Recent Listening

Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; Randall Thompson: Symphony No. 2; David Diamond: Symphony No. 4. New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein.
I think most of my students these days don’t know the name Roy Harris. Yet in my own undergraduate days, the Harris Symphony No. 3 was on the syllabus in my 20th century music history class as an example of American symphonic writing. (I think Appalachian Spring was on the list as well, but if you wanted an American symphony, the Harris was the go-to piece, unless you substituted the Copland Third for Appalachian Spring.) The Harris remains convincing, with vivid gestures and an unusual single-movement formal plan. The Thompson is more neo-classical; a little predictable at times, but charming. (Did it really get the enormous number of performances mentioned in the letter to Bernstein I cited here? Bernstein’s advocacy probably helped.) I found the melodic material in the Diamond Fourth to be more compelling than in other works of his that I have heard, with less of the aimless contrapuntal bustle that he can fall into.

Miles Davis Quintet: Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival. This is a very strong set offering tunes associated with earlier Davis recordings – Autumn Leaves, So What, Stella by Starlight, and Walkin’ – but from the perspective of a later ensemble, including George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, that treats the material much more freely than Davis’s groups of a few years earlier. It’s certainly trickier to follow the form on this version of Autumn Leaves as compared with the one on the Cannonball Adderly album Somethin’ Else. There’s gorgeous low register open horn playing from Miles on Stella, and a couple of bowed Ron Carter solos, not something I associate with that master. Do I hear passing references to the original version of So What in Coleman’s solo on this piece?

Post-Motet Miscellany

Not post-mortem, but post-motet, meaning I finished the piece I wrote about here, just have to take care of the editing. I’ll post a page or two when it is ready. A few items for your consideration:

– Do the Math on Morton Gould. Gould is one of those composers who seems more prominent as a name than as a composer – people have heard of him, but don’t know his music as much as they should. Iverson’s post is a welcome first step at correcting that. I had a few words about the Gould Third Symphony here.

– a thoughtful piece by John Halle, as cited by Alex Ross. He mentions the New Republic article I wrote about here and here.

– Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell are working on The Shining for Minnesota Opera – the novel, not the movie. Details here, via a message from the MacDowell Colony.

– I’ve been reading The Bernstein Letters, and reading reviews about them as well. I think I come down somewhere in the middle of the critical spectrum – they are sometimes (but not always) fascinating, even if they don’t reveal a great deal about the music he was writing and conducting. I have to get the Burton biography, some folks have been citing the letters as a supplement to that book. Of the many excerpts I could offer, how about this one from Randall Thompson:

Dear Lenny,

I felt grateful to you when I heard that you and the Philharmonic were to play my Second Symphony – “our symphony”. Now that you have done so and I have the way you did it, I have no words worthy to express my gratitude and admiration. At a rough guess this must have been about the six-hundreth performance. I have never heard a more beautiful one, or one that expressed so fully and lovingly what I wanted to say…

Wait a minute – “six-hundreth performance”? Is he exaggerating? by how much, if at all? For those of us who live in the shadow of the problem of the second performance, this is jaw-dropping. We are not talking about the Copland 3rd, but a piece that is rather less well known.

– the idea of intellectual property is being abused on one side (patent trolls) and reviled on the other (“information wants to be free”, meaning, we don’t want to have to pay you for your work). The same journal that published the John Halle piece mentioned above has an interesting article on the matter.

The issue of intellectual property came to mind when I stumbled across this, and this. Aren’t the relevant portions quite similar? (This supposedly has something to do with the other two, if Wikipedia is to be believed, though obviously not musically, just the title.) Does the resemblance bring this and this to mind? As my first composition teacher observed in seminar one day, there are only so many chords to go around.