As we prepare for our November 11 performance, “The American Frontier”, which coincides with Veteran’s Day, I was reminded of John F. Kennedy’s quote:
“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.”
The United States, which boasts incredible strength in so many different arenas, has come so far culturally since the 1890s, when it felt compelled to import the Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák, to help young American composers find their unique symphonic American voice. Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, written in New York City in 1893 and bearing the title “From the New World,” was inspired in part from African American Spirituals as well as from the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s work, The Song of Hiawatha.
From these somewhat meager artistic beginnings in the 1890s, the United States soon became a powerhouse for musical creativity. By the 1940s, an American sound had coalesced, and composers were expressing various aspects of the American experience in their music. One of these aspects was the expression of the great American expanse. Composers found that using so-called “perfect” intervals expressed the expansive feeling of the western frontiers. In 1941, the American composer Samuel Barber set out to compose the first great violin concerto and was one of the composers who was able to tie this compositional technique to the feeling of the American experience. Besides expressing this unique American feeling, Barber also includes one of the most technically challenging finales that almost sounds machine-like.
Another composer who used the technique of perfect intervals to express what it was to be American was Aaron Copland in his 1942 work, Fanfare for the Common Man. This composition was meant to “do honor to the man who performs no deeds of heroism on the battlefield, but who shares the labors, sorrows, and hopes of those who strive for victory.”
The American composer, Joan Tower, wrote a sort of “counterblast” to Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man in her 1992 composition for orchestra, For the Uncommon Woman. There is no doubt that there is much work yet to be done by orchestras worldwide in support of women composers, and I am thrilled to be including her music on this program of New American Frontiers. Tower dedicated this piece to noteworthy women who are “risk takers and adventurers.”
While these are only a few of the many “New American Frontiers” that tie this program together, it is worth mentioning one more hugely important and uniquely American form of symphonic music: “movie music.” Hollywood has produced some of the most extraordinary symphonic music — and these scores, combined with moving images on a screen, have touched virtually every human on the planet. To bring the achievements that our country has made in the arts back to our extraordinarily brave men and women in uniform on this Veteran’s Day, we have chosen to perform John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen from the motion picture Saving Private Ryan in their honor.
I, along with your Longmont Symphony Orchestra musicians, look forward to exploring these musical “American Frontiers” with you on Saturday, November 11!