Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Music and War: Copland's Fanfare

It’s interesting how catastrophic events inspire great art. When moved by a world-altering situation, many in the fine arts turn to their craft to best deal with difficult circumstances. The result, in turn, can impact audiences across the globe who may share in their sentiments. War is an example of this type of event. Composers throughout time have created masterpieces inspired by war or dedicated to the memory of those lost in war. This month, let’s explore a few of these pieces.

Many of you Cincinnatians may know that Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was premiered by our very own Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra back in 1943. The conductor at the time, Eugene Goossens, commissioned eighteen composers to write fanfares as a contribution to the WWII war efforts. One of these fanfares began each concert of the CSO’s 1942–1943 season. Of these fanfares, Copland’s remains the most famous today. Prior to its premiere, Copland wrestled over the title, considering Fanfare for the Spirit of Democracy, Fanfare for the Rebirth of Lidice (a town in Czechoslovakia that the Nazis had destroyed), and Fanfare for Four Freedoms (in Roosevelt’s 1941 speech he mentioned four freedoms including the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.) In the end, Copland settled on Fanfare for the Common Man, saying “it was the common man, after all, who was doing all the dirty work in the way and the army. He deserved a fanfare.”

The video below is taken from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 Lumenocity concert.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Interview with Hilary Hahn

Violinist Hilary Hahn was in town this past April to perform at the Constella Festival. While in Cincinnati, we had the pleasure of visiting with her in the WGUC studios and came to find out who she considers to be her favorite woman composer:

Hahn told us that Jennifer Higdon has been a major influence in her life due to the situation in which they first met. Higdon taught Hahn’s 20th-century music history class when she was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music! This class introduced her to the idea of how to listen to contemporary music. She went on to tell us that Higdon was the first composer with whom she worked where she did a reading session of a commissioned concerto, allowing her to experience the editing process.

Before wrapping up our chat on women composers, Hahn mentioned that, while many women do compose, very few are represented in the media. She also stated that men and women do not write differently from one another and that each individual person has their own musical voice.

Now that we discussed Hilary Hahn’s favorite woman composer I’m curious…who is your favorite? 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Life and Work of Ruth Crawford Seeger

We’ll wrap up our topic this month by looking at Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901–1953). There are certainly many more talented women composers that we did not look at this month so if you have a favorite who was not mentioned, let me know and I will consider them for a future month’s discussion!

Ruth Crawford Seeger: Courtesy of wikipedia.org 

Though born in Ohio, Ruth Crawford Seeger spent most of her childhood in Florida, receiving her early music training at the School of Musical Art. In 1920 she moved to Chicago to study at the American Conservatory with multiple teachers including theorist Adolf Weidig and pianist Djane Lavoie Herz. Ruth often attended social gatherings at the Herz home where she met many significant people including Henry Cowell, Dane Rudhyar, and Carl Sandburg. She later would use Sandburg’s poetry in her music.

In 1929, Ruth decided to move to New York where she studied with Charles Seeger, whom she later married. During this time, she became the first woman to win the Guggenheim Fellowship in music, giving her the opportunity to study in Berlin and Paris.

Ruth had a passion for preserving folk music, spending a large part of her life editing field recordings in the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. She sought to be true to the original tune in all of her published transcriptions. Ruth also enjoyed spending her time teaching children about music.

Below you can listen to Ruth’s String Quartet from 1931. She was known as a modernist composer, creating atonal, dissonant works.

Next time, join me as I relay violinist Hilary Hahn’s thoughts on her favorite woman composer!