Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
James Levine & Münchner Philharmoniker Vol. 7 / Gershwin, Harbison, Ives OC 507 CD
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Detailed information hide

FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 507
Release date14/10/2004
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Gershwin, George
  • Harbison, John
  • Ives, Charles

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      Description hide

      George Gershwin: “Cuban Overture”
      John Harbison: Symphony No. 3
      Charles Ives: Symphony No. 2

      Münchner Philharmoniker · James Levine, conductor

      Levine’s Munich Years were essentially influenced by his involvement with the music of the 20th century. This recording shows a representative overview of American Music, with works by Gershwin, Harbison and Ives.

      Real American Music

      It is very difficult to answer the question whether there really is “American music”. There are simply too many different kinds of such music to say. Legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini certainly made things too easy when he said about George Gershwin’s without a doubt grandiose works that they are “the only real American music.”

      The beginning of any tradition of independent American music can first said to have developed from a sort of European-style ‘colonialism’: through imported composers or émigrés like Antonín Dvor¡ák and Sergei Rachmaninoff, or globetrotters like Igor Stravinsky, who decided to make their home in the USA and then laid the foundation for that country’s recent music history. But the models from “Old Europe” paled when Charles Ives, born in Connecticut in 1874, succeeded with an entirely original idea.

      A professional insurance salesman, Ives showed America’s public – who looked primarily to Europe for orientation – that his free, searching musical language could manage entirely without any European models or their forms and terms. Charles Ives was an even earlier precursor of the avant-garde than John Cage, already using graphic notation, chance composition, polyrhythmics, atonality, multi-linearity, serial procedures and aleatorics at the beginning of the 20th century. This made him more or less the forefather of almost all American composers of the second half of the 20th century.

      Effects Plus Depth:
      George Gershwin´s Cuban Overture

      Composer information:
      Born September 26, 1898 in New York
      Died July 11, 1937 in Los Angeles

      The Cuban Overture, which Gershwin had originally thought about titling Rumba, was the direct result of Gershwin’s impressions from his 1932 vacation in Havana.
      August 16, 1932 in New York

      “Only one thing is important in music: ideas plus feeling!” With this slogan, George Gershwin put the quintessence of his compositional style in a nutshell: “effect plus depth”. Born in Brooklyn at the end of the 19th century to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Gershwin was animated to write his Cuban Overture after taking a pleasure trip in the Cuban capital of Havana in February 1932. He was so fascinated at hearing a 16-person rumba group that he began writing a composition entitled Rumba even while still on vacation. He later gave this work the more classic title Cuban Overture.

      At the time, the omnipresent sounds of exotic percussion instruments found in popular Cuban music (bongos, calabashes, maracas) were part of the counterpoint of the many tempestuous island festivals. Gershwin took some of these instruments back with him, and we encounter them again in his work, which conjures up the atmosphere of lively, boisterous, colorful Cuban festivals.

      Introspection, Expressed in Sound: John Harbison´s Symphony No. 3

      Composer information:
      Born December 20, 1938 in Orange/New Jersey

      After his first two symphonies, written for the Boston Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra respectively, Harbison composed his third piece in this genre as a commission by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its 75th anniversary. H completed the work in 1990 at Token Creek Farm in southern Wisconsin, where he often went to compose. He finished the fair copy of the score on December 5, 1990.

      February 26, 1991 in the Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Zinman

      Harbison himself didn’t recognize until ten years after completing his Symphony No. 3 that the crux of the symphony is actually a formal aspect: “The piece’s central issue is recovering from its starting point, i.e. finding a way to continue after starting with a conclusion.” Harbison’s musical roots lie in jazz; at the age of 11 he was already the pianist in his own band. Later, he was influenced by the works of Bach and Stravinsky. He studied in the USA – with the “grand old men” Walter Piston in Harvard (until 1961) and Roger Sessions in Princeton (until 1963) – as well as for a short time with Boris Blacher in Berlin.

      Like many artists of his generation, he first embraced the serial principle as the (supposed) cure for traditional, national American music à la Copland and Barber. But like Schuller, Riegger or Foss, after going beyond this phase he viewed serial organization as only one means among many of shaping music. One does find twelve-tone rows in his oeuvre, but they may alternate quite happily with jazz episodes, be hidden behind lyricism or compete with episodes of tone painting. In this respect, Harbison’s works are certainly one of the most significant American contributions to the “post-modern” phenomenon. Most musical reference works, however, place him in the corner of “New Romanticism”.

      Because Harbison’s credo is to “structure every composition differently from the others,” his challenge when writing the Symphony No. 3 was making the best of a difficult beginning. Externally, this is evident from the five sections of the compositions, which Harbison titled with Italian designations of feeling, rather than of tempo: „disheartened – nostalgic – militant – passionate – exuberant.“ This is also how the conductor of the premiere, David Zinman, spoke about the piece’s five “moods”, which replace the traditional sequence of movements. Harbison, on the other hand, mentions the “stepping stone” function that each section assumes for the following one: each section prepares the thematic material that is to come – as well as a certain mood that must be overcome.

      For this reason, the emotional curve of the music rises steadily upwards from depression to exuberance, but the thematic return and “fatality” of the beginning – which is not really a beginning – make sure that the Finale is not exuberant with jubilation, but in contrast to its designation “esuberante”, sounds realistically restrained. “Cathartic to an extent; but also demonic,” Harbison described it. “The dilemma of the beginning is accepted, but the work doesn’t find a simple, clear-cut solution.” Even without the composer’s selfcriticism, it is fairly obvious in the face of the symphony’s precarious beginning why his basic willingness to write a positive finale was simply impossible: not because he couldn’t, but because the musical material withstood all attempts. How to stop? How to begin? – Those are never solely musical questions.

      Connecting Traditions:
      Charles Ives´ Symphony No. 2

      Composer information:
      Born October 20, 1874 in Danbury/New England
      Died May 19, 1954 in New York

      When composing his Symphony No. 2, Charles Ives relied on numerous older works. This makes it difficult to cleanly trace the history of this piece’s origin. Ives himself said that he composed it between 1897 and 1901. He later revised the score a number of times, including when finishing the actual fair copy in 1908/1909. Even shortly before the work’s late premiere in 1951, Ives changed the ending of the symphony one final time.

      February 22, 1951 in New York with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Bernstein

      In his essay “Music and Its Future”, Charles Ives describes the childhood experience which was the guiding principle of his later compositional methods: “The composer remembers how he once listened to a town band as a boy. The musicians were organized in two or three groups around the town’s main square. The primary group stood in the pavilion and played the main themes while the others took these themes and varied them, added refrains, etc., playing these from the surrounding roofs and verandas. These echoing voices and violins left a deep impression on the composer.”

      Charles Edward Ives, born in 1874 in a small city in New England, took his first music lessons from his father, an enthusiastic musician with bold visions of new musical possibilities, although he was no composer. Charles received a thorough musical education, but later emphasized that his father taught him above all “to use his ears and have the courage to think for himself and be independent, in other words, not to be too dependent on customs and mores,” as he formulated at the beginning of his autobiographical sketches, written during the 1930s. Ives began composing as a student, at first only for his father’s military band, in which he was a drummer. After finishing school, he attended Yale University. He wrote his Symphony No. 1 during this period, which is still solidly in the late romantic tradition. Several years later, when Ives was now working fulltime in the insurance industry, he wrote his Symphony No. 2. It took decades, however, before any of his symphonies was performed publicly.

      The Symphony No. 2 is a transitional work. Whereas Ives’s Symphony No. 1 was firmly entrenched in the formal structural and harmonic world of the major romantic symphonies of a Schumann or Brahms, his second piece in this genre began displaying independent traits, as seen by the inordinate number of quotes and melodies reminiscent of American folk tunes. Even though the composition was written primarily during 1901/02, its roots reach back to 1894. Many of its themes and motives are based on earlier compositions. Despite these very different sources, the symphony is formally very tightknit. This is mainly because Ives lets motives recur in various movements, thus closely linking the work’s formal sections. The symphony’s five movements have an unusual tonal scheme in which their primary keys are not linked by fifths, as is typically the case, but by minor thirds.

      American and European traditions lie closely next to each other. When the composer takes the fiddle tune Pig Town Fling and transforms it into a passage from the Finale of Brahms Symphony No. 1 or reshapes a motive from the Fugue in E Minor from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1 into a motive from Camptown Races, he demonstrates how close these two different traditions can be – even though their roots lie in completely different musical spheres. Ives connects these spheres, and in doing so, develops a unique, unmistakable musical language: America and Europe, romantic and modern, folksong and symphonic movement are the poles his Symphony No. 2 traverses.

      Richard Eckstein
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Fotos: Stefan Rakus

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • 1.Applause00:11
      • George Gershwin (1898–1937)
        • 2.“Cuban Overture”09:52
        • 3.Applause00:21
        • John Harbison (born 1938)
          • 4.Symphony No. 3
            1. Sconsolato – Più mosso
            2. Nostalgico
            3. Militante
            4. Appassionato
            5. Esuberante
          • 5.Applause00:28
          • Charles Ives (1874–1954)
            Symphony No. 2
            • 6.1. Andante moderato06:11
            • 7.2. Allegro10:58
            • 8.3. Adagio cantabile10:58
            • 9.4. Lento maestoso02:33
            • 10.5. Allegro molto vivace10:30
            • 11.Applause00:40
          • Total:01:17:32