Monday, January 26, 2009

Air and Simple Gifts

Nearly a week has gone by since the inauguration of President Obama and the flaps about the inaugural music. It's time for a short recap.

The centerpiece of the inaugural music was Air and Simple Gifts, composed and arranged by John Williams for a quartet of violin, cello, clarinet and piano. That unusual instrumentation just happens to be the same as was used by Messiaen in his Quartet for the End of Time. The performers were Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet) -- a group of fabulous musicians. The music heard over the loudspeakers and broadcast was actually from a recording made by the quartet two days earlier. The musicians were wearing earpieces to be able to coordinate with the recording in the frigid cold. They also had their music in front of them, although the cameras did not generally catch that. For the record, the chief librarian of the US Marine Band had the pleasure (and responsibility) of affixing their music so it would not blow away. Did they actually play? Reports vary, with some who were there being sure that they did, and some that they only mimed. Reception of the piece by critics was also varied. Simple Gifts is a Shaker tune that was featured prominently by Aaron Copland in Appalachian Spring, as well as being set by Copland as one of his Old American Songs. Williams' Air and Simple Gifts is surely Americana, fit for the inauguration.

Aretha Franklin, afterwards, was very unhappy with how she sang in the cold. Her piece was America (My Country 'tis of Thee).

The US Marine Band did play live, complete with frozen tuba valves that the musicians worked diligently to get unfrozen in time to play their parts. Barack Obama's arrival was heralded with Hail, America! (written by George Drumm, and arranged by Thomas Clark). Hail to the Chief was performed immediately after President Obama's oath. The US Marine Band has posted a list of what it played.

1 comment:

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