Orchestration Hit Parade

I am teaching orchestration at my day job this fall, so I was especially struck by the following aphorism in Leonard Slatkin‘s recent book Conducting Business:

There are only three scores you need to study to learn how to orchestrate: Beethoven’s Eroica, the complete Nutcracker and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges.

Intriguing choices, with one each from the classical, romantic and 20th century periods. I don’t think anyone would take exception to the Beethoven, but the other two choices are a little more offbeat. Both the Tchaikovsky and Ravel are from what Ned Rorem would broadly call the “french” side of the musical universe; there is nothing here from the “german” world of Wagner, Mahler or Strauss (though Virgil Thomson tried to make a case for Mahler as a “french” composer). Notice that Slatkin cites the complete Nutcracker, which involves more heavily scored music than the lighter textures that dominate the divertissement that constitutes the familiar suite (is there anything in music quite like the airborne quality of the Overture in that suite?) Thus with the complete version, you get a fuller picture of romantic period practice. The Ravel that is usually taken up by orchestration classes is the orchestration of Pictures, partly because of its excellence, partly because it is usually published with Mussorgsky’s piano original right there on the same page as Ravel’s orchestral version. But L’enfant is an astonishing piece, too little known. Including it adds a piece with voices to the list. And there are elements in the Ravel that point toward instrumental practices normally associated with much later in the century, for example, George Crumb’s music.
So what do you think of Slatkin’s list? What would be your three pieces?

Here is the beginning of L’enfante, Simon Rattle conducting at Glyndebourne:

The Waltz Project Revisited

Here are some samples from Eric Moe‘s fine Albany disc that draws upon pieces written for publisher C. F. Peter’s Waltz Project of several decades back, along with some new waltzes. The clip includes music by:

1) Wayne Peterson: Valse Subliminale (2001)
2) (@02:58): Eric Moe: Pulaski Skyway Waltz (2002)
3) (@07:37): Milton Babbitt: Minute Waltz (1977)
4) (@08:51): Virgil Thomson: For a Happy Occasion (1951)

Eric is one of the pianists I am writing for in my consortium project.

Blog as memoir

You may know Daron Hagen‘s music, but have you read his blog? It’s got material about his pieces, productions of his operas and so forth, but it also has a good deal of memoir – some harrowing stuff about his family of origin, and a good bit about teachers and mentors. The latter type of post is striking because it speaks of Daron’s connections with an earlier era of American composers: Virgil Thomson, David Diamond, Ned Rorem, Louise Talma, and Vincent Persichetti all figure in his anecdotes. It’s fascinating stuff, and makes one think Daron must be older than he actually is – he was born in 1961. Maybe I don’t know the right people, but surely there aren’t that many composers his age who worked for Thomson, or used to buy cigarettes for Talma while at Yaddo.