Douglas Moore & Marion Bauer: Orchestral Works

Douglas Moore and Marion Bauer had very different backgrounds and though their music is not, on the surface, very much alike, in fact, they had a lot in common. Born in the last decades of the century of romantic music, they both had distinguished careers as composers, writers and educators. They were trained in France and helped to shift the focus of American musical culture away from the heavy German influence that had been dominant for so long. And both represented moderate, eclectic views about music and musical expression in a scene often dominated by the sometimes shrill, opposing voices of experimentalism, neo-classicism, and expressionism.

Douglas Stuart Moore, the more popular and the more populist of the two, came by his penchant for Americana very naturally. He was born, on August 10, 1893, in the colonial hamlet of Cutchogue in Southold Town, on the North Fork of Long Island, New York. Cutchogue's seventeenth-century heritage can still be seen in some of the oldest remaining domestic architecture in the United States and the settlement is still surrounded, as it was in 1893, by farms (the major difference is that wine grapes have replaced potatoes as the major crop). On his father's side, the composer was in the direct line of Thomas Moore who sailed from Connecticut in 1640 to found Southold Township; on his mother's side, he was descended from both Miles Standish and John Alden. All his life, he maintained, as his permanent residence, the house in which he was born. He died in neighboring Greenport on July 25, 1969.

Although it was not unusual for a well-brought up young man in 19th century New England and New York to play the piano and dabble in music, a full-fledged musical career was usually considered out of the question. But Moore was consistently encouraged by his teachers and, after long hesitation, took the plunge. He studied at the Hotchkiss School, Yale (with Horatio Parker, who was also Charles Ives' teacher) and, after a World War I stint in the navy, with Vincent d'Indy and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. In 1921, he was appointed director of musical activities at the Art Museum in Cleveland where he continued his composition studies with Ernst Bloch. Four years later he returned to New York, started writing music for the American Laboratory Theater, and began his long association with Columbia University where he headed the music department for many years before his retirement in 1962. He was the author of two widely known music appreciation books and served as president of both the National Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

It was in the autumn of 1954 that he co-founded Composers Recordings, with the composer Otto Luening also of Columbia University and the arts administrator Oliver Daniel.

Moore's musical style - simple and direct, often to the point of homespun - is almost entirely organized around his gift for melody. Not surprisingly, he is best known for his twelve operas, notably The Devil and Daniel Webster (1938) which he wrote with Steven Vincent Benet, Giants in the Earth (1949) with E. R. lvag and which earned the 1951 Pulitzer Prize, and The Ballad of Baby Doe (1956) with John Latouche, perhaps the most performed American opera after Porgy and Bess and the work which launched Beverly Sills' career, and his final opera Carry Nation (1966). But the orchestra - chamber and symphonic - was also an important medium for him and his catalogue includes two symphonies and a number of suites and tone poems, many of them evoking American themes: P. T. Barnum, Moby Dick, Babbitt (later retitled Overture on an American Tune), Village Music, Down East.

FARM JOURNAL, for chamber orchestra, was the result of a 1947 commission from the Little Orchestra Society, which performed it on January 19, 1948, with its music director, Thomas Scherman, on the podium. The work contains the oldest music on this disc as it derives from a score for a 1940 documentary film, Power and Land. This suggests that Moore's interest in folk music and Americana, like Copland's, was connected with the political and ideological movements of the time. It also suggests many parallels with Virgil Thomson's Plow That Broke the Plains, another Americana score for a film dealing with the impact of the depression on farm life. The contrast between these two is notable. Thomson's music always has an undertone, a subtext that suggests we are on the outside looking in. Moore's music is more clearly the thing itself: hearty, straight-forward, sincerely felt. The four movements are entitled "Up Early," "Sunday Clothes," "Lamplight," and "Harvest Song." Peggy Glanville-Hicks, the composer/critic who wrote the liner notes to the LP release of this work on CRI, described it as "in a sense nature music, but a peopled landscape, landscape with human figures. It is perhaps this capacity to create vivid moods that is the composer's most outstanding asset..."

In the golden age of radio, the networks had full orchestras on staff; new music - usually of the more popular varieties - was often performed and regularly commissioned.

COTILLION SUITE, a collection of dances for string orchestra, was written in 1952 for the orchestra of the Columbia Broadcasting System which performed it in the spring of 1953 under the direction of Alfredo Antonini. Antonini, who also directed this recording, was one of the orchestra1s regular conductors and the symphony is dedicated to him. There are six movements: Grand March for the opening parade of the dancers, a stylized Polka, a slow Waltz, a quirky Galop, a classic Cake Walk in the style of Scott Joplin, and, finally, the Quickstep- almost an Irish jig in this interpretation - after which, presumably, everyone is too exhausted to continue.

The SYMPHONY IN A MAJOR Moore's most ambitious symphonic work, was the second and last of his essays in that venerable form. It was written in 1945, and makes a striking contrast to the dark-hued In Memoriam of the preceding year. This is a remarkable outburst of positive energy, the very apotheosis of post-war American optimism. The composer described it, somewhat cautiously, as a "an attempt to write in clear, objective, modified classical style, with emphasis upon rhythmic and melodic momentum rather than upon sharply contrasted themes or dramatic climaxes. There is no underlying program, although the mood of the second movement was suggested by a short poem by James Joyce which deals with music heard at the coming of twilight." This barely hints at the expansive mood, that vast sense of release and high spirits that is the composer's most endearing (and, perhaps, enduring) quality. The work follows the classical canons with a rather wistful slow introduction followed by a smiling Allegro giusto, the aforementioned slow movement (Andante quieto simplice), a short, bubbly scherzo marked Allegretto, and a vigorous, kinet ic finale, Allegro con spirito.

The Symphony is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Vincent Benet, Moore's collaborator on The Devil and Daniel Webster, who had recently died. The work had a great deal of success in performance. It was first heard in Paris on May 5, 1946, directed by Robert Lawrence. Alfred Wallenstein conducted the American premiere in Los Angeles on January 16, 1947, as well as the New York and broadcast premiere with the NBC Symphony on May 17, 1947. Less than a year later, February 19, 1948, it reached the New York Philharmonic with Bruno Walter conducting.

It is certainly fitting that CRI's first release included music by one of the most important American women composers. Marion Eugenie Bauer was born in Walla Walla, Washington, on August 15, 1887. She studied in Portland, Oregon, in New York and in France where she is thought to have been Nadia Boulanger1s first American pupil. Beginning in 1919, she became part of a group of composers who regularly summered at the MacDowell Colony and which included a number of notable women, among them being Amy Beach, Mabel Daniels, Miriam Gideon and Ruth Crawford. Bauer began her long and distinguished teaching career in 1926 at New York University where she remained until her retirement in 1951; she also taught at Juilliard and lectured at the Chatauqua Institute in western New York and elsewhere. She helped to organize the American Music Guild and the League of Composers, served as music critic for the Evening Mail and Musical Leader, and was the author or co-author of a number of important articles and books, most notably, her Twentieth-Century Music, long a standard reference. In the 1920s, she was described as "a radical member of the musical left wing," but by the 1940s her music was being described as a "middle-of-the-road impressionist." Neither view does justice to the range and accessibility of her works. She died in South Hadley, Massachusetts, on August 9, 1955.

Marion Bauer's catalogue is dominated by vocal works, and by solo and chamber music; the SYMPHONIC SUITE for strings, Op. 43, is one of her few large compositions. It was written in 1940 and premiered at Chautauqua, New York, on August 21, 1940. There are three movements: a serious, contrapuntal Prelude, a lamenting Interlude of easy rocking motion and dramatic turns of events, and a fugue finale which, in spite of the chromatic subject, remains quite tonal, following the traditional rules.

PRELUDE AND FUGUE for Flute and Strings, written in 1951, is one of her last works. What we hear is mostly prelude: a pleasant and pastorale-like movement very much dominated by the flute which leads the meditations and ruminations and then also introduces the bouncy theme that is the subject of the short fugue that follows.

- Eric Salzman