Saturday, October 06, 2007

Director's Notes: Paul Cummings on the Symphonic Band

For the first half of the concert, the Symphonic Band is performing “Koenigsmarsch” by Richard Strauss, “Funeral Music for Rikard Nordraak” by Edvard Grieg, “English Folk Song Suite” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and “Pineapple Poll” by Arthur Sullivan. This represents an all-European program which is somewhat unusual for amodern American concert band to do. This is the centennial year of Grieg's death (1907), so we are joining the bandwagon, so to speak, of groups performing this great Norwegian composer's music.

The work we’re doing by Edvard Grieg, "Funeral Music for Rikard Nordraak," has an interesting story behind it. Rikard Nordraak, in whose memory the piece was composed, was a close friend of Grieg. Nordraakis remembered today primarily as the composer of the Norwegian national anthem, which he composed when he was only 17 years old.

While visiting Rome, Grieg heard of Nordraak's premature death, and immediately composed the funeral music. It was originally written for piano, but Grieg transcribed it for winds and percussion, since many funeral marches of this era were to be played outdoors. At the interment for Nordraak in Bergen, the town band apparently was not quite up to the task of performing the wind band version of the piece. Instead, an orchestral version was hastily cobbled together by a local composer to suit the Bergen musicians. Ironically, the band setting was played at Grieg's own funeral which occurred three years later.

The English Folk Song Suite is a staple of the wind band repertoire, and Gordon Jacob's transcription for orchestra is also quite popular, thoughthe band version came first. Vaughan Williams employs nine different English folk songs in the suite, mostly drawn from the collections of Cecil Sharpe. What was originally a group of rugged tunes from the English countryside was transformed by Vaughan Williams into a beautifully crafted, elegant artwork. The pristine settings require Mozartean precision from the ensemble, and depict an incredibly wide range of emotion, from lovesick sadness to carefree glee.

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