Concert Prep

Concert Prep: Hartwick College Faculty Showcase

Hartwick College Faculty Showcase

Douglas Townsend – Canzona

Igor Stravinsky – L’histoire du Soldat

Bohuslav Martinu – La Revue de Cuisine

Anderson Theater, 3PM (cost of admission – free!)

Twice a year, Hartwick College’s music department puts together a showcase, the purpose of which is to enliven campus life. Faculty members are free to submit their own proposals, and there is no music director, so the result is a pleasant sampling of music history where each piece is unique to the items surrounding it. This afternoon’s concert will bring you a sampling of music from post World War One Paris, where jazz was all the rage. You’ll also hear only the third known performance of Douglas Townsend’s Canzona.

Townsend – Canzona

There is no YouTube recording of the Canzona. There is hardly any record of the Canzona at all, in fact. It was completed in 1950, and received just a single performance during the composer’s lifetime. Our own Daniel Hane was a part of the second performance, which took place more than 60 years after its completion, and you can thank him for bringing you this rare, musical treat today. Townsend was unable to attend that first performance, and thus this piece of music is one of the few works which was never heard by its creator.  It is not a devilishly tricky piece to play, but it certainly presents its challenges. The viola part, for example, has several instances of unplayable notes in it.

The first thing that strikes about the Canzona is the instrumentation – flute, viola and bassoon. This unusual combination is noteworthy because each instrument has a different means of sound production – the violist draws the bow across the string, the bassoonist causes the reed to rattle, and for the flute, the simple passage of air over the mouthpiece creates the music. This is representative of the music as a whole. When listening to chamber music, one expects the instruments to work together – the bassoon might play the bassline, the viola the rhythmic underpinnings, and the flute the melody. Don’t expect any of that here. The instruments are all equals here, each pursuing its own individual line, and only coming together on occasion. This is true of the tonality – the viola opens the work by intoning a distant, mysterious melody, and the work stays just as alien throughout. When listening to this meditative, lyrical work , one would be best served to observe the individuality of each instrument, and appreciate those rare moments of unity of thought.

Stravinsky – L’histoire du Soldat

OK! Time for some Parisian music! What’s that you say? Stravinsky doesn’t sound like a French name? Oh, it’s because it’s not. He’s Russian, and moved to France to study and work during of the most fruitful times of his life. L’histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) was preceded by his three most famous works – The Firebird, Petrouchka, and The Rite of Spring. Wait, what’s that? There’s someone TALKING over this music! Get him out of here! Oh. He’s supposed to be there? Well, alright I suppose. This music is realized in a very unusual style. To my knowledge, there are only two works in the entire musical canon which incorporate a narrator, but NOT for educational purposes. It’s a ballet, but with only three dancers. In a full performance, there are extended sections where the instrumental ensemble sits out while the narrator and actors work things out. So… it’s an opera, but with no singing. Typical of Stravinsky, to write what he wants without worrying about what genre he’s writing in. The music tells the story of a soldier who trades his violin to the Devil in exchange for limitless profit. As expected, the violin plays a big role in this work, and while there are many instances where the violin player imitates a fiddle, it’s usually a bit off kilter – as though the Devil is, in fact, influencing the fiddle.

Martinu – La Revue de Cuisine

Bohuslav Martinu, like Igor Stravinsky, is not a native Parisian. He was from Czechoslovakia, and like Stravinsky, relocated to the hottest musical town in Europe to further his education and career. The work’s name translates to “The Kitchen Review,” but it also might have been entitled “The Days of Our Lives: Kitchen Edition.” It tells the comedic tale of what our kitchen utensils get up to when we’re not looking. Unlike L’histoire, this work shows its jazz roots right away, with its unexpected, offbeat rhythms, and lead trumpet similar to what you’d hear in a big band (what if Miles Davis had played this music?). This music sounds like it even has something in common with some of Aaron Copland’s works inspired by the theater.

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