Buckle up, Ether Gamers, because this week, we’re hitting the open road (or water, or air). It’s a show all about music and transportation, a show we’re calling “Highways and Byways.”
Get moving with our transportation playlist below:
- George Gershwin (1898–1937), An American In Paris – Following his breakthrough “classical” work Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin was a musical celebrity both at home and abroad. A European trip in 1928 helped him develop ideas for An American in Paris. It depicts an American walking through the busy streets of gay “Paree,” and feeling homesick for the jazz and blues music from back home. The most notable fruit of Gershwin’s Paris visit, however, was his discovery of the taxi horn. He actually brought four Parisian taxi horns back to America, and used them in the first performance of An American in Paris. Gershwin labelled the horns A, B, C, D on the score, which people thought referred to the notes of the horns. But a few years ago, a musicologist from Michigan discovered that those were just labels, and the notes of the horns were much more dissonant and disruptive—what you’d expect from a car horn!
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957), The Sea Hawk – Up to 1938, Korngold’s career had been divided between Hollywood and Vienna. But Germany’s annexation of Austria forced the composer to stay in the United States. He produced masterful scores for a number of Errol Flynn films, including The Sea Hawk, a 1940 swashbuckler film about English privateer Geoffrey Thorpe (played by Flynn) who fights for Queen and country. Some might think the film’s title refers to the name of Thorpe’s ship, but actually “The Sea Hawks” were the names given to Thorpe and his crew as they looted the Spanish Armada. Thorpe’s ship, the Albatross, plays a key role in the story. At one point it is captured by the Spanish who almost manage to defeat England by posing as allies. The Albatross was built by Warner Bros. at full scale, and during filming a special studio also had to be built to accommodate its size.
- Brian Eno (b. 1948), Music For Airports – Brian Eno has been precariously toeing the line between “art” music and “rock” music for his entire career. He began his musical life in the early 1970s performing the electronic elements of the glam-rock band Roxy Music. Disillusioned with the rock star lifestyle, Eno embarked fully into eclecticism and experimentation. Music for Airports from 1978 is his first in a series of albums that Eno gave the label “Ambient Music.” Eno’s ambient music was as an artistic alternative (or antidote) to the nearly universally-reviled canned background music known as Muzak. So, rather than having background music try to suppress any unnecessary stimulus in an environment, Eno’s ambient music intends to enhance the space. Eno stated that ambient music induces calm by allowing one to contemplate, saying that the music should be quote “as ignorable as it is interesting.”
- John Adams (b. 1947), Short Ride In A Fast Machine – In composing one of his most popular orchestral fanfares, American composer John Adams explained that his Short Ride in a Fast Machine depicts what happens when you take an ill-advised thrill ride in a fancy sports car. Composed in 1986, the work was written for the Pittsburgh Symphony to celebrate the opening of the Great Woods Summer Festival in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Adams may have had occasion to regret the title of this piece; twice it has been removed from concert programs because of it. Both times, it was scheduled to be part of a BBC Proms concert. The first time it was removed from the program was immediately after the death of Princess Diana, and the second time was after September 11th. Despite those setbacks, Short Ride in a Fast Machine has received numerous other performances and has also been arranged for wind ensemble.
- Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881), Pictures At An Exhibition: Bydlo – Pictures at an Exhibition is based on artwork by Mussorgsky’s late friend, Viktor Hartmann—an artist, architect, and stage designer who died at an early age of an aneurism. Shortly after his death, an exhibition of over 400 of his works was organized—the inspiration for Mussorgsky’s tribute. The piece was originally scored for solo piano, but is most often heard as an orchestral piece. Several orchestrations of the work exist, the most famous one being the orchestration by Maurice Ravel, which we just heard. The fourth movement is titled Bydlo, a Polish term for an oxcart. The bydlo was not just your average farming or merchant cart. It had two huge, heavy wheels and was capable of transporting particularly heavy cargo with the help of two or four oxen. Mussorgsky wrote the movement with a long crescendo to fortissimo, followed by a diminuendo, suggesting the passing of the bydlo as it slowly rolls across the musical landscape.
- George Antheil (1900–1959), Airplane Sonata – Self-styled as the “bad boy” of music, George Antheil’s aggressively percussive music blends a number of trends in the twentieth century—the anti-Romantic objectivity of Stravinsky, the Futuristic fascination with machines, and the fad for blending art music and popular culture. In his “Airplane Sonata,” Antheil marks the first movement “As Fast As Possible.” His repetitive, driving rhythms deny all prettiness, glorifying (and perhaps even fetishizing) the high-flying machine as a transcendent object. Antheil also has another connection to flight. His affinity for mechanical and electrical objects put him in touch with, believe it or not, Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr also was a tinkerer, and during World War II, she wanted to leave Hollywood and become an inventor. Together, Lamarr and Antheil invented a radio-controlled torpedo guidance system that hopped around to different frequencies to avoid detection by radar.
- Richard Hageman (1881–1966), Music from Stagecoach – John Ford’s 1939 film Stagecoach produced several huge firsts for the western film genre. It was the first of Ford’s extensive output to be filmed at Monument Valley. It was credited with providing John Wayne his breakthrough role as “The Ringo Kid,” and it was the first of seven films that featured music scores by composer and conductor Richard Hageman. Ford approached Hageman to compose music for his westerns in the early 1930s, after Hageman had finished a fifteen-year stint as the conductor and pianist for the Metropolitan Opera. Part of the deal was that Hageman would also appear in several of Ford’s movies in minor roles. Although he is not is Stagecoach, he appeared in eleven major Hollywood pictures by the end of his career. We just listened to the main theme from Stagecoach, which features quotes from several Stephen Foster melodies—songs that would have been very popular in the Wild West.
- Cake, “The Distance” – The alternative rock band Cake made a name for themselves in the 1990s by having one of the most distinctive sounds on rock radio. Their combination of overdriven guitars, fuzz bass, trumpet, the occasional vibraslap, and singer John McCrea’s half-sung/half-spoken deadpan delivery made a Cake song unmistakable. “The Distance,” Cake’s lead single off of their 1996 album Fashion Nugget, became their biggest hit to date. It propels forward with an infectious beat, using racecar driving as a metaphor for unrelenting passion. Motor vehicles seemed to be a bit of a trend with Cake’s output. Their debut album was called Motorcade of Generosity, and they had such songs as “Race Car Ya-Yas,” “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” “Satan Is My Motor,” “Alpha Beta Parking Lot,” “Long Line of Cars,” and “Wheels.”