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Frank Ticheli’s List: July

Frank Ticheli • Repertoire • July 24, 2015

Divertimento for BandThis installment of concert band repertoire reviews features music in a range of difficulty levels by Gustav Holst, Samuel Adler, William Himes, Percy Grainger, Donald Grantham, Warren Benson, and Stravinsky. “Frank Ticheli’s List” is a compilation of core repertoire for concert band selected by composer Frank Ticheli of USC. These pieces have been reviewed by Gregory Rudgers and Dr. Alan Lourens.

“Divertimento for Band”

Vincent Persichetti • Theodore Presser • Grade 5 • Duration:  11:00

Vincent Persichetti (1917-1987) was one of the leaders in the development of wind repertoire with a series of works beginning in the 1950s. A teacher of composition at the Juliard School, Persichetti also influenced a generation of American composers. His composition style in distinctly polytonal, favoring stacks of two diatonic chords and dissonant melodic combinations. Though by far the largest part of his output was for piano, it is his wind works that have became the most enduring of his works. In particular, his Symphony No. 6 for band (1956) has entered the core of the repertoire at the highest level.

“Divertimento” (1950) is the earliest of Perschetti’s works for band. Of this work, Persichetti wrote that after writing the introduction using choirs of winds and brass, with a timpani interpolation “…I realized the strings weren’t going to enter.” Thus the work was conceived as a kind of symphonic work, without strings.

Set in six movements, the “Divertimento” offers a number of vignettes for band. All the movement titles have affective meanings: Prologue, Song, Dance, Burlesque, Soliloquy and March. In this work, we hear the trademark polytonality of Persichetti. We begin to see the development of strong a vibrant percussion writing (there being four percussion parts, a large number for this period), and expressive and characteristic writing for both the winds and the brass becomes evident through the work.

The movements reflect quite different styles. The lyrical Song and Soliloquy is set against the rhythmic Dance and the witty Burlesque. Against a background of most folk and folk-like settings in the wind repertoire, the Divertimento began a move towards a more symphonic repertoire in which solos abound, and scoring is often done with a light touch, particularly in the inner movements.

In the “Divertimento,” we see landmark work. Along with the Hindemith Symphony in B Flat of 1951, we see wind composers shaking free of traditional diatonic harmonies towards a more daring polytonal or pan-diatonic approach, focusing on scoring melodic lines instead of harmonic function.

These works of the 1950s are seminal in the development of wind literature. The “Divertimento” is one of the earliest works by a noted American composer in the post World War II era that gave us the modern band movement. For that reason, it is important in the repertoire. That it is a well-crafted, lyrical, and witty work makes it part of the core of our literature.

Reviewer: Dr. Alan Lourens

“Chester”

William Schuman• Merion Music, Inc./Theodore Presser • Grade 5 • Duration 6:00

“Chester” was originally the third movement of the “New England Triptych” for orchestra by William Schuman. Schuman later revised and extended the orchestral version and scored the result for concert band. Since its publication in 1957, it has been a notable part of the significant literature for concert band. The original melody and words of this revolutionary war marching song were penned by the early-American composer, William Billings in a popular book of the times, The Singing Master’s Assistant. The concert band version takes the colonial melody, presents it in chorale style reminiscent of the various hymns composed by William Billings, and then casts the tune into a contemporary setting that evokes a sense of conflict and war. Indeed, just before the end of the second statement of the chorale, Schuman alarms us with a sudden dissonance that foreshadows the coming battles. At first establishing the march-like character of the melody through a statement accompanied by simple and direct rhythms, Schuman then develops fragments of the melody by gradually adding complexity in short bursts of color, and flourishes of rhythm. The percussion section is noticeably sparse through much of the work but does appear sporadically reminding the listener of the origin of the melody as a marching song, often performed by fife and drums. The development continues and ultimately reaches a height of driving rhythmic intensity before the return of the original melody in the simplest of terms stated by solo trumpet, three trombones, and snare drum. Schuman then expands the instrumentation and dynamic reaching a most satisfying finale complete with cries of victory and celebration. The final six measure of the work featuring the here-to-fore limited percussions is one of the most stirring finales in all literature for concert band. Instrumentation is that of the traditional concert band.

Reviewer: Gregory B. Rudgers

La Fiesta Mexicana, A Mexican Folk Song Symphony

La Fiesta Mexicana, A Mexican Folk Song SymphonyH. Owen Reed • Alfred Publishing • Grade 5 • Duration 21:40

Owen Reed composed “La Fiesta Mexicana, A Mexican Folk Song for Concert Band” in 1949 and dedicated it to the United States Marine Band, Lt. Col. William F. Santelmann, conductor. The three-movement symphony was inspired by a six month tour of Mexico while Reed was continuing his study of North American music. It holds a well-earned place in the history of literature for wind bands due to its authenticity, originality, and rhythmic energy. The first movement, Prelude and Aztec Dance, announces the opening of the fiesta with the tolling of church bells and the explosion of fireworks, then settles in for a brief, quiet respite before the church bells and fireworks again erupt into another celebration. Reed captures a parade at noon with characteristic Latin rhythmic and melodic motives, replete with mariachi trumpets beginning the procession which, is then followed by a wildly exciting Aztec dance. This is frenzied music at its best with driving rhythms, ample percussion, and explosive rushes of sound depicting the plumed and masked dancers. The second movement, Mass, is a somber, reflective, and still, very powerful reminder that the fiesta is a religious celebration, a time for contemplation and worship. The third movement, Carnival, provides circus music, the bustle of the market place, the bullfight, the town band and the ever-present cantinas with their mariachi bands. Reed captures the wild exuberance of all of these scenes with folk music that is enhanced by a contemporary symphonic kaleidoscope of sound. The movement builds throughout arriving at the final 24 measures with a compelling sense of urgency and rhythmic drive to a powerful finale of exultation. Each of the movements are self-contained and can effectively be performed separately, though the entire symphony is so undeniable, one is driven to program and perform the work in its entirety. The publisher, with Reed’s permission, has provided ample cues to make the work  adaptable to smaller bands.

Reviewer: Gregory B. Rudgers

“Legacies”

Clint Needham • Manhattan Beach Music • Grade 5 • Duration 6:26

Advocates of minimalist music will be pleased to discover that emerging and popular form so successfully espoused by Phillip Glass and John Adams in a new work for concert band by Clint Needham. Purists might disagree with the assignation, as Needham, like all talented and creative composers, does not adhere to a strict formula for the construction, but rather borrows several minimalistic elements for the construction of this charming and exciting work. The rapid tempo of the opening (quarter note = 152) includes meters which alternate between 3/4 and 7/8 with occasional divergences to 5/8 which are used as transitional material. The repeating upper winds are accompanied by lovely lyrical lines, primarily in the French horn, which gradually increase in duration and become the central melodic theme of the work. Indeed, French horn sections in any band will be pleased to find themselves the production of both dramatic and inspiring repetitions of the main theme. This is followed by an ethereal and transparent woodwind choir with solos for both piccolo and English horn. The choir gradually increases in depth and complexity arriving at a full-blown extravaganza of sound. Holding nothing back, Needham calls for a dynamic of four f’s at the climax. A reprise of the opening section occurs next followed by a brief development of the primary themes and leading to a spectacular finale (kicked up one more notch to quarter note = 160) replete with soaring lines, cascading percussion, driving rhythms, and expansive dynamics. The score is constructed with traditional concert band instrumentation in mind, but does include the welcome and aforementioned English horn, as well as celeste, piano, and virtually every mallet percussion instrument. Indeed the percussion section combined with the highly rhythmic and percussive patterns in the upper woodwinds are the driving force in this highly energetic work. One might be reminded of music from Hollywood when encountering “Legacies,” but do not be fooled. There is much more depth and value here than that of film scores.

Reviewer: Gregory B. Rudgers

March from Symphonic Metamorphosis Of Themes

Paul Hindemith • Transcribed by Keith Wilson Schott • Grade 5 

Long a favorite of advanced ensemble conductors and players due to its power, drama, and fearsome energy, this transcribed symphonic march has been programmed frequently since its original publication in 1972. The original version by Paul Hindemith is the fourth movement of his orchestral suite, Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Hindemith took themes from incidental music by Weber written for a play, and Keith Wilson has set the orchestral version for concert band. The march begins with an ominous, nearly halting call by trumpets and trombones establishing one of the primary motives for the work. This foundational element dominates the opening strain with repeated and insistent use of dotted eighth and sixteenth, as well as the expanded dotted quarter and dotted half note rhythms. The march projects an aggressive militarism throughout which is boldly declared in the first and second strains. An heroic horn choir then ensues accompanied by the rapid gun-fire of articulated staccato triplets in the woodwinds, leading to a reversal of roles where the woodwinds take over the heroic theme accompanied by staccato brasses. Hindemith, long an advocate of music composed for students, would be most pleased with this addition to the literature for concert band.

Reviewer: Gregory B. Rudgers

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