Monday, July 2, 2012

Retiring the 1812 for the Fourth

I originally posted this on my own blog, Off Topic'd on 7/1/07. I think it still applies. I'll be hosting a program this coming July 4, and while I might not play the selections listed below, I'll be airing other music by American composers that deserve a hearing.

 - Ralph

I'll be doing my WTJU radio program "Gamut" on the 4th of July. This past Sunday in the Washington Post Tim Page offered up some thoughts about music for the Fourth of July. Personally, I like his idea of playing Hans Pfizner, Elliott Carter and Anton Bruckner instead of the usual fare, but both he and I concede that won't work for everyone.

Still, there's plenty of great American classical music that would be appropriate for the Fourth, and I'm not just talking about Sousa either.

Personally, I think it's past time to give the "1812 Overture" a rest. OK, it's got canons, but has anyone listened to this work? Tchaikovsky wrote it to commemorate the Battle of Borodino, where Russian forces turned back Napoleon. The work contains the Russian and the French national anthems, and uses those two tunes to represent the ebb and flow of the two armies.

Is blasting out the "God Save the Tsar" really the best way to celebrate Independence Day? And what about "La Marseillaise"? Perhaps an apologist could construe it as an acknowledgement of Lafayette's contributions, but it wasn't that long ago we insisted those potato strings be called "freedom fries."

So let's forget the Russian overture written by a Russian honoring the victory of a Russian monarch over a French military dictator and trot out some red-blooded American classical music written by real Americans.

In past years I've played some of these works on "Gamut" for the Fourth of July, and I might air some of this for this upcoming program.

Charles Ives: Variations on "America"
- No composer sums up the American spirit of independence of thought than Ives. His variations on this distinctively American tune are original and inspired, and makes more traditional arrangements just sound tired.

Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 66, "Hymn to Glacier Peak"
- Hovhaness was another American original, placidly making his own music without getting sucked into the academic fashions of the day. Hovhaness drew inspiration from mountains, and his symphony to Glacier Park captures the grandeur and spaciousness of this national treasure.

Howard Hanson:
"Merry Mount" Suite
- Harris had a distinctly American voice, and his opera "Merry Mount" is a distinctively American story. Based on the short story "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it dramatizes the conflict between the fun-loving colonists of Mount Wollaston, Massachusetts and their more serious Puritan neighbors.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Union Paraphrase en Concert
- Gottschalk was an internationally renowned piano virtuoso. In many ways, he was the American Franz Liszt, performing and composing. The "Union Paraphrase" is an excellent example of Gottschalk's technique and a rousing piece of musical Americana.

Many celebrations will features some Aaron Copland (usually "Fanfare for the Common Man"), or some Leonard Bernstein -- good choices, but there are so many more. We have a rich classical music tradition stretching back over 200 years -- music written by Americans that have a distinctively American voice that speaks to us today.

This Fourth of July, I'm declaring independence from unimaginative programming. Who's with me?

- Ralph

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