FLAGELLO. Piano Concerto No. 1. Dante’s Farewell. Concerto Sinfonico

LINER NOTES – NICOLAS FLAGELLO. Piano Concerto No. 1 Tatjana Rankovich (pn). Dante’s Farewel(orchestrated by Anthony Sbordoni) Susan Gonzalez (sop). Concerto Sinfonico New Hudson Saxophone Quartet. Rutgers Symphony Orchestra Kynan Johns (cond.) National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
John McLaughlin Williams, conductor. World Premiere Recordings NAXOS 8.559296

Walter Simmons, executive producer
Recorded: Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey), November 6, 2004. 
Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine (Kiev), June 22-26, 2005

Publishers: Piano Concerto No. 1, Dante’s Farewell (Maelos Music, Inc., P.O. Box 363, New Rochelle, NY 10805); Concerto Sinfonico (To the Fore Publishers, 82 Copley Ave., Teaneck, NJ 07666)

Liner Notes

Nicolas Flagello was one of the last American composers to pursue traditional romantic musical values, intensified by modernist innovations in harmony and rhythm, but without the irony or detachment of postmodernism. For him music was a personal medium for spiritual and emotional expression, a view not at all fashionable during the post-World War II years when Flagello’s creative personality was crystallizing, especially in the New York metropolitan area where he was located. Composers at that time were judged according to their “originality;” the pursuit of “experimental” techniques was given great importance. In such a milieu Flagello’s music gained little attention. Yet he held fast to his ideals throughout his life, producing a large and varied body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works, much of it still unperformed at the time of his death. However, with the greater tolerance of stylistic diversity that appeared during the latter decades of the 20th century, Flagello’s music began finding an increasingly sympathetic audience.

Flagello was born in New York City in 1928 to a family that had been musically active for generations. He studied both piano and violin as a child, and began composing on his own before the age of ten. He was soon brought to the attention of Vittorio Giannini, a highly esteemed composer and teacher known for his adherence to traditional musical values. Giannini became Flagello’s mentor, and the two developed a close professional and personal friendship that lasted until the older man’s death in 1966. In 1945 Flagello entered the Manhattan School of Music, where Giannini served on the faculty. Earning both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) degrees there, he joined the faculty himself upon graduating, and remained there for more than 25 years. (For a time during the 1960s he also taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.) Winning a Fulbright Fellowship in 1955, he took a leave to study for a year at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, working under the elderly Ildebrando Pizzetti, and earning the Diploma di Studi Superiori. 

In 1964, when a group of recordings first introduced Flagello’s music to the broader listening public, The New Records commented, “If this is not great music, we will gladly turn in our typewriter and quit.” In 1974, his oratorio The Passion of Martin Luther King was premiered with great acclaim by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The work was subsequently recorded, and has since been performed throughout the United States and Canada. And in 1982, his opera The Judgment of St. Francis was produced in Assisi, Italy.

In addition to composing, Flagello was active as a pianist and conductor, and made dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque period to the twentieth century. In 1985 a degenerative illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994, at the age of 66.

During the years since his death, Flagello’s music has been performed and recorded at an increasing rate, attracting the attention of a new generation of listeners. Violinists Elmar Oliveira and Midori, and conductors Semyon Bychkov and James DePreist are just a few of today’s leading performers who have found in Flagello’s work deeply felt musical content, presented in a clear, comprehensible manner.

The three works presented on this recording span a period of 35 years, and encompass Flagello’s entire compositional career. The Piano Concerto No. 1 is his first large-scale work, Dante’s Farewell was written at the height of his career, during a period of intensely productive creative activity, and the Concerto Sinfonico was his last work. Each exemplifies what was perhaps Flagello’s favorite compositional medium: the concerted work, featuring a soloist (or soloists) against the backdrop of a symphony orchestra. As treated by Flagello, such works suggest an individual bearing witness to life’s spiritual and emotional torments, with the orchestra as empathic Greek chorus. Viewed autobiographically, the three works might be said to reflect his emotional life at the beginning, middle, and end of his creative life.

Flagello’s Piano Concerto No. 1—the first of three—was composed in 1950, as part of the requirements for his Master’s Degree at the Manhattan School of Music, where it received its first performance that year. The soloist was Joseph Seiger, and the composer conducted the Manhattan Orchestra. The work has never been performed since then. Upon encountering the concerto, one is struck by two observations: One is the confidence with which Flagello addresses every convention of the romantic piano concerto, and in the process demonstrates a thorough mastery of traditional compositional technique. Several motifs are introduced at the outset, and these generate most of the work’s thematic material. This material is developed with a consistent logic: most of the thematic ideas appear in counterpoint with one another; the elaborate first movement displays an extensive cadenza, which leads directly into a brilliant fugato. Although tonal centers are not always clear and unambiguous, a general sense of tonality is always maintained. The second—and perhaps more remarkable—observation is the boldness with which the 22-year-old composer asserts his own forceful personality. Listeners familiar with Flagello’s other works will immediately recognize the vehement articulation, emotional turbulence, and surging passions that continued to characterize his work throughout his career.

The first movement, Allegro maestoso, introduces two main thematic ideas: the first, emphatic and defiant, containing an insistent ostinato motif; the second, characterized by a plaintive lyricism and irregular rhythmic phraseology. These ideas are developed with remarkable thoroughness throughout the course of this imposing movement—longer than the other two movements combined.

The second movement, Andante, is a melancholy nocturne, which rises to an impassioned climax before receding to a poignant conclusion.

The third movement, Allegro con brio, is scherzo-like in character, but, like the first movement, in sonata allegro form. At times this movement calls to mind the music of Bernard Herrmann, which Flagello greatly admired. The main theme, derived from the principal theme of the first movement, toys with hemiola patterns, while the secondary theme is characterized by an ascending series of fourths. Both ideas are developed energetically, until the secondary theme from the first movement joins the finale theme in what is in effect a recapitulation of the entire concerto. 

In 1959, Flagello’s musical language reached a new level of maturity: more intense emotionally, more dissonant harmonically, more irregular rhythmically, formally tighter, and less obviously tonal. The works that followed proved to be among his most powerful and deeply expressive creations. The year 1962 in particular was the most productive of Flagello’s career. In that one year he completed his Piano Sonata, Third Piano Concerto, the Capriccio for Cello and Orchestra, and the first version of a Te Deum. He also composed a work he termed a “dramatic monologue:” Dante’s Farewell, a setting for soprano and orchestra of portions of an unpublished text entitled Gemma Donati, by the prolific Italian-American poet and Latin scholar Joseph Tusiani (b. 1924).
Dante’s Farewell presents an episode in the life of the great Italian poet and statesman, through the words of his devoted wife, Gemma. In what soprano Susan Gonzalez describes as “somewhat like a mad scene,” Gemma tells of a nightmarish vision that came to Dante, warning him of danger to Florence, and his painful decision to leave her and their children, and depart for Rome on behalf of his city-state, never to return. The piece is unified by a motif built around the interval of a third, introduced near the beginning by the solo violin. (Flagello’s composition was completed several months before Samuel Barber’s Andromache’s Farewell, a work of remarkably similar style and scope.)

During Flagello’s most productive years, when his music was rarely performed, he developed the habit of leaving his works—including those intended for orchestra—in short score, planning to orchestrate them when a performance appeared imminent. Unfortunately, many of these works—complete in every other respect—remained in short score at the time of his death. One of these was Dante’s Farewell. In 2003, at the request of the Flagello estate, composer and music editor Anthony Sbordoni completed an orchestration for the work. Sbordoni’s scoring displays an acute sensitivity to Flagello’s approach to the orchestra, along with remarkable skill in bringing to life the sonorities implicit in the manuscript. The orchestral premiere of Dante’s Farewell took place at Hunter College (CUNY), in October, 2004. Nicholas Ross conducted the Hunter College Orchestra, and Susan Gonzalez, heard here, was the soprano soloist.

The Concerto Sinfonico for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra was Flagello’s last completed work. It was commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, who gave the premiere in November, 1985, with the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the direction of Semyon Bychkov. Although the character of much of Flagello’s music is dark and tempestuous, it is difficult to listen to the Concerto Sinfonico without hearing in its consistent tone of anguish, agitation, and dread a sense of what Flagello experienced while confronting the physical and psychological disintegration that his terminal illness had already begun to wreak. On the other hand, the work is a fully autonomous, thematically unified musical structure that requires no extrinsic knowledge or awareness in order to understand and appreciate. Its title indicates the composer’s conception of the work as not so much a virtuoso vehicle as an integrated symphonic structure in which the saxophone quartet serves as the composite voice of a hypothetical protagonist. The Concerto Sinfonico has had numerous performances in the United States and in Europe, and has been transcribed for symphonic band as well.

The Concerto Sinfonico is launched (Allegro non troppo) by a driving rhythm in the orchestra that quickly builds to an almost hysterical shriek, before the saxophones enter, introducing the main theme. At the head of this theme is a three-note motif that serves as the basis of the entire work. Soon the second theme—a lonely, plaintive melody derived from the first theme—is introduced by the alto saxophone. After this theme reaches a climax, a furious development of the first theme follows, beginning with a fugato played over an irregular rhythmic ostinato. This is followed by an introspective reflection on both themes, which even admits a blossoming of faith and hope, before leading with grim resolution to the driving recapitulation and coda, which bring the movement to a defiant conclusion.

The second movement, Lento movendo, is a darkly mournful barcarolle based on the material from the first movement, primarily as heard in the second theme. This section gradually reaches a climax, ushering in a turbulent central portion that culminates in a chilling explosion, which Flagello likened to “the voice of God.” The passage ends in sad resignation. The opening barcarolle returns briefly, then concludes with a reminder of the three-note motif from the first movement.

The third movement, Allegro giusto, opens with a variant of the three-note motif, played by the timpani, cellos and basses. The character of the movement suggests a grimly sardonic scherzo, with newly-fashioned themes derived from the first-movement material. The scherzo is followed by a grotesque “trio” section, before the scherzo idea returns, now subjected to a thorough development. This eventually builds to another stark proclamation from “the voice of God,” followed by a shattering cataclysm. After the tumult subsides, slow harp arpeggios accompany a hopeful return of the work’s main motif. But the mood darkens, as the second theme answers solemnly over ominous tremolos and timpani strokes. All hope seems dashed, as the driving rhythm that opened the work now hammers it into defeat.

Notes by Walter Simmons
Author, Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers
(Scarecrow Press, 2004)
For further information, visit www.Flagello.com


(Text taken from the monologue Gemma Donati, by Joseph Tusiani)

Years, many years ago, I heard him moan in his sleep. When he woke, he said but this: “I have been through a forest dark with doom, and hell was in me, and no one, no one was saved.” Then he walked to the palace, pale and worn. Now I know that his dream was more than a dream and his fear more than death.

The meaning of that vision–that far vision in which he saw soft-veiled tears and stars, that woman of his spirit, Beatrice. She was God’s dream made visible to eyes in love with never setting light.

You may not understand, yet I must tell my grief, and utter no lament for it. I never knew of politics. I called myself a White, for Dante was a White.* To be the mother of his children, and the shadow of his light–it was my glory.

One night I heard him say: “Tomorrow dawn, I’ll leave for Rome.” I looked at him dismayed, for I knew he was feverish and weak; but Florence was in danger. I looked at him again as if to warn him against the perils of the road, the cold of nights, when, bursting in a rage of fire he cried to me: “Your holiness, how long shall we keep Christ a-bleeding on the cross? How shall we save our souls if yours is dead? Let Christ descend again, and rid his temple of thieves and hypocrites! Is God dead too?”

I kissed his hand with tenderness, and said: “O my good lord, you are so tired and ill.” He looked at me, his bride, and he was sad. “Gemma,” he said, “Take care of our children, as you have always done; birds with no more nest. Poor Gemma, go, and promise not to see me when I leave.” His kiss kept me awake and weeping.

Through the night I heard him pace–a wraith of war and death…!! Up and down, down and up, … I heard him pace.…And as he paused in anguish and despair, the river roared, raucous beneath the stones of Ponte Vecchio! The river roared!!

That dawn rose grey as if no day would follow. I saw him kiss his children’s dreaming brows. He came then, furtively, to me and kissed me….

*refers to the political faction with which Dante aligned himself

Tatjana Rankovich (pianist)

Tatjana Rankovich was born in Belgrade, Serbia, graduating with highest honors from the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad. By age 18, she had already won three first prizes in national competitions in the former Yugoslavia. Immigrating to the United States the following year, she entered the Juilliard School, earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Ms. Rankovich has won numerous awards and prizes, among them the Gina Bachauer Scholarship, the Young Keyboard Artists International Piano Competition, and the Olga Koussevitzky Piano Competition. In addition to being a sensitive performer of a wide range of standard piano repertoire, she is also a persuasive advocate of American music, performing and recording little-known works by Vittorio Giannini and Paul Creston, in addition to Nicolas Flagello. Her recording of Flagello’s Second and Third Piano Concertos was enthusiastically received by the press, and chosen as a “best of the year” release by Fanfare in 1996 and again in 1999. Ms. Rankovich has featured both American and European repertoire on her many international concert tours. Sponsored by a Fulbright Grant and by the U. S. State Department, she presented recitals throughout Serbia and Montenegro, as well as master classes at the Belgrade Conservatory. She has been frequent guest soloist with the Belgrade Radio Symphony, the Nis Symphony, and the Zagreb Philharmonic. During a 2003 tour with the Novi Sad Chamber Orchestra, a film documentary on her life and work was produced and televised. Ms. Rankovich is currently on the faculty of the Mannes College of Music.

Susan Gonzalez (soprano)

In addition to a rich and varied career in both opera and concert performance, soprano Susan Gonzalez has been active as a stage director as well. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, she went on to earn Master’s and Doctoral degrees at the Eastman School of Music. She has appeared with the Chicago Lyric Opera, New Orleans Opera, and with the Bolshoi Opera in Russia, and with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Annapolis Symphony, and the Mozart Players. She has been featured soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra, and as a soloist in the major oratorios of Fauré, Brahms, Schubert, and Mozart. Among her honors and prizes have been awards from the Metropolitan Opera, the George London, Leonard Warren, and Baltimore Opera Competitions, from the Liederkranz Foundation, and from the American Opera Association. She received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Rosina in a televised production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and her recorded recital of songs by women composers has drawn considerable positive attention. Dr. Gonzalez is currently Director of Performance at Hunter College (CUNY), where she teaches vocal technique and stages musical theater productions.

New Hudson Saxophone Quartet

Formed in 1987, the NHQ is dedicated to serious concert presentations of the saxophone quartet repertoire. Tonal purity and refinement and intimate musical rapport are hallmarks of NHQ performances. In addition to Flagello’s Concerto Sinfonico, the quartet has recorded the Saxophone Concerto by Calvin Hampton, and has appeared with the Charleston Symphony, Long Island Philharmonic, and the Greenwich (CT) Symphony. The NHQ can be heard on recordings for the Sonari, Eclectic, and Arizona University labels. 

Paul Cohen (soprano)

Paul Cohen (soprano) has appeared as soloist with the Group for Contemporary Music, and with many of America’s leading orchestras. He has recorded with such diverse groups as the Cleveland Symphonic Winds, Quintet of the Americas, the Philharmonia Virtuosi, Paul Winter Consort, and North-South Consonance, and is currently on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU, Montclair State, and Rutgers University.

Avi Goldrosen (alto)

Avi Goldrosen (alto) has been featured soloist with a variety of orchestras in the New York metropolitan area. He has also performed with the New Juilliard Ensemble, the New Jersey Saxophone Ensemble, and tours with the New York Theater Ballet.

David Demsey (tenor)

David Demsey (tenor) has performed with leading classical ensembles, as well as appearing with some of the leading jazz artists of our time. His essay “Improvisation and Concepts of Virtuosity” appears in the Oxford Companion to Jazz, and he has written two books on composer Alec Wilder. He is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University.
Tim Ruedeman (baritone) has appeared with both symphony orchestras and new music ensembles. He is a founding member of the contemporary chamber ensemble Flexible Music, and is currently on the faculties of NYU, William Paterson University, and C.W. Post/Long Island University.

Anthony Sbordoni (Composer, orchestrator, and music editor)

Anthony Sbordoni was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1947. He attended Hunter College (CUNY), where he studied with Louise Talma, Ruth Anderson, and Myron Fink. He is currently Ensembles Manager at Hunter College and Associate Orchestra Librarian for the American Ballet Theatre. As a composer, Sbordoni has concentrated on vocal and choral music, but he has also written incidental music for theatre and film, all of which display his dedication to the Neo-Romantic aesthetic. When it became apparent that Flagello had left many works in short score that he would never be able to orchestrate, the Flagello estate invited Sbordoni to provide the necessary orchestrations. In addition to Dante’s Farewell, Sbordoni has completed orchestrations for the short comic opera The Wig (1954), the Violin Concerto (1956), the Piano Concerto No. 3 (1962), and the full-length opera Beyond the Horizon (1983), along with several shorter pieces. As a result of his efforts, these valuable works have been brought to life and made viable for performance and recording.

Kynan Johns

Australian conductor Kynan Johns is currently Director of Orchestral Activities at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is also Associate Conductor of both the Chinese National Symphony and the Israel Symphony, Haifa. A graduate of the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide, Johns has studied with Kurt Masur, Eri Klas, Peter Eotvos, Ton Koopman, and others. He made his professional debut in 1997 with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and has since conducted all of Australia’s state symphony orchestras, and is a regular guest conductor throughout Australia and New Zealand. He made his debut as an opera conductor in 1999, with Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia for Opera Australia. This was followed in 2000 by Tales of Hoffman and Madame Butterfly (Australia) and Peter Grimes for the New Israeli Opera. He made his European debut in 2000, conducting the Netherlands Radio Symphony at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. To date Johns has conducted more than sixty orchestras and opera companies throughout the world, and was recently awarded second prize in the prestigious Dimitri Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition. He made his Carnegie Hall debut as one of eight finalists in the Maazel/Vilar conducting competition, chosen by Lorin Maazel from more than 400 applicants worldwide.

John McLaughlin Williams

American conductor John McLaughlin Williams has been highly praised for his outstanding interpretive abilities and engaging podium presence. Beginning violin study in Washington, DC, at the age of ten, he was chosen just four years later by the Cabinet wives of the Nixon Administration to appear as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra in its first Kennedy Center concert series for Washington, DC, school children. He continued his violin studies at Boston University and the New England Conservatory, earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music. There he pursued violin study with Martin Chalifour, composition with Donald Erb and Margaret Brouwer, and conducting with Carl Topilow. He was a member of the Houston Symphony, concertmaster of the Virginia Symphony, and has appeared as violin soloist with such orchestras as the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, South Carolina Philharmonic, Portland Symphony, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra. As soloist, he gave the American premieres of the violin concertos by Arnold Bax and Joseph Jongen, and, in 1998, performed the violin concerto of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose chamber music he has also recorded. His first four recordings as conductor for Naxos, featuring works by American composers John Alden Carpenter, George Frederick McKay, and Henry Hadley, have brought him international attention and praise from such publications as Fanfare, Gramophone, Classic FM, International Record Review, American Record Guide and France’s Diapason. His conducting engagements have taken him throughout the United States, where he has focused on contemporary music and music by African-American and minority composers.

VINCENT PERSICHETTI: Works for Band: Divertimento, Op. 42; Psalm, Op. 53; Pageant, Op. 59; Serenade for Band, Op. 85; Masquerade, Op. 102; O Cool Is the Valley, Op. 118; Parable for Band, Op. 121; Chorale Prelude: 0 God Unseen, Op. 160.

Divertimento, Op. 42; Psalm, Op. 53;  Pageant, Op. 59; Serenade for Band, Op. 85;Masquerade, Op. 102; O Cool Is the Valley, Op. 118;  Parable for Band, Op. 121;Chorale Prelude: 0 God Unseen, Op. 160.

During the middle years of this century, the aggregation of woodwinds, brass, and percussion known as the symphonic band, along with its less densely proportioned relative, the symphonic wind ensemble, began to flourish in the high schools and colleges of the United States. Some of these groups, led by gifted conductors with high aspirations such as Frederick Fennell and William Revelli, attained impressive levels of artistry and technical proficiency, developing international reputations. In addition to demanding the highest standards of performance from their ensembles, these pioneering figures encouraged America’s leading composers to contribute to the development of a repertoire of the highest caliber, tailored specifically to the band medium while shunning its traditional outdoor pops-concert connotations. As the medium mushroomed, so did this repertoire, filling a voracious, receptive, unjaded appetite for new music among the young musicians of the huge post-World War II baby-boom. Some works soon attained the status of classics, enjoying literally thousands of performances.

Pivotal to the development of this repertoire and perhaps its most distinguished exponent was Vincent Persichetti, who contributed 14 works, many of which have become staples of the genre. Persichetti was a central figure in many aspects of American musical life — as a member of the composition faculty at Juilliard School for 40 years, as the author of a widely-used composition text, Twentieth Century Harmony, as a popular guest-lecturer at college campuses around the country, and as composer of more than 160 works, including an opera, nine symphonies, twelve piano sonatas, and numerous other orchestral chamber, choral, and vocal works. But it is through his works for band that his name and his music are most widely known.

 Vincent Persichetti was born to an Italian father and a German mother in Philadelphia in 1915, and continued to live there until his death in 1987. He began to study the piano at age five, which gave direction to a musical interest that was already insatiable and a talent that soon proved prodigious.  He began to compose almost immediately and, during his adolescence, earned money as a church organist. He credited Russell King Miller, with whom he studied at Philadelphia’s Combs Conservatory, with being his most influential teacher. He joined the Combs faculty immediately after graduating, while earning his doctorate at the Philadelphia Conservatory, where he studied composition with Paul Nordoff and piano with Olga Samaroff. In 1947 William Schuman invited him to join the Juilliard faculty, and he remained there for the rest of his life (commuting by car from Philadelphia to New York). He became chairman of Juilliard’s composition department in 1963, and in 1970, of the literature and materials department.

Persichetti’s career flourished during a period when American composition was deeply divided among rival stylistic factions, each seeking to invalidate the work of its opponents. In the face of this partisan antagonism, Persichetti advocated — through his lectures and writings, as well as through his music — the notion of a broad working vocabulary, or “common practice,” based on a fluent assimilation of all the materials and techniques that had appeared during the twentieth century.  His own music exhibits a wide stylistic range, from extreme diatonic simplicity to complex, contrapuntal atonality.

Most of Persichetti’s music for band falls along the simpler end of his compositional spectrum, although the Parable represents the opposite pole. This is utilitarian music, in the sense that it was written with an awareness of imminent performance in a variety of different practical contexts.  But there is no compromise in standards of taste or quality of workmanship. Even the simplest pieces, such as Psalm and Pageant, have a youthful sweetness and exuberance that are utterly genuine, and display meticulous attention to formal values. Indeed, these qualities, along with a sense of mischief and a poignant vein of nostalgia represent the essence of Persichetti’s personality and permeate all his music, though manifest at times at dizzying levels of complexity.

A fondness for wind instruments dates back to Persichetti’s early years: his Opus 1, composed at age 14, is a Serenade for Ten Winds. However, in an interview with Rudy Shackelford, he himself acknowledged with characteristic whimsy the misgivings many hold about the band medium and its “rusty trumpets, consumptive flutes, wheezy oboes, disintegrating clarinets fumbling yet amiable baton wavers, and gum-coated park benches. If you couple these conditions with transfigurations and disfigurations of works originally conceived for orchestra, you create a sound experience that’s nearly as excruciating as a sick string quartet playing a dilettante’s arrangement of a 19th-century piano sonata. But when composers think of the band as a huge, supple ensemble of winds and percussion, the obnoxious fat drains off and creative ideas flourish.”

Originally, Persichetti did not set out to write for band.  During the interview quoted above, he recalled “composing in a log cabin schoolhouse in El Dorado, Kansas, during the summer of 1949. Working with some lovely woodwind figures, accentuated by choirs of aggressive brasses and percussion beating, I soon realized the strings weren’t going to enter, and myDivertimento began to take shape.” Completed the following year, the work exemplifies Persichetti’s propensity for pieces comprising tiny epigrammatic movements. The opening “Prologue” displays one of the composer’s most distinctive trademarks: the use of rapid duple meter as a framework for lively, playful, syncopated rhythmic byplay. This feature can be heard throughout the works on this disc. “Song” is reflective in tone, with melody and accompanimental material all based on an undulating figure. “Dance” is gentle and childlike. “Burlesque” features the tubas with a mocking melody in Lydian mode against raucous offbeats, framing a taunting central section. In “Soliloquy,” a cornet solo creates a mood of haunting nostalgia. “March” returns to the rousing spirit of the opening movement.

Psalm was composed in 1952 and highlights the warm sonorities of the band in chorale treatment. A solemn opening is followed by a hymnlike section that leads into a jubilantallegro vivace. After an exhilarating development, the work culminates in a fervent return of the hymnlike material.

Persichetti completed Pageant the following year and the spirit of the two works is similar enough that the later work might almost be regarded as a sequel. In two sections, Pageantopens with a three-note horn motif upon which the entire work is based. The first section is again in chorale style, while the second is vigorous and marchlike, suggesting a parade. Several thematic ideas, all based on the opening horn motif, are subjected to a development whose thoroughness is belied by the music’s exuberant, extroverted character. 

Serenade for Band, composed in 1960, is the eleventh of Persichetti’s fifteen serenades for various combinations. Like Divertimento, each serenade consists of several tiny movements. Here, a triadic motif unifies the movements and each except the concluding “Capriccio” is pervaded by a sense of nostalgia.

Persichetti often re-used material originally composed for another purpose. Masquerade, dating from 1965, is a set of ten ingenious variations on a theme created from musical examples written for the textbook Twentieth Century Harmony. The language is somewhat more dissonant and angular here than in the preceding works, although the expressive content reflects many of the composer’s familiar characteristics.

0 Cool Is the Valley was composed in 1971, inspired by a poem of James Joyce. A calm, pastoral mood is maintained throughout.

Parable for Band, a work of very different character, appeared the following year. It is Persichetti’s most complex band composition and the ninth in his series of 25 parables, which he described somewhat enigmatically as “non-programmatic musical essays about a single germinal idea. They convey a meaning indirectly by the use of comparisons or analogies.” Using an expanded vocabulary of gestures and textures, as well as more linear material, the work unfolds in a manner that is dramatic, coherent, and thoroughly abstract.

Chorale Prelude: 0 God Unseen is Persichetti’s final piece for band. Written in 1984, it is a solemn expansion of a hymn originally appeared in the composer’s Hymns and Responses for the Church Year. 


Piano Music by AARON COPLAND (1900-1990), PAUL CRESTON (1906-1985), and MARK ZUCKERMAN (1948-    )

Copland: Passacaglia (1921-22) (5:41)

Creston: Seven Theses, Op. 3 (1933) (9:55)

  • a. Maestoso (2:38)
  • b. Scorrevole ( :44)
  • c. Espressivo (1:22)
  • d. Giocoso ( :47)
  • e. Grazioso (1:05)
  • f.  Tranquillo (1:36)
  • g. Feroce (1:25)

Creston: Metamorphoses, Op. 84 (1964)* (18:19)

Copland: Piano Fantasy (1955-57) (28:10)

Zuckerman: On the Edges (1996)* (11:15)

*World Premiere Recordings

Peter Vinograde, piano
Peter Vinograde, Walter Simmons, Mark Zuckerman, producers
Joseph Patrych, recording engineer

The composers featured on this recording come from widely divergent personal backgrounds, underwent widely divergent types of musical training, and developed widely divergent stylistic orientations. Indeed, perhaps the only factor that they share in common is that all three are men who spent most of their lives in and around New York City. However, of particular interest is the fact that each is represented here by works that are quite uncharacteristic of the music for which he is generally known. Yet it so happens that in these works the composers pursued aesthetic goals that were remarkably similar—i.e., to write music that would be meaningful and rewarding to listeners, while intentionally subjecting aspects of their compositional processes to especially strict disciplines, without compromising their fundamental artistic values. The result is a group of five compositions in which the melodic and harmonic correlates of tonality are severely attenuated, placing the responsibility for musical interest on matters of rhythm, texture, harmonic sonority, contrapuntal development, and thematic variation.

During the 1930s and 40s, Aaron Copland emerged as one of America’s two or three most widely and frequently performed composers. His easily identifiable evocations of small-town life in the American heartland, in ballets like Appalachian SpringRodeo, and Billy the Kid and in the scores for such films as Of Mice and MenThe Red Pony, and Our Town, have become indelible aspects of America’s aural landscape, while sustaining Copland’s broad popularity throughout the remainder of the twentieth century. However the two works presented on this disc respectively precede and follow Copland’s “Americana” period, and bear little relation to it.

This creator of the sound of America’s heartland was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. (His father had changed his name from Kaplan to Copland during the process of immigration.) In 1900, when young Aaron was born, his father owned a prosperous neighborhood department store. Exposed to music by his older siblings, Aaron began taking piano lessons and writing tunes before he entered his teens. His musical interests were further stimulated by similarly-inclined school friends. By the time he was 15, he was already entertaining vague notions of a career in music. In 1917, while continuing his piano studies, he decided to undertake formal training in composition, and sought out Rubin Goldmark. Copland worked with Goldmark, a Dvorák student, for four years, learning from him the classic Germanic approach to musical craftsmanship. But none of his teachers shared the young composer’s interest and enthusiasm for “new” music, such as that of Debussy, Ravel, and Scriabin. During those years Copland supplemented his study through frequent attendance at concerts and recitals, and through intensive study of scores borrowed from the New York Public Library.

When Copland graduated from high school in 1918, instead of going on to college, he decided to immerse himself in the professional music world. He worked as an accompanist for dancers and, in the summers, played the piano at hotels in the Catskill Mountains, outside New York City.

In 1919 a slightly older poet-friend went to study in Paris, and excitedly reported on his experiences there through letters to Copland, urging the young composer to join him. Learning of a newly formed music school at Fontainebleau, just outside Paris, Copland applied immediately, and was one of the first students to be admitted.  Although his friend had returned to the States the previous year, Copland traveled to France in 1921, and began his study at the new school. Before long he discovered the harmony classes taught by Nadia Boulanger and was greatly impressed by both her profound mastery of traditional musical craftsmanship and her receptive attitude toward newer music. Through her Copland became acquainted with the French composers known as Les Six, finding himself in sympathy with their rejection of Germanic notions of “profundity,” and with Igor Stravinsky, whom he felt was “the most exciting musical creator on the scene.”

It was during his first two years of study with Mlle. Boulanger that Copland composed his Passacaglia, which he dedicated to her. The passacaglia is a variation form in which a theme, usually introduced in the bass, is repeated over and over—literally at first, later with more freedom—while suitable material is superimposed above. After the first few repetitions, the theme may modulate to other keys and may move to upper voices as well. Copland’s Passacaglia is clearly oriented in G-sharp minor, and, as is customary for this form, begins in a somber mood. While there are no obvious reminiscences of other composers, the entire work maintains a post-Romantic ebb and flow of mood and emotion, far afield from the crisp, dry sonorities, and nervous, angular athleticism that Copland had adopted as his own mature language, based on the Neo-Classicism of Stravinsky.

By 1950, the self-conscious American populism of which Copland was the most prominent exponent had begun to lose its freshness. In the ascendancy was an approach to composition developed in Vienna during the early 1920s by the brilliant composer Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg, along with a number of his students and followers, had fled Europe to escape the Holocaust, seeking refuge in the United States, and bringing with them this new compositional approach, called the twelve-tone system.  Stated simply, the proponents of twelve-tone music believed that tonality—the tendency of music to gravitate toward a particular “home” note, or tonic—had exhausted its creative utility. They offered their system as a means of creating and shaping music without tonality, by basing it on themes, called tone-rows, that comprised all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. However, unlike themes in tonal music, tone-rows are more than melodic ideas to be developed freely. Tone-rows, used in a variety of permutations, also provide the basis for harmony and sometimes for other parameters as well. Advocates of twelve-tone music—later called “serialism”—believed that their approach was the result of an inevitable evolutionary process. Their arguments, carrying the weight of European authority, were persuasive, and by the 1950s twelve-tone music was gradually supplanting Stravinskian Neo-Classicism and its nationalist-populist outgrowth as the dominant compositional style in America.

Although he saw himself as a proponent of modernism in music, Copland had resisted the twelve-tone system. He later recalled, “I was … well aware that serial composition was the dominant method of composition during the years following the war…. I cannot say that I admired much of what I heard—so often it seemed that individuality was sacrificed to the method.” Verna Fine remembers his having said, “I don’t feel comfortable with the twelve-tone system, but I don’t want to keep repeating myself.” So, in 1950 Copland made his first serious attempt to apply the system in his Piano Quartet, attempting to adapt it to his own aesthetic needs and preferences. “Composing with all twelve notes of the chromatic scale can give one a feeling of freedom in the formulation of melodic and harmonic ideas. In addition to the fact that there are more notes to work with, taking a different perspective produces material you might not come up with if you were not thinking twelve-tone-wise. It’s like looking at a picture from a different point of view…. My use of the twelve-tone method in the Piano Quartet  did not adhere strictly to the rules,…”

In 1951 William Schuman, then president of the Juilliard School, had approached Copland with a request for a major work to be presented as part of the celebration of the school’s fiftieth anniversary in 1956. At the same time he had promised to write a major work for the gifted young pianist William Kapell, whose performances of Copland’s piano music had impressed him deeply. Although he had the idea of a large-scale work in free form, along the lines of a fantasy, Copland had considerable difficulty making headway. “For the composer, a long and continuous one-movement form is one of the most taxing undertakings,” he wrote. In 1953, William Kapell was killed in a plane crash, and Copland decided to dedicate the Fantasy to his memory. However, he continued to work very slowly, encountering many dead-ends, in his attempt to create an impression of spontaneity—almost improvisation—while maintaining a tightly coherent structure. “The whole creative act, I think, is almost symbolized in the sense of not being in control, and yet being in control,” he wrote while occupied with the Fantasy. As it happened, much to Schuman’s frustration, the work was not ready for the 1956 celebration.

However, in January, 1957, Copland completed the Piano Fantasy. Schuman arranged for a special recital in October of that year, which would consist of only that work, to be played twice, with an intermission in between. The pianist was William Masselos, an extraordinary young musician with a deep devotion to contemporary music. In his program notes, Copland wrote that the Fantasy “makes no use whatever of folk or popular musical materials. I stress this point because of a tendency in recent years to typecast me as primarily a purveyor of Americana in music. Commentators have remarked upon my ‘simplicity of style’ and my ‘audience appeal’ in such a way as to suggest that that is the whole story, and the best of the story.”

The Piano Fantasy is indeed no Rodeo. Nearly half an hour in duration, it utilizes a ruggedly harsh, dissonant harmonic language with little or no melody, in the conventional sense. It falls roughly into three large, connected sections—a lively, rhythmically alert central part framed by two slower, deeply reflective stretches. All the material is based on the ten-tone row heard clearly at the outset, the two remaining tones serving as a sort of anchor at crucial points. Yet while serial techniques are used, they are not applied strictly. Indeed, tonality, though severely attenuated, is not altogether absent. Moreover, the work is unmistakably identifiable as Copland’s, especially the rapid middle section. And, though much of it may seem impenetrable at first, with greater familiarity nuggets of great beauty gradually emerge, leading to the recognition of an intangible yet compelling sense of both breadth and depth. In the words of composer Paul Reale, “The Piano Fantasy is, without question, the greatest of Copland’s piano works, and one of the grandest conceptions in American piano music,” a statement that represents the general critical consensus at the beginning of the 21st century.

Paul Creston (christened Giuseppe Guttoveggio) was born in New York City in 1906, the son of a poor Sicilian house-painter. Growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan, he took lessons on the piano and, later, on the organ, making his first attempts to compose at the age of eight. Forced to leave school at 15 in order to help support his family, he attempted to compensate for the premature termination of his formal education by subjecting himself to a strenuous regimen of independent study, which he pursued during long evenings at the New York Public Library, after working at menial clerical jobs during the day. Not only did he teach himself music theory and composition, but also literature, foreign languages, and linguistics.

Creston’s independent, self-directed course of study resulted in what is essentially the opposite of a standard basic education: i.e., an idiosyncratic landscape of erudition that formed the framework for his own philosophy. Questioning all conventional or inherited wisdom, he painstakingly and systematically developed his own theories of music, embracing aesthetics, acoustics, harmony, form, notation, and—most of all—rhythm. Many years later, when asked to name those composers who most influenced his development, he cited J. S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel.

Not until he was in his mid-twenties did Creston commit himself to a career as a composer, supporting himself at the time by playing the organ to accompany silent films. With the advent of the “talkies,” he took a position as organist at St. Malachy’s Church in Manhattan, which he held for more than thirty years.

Many of Creston’s early pieces were experimental, as he explored techniques and ideas that intrigued him in search of his own identity and compositional voice. The piece he designated as his Opus 1 was Five Dances for piano, which he had written in 1932. Shortly thereafter his music came to the attention of Henry Cowell, then an enthusiastic advocate of the musical avant-garde. Cowell was impressed by the authenticity, integrity, and seriousness of purpose he found in Creston’s early efforts. In 1934, Cowell gave Creston an auspicious showcase, presenting the young composer at one of his “Composers Forum” events at New York City’s New School for Social Research. Creston performed his Seven Theses for piano, which he had completed the previous year (and had already submitted to Arnold Schoenberg in support of a request to receive discounted tutelage from the recently arrived immigrant. Schoenberg rejected the request because of Creston’s modifications of conventional notation.) Cowell described the Theses as “atonal and dissonant in a virtuosic style and as difficult to listen to as they are to play.” In a note in the score Creston writes:

These Seven Theses may be viewed as essays in contrapuntal devices and progressional meter. A particular harmonic interval is employed thruout [sic] a part (or voice) first with the idea of doubling the melody at other distances than the octave (as was done in Organum music which was doubled in fourth and fifths); and second for its harmonic potentialities when placed against the other voices, which are treated in free style. The meter of each thesis is rather a metrical sequence, instead of a static measure or an ever-changing measure.

As Creston indicated, each of the Theses features a particular harmonic entity, treated in relatively strict parallelism:

  • I. Maestoso—triads and octaves in the right hand
  • II. Scorrevole—perfect fifths in left-hand triplet patterns
  • III. Espressivo—major thirds in the left hand
  • IV. Giocoso—seventh-chords with missing fifths in the right hand
  • V. Grazioso—perfect fourths in the left hand
  • VI. Tranquillo—second-inversion triads in the left hand
  • VII. Feroce—major seconds in the left hand

Cowell published the Seven Theses in his New Music Quarterly in 1935, and also released a recording of one of Creston’s works on his New Music record label. Cowell’s continued support contributed significantly to the validation of Creston’s identity as a composer.

By 1937 Creston had abandoned his compositional experimentation, having arrived at the musical language that would serve him, essentially unchanged, for the rest of his life. This was a language dominated by kinetically charged interplays among heavily-accented, syncopated rhythmic patterns, and a richly robust approach to harmony owing much to the Impressionists.

Just one year later, in 1938, Fritz Reiner led the Pittsburgh Symphony in the premiere of Creston’s first orchestral work. The lively exuberance of Creston’s music appealed greatly to audiences and, within less than a decade,  his work was being programmed regularly by the nation’s leading orchestras, under such conductors as Toscanini, Stokowski, Ormandy, Rodzinski, Monteux, and Szell, many of whom played his music on international tours. By the 1950s Creston had joined Copland as one of America’s most widely performed composers.

But Creston’s popularity was not as deeply entrenched as Copland’s. While the older man’s reputation endured the vicissitudes of musical fashion, Creston’s did not. By the end of the 1950s performances of his major works had dwindled significantly. Nevertheless, he continued to compose, as well as write articles and books on the theoretical subjects that interested him. Like Copland, Creston was reluctant to embrace serialism, while insisting that his approach to harmony made his music “pantonal,” rather than either tonal or atonal. However, during the 1960s—somewhat later than Copland—he did adopt aspects of the twelve-tone technique in several works. One such work is Metamorphoses.

In comparison to the harsh, brittle sonorities and angular gestures of Copland’s Fantasy, Creston’s Metamorphoses is more thoroughly grounded in traditional piano figuration and sonority. Completed in 1964, it is the composer’s most tightly structured large-scale work for piano, comprising a series of twenty variations on a 28-note theme that contains all twelve tones played at least twice. Yet despite this fact, and despite the relatively dissonant harmonic vocabulary and absence of an implicit tonal center that thereby resulted, Creston did not compose Metamorphoses according to strict serial principles. Rather, he created a twelve-tone theme for the purpose of establishing a starting point of expressive neutrality from which the variations evolve, illustrating diverse transformations of character, as implied by the title. As with Copland’s Fantasy, the use of some twelve-tone devices in no way camouflages or conceals the audible identity of the composer.

Creston’s theme is initially presented unadorned and unaccompanied, senza espressione, in even quarter-notes—again not unlike the presentation of the row in Copland’s Fantasy. The variations that follow embrace the full range of Post-Romantic and Impressionistic keyboard figuration, as the theme is explored from a variety of perspectives, proceeding in successively more remote directions. In each of the first twelve variations the theme is transposed up successive half-steps. The subsequent variations present the theme in inverted form, and embedded at times within vertical structures and other textures. The work achieves a dramatic climax on a low-register cluster-chord, which is followed by a haunting, neo-Gregorian treatment of the theme, bringing the piece to an ethereal conclusion. In 1977 Metamorphoses was choreographed by Tomm Ruud, for presentation by the San Francisco Ballet.

Considerably younger than the other two composers represented, Mark Zuckerman has had to contend with a far more complex and fragmented new-music scene than that faced by his predecessors. Among the myriad styles vying for attention, he has sought to develop his own individual language—what he calls a “classical atonality”—using a straightforward rhetoric that frequently involves applying the rigorous precision of serial composition to sounds and combinations familiar from tonal music.

Born in Brooklyn nearly half a century after Copland, in 1948, Zuckerman took music lessons as a child, making his first attempts to compose when he was eleven. He spent his formative years in the environs of New York City, encouraged and stimulated by the intensive musical enrichment that flourished in suburban public schools during the Kennedy-Johnson years, while pursuing more advanced study of music theory and composition in the Preparatory Division of the Juilliard School.

Unlike Copland and Creston, Zuckerman undertook a formal liberal arts education at the University of Michigan, where he studied composition with George Wilson, and at Bard College, where he worked with Elie Yarden. Becoming intrigued with twelve-tone music, which was in 1970 the dominant force on the new-music scene, he went on to earn a Ph.D. under Milton Babbitt and J. K. Randall at Princeton, the epicenter of serialist culture. Zuckerman’s compositions from this time, such as his 1971 flute solo, Paraphrases, reflect his immersion in the serial approach.

Zuckerman then embarked on an academic career, serving on the faculties of both Princeton and Columbia. After several years, however, he became disenchanted by the politics of academic life and found his compositional output slowing to a crawl. Leaving the university scene in the mid 1980s he undertook an intense re-examination of principles of musical structure—the sort of analysis that had fascinated him as a student. He emerged from this period of reflection determined to develop a means of musical expression that would be meaningful to others while also satisfying his own creative interests.

Returning to composition around 1990, Zuckerman began building two distinct bodies of work: one consisting of tonal music, exemplified by an internationally-respected collection of choral arrangements of Yiddish songs, and the other comprising atonal music of a novel and highly individual sort. In this portion of his work Zuckerman subjects classical forms and traditional themes and motifs to manipulations derived from serial theory, with the result that sounds and combinations familiar from tonal music take on new and unusual meanings. An excellent example is On the Edges, composed in 1996. Concerning the work the composer has written:

On the Edges goes by in six sections contrasting in pulse and energy. The first section is a toccata with two-handed arpeggios gradually turning in to chords that get thicker and thicker before returning to the opening arpeggio motive. A dialogue follows where slow-moving chords are in counterpoint with quicker, arpeggiated figures derived from the toccata’s opening figure. Then there’s a quiet lyrical reflection—again based on the opening motive—eliding into a cadenza with arpeggiated figures that increase in range and intensity before dissolving into a trill. The next section turns the toccata’s opening motive into the subject of a four-part invention, the first in a series of three linked by thematic rotation: the counter-subject of one invention becomes the subject for the next. This cycle completes as the subject of the first invention becomes the counter-subject of the last, and ends as the three subjects are combined, segueing into an extended return of the opening toccata.

CRESTON: Piano Sonata, Op. 9; Six Preludes, Op. 38. GIANNINI: Piano Sonata. FLAGELLO: Two Waltzes; Piano Sonata

Piano Music by Paul Creston (1906-1985) Piano Sonata, Op. 9* (1936); Six Preludes, Op. 38* (1945). Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) Piano Sonata* (1963). Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994) : Two Waltzes(1953) Piano Sonata (1962).

*World Premiere Recordings. Tatjana Rankovich, piano. Walter Simmons, producer. Joseph Patrych, engineer. Recorded: Jan. 6, 21, 1998; April 29, 1998; June 24, 1998 

The three American composers represented on this recording belong to the group often described as “20th-century traditionalists”—those figures who rejected most of the tenets of Modernism–especially its emphasis on originality, rational objectivity, and experimentation, and its contempt for communication as an artistic objective. Rather, the “traditionalists” viewed themselves as inheritors of a living legacy, to which they sought to make their own individual contributions, with recourse to the full range of classical forms and techniques, and with the aim of personal expression and communication. Beyond their aesthetic affinities, Creston, Giannini, and Flagello shared an Italian ancestry, and spent most of their creative lives in the environs of New York City. Creston and Giannini were approximate contemporaries, while for many years Giannini and Flagello maintained a master-apprentice relationship. Each composer is represented here by a piano sonata composed at a different phase of his respective career. Creston’s sonata is an early work, written before his language had reached maturity; Giannini’s dates from the last years of his life, when his style seemed to be charting a new course; Flagello’s sonata appeared at the midpoint of his career and the apex of his compositional development.

Paul Creston, whose original name was Giuseppe Guttoveggio, was born in New York City in 1906, the son of a poor house-painter. As a child he took lessons on the piano and later, on the organ, and began writing music on his own at the age of eight. Forced to leave school at 15 in order to earn a living, he attempted to compensate for the premature termination of his formal education by subjecting himself to a strenuous regimen of independent study, teaching himself music theory and composition, in addition to a number of other academic and artistic subjects. Creston vacillated between music and literature as career options for several years; not until 1932, at age 26, did he decide upon musical composition as a vocation. He supported himself during these years by playing the organ to accompany silent films, and later took a position as church organist, which he held for many years.

The absence of formal training prevented Creston from being fully indoctrinated into the music world’s conventional value system, leaving him free to develop his own aesthetic principles, together with a highly individual approach to composition. Many years later, when asked to name those composers who most influenced his development, he cited J. S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel. Their traces are evident in Creston’s earliest compositions, especially the Piano Sonata heard on this recording. Yet at the same time, Creston’s own distinctive manner—a combination of Baroque patterns and textures and Impressionist harmony, suffused with a romantic temperament, and organized around the elaborate development of a few basic motifs—can be discerned as well. The inventive and rather idiosyncratic approach to rhythm that was to become the central element of his compositional style developed somewhat later.

Creston composed his Piano Sonata in 1936. The first movement, Allegro appassionato, opens with a brash vigor, immediately introducing several motifs, including one that soon develops into a luxuriantly lyrical second theme. These motifs undergo a lengthy and thorough development through a variety of contrasting emotions. A sense of urgency prevails, as Scarlatti-like running patterns continue throughout, never coming to rest until the end.

The second movement, Allegretto grazioso, is light and graceful, in the manner of a minuet. Some gently syncopated passages presage the rhythmic manipulations of Creston’s maturity.

The third movement, Andante, displays the warm, smoothly rolling figurations of a barcarolle. As the music slowly builds in intensity, its rich harmonic language expands with resonant voicings that suggest Creston’s experience as an organist. The music reaches a powerful climax, and then recedes gently, drifting off with an ethereal chain of chords that remain unresolved until the end.

The fourth movement, Presto scorrevole, suggests the form of a rondo. It is lively and playful in tone, with scurrying patterns that proceed breathlessly from one section to the next, until an exhilarating conclusion is reached. Again the keyboard works of Scarlatti come to mind, along with a harmonic language that occasionally hints at the popular music of the time.

In view of Creston’s isolation from influential musical institutions, his meteoric rise to national prominence is quite remarkable. In 1938 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1941 he won the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award. In 1942, Arturo Toscanini conducted his Choric Dance No. 2 with the NBC Symphony, in 1943 Eugene Ormandy conducted his Symphony No. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 1944 Creston completed his Symphony No. 2 , premiered the following year by Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic. One of his most important works, this symphony brought him international acclaim; by this time Creston was one of America’s most widely performed composers.

Shortly after completing his Symphony No. 2 , Creston composed his Six Preludes for piano. By then, the composer had developed a fascination with the element of rhythm, to which he devoted special attention in virtually each of his works. He was especially fond of syncopated polymetric and polyrhythmic patterns and ostinatos, which he organized within a continuous, unchanging metrical pulse. Eventually he was to present his theory and analysis of the subject in a textbook, Principles of Rhythm (1964). The core of the book comprises an exposition of what Creston termed “rhythmic structures,” described as “five different plans [for] the organization of duration in ordered movement.” He had developed this concept as early as 1945, as each of the Six Preludes was composed to illustrate one of the “rhythmic structures,” with No. 1, Moderately fast,  as an example of mixed methods. No. 2, Tranquil, illustrates “regular sub-division”; No. 3, Fast, illustrates “regular subdivision overlapping”; No. 4, Moderately fast, illustrates “irregular subdivision”; No. 5, Moderato, illustrates “overlapping”; and No. 6, Moderately fast, illustrates “irregular sub-division overlapping”. Despite the underlying didactic aspect, each of the preludes conveys a sense of spontaneous expression.

Vittorio Giannini was born in Philadelphia in 1903 into a family of professional musicians. Deeply imbued with the values of a Eurocentric musical culture at an early age, he had completed four years of formal study in Milan by the time he was 14, and had already begun to compose. During the 1920s, when Creston was struggling to educate himself late at night while holding a series of clerical jobs during the day, Giannini was studying violin and composition at the Juilliard School. He first attracted attention during the 1930s, when his songs began to appear frequently on recital programs, and several of his operas were produced successfully in Europe, where he spent much of his time. His vocal music displayed the fluent lyrical warmth of Italianate late-Romanticism, although instrumental works revealed a mastery of contrapuntal technique and a concern with formal developmental processes.

Settling in New York City in 1939, Giannini continued composing prolifically, producing dozens of works notable for their effortless melodic warmth, high-spirited exuberance, and impeccable craftsmanship, although increasingly his music was regarded as “old-fashioned” by the proponents of Modernism. Serving concurrently at the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School, and the Curtis Institute, he became one of the country’s most active composition teachers, his name virtually synonymous with traditional Old World musical craftsmanship and discipline.

By the early 1960s Giannini’s work was receiving little attention, his musical aesthetic seen now as the vestige of a bygone era. Yet at this point Giannini’s compositional style took something of a turn. Although his approach to form remained unchanged, many of his works revealed a darker character, a greater depth of expression, and a more dissonant harmonic language. Whether this change reflected a bitterness about the fickleness of musical fashion, or concerns about his own deteriorating heart condition, or despair about a failed second marriage is uncertain. But what is clear is that many of the works that Giannini composed during the last five years of his life—such as the monodramas The Medead and Antigone , the Symphony No. 5 , and the Piano Sonata —are among his finest achievements.

Giannini composed his Piano Sonata in 1963. The opening Allegro non troppo boldly proclaims a three-note motif that truly saturates the polyphonic texture of the entire movement, while re-appearing in the others as well. Several additional motifs are introduced during the exposition of this movement, all of which contribute to its unremittingly agitated and turbulent character; even the subordinate theme seems to wail in despair. All this material is subjected to a lengthy and rigorous development, until a major climax is reached during the recapitulation, after which the movement ends in snarling defiance.

The second movement, Molto adagio e cantabile, presents a lament whose character is unmistakably funereal, and whose thematic material bears some resemblance to the motifs introduced in the first movement. After this D-minor lament has been elaborated somewhat, there is a sudden shift to D-flat major, and a new melody, marked “con gran dolcezza e tenerezza,” is heard, ending the movement with an almost Mahlerian poignancy.  

The meaning of this episode—and, perhaps, of the sonata as a whole–is illuminated by the following information:  In 1963, Giannini’s second marriage ended in divorce. That year Giannini composed what proved to be his last song, entitled To a Lost Love , to his own text. There the D-flat melody from the sonata appears, set to the following words:

If you must go, my love, 
Go not in bitterness;
Go with a gentle sadness. 
I, with tears in my eyes
Give you one last kiss on the lips,
As a token of my love that shall abide with you forever.

The final movement, Allegro assai, of Giannini’s Piano Sonata has the character of a scherzo-toccata, propelled by a driving triplet figure in perpetual motion. At the center of the movement the meter shifts and the three-note motif from the first movement re-appears in a new guise, pressing forward with grim determination. Then the opening triplet material returns, leading eventually to an intensified treatment of the three-note motif, which carries the movement to a decisive close.

Nicolas Flagello was born in New York City in 1928. With a remarkably similar family background to Giannini’s, Flagello came from a long line of musicians. As Giannini’s sister Dusolina had been a world-renowned soprano, Flagello’s brother Ezio enjoyed an illustrious career as a leading bass-baritone. When young Nicolas, who was playing the piano in public before the age of ten, began to show an inclination toward composition, his family brought him to the attention of Giannini. Thus began a long and deeply devoted apprenticeship that lasted until the older man’s death in 1966.

Giannini subjected Flagello to the sort of rigorous, demanding discipline that formed the basis of traditional European compositional study for centuries. Continuing his work with Giannini at the Manhattan School of Music, he was awarded a Master’s Degree in 1950, at which point he joined the composition faculty, remaining there until 1977.

Giannini imbued Flagello with the enduring values of the grand European heritage, insisting that the answers to all matters of aesthetics lay in the unbroken chain of Western musical tradition, as it had evolved organically through the centuries. If this approach seemed old-fashioned for a middle-aged composer in 1950, for a young man like Flagello it seemed defiantly reactionary. As a result, little of his music was performed publicly during his own lifetime, although his work has developed a growing following since his death in 1994.

In 1953 Flagello composed two waltzes for piano that he eventually incorporated into larger works. For this reason he did not include them among his official oeuvre. However, they are very pianistic and serve nicely as encores. Waltz in D is marked Andantino comodo, and displays a tender gracefulness reminiscent of Ravel. Revised some twelve years later, it became the slow movement of a Suite for Harp and String Trio (1965). The Waltz in B minor offers considerable contrast. Marked Presto giocoso ma non troppo, it is somewhat more dynamic, with a grotesque middle section that found its way into the Scherzo of the monumental Symphony No. 1 (1968).

While Flagello may have adopted Giannini’s musical aesthetic, his own temperament was much more volatile and highly charged than that of his teacher. After composing a substantial body of work in a luxuriantly romantic vein—including three operas, two piano concertos, concertos for flute, violin, and several large orchestral works—Flagello turned in 1959 toward a darker, more intensely concentrated mode of expression. In fact, some have suggested that the influence of Giannini on Flagello reversed direction at that time, as the latter’s stylistic shift seemed to precede the former’s very similar move by about a year. This maturation of his compositional voice ushered in the most productive period of Flagello’s life. During the 1960s, he composed more than 30 works—intensely emotional and often gloomy, turbulent, and tragic in character–maintaining a remarkable consistency of both vision and craftsmanship. In 1962 alone, he composed the Piano Concerto No. 3 , the Cello Capriccio , a dramatic monologue called Dante’s Farewell , and the first version of a Te Deum, as well as the Piano Sonata heard here.

Flagello’s three-movement Piano Sonata wholeheartedly embraces the rhetoric and ethos of the romantic virtuoso legacy, but with a tempestuous character unique to the composer. Tightly constructed with an eye toward both expressive and motivic unity, all three movements are based on material that emphasizes the interval of a half-step.

The first movement, Andante con moto e rubato, is a standard sonata-allegroform, except that instead of the usual two themes, one idea in F minor, built from two short motifs, serves to fill the roles of both, appearing at times restless and searching, at others, bold and defiant, and at still others, introspective and ruminative.

The second movement begins with a soulful, recitative-like passage, which leads into a barcarolle—but a far gloomier one than Creston created for his sonata. The movement builds to a tremendous climax, and then subsides in dark resignation.

The finale, Allegro vivace quanto possibile, happens to be a full sonata-allegroform, two themes and all. A whirlwind toccata in perpetual motion, this movement requires a pianist with tremendous stamina, able to sustain enormous technical demands without respite.

Music by PETER MENNIN : Fantasia for String Orchestra, Symphony No. 5 , Concertato, “Moby Dick” , Symphony No. 6.

Music by PETER MENNIN (1923-1983)

  • Fantasia for String Orchestra (1946)
  • Symphony No. 5 (1950)
  • Concertato, “Moby Dick” (1952)
  • Symphony No. 6 (1953)

During the years immediately following World War II, most American composers were drawn either to the rigorous precision of serialism, to the familiarity of traditional romanticism, to the populist appeal of vernacular-based hybrids, or to the adventurousness of avant-garde experimentation.  Not content to follow any of these approachesPeter Mennin preferred to chart his own course, drawing from the principles and techniques — both old and new — that might serve his personal artistic vision.  Born in 1923 in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mennin (who shortened his name from Mennini) began composing before he was seven years old.  Independent-minded from the start, he preferred working on his own and later described himself as largely self-taught in composition.  He entered the Oberlin College Conservatory in 1940, working under Normand Lockwood, whose aesthetics he found antithetical to his own.  After a year or so he left to join the Air Force.

In 1942, having completed a 45-minute Symphony No. 1, Mennin entered the Eastman School, attracted by its policy of presenting readings of students’ orchestral works.  There the self-described “renegade” studied with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson, completing a second and a third symphony, the latter serving as his doctoral dissertation.  Before it was even accepted by the doctoral committee, the work was premiered by the New York Philharmonic, catapulting the 24-year-old Mennin to national prominence.

Upon receiving his degree, Mennin was appointed to the composition faculty of the Juilliard School.  However, finding teaching a drain on his creative energy, he accepted a position in 1958 as Director of the Peabody Conservatory.  In 1962 he was named President of the Juilliard School, a position he held until his death in 1983.

Mennin’s career as a musical administrator, compounded by his cool, business-like manner and his well-tailored appearance, belied for many his profound dedication to his own creative work.  Indeed, during his years as President of Juilliard, his works at times received glib, peremptory dismissal from critics whose comments revealed flagrant misconceptions and distortions.  (For example, one critic described his symphonies as “tasteful, three-piece-suit commissions.”)  In fact, Mennin’s music is single-minded in its concern with powerful abstract drama, realized through the most meticulous craftsmanship.  It is never light, frivolous, or sentimental, nor is it dispassionately intellectual either.  His output of barely thirty works comprises large, absolute forms almost exclusively, of which nine are symphonies.

Although Mennin acknowledged no conscious musical influences other than the polyphonic techniques of the Renaissance, his earlier work calls to mind both the lofty grandeur of the Vaughan Williams symphonies (the Fourth, in particular) and the contrapuntal energy of Hindemith.  In some ways, Mennin’s music also bears affinity with two European symphonists who charted their creative courses similarly independent of trends and fashions:  Edmund Rubbra of England and Vagn Holmboe of Denmark, although Mennin himself was not aware of their work.  Yet despite these affinities, there is no mistaking Mennin’s own individual stamp, which is apparent throughout his body of work.  Even his thematic motifs display a certain characteristic gesture:  boldly assertive, with a syncopated thrust that ends in an anapestic snap.

The most salient characteristic of Mennin’s mature symphonic style is the approach he adapted from Renaissance choral music:  a continuous unfolding through imitative counterpoint, rather than the more conventional dialectical opposition and integration of contrasting themes.  Indeed, counterpoint is emphasized above all other elements, with much use of imitation, canon, ground bass, stretto, cantus firmus, and the like.  This approach is readily apparent in the noble, full-breathed lyricism of Mennin’s slow movements.  However, its effect in faster music is vastly different from the calm spirituality of the 16th-century masters: a bustling undercurrent of rapid activity creates a constant sense of nervous energy, as the music proceeds with unswerving determination.  Over the years, the linear aspect of Mennin’s music became increasingly chromatic, the harmony increasingly dissonant, and the rhythm increasingly irregular.  His body of work thus stands as an inexorable progression, each entry grimmer, harsher, and more severe than the last.  Yet the essential characteristics, discernible in the earliest works, remain present throughout.

The early Fantasia for string orchestra, composed in 1946, illustrates the essentials of Mennin’s style, as just described.  Like most of his music from the 1940s, the melodic lines are largely diatonic, but inflected according to the darker modes.  The titles of its two sections, Canzona and Toccata, are—like many of Mennin’s titles–direct references to instrumental forms in active use during the late 16th century.  The slow Canzona develops a solemn motif through imitative counterpoint, very much in the Renaissance manner.  About a third of the way through, the second violins introduce another motif, which is developed in a similar fashion.  A climax is reached as the two ideas are brought together contrapuntally, after which the music comes to a quiet close.  Though its form parallels that of the Canzona, the lively Toccata offers a vivid contrast in mood.  A vigorous, strongly accented theme is presented in unison, then immediately subjected to a contrapuntal development in which its syncopated aspects are emphasized.  A second idea—nervous and even more syncopated–is introduced and developed in a similar fashion to the first.  The two ideas are then both developed together—at times simultaneously.  Despite the music’s emphasis on purely abstract matters, frequent shifts in loudness and in textural density maintain a dynamic tension, until the work reaches an emphatic conclusion.  Listeners to this recording may find the Fantasiaespecially illuminating, because it displays, simply and clearly, virtually all the principles upon which the three later works presented here are constructed.  The Fantasia was first performed in 1948 by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Walter Hendl.

Hendl also conducted the premiere of Mennin’s Symphony No. 5,  commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra  in 1950, and performed by them that same year.  Like all Mennin’s symphonies through No. 6, the Fifth is a three-movement work in a fast-slow-fast format.  The first movement is based on three motifs, all heard within the opening moments:  the first is a fanfare-like idea introduced by the woodwinds; the second, presented by the whole orchestra, is an emphatic idea whose first seven notes reveal an expanding sequence of intervals, outlining a wedge shape; the third is a syncopated motif introduced by the horns.  The movement proceeds to develop this material with tremendous energy and forcefulness.  Although the meter remains ¾ throughout, highly accented rhythmic irregularities give the music an “American” sound, despite the use of centuries-old contrapuntal techniques.

The second movement, Canto, is both solemn and lyrical in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Bach.  The oboe spins a long-breathed melody over sustained chords in the strings.  Soon the oboe is joined by a flute, before the melody is passed on to the strings.  A second idea is presented by the flute and clarinet, and both are developed together, as the movement grows to a climax of considerable breadth, after which the music comes to a quiet close.

The third movement, Allegro Tempestuoso, returns to the spirit of the first.  Two motifs — closely related to each other — are presented at the outset.  Both are built on the Locrian mode, a scale form favored by Mennin (but by few other composers) that creates a particularly dark effect.  As the development proceeds, two other ideas are introduced into the crystal-clear polyphony.  Driven by syncopated rhythms, rushing patterns, and various canonic devices, the energy of the music intensifies, only occasionally ebbing to “catch its breath,” so to speak, until it finally reaches a decisive conclusion.

After the Fifth Symphony, the tone of Mennin’s music began to take on a new grimness and sobriety, while the contrapuntal activity became almost compulsive in its unremitting agitation and frenzy.  The works from this, his most fertile and characteristic, period reveal a bold vision of wild, massive forces in ceaseless turbulence and violent conflict, escalating in intensity toward cataclysmic explosions of almost manic brutality — all articulated through clear musical logic.  Slow movements continue to loom as solemn oases of grave contemplation.  The harmonic language is harsher in these works and there is greater chromatic freedom, although strong tonal centers are asserted at major structural junctures.

This new stage in Mennin’s development is apparent in Concertato, “Moby Dick,” commissioned by the Erie Philharmonic and its conductor Fritz Mahler.  The work, written in 1952, when Mennin was still in his twenties, has proven to be one of his most widely performed compositions.  Its popularity can probably be attributed to two factors:  the work embodies Mennin’s full symphonic manner within a concise ten-minute duration; and it is unique in the composer’s orchestral canon in drawing upon an extramusical reference.  Mennin insisted that Concertato, “Moby Dick” is “not a musical description of the action in Melville’s novel, but rather, a reflection of the novel’s overall effect on a particular reader, and develops naturally as a purely self-contained work.”  Listeners unfamiliar with the body of the composer’s work are invariably struck by the effectiveness of the Concertato in capturing the spirit of Melville’s novel.  Yet, in truth, its style does not deviate one iota from that found in Mennin’s totally abstract works from the same period.  That the character of his music in general so parallels that of Melville’s novel points to the affinity felt by the composer for Moby Dick.

Concertato, “Moby Dick” falls into two sections.  A somber Adagiointroduces the main motif in the strings, elaborated by a solo in the flute.  This is developed to a climax, at which point the Allegro is unleashed, based on two motifs, both related to the material from the introduction: one, a spunky figure first heard in the upper woodwinds, followed immediately by the second, a more flowing line presented by the violins.  This material is developed with a tremendous concentration of energy to new heights of emotional intensity, before achieving its grimly triumphant resolution.

Upon completing the Concertato, Mennin turned his attention to a commission from the Louisville Orchestra and its conductor Robert Whitney, producing his Symphony No. 6, the symphonic culmination of this stage in his development.  The Sixth begins with a slow, solemn introduction, Maestoso, that presents three related motifs that will figure significantly throughout the work.  The first is a descending line presented at the outset by the violins; the second follows on its heels in the cellos and basses; an important variant of the first is heard immediately in the clarinet and bassoon; and the third is played by the violins, in counterpoint with the preceding motifs in the other strings.  The body of the movement, Allegro, then begins, introducing what serves as its main theme, a long, irregular line played softly, but with suppressed urgency by the strings.  This theme drives the movement through its breakneck course, ever-increasing in intensity, and interacting in continual development with the three motifs from the introduction.  When the level of intensity seems to have reached the breaking point, the music comes finally to a guarded, temporary repose. 

The second movement, Grave, is similar in character to the corresponding movement of the Fifth Symphony — solemn and reflective, yet intensely lyrical at times — though the harmony allows for somewhat greater levels of dissonance.  The movement, based largely on the motifs from the first movement, culminates in two climaxes before ending in the somber mood heard at the beginning.

The third movement, Allegro Vivace, functions as both Scherzo and Finale.  It opens with a theme that was first heard in the violins toward the beginning of the second movement, though clearly derived from the main theme of the first movement.  This is developed in whirlwind fashion, as familiar motifs are tossed around, building to a massive canonic treatment that then subsides into a quiet, peaceful interlude, Adagio Sostenuto.  Not quiet for long, this too builds to a climax that ushers in the final section, Allegro Vivace, with a rapid diminution of the Scherzo theme.  The energy builds and recedes, as most of the material of the symphony finds its way into the seething developmental cauldron.  After much turbulence a tonal goal perceived in the distance comes gradually into clearer focus, as the symphony reaches its triumphant conclusion.         

Paul Snook wrote in Fanfare, “The Sixth is the crowning summation [of a] prodigious spurt of youthful inspiration [that produced] a quartet of symphonies in quick succession which remain unsurpassed for their seriousness of argument, compactness of form, and ferocious kinetic charge.  Deep underneath [its] tightly controlled and fluid surface of sound is a churning, chaotic mass of energy demanding release, of Manichean conflict seeking its ultimate, perhaps annihilating resolution.  This is an obsessive, tragic, and metaphysical music, with a narrow range of reference but a deep cutting edge of significance, full of the destructive fury and enigma of American power which lies behind Ahab’s quest and what Henry James once called ‘the imagination of disaster.’”

After the Symphony No. 6, Mennin applied this approach to a cello concerto, a piano concerto, and a violin sonata.  Not until 1963 did he enter the next phase of his compositional development with a trio of works that included his Symphony No. 7.

FLAGELLO: A Goldoni Overture; Piano Concerto 2; Credendum; Overture Burlesca; Piano Concerto No. 3.

A Goldoni Overture (5:34); Piano ConcertoNo.2 (Tatjana Rankovich, piano) (26:08); Credendum (Elmar Oliveira, violin) (14:07);  Overture Burlesca (4:20); Piano Concerto No. 3 (Tatjana Rankovich, piano) (21:08) David Amos conducting the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Kosice.  Recorded and edited: June 22-26, 1995 in Kosice, Slovakia Executive Producer: Walter Simmons Recording Producer: Rudolph Hentsel Recording Engineer: Gejza Toperczer

Nicolas Flagello was one of the 20th century’s leading exponents of traditional late-Romantic musical values. Without ever repudiating this aesthetic outlook, he succeeded in forging a personal musical language and a distinctive body of work shaped by his own temperament and embodying his own unique perspective on life. 

Born in New York City in 1928, Flagello grew up in a musical family with deep roots in Old-World traditions. Something of a prodigy, young Nicolas was composing and performing publicly as a pianist before the age of ten. While still a child, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who further imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) Degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation and remaining there until 1977. During the early 1950s, he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome, and earned the Diploma di Studi Superiori in 1956 from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

During the years that followed, Flagello composed at a prodigious rate, producing a body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. In addition, he was active as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque period to the 20th century. In 1985 a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994 at the age of 66.

As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. This unfashionable view, together with his vehement rejection of the academic formalism that dominated musical composition for several decades after World War II, prevented him from winning acceptance from the reigning arbiters of taste for many years. However, gradually Flagello’s works have begun to win enthusiastic advocacy, as his music is recorded and performed with increasing regularity. This compact disc presents five works that have never been recorded before. They exhibit the full evolution of his creative development and embrace the many facets of his musical personality.

The Overture Burlescaand Piano Concerto No. 2 date from the 1950s and represent Flagello’s early compositional phase. The Overture Burlesca was composed in 1952, when Flagello was 24. first public performance was given by the Colorado Philharmonic in 1974, under the direction of Carl Topilow. Though brief, light, and spirited, the somewhat sinister flavor of its thematic material produces a restless undercurrent.

Flagello sought in his early works to make his own contribution to the Romantic heritage he loved, in the language that was most natural to him. Sounding “original” or “different held no appeal for him. What keeps these early works from sounding like pale imitations is their solid construction intense conviction, and authenticity of expression. Providing strong support for their surging melodies and powerful climaxes is the most thorough attention to formal values — motivic economy, thematic unity, and true symphonic development, built upon contrapuntal substructures that reveal as much appreciation for the architecture of Brahms as for the passion of Puccini and the virtuosity of Rachmaninoff. These were the values he learned from Giannini, yet characteristic usages-certain turns of phrase, a distinctive sad sweetness, and an explosive volatility of temperament — are distinctly Flagello’s own and anticipate the works yet to come.

These qualities are readily apparent in the Piano Concerto No. 2, composed in 1956 and one of the major works of Flagello’s early phase. On first hearing, the concerto conveys the familiar rhetoric of the genre, replete with thundering octaves, dreamy soliloquies, cascading arpeggios that lend an almost “Hollywood” quality to the throbbing melodies, and fistfuls of virtuoso passagework that build to huge climaxes. Yet despite its extroverted character, the concerto is brilliantly constructed, its entire substance derived from the six-note motif introduced by the piano at the outset. This motif, in a state of continuous metamorphosis and development, forms the basis of all three movements of the concerto. first movement, Allegro Giusto, is an abbreviatedsonataallegro form, featuring an animated first theme in C minor and a melancholy secondary theme in A minor. After these ideas are presented and elaborated in a variety of guises, the movement culminates in a tremendous climax that combines all the material heard thus far. 

The second movement, Andante Giusto, follows without pause, and features a warm, wistful melody in the woodwinds soon elaborated by the piano. Gradually this melody reveals itself as an inverted form of the concerto’s opening motif. This is transformed into a stentorian statement, before melting into the movement’s centerpiece — a variant of unabashed tenderness that rises to a luxuriant climax.

Once this outpouring recedes, a rather impish transition gradually leads to the finale:Allegro Quasi Presto. Almost as if to scorn the shameless sweetness of the preceding sections, this movement proclaims itself with a swagger, as the C minor motif from the opening movement now appears in a raucously harmonized C Major. This theme is developed in alternation with a minor-key inverted variant of the basic motif through the full range of traditional virtuoso pyrotechnics. Finally, as the energy builds, the concentration of material intensifies, and all  thematic elements are combined toward a grand finish.

Only six years separate the Second from the Third Piano Concerto, but the differences are many. In 1959, Flagello attained his mature musical voice–a sort of Italianate expressionism characterized by tremendous emotional intensity and concentration of effect, as every element is focused toward the fullest realization of the intended expression. From this time until the late 1960s, Flagello produced music at a rapid rate, with a remarkably high consistency of both vision and craftsmanship. In the year 1962 alone, when the Third Piano Concerto was composed, he also wrote a Piano Sonata, a dramatic scene called Dante’s Farewell, the Capriccio for Cello and orchestra, and the first version of a Te Deum— all among his finest and most deeply searching creations. However, also at this time, Flagello developed the habit of leaving completed works in short score, intending to orchestrate them at a later time. Unfortunately, many such works remained in this state at his death. TheThird Piano Concerto was scored in 1994 by composer Anthony Sbordoni, who made a thorough study of Flagello’s orchestration technique before undertaking the task.

A comparison of the two concertos provides an illuminating example of Flagello’s stylistic maturation. The forms, means of development, and aesthetic principles are essentially identical, yet the works are entirely different in effect. In the later work there is a greater tightness of phraseology, density of texture, astringency of harmonic language, and asymmetry of rhythm. But most important, there is a deeper, more personal quality — dark, brooding, restless, and agitated, frequently erupting into cataclysmic explosions. Like the Second Concerto, the Third is based almost entirely on a single motif, in this case a four-note descending scale-pattern heard first in the violas at the opening of the Lento Quasi Adagio introduction. A short cadenza, which recurs at key points during the movement, leads into the Allegro Vivace ma Giusto, based on material derived from the opening motif. These ideas are developed and elaborated in a series of intensely charged episodes in various tempos. In contrast to the primarily lyrical character of the previous concerto, the tone here is turbulent and aggressive, until a return of the opening cadenza leads directly into second movement.

The Lento Andante opens as the horn introduces a somber statement of the main motif by the brasses. The piano develops this into a gloomy nocturne whose dolorous tone is relieved by moments of bittersweet tenderness. This leads directly into a lugubrious “ghost-march,” whose tortured mood culminates in a climax that seems to convey both triumph and despair

The finale, Allegro Molto, follows without pause character might be described as a demonic “tarantella from hell, in which the concerto’s basic motif predominates in clearly recognizable form. The movement pursues its alternately grotesque and tempestuous course, finally leading to a coda marked Con Piu Entusiasmo, in which the intensity reaches a febrile pitch, as the concentrated development of thematic material is focused toward a decisive conclusion.

Vittorio Giannini composed his last opera, The Servant of Two Masters, an opera buffa based on a play by the 18th-century Italian dramatist Carlo Goldoni, shortly before his death in 1966. Although the opera was essentially complete, Giannini had not provided an overture. Several months later, early in 1967, Flagello decided to create one, basing it entirely on themes from the opera. A Goldoni Overture was first performed in Maiori, Italy, under the composer’s direction, in 1969. The short curtain-raiser captures both the playful exuberance and tender warmth characteristic of the opera, and of Giannini’s music in general.

Flagello composed his Credendum, for violin and orchestra in 1973, dedicating it to the memory of his father, who had died shortly after its completion. The work was not orchestrated until 1985, in preparation for its premiere performance by violinist Ansgarius Aylward, with the Buffalo Philharmonic under the direction of Semyon Bychkov. The title “Credendum” suggests a profession of belief, expressed herethrough a highly emotional statement in one rhapsodic movement. Although anchored in tonality at strategic structural points, the work conveys a sense of restless instability through long passages without a strong tonal center.

Credendum opens with an impassioned violin soliloquy presents three short motifs within its opening moments. These motifs are developed by the violin through a succession of brief episodes evoking intensely contrasting emotional states, ranging from passages of mystery and contemplation to moments of jarring nervous agitation that erupt in tumultuous tutti explosions. Toward the work’s conclusion these shifts of affect seem to resolve into a warmly heartfelt hymn whose lyricism is made all the more touching by its juxtaposition within a context of turbulence. However, even this emotional oasis culminates in an anguished climax, followed by an epilogue of sad resignation.

Obviously the expression of belief suggested by the title is thoroughly abstract, its meaning left to the imagination of the listener.

David Amos is one of the leading figures in the revival of interest in the traditionalist wing of 20th-century American composers. His many recordings of works by Alan Hovhaness, Paul Creston, Arnold Rosner, Vincent Persichetti, Vittorio Giannini, Nicolas Flagello, and others have attracted the attention of a generation of listeners previously unaware of this music Indeed, his path-breaking recordings have even inspired other conductors to investigate this exciting repertoire, so long neglected. Born in Mexico City, Amos received his training at San Diego State University, supplemented by graduate work in conducting at the University of Indiana. His wide-ranging career has taken him around the world, to lead such orchestras as the Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the New Russia Orchestra, to name just a few Amos is also the founder of the International Musicians’ Recording Fund, an organization dedicated to the promotion of worthy but lesser-known 20th-century music.

Tatjana Rankovich was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, where she won three first prizes in national competitions by the time she reached the age of 18. Coming to the United States the following year, she studied at the Juilliard School, where she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, working with Josef Raieff. Her other teachers have included Clifton Matthews, Benjamin Kaplan, and Zelma Bodzin. Ms. Rankovich has concertized throughout the United States, Europe, and South America, winning awards at the Young Keyboard Artists International Competition and the Artists International Auditions. In addition to her premiere recordings of Nicolas Flagello’s Second and Third Piano Concertos, she gave the first public performance (in 1992) of his 1958 Symphonic Waltzesrecording them for Citadel Records, and performing them to great acclaim on international recital tours. Ms. Rankovich is currently on the faculty of the Mannes College of Music
Elmar Oliveira is one of today’s most active and widely acclaimed violin virtuosos, in demand for concerto and recital appearances throughout the world. Born in the United States to Portuguese parents, he studied with Ariana Bronne and Raphael Bronstein at the Manhattan School of Music, where he became acquainted with Nicolas Flagello and his music. In 1975, he won the Naumburg Competition and, three years later, the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow — the only American violinist ever to win the Gold Medal. In 1983 he received the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize. Throughout his career, Oliveira has balanced a mastery of the standard violin repertoire with an active interest in discovering and presenting worthy lesser-known works, introducing audiences to music by such composers as Andrzej Panufnik Benjamin Lees, and Karel Husa, as well as Nicolas Flagello. His many recordings have appeared on a variety of major labels and comprise an enormous range of repertoire, leading to several Grammy nominations.

MENNIN: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7, Piano Concerto

Peter Mennin: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7
Piano Concerto  (Liner Notes for CRI CD741)

During the years immediately following World War II, when American composers were generally divided among the nationalist-populists, the neoromantic traditionalists, and several camps of the avant-garde, Peter Mennin preferred to chart his own course, drawing from principles and techniques–both old and new–that might serve his personal artistic vision. Born in 1923 in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mennin (who shortened his name from Mennini to distinguish himself from his older brother–also a composer) began composing before he was seven years old. Independent-minded from the start, he preferred working on his own and later described himself as largely self-taught in composition. Entering the Oberlin College Conservatory in 1940, he worked under Normand Lockwood, whose aesthetics he found antithetical to his own. After a year or so he left to join the Air Force.

In 1942, having completed a 45-minute Symphony No. 1 (now withdrawn), Mennin entered the Eastman School, attracted by its policy of presenting readings of students’ orchestral works. There he studied with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson, earning a Ph.D. at the age of 24, despite his self-described role as “renegade.” By this time he had completed two more symphonies The latter of these, the Symphony No. 3, was Mennin’s doctoral dissertation, and was completed on his 23rd birthday. Its first performance, by the New York Philharmonic under direction of Walter Hendl, took place before the work was
actually accepted by the doctoral committee, much to their annoyance. This work and its auspicious premiere quickly brought Mennin to national prominence.

Upon receiving his degree, Mennin was appointed to the composition faculty of the Juilliard School. He remained there until 1958, when he accepted a position as director of the Peabody Conservatory, preferring administration to teaching, which, he felt, was a greater drain on his creative energy. In 1962 he became president of the Juilliard School, a position he held until his death in 1983.

Mennin’s career as a musical administrator, compounded by his cool, businesslike manner and his well-tailored appearance, belied for many his profound dedication to his own creative work. Indeed, during his years as president of Juilliard, his works often received glib, peremptory dismissal from critics whose comments revealed blatant misconceptions and distortions. (For example, one critic described his symphonies as “tasteful, three-piece-suit commissions.”)  In fact, Mennin’s music is single-minded in its concern with powerful abstract drama, realized through the most meticulous craftsmanship. It is never light, frivolous, or sentimental, nor is it dispassionately intellectual, either. His output of barely thirty works comprises large, absolute forms almost exclusively, of which nine are symphonies.

Although Mennin acknowledged no conscious musical influences other than the polyphonic techniques of the Renaissance, his earlier work calls to mind both the lofty, robust grandeur of the Vaughan Williams symphonies the Fourth, in particular and the contrapuntal energy of Hindemith. In some ways, Mennin’s music also bears affinity to two European symphonists who charted their creative courses similarly independent of trends and fashions: Edmund Rubbra of England and Vagn Holmboe of Denmark, although he himself was not aware of their work. Yet despite these affinities, there is no mistaking Mennin’s own individual stamp, which is apparent throughout his body of work.

The most salient characteristic of Mennin’s mature symphonic style is the approach he adapted from Renaissance choral music: a continuous unfolding through imitative counterpoint, rather than the more conventional dialectical opposition and integration of contrasting themes. His music emphasizes counterpoint above all other elements, with much use of imitation, canon, ground bass, strettocantus firmus, and the like. All this creates a bustling undercurrent of rapid activity — vastly different in effect from the calm spirituality of the 16th-century masters — proceeding with unswerving determination and creating a constant sense of nervous energy, balanced somewhat by a noble, full-breathed lyricism. During the years, the linear aspect of Mennin’s music became increasingly chromatic, the harmony increasingly dissonant and the rhythm increasingly irregular. His body of work thus stands as an inexorable succession, each entry grimmer, harsher, and more severe than the last. Yet the essential characteristics, discernable in the earliest works, remain present throughout.

Mennin’s music from the 1940s exudes a brash, assertive self-confidence, with diatonic melodic lines often based on the darker modes — the Phrygian and sometimes even the rarely used Locrian — propelled by vigorous, strongly accented, syncopated rhythms, linking them somewhat to the American mainstream of the time. This can all be heard clearly in the three-movement Symphony No. 3. The first movement, Allegro robusto, quickly introduces three motifs, all related intervalically. These motifs, through subtle organic metamorphoses, serve as the thematic basis of the entire work. Richard Franko Goldman wrote in the Musical Quarterly that Mennin’s Third “sounds almost too ingenious when analyzed, yet the symphony has not the slightest sound of paper-music. . One feels spontaneity and life in the music rather than cleverness.”

By the early 1950s, the tone of Mennin’s music began to take on a new grimness and sobriety, while the contrapuntal activity became almost compulsive in its unremitting agitation and frenzy. The works from this period reveal a bold vision of wild, massive forces in ceaseless turbulence and violent conflict, escalating in intensity toward cataclysmic explosions of almost manic brutality– all articulated through clear musical logic. The slow movements loom as solemn oases of grave contemplation, featuring long-spun melodies that unfold polyphonically with Bach-like dignity. The harmonic language is harsher in these works and there is greater chromatic freedom, although strong tonal centers are asserted at major structural junctures. Paul Snook, writing in Fanfare, characterized Mennin’s works from this period as “unsurpassed for their seriousness of argument, compactness of form, and ferocious kinetic charge.”

A representative work is Mennin’s Piano Concerto, composed in 1957 and premiered the following year by Eunice Podis with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell. (Mennin was perhaps the only American composer whose music was consistently championed by this notoriously demanding conductor. Like the Third Symphony in its organic growth from intervallic embryos,  the Piano Concertorequires great virtuosity of an unusual kind. Rather than following the heroic Romantic concept of a concerto, it is more a Baroque concerto gone wild. After a solemn presentation of the main motif, the first movement plunges the soloist headlong into a toccata-like flood of rapid passagework intricately interwoven motivically, but presented in alternation with the orchestra in the manner of a ritornello. The movement proceeds through ever-increasing levels of intensity that peak recede, then start anew. The second movement, marked Adagio religioso, further develops the material with hushed eloquence in what is one of the composer’s most beautiful slow movements The third movement returns to the character of the first, until it reaches a peroration of unequivocal finality. 

During the 1960s, Mennin’s works maintained their remarkable consistency of style, tone, and scope, despite a gradual increase in concentration and complexity — formal, harmonic, and rhythmic– leading to a further intensification of effect. One of the high points of this decade is the Symphony No. 7, generally regarded as among the composer’s greatest works. “Here,” writes Harvey E. Philips, “in one movement divided into five sections serenity abuts violence, the calmly beautiful is interrupted by frenetic agitation, the dramatic is brushed aside by ethereal repose.” The work, subtitled “Variation-Symphony,” was completed in 1963, receiving its first performance again by the Cleveland Orchestra under Szell’s direction. The entire  symphony is based on a twelve-tone theme roughly shaped to outline a symmetrical wedge-like sequence of expanding, then contracting, intervals. The work develops melodic fragments of this theme, as well as the wedge-shaped idea itself. Its five connected sections achieve unprecedented expressive intensity and conceptual unity, despite their starkly contrasting characters Mennin himself commented about this symphony, “In my work there has always been some element of violence and the element of contrast. Here they come out with a vengeance.”