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.

Elgar’s The Apostles

by Byron Adams

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

In the usual narrative of Edward Elgar’s career, the composer sprang overnight from provincial obscurity to international fame with the 1899 premiere of his Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, now known as the Enigma Variations. Unsurprisingly, the truth is more complicated: Elgar was already becoming well known through a series of acclaimed choral works, such as The Black Knight, Op. 25 (1892), Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, Op. 30 (1896), and Caractacus, Op. 35 (1898). All of these scores were successful at their first performances, and British choral societies took them up rapidly. Singers delighted in the challenges posed by these scores; both audiences and critics relished Elgar’s brilliant orchestration.

Despite its inadequate rehearsed premiere at the 1900 Birmingham Festival, Elgar’s oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38, assumed an honored place in the British choral repertory by the autumn of 1902, thanks to a carefully prepared German performance at Dusseldorf in May of that year. Even before this important performance of The Dream of Gerontius, the Birmingham Festival had commissioned an extended choral work on a sacred theme from Elgar for their 1903 festival. Elgar proposed as his subject the calling of the apostles. This idea had engaged him since his childhood when a schoolmaster had characterized the apostles as “poor men, young men, at the time of their calling; perhaps before the descent of the Holy Ghost not cleverer than some of you here.”

Elgar conceived a grandiose design of which The Apostles would be just the first part: a trilogy of oratorios that would span the calling of the Apostles through the founding of the Early Church and conclude with the Last Judgment. The ambitious scope of this project clearly emulated Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Elgar made a pilgrimage to Bayreuth in 1902 seeking inspiration for The Apostles. There he heard the first three music dramas of Der Ring as well as Parsifal, the music of which would exert a discernable influence upon The Apostles. On July 2, 1902, Elgar wrote exuberantly to a friend, “I am now plotting GIGANTIC WORK.”

Elgar decided to follow Wagner’s example and create his own text for the trilogy. Lacking Wagner’s literary expertise, however, he wisely chose to construct his libretto from selected biblical passages. After choosing episodes from the Gospels, Elgar filled in this frame with various Scriptural verses, sometimes wrenching lines from their original context for his own purposes. Unfortunately, he miscalculated the time that it would take to complete such a massive project. Facing deadlines from the Birmingham Festival, Elgar severely truncated his original plan. In the end, only two oratorios of the projected three were completed: The Apostles and its relatively concise successor, The Kingdom. (The final oratorio, provisionally titled The Last Judgment, was never written; Elgar made only a few jottings for it.)

In The Apostles, Elgar places less emphasis on the sufferings of Christ than on the experiences of His followers. Elgar lavished special attention on the two outcasts, Mary Magdalene and Judas. Both characters are assigned extended scenes during which they express their shame and guilt. The Pre-Raphaelite luxuriousness of Mary Magdalene’s music repelled some high-minded critics. E.A. Baughan, for example, carped that the “repentance of Mary Magdalene, which really has nothing to do with the Apostles . . . is an unessential detail.” Elgar’s compassionate treatment of Judas seemed equally puzzling. Elgar was prone to periods of depression and he clearly particularly identified with Judas to some degree. During the composition of The Apostles, he wrote to a friend: “To my mind, Judas’ crime or sin was despair; not only the betrayal, which was done for a worldly purpose.”

The premiere of The Apostles in Birmingham on October 14, 1903, was greeted with acclaim, despite critical reservations about the flamboyance of the orchestration. In spite of the success of The Apostles, Elgar’s enthusiasm for his Wagnerian project had begun to wane by the time he began to compose the second oratorio, The Kingdom. In addition, his excursions into biblical exegesis had caused his Christian faith to waver and his inspiration to falter. For whatever reason, Elgar’s “gigantic work” was destined to remain a vast torso forever incomplete.

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

After Dvořák and Smetana: Czech Music in the 20th Century

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Prague Central, which was performed on February 10, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

The four composers on this ASO program were major twentieth-century figures in the musical tradition of a region in Central Europe: the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, famed for contributions to European culture, particularly in music. The historic capital of Bohemia, Prague is now the capital of the Czech Republic. Before this, it was the capital of a nation spliced together after the end of World War I—Czechoslovakia—which existed from 1918 until the fall of the Soviet Empire just over a quarter of a century ago, when it was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Prior to 1918, both major regions of today’s Czech Republic—Bohemia and Moravia—had been part of the Habsburg Empire. The historic center of gravity in that dynastic and much maligned multi-national Empire was Vienna. Already in the 18th century these regions were centers of German (not Czech) high culture. Mozart’s Don Giovanni was premiered in Prague. Franz Kafka is perhaps the best-known figure from the vital German-speaking Jewish community of Prague into which Erwin Schulhoff was born.

Indeed, from the Baroque era on, music was a distinctive component of Bohemian and Moravian life. In the mid-19th century, two Czech composers rose to international fame: Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana. Dvořák’s career was assisted by support from Vienna through the advocacy of Brahms. Smetana—who wrote both the first famous Czech national opera, The Bartered Bride, and the best-known national cycle of tone poems, Má Vlast—was ironically far more comfortable in German than in the Czech language, and he spent an important part of his career in Sweden.

But despite their affiliation with German culture, both composers became associated with a burgeoning Czech nationalism that blossomed after the Habsburg defeat at the hand of the Prussians in 1866. Once the Habsburg Empire began to crumble, a Prussian-dominated German nation was configured which excluded the Habsburg lands, in which German was spoken, particularly Austria and the lands where these composers were born. Although they were citizens of the same empire as the Germans and Austrians, Dvořák and Smetana came to be seen as Czech nationalists.

It is ironic in the context of the current revival of extreme nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe and the fragility of the European Union that, in retrospect, the multi-national Habsburg Empire may have been a far more promising framework than once thought for the expression of disparate linguistic and cultural autonomy within a tolerant, pluralist governing political structure. But in the late 19th century the Empire, which was centered in Vienna (and after 1867 in Budapest), was seen as archaic and oppressive.

In turn-of-the-century and early twentieth-century Czech musical life, opposing camps emerged: one centered around Smetana (viewed to be the more radical nationalist voice) and one around Dvořák (a figure seen as more loyal, politically, to the Habsburg model). Two of the composers on this program were students of Dvořák: Josef Suk (his son-in-law) and Vítězslav Novák. Like Dvořák, on whose music both Brahms and Wagner exerted influence, Suk and Novák were acutely aware of their leading German-speaking contemporaries, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler (who was born in Moravia). In the cross currents of political ferment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Prague became more than a place in which national sentiment flourished; it became a major center of modernist innovation in literature, art, and music.

Bohuslav Martinů (who spent a great deal of his career in Paris and the United States) was a Czech patriot who felt the trials of exile keenly. He was brilliant and prolific and more of his music deserves to be heard. Schulhoff, who began as an experimental modernist in the Kafka mold, eventually turned to communism. His achievements can be rightly compared to those of his Czech-Jewish German-speaking contemporaries in other fields: Kafka and the writers Egon Erwin Kisch and Max Brod (who played a decisive role in bringing the great original Moravian-Czech composer of the previous generation, Leos Janáček, to international attention during the interwar years). But Schulhoff is now mostly remembered as a victim of the Nazis, and not the major European composer he was.

This concert offers the public an opportunity to sample the achievements of the music that emerged from a tumultuous era of political change. The post-Habsburg development of nationalism, democracy, fascism, anti-Semitism, and socialism all collided in the twenty years of Czechoslovakia after 1918. In 1938, democratic Czechoslovakia was dismembered by the Nazis; after 1945 it fell within the Soviet Empire.

However, the composers on this program all represented a sense of nationalism compatible with a vital cosmopolitan culture, both Czech and German. Their remarkable output is a welcome reminder of the urgent need for an alternative to the narrow xenophobic and provincial nationalisms that have, in recent years, reasserted their allure and power—nationalisms that are unlikely to offer the multi-faceted sources of inspiration that Suk, Novák, Martinů, and Schulhoff drew upon.

On a personal note, I would like to dedicate this concert to the memory of Rudolf Firkušný (1912–94), the consummate musician and phenomenal pianist, student of Janáček’s, and ardent partisan of the democratic Czechoslovakia in which he grew up. It was through Firkušný, a close friend of Martinů’s, that I first became acquainted with the music of the composers on this program, particularly the works of Suk and Novák.


by Michael Beckerman

Written for the concert Prague Central, which was performed on February 10, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born December 5, 1870, in Kamenice nad Lipou, Southern Bohemia
Died July 18, 1949, in Skuteč, Czech Republic
Composed in 1902
Premiered on November 25, 1902 in Prague by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Oskar Nedbal
Performance Time: Approximately 25 minutes

Vítězslav Novák was a gifted and prolific composer who was at the core of Czech musical life in the first decades of the 20th century. Composing in virtually every genre, he has been claimed by both modernists and neo-romantics as a founding figure. He was also at the very center of an ongoing series of artistic feuds about the direction of Czech music, which were a feature of musical life at the time.

In a forthcoming article about the composer, Lenka Krupková refers to his “South Moravian” Suite as a kind of “ethnotourism,” noting that unlike Janáček, Novák had little primary experience with folk culture. Thus according to her, his lovely work is a classic example of a composition by an outsider. Not so with In the Tatras! Novák was deeply familiar with the mountains and had scaled them as a kind of expert climber (he carped that Strauss’ Alpine Symphony was composed from an armchair, and, in fact, three years after composing In the Tatras he was almost killed in a dangerous fall while climbing them).

Mountain music, whether by Strauss or Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Sinfonia Antartica, combines several prototypes or “topics.” First, the music conjures up images of the sublime: a vast, jagged, and open space which dwarfs a human scale and produces wonder and terror. This is readily apparent in Novák’s opening theme with its unison ascent followed by a leap. Second, it involves music of struggle, since such works not only seek to suggest the appearance and nature of mountains, but also engage the relationship of human beings to them. Finally, climbing mountains is not only a matter of engaging the physical challenges of the peak itself, but the kind of weather often encountered by mountaineers reaching toward high summits. So we also have a range of sounds throughout conjuring the music of cold, a kind of vocabulary developed over the centuries, from Purcell through Vivaldi and from Janáček’s “Voice of the Steppe” in House of the Dead to a broad range of cinematic effects associated with icy weather, such as high harmonics, tremolos, and the use of flutes and piccolos.

Michael Beckerman is the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at New York University.


by Jon Meadow

Written for the concert Prague Central, which was performed on February 10, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born December 8, 1890, in Polička, Czechoslovakia
Died August 28, 1959, in Liestal, Switzerland
Composed in 1944
Premiered on October 12, 1945 in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitsky
Performance Time: Approximately 30 minutes

Before coming to New York City in 1941 as a political refugee, Czechoslovak composer Bohuslav Martinů obtained recognition internationally in a variety of musical genres and styles. Until his American residency, however, Josef Suk’s former student avoided the conventional symphony. When he composed for the orchestra, he preferred to work in the neobaroque concerto grosso genre, which relies upon the alternations between groups of solo instruments and full orchestra. Martinů, ever the consummate professional, attuned himself to the moods and tastes of his new wartime American market. He composed the first five symphonies between 1942 and 1946. The sixth came a little over a decade later. The Third Symphony, which Martinů composed without a commission in Ridgefield, Connecticut, premiered in Boston on 12 October 1945. It unfolds in three movements instead of the more conventional four.

In each movement, Martinů mobilizes what he called “germs,” or endlessly generative, particle-like melodic cells. Similar to Suk’s offering, the charm of Martinů’s Third Symphony is equally attendant upon the composer’s treatment of rhythm, meter, orchestral color (especially percussion), and dynamics as it is on harmonic and melodic planning. The contrasts of the Allegro poco moderato’s opening are representative of how such treatment cuts across the symphony.

Following an arresting fortissimo sonority and a subsequent brief, dramatic pause, Martinů commences an addition of melodic germs in the violins and woodwinds. Serving in a percussive capacity, the hushed piano and harp, sounding at low and high extremes of register, respectively, provide a steady pulse and sense of meter. However, Martinů’s stacking of syncopated melodic germs fog such efforts at metric legibility. But the tables turn. The impulses of the charismatic woodwinds and strings become clear pulses, and the piano and harp hammer out descending, fortissimo impulses, obfuscating the meter once again.

From one perspective, Suk’s scherzo being programmed beside Martinů’s symphony provides Martinů’s work with the jocular dance movement that it was missing. From another, Martinů’s symphony is dressed up in the clothes of a fantastic scherzo. Therefore, the programing possibly offers two fantastic scherzi where once there was one.

Jon Meadow is a Ph.D. student in Historical Musicology at New York University. His work is focused on the roles of humor and comedy in Bohuslav Martinů’s Great Depression theatre reforms.


by Jon Meadow

Written for the concert Prague Central, which was performed on February 10, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born January 4, 1874, in Křečovice, Czechoslovakia
Died May 29, 1935, in Benešov, Czechoslovakia
Composed in 1903
Premiered on April 18, 1905 in the Rudolfinum, Prague
Performance Time: Approximately 15 minutes

Canonic figures like Felix Mendelssohn (Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture from 1826), Hector Berlioz (Queen Mab from the 1839 choral symphony Roméo et Juliette), and Paul Dukas (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from 1897) assisted in bringing the concert hall genre known as the fantastic scherzo into its own throughout the 19th century. The fantastic scherzi of such luminaries grew in popularity because of how they showcased their composers’ innovative use of sonic and formal parameters like orchestral color, rhythm, meter, dynamics, and phrasing. That less ink has been spilled in Josef Suk’s (1874-1935) name than, say, a Mendelssohn or Berlioz, and that he is currently known more for intimate, expressive piano cycles and the funereal Asrael Symphony (1905-1906), does not detract from how the Bohemian composer, violinist, and educator, forcefully drew the fantastic scherzo genre into the 20th century with his Scherzo fantastique. Suk’s Scherzo fantastique received its premiere on 18th April 1905 in the prestigious Rudolfinum auditorium in Prague. Suk’s contribution serves as a powerful introduction to both an underrated composer and to the soundworld of an orchestral genre more broadly.

Scherzo is the Italianization of Scherz, a German word for joke. And within the context of the concert hall, the fantastique refers to the composer’s production of a sort of wavering or hesitation in both the audience and the music’s unfolding. For example, Suk cleverly toggles between the jocular and incongruous phraseology of the scherzo’s first, woodwind-dominated theme and the well-defined triple meter of the balanced, waltz-like second theme, whose lyrical melody is divided between the cellos and violins. So, while contrapuntal as well as modal and chromatic harmonic innovations of the turn-of-the-century are present and accounted for, the Scherzo fantastique reveals its genre credentials less through harmonic and contrapuntal planning and symphonic thematic development and more through subtle shifts in orchestral color, dynamics, metric, and rhythmic conflicts at different temporal levels.

Jon Meadow is a Ph.D. student in Historical Musicology at New York University. His work is focused on the roles of humor and comedy in Bohuslav Martinů’s Great Depression theatre reforms.


by Michael Beckerman

Written for the concert Prague Central, which was performed on February 10, 2017 at Carnegie Hall.

Born June 8, 1894, in Prague
Died August 18, 1942, in Würzburg, Germany
Composed in 1938–9
Premiered on March 5th, 1965 in Weimar by the Weimar State Orchestra conducted by Gerhardt Pfluger
Performance Time: Approximately 36 minutes

There is no style shift more dramatic than that undergone by Erwin Schulhoff after his “conversion” to Communism in the early 1930s. Beginning his career as an apostle of the avant-garde, mixing jazz, surrealism, nihilism, and a dazzling panoply of national styles, he had established himself as a brilliant pianist and somewhat of an enfant terrible. He wrote a Sinfonia Germanica which is nothing more than a series of mutterings, shouts, and then a distorted version of the German national anthem; a Sonata Erotica which consists only of a woman coming to a climax; and a piece called The Bass Nightingale for solo contrabassoon. Nothing is more surprising, then, after listening to such pieces and some of his extraordinary and edgy chamber music from the 1920s, to confront works like his Second Symphony (written in 1932 at the same time as his setting of the Communist Manifesto), marking an almost complete turn away from the individuality of his earlier works, perhaps comparable only to the kind of break between Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and his Pulcinella.

The Fifth Symphony, though, is something different. Although it has a far more cinematic sound than the works of the 1910s and 20s, it was written in 1938–9 and captures some of the flavor of those years, with dramatic clashes, a full palette of musical passages suggesting tension and forebodings, and, in keeping with the aesthetic of socialist realism, an overriding sense of hope for the future. This is found most notably in the triumphant conclusion to the final movement, but also in the sublime second movement Adagio. Thus Schulhoff’s Symphony No. 5 keeps company with such works as Martinů’s Double Concerto, which for that composer marked a turn to the dramatic and even tragic, and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony as epic and profound wartime musical canvases.

Although Schulhoff is often grouped with the “Terezin” composer who perished in Auschwitz, his fate was rather different. He was arrested not on account of his Jewish identity but for his Soviet sympathies and died of tuberculosis in a camp in Würzburg near Bavaria.

Michael Beckerman is the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at New York University.

Friends and Colleagues: Bernstein, Brandeis, and the 1950s

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Bernstein and the Bostonians, performed on November 18, 2016 at Carnegie Hall.

Tonight’s concert gives voice to a web of interconnections. All five composers on the program knew one another and were, at one time or another, friends. The most active and close period of their engagement took place relatively early in Leonard Bernstein’s meteoric career—between his college days and 1957, the year West Side Story opened. Four of them (Wernick is the exception) studied at Harvard with Walter Piston, three as undergraduates. All five composers were influenced and supported by Aaron Copland and admired the music of Stravinsky. Four of them were born in and around Boston (save Berger, a New York native). And all had strong links to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood. All are American Jews whose careers flourished in the post-World War II era when the influence of anti-Semitism was on the wane. All five were associated with Brandeis University in its early years in the 1950s.

Leonard Bernstein served as a Visiting Professor at Brandeis from 1951 to 1956. Richard Wernick did his undergraduate studies at Brandeis, studying closely with Irving Fine. Fine taught at Brandeis from 1950 until his untimely death in 1962. Berger became the first holder of the Irving Fine Professorship at Brandeis. He and Shapero taught at Brandeis for decades until reaching retirement age. Shapero began in 1951 and Berger in 1953.

Berger was the senior member of this group. He pursued a distinguished career as a theorist and writer, and was a co-founder of the highly influential journal Perspectives of New Music. In terms of age, Fine was next in line. He was born in 1914 and was one of Leonard Bernstein’s closest friends. Bernstein was devastated by Fine’s death, as was Wernick, Fine’s protégé and eminent and devoted student. Many thought Fine the most gifted and promising of this group—the most likely to succeed Copland as the “dean” of American composers.

The most famous of them all, Bernstein, was born in 1918, two years before his close Harvard friend, Shapero. Shapero showed amazing promise early on—in his college years—as a composer. The symphony on tonight’s program was written when he was 27. It is widely considered his best work and one the great American symphonies. Bernstein was an early champion of the work. But Shapero, perhaps distracted by the security and civility of a tenured professorship, seems gradually to have stopped composing.

The four older composers often have been grouped together as exponents of a particularly American approach to musical modernism. The influence of Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger, and, more directly, Copland encouraged the idea that new and distinctive “classical” music could actually capture the hearts and minds of the public and not inadvertently imply either a gulf between the classical and the popular or some aesthetic superiority over various forms of popular music. All five of these composers admired Marc Blitzstein. Bernstein was a particular champion. Together with Copland they held fast to an ideal of a culture particularly suited to democracy, art that was accessible to a wide literate audience, with an aesthetic cast in the lineage of Walt Whitman. The book version of Candide for the Bernstein score was written by Lillian Hellman, a writer who was controversial and outspoken, a colorful icon of liberal and progressive politics during the McCarthy era and throughout the 1950s. Fine, Wernick, and Bernstein all composed in explicitly popular genres.

The older four composers have been classified as American neo-classicists, and even as members of a “Harvard” school. More to the point is their shared penchant for transparency, compositional procedures of development, classical genres, a rhythmic vitality, and melodic instinct. If music can suggest words and ideas, this music evokes an optimism and brashness characteristic of America’s post war years—the nuclear war threat, the specter of anti-communist witch hunts, and the racial strife in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education notwithstanding. Wernick belongs to a subsequent generation, but he came of age in the 1950s and his lineage—his connection to Brandeis, his studies with Bernstein, Shapero, Berger, and, most importantly, Fine—place him squarely within this group, even though his music expresses its own independent, individualistic modernism.

Last but not least, all five of the composers on this program devoted a great deal of their time and energy to teaching. Bernstein became this nation’s most inspirational and influential teacher. He used the medium of television, as conductor and inspirational presence, to democratize access to the power and beauty of the classical musical tradition. Berger, Shapero, Fine, and Wernick excelled in the university classroom, and in Wernick’s case on the podium as well. Wernick has had a long and distinguished career with a substantial output of chamber and orchestral music. I was lucky enough to study with Wernick and play under him during his years on the faculty of the University of Chicago.

These five composers represent a parallel in music to the literary achievements of American Jewish writers from the same era—Saul Bellow, Louis Zukofsky, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and E.L. Doctorow, to name a few. Bernstein’s place in the repertory now seems secure. But the music of Fine, Wernick, Shapero, and Berger deserve a proper and permanent place in our nation’s concert repertory.

Leonard Bernstein, Overture to Candide

by Byron Adams

Written for the concert Bernstein and the Bostonians, performed on November 18, 2016 at Carnegie Hall.

Born August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died October 14, 1990, in New York City
Composed in 1956
Concert premiere on January 26, 1957 at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bernstein
Performance Time: Approximately 4 minutes

Despite its distinguished roster of collaborators, including Lillian Hellman and Richard Wilbur, among others, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide has always posed a conundrum for those seeking to produce it. Candide, based on Voltaire’s picaresque 1759 novella, contains an embarrassment of riches that do not quite coalesce into a show. Hellman, who was an expert at concocting “well made” plays such as The Children’s Hour, was not experienced at writing comedy; Wilbur’s elegant verse is excessively clever at times; and Bernstein’s tuneful, touching, and varied music can often seem overwhelming.

In May of 1956, Bernstein, Hellman, and Wilbur, along with director Tyrone Guthrie, met on Martha’s Vineyard to work on Candide. By August, Bernstein had completed a score that consisted of some two hours of music and over thirty numbers. Candide opened in Boston for three weeks of tryouts, but garnered only modest success: the dress rehearsal ran far too long and the audience grew restive. A critic for Variety warned, “A major hurdle to acceptance is the somewhat esoteric nature of the satire . . . The musical needs severe cutting, especially in the second act.” Boston critics lauded the music, but found the book heavy-handed.

Despite pruning, the New York premiere on December 1, 1956 was far from an unmitigated hit. Walter Kerr, the powerful drama critic of the Herald Tribune, wrote that Candide was a “really spectacular disaster.” Audiences of the time were puzzled by the ways in which Candide flouted the conventions of musical theater, especially its lack of a standard romantic plot. The show ran for only seventy-three performances, but the scintillating original cast recording, conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick, was much praised and became a collector’s item. The overture to Candide, a cleverly designed potpourri of some of the show’s best tunes that Bernstein rescored for full orchestra, quickly became its composer’s most popular orchestral work. It was performed over two hundred times in the first two years after its publication and remains a concert favorite.

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

Arthur Berger, Ideas of Order

by Byron Adams

Written for the concert Bernstein and the Bostonians, performed on November 18, 2016 at Carnegie Hall.

Born May 15, 1912, in New York City
Died October 7, 2003, in Boston, Massachusetts
Composed in 1952, on commission from Dimitri Mitropoulos
Premiered on April 11, 1953 at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Mitropoulos
Performance Time: Approximately 11 minutes

Reviewing a concert of Arthur Berger’s music in 1973, New York Times critic Donal Henahan characterized it as a “time capsule report” on the “postwar American academic establishment.” By using the dreaded word “academic,” Henahan did Berger’s music no favors. Indeed, Berger’s accomplishments as a perceptive music theorist, especially his articles about Stravinsky’s music, also served to put him in the dreaded pigeonhole of “intellectual” composer, ignoring the elegance, expressivity, and, indeed, charm of his work. His later reputation as a composer was hardly enhanced by his early jobs as a music critic in the days when a composer shaping public taste by writing for newspapers was not considered a conflict of interest.

Berger studied composition at New York University, the Longy School, and at Harvard, where his composition teacher was Walter Piston. As a composer who was also an insightful theorist, Piston became a model for Berger. Aaron Copland was another admired figure: before matriculating at Harvard, Berger joined the Young Composers Group that Copland had formed in New York. Berger’s love of Stravinsky was deepened by his study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris from 1937 to 1939. Upon returning to America, he taught at Mills College, where he studied informally with Darius Milhaud, and he later became the Irving Fine Professor of Music at Brandeis University.

By the early 1950s, Berger became intrigued by the challenge of reconciling Stravinskian neoclassicism with Schoenberg’s serial techniques. Berger always remained loyal to Stravinsky, however, calling him “the greatest composer of our time.” Stravinsky’s influence is evident in Berger’s lovely orchestral score Ideas of Order, named after Wallace Stevens’ second book of poetry that was published in 1936. Berger’s score is a subtle theme and variations, and its first performance was well received by critics and audience alike. One commentator enthused that the score “was as simple and charming as a Haydn symphony.”

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