In America, small-town New England holds our attention. Whoever we are, it’s our town. The paper’s delivered, there’s gossip at the kitchen table, children are born, children go to school, a choir sings, there’s marriage, there’s death. It’s just life—or perhaps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the perfect description of this American scene, for American it is, and Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play, captures it perfectly.
Our Town hit Broadway in 1938 and was an immediate success. Wilder won a second Pulitzer for it (his 1927 novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey was his first), and Universal Pictures made it into a film two years later. They signed the red-hot classical composer Aaron Copland to write the score. His biggest triumphs were yet to come—Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, A Lincoln Portrait—but Billy the Kid and El Salón México had already put him on the map. We often don’t think of Copland as a film composer, but with The Red Pony to go along with Our Town and others, he’s one of the best.
Copland fills the poignancy and the matter-of-factness of Wilder’s play. Life-affirming yet without triumphing, the music sings lightly but is warmed by coals that glow from deep emotions. Aaron Copland, born and raised in Brooklyn and trained in Paris, could nevertheless deliver a western prairie, eastern mountains, or a New England town. He has defined “American composer” in the popular imagination better than anyone else.
Though Charles Ives celebrated his native New England over and over in his music, much of it never found the light of day, let alone the ears of a concert-going public, until decades after its creation. The very title of today’s work is a conundrum. Is it Holidays, Holiday Symphony, Holidays Symphony, Four New England Holidays, or A Symphony: New England Holidays? His disinterest in a composer’s career often left the details to others.
From the squared phrases of marching bands to flying shrieks of disharmony, from church hymns to layered and crashing sonic sculptures, the music of Ives is like a boy at a parade. He knew the sound of two bands playing on intersecting streets just as vividly as he had felt the giddiness of holding an ice cream cone on a summer afternoon or the elation of fireworks at night. All we have to be is that boy, and we’ll get Ives in a flash.
The holidays in this work are in chronological order: Washington’s Birthday, Decoration (now Memorial) Day, The Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. The last one he composed first, starting in 1887, as organ music for a Thanksgiving service. He revised and completed it by 1904. Washington’s Birthday he began in 1909, finishing it in 1913, the same year he finished The Fourth of July. Decoration Day is from 1912 (unpublished until 1989).
To picture New England at the very time Ives was composing the Holidays Symphony, picture Our Town. It takes place in fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire between 1901 and 1913. Maybe Wilder’s play and Copland’s music are the grown-up, considered look at the small American town, with no illusions but with all love. Ives’s Symphony is the boy’s look, wide-eyed. With that love and with those eyes, wherever we’re from, this is our town.
This Sunday at 1pm, it’s the fast-paced, one-act opera Salome, among the most important musical works of the 20th century, standing out for its revolutionary use of a large-scale orchestra and virtuosic singers, as much as for its graphic depiction of this deeply psychological tale, performed in a historic, joint production by The Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia. It was the Orchestra’s last concert in May, just before they departed on their China Tour.
It was a Bible story, and then a French play by Oscar Wilde. Then it was translated into German, before Strauss turned it into his opera, Salome. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, a production from May, 2014 continued the evolution of this complex and compelling work of art.
On Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 1 pm on WRTI, listen to a recorded broadcast of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia performing Richard Strauss' Salome.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts now has a two-part exhibition of works on paper by African American artists. As WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, the works on view represent a wide range of explorations in this medium.
In his essay "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," the great academic and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois argued that true equality for African Americans would ultimately have to also include an end to cultural isolation. This latest PAFA exhibition takes its title from that 1903 essay published in Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk.
One of the most prominent bands in nation, and the country's oldest, continuously active musical organization, is frequently heard on WRTI's weekday 7:15 am Sousalarm. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston shares a glimpse of the U.S. Marine Band.
Oscar Wilde’s late 19th-century play, retelling the biblical story of Salome, became the basis for Richard Strauss' one-act opera SALOME that premiered in Dresden in 1905. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the opera continues to shock and dazzle, nearly a century later.
On Sunday, July 6 at 1 pm, WRTI broadcasts The Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia in a joint production of Salome, with Camilla Nylund in the title role.
This Sunday at 1 pm, from a Philadelphia Orchestra concert this past May at Verizon Hall, Yannick is on the podium to conduct Barber’s Adagio for Strings, an ethereal meditation that has emerged as an iconic piece of 20th-century American music; Bartok’s First Violin Concerto, played by Lisa Batiashvili, one of the world’s most sought-after violinists; and the concert will conclude with that imposing orchestral cathedral of sound known as Bruckner’s Symphony No.