World Music

Louis Moreau Gottschalk


Photo by

Symphony No. 1: “La nuit des tropiques” (Night in the Tropics), for orchestra, D. 104 (RO 255)

Gottschalk wrote his first symphony — less a symphony, actually, than two linked tone poems — during a multi-year tour of the Caribbean. The circumstances of its composition are unclear, but it seems that Gottschalk did the bulk of the work in Cuba, Martinique, and Guadalupe. The first movement was probably composed in 1858, with the title Nuit dans les tropiques, and was premiered in Havana in 1860 during one of Gottschalk’s “monster concerts.” The second movement was apparently written in 1859, first appearing under the title Une Fête sous les tropiques. The whole thing is scored for 150 players, including a huge primary orchestra, a full band, and extra percussion that includes bamboulas and other tropical drums. Not surprisingly, after Gottschalk’s death there were no subsequent performances of the impractically scored Night in the Tropics for decades. The manuscript or an excellent copy of the score remained in Havana, but was stolen in 1932; somehow, the manuscript did find its way to the New York Public Library by the 1950s. The symphony was first heard in the United States in 1948 in a two-piano arrangement by John Kirkpatrick, based on work by Nicolás Ruiz y Espadero. The first complete American performance of the orchestral version was in 1955, using Howard Shanet’s arrangement for reduced forces. Eventually, Igor Buketoff prepared an edition employing Gottschalk’s original orchestration. All three versions have been recorded and some other variants also exist. The first movement is a broad, lyrical Andante free of any American touches. It takes its general inspiration from the Symphonie fantastique of Berlioz, Gottschalk’s mentor, as well as the works of Wagner. Strings dominate the first several minutes of the movement, building a very gradual crescendo and then drawing the woodwinds and brass into a supporting role in a more agitated section. After a sustained, dramatic episode, the movement winds down into the opening string material. The thematic model, and to some degree a structural one as well, is clearly Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture. Gottschalk cuts loose in the second movement Allegro moderato. Deploying the full percussion section and now making more prominent use of the winds and brass, the movement sways and bumps to the Cuban rumba rhythm, which was unknown in the U.S. during Gottschalk’s lifetime; this may be that dance’s first orchestral setting. Gottschalk insinuates a little fugue near the climax to provide his symphony some academic solidity, but the splashy music never skips a Latin beat.[Description by James Reel.]

Pop/Jazz/Rock Influence

Charles Ives

Photo by

Photo by

“Ragtime Dances” (4), for orchestra, S. 43 (K. 1C17)

I. Allegro moderato, II.Allegro moderato, III. Allegro, IV. Allegro

In other pieces, such as the improvisations and sketches that became the Ragtime Dances, Ives began to create a more modern and individual idiom that drew on American melodic and rhythmic characteristics, including ragtime, the currently popular style. Ives had grown familiar with ragtime at Yale and in New York, primarily East Coast performing styles and Tin Pan Alley ragtime songs, and he was one of the first composers to integrate its gestures into classical genres. In such works, Ives was writing music about music, evoking the sounds and spirit of American music-making, placing both himself and his listeners in the role of spectators. The many guises the Ragtime Dances would eventually assume—from a set of dances for theater orchestra to movements in his Piano Sonata no.1, Set for Theatre Orchestra, and Orchestral Set no.2, and passages in his second Quarter-Tone Piece for two pianos—illustrate again his penchant for reworking his own music into new forms. [Oxford Music Online]

The dances are actually quite different from each other, even though they follow the same pattern: a “verse,” or main section, that dallies with “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “Happy Day” (better known as “How Dry I Am,” but barely recognizable here), followed by a “chorus,” or grand climax and coda featuring the refrain of “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice.” In the first dance, Allegro moderato, the syncopations immediately get out of sync and the music is defiantly undanceable, at least by amateurs. “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “Happy Day” appear merely as fragments and their use is subtle. The second piece, also Allegro moderato, maintains a slightly more coherent dance feel, but the harmony is even more boisterous than before. Also, “Bringing in the Sheaves” is more clearly recognizable. A bell tolls through much of the third dance, Allegro, but whether Ives intends this as a churchy tie-in to the hymns (“Sheaves” is again heavily fragmented) or an indication of passing time, or maybe even a firehouse reference, is unclear. The fourth dance, another Allegro, is the most nightmarish in its dissonance and its insistent beat that defies foot-tapping. Yet this is also the dance in which the first two hymns appear in their most recognizable forms. And instead of “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice” providing a big, jokey climax at the end, as it does in the first three dances, now “Sheaves” is the principal subject of an incongruously peaceful coda. [Description by James Reel.]


Igor Stravinsky

Photo by

Photo by

Stravinsky’s compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). The last of these transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky’s enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design. []

Machine Age

Eric Satie

Photo by

Photo by

Parade is a ballet with music by Erik Satie and a one-act scenario by Jean Cocteau. The ballet was composed 1916-1917 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The ballet premiered on Friday, May 18, 1917 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, with costumes and sets designed by Pablo Picasso, choreography by Léonide Massine (who danced), and the orchestra conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

The ballet was remarkable for several reasons:

  • It was the first collaboration between Satie and Picasso, and also the first time either of them had worked on a ballet, thus making it the first time either collaborated with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.
  • The plot of Parade incorporated and was inspired by popular entertainments of the period, such as Parisian music-halls and American silent-films.
  • The plot of Parade composed by Cocteau includes the failed attempt of a troupe of performers to attract audience members to view their show.
  • Some of Picasso’s cubist costumes were in solid cardboard, allowing the dancers only a minimum of movement.
  • The score contained several “noise-making” instruments (typewriter, foghorn, an assortment of milk bottles,…), which had been added by Jean Cocteau (a bit to the dismay of Satie). It is supposed that such additions by Cocteau showed his eagerness to create a succes de scandale, comparable to that of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps which had been premiered by the Ballets Russes some years before.

The premiere of the ballet resulted in a number of scandals, including a classical music riot. According to the painter Gabriel Fournier, one of the most memorable scandals was an altercation between Cocteau, Satie, and music critic Jean Poueigh, who gave Parade an unfavorable review. Satie had written a postcard to the critic which read, “Monsieur et cher ami – vous êtes un cul, un cul sans musique! Signé Erik Satie” (“Sir and dear friend – you are an arse, an arse without music! Signed, Erik Satie.”). The critic sued Satie, and at the trial Cocteau was arrested and beaten by police for repeatedly yelling “arse” in the courtroom. Satie was given a sentence of eight days in jail. []

Luigi Russolo

Photo by

Photo by

(b Portogruaro, 30 April 1885; d Cerro di Laveno, Varese, 6 Feb 1947). Italian inventor, painter and composer. Although from a musical family, he joined the futurist movement in 1910 as a painter. Inspired by the violent reception of Pratella’s Musica futurista, in 1913 he published the radical manifesto L’arte dei rumori. This advocated the creation of a music in which everyday sounds, including noise, are used in a non-imitative manner. With his assistant Ugo Piatti, he constructed intonarumori (noise intoners) between 1913 and 1921 with which he put his theories into practice. These instruments were mostly based on the principle of the Hurdy gurdy; the instrument was housed in a brightly painted box and the performer turned a crank or pressed an electric button at the rear to operate it; pitch was controlled by a lever on the top. By the end of 1913, 15 such machines, bearing onomatopoeic names such as the scoppiatore (exploder) and the ululatore (howler), had been constructed and demonstrated in Modena. The following year saw performances in Milan (resulting in a riot), Genoa and at the Coliseum in London. Russolo’s compositions for these concerts, none of which have survived, bore suitably futurist titles such as Risveglio di una città and Convegno di automobile e aeroplani, and were written in his specially devised graphic notation. During World War I Russolo served with the Lombard Volunteer Cyclist Battalion and was badly injured. In a book published in 1916, also entitled L’arte dei rumori, he further developed his ideas of noise music.

Three controversial concerts took place in Paris in 1921; music by Russolo, his brother Antonio and Nuccio Fiorda was performed by 27 intonarumori alongside a full orchestra. The performances had considerable impact on Casella, Falla, Honegger, Milhaud, Ravel and Stravinsky, all of whom attended. Diaghilev and Mondrian were also impressed by the machines: Diaghilev’s enthusiasm for all aspects of futurist performance resulted in discussions with Ravel and Stravinsky about projects to include the intonarumori, which did not come to fruition, while Mondrian wrote a lengthy critique of futurist music. During the 1920s Russolo developed other new instruments: the arco enarmonico (enharmonic bow), which obtained unusual sonorities from conventional string instruments, and the rumorarmonio or russolofono, a rudimentary keyboard instrument equivalent to several combined intonarumori. Although the latter instrument was introduced to the public by Varèse in Paris in 1929 and was later used to accompany silent films in the cinema Studio 28, plans to mass-produce the rumorarmonio never came to fruition. Russolo was also involved in futurist cinema, providing music for the now lost Futuristi a Parigi, Montparnasse and La marche des machines. Between 1927 and 1932 Russolo lived in Paris as a refugee from fascism but returned to Italy after a few years spent in Spain. He was distanced from the later period of futurist activity by his anti-fascist politics; his interest turned to Eastern philosophies and the occult, and he resumed painting.

The loss of both the intonarumori and Russolo’s compositions makes it difficult to judge the extent to which his theories were successfully realized. Ear-witness accounts are contradictory and the only extant recording, that of the arrangement of Antonio Russolo’s Serenata and Corale (1924, Voce del Padrone R6919), for intonarumori and orchestra by A. Russolo) is very primitive. The initial enthusiasm of composers in the 1920s soon gave way to a lack of interest; only after World War II with the development of musique concrète and Cage’s sonically inclusive aesthetic has the significance of Russolo’s activities been fully understood. [Oxford Music Online]


Charles Ives

Ives' Danbury Home

Photo by

Ives had an extraordinary working life. After professional training as an organist and composer, he worked in insurance for 30 years, composing in his free time. He used a wide variety of styles, from tonal Romanticism to radical experimentation, even in pieces written during the same period, and in his mature music frequently used multiple styles within a single work as a formal and expressive device. His major works often took years from first sketch to final revisions, and most pieces lay unperformed for decades. His self-publications in the early 1920s brought a small group of admirers who worked to promote his music. Around 1927 he ceased to compose new works, focusing instead on revising and preparing for performance the works he had already drafted. By his death he had received many performances and honors, and much of his music had been published. His reputation continued to grow posthumously, and by his centenary in 1974 he was recognized worldwide as the first composer to create a distinctively American art music. Since then his music has been frequently performed and recorded and his reputation has broadened further, resting less on his innovations or nationality and more on the intrinsic merits of his music.

Ives stopped composing new works by early 1927; as Harmony later told John Kirkpatrick, “he came downstairs one day with tears in his eyes and said he couldn’t seem to compose any more—nothing went well—nothing sounded right.” Theories abound for his cessation, from the psychological effects of his double life in business and music to the physical illnesses he continued to endure. He may have exhausted himself from the push to complete the Fourth Symphony and other major works. He had started no new orchestral compositions since an attempt at a third orchestral set in c1921, which remained unfinished. The early 1920s had produced a few songs and his choral masterpiece Psalm 90, essentially rewritten from scratch around 1923. Around the same time he returned to his ambitious Universe Symphony (begun c1915), the capstone of his exploration of systematic methods of composition, which features over 20 wholly independent musical strands, each moving in its own subdivision of a metric unit eight seconds in length. This too would remain unfinished, finally appearing in three separate realizations in the 1990s. [Oxford Music Online]

George Antheil

Photo by

Photo by

Antheil began piano lessons when he was six and from the age of 16 travelled regularly to Philadelphia for theory and composition lessons with Constantin von Sternberg. On the advice of Sternberg, Antheil went to New York in 1919 to study composition with Ernest Bloch. In 1920 while studying with Bloch, Antheil began his first major work, the Symphonie no.1 ‘Zingareska’; it is interesting for the jazz rhythms in the last movement. After leaving Bloch’s tutelage in 1921, Antheil returned to Philadelphia, where financial problems forced him to look for a patron. With Sternberg’s help he gained the support of Mary Louise Curtis Bok; although she disapproved of Antheil’s music, she continued her financial assistance for the next 19 years.

With Bok’s support, Antheil went to Europe on 30 May 1922 to pursue a career as a concert pianist. After presenting his first recital on 22 June 1922 at the Wigmore Hall in London, he settled in Berlin and from there made a successful tour of central Europe, often with recitals of his own music. In Berlin Antheil met Stravinsky, who exercised the single most important influence on his compositional style during the 1920s. The American’s admiration of the Russian’s anti-Romantic, machine-like, rhythmically propulsive style is reflected in the piano compositions Airplane Sonata, Mechanisms, Sonata Sauvage, Death of Machines and Jazz Sonata. The Airplane Sonata exemplifies Antheil’s preoccupation with machines and time-space theories in the early 1920s. It is constructed out of the addition and manipulation of rhythmically activated blocks, each delineated by a different ostinato pattern. Stuckenschmidt (1923) summarized the style of Antheil’s Berlin piano pieces as ‘a most lively polyrhythmical homophony’.

Antheil moved from Berlin to Paris in June 1923. His notoriety was ensured by the riotous reception of his performance of his piano pieces at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 4 October 1923, and he was championed and befriended by Joyce, Pound, Yeats, Satie, Picasso and other artists, including the violinist Olga Rudge. Applauded as a genius by the Parisian literary community, he became the musical spokesman for their ‘modernist’ ideas. Pound wrote a book and numerous articles in praise of Antheil’s music, and, together with Rudge, he commissioned two violin sonatas which were first performed on 11 December 1923 at the Salle du Conservatoire with Antheil accompanying Rudge; they performed them throughout Europe in the next few years. These sonatas, together with a third violin sonata (1924) and a string quartet (1924), illustrate Antheil’s musical discourse of this period: an abstract juxtaposition of musical blocks on a time canvas, similar to the arrangements of objects in a Cubist painting. Summarizing the formal procedures of these chamber pieces is the massive Ballet mécanique, dating from the same period; it is a comprehensive statement of the composer’s mechanistic outlook and time-space formulae modelled after Stravinsky’s The Wedding. (Antheil sought to accompany this large-scale synthesis of his formal ideas with a motion picture. The problems of coordinating the film with the music, scored for 16 pianolas, xylophones, drums and other percussion, proved, however, insurmountable and both works became autonomous.) Ballet mécanique was first performed publicly on 19 June 1926 in a reduced version for one pianola with amplifier, two pianos, three xylophones, electric bells, small wood propeller, large wood propeller, metal propeller, tam-tam, four bass drums and siren. A milestone in the literature for percussion ensemble, the Ballet mécanique is more tightly unified than Antheil’s other Paris works.


CREDIT: The information above is borrowed from a handout I received in a history class with Jim Campbell.