Music, Autocracy, and Exile

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Triumph of Art, which will be performed on December 7, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

What makes music so compelling as a means of human expression? Why were composers and audiences in the 20th century still drawn to the symphony and the concerto, musical forms that require neither words nor images and that occupy an extended duration of time? Why did composers seek to prove wrong Richard Wagner’s prediction that the traditions of instrumental music—music thinking pursued autonomously on its own terms—were incompatible with the presumed progress of history? The answers to these recurrent and familiar questions inevitably touch on how music is capable of escaping the limits of language, particularly with regard to the expression of human emotions and the evocation of human experience.

The circumstances of a composer’s life readily offer clues to understanding the unique character and appeal of vehicles of musical communication independent of linguistic and pictorial narration. The factors that influence the choices that composers make are not always psychological and personal, strictly speaking; interior struggles that lend themselves readily to confessional narratives in music of the sort are audible in several of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, or descriptive “realistic” musical evocations in symphonic form (consider Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony, for example). Tonight’s concert highlights the significance of the political conditions under which composers lived. Politics framed the role, cultural significance, and limits faced by composers. And politics inevitably triggered a spectrum of psychological responses.

Two of the composers on this program worked within the post-World War II Soviet-dominated space. The communist regimes in post-World War II Europe privileged the practice and pursuit of classical music. During this time frame, composers behind the Iron Curtain were important personages, and prestigious and celebrated figures in a manner unfamiliar to their counterparts in the “free world.” Grażyna Bacewicz was perhaps Poland’s finest post-war compositional talent after Witold Lutosławski, but she is far less known. Indeed, her music has been largely overlooked in the West. Whatever reputation she developed remains tied to the fact that she started out as a performer. By all accounts she was a fantastic violinist. Her career as a performer, however, was cut short by injuries sustained in an automobile accident. I was introduced to her music by my teacher Roman Totenberg, the great Polish Jewish violinist and pedagogue. He, like Bacewicz, studied with Carl Flesch, and was also his assistant. He knew that my parents were Polish speaking Jews who, like him, immigrated to the United States, albeit a decade and a half later, after World War II. This shared biographical connection to Poland led him to surmise that her music for the violin, including the concertos, would appeal to me.

That Bacewicz’s music is not celebrated is an egregious oversight. Her output was extensive: seven concertos for violin as well as several for other instruments, four symphonies (part of a varied orchestral output), dramatic works, incidental music, choral music, and chamber music, including quartets. The list is rich and varied. Like so many composers of her generation, she studied with Nadia Boulanger. She was the recipient of awards in both Europe and the United States. She is credited as the woman who opened the way in Poland for other female composers, and during her lifetime commanded the respect of her colleagues and the public. Why she remains overlooked is inexplicable.

Bacewicz was in no obvious way a dissident. But she made ample use of the relative freedom of and sympathy towards aesthetic modernism in Communist Poland. Musical inspiration, as in her case, was able to flourish in a condition of un-freedom precisely because of the fact that music was a communicative medium whose precise meaning could not be decoded and translated into language or images. Therefore instrumental concert music, as opposed to prose and painting, suffered less at the hands of Communist ideologues and censors.

The second composer on today’s program to come of age under Soviet rule was Alfred Schnittke. More than Bacewicz, he rebelled openly against the strictures of ideological control over art maintained by the state. He was an innovator whose career, particularly in the late 1970s and 1980s, was stifled by the authorities. He finally emigrated out of the Soviet Union, already debilitated by a stroke, in 1990, eight years before his death. He happened to be in New York in the 1990s when the ASO performed his Faust Cantata. One of most memorable phone conversations I have had was when he called to discuss a possible change to the ending of the work and suggest a few dramatic flourishes in the choreography of the music, particularly the entrance of the lead role from the back of the hall.

The political context of Bohuslav Martinů was defined by his fate as an exile. Martinů, through the craftsmanship and variety of his output, earned the status as the heir to the remarkable 19th century legacy of Czech music. Martinů was the finest Czech composer after Janáček. In scale and scope, Martinů was the 20th century’s equivalent of Dvořák. And he was also an ardent patriot.

But he was destined to live outside of his homeland. He experienced the principled necessity of exile, much like his contemporaries, the conductor Rafael Kubelík and the pianist Rudolf Firkušný, a close friend. First came the German annexation and invasion in the late 1930s. Then came the era of communist control of Czechoslovakia after World War II. Exile in the United States was not a particularly happy experience for Martinů. His music from the war years, and the 1950s during the Cold War, reveals the composer’s predicament. Martinů experienced bouts of depression; the struggle with political displacement deepened them. But it was in exile that Martinů, who died in 1959 in Switzerland, turned his attention to the orchestra as a medium, particularly the symphonic form. He struggled against the comparatively marginal status he had in America, both as a composer and a foreigner, despite considerable efforts to help him. In response he produced a series of large-scale works that have, over time, earned him his rightful place as one of the finest symphonists of the 20th century. The orchestra, and therefore instrumental music as a major public experience, one with more of a cultural and political impact, became the vehicle through which the isolation of exile, nostalgia, and a sense of homelessness could be contended with.

The works on today’s program by these three composers illuminate the extent to which instrumental music in the grand tradition flourished as a medium of communication with the public in a manner adequate to the circumstances of tyranny, autocracy, and displacement that prevailed during the mid-20th century.

Grażyna Bacewicz, Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion

by Peter Laki

Written for the concert Triumph of Art, which will be performed on December 7, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Born February 5, 1909 in Łódź, Poland
Died January 17, 1969 in Warsaw, Poland
Composed in 1958
Premiered in 1959 at the Warsaw Autumn Festival
Performance Time: Approximately 19 minutes

Upon hearing the words Music for Strings…and Percussion in the title of a composition, one immediately thinks of Bartók’s masterpiece from the year 1936, where the missing word in the title is completed by ‘celeste.’ Bartók’s music found a particularly strong resonance in postwar Poland where, in 1958, Witold Lutosławski composed his Funeral Music in memory of Bartók. The very same year, Grażyna Bacewicz, a celebrated composer and violinist, presented her own Music for Strings, which calls for no fewer than five trumpets in addition to the strings and percussion, although Bartók’s celeste was also retained as part of the percussion section.

Stylistically, Bacewicz owes little or nothing to Bartók, although her music, too, is full of rhythmic vitality and builds upon the contrasts between “wild” ostinatos and lyrical, melodic moments. Traces of neo-classicism may be found in the use of concerto grosso-like juxtapositions of solo instruments and larger groups, but Bacewicz avoids associations with earlier music and follows an essentially modernistic path.

The three-movement composition, which Bacewicz herself included among her best works, opens with a complex texture of agitated sixteenth-note figures in the strings, against which the five trumpets enter with their striking and pungent harmonies. Soon, the ensemble breaks up into groups of soloists (violins, cello, celeste), introducing a second idea consisting of constant syncopations. A scherzo-like third idea, with fast-moving staccato (separated) notes, gives rise to a new development followed by the recapitulation of the previous two themes, in reverse order. A brief, fanfare-like coda ends the movement.

The slow central movement begins with an eerie ostinato figure with violins playing sul tasto (on the fingerboard), against which a solo viola and a solo double bass sing a mysterious duet that gradually draws in the entire string section. A solo cello suddenly cuts through the multi-layered string texture, and then the muted trumpets add their voices to the mix. A moment of emotional upsurge, with the trumpets removing their mutes, suddenly morphs into its opposite: a section with mysterious trills and isolated celeste attacks, a kind of “night music” to end this unique Adagio.

The concluding “Vivace,” where the xylophone is heard for the first time, bursts with energy and brings back some motivic elements from the first movement (sixteenth-note runs, light-footed staccato figures), investing them with new sense of excitement. A second, more melodious but still rhythmically driven section begins with some of the violins and violas playing col legno (with the wood of the bow). This vibrant and wholly unpredictable music includes some ferocious drum solos, a brief solo for string quartet with two cellos, and a dash to the surprise ending.

Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion has been successfully choreographed several times over the years, in London, Paris, and The Hague. In 1960, it won a prize in Paris at the UNESCO International Tribune of Composers. It was dedicated to conductor Jan Krenz, who led the first performance at the 1959 Warsaw Autumn Festival.

Peter Laki is Visiting Associate Professor of Music at Bard Conservatory of Music.

Bohuslav Martinů, Symphony No. 6, Fantaisies symphoniques

by Peter Laki

Written for the concert Triumph of Art, which will be performed on December 7, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Born December 8, 1890, in Polička, Czechoslovakia
Died August 28, 1959, in Liestal, Switzerland
Composed in 1951–53
Premiered on January 7, 1955 in Boston, Massachusetts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Performance Time: Approximately 28 minutes

Bohuslav Martinů said about his Fantaisies symphoniques, also known as his Sixth Symphony: ‟[It is] a work without form. And yet something holds it together, I don’t know what, but it has a single line, and I have expressed something in it.” While the composer never explained that ‟something,” it is clear that there was a very personal impulse behind the symphony, and that the creative process was a bit of a mystery even to the creator.

Certainly, this work has numerous features that are unique in the vast output of the Czech master. The very opening, with its mysterious murmurs in woodwinds and solo strings, transpierced by an insistent trumpet call, has a thoroughly modern sound that is lightyears removed from the neo-classicism Martinů had long been cultivating. But this amorphous opening contrasts with passages of extremely clear-cut major-mode sonorities, achieving a fascinating blend where seemingly incompatible styles are joined together as in a fantasy world. This may have been one reason why Martinů chose to call his work ‟Symphonic Fantasias”—another being the fact that no traditional forms, such as sonata form, are observed. (The composer’s first idea for a title had been Nouvelle symphonie fantastique, with a nod to Berlioz.)

A single principal motif that runs through the entire piece—a simple musical idea of four notes (F—G-flat—E—F). These two half-steps, separated by a half-step, are first introduced by an unaccompanied solo cello right after the initial ‟murmurs.” (The motif actually derives from the opening of Dvořák’s Requiem.) The fiery Allegro that follows includes a gentle, pentatonic episode also possibly influenced by Dvořák—in this case, the ‟American” Dvořák. After all, the symphony, like the other five that Martinů wrote, date from the composer’s twelve-year sojourn in the United States (1941–53). The movement culminates in a highly unusual passage scored for solo violin and percussion which leads to the return of the ‟American” theme and then of the murmuring introduction.

Commentators have described the second movement as a ‟scherzo” of sorts, no doubt because of its high energy and the unpredictable thematic changes. In the rapid tremolos of the opening, dissonant clashes pile up to form a dense and dissonant texture, which dissolves when a new melody, played by the violas, softens the mood. After a long string of orchestral ostinatos (all of which include the half-step), a new formal unit begins in which long woodwind melodies are set against some nervous figurations in the strings. The insistence on short motivic units of two or three notes, repeated almost without variation, recalls Leoš Janáček, the most important Czech composer from the generation before Martinů: the author of the famous Sinfonietta was also fond of working with such tiny melodic units. After a return of the viola theme and a massive orchestral buildup, Martinů’s movement ends in a rather abrupt and subdued fashion.

Most of the third and last movement is a meditation on the Dvořák-Requiem motto, with the tense atmosphere temporarily brightened by a lyrical clarinet melody, but the brief idyll is disrupted by a new dramatic buildup, into which Martinů inserted a quote from his opera Juliette, perhaps his favorite among all his works. Another melody with ‟American” syncopations leads to the climax, after which a final recall of the motto and a soft chorale bring the symphony—and with it, Martinů’s American period—to its conclusion. The work was actually finished in Paris, where the composer had lived before the war and where he now returned. Except for another seven-month period spent in New York in 1955–56, he remained in Europe—France, Italy, and Switzerland—until his death in 1959.

Peter Laki is Visiting Associate Professor of Music at Bard Conservatory of Music.

Grażyna Bacewicz, Violin Concerto No. 7

by Peter Laki

Written for the concert Triumph of Art, which will be performed on December 7, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Born February 5, 1909 in Łódź, Poland
Died January 17, 1969 in Warsaw, Poland
Composed in 1965
Premiered on January 13, 1966 at the Grande Salle de Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels, with Augustín León Ara and the Belgian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Sternfeld
Performance Time: Approximately 20 minutes

Bacewicz was trained as a virtuoso violinist, which explains the large number of works for violin, and strings in general, in her catalog. In particular, there are not many composers in the twentieth century who wrote as many as seven violin concertos; and Bacewicz herself played the premieres of the first four. (A serious car accident in 1954 put an end to her active performing career.)

In the 1960s, the so-called “Polish school” was one of the most exciting phenomena on the international new-music scene. The contemporary music festival Warsaw Autumn, founded in 1956, quickly established itself as one of the foremost events of its kind in the world, unique in bringing the latest in Western avant-garde music behind the Iron Curtain. New Polish music, works like Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and Witold Lutosławski’s Venetian Games (1961), conquered the world, using the most innovative musical techniques without ever renouncing expressivity.

Bacewicz, who had come from an essentially neo-classical compositional background, explored avant-garde tendencies together with her younger contemporaries, and in her last violin concerto, she filled out the traditional three-movement concerto form with an utterly new sound world emphasizing violinistic effects such as slow glissandos passing through many approximately notated intermediate pitches, and often placing the bow sul tasto (on the fingerboard) or sul ponticello (near the bridge). In the orchestra, the harps, the celeste, and the percussion play particularly important roles, and even the string section is sometimes treated “like percussion,” as the composer instructed. Yet the solo part is not without its lyrical, melodic moments, especially in the central slow movement, an atmospheric “Largo,” where the soaring lines of the violin blend with the mysterious “night noises” of the orchestra. The outer movements likewise include a multiplicity of musical characters, as indicated by the unusual tempo instruction of the first movement (“Tempo mutabile”), or by the alternation, in the Allegro finale, of playful figurations and more relaxed, introspective episodes.

Peter Laki is Visiting Associate Professor of Music at Bard Conservatory of Music.

Alfred Schnittke, Symphony No. 5

by Peter Laki

Written for the concert Triumph of Art, which will be performed on December 7, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Born November 24, 1934 in Engels, Russia (Soviet Union)
Died August 3, 1998, in Hamburg, Germany
Composed in 1988
Premiered on November 10, 1988 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly
Performance Time: Approximately 37 minutes

Almost twenty years after his death, it is becoming increasingly clear that Alfred Schnittke was one of the few composers for whom the traditional genres of symphony (with more than 200 years of uninterrupted history) and the concerto grosso (a Baroque genre revived around the 1920s) had always retained their relevance. What is more, Schnittke was able to breathe new life into these old forms, in constant dialogue with the musical past but approaching that past like no one had ever done before.

Between 1972 and 1994, Schnittke composed nine symphonies and six concerti grossi, for a total of fourteen works since the present composition was counted twice: it is both a concerto grosso (No. 4) and a symphony (No. 5). In fact, the four-movement work begins as a concerto grosso and morphs into a symphony, merging the two genres into a single, monumental orchestral statement that seems to reverse the classical “darkness-to-light” dramaturgy of many classical symphonies from Beethoven to Mahler: this time, the path of the music leads from (relative) light straight down into (absolute) darkness.

As many commentators have noticed, Mahler was always a central reference point for Schnittke. The composer’s friend and biographer Alexander Ivashkin saw Mahler as the source of Schnittke’s “sense of irreconcilable conflict,” and he quoted the following illuminating sentence from a review by Richard Taruskin: “With a bluntness and an immodesty practically unseen since the days of Mahler, Mr. Schnittke tackles life-against-death, love-against-hate, good-against-evil and (especially in the concertos) I-against-the-world.”

The work begins with a rather simple and straightforward trumpet tune, but it is immediately distorted by the dissonant second voice supplied by the second trumpet. This tune functions as a Baroque ritornello of sorts; it is also heard as played by the concertino or small group, in this case, a violin, an oboe, and a harpsichord. In the course of the movement, the three solo instruments don’t always play as a unified group pitted against the orchestra: they also have individual solo passages and sometimes join in the orchestral tuttis as well.

The Mahler connection becomes explicit in the second movement, which in fact is based on the second movement Mahler planned for his Piano Quartet in A minor but never finished. This quartet, Mahler’s first surviving composition, was written in 1876 when the composer was sixteen and was just beginning his studies at the Vienna Conservatory. Since its first publication in 1973, the completed first movement has established itself in the chamber music repertoire, but the second movement, from which only a short fragment exists, has been known only from the appendix of the first edition. The editor, German composer Peter Ruzicka, saw the makings of a Scherzo here, but the surviving music hardly seems to bear out that description; it would be closer to the mark to call it an “intermezzo” in the Brahmsian sense. In any case, it was upon this fragment that Schnittke built his movement (which is not at all scherzo-like), presenting Mahler’s melody in a wide variety of instrumental guises, adding some rather dissonant counterpoint. At the very end, we hear the music as Mahler wrote it, in the original piano quartet scoring—and in this context, it almost sounds like a work by Schnittke written in a 19th-century style! (Schnittke himself called attention to the very unusual modulation from G minor to A major found in Mahler’s fragment.)

The third movement, the longest of the four, is also “Mahlerian,” although it contains no actual quotations. But it uses echoes of funeral marches and chorales like many of Mahler’s symphonies, and some passionate agitato figures in the violins also recall the Austrian master. Only in the Schnittke, the dramatic contrasts are even greater, the “contrasts” even more “irreconcilable,” thanks to an intensely chromatic harmonic language and a highly unusual orchestration emphasizing the lowest instruments in the orchestra, the tuba and the contrabassoon. The main theme of the movement, surprisingly, is identical to the jolly little tune with which the first movement opened—only in extreme slow motion and in the lowest register. Out of this material, Schnittke constructed a movement full of high drama, followed without a pause by the fourth movement, an extended, slow epilogue, in which we hear the first movement’s little ditty made to sound positively tragic. An implacable series of drumstrokes, first heard early in the movement, return at the height of the gigantic final fortissimo, after which the music gradually fades into silence.

Schnittke composed this majestic work for the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, which gave the first performance under Riccardo Chailly on November 10, 1988. Three years after suffering the first of four major strokes, the composer was just entering a remarkably productive late period, which lasted until shortly before his death a decade later.

Peter Laki is Visiting Associate Professor of Music at Bard Conservatory of Music.

Music and Democracy

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert The Sounds of Democracy, which was performed on October 11, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

During the past century—the hundred years since America entered World War I—what has been (and still might be) the connection between the essentially European traditions of orchestral and symphonic music and the ideals, demands, and predicaments of American democracy? The historical precedents of form and expression that preoccupied the American composers on today’s program emerged from a political world quite different from the American experience. Classical and Romantic concert music witnessed its significant development in a condition of un-freedom—a century of reaction and failed revolution—during which Europe remained largely dominated by monarchies that severely restricted a citizen’s political participation.

The impressive and predominant link forged between large-scale musical forms and politics during the second half of the nineteenth century in the European context concerned nationalism—the use of music to define and assert nascent and emerging modern national identities. Wagner and Sibelius are two obvious examples of this. American composers, however, faced barriers to any simple emulation of the European rhetorical manner of connecting musical expression and the articulation of modern nationalism. America, by 1900, was an unusual amalgam of immigrants, descendants of slaves, and surviving native populations. Not only was America a relatively young political construction, without a shared language or religion, but it was also made up of distinct regions and lacked persuasive, quasi-religious, unifying myths. Its leading post-civil war distinguishing symbols, particularly during the decades of mass immigration, were its founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. America was a land of laws, rights, and a government that imagined an equality of citizenship between those who were born on its land and those that acquired it later in life (with the exception of the right to become President). The legal rhetoric of the nation’s founding was a vision of an egalitarian democracy that offered to all the right to political participation, economic opportunity, and protection from tyranny, the fact and legacy of slavery notwithstanding.

Indeed, the career and biographies of the three composers on this program—all of whom knew one another—suggest this point. Sessions was the quintessential Anglo-American aristocrat, a scion of founders of the nation. Copland descended from a relatively early cohort of Eastern European Jewish immigrants to America who pursued a rapid and successful path to acculturation. Leonard Bernstein was a first generation American Jew of Eastern European origins whose parents negotiated the language and customs of their newfound national home with charming eccentricity and who remained (in contrast to Copland’s parents) evidently tied, in manners and mores, to the old country.

What kind of music fits the celebration of equal citizenship and love of freedom, extols the promises of democracy and the rule of law, and is distinctly American all without striking an exclusionary or nativist note? Copland’s 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man, which became central to his 1946 Third Symphony, was used during the bicentennial celebrations of 1976 to express America’s spirit. But as Byron Adams reminds us, during the 1950s that unique Copland sound—found in the powerful Lincoln Portrait, also from 1942—was under suspicion, and not only for biographical reasons (e.g. Copland’s liberal political sympathies). Perhaps its theatrical solemnity and restrained modernism made it too similar to certain types of “left wing” musical aesthetics—even those of Shostakovich. Copland, like his (and Bernstein’s) friend Marc Blitzstein and contemporaries Hanns Eisler and Kurt Weill, had become skeptical during the 1930s of radical musical modernism. It was too remote and too hard for listeners. Modernism, despite its overt embrace of an inherent parallelism between radical progressive change in art and politics, actually created an intolerable distance between the masses and the artist.

Copland’s populism succeeded; works like Billy the Kid (1938) and Appalachian Spring (1944) made him the iconic voice of America at mid-century. And Copland’s populist brand of modern music never quite lost its association with a liberal expansive view of the nation—one associated with Lincoln and Roosevelt. Copland’s most famous and devoted protégé was Leonard Bernstein, whose music owes a singular debt to Copland.

But Bernstein, a committed and politically engaged liberal, was also deeply influenced by the confessional aesthetics of Gustav Mahler, a composer with whom he closely identified. For Mahler, the symphonic form was an essay in self-revelation; it became a chronicle of a psychological journey, both real and imagined. The aesthetics of Copland and Mahler meet in Bernstein’s Third Symphony. Although conceived and largely completed before the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the symphony, owing to its theme and date of completion and first performance, was received as a musical evocation of a national tragedy, in which violence marred law and civility. Its emotions are raw and its musical fabric theatrical and direct in a manner reminiscent of Copland.

If Copland and Bernstein represent a populist modernism that maintained a distance from more radical musical innovations, Roger Sessions was America’s foremost proponent of an aggressive modernism. He was a lifelong proponent of the ethical necessity of maintaining a parallel between progressive politics and progressive aesthetics. The Second Symphony was written during the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, over two years spanning the president’s death and the beginning of the Truman era, and therefore the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War. The work is a tribute to FDR (a sentiment evident in the third movement) and the dedication came at a time when the consequences of FDR’s death were becoming visible: a shift away from the ideals of the New Deal, growing anti-communism, and a resurgent conservatism.

For Sessions, a celebration of the legacy of FDR required the same forward-looking approach to musical composition as FDR had brought to politics. Sessions regarded his commitment to the complex craft of the development of musical ideas and the extension of musical language away from the practices of late romanticism as consistent with a progressive and liberal agenda, just as Copland and Bernstein regarded the embrace of accessibility and tonality as essential to a democratic musical art. In the modernism of Sessions’ Second Symphony one finds a powerful evocation of American intensity and vitality. The first two movements are filled with humor, grace, and brilliance. The orchestration and rhythm are unmistakably both American and modern. The symphony’s uncompromising formal sophistication lends the work its magnetism, allure, and power. Even an eloquence similar to that of Copland can be heard in the Adagio, reminding the listeners of the sense of loss at FDR’s death that Copland and Sessions—contemporaries and friends—shared. But the last movement of the symphony returns, the grief at the loss of a great president notwithstanding, to the optimism, innovation, and brash ebullience of the American spirit audible at the start of the work.

From the vantage point of 2017, these three works point to the special challenge composers now face in the task of writing music that celebrates democracy in America. One of the central differences between autocracy and democracy is the way in which political leadership is construed. Democracy seeks to place law and the deliberative process (trial by jury, legislatures, town hall meetings, open hearings) above personality. Leadership by charisma or personal power is traditionally frowned upon in a democracy. The admiration Sessions expresses for FDR and Bernstein expresses for JFK were posthumous. There was no hint of flattery or currying favor with power. And the substance of the admiration was for the ideals these presidents stood for, and for their hopes for a more just and free country. Consider FDR’s Four Freedoms and JFK’s creation of the Peace Corps. And Copland’s work is not dedicated to any individual. It was written for the opening of an auditorium on the campus of MIT, and signals the enduring link between freedom and education, between democracy and the search for truth and the respect for the advancement of knowledge.

As we listen to these three works we need to recall that we now live in an era when the cult of personality around the holder of the same office as FDR and JFK overwhelms our respect for law and deliberation, challenges the ideals of tolerance, and contests the very premises of the conduct of science and advancement of knowledge. The three composers on this program each sought to celebrate their patriotism and allegiance to America by evoking, through music, a commitment to freedom and justice. They used divergent approaches to bring home a shared unique American sensibility regarding freedom and justice in democracy that we would be well advised to remember and cherish.

Aaron Copland, Canticle of Freedom

by Byron Adams

Written for the concert The Sounds of Democracy, which was performed on October 11, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born November 14, 1900 in Brooklyn, New York
Died December 2, 1990 in North Tarrytown, New York
Composed in 1955
Premiered in 1955 at Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Performance Time: Approximately 13 minutes

On May 26, 1953, Aaron Copland appeared before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) chaired the committee; the committee’s infamous chief counsel Roy Cohn was present. The anti-Communist crusader McCarthy called Copland to testify about his left-wing political convictions. Earlier that year, a right-wing congressman, Representative Fred Busbey, had agitated successfully to remove Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait from President-elect Eisenhower’s inaugural concert.

The stakes could not have been higher for Copland: just being summoned before McCarthy and his Redbaiting committee had an adverse though temporary effect on Copland’s career. Worse, the committee had the power to charge and imprison witnesses that they found recalcitrant. Although Roy Cohn aggressively tried to entrap him into admitting that he was a Communist “sympathizer,” Copland replied to such questions with calm dignity and refused to “name names” of his supposed associates. Both McCarthy and Cohn were completely ignorant about classical music; they had no idea of Copland’s international fame or his accomplishments. After the hearing, Copland jotted down some of his thoughts about McCarthy: “He is like a plebeian Faustus who has been given a magic wand by an invisible Mephisto—as long as the menace is there, the wand will work.” Fortunately for Copland, he was not recalled for further testimony before the Subcommittee.

Copland’s Canticle of Freedom, which was commissioned by MIT for the dedication of Kresge Auditorium, was completed in 1955. It was a direct, dignified, and noble response to McCarthy’s demagoguery. Copland’s biographer, Howard Pollack, has observed that this score “stared McCarthyism squarely in the face.” Canticle of Freedom is scored for orchestra and chorus. Copland cast the piece in a tripartite form similar to that of A Lincoln Portrait, with chorus instead of a narrator announcing the final section. The text comes from an epic poem by the fourteenth-century Scottish poet John Barbour (c. 1320–1395). When the chorus enters, it becomes clear that the dynamic rhythmic pattern with which Canticle of Freedom begins has its origin in the word “freedom” itself, so that both the rhythm and the concept of freedom pervade this stirring score.

Byron Adams is a Professor of Musicology at the University of California, Riverside.

Roger Sessions, Symphony No. 2

by Byron Adams

Written for the concert The Sounds of Democracy, which will be performed on October 11, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born December 28, 1896 in Brooklyn, New York
Died March 16, 1985 in Princeton, New Jersey
Composed in 1944–46
Premiered on January 9, 1947 by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierre Monteaux
Performance Time: Approximately 26 minutes

Roger Huntington Sessions was born in Brooklyn and raised in Hadley, Massachusetts. His ancestors included Samuel Huntington, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Rt. Rev. Dan Huntington, a noted Episcopalian Bishop of Central New York. Sessions noted, “I come from an old family and that is undoubtedly part of my life, because I realized that with that background I always had a basic sense of social security; I mean a security in American society.” This august pedigree extended to his education as well: Sessions studied at Harvard University, at Yale University under Horatio Parker, and privately with Ernest Bloch. Sessions was an immensely influential composition teacher, and he served on the faculties of Smith College; Princeton University; the University of California, Berkeley; and the Julliard School, among others. During his lifetime, Sessions received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rome Prize in 1926, and two Pulitzer Prizes for Music. He was also elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

William W. Austin wrote in handsome tribute to Sessions: “In all his works the vast range of his craft and the intensity of his thought are evident. . . . For those capable of appreciating his technique, the music is deeply rewarding.” One of the most rewarding of Sessions’ scores is his Symphony No. 2 (1946), which was commissioned by Columbia University’s Ditson Fund. It is touchingly dedicated “To the Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” An unusual aspect of the orchestration is the prominence of both piano and harp. Cast in four movements, the symphony includes a short, satirical scherzo as the second movement and a kaleidoscopic finale. Its heart, however, is found in its brooding slow movement. In his trenchant article on Sessions, Joseph Kerman singled out this movement for special commendation: “The sombre crisis before the ending (but not the ending itself) remains in mind as the focus of the whole symphony.”

Byron Adams is a Professor of Musicology at the University of California, Riverside.

Leonard Bernstein, Symphony No. 3, Kaddish

by Byron Adams

Written for the concert The Sounds of Democracy, which was performed on October 11, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died October 14, 1990, in New York City
Composed in 1961–63; Revised in 1977
Premiered on December 10, 1963 in Tel Aviv by the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel
Performance Time: Approximately 41 minutes

As Leonard Bernstein’s biographer Humphrey Burton notes, “Between 1957 and 1971, the year of the Mass, [Bernstein] completed only two works: the Kaddish Symphony (No. 3) of 1963 and the Chichester Psalms of 1965.” There were several reasons for this slim output: the pressures of a thriving conducting career; the challenges of responding to the American musical modernist aesthetics of the time, which favored Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique; and the composer’s own exacting self-criticism. Of these two works, the largely cheerful and extroverted Chichester Psalms has remained popular. In contrast, the Kaddish Symphony is seldom performed, partly because of its fierce, dark introversion and partly because it requires a narrator, a large orchestra, a soprano soloist, and a chorus.

Bernstein’s inimitable compositional voice pervades the Kaddish Symphony. Although it flirts with the twelve-tone technique, the piece is full of traits that characterize much of Bernstein’s music: glittering orchestration, tonal lyricism, and American dance rhythms. Unlike the Chichester Psalms, however, the Kaddish Symphony is shadowed by its composer’s ambition as explicitly articulated in the score’s narration.

Bernstein fashioned the Kaddish Symphony’s narration in the manner of the Book of Job, in which God’s decrees are harshly challenged. As Jack Gottlieb observes, “This Speaker’s text dominates the symphony and is woven into the fabric of the music (although some listeners have expressed the desire to hear the music without it. I, for one, find a few of its passages “purple” and some of its similes obvious).” For some listeners, the text’s self-conscious oratory proved to be an impediment; others were unruffled.

Although it was generally lauded upon its premiere in Israel, American critics lambasted the symphony when the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch, first presented it in the United States on January 10, 1964. Although the Kaddish Symphony was completed before President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, Bernstein reverently dedicated the score to his memory.

Byron Adams is a Professor of Musicology at the University of California, Riverside.

Religion and Music in England at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert The Apostles, which was performed on May 12, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Edward Elgar’s two monumental masterpieces for chorus and orchestra, The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles, mirror the tensions and contradictions that surrounded religion at the end of the Victorian era.

Elgar, a Catholic, had experienced isolation and prejudice, particularly in his younger years. But he also witnessed a Catholic revival in England, the rise to prominence of John Henry Cardinal Newman as an influential English voice (Newman was the author of the poem that became the text of Gerontius), and the lessening of anti-Catholic sentiment. The Catholic revival and the resurgence of Anglo-Catholic High Church Anglicanism were in part a reaction against a long standing perception of the Anglican faith as spiritually deficient—a sentiment that came into broad public view already in the 1830s.

Adherence to the Church of England appeared to require none of the terrifying internal discipline required of Protestant sects descended from Calvin—evident even in idiosyncratic nineteenth century incarnations such as Seventh Day Adventists. The Lutheran idea of faith alone and the direct connection between the individual and the divine were tempered. The Anglican faith could easily be seen as an unstable and unsatisfactory compromise. It retained the principle of apostolic succession, the indelibility of ordination, and the centrality of communion—replete in some covert Anglican circles with a residual belief in the miracle of transubstantiation. But yet Anglicanism seemed to lack the mystery and authentic aura of Catholicism, in which the church as an institution and community embodied directly the spirit of Christ, and in which the individual was not abandoned to face God alone, but suffered through life until death as part of a sacred community.

But the Church of England was the official church of the nation with the sovereign at its head. That only underscored the national significance of Anglicanism and its support of British imperial ambitions, which were at their height when Elgar composed The Apostles. Elgar may have been a Catholic but he was a patriot and enthusiast of imperialism first. His choral works were written for the great Anglican choral tradition of amateur choral festivals—a central part of English cultural life in the 19th century and the cause for so much great choral repertoire, from Mendelssohn and Dvořák on. It is therefore not surprising that in both Gerontius and The Apostles an unmistakable triumphalist quasi-imperial grandeur (perhaps suggestive of a national conceit of superiority) is audible, which is perhaps why Elgar’s great choral music has travelled so poorly outside of the British Isles.

At the same time, Elgar’s generation—and indeed Elgar himself—were witness to the overwhelming rise in anti-religious sentiment, particularly among the educated elite of Europe and America. Secularism and skepticism were in the ascendency, fueled by the progress of rationality evident in science and technology. Mendel, Darwin, and Maxwell had revealed the mysteries of nature. The urban landscape, weaponry, transport, and even the modes of musical transmission, all had been transformed by new gadgets and devices, each reflective of the progress of science and reason. A retreat into mysticism and miracles seemed unnecessary. If one adds to this the allure of socialism and communism—utopian ideologies based on reason designed to rid humanity of poverty and inequality—it becomes clear why religion, particularly the Anglican Church and Catholicism, was on the defensive as a superstitious remnant of a pre-democratic and even feudal age.

In an age when the material and rational were triumphant, the aesthetic—art—more and more began to satisfy the need for a quasi-religious experience that was not reducible to cold, utilitarian calculation. Art offered an alternative to the ethos of efficiency and sufficient explanation by evidence and argument. In Elgar’s generation it was Wagner that best exemplified the elevation of art into the status of a modern religion. And there is, in The Apostles, the audible influence of the master of Bayreuth, a temple to art, in which a nasty self-indulgent genius was deified.

This context helps explain why Elgar struggled so much with this project. It explains why he chose to write his own text, which allowed him to foreground the humanity of two characters—Mary Magdalene and Judas—and render them sympathetic. In contrast to Bach’s Passions, The Apostles is quite democratic and down to earth, a retelling, designed for mass amateur choral participation as well as mass listening, of a divine mystery. The awe at the mystery of Christ is the Catholic aspect of the work, but the notion that the key servants of Christ were just ordinary, well-intentioned but unremarkable human beings reveals how attuned Elgar was to his ultimately resolutely Protestant and, with regard to religion, increasingly skeptical public.