This week, we quizzed on music associated with Golden Ages. Browse the sound of Hollywood, comics, pirates, baseball and more below.
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II had already established themselves in the Broadway world when they decided to team up in 1943 for their first musical Oklahoma! Following a group of cowboys, farmers, and settlers in the Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the 20th century, Oklahoma! was one of the first successful “book musicals,” shows where the song and dance sequences are an essential part of the dramatic action. This precedent began what is known as “The Golden Age of Musicals,” roughly covering a period from the 1940’s to the 60’s, and includes works by other composers and lyricists such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Frank Loesser. During this time, the American Broadway musical was considered the height of theatrical entertainment, with show tunes reaching a level of popularity and commercial success equivalent to pop music.
Julius Fucik (1872-1916) Entry of the Gladiators, Op. 68 By the turn of the 20th century, the circus had evolved into a grand spectacle, with equally grand musical accompaniment. During this Golden Age of Circuses, music was specially written or rearranged for wind bands of thirty or more musicians to accompany specific circus acts. Marches were the favored genre of circus bands, but the circus march was played at a much faster tempo and became known as a “screamer.” Fucik’s chromatic military march, originally the stately “Entry of the Gladiators” became the screamer known as Thunder and Blazes when it was kicked up a few notches for the big top. Other unique musical characteristics developed for circus marches include jagged rhythms, wide leaping melodies, and a melodic emphasis on cornets and euphoniums, rather than woodwind instruments.
Scott Joplin (1868-1917) The Easy Winners Joplin was lucky enough to be able to study piano and harmony for free with a local German music teacher named Julius Weiss in his youth. He later went on to become a famous pianist in Chicago and St. Louis before he made ragtime a national craze. The selection we just heard, “The Easy Winners” was written in 1901 and was published by Joplin himself presumably because his regular publisher, John Stark, had second thoughts about publishing the piece, and didn’t like the idea of supporting horse racing, depicted on the song’s original cover page. By the early 20th century, Joplin had helped usher in a golden age for ragtime. It was America’s first true pop music, found in both the barrel houses and the home parols of the lower and upper classes. It helped create the dance orchestras that provided the soundtrack to the roaring 20s, and Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag became the first piece of sheet music to sell over a million copies.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) The Sea Hawk We might not have the Golden Age of Hollywood if not for the Golden Age of Piracy, a period in the early 18th century in which the antics of maritime outlaws, privateers, merchant and navy ships, particularly in the colonized caribbean, were mythologized by the general public. By the time talkies were replacing silent film in the 1920s, steam ships were replacing the tall-masted sailing ships associated with piracy. However, Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and fictional pirates such as Long John Silver remained present in popular culture, and profitable for the entertainment industry. Warner Bros Studios commissioned composer Erich Korngold to write music for two pirate-themed talkies in 1935 and 40. First Captain Blood, and The Sea Hawk, from which we just heard an excerpt. The success of these films along with many others that Korngold composed for, gave the Golden Age films their lush orchestral sound and made the pirate film an enduring genre.
John Dowland (1562-1626) Two Pieces for Lute The Elizabethan period has been called the Golden Age of England by historians due to the outpouring of wealth, arts and culture that the period produced when Elizabeth I was on the throne. Over an astounding 45 years, her patronage of the arts, famously the plays of Shakespeare, and her love of music supported several prominent lutenists, including John Dowland. Although Dowland is often remembered for his melancholy Lachrimae, or Seven Tears, Pavan, he also wrote numerous light-hearted dance tunes. One of Dowland’s favorite dance forms was the lively galliard, a form that was favored by Queen Elizabeth, who also played the lute. Dowland dedicated two of his works to Queen Elizabeth, the first, Queen Elizabeth, her Galliard and the second The Queen’s Galliard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Elizabeth's rule is also described by musicologists as the Golden Age of the Lute.
Michael Daugherty (b.1954) Metropolis Symphony for Orchestra: IV. Oh Lois! The Golden Age of comics began in 1938 with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. The Man of Steel also inspired this symphony by Michael Daugherty, who may be the closest thing classical music has to an Andy Warhol or a Roy Lichtenstein. His music draws from the iconic vocabulary of American pop culture in a spirit that is partially tongue-in-cheek, but shot through with genuine affection. Just like his choice of subjects, his musical language freely mixes popular and classical influences. His unique brand of musical Pop Art has included an opera on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a piano concerto à la Liberace, and a bassoon concerto performed by an Elvis impersonator. In “Metropolis Symphony,” Daugherty references several important characters from the Golden Age Superman; this movement is named after Lois Lane, the love interest of Superman, who also first appears in Action Comics #1.
William Schuman (1910-1992) The Mighty Casey: Surprise First appearing in 1888 in the San Francisco Examiner, the poem “Casey at Bat” was written by humor columnist Ernest Thayer. It first sprung to mass popularity, however, through recitations by DeWolf Hopper, a popular actor in vaudeville, musical theater, and eventually, in early film. In a sympathetic, yet wryly mock-heroic tone, the poem dramatizes the tribulations of a local baseball team and their most highly vaulted player, Casey. In 1953, the exciting world of Mudville recreational sports made it to the operatic stage with William Schuman’s “The Mighty Casey.” As a composer in a modern, yet accessible style, and as president of both the Julliard School and Lincoln Center, Schuman was a highly visible contributor to American musical culture. In this opera, he extended his contributions to encompass the tradition of America’s national game.
Jean de Cambefort (1605-1661)Ballet Royal de la Nuit: All'impero d'Amore It is a source of national pride that the French have always been considered tastemakers. This was especially true during what is called “Le Grand Siècle” or the Great Century, which generally encompasses the reign of Louis XIV. During this time, France became a major center of culture and the arts. Developments in literature, music, art, architecture and dance had significant impacts across western Europe and in the American colonies. One emblematic work of this period was the Ballet Royal de la Nuit, famed for its grandeur, length and participation of King Louis as a dancer himself when he was fifteen. The ballet took 13 hours to perform and was split into 4 “night watches” leading up to a grand ballet depicting the rising of the sun. Each section featured mythological and allegorical characters, personifications of the moon and the hours, nightly figures from daily life such as thieves, beggars and lamplighters, and the supernatural. At the grand finale, the glorious sun is, of course, played by the king.
Lou Christie (b. 1943) Lightnin Strikes As a radio format, the term “golden oldies” refers to classic pop songs from a period spanning the 1950’s to the mid-60’s. Rock n’ roll, doo-wop, rhythm and blues, soul, and surf rock mainly fill the golden oldies playlist, and Lou Christie’s falsetto-laced classic Lightnin Strikes gets frequent airplay. Christie wrote the song with Twyla Herbert, a former concert pianist with whom Christie would collaborate for 30 years as a song-writing duo. Christie himself received vocal training, but it was his Frankie Valli-style falsetto featured on his demo tapes that caught the attention of Nick Cenci, his first producer. After returning from a brief period of military service, Christie signed with MGM to release Lightnin Strikes, which reached #1 in the US right as the singer turned 23 in 1966.