This week, its the 104th anniversary of the National Parks Service. We’re hefting our packs and kickin on our hiking boots with a show all about nature appreciation. Enjoy our Observe and Conserve playlist below.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) Appalachian Spring: Suite Appalachian Spring was the third of Aaron Copland’s great American ballets, and the first written for famed choreographer Martha Graham. Copland did not know the plot of the ballet when he began work on it, but simply knew that Graham wanted something with an American theme. Originally called Ballet for Martha, the ballet ended up being about a group of Shakers, a religious sect in Pennsylvania in the 19th century, and their springtime celebrations after building a farmhouse for a young married couple. The original ballet music from 1943 was for a chamber ensemble of 13 musicians. In 1945, Copland excised about 10 minutes of the ballet to create an orchestral suite for both chamber ensemble and full orchestra. In 1954, at the request of conductor Eugene Ormandy, Copland orchestrated the full ballet.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Siegfried: Forest Murmurs Wagner imagined his opera Siegfried as a story in which a brash young hero overcomes a series of obstacles on his way to manhood. Wagner in fact modeled Siegfried’s bravery after the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale “The Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear.” One of Siegfried’s first trials was when he slayed the dragon Fafner to claim the magic ring and helmet. Before entering the dragon’s cave, Siegfried stops for a moment in the forest to appreciate the natural sound of the “Forest Murmurs,” heard in this excerpt. Later in the opera, Siegfried continues his quest when he boldly walks through a circle of fire and enters the mountain rock where the Valkyrie Brünnhilde is sleeping.
Charles Ives (1874-1954) Second Piano Sonata 'Concord, Mass., 1840-60' IV. Thoreau First performed in 1939, each of the four movements in Ives’ second piano sonata corresponds to an important figure in the American Transcendentalism movement. In its broad scope on religion, philosophy, sociology and politics, transcendentalism emphasized personal freedom, individuality, and a belief in the inherent goodness of nature and people. Many of the Transcendentalist writers believed you could rediscover your personal relation to the universe by returning to nature. This was especially the case for Henry David Thoreau, after whom this movement of the sonata is named. Ives sought to evoke the tranquility and natural beauty of Thoreau’s famous cabin retreat at Walden Pond, We know from an essay Ives wrote to accompany this work that there is a “walking theme” that occurs several times throughout the movement, as well as a return of the main melody played on the flute, which acknowledges that Thoreau was a flautist himself.
Ferde Grofé (1892-1972) Grand Canyon Suite: III. On the Trail Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé, remembered today simply as“Ferde” Grofé, came from a musical family, and after working at a series of odd jobs, gravitated toward music as a career. He was only 17 years old when he received his first commission, a march for a Los Angeles Elks Club convention. In 1916. Grofé, with some his friends, drove across the Arizona desert to hike the Grand Canyon. This one of a kind spectacle wasn’t formally documented until Major John Wesley Powell explored the entire canyon in 1869. Being heavily inspired by the spectacle, Grofé later recalled what he saw and felt and subsequently wrote several pieces of music. His Grand Canyon was premiered by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in 1931, where Grofé served as pianist, assistant conductor, orchestrator and librarian.
Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 1, To a Wild Rose In the 19th century, American classical music was still in its infancy. Serious American composers had to train in Europe if they wanted a real musical education. MacDowell moved back to New York City from Paris in 1888, where he started teaching at Columbia University and became the director of the famed Mendelssohn Glee Club. This movement “To a Wild Rose” from a set of piano miniatures called “Woodland Sketches,” would become one of MacDowell’s most celebrated works. His legacy as a composer was solidified in 1904, when he became part of the first class of honorees, and the only musician, in the American Academy of Arts of Letters, an honor society that since gone on to recognize hundreds of great American authors, artists, and musicians.
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) VII. Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks As a composer who experienced sound-color synaesthesia, the association of certain colors with different sounds, it is not surprising that Messiaen would choose Utah's red and orange Bryce Canyon as the inspiration for his symphonic suite From the Canyons to the Stars. The piece was commissioned in 1971 by opera singer and philanthropist Alice Tully for the upcoming American Bicentennial. After seeing photographs in a book he owned titled “Wonders of the World,” Messiaen made a special pilgrimage to Bryce Canyon, where he spent a month finding musical inspiration in the colors, landscape, and birds from the area. In 1978, the citizens of Parowan, Utah were so impressed with his work, they named a local mountain after him. Mt. Messiaen is now a hiking destination in Utah. A plaque on its southern rock face honors the French composer and thanks him for his musical contribution.
Amy Beach (1867-1944) From Blackbird Hills Amy Beach is considered to be the first widely successful female composer of American music, enjoying fame and admiration in her own time. Showing remarkable musical talent as early as age one, she spent much of her early life performing on the piano at various recitals across the New England area where she was born.. After she was married she relaxed her performance career and focused on composition, a skill she had mainly taught herself. Her work was widely published and well received, and after a successful European tour of her compositions, she made her reputation as a leading American composer. Her piano solo “From Blackbird Hills” incorporates native american music from the Omaha Indians, collected and transcribed by the anthropologist Alice Fletcher. Located near Macy, Nebraska. Blackbird Hill was an important burial site for Omaha chiefs and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Harrison Birtwistle (b. 1934) Earth Dances Trained as a clarinetist, Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s formative early experience in music was playing in a military band in Lancashire, England. Brass, winds and percussion have remained prominent in his work throughout all phases of his career. Along with Noted composers such as Alexander Goehr and Peter Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle belonged to the New Music Manchester Group, which explored significant 20th Century works, especially those of Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School. The Earth Dances represent Birtwistle’s later style. The structure of this work is built on a topographical metaphor, where instrumental lines of similar registers and intervals are organized into distinct layers, or “strata” as Birtwistle called them. The strata dance off each other to create a complex rhythmic labyrinth, whose form is non-linear and seems to defy logic. With it’s thudding percussion and extended chromaticism, this work is often favorably compared to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Robin Pecknold (b. 1986) Blue Ridge Mountains When Seattle-based indie-folk band Fleet Foxes released their self titled, self funded album in 2008, they chose an iconic image for the album cover: the 1559 painting Netherlandish Proverbs by Breugle the Elder. The image was chosen to reflect the bucolic character of the Fleet Foxes sound: rustic and raw, but quote still very good” as the record label Bella Union that eventually signed them said. The allusions to nature and American roots music stem mainly from the band’s lyricist and frontman Robin Pecknold, who wrote the song we just listened to, Blue Ridge Mountains. The lyrics are an expressions of brotherly comradery for Pechnold’s older brother- videographer Sean Pechnold, inviting him to come visit after a missed flight to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Fleet Foxes have gone on to become hugely popular, with this song described by critics as an instant classic.