Looking to the East

A TRIBUTE TO Oliver Daniel (1911-1990)
All of the compositions on this disc have two things in common. One:
they are all some of the first products of the yeasty infatuation that
many American composers have felt for Eastern culture, and, two: they
all exist, to some extent, because of the passionate advocacy of
Oliver Daniel. An administrator, radio programmer, author and
all-around advocate, he is one of the true unsung heroes of 20th
Century American music. It is fitting that his memory be honored by a
disc from CRI — a record label he helped to create.
Born in Wisconsin, in 1911, Oliver Daniel trained for a career as a
concert pianist. He debuted in 1935 in Boston, to very encou
raging reviews. After seven years of performing and teaching, how
ever, Oliver gravitated towards his real calling when he joined CBS
Radio as music director of that network’s Educational Division. For
CBS, he produced and directed the weekly New York Philharmonic
broadcasts, the concerts given by the CBS Symphony (amazing to recall,
from today’s perspective, an era when commercial networks sponsored
their own orchestras!), and a pair of innovative programs (Invitation
to Music and New Voices in Song) that showcased off-beat repertoire
and promising young artists.
In 1944, Oliver was lured to the ABC Network, where he produced the
broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He returned to CBS in
1947, and for the next eight years he labored prodigiously, becoming
for that network’s cultural programming what Edward R. Murrow was to
the news division. Oliver produced not only symphonic concerts, but
also documentaries, interview programs, and public service broadcasts
of all types.

It was during this enormously productive period that Oliver joined
forces with another musical visionary, Leopold Stokowski, to
inaugurate The Twentieth-Century Concert Hall, a program that gave
valuable exposure to living composers of every stripe. Oliver’s fierce
dedication to contemporary music led him to become the coordinating
manager of the American Composers Alliance (ACA),a co-founder (again
with Stokowski) of the Contemporary Music Society, in 1954, a
co-founder (with the composers Otto Luening and Douglas Moore) of
Composers Recordings, Inc. (CRI). Somehow, he also found time to write
eloquently about music for such leading magazines as The Saturday
Review, Stereo Review, and Musical America.
The same year that CRI was launched, Oliver joined Broadcast Music,
Incorporated (BMI) as the first director of its new Concert Music
Department. Thanks to him, composers as diverse as Wallingford Riegger
and William Schuman enjoyed an unprecedented level of support,
promotion, and financial compensation. He was one of the founders of
the American Symphony Orchestra (1962), and he served on the boards of
the National Music Council, the American Symphony Orchestra League,
and, beginning in 1959, was active in the affairs of UNESCO’s
International Music Council.
Perhaps Oliver’s greatest single accomplishment was the world
premiere, in 1965, of Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony, conducted by
Stokowski. It was Oliver who first brought this masterpiece to the
conductor’s attention and who underwrote much of the expense required
to bring it into the concert hall.His final venture, before retirement, was to help
organize the American Composers Orchestra — an enterprise still going
strong at the dawn of the new millennium. Even in retirement, he made a great
contribution. This was the first time the BSO had played any Hovhaness,
despite the fact that the composer was devoting seven years to writing a
monumental and definitive biography of Stokowski (Stokowski: A
Counterpoint of View, Dodd Mead, 1982). At the time of his death, he
was working on a similarly ambitious biography of Dimitri Mitropoulos.
Music is the poorer for his passing. The citation of his 1974
honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory of Music states
the matter plainly: “Oliver Daniel has rendered incalculable service
to American composers of serious music…”
It is in great part thanks to him that the music on this disc was
published, performed, and recorded. Enjoy. Oliver would have wanted that.

Lou Harrison: Suite for Violin, Piano, and Small Orchestra
Born in Oregon, in 1917, Lou Harrison could be regarded as the
quintessential Pacific Coast composer — one of the first American
musicians to seriously explore the nature of Far Eastern musics. By
immersing himself in the traditions of Balinese gamelan music, he
created a unique sound-world characterized by graceful clarity,
elegant simplicity, and colorful, often spicy, timbres.
The Suite was commissioned by the Ajemian sisters in 1951 and
recorded by them shortly after Stokowski conducted it at the Museum of
Modern Art, under the auspices of the Contemporary Music Society. The
LP versions, RCA LM-1785 and CRI-114, have long been prized
collectors’ items. Oliver Daniel mid-wifed Stokowski’s performance and
recording through his work with the American Composers Alliance.
The opening Allegro serves as a festive overture: the violin projects
long, clean lines over the shimmering colors of the gamelan-style
ensemble: piano, tack-piano, tam-tam, harp, celesta, and assorted
gongs, in addition to the cello and doublebass. The five succeeding
movements alternate between tranquil, elegiac material and livelier
sections, identified as “gamelans,” which evoke the spirit and
scintillating colors of the Indonesian styles that inspired the
As Peggy Glanville-Hicks wrote in her notes for the RCA LP: “The
Harrision Suite is one of the most delicate and lovely American works
of recent years…the sheer grace and joyousness of its style…cannot
fail to charm all who hear it.”

Henry Cowell: Homage to Iran
If compositional devices could be copyrighted, Henry Cowell’s heirs
would be exceedingly rich. Long before they became fashionable
elements in the contemporary composer’s vocabulary, Cowell “invented”
tone clusters, aleatoric techniques, altered pianos, harmonies based
on seconds instead of traditional thirds, and the dramatic free-form
string glissandi so beloved of Symphony Orchestra under guest
conductor Robert Shaw. This was the first time the BSO had played any
Hovhaness, despite the fact that the composer was Penderecki (among
others). Cowell was composing and performing with such avant-garde
innovations decades before anyone else.
For all his fierce experimentation, though, Cowell was basically a
warm-hearted humanist, fully capable of writing music that was
intensely melodic, heroic, charming, and even spiritual. Like the
other composers on this disc, he was deeply interested in the music of
other cultures, although he did not travel extensively until 1956,
when a Rockefeller Foundation grant (bestowed largely through Oliver
Daniel’s efforts) allowed him to spend long periods of time in Turkey,
Iran, India, and Japan.
Persian music especially fascinated Cowell. Homage to Iran (premiered
in the Shah’s palace on July 3, 1959) does not actually quote any
ethnic material, but rather seeks to pay tribute to “the style and
spirit” of Persian music. The work is cast in two pairs of movements,
and its prismatic mood-changes range from chant-like incantations to
dance-variations. Note particularly the brilliant toccata of the
second movement.
At several key points in the score, Cowell wanted the pianist to lean
over and mute the piano strings with his fingers, to imitate the
timbre of a Persian drum. For this recording, however, violinist
Leopold Avakian obtained the services of a real Persian drummer, a
serendipity that delighted the composer.

Colin McPhee: Nocturne
This evocative work was commissioned by Oliver Daniel through the
Contemporary Music Society and received its first performance
(Stokowski conducting) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on December
2, 1958 — on a program that also featured works by Egyptian, Chinese,
Japanese, and Israeli composers!
Compact in form but lush in expression, the Nocturne constitutes a
remembrance in distilled form of what the composer absorbed during his
years of residence and study in Bali (1931-1939). It might also be
thought of as a delightful pendant to McPhee’s masterful symphonic
piece Tabu-Tabuhan (1936), a work generally acknowledged to be the
finest product of his Balinese period. Only seven minutes long, the
Nocturne’s modal impressionism is musical exoticism of the most
appealing kind.

Alan Hovhaness: Koke No Niwa,
The Holy City, and Triptych

Today of course, Alan Hovhaness is one of the most beloved (and
probably the most prolific) of American composers. In the early 1950s,
however, he was still struggling for recognition. The 1955 world
premiere of Mysterious Mountain (Stokowski and the Houston Symphony)
certainly helped put Hovhaness’s music on the cultural map, but even
more important was a subsequent performance by the Boston Symphony
Orchestra under guest conductor Robert Shaw. This was the first time
the BSO had played any Hovhaness, despite the fact that the composer
was born and raised in the Boston area. It was Oliver Daniel who
brought the score to Shaw’s attention.
Koke No Niwa:
“A garden of sounds and silences” is how the composer described this
1960 composition, written on commission from a Tokyo television
station (!). Inspired by the fabled Koke Dera (Moss Temple) of Kyoto,
this brief yet highly effective piece is delicately but tellingly
scored for English horn, harp, and a veritable chamber orchestra of
percussion (timpani, tam-tam, glockenspiel, and marimba).
The Holy City:
This piece is another example of Hovhaness’s skill at
creating a ceremonially powerful expression within very compact form.
Commissioned by conductor Arthur Bennett Lipkin through the Committee
to Further American Contemporary Music, it manifests an otherwordly
beauty: eerie glissandi from the richly-subdivided strings, over which
the solo trumpet (masterfully played here by the great Elgar Howarth)
projects a bittersweet meditation of cantorial
Oliver Daniel was one of Hovhaness’s earliest advocates. In 1952-53,
he commissioned two parts of the Triptych (Christmas Ode and Easter
Cantata) for CBS broadcasts on those two holidays. Although Hovhaness
had already composed a great many works, this was his first commission
resulting in immediate performance, and he considers the event to be a
major milestone in his career.
Interestingly, the work became a “triptych” at Oliver’s suggestion
(with the addition of the Ave Maria), probably as a result of the warm
response CBS enjoyed following a broadcast of the then-unknown
Botticelli Triptych of Respighi.