2006 (Revised 2012)
A New York native, violinist and composer, Jessie Montgomery studied at the Juilliard School and New York University. She has had works performed by leading orchestras throughout the US, including the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and many others. She has been heavily involved with the Sphinx organization since 1999, now serving as composer-in-residence.
The aptly-named Strum features extensive guitar-style pizzicato throughout. The composer writes:
“I utilized texture, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinato that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement, the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.”
The illegitimate son of a West African doctor and English mother, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor grew up in London. His mother’s family had strong musical inclinations, and his grandfather recognized and fostered his burgeoning musical talent, securing him a place in the Royal College of Music as a teenager, where he studied violin and composition.
He quickly established his reputation as a composer, completing his most famous work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, at age 23. Though born and raised in England, Coleridge-Taylor had strong ties to the United States, making the trip three times in his short life. While his father was from Sierra Leone, he was in fact a direct descendent of American slaves. Coleridge-Taylor developed an interest in African-American folk songs on his visits and produced several dozen arrangements of songs from this repertoire.
At the same time, he fully embraced the English Romantic tradition into which he was born, and many of his works show clear stylistic affinity to those of Arthur Sullivan and Edward Elgar. As the diminutive title suggests, the Novelettes form a set of modest yet graceful character pieces, whose dance-like qualities are accentuated through the addition of triangle and tambourine.
Sonata da chiesa
Like Coleridge-Taylor, Adolphus Hailstork grew up educated securely within the European classical tradition, studying with David Diamond at the Manhattan School of Music and admiring Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. (Like those two composers, he too would make his way to France to study with the eminent Nadia Boulanger.) He would come to embrace African-American musical elements later in his career without putting aside his European models, comparing his resulting musical eclecticism to the linguistic phenomenon of code switching, whereby a speaker moves between different languages or dialects depending on social context. (In his own words: “I think some future musicologist will be pulling his hair out trying to figure out who this Hailstork guy was, and that’s OK.”) His massive output encompasses virtually every major classical genre.
Sonata da Chiesa (“church sonata”) was written for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia. The work was inspired by Hailstork’s early musical upbringing as a church chorister and reflects the physical qualities of the church building itself: the opening and closing sections (called “Exultate”) feature massive chords reminiscent of large blocks of stone. Within these musical “walls” fall five movements named for, and exhibiting the character of, phrases taken from the Latin mass text or traditional hymns: O Great Mystery, Adoration, Jubilation, Lamb of God, and Grant Us Thy Peace.
The recipient of a Doctorate in Music from the University of Michigan, Adolphus Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, chamber ensemble, band and orchestra. He has received a large number of awards and commissions and is currently a professor at Norfolk State University in Virginia.
William Grant Still
1895 - 1978
William Grant Still’s productivity and eclecticism surpasses even that of Hailstork. Born in Mississippi and educated in Ohio, Still’s career took him to both coasts: In New York he collaborated with leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance while composing symphonies and playing in pit orchestras; in Los Angeles he arranged film scores and conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. His Symphony No. 1 remains one of the most often played American symphonies.
The American violinist Elisabeth Waldo, who developed a strong interest in the indigenous music of Latin America while touring the region, brought to Still’s attention the Panamanian dance melodies that would inspire the four Danzas de Panama. The tamborito is the national dance of Panama and features drums simulated in Still’s score with taps on the body of the violins. Similarly, Still evokes the mejorana and socavon– guitar-like string instruments – with pizzicato and bouncing bow strokes in the violas. The punto is an intimate couple’s dance; here too, the orchestra imitates the traditional accompaniment of fiddle and guitar. Finally, the high-spirited cumbia and congo bring back the percussion again, in the form of instrument taps in the violins and violas.
Known as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” Still composed nearly 200 works that include five symphonies, four ballets, nine operas, chamber music and choral works. His life was a series of “firsts”—first African American to conduct a major American symphony, first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra, first to have an opera performed by a major opera company and the first to have an opera performed on television.
Still was commissioned by Great Falls High School to compose a new arrangement
of his Serenade.
It was first performed by
the school’s band on
May 7, 1958
under Paul Shull.
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