RIC Wind Ensemble to construct 'Pillars' concert Dec. 4

On Friday, Dec. 4, the RIC Wind Ensemble will present “Pillars” featuring pieces for wind band selected from the middle of the 20th Century. The 8 p.m. performance will be held in the Auditorium in Roberts Hall. General admission is $10; $5 for non-RIC students and senior citizens; free for RIC students faculty and staff. In the story below, Wind Ensemble conductor Robert Franzblau provides background on the concert.

When I think of the development of original repertoire for the wind band, the middle of the 20th century holds a very special place in my thoughts. First of all, the end of World War II ushered in a time of great cultural expansion, which seemed to be “on hold” during the war.

Robert Franzblau
The opening of previously closed borders allowed musicians and composers to travel freely across Europe and the world, permitting the cross-pollination that is so essential to the arts. In addition, a large number of highly-trained musicians from armed forces bands re-entered civilian life, and many of these men obtained teaching positions in schools and colleges across America.

Up until this time, wind band repertoire largely consisted of transcriptions from orchestral repertoire, a few original pieces for the British military band by great composers (e.g., Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams), an even smaller number of compositions commissioned for university bands from great composers (e.g., Arnold Schoenberg), a few pieces of truly great chamber music (e.g., Mozart serenades for wind instruments), and of course many, many marches.

From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, however, there was a virtual explosion of music written directly for the concert band, much of it a result of commissions to well-respected composers who had not previously written for the band. These composers were generally from the “conservative” side of the spectrum — they wrote in traditional forms (such as the symphony), they didn’t employ avant-garde tonal systems such as 12-tone serialism, and since many of the commissions came from schools and universities, the technical demands on the musicians were not extended into unusually bizarre realms.

The result was mixed, of course – much of the music from this period has faded into obscurity over the decades, but there remains a core of works that have stood the test of time. These works are the “pillars” of mid-century band repertoire, which have influenced composers to the present day.

Our concert features four of these works, plus one monumental work from this period written originally for the Broadway stage.

Excerpts of program notes from “Pillars” concert:

“Commando March” – Samuel Barber

Barber, who was born in Pennsylvania, was one of the first students at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied piano, conducting, voice, and composition. His music is decidedly neo-romantic in idiom, although not without contemporary influences. For example, his second symphony made use of an electronic instrument to imitate radio signals, perhaps inspired by his service in the Air Corps during World War II.

In a similar wartime spirit, he completed his first work for band, the “Commando March,” in 1943. The premiere performance was by the Army Air Corps Band at Atlantic City that same year.

“Variants on a Mediaeval Tune” – Norman Dello Joio
In the latter part of the 1940s, Dello Joio was considered one of America’s leading composers, and by the 1950s he had gained international recognition.

Commissioned by the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation for the Duke University Band, “Variants on a Mediaeval Tune” was first performed in 1963. The mediaeval melody on which this composition is based, "In dulci jubilo," has inspired many composers from J. S. Bach to the present. This set of variations consists of a short introduction, a statement of the theme, and five “Variants” that carry the theme through metamorphoses of contrasting tempo and character. “Variants on a Mediaeval Tune” was the composer's first original work for the wind band medium.

Vincent Persichetti
“Symphony No. 6 for Band” – Vincent Persichetti
Perhaps more than any other American composer of the 20th century, Persichetti was responsible for elevating the standards of writing for the wind ensemble. Throughout the middle of this century he was probably the most active, influential, and well-known composer who wrote for that medium.

Persichetti wrote “Symphony No. 6 for Band in 1956 in response to a commission by the Washington University (St. Louis) Band, which premiered the work in 1956. Highly unified in conception, the entire symphony draws upon and develops a small number of motives presented in the introduction to the first movement.

“George Washington Bridge” – William Schuman
Schuman was an American composer and educator. He was a founding director of the Charles Ives Society and a member of the board of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Naumberg and Koussevitzky Foundations, and of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, organizations which he founded.

George Washington Bridge is subtitled “An Impression for Band.” and the composer has included the following remarks with the score:

“… Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic, and of course, my own mood as I pass by. … It is difficult to imagine a more gracious or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.”

Leonard Bernstein
“Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” – Leonard Bernstein
On August 19, 1957, the production “West Side Story” opened in a tryout run in Washington, D.C. When it reached Broadway it proved a very firm hit, running for 772 performances — just short of two years — before embarking on a national tour and making its way back to New York in 1960 for another 253 performances, after which it was released as a feature film in 1961.

In the opening weeks of 1961 Bernstein revisited his score for West Side Story and extracted nine sections to assemble into what he called the “Symphonic Dances.” The dances included are “Prologue,” “Somewhere,” “Scherzo,” “Mambo,” “Cha-Cha,” “Cool,” “Rumble,” and “Finale.”