"The greatest American symphony" - and more!
Superb new XR-remastered transfers - first time on CD
Review (Harris Symphony No. 3 - original issue)
"If I had pitchers who could pitch as strongly as you do in your Symphony, my worries would be over." So wrote the manager of a baseball team, to Roy Harris, after a performance of the Third Symphony. This remarkable work, still pitching as strongly as ever, dates from 1937, and was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitsky, who thought it the greatest orchestral work written in America. Its strength, like its greatness, derives from its originality, and from its ability to say new things in an intelligible way. Now that Koussevitsky is no longer with us, it could have no better an interpreter than Howard Hanson, who has long been responsible for the encouragement of American composers and the performance of their music.
Harris's Third, Symphony, although perhaps not as monumental a work as his Fifth, has been an orchestral classic both within and outside America for seventeen years. It now appears for the first time in LP form, and is well served by the Mercury "Living Presence" recording technique, which is a new and eminently valid claim as far as the present reviewer is concerned. The acoustic is very satisfactory, having ample glow when it is needed (the brass sonorities in the fugal section) yet never giving the listener the impression of unreality or trick balance. True, one sometimes feels that a guiding hand is reaching out to lead us into a particular section of the orchestra ; but the hand does guide rather than shove, and that is a distinct advantage. The essence of all good sound control is to avoid the obvious and eschew the artificial —ars est celare artem. Mercury have achieved this, with radiant success.
D.S. - The Gramophone, February 1955 (link)
Notes on the recordings:
A radio broadcast the weekend before the release of these recordings on Pristine Audio succeded in reminding me that I had some unfinished business with the American music recordings of Howard Hanson, and I'm glad it did. The presenter and critic Rob Cowan introduced this recording of Harris's Third Symphony, which had been specially transferred from LP for his broadcast, as "the greatest American symphony", and pointedly reminded me (and his other listeners) that it had never appeared on CD.
As with the previous issues in this short series, the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra has been very well recorded by Mercury, leaving me in the happy position of some excellent starting points for my remastering work. The release coincides with work I've been doing on trying to recapture some of the sub-bass which was often heavily filtered on LP recordings in the 1950s - the almost subsonic underpinning of many a modern recording which is rarely to be heard on older recordings (these are frequencies that early LPs in particular struggled with), but which when present can bring a fabulous extra dimension of realism to a symphony orchestra recording.
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Howard Harold Hanson (October 28, 1896 – February 26, 1981) was an American composer, conductor, educator, music theorist, and champion of American classical music. As director for 40 years of the Eastman School of Music, he built a high quality school and provided opportunities for commissioning and performing American music. He won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his works and received numerous other awards.
Early life and education
Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska to Swedish immigrant parents, Hans and Hilma (Eckstrom) Hanson. In his youth he studied music with his mother. Later, he studied at Luther College in Wahoo, Nebraska, receiving a diploma in 1911, then at the Institute of Musical Art, the forerunner of the Juilliard School, inNew York City, where he studied with the composer and music theorist Percy Goetschius in 1914. Afterward he attended Northwestern University, where he studied composition with church music expert Peter Lutkin and Arne Oldberg in Chicago. Throughout his education, Hanson studied piano, cello and trombone. Hanson earned his BA degree in music from Northwestern University in 1916, where he began his teaching career as a teacher's assistant.
In 1916, Hanson was hired for his first full-time position as a music theory and composition teacher at the College of the Pacific in California. Only three years later, the college appointed him Dean of the Conservatory of Fine Arts in 1919. In 1920, Hanson composed The California Forest Play, his earliest work to receive national attention. Hanson also wrote a number of orchestral and chamber works during his years in California, including Concerto da Camera, Symphonic Legend, Symphonic Rhapsody, various solo piano works, such as Two Yuletide Pieces, and the Scandinavian Suite, which celebrated his Lutheranand Scandinavian heritage.
In 1921 Hanson was the first winner of the Prix de Rome in Music (the American Academy's Rome Prize), awarded for both The California Forest Play and his symphonic poem Before the Dawn. Thanks to the award, Hanson lived in Italy for three years. During his time in Italy, Hanson wrote a Quartet in One Movement, Lux Aeterna, The Lament for Beowulf (orchestration Bernhard Kaun), and his Symphony No. 1, "Nordic", the premiere of which he conducted with the Augusteo Orchestra on May 30, 1923. The three years Hanson spent on his Fellowship at the American Academy were, he considered, the formative years of his life, as he was free to compose, conduct without the distraction of teaching - he could devote himself solely to his art.
(It has been incorrectly stated that Hanson studied composition and/or orchestration with Ottorino Respighi, who studied orchestration with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Hanson's unpublished autobiography refutes the statement, attributed to Ruth Watanabe, that he had studied with Respighi.)
Upon returning from Rome, Hanson's conducting career expanded. He made his premiere conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra in his tone poem North and West. In Rochester, New York in 1924, he conducted his Symphony No. 1. This performance brought him to the attention of George Eastman.
Eastman chose Hanson to be director of the Eastman School of Music. Business master George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera and roll film, was also a major philanthropist; he used some of his great wealth to endow the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Hanson held the position of director for forty years, during which he created one of the most prestigious music schools in America. He accomplished this by improving the curriculum, bringing in better teachers, and refining the school's orchestras. Also, he balanced the school's faculty between American and European teachers, even when this meant passing up composer Béla Bartók. Hanson offered a position to Bartók teaching composition at Eastman, but Bartók declined as he did not believe that one could teach composition. Instead, Bartók wanted to teach piano at the Eastman School, but Hanson already had a full staff of piano instructors.
In 1925, Hanson established the American Composers Orchestral Concerts. Later, he founded the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, which consisted of first chair players from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and selected students from the Eastman School. He followed that by establishing the Festivals of American Music. Hanson made many recordings (mostly for Mercury Records) with the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, not only of his own works, but also those of other American composers such as John Alden Carpenter, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, John Knowles Paine, Walter Piston, and William Grant Still. Hanson estimated that more than 2000 works by over 500 American composers were premiered during his tenure at the Eastman School.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Hanson's Symphony No. 2, the "Romantic", and premiered it on November 28, 1930. This work was to become Hanson's best known. One of its themes is performed at the conclusion of all concerts at theInterlochen Center for the Arts. Now known as the "Interlochen Theme", it is conducted by a student concertmaster after the featured conductor has left the stage. Traditionally, no applause follows its performance. It is also best known for its use in the end credits of the 1979 Ridley Scott film Alien.
In some ways Hanson's opera Merry Mount (1934) may be considered the first fully American opera. It was written by an American composer and an American librettist on an American story, and was premiered with a mostly American cast at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1934. The Opera received fifty curtain calls at its Met premiere, a record that still stands. In 1935 Hanson wrote "Three Songs from Drum Taps", based on the poem by Walt Whitman.
Hanson was elected as a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1935, President of the Music Teachers' National Association from 1929 to 1930, and President of the National Association of Schools of Music from 1935 to 1939.
From 1946 to 1962 Hanson was active in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO commissioned Hanson's Pastorale for Oboe and Piano, and Pastorale for Oboe, Strings, and Harp, for the 1949 Paris conference of the world body.
Frederick Fennell, conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, described Hanson's first band composition, the 1954 Chorale and Alleluia as "the most awaited piece of music to be written for the wind band in my twenty years as a conductor in this field". Chorale and Alleluia is still a required competition piece for high school bands in the New York State School Music Association's repertoire list. It is one of Hanson's most frequently recorded works.
From 1961-1962, Hanson took the Eastman Philharmonia, a student ensemble, on a European tour which passed through Paris, Cairo, Moscow, and Vienna, among other cities. The tour showcased the growth of serious American music for Europe and the Middle East.
Hanson met Margaret Elizabeth Nelson at her parents' summer home on Lake Chautauqua in the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Hanson dedicated the Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings, to her; the piece was his musical marriage proposal, as he could not find the spoken words to propose to her. They married on July 24, 1946 at her parents' summer home in Chautauqua Institution.
Legacy and honors
- Hanson was an initiate of two chapters of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity: the Iota Chapter at Northwestern University in 1916, and the Alpha Nu Chapter at Eastman in 1928. He was recognized as a national honorary member in 1930, and presented with the Charles E. Lutton Man of Music Awardat the national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1954.
- After he composed the Hymn of the Pioneers to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first Swedish settlement in Delaware, Hanson was selected as a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy in 1938.
- In 1944, Hanson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Symphony No. 4, subtitled Requiem.
- In 1945, he became the first recipient of the Ditson Conductor's Award for his commitment to American music.
- In 1946, Hanson was awarded the George Foster Peabody Award "for outstanding entertainment programming" for a series he presented on the Rochester, New York radio station WHAM in 1945.
- In 1953, Hanson helped to establish the Edward B. Benjamin Prize "for calming and uplifting music" written by Eastman students. Each submitted score was read by Hanson and the Eastman Orchestra. Winners of the Benjamin Prize appeared on Hanson's recording Music for Quiet Listening.
- In 1960, Hanson published Harmonic Materials of Modern Music: Resources of the Tempered Scale, a book that would lay the foundation for musical set theory. Among the many notions considered was what Hanson called the isomeric relationship, now usually termed Z-relationship.
- Hanson was on the Board of Directors of the Music Educators National Conference from 1960 to 1964.
- Hanson's Song of Democracy, on a Walt Whitman text, was performed at the inaugural concert for incoming U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969. Hanson proudly noted this was the first inaugural concert to feature only American music.
- In recognition of Hanson's achievements, the Eastman Kodak company donated $100,000 worth of stock to the Eastman School of Music in 1976. Hanson stipulated that the gift be used to fund the Institute of American Music.
- Hanson was a Distinguished Nebraskans Award Recipient in 1976.
Hanson's students include John Davison, John La Montaine, Samuel Jones, H. Owen Reed, Kenneth Gaburo, Donald O. Johnston, Martin Mailman, Gloria Wilson Swisher, Robert Washburn, Homer Keller, John White, David Borden, Emma Lou Diemer, Ron Nelson, and Bill Pursell.
Excerpts from his Symphony #2 were used to accompany several exterior sequences and the end credits in the released versions of Ridley Scott's 1979 horrormovie Alien without his permission, but Hanson decided not to fight it in court.—they replaced certain sections of the late Jerry Goldsmith's original score at the behest of 20th Century Fox. This highlighted music can still be found on most DVD versions of Alien.
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Hanson