Max Bruch, Moses

by Christopher Fifield

Written for the concert Moses, performed on March 27, 2014 at Carnegie Hall.

Bruch born Jan 6, 1838 in Cologne, Germany; died Oct 2, 1920 in Friedenau, Germany
Moses composed in 1894–5; Premiered Jan 19, 1895 in Barmen, Germany
Approximate performance time: 2 hours
Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (cymbals, triangle), organ, harp, strings, chorus, and vocal soloists

Of one hundred published works by Max Bruch, the vast majority were for voice, from solo song to large-scale oratorio. In fact, it was this last genre upon which his reputation in Germany, England, and North America rested for most of his life, though of course it enjoyed nothing like the fame he posthumously earned with his first violin concerto (1868) and which (together with Kol nidrei and the Scottish Fantasy) endures to this day. There were periods in his long life of 82 years when Bruch earned his living as a conductor, either employed at the courts of Coblenz (1865–7) and Sondershausen (1867–70), or by the municipal authorities of cities such as Liverpool (1880–3) or Breslau (1883–90). Other years were spent as a freelance conductor (Berlin, 1878–80), a composer (1870–8), or as an eminent teacher of composition at Berlin’s Royal Academy of Arts from 1890 until his retirement in 1911. His appointment there at the age of 52 was largely thanks to his friends, the violinist and its director Joseph Joachim and the eminent musicologist and Bach expert Philipp Spitta. With the post went automatic membership of the Senate of the Academy and the title of professor. For Bruch, it was “a happy good fortune that, after a lifetime, I am now free of public opinion, the misery of the daily newspapers and the ordinary orchestral player,” and it also provided a much needed regular income to care for his wife and four children.

In the years immediately following his appointment to the Academy, Bruch composed in a flurry of activity. He produced songs, short choral works, a cello transcription of the Ave Maria Op. 61 from his earlier choral work Das Feuerkreuz Op. 52, the Swedish Dances for violin and piano Op. 63 (and their orchestral and two-piano versions), In Memoriam for violin and orchestra Op. 65, and the dramatic cantata Leonidas Op. 66 for the Vienna Male Voice Choral Society. Twenty years earlier, Bruch had forsaken the sacred oratorio for the secular, and this decade of the 1870s was a good time for him to make it his own. Hitherto the industrial revolution in Germany had spawned factories, whose more philanthropic owners formed choral societies from their work force, particularly after German unification. Instead of courts, factories became a place for performance as aristocrats lost their employer status to factory owners. Bruch worked in the industrial heartland of a unified Germany led by Bismarck. The first of his five secular oratorios was Odysseus Op. 41 in 1872 (performed by the ASO in 1995).

The oratorio, from the beginning of the seventeenth century to Mendelssohn, had been concerned exclusively with religious subject matter, and indeed oratorio can be defined as an extended setting of a religious text in an unstaged dramatic form. Though not requiring a scenic setting with costumes and action, Handel’s oratorios were conceived in dramatic terms and performed as a concert in theatres. In the mid-nineteenth century the oratorio was affected by the musical and political world around it. Liszt attempted a transfer of dramatic elements of the “music of the future” from his symphonic poems into his two oratorios, The Legend of St Elizabeth (1865) and Christus (1873), while Schumann had begun the move to the secular oratorio with Das Paradies und die Peri (1843, performed by the ASO in 2006) and the uncompleted Scenes from Goethe’s Faust (1844–53, performed by the ASO in 2010). The mood of unified Germany that followed the Franco-Prussian War was euphoric. Wagner had celebrated with his Kaisermarsch, Brahms with his Triumphlied Op. 55 (performed by the ASO in 1997), tauntingly described by Wagner as “Brahms running around wearing Handel’s Hallelujah wig,” while Bruch’s contribution was Das Lied vom deutschen Kaiser. The war reparations from the French created an economic boom. Nationalistic fervour was at its height, and wealth, leisure, and optimism created an atmosphere which encouraged social contact. Music was in demand for the increasing number of choral societies. It was also a period in German literature of the historical novel and historical retrospection (Felix Dahn and Georg Ebers). Bruch’s choral ballads and cantatas, such as Salamis, Normannenzug, Römische Leichenfeier, Frithjof, and Schön Ellen had already fired his imagination with the secular and heroic past, so it was only a matter of time before he turned to ancient Greece as a source for the larger-scale oratorios Odysseus and Achilles, to ancient Germany for Arminius with its theme of freedom and Gustav Adolf, while another was a setting of Schiller’s Das Lied von der Glocke, an allegorical poem on life. In 1895 he set episodes in the life of Moses as a political rather than a spiritual leader and called it a biblical oratorio with words from the Old Testament.

In spite of Bruch’s assertion made to Hermann Deiters in January 1873 that the sacred oratorio had no future after Mendelssohn, he opted for a work that would in dramatic terms continue directly on from Handel’s Israel in Egypt of 1739. The subject of Moses had been tackled by C.P.E. Bach (1775), Konradin Kreutzer (1814), Franz Lachner (1833), Eduard Grell (1838), Ludwig Drobisch (1839), Adolf Bernhard Marx (1841), Aloys Schmidt (1841), the Dutchman Anton Berlijn (1844), and Rudolf Thoma (1855). After 1870, Martin Blumner, Friedrich Kiel, Eduard Wilsing, and Ludwig Meinardus composed cantatas or oratorios on related events, while Anton Rubinstein’s Moses (1894) belonged more to the domain of spiritual opera than oratorio. Bruch first conceived the idea of his oratorio in 1889, but only began work after he was fully established in Berlin. He sought and received help in the initial stages from his friend and colleague Philipp Spitta, who, according to a letter written by Bruch to his publisher Simrock on June 24, 1894, “was preoccupied with oratorio matters throughout his life, was a true and all too invaluable adviser in the whole affair.…it is one of the greatest undertakings of my life and I have laid down the totality of my ability in this work.” Bruch saw Moses as the “only great representative and preserver of monotheism.” That was how he outlined the character to Spitta on December 17, 1893. By early January 1894, Ludwig Spitta (Philipp’s theologian brother) had accepted the task of forging a libretto for Bruch’s oratorio from his home in Hanover. The character of Moses was to be depicted as a caring but prophetic leader of the Israelites, a heroic warrior, and a disciple of God for whom his followers had the greatest respect. Many of these characteristics were in common with the heroes of his earlier secular works.

Moses was begun in the early months of 1894 and generated a constant flow of correspondence between the brothers Spitta and Bruch. The first occasion upon which Bruch actually met his librettist was at the graveside of his brother, for on April 13 Philipp died suddenly only a day after writing again to Bruch on the subject of Moses. Bruch was devastated. “I cannot tell you,” he wrote to Simrock on June 18, 1894, “how much I have lost in him.” For the rest of the year, Bruch and Ludwig Spitta resumed work on the oratorio and it was first performed under the composer’s direction on January 19, 1895 in Barmen, a former industrial metropolis in the region of Bergisches Land and now part of Wuppertal. Five performances took place in Germany during the following year at Bonn, Düsseldorf, Schwerin, Gotha, and Berlin, whereupon it virtually disappeared from the repertoire in spite of the composer’s own frequently expressed high opinion of it. The first American performance soon followed, given by the Oratorio Society of Baltimore, Maryland on February 6, 1896. However, Moses and indeed Bruch’s other secular oratorios now seem to have had something of a revival both in the recording studio (Das Lied von der Glocke, Odysseus (recorded by NDR-Hannover, Leon Botstein conducting [Koch]), Arminius one each, while of Moses alone three are available) and, since 1988, in public performance in the U.K. at London and Oxford; in Berlin, Germany; and in the USA at Greenville, South Carolina in a new English translation.

Four chronological events from the life of Moses form the four parts of the oratorio. It begins with Moses as the spiritual leader of his people receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. The second part deals with the worship of the golden calf by Aaron, depicting Moses in angry mood and rebuking his renegade people. Having arrived at Canaan’s borders, the third describes the report of the scouts sent out to reconnoitre the lie of the land, and after a further confrontation with Aaron and his followers, the warrior Moses leads his people into battle against the Amaleks. In the final part, Moses has brought the Israelites into the Promised Land and is now the respected leader of his people. It ends with his final blessing of his followers and his death.

There are three soloists: Moses (bass), Aaron (tenor), and the Angel of the Lord (soprano). The libretto is a mixture of paraphrase from the Old Testament and quotations from the Psalms. Although divided into 19 sections, Bruch used his established mix of both connected and separate numbers. Each soloist sings a variety of styles (recitative, arioso, and aria), with the chorus in the role of the people of Israel in four, five, or six-part homophonic or polyphonic part-writing and developed from Mendelssohn’s use of it in Elijah, choral recitative. No orchestral sections or complete numbers are extractable, though the Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise) was performed by itself at the Cologne Music Festival in the summer of 1895. Instrumental color, where appropriate, is provided by percussion, harp, cor anglais, or piccolo. The organ plays a prominent part, either as a solo instrument for recitatives or woven into the orchestral texture, but Bruch (consistent with his other compositions which include the organ) made provision for any absence of the instrument in the concert hall by scoring the parts for wind instruments as an alternative or ossia.

Simrock bought Moses for 15,000 marks even though Bruch had asked for 20,000 because “that very bad work” Gounod’s Redemption had earned more, but he was reminded by his publisher that for Elijah in 1846 Mendelssohn had received only 600 Friedrichs d’or (a Prussian gold coin in circulation 1741–1855). Bruch anticipated a success for the first performance. “Everything is going very well. The choir is very large (280 voices), secure, imposing and very well in tune. Organ excellent. Orchestra naturally not first class but fully adequate. The whole world is looking to the performance; I think we shall be happy.” The newspaper Barmer Zeitung acknowledged Bruch’s total inability and unwillingness to join the “modern free way of writing,” but nevertheless pointed out that

without the declamatory style and rich colors of Wagner’s orchestra, absolutely nothing can be composed today. Art lies purely in not losing the gathering of splendid material, the clear flow and healthy naturalness of expression, the beauty of sound and the ability to write for the voice. Purely a detail which many composers never learn and for which Bruch seeks his equal.

Perhaps this was the press producing the “stupid stuff” which Bruch dismissed out of hand, believing that “on the whole the work seems to have made a good and strong impression.” Moses was performed on May 7, 1896 to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Academy of the Arts in Berlin, and Bruch attributed its disappearance thereafter to this occasion, due to Joachim’s “unbelievable inability as a conductor of large choral forces,” a typical reaction from this ever-increasingly bitter, ungrateful, and inconsiderate man who could pour out such wonderful melodies.

“I could never have written Moses if a strong and deep feeling for God were not alive in me,” Bruch told Simrock. “Once in the lifetime of every deeply concerned artist it will happen that the best and innermost emotions of his soul can be announced to the world using the medium of his Art. I am little or nothing—I obey the spirit which is in me and moreover I seek seriously and conscientiously with the gifts which are loaned to me to develop them in any way possible. Thus Moses has proved to the world that I have not remained standing—for that is the greatest danger in old age.”

Dr. Christopher Fifield is a freelance conductor, music historian, lecturer, and broadcaster. He is Bruch’s sole biographer, the author of Max Bruch—His Life and Works.

Elliott Carter

by Richard Wilson

Written for the concert Elliott Carter: An American Original, performed on Nov 17, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Carter born Dec 11, 1908 in NYC; died Nov 5, 2012 in NYC

Pocahontas composed for piano in 1936, revised for orchestra in 1938–9, Suite composed in 1960; Original version premiered Aug 17, 1936 in Keene, NH; Orchestra version premiered at the Martin Beck Theatre in NYC on May 24, 1939 under Fritz Kitzinger
Approximate performance time: 20 minutes
Instruments: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, percussion, 1 piano, 1 harp, and strings

Sound Fields composed in 2007; Premiered Jul 20, 2008 under Stefan Asbury at the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood
Approximate performance time: 7 minutes
Instruments: strings only

Clarinet Concerto composed in 1996; Premiered Jan 10, 1997 under Pierre Boulez
Approximate performance time: 20 minutes
Instruments: 1 flute, 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 1 bassoon, 1 French horn, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, 1 tuba (doubling euphonium), percussion, 1 piano, 1 harp, strings, and solo clarinet

Warble for Lilac-Time composed in 1943; Premiered on Sep 14, 1946 by the Yaddo Orchestra under Frederick Fennell
Approximate performance time: 7 minutes
Instruments: 1 flute, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 1 harp, strings, and solo soprano

Voyage composed in 1943; Premiered in NYC on Mar 16, 1947
Approximate performance time: 6 minutes
Instruments: 2 flutes (1 doubling alto flute), 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 1 French horn, percussion, 1 piano, 1 harp, strings, and solo mezzo-soprano

Concerto for Orchestra composed in 1969; Premiered on Feb 5, 1970 by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein
Approximate performance time: 22 minutes
Instruments: 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet & 1 doubling E-flat clarinet), 3 bassoons (1 doubling contrabassoon), 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, percussion, 1 piano, 1 harp, and strings

Elliott Carter’s Pocahontas, the earliest work on this program, was commissioned by his Harvard classmate Lincoln Kirstein—son of the president of Filene’s Department Store—for his Ballet Caravan. The impulse for the scenario came from the second part of Hart Crane’s epic poem The Bridge, entitled “Powhatan’s Daughter.” Much of the music dates from 1936, when a preliminary version was performed with piano accompaniment. The official premiere took place three years later. The score was revised in 1960.

We will hear the suite that comprises four scenes from the ballet. An overture begins with attention-grabbing hammer strokes and continues in a fierce tone leading to less threatening music in tarantella style that depicts the English adventurers John Smith and John Rolfe lost in the Virginia forest and engaged in an improbable dance. (It is, after all, a ballet.)  A beautifully graded transition introduces Pocahontas and her ladies who are depicted by a solo violin in conversation with flute and clarinet. “The Torture of John Smith” recalls the stormy opening, now enhanced by angry trumpets and trombones. The turmoil is suddenly interrupted and we hear a gentle melody in flute and harp—the famous moment when Pocahontas saves John Smith. But she goes off to England with his sidekick John Rolfe. In a final “Pavane,” Carter reveals his affection for Elizabethan keyboard music.

The orchestration of Pocahontas exhibits many conventional devices such as lines doubled at the octave, instruments treated in traditional groupings, with large sections of the orchestra playing in similar rhythm—all features Carter would abandon in his mature works.

One such work is the Clarinet Concerto, the form of which—its delineation into seven parts—is made clearer by subdivisions of the ensemble of 17 players in addition to the traditional means of tempo and character contrast. The full assemblage participates in the seventh section and punctuates transitions among the others. But it is piano/harp/marimba in the first; percussion in the second; muted brass in the third; woodwinds in the fourth; strings in the fifth; and full-voiced brass in the sixth that give support and contention to the busy soloist. Sections three and five provide opportunities for expressive lyricism. This is one of the very few Carter works where the first and last sounds are loud.

A striking moment occurs at the exact midpoint of Carter’s only opera, What Next?. The five vocal characters retreat to the wings and the stage itself “sings.” The music consists of less than two minutes of quietly floating intervals and chords. In Sound Fields, the most recently composed work on this program, the composer takes the idea of restricted means further, choosing only the sonority of strings playing without vibrato, at a single dynamic level (mezzo piano), with no change in tempo, and without obvious rhythmic impulse. In a note in the score he writes: “Helen Frankenthaler’s fascinating Color Field pictures encouraged me to try this experiment.”

About his Warble for Lilac-Time, a setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, composed in 1943 for soprano and orchestra, Carter wrote: “In this song, I tried to catch Whitman’s visionary rapture, using smooth-flowing diatonic lines in the accompaniment and a lyric vocal line that becomes increasingly rhapsodic as the song progresses.”

Also from 1943 is Voyage, a setting of Hart Crane’s poem “Infinite Consanguinity” from the collection entitled Voyages. Originally for medium voice and piano, it was orchestrated in 1979

Elliott Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra salutes similarly titled predecessors by Walter Piston, Béla Bartók, and Witold Lutoslawski in which virtuosity is demanded of all members of the ensemble. Virtuosity is also demanded of listeners hearing this work for the first time, who may be surprised to learn that its design has 19th century antecedents. There are four movements framed by an introduction and coda. These components dissolve one into another with no articulating pause between. It helps to know that the first movement features cellos, piano, harp and wooden percussion; the second, a high-pitched scherzo, relies on stratospheric violins, piccolos and metallic percussion; the “slow movement” is ushered in and out by fairly violent timpani and bass drum attacks but includes some moments of repose, even a lyrical solo for double basses; clarinets, trumpet and snare drum color the finale which undergoes a gradual acceleration until, in the last measures, bell sounds mark the quiet close.  While composing this work, Carter found the poem Vents by Saint-John Perse, with its wind-swept images of change and renewal, suggestive of musical textures as well as overall character.

Personal Note: Elliott Carter’s conversation was as surprising as his music. Here are two examples.

RW: Did you ever meet Shostakovich?

EC: No, but I went to the movies with Prokofiev. In Paris. We saw a film about Schubert.

RW: I’ve just heard Fabio Luisi conduct Till Eulenspiegel with the Met Orchestra.

EC: Well I heard Richard Strauss conduct Till Eulenspiegel. In Munich. He had a very small beat…like Reiner. Did I ever tell you my Reiner story…?

Richard Wilson is ASO’s Composer in Residence and the Mary Conover Mellon Professor of Music at Vassar College.

Echoes of the Armory Show: Modern Music in New York

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert New York Avant-Garde, performed on Oct 3, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

The Armory Show of 1913 may have been a watershed moment in the history of American visual arts—the moment when European modernism burst onto the scene, even if its influence was not immediately apparent. However, as far as the musical culture of New York and America was concerned, its Armory Show moment, when the public and the newspapers in New York confronted an “ultramodern” radical assault on accepted canons, occurred only after World War I, in the early 1920s. That 1913 did not witness a transformative event in New York’s or America’s musical life is ironic. In the history of music in Europe, 1913 was a momentous year. In the spring of that year, two unrelated events revealed to the public what appeared to be an audible assault on nineteenth-century inherited aesthetics. In March, a legendary concert took place in Vienna that resulted in a near riot and intervention by the police. Held in the city’s main concert hall, the Musikverein, the concert featured, alongside a work by Gustav Mahler, music by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton von Webern, the triumvirate of the so-called Second Viennese School, whose music would exert a significant influence in America first in the 1930s, and even more so after 1945. In May, Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had its premiere in Paris with the Ballets Russes. The performance caused astonishment and open conflict (largely on account of the choreography, not the music). The media circus surrounding it assured Stravinsky lifelong notoriety and fame. However, a decade would pass before the more adventuresome music of the Rite, with its stylized evocations of the primitive, was heard in New York.

Perhaps the 1913 Armory Show and the furor it generated concerning new developments in the visual arts set the stage for comparable breakthroughs in music during the 1920s. Alluring as this might sound, what the absence of synchrony in the careers of art and music in New York reveals are independent and distinct historical trajectories of development, obvious points of comparison notwithstanding. The art world of New York in which the Armory Show came to occupy a legendary status was smaller than the city’s world of high-art musical culture. Art connoisseurship was more restricted to an elite of wealth than was the parallel involvement with and attachment to music. Since the 1880s, New York boasted a thriving music scene, framed by a busy concert life, many venues for music instruction, music publishers, instrument manufacturers, an opera season, and resident orchestras that reached an astonishingly wide segment of the population of the city, including but extending beyond an elite of patrons, a few of whom were also leading art collectors.

The public, critics, and patrons in New York who flocked to the Armory Show in February 1913 (including those who bought work from the show) were, if not concert goers, at least opera enthusiasts. There was a substantial overlap between art and music in terms of the public, far greater than that which we encounter today. However, as the design of Carnegie Hall, New York’s primary concert venue, suggests, the distribution of the audience for music was tilted in favor of a middle class. They constituted the backbone of an extensive civic musical life. Carnegie Hall had 2,800 seats, a minority of which were expensive parquet and box seats. A similar distribution was visible in the cavernous horseshoe auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera. And yet these venues were filled night after night, for nine months of the year, year after year.

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, New York had established itself as a vital center of amateur music making and a prized destination in the international concert circuit. The leading virtuosi, conductors, and composers of Europe either came to New York or had their music performed there. What we now amalgamate into the misleading rubric “classical” music helped define the public realm of nineteenth-century New York. This mirrored the extensive amateur activity, patronage, connoisseurship, and criticism that emanated from the massive immigration from Europe to New York, primarily from German-speaking and eastern Europe. William Steinway, of Steinway & Sons, whose forebears from the 1850s typified the German immigration to New York, was prominent in civic affairs and part of an elite that laid the foundations for much of the city’s economic and cultural life.

Participation in the most elite aspects of musical culture did not require great wealth, only enthusiastic amateurism. Musical literacy followed on the heels of the expansion of general literacy. The interest in playing music, in reading about music, and the resulting importance of music extended well beyond those who had access to the thousands of public concert seats available each week during the concert season. New York’s two concert seasons before and after the Armory Show (in five major venues), 1912–13 and 1913–14, reveal the vast scale of New York musical life, as well as its dominant German and Central European character. In 1913, the Metropolitan Opera had a full season with world-class artists from Europe, guest conductor Arturo Toscanini first and foremost among them. The seven-month concert seasons in the years 1910 through 1914 included events by a Russian symphony orchestra as well as dozens by German-language choral and concert societies. New York was home as well to a lively array of German-language light opera and musical theater venues.

The Armory Show’s roster of artists reveals the striking contrast between the French-centered art world and the Central European sources from which the concert life of New York and America took inspiration. The Armory Show had no examples of the work of German artist Max Klinger or Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, and no representatives of the Secession movements in Munich, Berlin, or Vienna. But their equivalents in music—Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Felix Weingartner, even Edward Elgar, an English composer highly influenced by German traditions—had a considerable presence in New York by 1913. Although the leading composers of the fin de siècle in France, represented by Jules Massenet, Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, and Claude Debussy, had made their way to New York by 1913, they remained in the shadow of their German contemporaries.

When the Armory Show opened in 1913, New Yorkers already believed that they had confronted the “modern” in music. The modernism they had heard was Russian and, above all, German, and only peripherally French. The hallmarks of this fin de siècle modernism were advances in harmonic usages (for example in the music of Alexander Scriabin), the distortion of surface structure (in Mahler), and the extensions of orchestral sonorities in the service of an extreme realism in musical illustration (in Richard Strauss). The only French modernism that had made headway in New York was a perceived attenuation of formal expectations in favor of color and atmosphere (in Debussy), highlighted by the New York premiere of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Manhattan Opera House in February 1908.

What differentiated musical culture from the visual arts in the years leading up to 1913 was that the “new” music from Europe had already earned the epithet “modern.” It was defined by the music of Mahler, Max Reger, Strauss, Ferruccio Busoni, and, to a lesser extent, Scriabin and Debussy. The high point of the first generation of musical modernism was the 1907 New York premiere of Strauss’s opera Salome. No doubt, as in the case of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), the subject matter and content of the opera produced the most astonishment. But the harmony, the sonorities, and the formal innovations in the composition did not go unnoticed. The second most memorable facet of this early form of the “modern” in music was the almost three-year tenure of Mahler at the New York Philharmonic, from 1908 to 1911, during which his programming of his own music as well as that of his contemporaries sparked dissent.

Despite the controversy Strauss and Mahler garnered, their modernism was understood as a manipulation rather than a rejection of the rhetorical conventions of late Romanticism. Indeed, the music of the entire first wave of modernism was received as ultimately compatible with an allegiance to the power of the late-Romantic idiom audible in the works of Saint-Saëns, Elgar, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. These latter composers’ works could be heard with regularity in New York in the decade in which the Armory Show was held. Their popularity helped consolidate a widespread attachment to the grammar and syntax of a nineteenth-century musical prose that was assumed by an enthusiastic educated public to be normative, and certainly the musical equivalents of late Romantic realism in painting and sculpture. American composers before World War I were overwhelmed with new European achievements. They struggled to overcome a lingering sense of backwardness and fought to be heard in concerts.

A comparable revisionism in music—a movement away from the German to the French—started with the musical modernists of the 1920s. These composers were organized into the League of Composers, which came into being in 1923, and the International Composers’ Guild, organized by Edgard Varèse in 1921. Though pitted against one another, the two organizations represented the key advocates of a new brand of avant-garde music. Their concerts and publications inspired contempt, enthusiasm, outrage, and a discourse of partisanship regarding tradition, modernity, and the nature of beauty in music comparable to the controversy surrounding the Armory Show.

Overt rejection of the fundamental premises of Romantic musical procedures and classical forms in the 1920s arrived not exclusively in the music of Europeans, but equally in the work of Americans such as Ives and Carl Ruggles (who was also a painter), whose idiosyncratic and quirky landscapes of sound seemed to have no European precedent. The 1920s also brought into public view America’s first international success in music: jazz. Jazz, whose evolution had been audible in the popular culture before World War I, became wildly popular and found its way into the concert music of younger Americans and Europeans. This second wave of musical modernism in New York of the 1920s may have been radical, and most closely analogous to the aesthetics of the Armory Show. But its most striking aspect was that it was assertively American, and if indebted to European influences, to French not Central European traditions. Modernism in the 1920s connected music, for the first time in New York, to the visual arts.

By 1930 the defense of the new and modern in music assumed a posture of superiority and progressiveness (as it had in 1913 in art). Attacking contemporary music was condemned as a philistine allegiance to German Romantic and classical traditions. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the compositions of a new generation of homegrown American “moderns” such as Ruggles, Cowell, Virgil Thomson, George Antheil, Copland (the last three with close ties to Paris), and Ives (although he was a much older figure) were heard as signs of progress. But the counterintuitive surfaces of the new music—the absence of easily comprehensible continuity, the distortion or rejection of tonality, and the angular sonorities—never became popular within the audience for music. The high modernism of the 1920s began as, and remained, the passion merely of an elite. This would spark an aesthetic crisis of conscience for many young modernists, including Copland and Cowell, who in the 1930s retreated from the radical stylistic break with tradition with which they had started their careers. Motivated after the Crash of 1929 (as were contemporaries in Europe and the Soviet Union) by socialism and progressive politics, they came to view the idea of a principled formalist and radical musical aesthetic that had no resonance within the broad public as repugnant.

What makes the Armory Show an important historical moment in the history of musical culture in America, however, is the fact that the exhibition and its modernity marked the beginning of a century-long rise to dominance of the visual arts in American culture. Music was displaced gradually from the center of New York’s cultural life as visual modernism in painting, sculpture, architecture, and photography created a truly mass audience for art. Despite its heralded and momentous appearance in the 1920s, modernist music failed to create among Americans a new or expanding audience. To the contrary, the modernism of the 1920s accelerated a process of disengagement and alienation that had begun before 1913 and by the end of the twentieth century pushed “classical” music to the margins of American culture. In art, the modernism first widely visible in 1913 at the Armory Show soon came to be accepted by the general public. In music, the equivalent second wave of modernism of the 1920s played a decisive role in reversing the expansion of the audience for concert music; it fundamentally challenged the audience’s conceits and its amateur habits. Musical modernism helped create a widening division within American musical culture. The audience for music slowly split in two, with one large sector in which anything new, even of a conservative character, assumed a marginal place, and a far smaller segment committed to contemporary and modernist developments. In the vacuum created by the marginalization of musical modernism in classical music came the burgeoning world of American popular music, from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, forms that exploited the habits of entertainment shaped by late nineteenth-century musical traditions.

Modernist music from the first quarter of the twentieth century failed to win the hearts and minds of the public for music. No equivalent in musical life and culture of the Whitney Museum of American Art or the Museum of Modern Art came into being. A century after the Armory Show, the paintings and sculpture that created the greatest furor are considered priceless; and when they are on display, they draw millions of viewers. Their most exact musical counterparts, whether in terms of chronology (in America), or aesthetic agenda remain at the margins of what people listen to today. They are, with singular exceptions (such as Stravinsky), at best accorded respect and sustained by scholarly attention. Cowell and Antheil, for example, are largely forgotten.

Musical modernism from the early twentieth century, except for jazz, has still not become beloved by the mainstream of enthusiasts of art and music. After World War II, in the wake of the movies, television, and color photography, visual culture replaced the dominance of musical culture once maintained by music as an arena of passive cultural spectatorship and amateurism and assumed a prestige as high art in the world of the economic and social elite, particularly in New York.

Classical musical culture around 1913 therefore may be regarded as a precursor to the centrality achieved by visual culture and high art during the twentieth century. That rise to popularity of the visual was led, from the Armory Show on, by modernism.

The full version of this essay may be found in the New York Historical Society’s catalogue The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution (ed. Marilyn Satin Kushner and Kimberly Orcutt) for its exhibit The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution.

Charles Griffes, Poem

by Matthew Mugmon

Written for the concert New York Avant-Garde, performed on Oct 3, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Griffes born Sep 17, 1884 in Elmira, NY; died Apr 8, 1920 in NYC
Poem composed in 1918; Premiered Nov 16, 1919 by the New York Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch with Georges Barrère on flute
Approximate performance time: 10 minutes
Instruments: 2 French horns, percussion, harp, strings, and solo flute

Charles Griffes fits uneasily within the usual story of the development of American music in the early 20th century. Born in Elmira, NY, Griffes studied piano and composition in Germany—a typical path for aspiring American musicians of his generation. But his interest in Asian and Celtic cultures—seen in pieces like 5 Poems of Ancient China and Japan (1917) and 3 Poems of Fiona Macleod (1918)—foreshadowed the exoticist impulses of ultramodernists like Henry Cowell. And his delicate, brilliant orchestration connected him to French trends, which would captivate American composers in the 1920s.

Griffes’ Poem is a one-movement flute concerto that suggests Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun as a reference point. The initial ascending rumble in the strings sets the scene for the flute and generates most of the piece’s melodic material. The flute enters with a version of this opening motive and then forges a rhythmically and harmonically indistinct course. The instrument’s rhythmic energy ebbs and flows, and the strings interrupt its motion periodically. About halfway through the piece, a passage for echoing French horns signals a transition from this hazy, rhapsodic section to one with clearer rhythmic profiles. String tremolos and a brief, feverish flute solo usher in a lively folk dance, at one point radiantly accompanied by tambourines. The dance episode culminates in a brilliant descending passage as the opening material returns, this time with a solo viola playing a newly prominent role.

Griffes was 35 when the New York Symphony Society first presented his Poem with flutist Georges Barrère. The New York Tribune called it a “composition of much grace and variety of expression, rich in melodic ideas and written with an unusual feeling both for the solo instrument and for the orchestra. If Americans can but continue to produce such works, all talk of the unrequited native composer will be speedily set at rest.” Griffes died just a few months later, leaving to his successors the task of realizing the Tribune’s prediction for American music.

Matthew Mugmon is assistant professor of musicology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2013.

George Antheil, A Jazz Symphony

by Matthew Mugmon

Written for the concert New York Avant-Garde, performed on Oct 3, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Antheil born Jul 8, 1900 in Trenton, NJ; died Feb 12, 1959 in NYC
A Jazz Symphony composed in 1925; Premiered on Apr 10, 1927 at Carnegie Hall
Approximate performance time: 8 minutes
Instruments: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 1 soprano saxophone, 1 alto saxophone, 1 tenor saxophone, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion, drum set, 2 pianos, 2 banjos (1 doubling guitar), strings, and solo piano

George Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony (1925, rev. 1955) was one of many attempts by composers in the 1920s to blend jazz with the prestigious symphonic tradition. The most famous of these attempts—and one of which the New Jersey native was all too aware—was George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924). Antheil initially planned his Jazz Symphony for Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, the group that introduced Rhapsody in Blue. What’s more, Antheil predicted that the Jazz Symphony would “put Gershwin in the shade.”

That forecast missed the mark, but the one-movement, highly episodic Jazz Symphony tackles the intersection of popular and highbrow more boldly than Gershwin’s better-known work, audaciously interweaving divergent sounds and styles. The work begins with a lilting Mariachi-flavored theme, soon followed by a piano solo that fuses ragtime with strident tone clusters. Throughout, banjos—commonly used at the time to signify African-American music—participate in rhythmically complex and intense passages that could appear in the music of Igor Stravinsky. Toward the end of the piece, an improvisatory passage for solo trumpet transitions into a sugary waltz heard in the piano before being repeated and amplified by the orchestra. Meanwhile, in several places, wind instruments riff comedically on the signature opening clarinet trill and wail of Gershwin’s Rhapsody.

A Jazz Symphony was first performed by blues pioneer W.C. Handy’s orchestra of African-American musicians. The premiere took place in a concert that also featured Antheil’s better-known Ballet Mécanique. (The latter composition, which included airplane propellers and a siren, had sparked riots at its own premiere the year before in Paris, where Antheil lived at the time. The ASO performed this piece at Carnegie Hall on October 6, 2010.) Almost 30 years later, in 1955, Antheil shortened and tamed the Jazz Symphony, but continued to stake a place for it in music history. Noting that it appeared “only slightly” after Rhapsody in Blue, he called the Jazz Symphony “one of the very first symphonic expressions which attempted to synthesize American jazz as a legitimate symphonic expression.” The original version is the one heard at this concert.

Matthew Mugmon is assistant professor of musicology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2013.

Aaron Copland, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra

by Matthew Mugmon

Written for the concert New York Avant-Garde, performed on Oct 3, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Copland born Nov 14, 1900 in Brooklyn; died Dec 2, 1990 in North Tarrytown, NY
Symphony for Organ and Orchestra composed in 1924; Commissioned by Sergey Koussevitsky; Premiered Jan 11, 1925 at Aeolian Hall in NYC by the New York Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch with Nadia Boulanger on the organ
Approximate performance time: 25 minutes
Instruments: 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, 1 harp, strings, and solo organ

Aaron Copland is regularly credited with having musically captured American landscapes in his ballets Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944). But the 1920s, an often overlooked period in his career, were crucial in establishing his musical persona. Copland’s composition teacher in Paris, Nadia Boulanger, introduced him to the star conductor Serge Koussevitzky. Koussevitzky, who would soon begin a 25-year tenure as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, sensed Copland’s potential and asked him to write an orchestral work to perform in America, with a solo organ part for Boulanger.

The result was Copland’s first significant orchestral composition, the three-movement Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924). Its airy, short first movement (“Prelude”) highlights the interplay between a slow but rhythmically steady organ part and various solo instruments. Copland later called the second movement (“Scherzo”) an early attempt to “adapt the raw material of jazz,” and he identified “rhythms that would not have been there if I had not been born and raised in Brooklyn.” The Scherzo is more about motion than melody, and urban energy lurks in the fast-moving, wind-dominated opening with its quickly shifting rhythms. In the middle, a long organ solo features a syncopated rhythm and a bluesy melodic inflection. The dramatic third movement (“Finale”) is the symphony’s center of gravity. Copland begins it with a mournful viola melody but builds to a rush of sound for full orchestra, with the organ finally revealing its potential for volume and sonic expansiveness. Brass outbursts, dazzling counterpoint, and abrupt mood shifts dominate this movement, which concludes with organ and orchestra at full throttle.

Walter Damrosch premiered Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra in January of 1925; Koussevitzky followed suit with the BSO on February 20. After the Boston performance, the writer Paul Rosenfeld, one of Copland’s advocates, noted that it was “hissed by a few convinced conservatives and violently applauded by a greater number of musical radicals.” Copland later produced a version without organ, which he designated as his First Symphony.

Matthew Mugmon is assistant professor of musicology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2013.

Carl Ruggles, Men and Mountains

by Matthew Mugmon

Written for the concert New York Avant-Garde, performed on Oct 3, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Ruggles born Mar 11, 1876 in East Marion, MA; died Oct 24, 1971 in Bennington, VT
Men and Mountains composed from 1924–41; Premiered on Dec 7, 1924 at Aeolian Hall in NYC by members of the State Symphony Orchestra under Sir Eugene Goossens
Approximate performance time: 12 minutes
Instruments: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings

Today, Carl Ruggles is known as one of America’s most iconoclastic and uncompromising composers—and one who, as Drew Massey recently put it, was “in touch with the infinite, able to render the mysteries of the universe in thimble-sized musical spaces.” Linked closely to the composers Charles Ives and Henry Cowell, Ruggles fits firmly in an ultramodernist strain in American music in which, as Carol J. Oja has shown, dissonance carried spiritual resonances.

Born near Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Ruggles studied violin and composition in the Boston area before moving to New York, where he met Edgard Varèse and found consistent support for his own music in Varèse’s International Composers Guild. It was through this group that Ruggles’ brief but forceful Men and Mountains (1924) had its premiere. The work had staying power in modernist circles; Henry Cowell published it three years later as the first score in his New Music Quarterly.

Men and Mountains makes an imposing first impression. Horns, angular melodies, and large leaps dominate the opening movement, “Men: A Rhapsodic Proclamation.” By comparison, the atmospheric second movement, “Lilacs,” is scored for strings only, and it shimmers and aches. A descending two-note motive begins the movement and recurs throughout, constructing an aura of yearning melancholy.

Although Ruggles’ legacy is that of a headstrong ultramodern, the final movement, “Marching Mountains,” reveals his debt to tradition. There, the aggressive temperament of the first movement returns with drumbeats that, with the help of the movement’s title, suggest trampling over a landscape. After a more intimate passage in which brief wind solos compete with strings, the movement’s initial intensity returns. But this time, it is infused with a familiar rhythmic idea—the short-short-short-long pattern from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (also a motive exploited by Ives in his Concord sonata), leading fatefully to the work’s unforgiving climax.

Matthew Mugmon is assistant professor of musicology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2013.

Edgard Varèse, Amériques

by Matthew Mugmon

Written for the concert New York Avant-Garde, performed on Oct 3, 2013 at Carnegie Hall.

Varèse born Dec 22, 1883 in Paris; died Nov 6, 1965 in NYC
Amériques composed from 1918–21; Premiered Apr 9, 1926 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski; NY Premiere Apr 13, 1926 at Carnegie Hall by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski
Approximate performance time: 25 minutes
Instruments: 4 flutes, 3 piccolos, 1 alto flute, 4 oboes, 1 English horn, 1 heckelphone, 4 clarinets, 1 E-flat clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 1 contrabass clarinet, 4 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 8 French horns, 6 trumpets, 5 trombones, 1 tuba, 2 contrabass tubas, 2 sets of timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, xylophone, sleigh bells, cyclone whistle, steamboat whistle, siren, string drum, crow call, rattle, side drum, bass drum, 2 cymbales, crash cymbal, triangle, castanets, tambourine, slap stick, twig brush, tamtam), celesta, 2 harps, and strings

It is a testament to the international profile of musical modernism in the New York of the 1920s that one of its driving figures was born in France. Edgard Varèse moved to New York in 1915 and embarked on a career as a conductor, composer, and impresario. His most prominent venture in the 1920s was the International Composers Guild, which provided a lively forum for modernist works, including many by Varèse.

As a composer, Varèse aimed to expand the aural palette of art music—a goal he made clear in Amériques, for large orchestra, his first composition as an American resident. Varèse said that its title was “symbolic of discoveries—new worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men.” From the very start of Amériques, these seemingly brand-new sonic spaces bombard the listener. A snippet of birdsong in the alto flute anchors the piece, repeated in short succession as though winding up an enormous orchestral motor. Trumpet, English horn, and violin periodically recharge the motor with repetitions of that motive. In between those statements, seemingly chaotic barrages of percussion and siren combine with Varèse’s unconventional instrumental effects. The violins’ brief version of the opening motive, about two-thirds of the way through the piece, ushers in a raucous dance-like passage propelled by a winding tune in the upper winds. At the close of this dance, a surreal call-and-response between siren and orchestra prefigures the final moments of sonic bedlam.

Leopold Stokowski’s New York premiere of Amériques made a striking first impression. As Olin Downes wrote in the New York Times, “No sooner had the last of the strange sounds of Mr. Varese disappeared in the silence when the audience commenced to demonstrate—to hiss, to applaud, to gesticulate, even to whistle and bawl.” Varèse revised it the following year, but the original version is the one heard at this concert.

Matthew Mugmon is assistant professor of musicology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2013.