Friday, March 27, 2009

Ben Webster at 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of Ben Webster's birth. Webster was one of the great jazz tenor sax players of the 1930s and 1940s, considered the equal of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

Ben Webster was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 27, 1909. He studied piano and violin, and attended Wilberforce College. After college, he played piano in a silent movie-theater and played in several bands. He picked up the saxophone and soon was playing tenor sax in a variety of bands. In 1934, Webster moved to New York to join Fletcher Henderson's band. During the 30's, he also worked with musicians such as Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, Roy Eldridge, and Teddy Wilson. By 1940, Webster became a regular member of Duke Ellington's band, and soon became one of its featured soloists. While he was only with Ellington a brief few years, Webster had a great influence on the band.

By 1964, Ben Webster moved to Europe -- one of the many American jazz exiles. He briefly lived in the Netherlands before moving to Denmark, where he resided the rest of his life. During his years in Europe, he recorded prolifically. Webster died in Amsterdam on September 20, 1973.

There are a couple of biographies of Ben Webster,
  • Ben Webster: his life and music, by J. de Valk (c2001)
  • Someone to watch over me: the life and music of Ben Webster, by Frank Buchmann-Moller (c2006)
The Polley Music Library has both of these books. Come check them out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rustle of Spring

The calendar says that it is spring, but the weatherman is not quite so sure. The Polley Music Library would like to celebrate the beginning of spring by sharing one of the world's best-loved spring pieces, Christian Sinding's Rustle of Spring.

Christian Sinding (1856-1941) was a Norwegian composer deemed (in Norway) to be the successor to Edvard Grieg. He studied in Germany, and his much of his music was in the style of German romanticism. He wrote small pieces -- songs and piano pieces -- and big works -- symphonies and operatic works. But the work that has survived the changes in taste over the years is Rustle of Spring, written in 1896.

Enjoy the sounds of spring.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Beethoven's Irish Songs

So what about Beethoven's Irish songs? Or, should I say, O'Beethoven's?
George Thomson (1757-1851) of Glasgow, Scotland, was a publisher and collector of folk songs. He commissioned composers of his day to set the folksongs, paying them well. Among the composers who took Thomson up on his offer were the Austrian Ignaz Josef Pleyel, the Bohemian Leopold Kozeluch, Franz Joseph Haydn, and even Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven began his folksong settings in 1809 and continued with them off and on until 1820. Beethoven spent considerable time on the folksong settings and attempted to make them of real musical interest. Most of the folksong settings are for voice with a piano trio accompaniment (piano, violin and cello), and are not simple settings. While Thomson was most interested in British Isles songs, Beethoven expanded his own scope to include German, Danish, Tyrolean, Polish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian and Italian texts, even though Thomson would only publish the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and other British songs.
All in all, Beethoven wrote approximately 64 Irish songs, most of which were published in the groups Twenty-five Irish Songs (WoO 152, 1814), Twenty Irish Songs (WoO 153, 1814-1816), and Twelve Irish Songs (WoO 154, 1816), all published in Edinburgh and London

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Irish Suite

What's that Irish music that the Pops played? Well, it just might have been Leroy Anderson's The Irish Suite. Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) is considered the major 20th century American composer of light orchestral miniatures. And he was the primary arranger of music for the Boston Pops Orchestra during the Fiedler years.

Based on Irish tunes, The Irish Suite was composed in 11 or 12 days in 1947, as a four movement suite entitled Eire Suite. It was first performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. Anderson revised his suite in 1949, adding two movements and changing the order the movements are performed. Leroy Anderson wanted people to know that the suite was originally commissioned by the Eire Society of Boston, and that the score was dedicated to Arthur Fiedler. The movements are as follows:
  1. The Irish Washerwoman, the first movement, is a traditional Irish jig -- a fast lively dance. The dance tune, a staple of fiddlers, has had many melodic variants, many texts set to it, and many titles. The earliest use of the title, The Irish Washerwoman, dates to 1792. Leroy Anderson emulates the traditional Irish fiddle and the tin or penny whistle sounds with the violins and the flutes and piccolo.
  2. The Minstrel Boy, the second movement, is based on the patriotic Irish song by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) and the melody called The Moreen. Moore wrote The Minstrel Boy as a memorial to some of his friends who had taken part in the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen. In the song, the minstrel went to war with his harp and a sword, but he perished, and his harp would never speak again. "Thy songs were made for the pure and free, they shall never sound in slavery." Anderson captures the feeling of the song with a slow march over an ostinato bass, and the distant trumpets and drums of war.
  3. The Rakes of Mallow, the third movement, pictures the "carousing and rioting of the young bloods of Mallow," according to Leroy Anderson. The song dates back to approximately 1740, when the term "rake" applied to men who participated in a variety of dissolute behavior. Anderson depicts the escalation of the drinking, partying, and whoring of the rakes by having the music go faster and become noisier throughout the piece.
  4. The Wearing of the Green is an anonymous Irish street ballad from around 1798, the time of the rebellion of the United Irishmen. Green was the color of the United Irishmen, and a shamrock in the hat was a sign of rebellion. The display of nationalistic or revolutionary signs, such as the color green, was punishable by hanging by the British authorities. Anderson treats this fourth movement as a scherzo, with the melody alternating between the sections of the orchestra. The strings play pizzicato throughout the movement.
  5. The Last Rose of Summer is based on the 1805 poem by Thomas Moore and its musical setting by Sir John Stevenson. Friedrich von Flotow used the song throughout his opera Martha in the 1840s. The beauty and poignancy of the last rose of summer are depicted in Anderson's fifth movement through a beautiful violin solo, with an accompaniment of strings, horns and trombones.
  6. The Girl I Left Behind Me, the final movement of The Irish Suite, is a military march -- a fife tune -- used by British, American and Irish soldiers. It probably dates back to the mid-17th century and its origins are uncertain, but it is known to have had several different names. It was first published in Dublin in 1791. Anderson included The Girl I Left Behind Me in his Irish Suite because the song was "Irish by adoption." Leroy Anderson particularly noted the contrapuntal effects near the end of the movement, where the piccolo and the flutes (the fifes) play the first part of the melody against the second part of the melody played by the horns.

This blog post was based on program notes written by the Polley Music Librarian for a Leroy Anderson centennial concert of the Lincoln Civic Orchestra in April, 2008.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A favorite Irish rocker

When one thinks of Irish rockers, Bono or Adam Clayton of U2, and Enya are the first who come to mind. But there's another favorite Irish rocker of mine -- Gary Moore. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1952, Moore is a fabulous guitarist, a musical and technical virtuoso who can make the guitar do almost anything. While Gary Moore has played in such bands as Thin Lizzy, Skid Row, Colosseum and G-Force, he has also had a very successful solo career. His album, After the War, is strongly Celtic influenced. Still got the Blues is his best known song in the US. For a sample of his work, check out Gary Moore on MySpace Music. Or, find a CD at the library.