Morton Gould: Orchestral Music



Morton Gould






Pulitzer Prize for Music 1995




Show Piece




Piano Concerto




Albany Symphony Orchestra


David Alan Miller




Randall Hodgkinson






world premiere recordings






Morton Gould




After Morton Gould's death in February, 1996, at the age of 82, the composer John Duffy wrote: "Somehow he seemed like a combination of Bach, Victor Borge, and Joe DiMaggio. He had the commanding craft of Bach, he had the witty sense of a man like Borge, and he had the elegance and professionalism of Joe DiMaggio."




Wondering about his ability to satisfy Pulitzer jurors, in January, 1995, Gould told his biographer Peter Goodman, who is also the entertainment editor of Newsday, "I would love the Pulitzer Prize which I will never get, by the way." But three months later, it came his way, for StringMusic.




Show Piece




These notes are reprinted from the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York's program book, whose editor was Irving Kolodin.




Show Piece for Orchestra was written in the spring of 1954 on commission from Columbia Records Incorporated, as the musical element of an LP demonstrating the composer's most advanced means of reproducing orchestral instruments. It was first performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra on May 7, 1954, with Eugene Ormandy conducting. The music was recorded shortly thereafter, but never released to the public as it is said Ormandy was not really satisfied with the performance.




Given its origin, it may be understood that "Show Piece" is a good title for this work, and the music contains a great deal of virtuosic writing for a modern symphony orchestra. However, Gould has disavowed any intention of writing what he describes as "a trick piece."




Gould has chosen as the framework for his thoughts the theme and variations form, with (as might be expected from his agile mind) one difference. If the players seem to be tuning up while the conductor is on the podium giving them cues, no contretemps has occurred. Section I of "Show Piece" is called Tune Up. The oboe, according to classical tradition, sounds the A, followed by the flute, clarinet, and horn, strings, brass, a massed crescendo with snare drum, and an explosive full orchestra chord, diminishing to prismatic effects in the harp and celesta, thinning out to a woodwind overhang. (It is actually a "variation" before the theme.)




From this emerges the Theme, a ten measure sequence of rhythmically varied phrases, heard first from the strings. It is repeated in the high woodwinds over "cello pizzicatti." No uncommon effects are introduced here, as it is conceived, in part, as a point of reference to the "normal sound" of orthodox orchestral writing.




Variation II is titled "Scene," ("Tune Up" is actually Variation I) and gives prominence to rippling figures in the middle and low register for flutes, bass clarinet, bassoon, etc., divided violins, the seconds con sordino, the firsts not muted. The harp enters with sustained tones played "with measured tread." Resonant brass chords follow, as the episode broadens to a quiet conclusion.




"Harsh percussive attacks, interlaced with stopped horns, muted brass and percussion" are Gould's words he used to describe the opening of Variation III, a March. The movement quietens to a percussive pattern repeated by the strings with the wood back of the bow (col'Legno), over lightly touched cymbals, bass drum and "marching machine." This last Gould describes as "suspended blocks in a frame." Bugle calls are introduced, leading to the climax as the march variant returns.




"Moderately moving, song like and flowing" is the instruction for Variation IV, a Serenade. The theme is more readily recognizable here than in the preceding variation, and the implication of the title is carried out with a soft, relaxed puff of sound. Solo violin, castenet, tambourine and gourd, are some of the instruments used here. A slower section, utilizing darker colorations oboe, English horn, solo viola, etc. follows. Full strings sing the melody, and the section dies away with the plucked simulations of guitar.




The Toccata, which comprises the final Variation, is the longest of the set and the most elaborate in design. Bits of the theme are first heard from instruments as widely diverse as the xylophone and bass clarinet, while the brass and percussion develop a driving rhythm. The main melodic line is heard from the violins. It gradually envelops the entire orchestra in a weaving texture of lines and colors, accents and attacks. The sound finally thins out to just the woodwinds and strings, then adds details which cumulatively convey the effect, in the composer's words, of "the different sections of the orchestra going by, faster and more frenetically."








The piece was written for the National Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it on March 10, 1994. Gould himself supplied a program note, which we print in a slightly edited version.




StringMusic is a large-scale suite, or serenade, for string orchestra, consisting of five movements. There is much antiphonal writing sometimes suggesting two separate string orchestras, using such devices as col legno (tapping the strings with the wood part of the bow) and playing without vibrato. Basically, StringMusic is a lyrical work.




The "Prelude" opens with a declamatory, rhapsodic statement in the cellos, echoed by muted violas: the effect is like a responsory service. Following this is a very brisk, jazz-like episode built around a playful figure; basically a rhythmic pattern with a quiet sort of propulsion. It becomes louder, with fast-moving passages building in intensity and rhythmic pulse, and then fades away rather mysteriously.




The second movement is a "Tango." It begins with an upward sweep, and a formal tango rhythm. There is a sequence of varied and contrasting tango evocations; early on, after a strident Argentine-style episode, with its pronounced rhythm, there is a change to a languorous episode for four solo violins, in the old Mitteleuropa cafe style. The movement alternates between the languorous and rhythmic "tango" character.




As centerpiece I've written a "Dirge," which opens with string harmonies evoking bells, followed by a solo for double bass. The bell-evocation recurs, and then all the basses take up the theme introduced by the solo bass. A measured "air," a slow cortege with a long lyrical line, proceeds against a "walking bass." This material grows in intensity and then dies away, followed by a contrapuntal passage, still elegiac but resolutely moving on. This procession is interrupted by little chorales, as if from afar, from another time and place. The final passages present a transformed version of the traditional Dies Irae.




The "Ballad" that follows is a lyrical, romantic and song-like a love note.




"Strum" is the self-descriptive title of the final movement, a perpetual motion. Here the pizzicati are played not with each note cleanly plucked, but in a strumming manner, rapidly across the strings. It starts quickly, with tremolo effects and lots of contrast. Here it really takes


off as a virtuoso, jubilant piece. Following a fugato played pianissimo at high speed, the piece accelerates to its conclusion with a loud pizzicato snap.




Piano Concerto




As far as anyone can determine, there have been just two public performances of Morton Gould's Piano Concerto; the 1938 radio premiere, with Gould at the piano and Alfred Wallenstein on the podium and a concert performance in 1993 at Queens College, with pianist Randall Hodgkinson and conductor Maurice Peress.




The 1993 performance was in honor of the composer's 80th birthday. Gould showed up for a two-piano rehearsal, with Leslie Amper, Mr. Hodgkinson's wife, who performed the orchestral part. Mr. Peress remembers that after the first movement, which is full of note clusters and mixed rhythms, Mr. Gould said, "That guy Stravinsky's been stealing from me ever since I was a kid." After the bluesy second movement, Mr. Gould commented, "That shows I was just as miserable in 1938 as I am today." About the virtuosic third movement, Mr. Peress recalls Mr. Gould did not make any particular observations.




notes written and compiled by Paul Lamar




Randall Hodgkinson




Randall Hodgkinson, grand prize winner of the International American Music Competition, sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Foundation, has performed with orchestras in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Boston, Cleveland, and abroad in Italy and Iceland. In addition, he has performed numerous recital programs spanning the repertoire from J.S. Bach to Donald Martino. He is an artist member of the Boston Chamber Music Society and performs the four-hand and two-piano repertoire with his wife Leslie Amper.




This past year, Mr. Hodgkinson gave the world premiere of the Piano Concerto by Gardner Read at the Eastman School in Rochester (released on Albany Records) and performed concerti by Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Gershwin and Prokofiev. Festival appearances include Blue Hill-Maine, BargeMusic, Chestnut Hill Concerts in Madison, Connecticut, Seattle Chamber Music Festival, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Mr. Hodgkinson is presently on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Longy School. Recordings include solo works by Roger Sessions and Donald Martino for the New World label and chamber music with the Boston Chamber Music Society for Northeastern Records.




Albany Symphony Orchestra




The Albany Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1931 by John Carabella. Since its inception, the Orchestra has evolved both artistically and financially under the leadership of music directors Rudolf Thomas, Ole Windingstad, Edgar Curtis, Julius Hegyi, Geoffrey Simon, and David Alan Miller.




Under Maestro Miller's direction, the Albany Symphony has continued a tradition of championing 20th-century American music through commissioning and recording new works. In 1997 the Albany Symphony Orchestra won its 13th consecutive ASCAP award for adventuresome programming of contemporary music.




Recordings of the Albany Symphony Orchestra appear on New World Records, CRI, Albany Records, Argo and London/Decca.




David Alan Miller




Since becoming Music Director and Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 1992, David Alan Miller has initiated a period of remarkable artistic growth, including family concerts, school outreach programs and a new music group, "The Dogs of Desire." Miller's fresh approach to reaching new audiences garnered him a front page feature article in the Wall Street Journal in 1996.




Before coming to Albany, Mr. Miller served as Assistant and then Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While in Los Angeles, Miller conducted subscription concerts and programs at the Hollywood Bowl as well as educational concerts.




David Alan Miller has guest conducted orchestras throughout the United States including the Detroit, San Francisco Symphonies and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among others. Abroad he has led the Berlin Symphony, the London Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Dresden Philharmonic.




Mr. Miller has conducted recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Decca/London, Argo and Albany Records.




Produced and engineered by Gregory K. Squires, Squires Music Production




Digital editing by Richard Price, Squires Music Production




Recorded in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York on November 22-23, 1997 and January 13, 1998




This recording is made possible in part by the generous support of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., ASCAP, Paul Underwood, The Family of Morton Gould, the New York State Council on the Arts and Vanguard, the volunteer organization of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.




Front Cover Photo: The Gould Family Collection




Back Cover Photo: Ron Barnett






Morton Gould (1913-1996)


Albany Symphony Orchestra · David Alan Miller, conductor




Show Piece for Orchestra (1954)


I. Tune Up (1:17)


II. Theme (1:00)


III. Scene (3:00)


IV. March (2:47)


V. Serenade (3:00)


VI. Ballad (1:59)


VII. Toccata (7:19)




Piano Concerto (1938)


I. Fast Vigorous (8:01)


II. Chant (6:42)


III. Fast With Gusto (7:24)




Randall Hodgkinson, piano




StringMusic (1994)


I. Prelude (5:43)


II. Tango (4:02)


III. Dirge (9:04)


IV. Ballad (3:34)


V. Strum (5:13)




Total Time = 70:12