Songs, Hymns & Portraits



New England Conservatory


wind Ensemble


frank L. Battisti, conductor




Songs, Hymns, & Portraits




Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900 (d. 1990) in Brooklyn, New York and became one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century. This compact disc is one of the many tributes and celebrations associated with the hundredth anniversary of his birth.


In addition to being a highly regarded composer, Copland was also a conductor, lecturer, writer and advocate for contemporary American music. In venues across the globe, he organized and performed in hundreds of concerts featuring the works of his contemporaries, including Charles Ives and William Schuman.


To express in musical terms that which could be labeled distinctively “American” was a lifelong quest for Copland, resulting in the frequent appearance in his music of American folk tunes, hymns and jazz rhythms. The scope of his compositional style, however, cannot be strictly limited to attempts to create an “American” sound. He explored a wide range of styles, incorporating in his music nontraditional harmonies, tonalities and rhythms, and even some features of twelve-tone technique.


Copland composed for a wide range of musical media, including orchestra, chamber ensemble, opera, solo voice, chorus and wind/band ensemble. Of his eighteen published pieces for band, wind and brass ensembles, one is an original work and four are the composer's band arrangements that were originally written for other instruments.


In 1944, Copland arranged an orchestral suite from his Appalachian Spring, first written as a ballet for Martha Graham. The piece later won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music. Included in the suite is a set of five variations based on the well-known Shaker melody, “Simple Gifts.” Copland extracted these variations from the score and created Variations on a Shaker Melody for both orchestra and band. With its simple, direct character, these variations wonderfully exemplify the style of music on which the large part of Copland's popularity rests.


“Down a Country Lane” was composed in 1962 on a commission from Life magazine. Originally written as a piece for young pianists, it was orchestrated by Copland two years later and premiered by the London Junior Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall on November 20, 1964. It is a deliberately uncomplicated piece with a diatonic melody, simple harmonies, and a gentle, pastoral mood.


Alan Fletcher (b. 1956) studied composition at Princeton and Juilliard with Milton Babbitt, Edward Cone, and Roger Sessions. He has composed music for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles with particular emphasis on the voice. Mr. Fletcher also teaches theory and composition at New England Conservatory. He writes the following about “An American Song,”


“An American Song” is not typical of my recent music. Once, looking at a string quartet I had brought in, Roger Sessions commented that even Schoenberg had expected a return to tonality, but he had probably not expected ultra-tonality. In that vein, one might say that while collage is an expected procedure in late twentieth century composition, this piece represents a sort of ultra-collage.


The music is painted in the simple glowing colors of American singing, finding the even simpler elements that make up our songs - a falling third, a rising fourth, a returning neighbor pattern - and layering them onto the score in a series of thin translucent glazes. The rhythms and meters float subtly free, placed so that coincidence makes for happy accidents. This is an American process of free association.


“An American Song” was written for the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble and is dedicated to Frank Battisti.


Elizabeth Maconchy (b. 1907) studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London with Charles Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams and in Prague with Karel Jirák. Known primarily for her chamber music, Maconchy has also composed operas, theatre and choral works, and song cycles. She won the Edwin Evans Prize in 1948 for her Fifth Quartet and the London County Council Prize in 1953 for her overture “Proud Thames.”


Her Music for Woodwinds and Brass was first performed at the Thaxted Festival in 1966 by the Morley College Wind Ensemble. The work was written to make use of the architecture of the parish church where it was performed. The opening intonations by the trombones were to be played processing up the aisle, while the horns entered from the Lady Chapel. Thematic material is stated by the trombones and trumpets in 5/4, punctuated with trumpet fanfares and building gradually to a climax. Out of this are suspended pianissimo chords for the horns under wind and trumpet solos. Then follows a scherzando, interrupted briefly by a slower lyrical section, which leads to and provides the counter-subject for the restatement of the first theme, before the final coda.


Charles Ives (1874-1954) was one of the most original musical figures of the twentieth century. The extraordinarily innovative nature of his music, shocking in its day, continues to challenge, surprise and delight modern audiences, performers and scholars today. It has been said that in Ives's music, one finds the answer to Copland's search for a sound which is uniquely American, a sound which Ives achieved in part by quoting popular tunes and hymns from his youth in Danbury, Connecticut.


“The Alcotts” is the third of four movements of his well-known piano work, the Piano Sonata No. 2, subtitled “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860,” a set of four portraits of nineteenth century New England Transcendentalists: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcott family. Ives describes the sonata as “impressionistic pictures of Emerson and Thoreau, a sketch of the Alcotts and a Scherzo supposed to reflect … the fantastic side of Hawthorne” - pictures in sound which he elaborates in words in the Sonata's companion, Essay before a Sonata.


The Alcott movement is replete with passages from hymns and Scotch airs. The most striking quotation here is that of the opening passage of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony which is also woven through the material of the other three movements. The movement is not in any conventional meter and does not observe a traditional tonal structure. Even so, it possesses a remarkable unity and clarity of idea that underscores Ives's compositional genius.


John Elkus arranged “The Alcotts” for the United States Marine Band. He is a Lecturer in Music and Director of Bands at the University of California at Davis in addition to his activities as an editor of the Charles Ives Society's critical edition of the complete works.


The Funeral Music for Queen Mary was one of three pieces that Henry Purcell (1659-1695) offered for Her Majesty's burial in Westminster Abbey on March 5, 1695. A contemporary of Purcell, Dr. Thomas Tudway wrote this about the premiere of the piece, “I appeal to all that were present, whither they ever heard any thing so rapturously fine and solemn and so Heavenly in the Operation, which drew tears from all….” The piece served as funeral music at Purcell's own burial in November of the same year.


Steven Stucky (b. 1949) arranged the Funeral Music for Queen Mary for the Los Angeles Philharmonic while serving as composer-in-residence (succeeding John Harbison). In creating the arrangement for the wind section of the symphony orchestra plus three percussion, harp, piano and celesta, Stucky “did not try to achieve a pure, musicological reconstruction but, on the contrary, to regard Purcell's music...through the lens of three hundred intervening years. Thus, although most of this version is straightforward, modern orchestration of Purcell's originals, there are moments when Purcell drifts out of focus.” In addition to being an active composer, conductor, writer, and lecturer, Stucky is Professor of Music at Cornell University.


William Schuman (1911-1992) was not only a composer, but also president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the Juilliard School during his lifetime. He composed ten symphonies, orchestral and chamber pieces, cantatas, an opera, ballet music, piano pieces, music for film and several band works. He also won the first Pulitzer Prize awarded in music in 1943 for his Secular Cantata No. 2, A Free Song. He was a close friend of Aaron Copland and collaborated with him on many projects, including a performance of Lincoln Portrait in celebration of Copland's eightieth birthday with Copland narrating.


“American Hymn” is Schuman's last composition for band. It is a nine-minute work, commissioned by the American Bandmasters Association and the United States Air Force Band. Premiered on March 5, 1980, the work commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the American Bandmasters Association. The basis for the Hymn is a tune of Schuman's own composition known as “The Lord Has a Child,” with text by Langston Hughes. About the piece Schuman wrote,


The work opens with a few introductory bars unrelated to the melody but which serve to set the mood for the music that follows. During the extended opening section, the melody is heard at first with simple triadic harmonies and later on with the introduction of increasingly complex rhythmic, contrapuntal and harmonic treatment. A climax is reached with an accelerando leading to a fast section. The fast section consists of other rhythmic and melodic variations suggested by the melody. A waltz-like variation leads to a more straightforward evocation of the melody but always with fresh nuance. Eventually, there is a return to calm, including a restatement of the brief introduction as part of the extended quiet ending which recalls elements of the melody.


Lincoln Portrait was commissioned in 1941 by conductor André Kostelanetz for a round of “wartime program” summer orchestra concerts that he was to conduct in a number of major cities. Kostelanetz requested a patriotic work, specifically a musical portrait of a great American. The following are the composer's words about the piece,


Lincoln Portrait is a thirteen-minute work for speaker and full orchestra, divided roughly into three sections. In the opening, I hoped to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln's personality, and near the end of the first section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit…. The second section is an attempt to sketch in the background of the colorful times in which Lincoln lived…. In the conclusion, my purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame around the words of Lincoln himself - in my opinion among the best the nation has ever heard to express patriotism and humanity. The quotations from Lincoln's writings and speeches are bound together by narrative passages, simple enough to mirror the dignity of Lincoln's words.


The work was premiered in May, 1942 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, with William Adams as narrator and Kostelanetz conducting. Goddard Lieberson, covering the concert for the New York Herald Tribune, said, “I want to record that I have not seen so excited an audience for some years as was this Cincinnati one upon the completion of Copland's Lincoln….”


The National Broadcasting Company commissioned Copland in 1949 to write a work in celebration of the first anniversary of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which had been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The result was the “Preamble for a Solemn Occasion,” a six-minute work, the text of which draws upon words taken from the United Nations Charter. When asked how to describe this piece, Copland said, “singing and eloquent, and also quite mellifluous. It's rather like a hymn or chorale … short, slow, noble-sounding … [that later] rises to a climax.” Twenty-five years later, Copland revised the piece, composing versions that could be performed by either orchestra or band, alone or with narrator.


Gunther Schuller (b. 1925) has developed a musical career that ranges from composing and conducting to his extensive work as an educator, administrator, music publisher, record producer, and author. Like Aaron Copland, he has been a lifelong advocate for American composers and their music. At the age of seventeen, Mr. Schuller was principal French hornist with the Cincinnati Symphony; two years later he was appointed to a similar position with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In 1959 he gave up performing to devote himself primarily to composition. He has fulfilled commissions from major orchestras throughout the world and, since 1980, has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among other awards, he has recieved two Guggenheim fellowships, the Darius Milhaud Award, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Award, and numerous honorary degrees.


He was the 1989 recipient of Columbia University's William Schuman Award for lifetime achievement in American music composition, and in June 1991 was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation with one of the coveted MacArthur Awards. In 1993, Downbeat magazine honored Mr. Schuller with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to jazz. A composition written for the Louisville Symphony, Of Reminiscences and Reflections, won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in music.


As a conductor, Mr Schuller travels throughout the world, leading major ensembles in widely varied repertory. As an educator, he has taught at the Manhattan School of Music and at Yale University, and served as head of the composition department of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood from 1963 until 1984. During the last fourteen of those years he was the Center's Artistic Director. In 1967, Mr. Schuller was appointed President of New England Conservatory in which capacity he served until 1977. During his tenure at the Conservatory, he helped reintroduce the music of Scott Joplin to the American public, in part through his development of the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, which won a 1973 Grammy Award for its performance of Joplin's The Red Back Book. Mr. Schuller has written dozen of essays and four books, including the encyclopedic study, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz - 1930-1945. His latest book, The Compleat Conductor, was published in August 1997 by Oxford University Press.


Frank Battisti is Director Emeritus of Wind Ensembles at New England Conservatory and throughout his career has developed a reputation as one of the most respected champions of music for winds in America. He is the past President of the College Band Directors National Association, and his articles on the wind ensemble, music education, and wind literature have been published by numerous national and international journals. Battisti is author of The Twentieth Century American Wind Band/Ensemble and co-author of the book Score Study. He has conducted professional, university and school wind bands/ensembles in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia, Israel, Australia, and Asia. Founder and Conductor Emeritus of the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble, Battisti also founded the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles. He has also commissioned and conducted the première performances of numerous new works for wind ensemble, including works by Colgrass, Chávez, Persichetti, Bassett, Pinkham, Wilder, Benson, Tippett, Harbison, and Holloway.


The New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble, conducted by Frank Battisti, offers students an opportunity to study and perform the significant literature for brass, woodwind and percussion instruments composed from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. Each year a number of faculty members and outstanding students appear as soloists on Wind Ensemle concert programs. Besides playing five concerts a year in Jordan Hall, the Wind Ensemble performs concerts at the Gardner Museum and at various schools in the Boston area. The ensemble has performed at numerous national music conferences including the Music Educators National Conference convention in Anaheim, California in 1974. Many of its performances are broadcast over the National Public Radio (NPR) network. Through these performances and their recordings, the NEC Wind Ensemble has established a reputation as one of the premier wind ensembles in the United States.


Notes by Sarah Hall




New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest independent school of music in the United States. Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory, the only music school in America to be designated a National Historic Landmark, was founded in 1867. New England Conservatory presents more than 600 free concerts each year in NEC's Jordan Hall and throughout New England. The college program instructs more than 750 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world, and has a faculty of 225 artist-teachers and scholars.


Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs for pre-college students, adults, and elders, NEC offers a complete music curriculum. Educated as complete musicians, NEC alumni fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, and recording studios worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC faculty and alumni.


New England Conservatory founded and is the educational partner and broadcast home for “From the Top,” a weekly radio program that showcases outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country, now carried by more than two hundred stations throughout the United States.








New England Conservatory


Wind Ensemble


Frank L. Battisti, Conductor




Recorded in New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall




1 Elizabeth Maconchy Music for Brass and Woodwind (1966) 8:12


2 Alan Fletcher An American Song (1999) 7:33


3 William Schuman American Hymn (1980) 7:36


4 Charles Ives The Alcotts (Third Movement from Second Piano Sonata, Concord, Mass., 1840-1860) (1998) 6:06


Transcribed by Jonathan Elkus


5 Steven Stucky Funeral Music for Queen Mary, after Purcell (1992) 10:08


6 Aaron Copland Variations on a Shaker Melody (1944/1960) 3:52


7 Aaron copland Down a Country Lane (1962/1991) 3:02


Transcribed by Merlin Patterson


8 Aaron Copland Lincoln Portrait (1942/1950) 13:47


Transcribed by Walter Beeler


Gunther Schuller, Narrator


9 AAron copland Preamble for a Solemn Occasion (1949/1974) 5:04


Gunther Schuller, Narrator