Gould & Harris: Symphonies

With this release, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, led by Music Director/Conductor David Alan Miller, brings to light two major American symphonies that have been unjustly neglected for more than half a century.

These works were conceived with great optimism and enthusiasm by their creators, young men then ascending the crest of celebrity and now ranked among America's most important 20th Century composers. But both symphonies had difficult entrances into the world, their original spark dimmed by patchings and pasteups imposed to correct supposed musical shortcomings. In spite of the revisions both men acquiesced to, however, critical reaction to the symphonies was disappointingly mixed. Harris withdrew his piece. Gould's soon faded from the repertoire.

This was the situation when David Alan Miller pursued programming both these works. Having already conducted the Albany Symphony in recordings of music by Gould and Harris, Miller had faith in the validity of the composers' initial creative impulses. He tracked down a score and set of instrumental parts to the unknown original version of Gould's Third. Then, working with Ray Bono, the Albany Symphony's copyist and program note annotator, he supervised the task of restoring the bulk of material expunged from Harris' Second and correcting innumerable errors in its hastily copied seventy-some-year-old parts.

The result? A pair of performances that masterfully recapture the original intent of two gifted artists approaching the top of their form. The music they offer us is powerful, confident and dramatic. Sometimes quirky, always compelling, it is also unmistakably American. As such, it stands in openhearted contrast to the icily cerebral complexities resonating in Europe just before and after the devastation of World War II.

Roy Harris

Unlike Morton Gould, Roy Harris—born in Oklahoma in 1898—made a fairly graceful ascent into the upper echelons of America's “serious music” world. He, too, had humble beginnings (but in a prairie cabin rather than a Queens walk-up) and had to work a farm and serve during World War I before he could devote himself fully to music. Yet ultimately, he found mentors and forged alliances that moved him smoothly along his path. Not least among these musical allies were the composers Howard Hanson, who premiered Harris' Andante with Variations in Rochester in 1926, and Aaron Copland, who persuaded him to study in Paris with his own former master, Nadia Boulanger. Subsequent chamber performances in France as well as in this country helped generate interest in his work, and by the time he returned to the States in 1929, he was already building a reputation as one of America's most promising young composers.

For the rest of his career, he fulfilled that promise with a copious outpouring of finely wrought compositions in virtually every major form except opera and musical comedy. Beyond this, from the age of 40 until a few years before his death in 1979, Harris served on the faculties of numerous schools across the nation, chaired the music department for the Office of War Information in 1945, spearheaded the creation of various music festivals and energetically promoted the work of young composers.

The spacious sound he favored in much of his own work—a kind of uncluttered roundness growing out of or grounded on open intervals—is routinely likened to the passionate stretches of the Golden West, to the freedom of the human spirit. Naturally, this is an oversimplification. But for someone whose heroes were Lincoln and Whitman, such a reduction would probably not have been unwelcome.

Symphony No. 2

Harris ceaselessly explored symphonic innovations. He pioneered the one-movement symphony, the form taken by his best-known work, his Third Symphony. And he wrote several choral symphonies, including his Fourth or Folksong Symphony and his last, the Thirteenth or Bicentennial Symphony.

But Symphony No. 2 adopts a three-movement, fast-slow-fast formula nearly Classical in spirit, although definitely not in sound or style. He wrote it in 1934 for one of his most influential champions, Boston Symphony Music Director Sergei Koussevitzky, who had triumphantly premiered Harris' First Symphony in January of that year.

For unclear reasons, however, Koussevitzky decided against conducting the new piece himself, assigning the performance to Boston's Concertmaster and Assistant Conductor, Richard Burgin. By that time, Harris—who seems to have made some earlier minor revisions to the piece on his own—was excising whole chunks of material from the already terse score. How willingly he did this, or why, is also unclear; but, judging from dates in some of the instrumental parts, changes were being made up to the final rehearsal.

Perhaps miffed, perhaps fearing the possible outcome, the composer did not even attend the premiere, which took place at Boston's Music Hall on 28 February 1936—he chose instead to be at the premiere of his string piece, Prelude and Fugue, given by the Philadelphia Orchestra on the same day. The critics, as with Gould's Third, were respectfully unimpressed. Harris, claiming that only the second movement had any merit, virtually disowned the piece. Thus, it languished in neglect -until its current restoration and


According to the composer's original program notes, the whole of the first movement—obviously inspired by Beethoven's Fifth—“is made out of the first four notes” and, apart from a pensive English Horn interlude, “is of an exuberant nature.” The middle movement, “written to portray a contemplative mood,” functions as “a study in canons,” while the finale, meant to convey “a feeling of power,” is “a study in rhythmic developments.”

But this is an unnecessarily scholarly analysis—possibly the 36-year-old Harris felt he had to justify his earlier accolades by demonstrating academic worthiness. It better befits the uncomplicated emotional thrust of the symphony just to say that it starts with vigor, progresses through yearning and aspiration into somber acceptance, and then ends grandly.

Morton Gould

Morton Gould is the only composer from whom I would accept a brand new piece without even looking at the score. I know it will be good before I see the first bar. - Dimitri Mitropoulos

Morton Gould was born in Queens, New York, in 1913. He was a piano prodigy who began composing early and by the age of 16 proclaimed the “ultra modern” as his idiom. Starting as a pit musician at Radio City Music Hall during the Depression, this sad-eyed lone wolf worked his way up through radio—conducting, composing and arranging in a vast array of styles for NBC, WOR and CBS, with occasional excursions into ballet, Broadway, the concert hall, film and eventually television.

He was tireless. He was ubiquitous. And, like George Gershwin (which may explain his having been snubbed by highbrow colleagues and critics, whose acceptance he craved but never quite received), he could write accessible music the man in the street could actually whistle.

A versatile interpreter of his own and others' compositions, he led major international orchestras in countless live concerts and recording sessions, receiving a dozen Grammy nominations and, in 1966, a Grammy Award for his RCA album of Charles Ives' Symphony No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony.

By the time he became president of the performing-rights organization, ASCAP, in 1986, he had produced an impressive battery of original pieces. They ranged from uniquely named orchestral works like American Concertette, American Symphonette, Latin American Symphonette and Showpiece to symphonies, concertos and choral works, from the Broadway musical Billion Dollar Baby to the sumptuous Stringmusic. This last piece—to Gould's great surprise—earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. He died of a heart attack the following year.

Symphony No. 3

Morton Gould's output includes four symphonies. No. 1 (originally called Victory Ode) appeared in 1943 and No. 2 (Symphony on Marching Tune) in 1944. Both were direct responses to the Second World War. His fourth and final symphony, from 1952, also dealt with martial subject matter. West Point Symphony for concert band was commissioned by the famous military academy.

The Third is different. Written for the Dallas Symphony, it occupied him from the latter part of 1946 into January 1947, at a time when he was anticipating the birth of his first child. The Third Symphony is his most personal symphonic utterance. It is also his longest, most ambitious and deeply serious symphonic work. With the Third, Gould was reaching for the mantle that all American symphonists aspire to: he was writing the “Great American Symphony.”

Gould dedicated the work to his parents, and wrote to his mother and father, “I have never dedicated anything to you, tho' you are two of the most important people in my life. Therefore, I think it fitting to dedicate [to you] my new Third Symphony—which I think and hope is my best work so far.”

The first movement opens with a stabbing quintuplet motif that builds quickly to the trumpets' anguished triplets, rhythmic figurations that penetrate the movement. The vehemence relents twice, briefly, before concluding with a grim, off-kilter march (relishing mixed meters, Gould here alternates 2/4 with 3/8).

In contrast to the unrelenting intensity of the first movement, the second is far more introspective, a lazy, hazy, jazzy daydream. Yet the sense of tension is never far removed,

suggested now by pulsating eighth notes over a pizzicato bass line, now by an aggressive cadenza-like passage for all violins, now by fragile first-violin harmonics.

Then the storm breaks, a bravura jazz scherzo meant to be played “with sardonic humor.”

Even the critics at the first New York performance sensed that this movement was something special. Howard Taubman, writing in the New York Times, commented on the

movement's “irresistible momentum: It is as if Mr. Gould made the jazz medium, through the skill of his writing, accessible to the virtuosity of 100 highly trained symphonic players…Anyone who thinks that the conductor—and his men—have not heard and learned from the lads who play hot should have been around last night to listen to the third movement of Mr. Gould's symphony.” Gould juxtaposes and entwines two biting phrases, one going up, the other down, and keeps whirling material around, adding more and more to it, like a tornado sucking up into its funnel everything it touches. The tempest dwindles into a soft whirring of winds and strings, punctuated by brushes on the snare drum and plucks and slaps from the basses—a brilliant effect one doubts any European could ever have approximated. After a weird marchlike trio section, a brief restatement of the opening material is climaxed by a fortissimo eruption of the kettledrum. A frenzied coda slams shut the door on a movement that is a terrifically tough act to follow.

Perhaps it was because of the sheer brilliance of this movement that Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the New York Philharmonic and Gould's most ardent advocate, urged Gould to replace the lively finale with something slow and somber. Enticed by the prospect of a Philharmonic engagement, Gould scrapped the fourth movement entirely and substituted a freshly written “passacaglia and fugue.” Mitropoulos duly unveiled the revised Third on 28 October 1948. The critics were generally respectful but little impressed with the work as a whole. Even Gould, although proud of the new ending, admitted, “This movement received the least positive reaction on the part of the listeners.”

When David Alan Miller began preparing for this recording, he knew nothing about the earlier version of the work. He was intrigued to find that the finale was dated much later than the first three movements in the score and was written on different paper. The music of the finale also seemed strangely out of sync with the character and idiom of the first three movements. He consulted Gould's biographer, Peter Goodman, who mentioned the earlier version of the finale, then contacted the librarian at Gould's publishing house, G. Schirmer, who discovered the original material high up on a shelf, undisturbed for fifty-some years. Upon comparing the two finales, Miller felt the first version was much truer to the nature of the work and, ultimately, far more successful than its replacement. It is this “original” finale, which is featured on this recording, thus restoring the work to its original form.

—Roy Bono

David Alan Miller, Conductor

David Alan Miller has established a reputation as one of the leading American conductors of his generation. Frequently in demand as a guest conductor, he has worked with most of America's major orchestras, developing especially close relationships with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Chicago and Detroit symphonies. He has also conducted the orchestras of Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Indianapolis, as well as the New World Symphony and the New York City Ballet.

Produced and engineered by Gregory K. Squires, Squires Productions, Inc.

Digital Editing and mastering by Wayne Hileman, Squires Productions, Inc.

Cover Design: Bates Miyamoto Design

This recording is made possible in part by the generous support of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, NYSCA Music Program Technical Assistance Fund, ASCAP, BMI Foundation: Carlos Surinach Fund, The Family of Morton Gould, Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Paul Underwood, and Vanguard, the volunteer organization of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.

The assistance of the following individuals is gratefully acknowledged: Patricia Harris Connelly; Dan Stehman; Ray Bono, Musical Research and Reconstruction; Kevin LaVine, Music Division, Library of Congress; Gregory Legaz, Head Librarian, G. Schirmer, Inc.; The Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, Free Library of Philadelphia; and the Music Archives, Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Roy Harris' Symhony No. 2 was recorded March 21, 2000. Morton Gould's Symphony No. 3 was recorded April 15, 2000. Both recordings were made at the Troy Savings Bank Music