Music of Hale Smith


Music of Hale Smith

1. Dialogues& Commentaries (1990-91) (12:46)

Boston Musica viva: Geoffrey Burleson, piano; Bayla Keyes, violin; Mary Ruth Ray, viola; Jan Muller-Szeraws, cello; William Wrzesien, clarinet, Ren�e Krimsier, flute; Dean Anderson, percussion; Richard Pittman, conductor

Recorded at The Studio, Jamaica Plain, MA. Engineered by Patrick Keating.

Published by Theodore Presser

Variations � due (1984) (11:23)

2. I - (6:09)

3. II - (3:27)

4. III - (1:57)

Timothy W. Holley, cello; Dr. Ira Wiggins, saxophone

Engineered by Dwight Robinett at Robinett Recordings. Recorded in June, 1999 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Durham, NC.

Published by Theodore Presser

5. Innerflexions (1977) (13:54)

Slovenic Symphony Orchestra; Anton Nanut, conductor

Recorded at Cankarjiz Hall in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia on September 3, 1990. Engineers: A. Dezman and R. Cedilnik.

Published by Merion Music

The Valley Wind (1955) (14:55)

6. I - The Valley Wind (4:08)

7. II - Spring (1:57)

8. III - Envoy In Autumn (5:39)

9. IV - Velvet Shoes (3:12)

Hilda Harris, soprano; Zita Carno, piano

Produced by Carter Harman. Recorded by David Hancock. This original recording was made possible by a grant from the American Composers Alliance and a Ford Foundation-Antioch College joint grant.

Published by E. B. Marks

10. Toussaint L'Ouverture, 1803 (1979) (5:58)

Mark Husey, piano; Alexandra Choral Society; Kerry Krebill, conductor

Recorded June 26, 27, 28, and July 1, 1995 at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD. Recording Engineer: Mark Huffman. Digital Editing and Mastering Curt Wittig. Producer: John Stephens. Produced by AmCam Recordings.

Published by Merion (BMI)

11. Evocation (1966) (3:18)

Natalie Hinderas, piano

Produced by Horace Grenell. Engineered by David Jones. Recorded at Rutgers Church, NYC from September-October, 1970.

Published by C. F. Peters

In Memoriam—Beryl Rubinstein (1953) (6:29)

12. - Moderato (2:15)

13. II - Po�me D'Automne (2:56)

14 III - Elegy (1:18)

Kulas Choir and Chamber Orchestra; Robert Shaw, conductor

Published by ACA

Total playing time 69:19

Hale Smith, composer

Until recently American concert life has permitted few inroads for African American composers. Performers have fared better, especially in opera, where singers like Leontyne Price, Simon Estres and Jessye Norman have altered our whole view of vocal style. But while orchestras, opera companies and arts presenters eager to diversify have encouraged a rich array of performers and conductors, the repertoires have remained largely European.

At the dawn of the 21st century signs point toward new approaches. The sheer globalization of American culture has sparked new interest in Asia, Latin America and Africa, as artists, institutions and music lovers recognize the wholeness of the arts rather than easy divisions into categories and sub-categories. The very notion of the “black composer” has begun to fall, as persons of all colors write music of all kinds. Likewise the old “all-black” concert is being replaced, gradually, by music in which racial background is just on e of many enriching elements.

performances of works by African American composers of broad stripe have arisen, as the music of Scott Joplin, William Grant Still and Ulysses Kay is now supplemented by explorations of works by Nathaniel Dett, William Dawson, Undine Smith Moore, Howard Swanson, Julia Perry, Olly Wilson, Adolphus Hailstork, Anthony Davis, Hannibal and others. With styles as diverse as American life itself, these composers (as well as others such as Roberto Sierra, Tania Le�n and Bright Sheng) have cast new light on notions of serious music, and threaten to alter, if not supplant, the European basis of traditional symphonic music. Though some of these artists have used elements of African American culture freely and subtly, often weaving it into traditional forms, many also draw upon European traditions of modernism, expressionism or dodecaphony.

One of the more rigorous members of the generation that includes George Walker and Julia Perry is HALE SMITH, who was born in Cleveland in 1925 and resided there until 1959. His early training on the piano began at age seven, and his initial performance experience included both classical and jazz music. After military service during World War II (1943-45), he attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, where his primary teacher in composition was Marcel Dick. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1950 and a master's in 1952. Also, in 1952 his Five Songs won the student Composer Award from BMI. A decade later, BMI (a driving force in the fostering of black composers) would commission Smith's Contours for orchestra (1961), which was recorded on the celebrated Louisville Orchestra series.

In 1948 Smith married Juanita Hancock, and over the years the couple had four children. In Cleveland Smith became involved in Karamu House, a group of artists that had encouraged black painters, musicians and poets, including Langston Hughes. The experience would leave a deep mark: for one thing, it helped foster an interest in poetry of African Americans, some of which Smith would later use for his vocal music.

In 1959 he moved to New York, where like many young composers he began as an editor for music publishers (C.F. Peters, E.B. Marks and others). His father, Hale Smith Sr., owned a printing shop, and Smith credits his own early experience in printing for his later interest in the publishing business. He also cites his early dual experience with both classical and jazz idioms for engendering a later ease of coexistence. “The two musics have lived comfortably side by side,” he wrote in 1963. “All the world's culture is there for me to dip into, “ he remarked on another occasion.

Hale was always involved with jazz and did collaborate with a number of jazz musicians—Chico Hamilton, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal—and in addition he arranged spirituals for Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. He also was music advisor and arranger for the Black Music Repertory Ensemble of Chicago's Columbia Center for Black Music Research. He cites as his major influences in jazz as Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Jimmy Jones.

In 1973 Smith was the first African American to receive Cleveland's arts Prize in Music. More recent awards have included the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Black Music Caucus of the Music Educators National Conference (1982) and appointment to the New York State Arts Council. He has also served on the boards of the American Composers alliance and of Composers Recording, Inc. New-music proponent and composer Francis Thorne called Smith “a valuable composing colleague—the real thing.”

The complexity of academic life was never important in nurturing Smith's music, but working as a practitioner in music was. However, working with publishing houses, such as, E. B. Marks, Frank Music, Fox and C. F. Peters enabled him to function in academia. After a stint on the faculty of C. W. Post College of Long Island University he accepted a position at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he taught from 1970 until his retirement in 1984. He was on of the directors of the American Music Center from 1981 to 1983. During the 1970s and 80s he also became an important spokesman for composers in America. As a frequent lecturer he has urged young musicians/composers to resist pigeonholing. “Unless the work of Afro-American artists (musical or otherwise) is allowed to succeed or fail by comparison—or in competition—with the works of the entire national and world cultures, “ he wrote in 1971, “we will have no valid standards of measurement by which they can be measured and judged on their own merits.”

“We must be a part of the mainstream in this country or all of the black programs are a sham, “ he continues. “Place our music not on all-black programs. We can do that ourselves, for the benefit of our own people. Place our work on programs with Beethoven, Mozart, Schoenberg, Copland, and—if they can stand the heat—the current avant-gardists. We don't even have to be called black. When we stand for our bows, that fact will become clear when it should—after the work has made its own impact.”

Smith's music has borne out this principle. While influences from jazz are not foreign to its fabric, devotion to more cerebral styles such as twelve-tone composition is just as palpable. The thought processes contained are challenging, at times brainy, though a sense of playfulness is often present as well. He has written for films, radio and television, yet at the same time he has never shied from big, complex symphonic forms.

The works on the present disc, spanning nearly 40 years, give a glimpse of the breadth and subtlety of his art. Dialogues and Commentaries from 1990-91 demonstrates how a whole piece is generated from the tiny motivic cell heard in the first bar, essentially an ascending grace-not followed by a descent. The work is a complex exploration of various ramifications of this simple fragment, which returns intermittently to lend coherence. These are techniques found throughout the body of Smith's work.

Composed in 1984, the Variations � due, for cello & wind performer (playing flute, soprano and alto sax and clarinet) reveals something of Smith's jazz roots, with a stride bass line that is subtly infused with jazz harmonies alluded to, toyed with, and often averted. After this opening, the cello takes up melodic material, then assumes a pizzicato guitar-effect. A brief final section ends the work on a quizzical note.

Innerflexions for orchestra from 1977 is one of Smith's most emphatic orchestral statements. Rich in dissonance and conflict, it was written for a series of New York Philharmonic concerts celebrating music by African Americans, under the auspices of the orchestra's education director at the time, Dr. Leon Thompson. Composed from June to early August of 1977, Innerflexions received its premiere by the Philharmonic that fall and has been taken up by a number of orchestras worldwide. “I frequently chose titles that reflect the inner structure of focus of my music, and Innerflexions is no exception,” Smith has written. “The reshaping (bending, or flexion) of motives at every level (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and orchestral) contributes to the impressions of unity, flexibility and expansiveness remarked upon by many listeners. Innerflexions has also been perceived as having both philosophical and emotional meanings by various listeners. I consider such responses interesting, legitimate and welcome—though not required for an appreciation of the music.”

Representing an earlier phase in Smith's output is the song cycle The Valley Wind (initially titled Four Songs), composed from 1952 to 1955 and published in 1974. Through settings of wide-ranging texts dealing with changing seasons, each by a different author, the songs explore the full range of the voice and its expressive qualities. The American composer Wallingfor Riegger called the set “an important contribution to our quite limited good song literature.” The same motivic elements are found throughout the four, “in various transformations and combinations, “ as Smith has written. “Hardly a single measure can be shown to be free of the influence of these musical ideas—which I believe to be part of my basic signature pattern—meaning these characteristics by which I can be identified as a composer. They are to be considered not as four separate songs, but as a single compositional unit—and should be performed as such.”

Toussaint L'Ouverture, 1803, composed in 1979, is a choral paean to the great black hero of Haiti, with a tragedy-tinged text by Adelaide Simon (1921-1967). Its dense harmonies are imbued with sensitive text-painting and a glowing conclusion depicting the death of the imprisoned Toussaint.

The Amaryllis lilies

Josephine brought up from Martinique

spike through this winters gloom.

Napoleon and his ministers

range down Malmaisons halls,

not stopping at the bloom.

The scarlet, roaring flames of flowerheads

that shatter the pink damask

and the white sheer muslin.

In a prison while the tyrant strides

prating of empire,

Toussant in ankled mire longs for the sun

and torched flamboyant trees.

All winter the Black Liberator lingers,

heartsick and cold

remembering flowers of fire and freedom

rocketing in Western skies,

and this White Prince who lies.

So when the spring sends out her first thing fingers

He turns upon his cot, and coughs, and dies.

—Adelaide Simon

Evocation (1966) is a short, dense contemplation for solo piano, a concentrated illustration of Smith's dodecaphonic technique at its best. Originally titled Aphorism, the piece was written on commission from the International Library of Piano Music and dedicated to the composer's Cleveland friends Bascom and Sue Little. Pianist Nancy Voigt played the premiere at a 1966 concert of the Cleveland Composers Guild. “The entire piece derives from the row exposed in the first stave,” the composer writes, “and in several places has faint but definite rhythmic affinities to jazz phrasing. This doesn't mean that it's supposed to swing—it isn't, but the affinities are there.”

The earliest work on this disc dates from 1953, when Smith was still in Cleveland and exploring the poetry of black Americans. In Memoriam—Beryl Rubinstein, for chorus & chamber orchestra, is the earliest of a series of works dedicated to the memory of friends, in this case the former director of the Cleveland Institute. It is a dark, moody work in three movement. The first (Moderato) is a wordless lament suggesting the sadness of autumn, the second a setting of a Langston Hughes poem published in 1926, and the third a brief, simple casting of a poem by Russell Atkins.

In an unpublished interview Smith spoke to the issue of the composers role: “One of the biggest mistakes that's being made now in our society and has been made in American culture from the very beginning, is the failure to recognize that art is as indispensable to life as a job. I happen to believe it is. To me, it is not a luxury. Art, in its finest manifestations. is a necessary part of our life quality. The artist is one of the more fundamental cogs in any civilization.”

—Paul Horsley, 2000

Founded in 1969 by Music Director Richard Pittman as the first professional ensemble devoted to contemporary music in Boston. Boston Musica Viva has become one of the most highly respected ensembles of its kind, with an international reputation for innovation and excellence. In its 31-year-history BMV has performed over 517 works by 221 composers, including 118 works written specifically for BMV, 130 world premiers, and 61 Boston Premieres.

BMV is particularly proud to have been early champions of composers such as Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, John Harbison, and Joseph Schwantner who later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. BMV is unique in its consistent support of composer to produce challenging music and assuring them of a top level premiere. BMV has also served as a model for other new music ensembles both in Boston and in other parts of the country as interest in new music has grown.

BMV is also unique in the scope of its programming, presenting many music-theater and multi-media productions that often involve collaboration with other organizations, such as theater and dance groups. In recent years, BMV has collaborated with the Beth Soll Dance Company and presented the fully staged world premiere of Marin Brody's opera, the Heart of a Dog.

I addition to its five concert season, BMV regularly offers programs throughout the United States and Europe. Domestic tours have brought the ensemble to Lincoln Center; the Library of Congress, Carnegie Recital Hall, the 92nd Street Y, Tanglewood, University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan and numerous other colleges and concert series. BMV has toured Europe seven times, most recently by invitation to the Settembre Musica Festival in Turin, Italy.

The Valley Wind (1995)

6. The Valley Wind

Living in retirement beyond the World,

Silently enjoying isolation,

I pull the rope of my door tighter

And stuff my window with roots and ferns.

My spirit is tuned to the Spring-season:

At the fall of the year there is autumn in my heart.

thus imitating cosmic changes

My cottage becomes a Universe.

by lu Y�n. Copyright 1919, 1941 and renewed 1947 by Arthur Waley. Reprinted from Translations from the Chinese, trans. by Arthur Waley, by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

7. Spring

When daises pied and violets blue

and lady-smocks all silver-white

And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;

cuckoo, cuckoo: O words of fear,

Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oated straws,

And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,

When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,

And maidens bleach their summer smocks,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men; for thus sings he, cuckoo;

Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,

Unpleasing to a married ear!

From Act V, Scene II Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare.

8. Envoy In Autumn

hear the doleful rains,

And one would say the sky is weeping

the death of the tolerable weather.

Tedium cloaks the wit like a veil of clouds

And we sit down indoors.

Now is the time for poetry coloured with summer.

Let it fall on the white paper

As ripe flowers fall from a perfect tree.

I will dip down my lips into my cup

Each time I wet my brush.

And keep my thoughts from wandering as smoke wanders,

For time escapes away from you and me

Quicker than birds.

By Tu Fu. Printed by permission by Imago Publishing Co.

9. Velvet Shoes

Let us walk in the white snow

In a soundless space;

With footsteps quiet and slow,

At a tranquil pace,

Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,

And you in wool,

White as a white cow's milk,

More beautiful

Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk though the still town

In a windless peace;

We shall step upon white down,

Upon silver fleece,

Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:

Wherever we go

Silence will fall like dew

On white silence below

We shall walk in the snow.

Copyright 1921 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and renewed 1949 by William Rose Benet. Reprinted from Collected Poems of Elinor Wylie, by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

In Memoriam—Beryl Rubinstein (1953)

13. Po�me D'Automne

The autumn leaves

Are too heavy with color.

The slender trees

On the Vulcan Road

Are dressed in scarlet and gold

Like young courtesans

Waiting for their lovers.

But soon

The winter winds

Will strip their bodies bare

And then

The sharp, sleet-stung

Caresses on the cold

Will be their only


Langston Hughes from The Weary Blues, p. 45, Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.

14. Elegy

I stand far to the East


the light—


come and faintly

His narrow keen

barely and soon fully

over the crucial earth

is up

and dying over.

Russell Atkins from Experiment, A quarterly of New Poetry 1947, Alan Swallow, Ed.

CD mastered by Robert Wolff, engineer, at Sony Music Studios, NYC.

Made possible through the generous support of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University.