Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection

The first Saturday of each month, 5 to 6 pm

In Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, we uncover the unknown, rediscover the little-known, and take a fresh look at some of the remarkable treasures housed in the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world.

Who does this sound like?

That’s the first question we ask when we hear music new to us. It’s as true with Havergal Brian’s as with anyone else’s—probably more true, since his music is so rarely heard, and consequently so often new.

If we know anything about him, it’s that his first symphony, the “Gothic,” is called the largest ever written, with brass bands, choirs, harps, drums, and organ along with a gargantuan orchestra. Our knowledge of Havergal Brian usually ends there.

But he wrote 31 other symphonies, and much more music besides. On top of that, 27 of his symphonies and four of his five operas were composed in the last 25 years of his life, and he lived to be 96. On top of that, for most of his life not one note of his music was performed.

Why not?

We call William Grant Still “The Dean of African-American Composers,” and the description strikes us as quaint. Not wrong, since it’s undeniable that Still was the leading Black American composer of concert music (although he opposed the term Black as one that divided people into false groups).

Squeezed between a Russian revolution that destroyed his home, and a world war that destroyed the rest, Karol Szymanowski finally found escape in the art that had so long eluded him.

Music will always challenge our assumptions...if we let it. For a couple of generations now, those who unearthed music from earlier times have wanted to play it the way it sounded in those earlier times. These “authentic” or “historically informed” performances open our ears to new delights hidden in Medieval and Renaissance music. As playing techniques and instruments improved, the movement grew to encompass Baroque and Classical music. Even Romantic and later music has been influenced by the growing research. We can now listen to Brahms symphonies on “original” instruments.

This time, he’d show them. The Paris Conservatoire accepted Ravel as a piano student at age 16, and even though he won a piano competition, more than anything he wanted to compose. But the Conservatory was a hard place. He never won the fugue prize, never won the composition prize, never won anything for writing music and they sent him packing. Twice. He studied with the great Gabriel Fauré, in school and out, but he just couldn’t make any headway with the ruling musical authorities.

The circus came to town, and the music director, walking through the streets, heard a violin beautifully played from a house he was passing by. He knocked on the door, and offered a job to the 13-year-old boy who was practicing. The boy, always independent (he had started his own dance orchestra two years earlier), decided to run away the next day and, yes, to join the circus. But his father got wind of it and the next morning marched him to the Marines, apprenticing him to the band there. The father could do that, because he played trombone in the United States Marine Band.

Join us on Saturday, June 2nd from 5 to 6 pm for a look into the life of composer and conductor Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Even though descended from the Wedgwood family of pottery fame, and with Charles Darwin as a grand-uncle, Ralph Vaughan Williams was more common man than society type. The world-famous composer and esteemed professor at the Royal College of Music was once mistaken for a vagabond in his own hometown, dressed in ragged clothes and pushing a cart gathering aluminum for the war effort.

Composer Paul Hindemith is in the spotlight on Saturday, May 5th at 5 pm. Your hosts Kile Smith and Jack Moore tell the tale and play the music of Hindemith - once the darling of new music and his German rulers, he ran afoul of both groups, and then it seemed as if nothing was going right.
 

An ancient Roman seeking signs from the flights of birds would climb the Janiculum hill, overlooking the city from the west, across the Tiber. If an augur had been stationed there in 1921, he might just as well have considered the progress of a young Howard Hanson, from Wahoo, Nebraska, son of Swedish immigrants, and the first winner of the American Rome Prize for musical composition. Hanson lived for three years at the American Academy in Rome, which sits on that very hill.

Program:

Rimsky-Korsakov was not a man given to high praise. So when he wrote the words "Not bad" in his diary about the music of one of his students, that was unusually complimentary. The student was Igor Stravinsky.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). Symphony No. 1 (1907). Scottish National Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson. Chandos 8345, CD1, Tr 1-4. 33:14

Igor Stravinsky. Capriccio (1929). Geoffrey Tozer, piano, Orc hestre de la Suisse Romande, Neeme Jarvi. Chandos 9238, Tr 8-10. 16:59

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