CHEEVER COUNTRY: Suite for Orchestra

CHEEVER COUNTRY: Suite for Orchestra

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.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: Suite for Orchestra

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: Suite for Orchestra

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).

Bridges

Bridges

Image of Victoria Bond

Victoria Bond


A five-movement suite for orchestra.

“Bridges” for orchestra was originally composed in 2006 as a chamber work for two clarinets, erhu, and pipa with influences drawn from the folk music of China and America. The orchestral version was commissioned by Nan Washburn and the Michigan Philharmonic and premiered in 2014.

This suite is organized around five actual bridges: Railroad Trestle Bridge in Galax, Virginia; Stone Bridge Over a Reflecting Pool in Suzhou, China; Golden Gate Bridge; Brooklyn Bridge; and Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge.

Railroad Trestle uses the motoric rhythm of a train and the sound of a fiddle and banjo playing country music. Stone Bridge is based on a traditional Chinese song called Moli Hua or Jasmine Flower. Golden Gate Bridge recalls the folk music of the 1960’s and 70’s in California, particularly a song by Joan Baez. Brooklyn Bridge brings together a second meaning of the word “bridge” in that it refers to the “B” or “bridge”section of a be-bop standard, Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. Mackinac Bridge is based on an American folk song, “The Water is Wide.”


 

 

Incidental Music to Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge

Incidental Music to Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge

Purcell is considered one of England’s greatest native-born composers, flourishing during the Restoration period which followed the accession of King Charles II. Prodigiously talented, he composed hundreds of works, including anthems, hymns, songs, operas, odes, theater music and instrumental works. Purcell composed his incidental music to the play “Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge” in 1695, shortly before his untimely death at the age of 36. Music played an important part in Restoration theater. It marked a play’s opening and closing, scene and mood changes, and highlighted different aspects of the action. For this revenge tragedy, Purcell wrote nine separate instrumental sections — a declamatory overture and many different varieties of dance music. Of all of these, the second movement Rondeau is the most celebrated; it was used by Benjamin Britten as his theme for “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

Overture and March from “Turandot”

Overture and March from “Turandot”

This short overture and its accompanying march have an unusual history. The theme, first introduced by the piccolo, is based on a Chinese tune first noted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Dictionnaire de Musique in 1768. Described as an “Air Chinois,” the tune was brought to France from China in the 18th century by a French missionary.

The Turandot story itself was derived from Central Asian/Persian sources; it involves a prince who travels to China, falls in love with the Emperor’s daughter, solves deadly riddles to win her, and (after much travail) weds her in the end. The story has been used by (among others) Carlo Gozzi, an Italian 18th-century playwright, and most famously, Puccini in his 20th century opera.

In 1804 the noted German author Schiller translated Gozzi’s text into German. For the 1809 premiere, Weber wrote an overture and six related pieces as incidental music, with a unifying theme based on the “Air Chinois.” The overture develops the basic theme by exploring different harmonic and orchestral combinations, and features all sections of the orchestra.

 

Lieutenant Kije

Lieutenant Kije

This work began as a film score. In 1934 Prokofiev was commissioned to compose a score for Lieutenant Kijé (in Russian, Parootchik Kizhe), a movie satirizing the military and bureaucracy in Czarist Russia.

The plot is based on a mythical tale that hinges on a spelling error. In the film, a clerk misspells a phrase while copying out military orders: the Russian phrase “parootchiki, zheh” (“the lieutenants, however…”) becomes “Parootchik Kizheh (“Lieutenant Kizheh”). The Czar reads the orders and thinks there is a “Lieutenant Kijé” in his guard company!

Not daring to tell the Czar about the copying mistake, the Czar’s aides, courtiers and military officers instead fabricate an entire life for the “Lieutenant.” Besides a military career, they concoct a romance and even a marriage for him.

The fictional lieutenant rises high in the Czar’s esteem and is rewarded with promotions and riches. Finally, the Czar’s aides devise a way to “kill off” the non-existent lieutenant, and he is buried with military honors.  

By 1937 Prokofiev reworked the movie score into a substantial five-movement suite, each depicting a scene from the fictional lieutenant’s life. It begins with the “Birth” of Kijé, featuring a far-off trumpet solo and martial music.

This is followed in succession by a Romance based on a love song (featuring a double bass solo); Kijé ‘s marriage, with a flourish of brass, pomp and ceremony, followed by a lively trumpet tune; the famous Troika, evoking a winter sleigh ride in the snow; and, finally, Kijé ‘s death and burial, in which brief passages from the other movements serve as reminiscences of his fictional “life.”

The suite ends as it began, with a trumpet solo in the distance.

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