by Walter Simmons
Barlow: The Winter’s Passed
Berger: Short Overture
“My purpose is to create music, hot for snobs, but for all people, music which is beautiful and healing, to attempt what old Chinese painters called spirit resonance in melody and sound.”
Alan Hovhaness has pursued this ideal with a vigor matched by few other contemporary composers. Functioning in his own esthetic realm, aloof from the musical mainstream and its myriad ephemeral trends and fads, Hovhaness has produced a prodigious body of music including more than 30 symphonies and literally hundreds of other works of all dimensions, designed to be performed by an endless array of instrumental combinations from the beginning student to amateur groups and large-scale professional ensembles. Since his days as an isolated eccentric who performed his exotic music for friends in the Boston area while living on a meager income earned as a church organist up until today when he is regarded as one of America’s most original and widely performed and recorded composers, Hovhaness has been guided by a dignity, humility and integrity that have enabled him to make use of any available means and opportunity to pursue his- own unique and uncompromising vision.
Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1911, Hovhaness gravitated toward music at a very early age despite the absence of parental encouragement. He underwent a perfunctory exposure to conventional music lessons and studied for a while at the New England Conservatory. This training, however, did not answer his inner artistic needs as did the counsel and encouragement of two Boston mystics, the painters Hermon di Giovanno and Hyman Bloom, who urged Hovhaness to turn toward the culture of his ancestral Armenia as a source of inspiration both musical and spiritual. Renouncing the conventional approaches he had thus far followed in vain, he delved wholeheartedly into this cultural archaeology and emerged with a new sense of artistic identity, having discovered a musico-philosophical realm with which he finally felt a kinship.
“I was looking for a new direction that would be more expressive, and I found that direction in the church music of Armenian culture. That led me to a more ancient kind of Armenian music than ‘folk music,’ much of which has been tampered with; I also discovered the music of Komitas Vartabed, who was a kind of Armenian Bartók, before Bartók. He was a very great man, and his development of Armenian music was the first influence I had.”
This was the beginning of Hovhaness’ immersion in the ancient Western and Oriental musical cultures upon which he has drawn for the inspiration of most of his mature work, in a pursuit of the Confucian ideal of joining heaven and earth, East and West.
“Somehow, Armenian music led me to India, when I heard the music of the dancer Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s brother, who brought along a group of musicians from India. This opened up a whole new world yet seemed very much related to the different modes of Armenian music. Also Japanese music and theatre had a strong influence throughout the 1940s. The visual and musical aspects of Japanese drama, and its wonderful way of handling stories, gave me a new outlook; I wanted to create a new kind of opera from that influence. Around 1950, an Armenian from Korea played me some, ancient Korean court music and I found this terribly exciting. I thought this was the most mysterious music I had ever heard. That had a strong influence.
“The harmony and concept of Gagaku, which came to Japan from China in the 7th century, could readily be applied to any kind of modal melodic line. It is a very original concept and a more natural way of developing modal music than anything ever done in Europe until recently: the whole idea of rhythm versus non-rhythm, of chaos versus complete control or partial control. But this was thousands of years in development’, whereas the European is a rushed, intellectual thing—childish and angular, without much feeling or development, so far, and rather sterile. While I am not interested only in turning to the past, I think music should be beautiful now, just as it always was, and more beautiful, if possible.”
Talin, originally composed in 1952 as a viola concerto, on commission from Ferenc Molnar, is generally regarded by authorities on Hovhaness’ music as one of his finest and most fully consummated works. We are therefore pleased to present this first recording of an alternate version of Talin for clarinet and strings. The composer writes:
“I made the clarinet version of Talin for Lawrence Sobol after hearing his splendid and poetic performance of a new work, Saturn, which I wrote for him in 1971. This inspired me to transfer this viola concerto to the clarinet as an alternate version. Talin was an ancient Armenian cathedral whose beautiful ruins are a monument of architectural wonder, grandeur, and expressiveness. The first movement, Chant, is in the style and spirit of a priest-like incantation. The middle movement, Estampie, is short and dance-like, in the style of a village festival, and imitates the nasal sound of the kamanche, a near-Eastern bowed string instrument. The third movement, Canzona, is religious and choral-like in spirit and sound, suggesting angelic choirs joined by earthly choirs in a spirit of grandeur creating a tower of sound like the Armenian cathedrals.”
Wayne Barlow was born in Elyria, Ohio, in 1912. He studied with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music and later with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, returning to Eastman in 1937 as a member of the faculty. The following year The Winter’s Passed was introduced in Rochester, New York, and since then it has become Barlow’s best known work. Scored for oboe and strings, it is a short rhapsody based on two folk songs from South Carolina that illustrate the lovely modal quality of folk melodies from the Appalachian region. The first, which forms the opening and closing portions of the piece, is in the mixolydian mode while the melody of the central portion is in the dorian mode.
Jeffrey Kaufman was born in New York City in 1947 and graduated from the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Nicolas Flagello and Ludmila Ulehla. Kaufman is fast building a reputation as a versatile musician, capable of composing in a wide variety of styles for diverse media, both classical and popular. In addition he produced the long-running syndicated radio series Composer’s Forum and has been active as a record producer as well. Kaufman’s Pastorale was composed in 1977, and in its few moments succeeds in creating a mood of poignant nostalgia.
When Nicolas Flagello’s fifth opera, The Judgment of St.Francis, was premiered in New York City, Winthrop Sargeant of the New Yorker termed it “the most vigorous new opera I have come across in a long time,” adding that “Flagello has shown an unmistakable and totally unconfused talent for the operatic theatre.” Completed in 1959, The Judgment of St. Francis depicts through flashbacks the incidents of self-sacrifice and renunciation that led to the rejection and ostracism of Francis of Assisi by his family and friends, culminating in a hearing before the ecclesiastical court, ordered by his father. One of the most beautiful moments of the opera is a soliloquy sung by Francis while in the dungeon where he has been thrown by his father. Undaunted by this punishment, he sings an Adoration that expresses the infinite joy and ecstasy that he feels in the security of being with God. Flagello has transcribed this Adoration for strings and harp, giving the vocal line to the solo violin. This brief excerpt demonstrates the ardent, elegiac lyricism of which Flagello is a master.
Born in New York City in 1928, Nicolas Flagello evidenced a precocious musical talent, performing in public on the piano and undertaking musical composition before he reached adolescence. He began an intensive and long lasting apprenticeship with Vittorio Giannini and studied conducting with Dimitri Mitropoulos. Shortly after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome where he received a Doctorate in Superior Studies from the Academy of Santa Cecilia in 1956 under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.
Flagello has concertized widely as piano soloist and accompanist and has toured around the world as guest conductor of many of the world’s leading’ orchestras and opera companies. As a composer Flagello has received numerous awards and commissions, and his works have been performed and recorded extensively. In addition to six operas his catalogue of some 75 works includes two symphonies, numerous concertos and song cycles, as well as smaller works for virtually every combination. Flagello has taught on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.
Jean Berger was born in Hamm, Germany, in 1909 and received a doctorate in musicology from the University of Heidelberg. In Paris during the 1930s he studied composition with Louis Aubert and became increasingly active as a choral conductor. After a period in Rio de Janeiro he came to the United States where he has lived and worked since 1941. Although most of Berger’s compositional activity has involved choral music, he has written for other media as well. The Short Overture for strings is one such example. This light-hearted work “was written with the purpose of enlarging the repertoire of string music that—while not without challenge—could yet be played and performed by an amateur group.”