composition with Gian Carlo Menotti. Like many of his works, his folk song suite Americana engages expressively with American cultural traditions. The slow opening section introduces the folk song “Shenandoah,” which dates from the mid-1800s and has been attributed to anonymous fur traders. Next comes “Skip To My Lou,” a partner-stealing square dance tune from the 1840s. After a connecting passage based on the “Shenandoah” tune, Zaninelli presents his arrangement of “Sweet Betsy from Pike,” a ballad dealing with a Missouri-born pioneer. In the work’s closing section, strains from earlier in the work return, with “Shenandoah” providing a soothing steady foundation.

Appalachian Spring                                         Aaron Copland (1900—1990)
Instrumentation: Reduced orchestra

Appalachian Spring was the third of Copland’s celebrated populist American ballets, preceded by Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942). More than its predecessors, it was destined to become a watershed work in the history of American dance, thanks to the pioneering “modern dance” choreography of Martha Graham (1894—1991).

At this point in his career, Copland had progressed from being a promising postwar Parisian pupil of the brilliant French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger (1887—1979), through “bad boy” years in the late 1920s when he taunted unsuspecting American classical audiences with jazz idioms, extreme dissonance, and free atonality, and on to his Depression-era commitment to “meeting audiences halfway.” For him, that meant striking a balance between the compositional adventures of his youth and plain singable melody.

When just a compositional project, Appalachian Spring was simply entitled “Ballet for Martha”. When Graham first heard it, she suggested “Appalachian Spring,” a phrase from a Hart Crane poem, referring not to the season, but to a spring of water. But thanks to her choreographic imagination, the ballet acquired a storyline involving a pioneer community, a springtime setting, a bride (danced by Graham) and groom, their new house, a preacher, and a wise woman.

In over a dozen contrasting sections that span a half hour, Copland provided music for the setting, the four characters, the community, and a shared celebration of spring. The ballet’s opening sets the stage with a typical Coplandesque mood of stillness and serenity, made from simple chords. Once the principals and small group of other dancers are on stage, the music gives opportunities for solos, duets, and animated ensemble dancing, all of it following Graham’s principles for powerfully expressive modern dance. Near the midway point, Copland introduces the Shaker hymn entitled “Simple Gifts” in solo clarinet. Variations follow, as the young newlyweds express their joy in choreography that hints at square dancing. More troubling emotions appear in the next sections as all the dancers take stock of the uncertainties of their future. But serenity and confidence return to this springtime festival in the final minutes, which include a majestic final variation on “Simple Gifts”.

American Salute                                             Morton Gould (1913—1996)
Instrumentation: Full orchestra

Multitalented Morton Gould was born in the Richmond Hill district of Queens, NY. Like his predecessor Gershwin and contemporary Bernstein, Gould would achieve fame in both classical and popular music, which enabled him to mix styles effortlessly in his many arrangements and original works. After much musical gig work in the 1930s as movie theater pianist, vaudeville act accompanist, and staff pianist at Radio City Music Hall, he began to gain notoriety as a composer in the mid-century decades. His remarkable gift for connecting with audiences through simple, yet expressive improvisation led to his hire in 1943 as the first ever music director for an advertising agency.

American Salute, Gould’s most popular work, was composed in response to the World War II era demand for inspiring patriotic works that could appeal to the entire population. According to the composer, it was composed on a single night in 1942. In form it is a free fantasia based on the melody and the rhythms of Patrick Gilmore’s Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. While never departing far from its musical source, the work presents an appealing variety of orchestral timbres and moods. Among its most effective passages is the surprising jolt into a highly syncopated variation, in which 19th and 20th-century styles fuse together. Years later, Gould’s catchy fanfare motives from this work would play an important role in Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the 1970 film Patton.