Billy the Kid is a 1938 ballet written by the American composer Aaron Copland on commission from Lincoln Kirstein. It was choreographed by Eugene Loring for Ballet Caravan. Along with Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, it is one of Copland’s most popular and widely performed pieces. The ballet is most famous for its incorporation of several cowboy tunes and American folk songs and, although built around the figure and the exploits of Billy the Kid, is not so much a biography of a notorious but peculiarly appealing desperado as it is a perception of the pioneer West, in which a figure such as Billy played a vivid role.
It was premiered on 16 October 1938 in Chicago by the Ballet Caravan Company, with pianists Arthur Gold and Walter Hendl performing a two-piano version of the score. The first performance of Billy the Kid in New York City occurred on 24 May 1939, with an orchestra conducted by Fritz Kitzinger.
Thinking like a mountain is a term coined by Aldo Leopold in his 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.
This work was premiered in October, 1994 by the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra; Roanoke, VA Co-commissioned by: Shanghai Symphony (China), Billings Symphony (MT), Elgin Symphony (IL) and Explore Park (VA).
Alexander Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto in A-flat major (1950) is the Armenian composer’s sixth major composition, a “virtuoso showpiece” composed in 1949-1950. According to J. Sundram, “it is an energetic powerhouse of Eastern European lyricism and harmonic textures”.
Arutiunian’s engaging and idiomatic trumpet concerto was “quickly assimilated into the standard trumpet repertoire worldwide, earning highest international praise from audiences, critics and performers”. In an interview with Allan Kozinn of The New York Times, Philip Smith, the principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic, observed that Arutunian’s Trumpet Concerto was frequently chosen as an audition piece at Juilliard. “One of the reasons this piece has become so popular…” Smith said, “is just that it’s a flashy piece. It has a very gypsyish, Russian, Armenian kind of sound, with very soulful, beautiful melodies and plenty of exciting rapid-tonguing kind of things.'” * Professor Anatoly Selyanin related in 2004, “In January I headed the jury of an American competition devoted to the Arutiunian trumpet concerto. 34 trumpeters played only this concerto.” Selyanin said that “even a dog”, if admitted to a performance, would recognise the musical structure at once and “know that in eight steps the concerto will be complete”…
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.