Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 2014 - Featured Playlist: The Exploring Twenties

This month we’re taking a look at the Roaring Twenties, or what might also be called the Exploring Twenties. Romanticism had years before splintered off into different directions such as Impressionism and Modernism, while what we call Neoclassicism was starting to find inspiration by bringing the further past back into the present. Meanwhile, Arnold Schoenberg and his followers were upending the very foundations of tonality, and the bold new world of jazz was beginning to invade the symphony hall. It was an exciting time, one bursting with energy and possibility for both music and culture as a whole. As you enjoy this playlist, let it transport you to the tension and the release of the time in which it was created.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Sergei Prokofiev – The Love for Three Oranges Suite: III. March – Shortly after World War I, Prokofiev undertook a brutal four-month trans-Pacific journey to the United States, and along the way he labored at the libretto for the comic opera from which this suite was derived. It premiered in 1921, with the suite following three years later.


2. Kurt Atterberg – Symphony No. 6 in C Major, “Dollar Symphony”: III. Vivace – In 1928, Atterberg entered his dazzling Sixth Symphony into a worldwide composition competition and walked away with first prize and the hefty sum of $10,000 (around $140,000 today), earning it the nickname “Dollar Symphony”. This work is simply pure, unabashed fun.


3. George Gershwin – Piano Concerto in F Major: III. Allegro con brio – The day after Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue premiered, he received a commission for a piano concerto, one that would follow that traditional form whilst integrating his trademark jazz flair. Not having formal composition training, he taught himself the concerto form and produced this infectious work.

4. Béla Bartók – String Quartet No. 4: V. Allegro molto – While not binding himself to 12-tone or other forms of serialism, Bartók did venture well out of the traditional major and minor tonalities, choosing to apply equal value to every note. This final movement of his String Quartet No. 4 makes use of whole tone scales and inversion and retrograde forms of the melody.

5. Germaine Tailleferre – La nouvelle Cythere, Pavane: Assez lent – Tailleferre changed her surname from Taillefesse as a little act of resistance to her father’s disapproval of her musical ambitions. Her work was championed by Ravel, and she was a member of the group of young composers known as Les Six. Her work from the 20s and 30s is best-known, but she composed right up to her death in 1983.

6. Igor Stravinsky – Oedipus Rex, Act II: Divum jocastae caput mortuum – Sometimes performed as an opera, other times as an oratorio, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex has been described by Leonard Bernstein as the most “awesome product” of the composer’s neoclassical period. The text was written by French writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, then translated into Latin.

7. Arnold Schoenberg – Variations for Orchestra: Finale – Schoenberg is most readily known as the developer of the 12-tone compositional technique, in which the composer uses a predetermined pattern that provides all 12 tones of the chromatic scale with equal emphasis. Variations for Orchestra was his first such work composed for a large ensemble.

8. Alban Berg – Lyric Suite: V. Presto delirando – This 12-tone work for string quartet features a secret dedication to a mistress; a melodic sequence of A-B-H-F (another way of saying A-B♭-B♮-F) spells out their initials side by side, and Berg borrows a bit of melody from Zemlinsky, the official dedicatee of the piece, that in the original work is paired with the lyrics “You are mine own.”

9. Zoltán Kodály - Háry János Suite: V. Közjáték (Intermezzo) – The early 20th century was a time when unexpected instruments were increasingly included in formal compositions. Kodály’s spectacular Háry János Suite of 1927 quite prominently makes use of a cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian form of the hammered dulcimer.

10. Kurt Weill – Die Dreigroschenoper: Ballad of Mack the Knife – Just before this musical’s premiere, the lead actor demanded a new song be added to better introduce his character. Weill and lyricist Bertolt Brecht complied—but had the song sung by another character. This song, known as “Mack the Knife”, went on to become one of the great standards of its time.

11. Amy Beach – A Mirage, Op. 100 No. 1 – A child prodigy who was improvising counterpoint at the age of two, Amy Beach went on to become the first successful female American composer. Aside from one year of study, she was self-taught in composition, and in 1915 she compiled many of her own principles into a book titled Ten Commandments for Young Composers. "A Mirage" was composed in 1924.

12. Francis Poulenc – Concert champêtre: II. Andante – Concert champêtre was composed for noted harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who was pivotal in renewing interest in an instrument that had been largely neglected throughout the previous century. The piece is a fine example of Neoclassicism, combining technical advances of the 20th century, like a harpsichord loud enough to compete with a full orchestra, with 18th-century ideals.

13. Darius Milhaud – La création du monde, Op. 81 – The creation of the world, as presented in African folk mythology, provided the subject for this ballet piece. It was inspired by Milhaud’s first exposure to jazz music, which he heard on the streets of Harlem in 1922. He described these jazz ensembles as including “a complicated percussion section played by just one man.” Oh, that new-fangled drum set…

14. Maurice Ravel – L’enfant et les sortilèges: Il est bon, l’enfant, il est sage – The text for L’enfant et les sortileges was written in eight days, but it was eight years before Ravel completed the music, as World War I and a period of ill health intervened. Finally finished and premiered in 1925, the work was an elaborate production that called for eight soloists, two choirs (adults and children), and a full orchestra.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of nearly 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!

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