Music of Irwin Bazelon: Symphony No. 6


Symphony No. 6 / Overture to Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew” / Short Symphony (No. 2) (Testament to a Big City)

Harold Farberman, conductor

Rousse Philharmonic

Irwin Bazelon died on August 2, 1995 at the age of 73. He composed nine symphonies and more than 60 orchestral, chamber and instrumental pieces. Born in Evanston, Illinois on June 4, 1922, he graduated from DePaul University with a bachelor's and master's degree in music. After briefly studying composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale, he went to Mills College in Oakland, California to work with Darius Milhaud. From 1948 until his death he lived in New York City and Sagaponack. His Long Island retreat was the perfect counterpoint for the tensions and hustle-bustle of urban life with which his rhythmically complex and often jazz-tinged music bristles.

In his early years in New York, Bazelon supported himself by scoring documentaries, art films and theatrical productions. During the 1950s and 1960s he composed my than 50 scores of this kind, which proved to be an invaluable preparation for his orchestral music. In a valedictory of sorts he wrote Knowing the Score: Notes on Film Music. Published in 1975, this book is widely used as a college text. As guest composer Bazelon frequently lectured at leading universities and music school throughout the United States and England. Young people were especially drawn to his feisty spirit and no-nonsense approach to earning a living by applying compositional talents to the commercial world without sacrificing integrity.

Bazelon's works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments and voice have been performed throughout the United States and Europe. He conducted his music with such orchestras as the National Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Kansas City Philharmonic and the Orchestre Nationale de Lille. He received grants and commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Koussevitsky Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Kansas City Philharmonic, the New Orleans Philharmonic, the American Brass Quintet, the Boehm Quintette and the Royal Northern College of Music.

A long-time horse racing enthusiast, one of his best known works, Churchill Downs (Chamber Concerto No. 2) is named for the home of the Kentucky Derby, and his ninth symphony (subtitled Sunday Silence for the winner of the 1989 Derby) is dedicated to the horse. In a small way the racetrack helped launch Bazelon's symphonic career. With money from a big win at Aqueduct, he recorded a concert ballet with 16 members of the New York Philharmonic, the tape of which led directly to his conducting his Short Symphony (Testament to a Big City) with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. in 1962. This was his major orchestra debut.

In a tribute to Bazelon, David Harold Cox, Chair of Music at University College, Cork, Ireland, who recently finished a biography of the composer, said, “The quality I shall always remember about Bud was his integrity, the integrity between his individuality as a person and his unique musical personality. There seemed to be a perfect unity between the man and his music. It was a unity based on a breadth of vision; both his personality and his musical language were strong, wide-ranging and powerful, pulsating with energy and life. These qualities will ensure that the music will survive.”

With this compact disc, Albany Records continues its commitment to presenting the work of a composer whose music is remarkable for its originality, range and variety of expressive language.

In Bazelon's own words, “Prominence of musical line depends on dynamics, impact-accents, phrasing, rhythmic propulsion, color and contrast. There are certain 12-tone and jazz elements present, neither strict nor formal. And, the triplet is my musical heartbeat.”

Symphony No. 6

Symphony No. 6 was composed in 1969. It was commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Temple B'nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri. The symphony exploits the link between the circumstances of its commission and the music Bazelon had written for the 1968 Jules Dassin feature-film documentary on the Six-Day War, Survival 67. These origins account for the strong contrasts between the movements. Three idyllic folk-sounding, peaceful interludes featuring the accordion and recorder within a chamber music setting, are placed alongside three bruising orchestral movements, grim powerful portraits of the Six-Day War. The juxtaposition of different musics, from a peaceful facade to wartime air-raid sirens, is an outstanding example of form dictated by reality.

The first performance of the work was given by the Kansas City Philharmonic conducted by the composer in Music Hall, Kansas City in November, 1970.

Overture to Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew”

Overture to Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew” was composed in 1960. It is based on music written for a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” by the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in 1957. The Overture already bears the fingerprints of the mature Bazelon style in its colorful orchestration and clearly etched musical profiles. Shakespeare's characters spring off the page and engage the listener in this effervescent and effective musical portrait.

The first performance of the work was given by the National Gallery Orchestra conducted by Richard Bales in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. in May, 1964. The work was subsequently revised in 1969.

Short Symphony (No. 2) (Testament to a Big City)

The Short Symphony (Testament to a Big City) was composed in 1961. The numbering Bazelon used for his Symphonies shows that he regarded this as his second symphony. The subtitle offers his first explicit reference to the nature of his inspiration. The growth in technical assurance in a single year - between 1960 and 1961 - is remarkable. The Short Symphony makes a quantum leap in focusing orchestral forces to create the bristling rhythmic energy that marks all of his later scores. The two outer movements are compact harbingers of the longer, more detailed movements of the symphonies that are to follow.

The first performance of the work was given by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer in Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C. in December, 1962.

Program notes by Harold Farberman


On more than one occasion when they were together, Irwin Bazelon called Harold Farberman “my conductor.” It is a compliment Maestro Farberman cherishes. The internationally known conductor has led many of the world's major orchestras. Formerly the Music Director and Conductor of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Farberman has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Denver Symphony and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. He teaches conducting at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford. He is the founder and artistic director of the Conductors Institute at Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson.

Maestro Farberman's many recordings reflect his wide-ranging musical interests; he was an early exponent of the music of Charles Ives and has recorded more of this composer's works than any other conductor. Many of his interpretations have been called “definitive.” For his work on behalf of Charles Ives, he has been honored with the Ives Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. He is currently engaged on a project to record the complete Mahler symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as recording the complete symphonies of Michael Haydn with he Bournemouth Sinfonietta.

Warner Brothers-Belwin Mills published Mr. Farberman's book and video, The Art of Conducting Technique, in 1998.


The city of Rousse, not far from Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, has some 200,000 residents and a rich musical tradition. It has both a symphony orchestra which performs regularly in its 800 seat Concert Hall, and an opera company which has a full season in its own charming turn-of-the-century Opera House.

The present Rousse Philharmonic was founded in 1948. It is an excellent orchestra with a distinct performing style whose members are mostly graduates from the highly regarded Sofia Music Academy (many are now professors at the Academy). The orchestra has a distinguished history. It tours regularly to Spain, Italy and Germany and broadcasts often, especially the music of Bulgarian composers. It has had many outstanding guest artists, including the top names of the old Soviet Union: Sviatoslav Richter, Dmitri Shostakovich, Aram Khachaturian, Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovitch and Igor Oistrakh.

Presently there are 80 full-time members (many extra musicians were needed for these recordings), down from its longstanding size of 92 performers, a sign of the present economy in Bulgaria. The reduction in size, however, has not diminished the quality of the Rousse Philharmonic.

Symphony No. 6 and Overture to Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew” are available through Theodore Presser Company. Short Symphony (No. 2) (Testament to a Big City) is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Cover: Between the Spaces, 60x42, Oil on Canvas - Cecile Gray Bazelon