Composer in the world of today; American work for chorus and orchestra
The composer in the world of today. The School of Music and the radio service on the University of Illinois invite you to listen to the last program in the series the composer in the world of today. Comment and illustrations on 20th century American music by an American composer. Conducting this series is Beryl Phillips Professor of Music at the University of Illinois. And an internationally famed composer. The composer in the world of today is produced and recorded by W I L L the University of Illinois radio served under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. In cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasting. Today Mr. Phillips will discuss an American work for chorus and orchestra. Now. The composer in the world of today. And here is Beryl Philips. There are many times in the life of a composer when his imagination must be confined to a narrow
range when he must act the part of the introvert and his small beer world be a small one. In writing music for the string quartet or for a solo Sonata not only is a number of his performers small but the scale of the music's out itself is intimate and the intensity of expression is kept high. On the other hand music for the orchestra has to be comparatively looser in form texture and intensity and its technical requirements. Calling as they do for larger numbers of performers will affect the shape and sound of the very purpose to which it will be put. But even the medium of orchestral music is not as complex as others. When the chorus of human voices is added to the instrumental group the scale becomes truly large and the composer is faced with problems raised by sheer size. Let alone those of us critics and style. The 20th century American composer has been even more backward nor more eager than his European contemporaries in embracing the delights and the terrors of music for chorus and orchestra. But it may be said that there have been a significantly larger number of works in this medium produced by
Americans in the past 25 years and particularly recently. That was the case in the earlier times. This statement is intended to mean only non operatic music and they include other concert forms such as oratory of the dimension that the poet adds to choral music with orchestra is of course of the greatest importance. It may be true that any age poor in poets who write words to be set to music will also be an aged poor in vocal music of all kinds. In any case during such a time a composer who wants to create works for orchestra and chorus of any significant size would turn to the past for his poetry. It may be significant that recent American choral music often uses recent American poetry but significant or not it surely gives the composer a greater sense of community with his own time. Whatever it does for the poet. On the composer side of the story writing this kind of music there are many interesting hurdles he must thread safely if he is to be successful. The first is in choosing a poem whose scale will match the medium.
For some reason or other the use of the mass of voices in the chorus seems to add nobility and elevation to the music and the meaning of the words should certainly not go counter to this phenomenon. The words of the poetry cannot be of so dense a structure that the music will not eliminate them. Ideally the language of the verse should be the same as that of a composer in the audience. But this is not always necessary and not even always desirable although it might be one reason why modern settings of religious Latin poetry are not often great art. There are technical matters that have to do with the sounds of vowels and consonants and how they will set in the musical line and also the native rhythms of the poetry have to be such that the composer will be able to do as little violence to them as music ever does in such cases. The matter of texture in choral music with the orchestra is one which will define the style in which a piece of music for this medium is written. Texture not only means thick or thin light or heavy but also and most important syllabic or contrapuntal or understandable
words and understandable words. When everybody from bases up to Sopranos is singing the same words in the same rhythms the meaning of the word is clear. The diction can be made crisp and clean but if the texture is a polyphonic one as for instance in a fugue everybody is singing different words at the same time and the contrapuntal movement obscures the aural vision so to speak with the result of the richness of vocal color renders the intelligibility of the words impossible. This is not a fault when a portrays incantatory or very well known such as uncertain as in glory as in religious music. And it can happen and still makes sense with modern languages. If a composer sets a phrase or a sentence first in a syllabic fashion and then repeats it polyphonic Lee That's it can be seen how important the nature of the poem will be in determining the style of music to which it is set. A poem that has a narrative element must make itself clearly understood and as a consequence the composer such a work will of necessity writes elaborately or at least most of the time have all voices sing the same words at the
same time. On the other hand the setting of a pastoral poem or an incantation can be made successful when done contrapuntally. After the poem has been selected and some of the stylistic problem solved there are others lying in wait. Some of these are technical such as what the composer must do to ensure balance between the two powerful masses involved. The voices with a relatively simple color palette and the orchestra capable of greater power dynamically and of greater color range instrumentally one of the elementary precautions is to see if the brass section of the orchestra does not overpower the chorus even one of the singing at the highest dynamic level. One thing very easy to do. Another is to see that there is a nice balance of time within the work. When the orchestra is playing alone and one of the companies the voices and when the voices sing alone. Even such a matter as having the course in Iraq is to accompany the voices and still not play exactly the same music as the voices or singing is of great importance. Perhaps the
greatest of all problems in this relationship of the chorus to the orchestra is the determination of the kind of music each group performs. The orchestra today contains instruments whose structure and playing techniques have changed and improved within the past century to such an extent that the music they can play today is much more difficult and a great deal different than what they could do a hundred years ago. The French horn and many of the woodwind instruments are examples of this. But as far as I know the mechanism of the human voice has not had this technical history and remains what it always was. Hence there are simply some kinds of music the orchestra can perform that do not have a parallel in the chorus and it is up to the composer to use this imbalance to the advantage of his music. The last of that element of composer have been to emphasize in his other music be it a line or form or color will tend to have an effect on the style of his choral writing. A composer who writes like a painter may create works for or for chorus an orchestra large dramatic or pictorial. A composer who thinks like an architect may write what we have become
accustomed to calling choral symphonies. Another composer may write music like a poet so combining all of the elements of his art that the end result has a direct and personal contact with the listener and seems to speak rather than simply exist like a picture or a building. These poet composers are a little rarer today than they ought to be but there are some and some of them are Americans. Of course music is not really like the other arts except in some superficial ways. And these comparisons are used only as illustrations not as factual bases. Because music written today is not often poetic in the generally accepted sense of that word. The examples of which such things are hard to find and quite resistant to discussion when they are found. However as it is not our purpose in the series to listen to well-known music but rather to seek out works of importance not usually heard in a concert hall we can find examples and the piece that we will hear today is one of that fits this framework unexpectedly well it is the middle movement of the symphony for chorus an orchestra by Cecil Evans are
set to words by Thomas Hornsby Ferril both poet and composer are natives of and now resident in the Rocky Mountain West in Colorado. Both are men of more than a local reputation and the national and international. The symphony for chorus an orchestra is a form that has appealed to composers in the past 50 years and there are some excellent examples in this country recently perhaps better known in the Evans your work. It is almost axiomatic that if a composer is going to go to the trouble of asking a large number of people to participate in his work he will not make it a life occasion and hence chooses the text with more profundity of meaning than for other purposes say a concert song or perhaps an opera movie or other American choral symphonies have used texts from Whitman and Thomas Wolfe and in this august company and in the special event the farewell poem stands on an equal footing. It is in itself in three sections which suggested a natural symphonic division to the composer
and as a consequence Mr Evans or rather three movements symphony only the second or middle movement of his we will hear today. The poem has to do with the contemplation of time and its effects on the lives of human beings. It is called Words for a time and the second section goes like this. What shall I tell the children about time. Children who never counted the sing back sway of the shoes of a single foot of the horse. Surrey by golden rod or punk by snow. But no the red light from the green and when to go and go on go so soon over and under the poles of the earth and toss the earth like a toy balloon. Shall I tell them time is countable repetition. Tree ring heart beat oceans coral A cruel. Shall I speak allegory. Time has teeth. Forgive is foolish yawns runs like a river. His ball is Nick his nurse his pale Avenger
big time small time work time. Your time. Hickory dickory Geiger time. A mouse ran up the isotope 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 where you are you shall burn up in your hiding place or not. As can be seen a section of the poem suggests a rather rapid movement with such poetic images as the singing back sway of the shoes of a single footed horse. And no the red light from the green and when to go or and toss the earth like a toy balloon and the mouse ran up the isotope. Consequently Mr Evans has taken full advantage of the suggestion of different kinds of speed in this movement and as a result the form of the whole symphony is a little unusual having the middle movement a fast one. When all traditions make it a slow one usually it has been implied earlier the Cecil Evans or is a composer who writes music in a poetic vein. In the present instance this is a rabbit. This is rather easy to prove as everything he does tends to sway the
selection of his musical material. The emphasis on certain phases of musical organization and the fact that the words have used words used have influenced the shape of the music so that it seems to speak directly to the listener. He is compelled to listen not invited to contemplate as a visually or work which merely exists or simply is pursuing this further the first element which claims a listener's attention perhaps more immediately than anything else has a harmonic or tonal language. It is a simple one containing no useless complications to the ear. It is what has been called modal harmony or modal tonality and differs from the major or minor scales in that the internal structure of the modal scales have irregular patterns for the occurrence of whole and half steps. By way of illustration here are three phrases of the My Country Tis of Thee he played first in the usual major scale. Then in the Phrygian mode.
And last in a mixed mode. Well maybe from this illustration at the piano it may be justifiably said that the modal versions of the tune did not speak at all directly to the listener. Nonetheless in a melodic line which has never been anything else. That simplicity is easily heard as for instance in the American Lumberjack Song bulls. It is in the mode. Although there are no quotations in the symphony by Cecil Evans or of any folk song The work does have a
faint aroma of that style and it is largely due to the use of the modal scales in harmony that this is so. Also and this is perhaps most important of all because the poem discusses time from the standpoint of children. The composer has used the following children's refrain with telling effect. This primitive refrain is such a fragment that it is hard to tell what the tonality of it really is major or modal or simply try tonal because it has only three notes. But it serves Mr Evans as a kind of double agent here. First as a source of melodic and tonal elements. And second because of its association with childhood linkages of meaning to the poem and to the all over intention of the music are partially brought out. This is particularly true in the last four lines of the poem where terrible irony is created with all its implications about the nuclear destruction of the world couched in words children chant and playing hide and go seek. 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
40 where you are you shall burn up in your hiding place or not. The composer has more successfully realised the terror of this ironic idea in matching ways to those of the poet by using a simple childhood refrain now transmitted into a climax of unusual power. But there are other uses to which the composer poses but says little. Or even only part of the opening melody has a composed version in a fast moving melody. Toss the earth like a toy balloon. Countable repetition. The mass went up the isotope. In your hiding place or not. The composer also makes use of the lilting rhythm right in the opening bars of the movement at least
has a lithe and joyous quality. It is also one of the most natural rhythms made up of a long note followed by a short one. Then the same pattern repeated. It is the rhythm of many folk songs and is the characteristic one for the Jews either Irish or French. Much has been said about the way in which Mr Evans or makes use of two elements pitch and rhythm but little about another two dynamics of Latin soft and the element of color. The composer saves any great contrast of loud and soft for the very end of the movement where the idea suddenly turns thunderous with meaning and the full orchestra and chorus are given the music for the line in your hiding place or not. The rest of the movement has no very remarkable dynamic practices and seems to go along on an even tempered level which is a clever deception. The color of the score is not particularly one of many surprises with the exception of a place toward the very end where the chorus stop singing and speaks. There are some of the truths of passages for high brass scattered through the movement but this seems to be fully in line with the palette of color range in the whole form.
This movement finally is strung together quite informally and though it has logic it is never architecturally over all and it is in this. But the piece makes such an immediate appeal to the emotions and it is of course in this word strength lies. Here is a second movement of the symphony for chorus an orchestra by Cecil Evans are set to a poem by Thomas Hornsby Ferril. It is performed by the crane chorus an orchestra of State Teachers College Potsdam New York Helen Hosmer is the conductor. But.
The but. You. You lose. Yes. Move. Yeah. I.
Loathe. To Text. You. Lose. Sleep. Oh. Man. What. Do.
We know. Oh. The Berlin.
Games. Fold. My. Clothes. Live. Live. Oh. Wow. What. Yeah.
Told. That was the second movement of the symphony for chorus an orchestra by Cecil F. and her
set to a poem called words for time by the American poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril. The work was performed by the crane chorus an orchestra of State Teachers College Potsdam New York and was conducted by Helen Hosmer Mr. F. injury and his sin for me appears as a composer whose purpose was to create a work which speaks directly to the emotions of the listener as a poet Maya. And in doing this he used materials and procedures of the simplest kind. The source of a good many ideas in this movement was the tune of three notes that children often sing. And as a poem concerned itself with time from the viewpoint of children Mr Evans or has proved to be a sensitive composer such a source. There are not many contemporary American composers with this poetic impulse and it is more gratifying to find such a want to Cecil Evans or when he writes for the powerful medium of chorus and orchestra. You have just heard an American work for chorus and orchestra. The last programme in the
series the composer in the world of today. This series has been conducted by Bernard Phillips Professor of Music at the University of Illinois and an internationally famed composer. You're. The composer in the world of today. It has been produced and recorded by Kenneth Cutler. Music supervisor of the radio service of the University of Illinois under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. And is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the Radio Network.
- Producing Organization
- University of Illinois
- WILL Illinois Public Media
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on contemporary American compositions for choruses with orchestral accompaniment.
- Series Description
- How the composer of today sees the contemporary world around him. Interviews, commentary and musical illustration provide a better picture of the modern composer. The series is hosted by Burrill Phillips, composer and professor of music at the University of Illinois.
- Broadcast Date
- Composers--United States--20th century.
- Media type
Host: Phillips, Burrill
Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-42-13 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Composer in the world of today; American work for chorus and orchestra.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wh2dd926>.
- APA: Composer in the world of today; American work for chorus and orchestra. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wh2dd926