This Suite is taken from the ballet Billy the Kid written for the American Ballet Caravan at the suggestion of its director Lincoln Kirstein and based on a story by Eugene Loring. The following is a quotation from an article by Aaron Copland, Notes on a Cowboy Ballet.
The ballet begins and ends on the open prairie. The first scene is a street in a frontier town. Cowboys saunter into town, some on horseback, others on foot with their lassos; some Mexican women do a jarabe, which is interrupted by a fight between two drunks. Attracted by the gathering crowd, Billy is seen for the first time, a boy of twelve, with his mother. The brawl turns ugly, guns are drawn, and in some unaccountable way, Billy’s mother is killed. Without an instant’s hesitation, in cold fury, Billy draws a knife from a cowhand’s sheath and stabs his mother’s slayers. His short but famous career has begun. In swift succession we see episodes in Billy’s later life—at night, under the stars, in a quiet card game with his outlaw friends, hunted by a posse led by his former friend Pat Garrett, in a gun battle. A drunken celebration takes place when he is captured. Billy makes one of his legendary escapes from prison. Tired and worn out in the desert, Billy rests with his girl. Finally the posse catches up with him.
John Cheever (1912-1982) was one of the most important American short fiction writers of the 20th century. Sometimes called “the Chekhov of the suburbs,” his stories are mostly set in the Upper East side and the New York suburbs. His themes focus on the duality of human nature, often expressed as the disparity between a character’s decorous social persona and inner corruption. A compilation of his short stories, The Stories Of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its first paperback edition won a 1981 National Book Award. —from Wikipedia
In 1979 Jonathan Tunick was engaged by WNET to compose the music for a series of television dramas based on Cheever’s short stories. The composer has adapted some of his music from the series into a suite for full orchestra entitled “Cheever Country“, in three movements:
I. The Five Forty-Eight: A commuter train en route from Grand Central Station to the suburbs.
II. Amy’s Theme: Amy, an eight-year-old girl, attempts to discourage her parents’ excessive drinking by pouring their liquor down the drain. A succession of housekeepers are blamed for this and fired, until Amy is revealed as the culprit. Realizing the pain they are causing their daughter, Amy’s parents resolve to seek treatment.
III. Shady Hill Sequence: A theme and variations describing a suburban town, superficially idyllic but with an undertone of decadence.
“Thinking like a mountain” is a term coined by Aldo Leopold in his influential book A Sand County Almanac. In the section entitled “Sketches Here and There” Leopold discusses the thought process as a holistic view on where one stands in the entire ecosystem.
The essay “Thinking Like A Mountain” crystallizes Aldo Leopold’s philosophy about the balance of nature and our ethical relationship towards its preservation. It is the personal confession of one who momentarily upset that balance and whose remorse became the catalyst which prompted him to become a leader in the environmental movement.
In setting this powerful essay, I wanted to paint a portrait of the mountain. I was fascinated by the overlapping life cycles of the many elements which shared the mountain’s space, from the slow progression of the rocks to the flickering instant of the insects. They simultaneously inhabited the same world and I saw a parallel in the music, where multiple tempos and melodic lines can co-exist. Rather than illustrating the literal sound effects of nature, this music seeks to give voice to an inner natural order built on the primary elements of acoustics as described by Pythagoras. At this level, mathematics and the natural order have much in common with the structure of mountains. This composition was commissioned by a consortium including Explore Park in Virginia, The Billings Symphony in Montana, The Elgin Symphony in Illinois and the Shanghai Symphony in China.
A Little Night Music, suggested by Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night, is a romantic and sophisticated musical comedy, one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works. Swimming in a giddy atmosphere of romance, mystery and the waltz, there is no better example of its author’s penchant for an erudite, whimsical and knowing chuckle at the human condition.
In 2015 Jonathan Tunick created an orchestral suite from the score for a Sondheim Celebration concert at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. This performance marks the work’s New York premiere.
The songs included are: Night Waltz; Now/Later/Soon; You Must Meet my Wife; In Praise of Women; A Weekend in the Country; Send in the Clowns; Night Waltz (reprise).
A prominent Soviet and Armenian composer, Alexander Arutiunian fused Russian and Armenian musical traditions to form his own unique style. His compositions range from his “Motherland Cantata” (for which he won the Stalin prize in 1948) to his violin concerto (Armenia-88) in homage to a devastating earthquake.
He also wrote a series of well-regarded brass and woodwind concertos. Of these, the trumpet concerto, composed in 1950, is one of his best-known works and a staple of the trumpet solo literature. It is composed in seven sections played without a break. A dramatic improvisatory prelude transitions to a spritely allegro energico; slower introspective sections are interspersed with a periodic return to the “energico” theme. A brilliant cadenza and coda end the concerto with a flourish.
Born into a musical family, Márquez has become one of Mexico’s best-known composers.
Danzon No. 2 was commissioned in 1994; like his other “Danzon” compositions, it is based on Cuban and Mexican dance motifs. It caught the musical world’s attention in 2007 when it was performed by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth orchestra; it is now one of the most popular and frequently performed works by Mexican composers.
It starts off with a wistful clarinet melody against a soft percussion background; is joined by oboe and strings; and then transforms into a percussive frenzy with full orchestra, interrupted with a sweet passage in the piccolo. A calmer interlude features solo violin and winds, morphing into a romantic statement of the theme by the strings. A sharp attack by the strings brings back the piece’s percussive frenzy, which hurtles to a rousing climax.
Composed in 1923, “La Création” is a fusion of jazz, blues and orchestral styles. Milhaud discovered jazz music while on a 1921 trip to London, and was enthralled by the new idiom. He traveled to the U.S. in 1922 on a concert and conducting tour, performing in various American cities. During his stays in New York he made it a point to frequent black jazz clubs in Harlem, and steeped himself in the music, its instrumentation and style.
Returning to Paris, he teamed up with the Ballet Suédois, the author Blaise Cendrars and the cubist artist Fernand Léger to compose music for an African-themed ballet of creation. While the ballet itself is rarely performed today, Milhaud’s scintillating score has become part of the concert repertoire.
Its 18-piece instrumental ensemble is unique: woodwinds (flutes, clarinets, oboe, bassoon, saxophone); brass (horn, trumpets, trombone); four solo strings (two violins, ‘cello, bass); piano; and percussion (five timpani, plus a large variety of percussion instruments).
“La Création” has six movements, played without a break. Jazz riffs, blues and syncopated rhythms abound.
The Overture starts with a sonorous melody played by the saxophone.
“Chaos” features a jazz fugue, starting with bass, trombone, saxophone and trumpet.
“Creation of Plants and Animals” begins with a somber woodwind motif signifying darkness; an oboe blues riff signals the birth of flora and fauna.
“Creation of Man and Woman” is introduced by the solo violins, then interspersed with syncopated passages (bassoon, saxophone, piano, bass). Another oboe passage heralds the creation of man and woman.
“Desire” brings the clarinet front and center in an extended blues riff, with sensuous oboe and piccolo/trumpet motifs in the middle. All of the instruments join in; the saxophone plays the main melody, and the others play their riffs with and against each other.
“Spring, or the Calm” reprises the opening theme and blues motifs before fading out with a sighing blues chord in the saxophone and strings.
Francis Poulenc was part of a prominent group of early 20th-century French composers dubbed “Les Six.” A self-taught composer, his music is unconventional, with understated wit and simplicity. In 1918, while serving in the French army, he wrote a four-hand sonata for piano which was premiered in 1919 and revised in 1939. Darius Milhaud (also a member of “Les Six”) was much taken by Poulenc’s sonata, and orchestrated the last movement for a concert he conducted in 1923 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
It is a short, playful work. As a contemporary reviewer put, “High spirits, wit and animal grace break out of the merry brass in the ‘Overture.’”
The violin concerto was Barber’s first significant commissioned work. Barber began composing the concerto in 1939 while on a trip to Switzerland. Upon the outbreak of World War II, he returned to the United States and completed the concerto later that year. The concerto was premiered by Albert Spalding with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941. Ever since then, it has been a staple of the violin concerto repertoire.
Barber provided these program notes for the premiere performance:
The first movement — allegro molto moderato — begins with a lyrical first subject announced at once by the solo violin, without any orchestral introduction. This movement as a whole has perhaps more the character of a sonata than concerto form. The second movement — andante sostenuto — is introduced by an extended oboe solo. The violin enters with a contrasting and rhapsodic theme, after which it repeats the oboe melody of the beginning. The last movement, a perpetuum mobile, exploits the more brilliant and virtuosic character of the violin.
Béla Bartók (1881-1945) completed the sketches for his viola concerto shortly before his death in New York from leukemia in 1945. He had been commissioned to write the concerto by William Primrose, the great Scottish violist. Bartók wrote to Primrose shortly before his death that the concerto had been fully sketched out and only required a few weeks to be orchestrated, but he died before this work could be completed. At the request of the Bartók family, it fell to Tibor Serly, Bartók’s close friend and colleague, to write the orchestrations and finalize the concerto for publication. It took four years for Serly to finish this task, owing largely to the fragmentary nature of Bartók’s sketches, which were written on 13 unordered pieces of paper. The concerto was premiered by Primrose in 1949. While a number of subsequent revisions have been done (including one by Peter Bartók, the composer’s son), the original Serly version has remained a beloved staple of the viola literature ever since.
The concerto has three movements, played without a break. The opening Moderato begins with a lyrical four-bar theme in the solo viola, accompanied by ‘cello and bass. The theme is taken up by the winds in turn, and appears several times in the course of the movement. A contrasting triplet-based theme appears twice, accompanied by syncopations in the orchestra.
A short declamatory section (lento parlando) and a bassoon solo serve as a bridge to the short second movement. Titled adagio religioso, it is a quiet sustained slow movement, with a short agitated middle section featuring woodwind trills. A sudden solo viola accelerando brings us to a lively allegretto, punctuated by horns and timpani.
The rollicking last movement is based on a Rumanian Scottish-influenced melody appearing in contrast. Brilliant viola bring this work to a satisfying conclusion.