Music Composers Unite!
I adore Bach, Mozart, the Beethoven String Quartets, Messiaen, the Stravinsky ballets, plus a host of others, old and new. Such a wealth of Western music! But I didn't grow up in Germany, or Austria, or France, or Russia. I grew up in America, and except for a 5 year sojourn in Alaska, in the American South. This is one of the several pieces I wrote back in 2000 celebrating my own heritage. You may or may not have heard the song "Shortnin' Bread", but hopefully you'll relate to it!
The pianist is the late Greg McCallum. In 2003, he and I were invited to the Hoddesdon Music Festival in the UK, where he played the European premiere of this piece and its companion pieces. A wonderful old man, who must have been at least 90 years old, came up to me after the performance and said "You don't look old enough to have written Shortnin' Bread!" I tried to explain that I didn't write the original song, just the piece based on the original song, but he wasn't having any of it. "My mama used to sing Shortnin' Bread!" he told everyone in sight. "This American is much older than she looks!"
I had almost as much fun writing this piece as I did in Hoddesdon! The retrograde section worked out so well that I used sections of it elsewhere. I'd love to hear what you all think!
By the way, the score was written with a very old version of Finale, so there are some things that need updating. I'm aware of those formatting needs.
Don't forget Bartok and his wealth of Eastern European folk music. Or Stravinsky and his Rite, chock full of traditional Russian folk tunes. And speaking of Mahler, how about his use of Frere Jacques? There are tons of other examples. One of my favorites is Stravinsky's "Feu d'Artifice" which has a section that is taken whole cloth from Saint-Saens "Sorcerer's Apprentice" - same key, same chords, same instruments. Another example is the great similarities between Ives's "Central Park in the Dark" and the second movement of Bartok's second piano concerto. I think it's exciting to have all these connections! I didn't know about Mahler and the local bar, though!
There was a period in european history when every composer felt obligated to represent their country by producing music that was unique to that country. There is an enormous number of examples. Europe was obsessed with defining "national character". It was the thing to do at that time. One of Tchaikovsky's most amazing melodies was something he heard played on the street in Russia. Or so he claimed. To me that whole thing gives me the willies, as I feel that nobody has to represent any culture or anything that isn't genuinely what they spontaneously feel drawn towards. My subjective opinion, of course. If someone has to go out of their way to find their voice, it may not be their voice. Their voice is what actually comes out from them on a daily basis. Sorry, Julie, I find myself often disagreeing with you. I hope that is fine, as I don't mean to be unpleasant or a constant contrarian.
Lawrence Aurich said:
Aram Khachaturian born Russian went to his ethnic Armenia for melodies, then his work was not accepted for a while because it wasn't Russian enough. I'm studying Mahler. Many of his melodies floated up to his apartment over a local bar. Of course we have Copland"s Variations on a Shaker Melody, and Beethoven's ninth, and many more. Actually I don't remember if Beethoven used someone's melody or just the words.
For me, an important part of writing music is intimacy - with performers, with other composers, with the audience. It's a form of communication and of understanding other people better. The great fun of writing American Triptych was learning more about fiddle tunes and fiddlers (Old Joe Clark), lullabys and ancient legends and fear of the night (Hush-A-Bye), popular folk tunes which were really written by a famous writer (Shortnin' Bread). I thought Shortnin Bread was a traditional plantation song - that's the way it was always billed - but I discovered through research that it was actually written by James Whitcomb Riley, in 1900! He also wrote one of my Dad's favorite Halloween poems "Little Orphant Annie", so I was thrilled to find a musical connection to him.
I really appreciate and treasure intelligent, respectful, articulate and well thought out disagreements! They keep me on my toes and help me fine-tune my own beliefs. There is room in the world for many conflicting beliefs and experiences, as you've mentioned on more than one occasion.
Manfred Goop said:
Sorry, Julie, I find myself often disagreeing with you. I hope that is fine, as I don't mean to be unpleasant or a constant contrarian.
Or if you learn about it, instead of just "thinking" about it, American folk music is most heavily influenced by spirituals and music of the British Isles, which features the pentatonic scale prominently, as does music from just about every continent.
I'd love to hear why you think Native American music is so similar to Asian Classical? Because they both use drums?
steven gustin said:
if you think about it, actual american music is asian, being that mongoloids where america's inhabitants first. i think that's why american indian music is so similar to asian classical. but i guess this is pentatonic too. come to think of it, americans where the first to mix asian and western music, i think. crazy.
Julie, very much enjoyed this!
as a late comer to this thread I want to express my warmest congratulations to you!
I knew the tune as a folk tune, but you made a piece of serious art out of it in a great pianistic tradition utilising folk melodies, that begins counciously imo with Haydn and continues to the 21st century, including many European and American composers (just too many to mention).
Thanks for sharing
Thank you Tim and Socrates for your wonderful comments. Sorry it took me so long to respond!
Tim, I really appreciate what you said about Hush-a-bye. The most challenging thing about writing that piece was the timing. I wanted the listener to, as you said, anticipate the full lullaby without waiting too long or not long enough. When it finally comes in and then almost immediate leaves, I hope the listener feels an affinity with the night!
I'm attaching the score, per your request.