Ansel Adams: America
Born in Concord, California, December 6, 1920
Born in Los Angeles, California, March 19, 1952
Born in San Francisco, California, February 20, 1902; died in Carmel, California, April 22, 1984
“Photographers are in a sense composers, and the negatives are their scores.”
Tonight’s program features an unusual new work that is a collaboration between three remarkable creative artists, all of them native Californians. One of them was perhaps the greatest photographer America has ever produced: Ansel Adams, whose magnificent black-and-white photographs of the glories of the American West have thrilled viewers around the world for many decades while his technical mastery of the medium has influenced photographers to this very day. And setting Adams’ photographs to music is a particularly happy idea, for he was virtually as interested in music as in photography. As a youth, he practiced piano with the intensity he would later devote to his photography and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist; even when he had set aside that goal, he continued to play every day. His quotation above reveals the strong connection he felt between the two art forms.
Dave Brubeck is one of America’s most outstanding and versatile musicians, renowned for his innovations as a performer and composer in jazz, but also with a strong background in classical music that has led him to compose a number of classical orchestral and chamber works. His son Chris Brubeck, who plays many instruments, is a frequent performing partner and has also established an international reputation in both the jazz and classical field; increasingly, he has devoted his time to composing strikingly eclectic works, sometimes with a multi-media dimension, for symphony orchestras. When the idea for an Ansel Adams piece came up, Chris Brubeck realized it would be a perfect project for both Brubecks, as he explains in the following note:
“In 2006, I had lunch with Susan Carson, a dynamic patron of the arts in Northern California. She asked me what I thought about the idea of an orchestra performing original music while Ansel Adams’ photographic images were projected in the concert hall. I instantly thought this was a fabulous concept! … Ms. Carson met with me because she had been impressed with my innovative collaboration with conductor Peter Jaffe and the Stockton Symphony under the auspices of the Meet the Composer program [Mark Twains’ World]. …
“The merging of music and photography made perfect sense when Ms. Carson explained that Ansel Adams was well on his way to becoming a serious concert pianist until he was seduced by the beauty of Yosemite and succumbed to the lure of photography. This fact inspired me to read the wonderful book Ansel Adams, An Autobiography. … In the autobiography (which I highly recommend), I was impressed with his philosophical views, beautiful writing and keen analysis and comparison of musical and photographic techniques. … He was an artist and thinker whose experiences were as monumental as El Capitan. Growing up in San Francisco, Ansel Adams experienced a variety of historic events that would influence his art — the Great Earthquake of 1906, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, … the building of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. I thought his story was so interesting that I didn’t want to simply project his photographs, but also wanted to try to present his remarkable story to the audience.
“Ansel Adams evolved in the expansive currents of 20th-century America. His lifelong dedication to the Sierra Club along with his powerful photographs of the American landscape helped shape the environmental movement in our country. Because of his talent, hard work and good fortune, he became a pioneer and icon of an emerging new art form. I couldn’t help but think of my father, who grew up as a cowboy in the foothills of California near Stockton. … Recognizing their similar histories spurred me to ask Dave to become part of this compositional endeavor. We had collaborated before, and I enjoyed the process immensely. …
“Dave began to write a piano score that was driven in style by Bach and Chopin: immortal music learned and played by Adams as a young man. This music was also part of Dave’s unusual environment: growing up on a ranch where his father was a cowboy and his mother was a classical pianist who often played Bach and Chopin. Dave’s own style (in part inspired by his studies with Darius Milhaud at Mills College after World War II) evolved to be both polytonal and ‘jazzy.’ This heritage has naturally influenced my compositional language as well. Because the architecture of some of Adams’ photographs was so like the complex structure of a fugue, I suggested to my father that he write one as the heart of this new composition. Dave’s enthusiasm and creativity inspired him far beyond the fugue. He devised many wonderful themes and ideas that we expanded and polished together. Once the piano score was complete, my wife, Tish and I began to select additional images to be shown throughout the developing score. … Jeff Suggs, an award-winning visual production designer, met with us and also added his opinions and expertise regarding transitions between the images.
“When we had a good sense of where we were heading with our concept, both visually and musically, we involved Maestro Peter Jaffe [music director of the Stockton Symphony]. We wanted his input on tempos, orchestration and harmonic spelling. … Thus began a very enjoyable dialogue about every aspect of the final score as I orchestrated the piece.
“The beauty of Ansel Adams’ photography inspired Dave and me to create this music. We hope you’ll enjoy his breathtaking photographs and the way our new composition surrounds these images.”
Instrumentation: Three flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano and strings.
Mathis der Maler Symphony
Born in Hanau, Germany, November 16, 1895; died in Frankfurt, Germany, December 28, 1963
In the story of the German artist Matthias Grünewald (born Mathis Gothart, c.1475–1528), Paul Hindemith found compelling parallels with his own life in the 1930s as the rise of Nazism forced him to examine the role of the artist in times of profound social upheaval. During the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the 1520s, Grünewald had found himself torn between his devotion to his art and his Catholic patron, the Archbishop of Mainz, and his sympathy for the peasants who were rising against established spiritual and temporal power. He joined the uprising, but disgusted by the bloodshed, found he was more artist than soldier. Returning to painting, he created his masterpiece: the intricate, many-paneled altarpiece at the Antonite (for St. Anthony) monastery in Isenheim, Alsace.
Significantly, Hindemith began writing Mathis der Maler, his opera about Grünewald, in 1933, the year Hitler came to power in Germany. Though not a Jew, the outspoken composer soon found himself in trouble because of his open criticism of Nazism and his refusal to stop associating with Jewish musicians. As he watched the persecutions of his Jewish friends and was himself fired from the faculty of the Berlin Hochschüle, he wrestled with the question he posed for Mathis in the opera: in Michael Steinberg's words, "What is an artist to do at a time of political crisis: engage in the struggle or attend to his art? Can 'non-engaged' art be justified?" Mathis did both, and in a way so did Hindemith. In 1938, he fled his homeland for Switzerland and the U.S.
The Mathis der Maler Symphony actually predates the opera’s completion. In July 1933, renowned conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler, aware of the opera-in-progress, asked Hindemith to write a symphonic treatment; Hindemith agreed and completed his three-movement symphony just before its premiere by the Berlin Philharmonic under Fürtwangler on March 12, 1934. The work was a huge success, which only worsened Hindemith's problems with the Nazis. Though designed as a true symphony, each movement is inspired by a different panel of the Isenheim altarpiece. Hindemith's music generally tends toward cool detachment, but this work's greatness rests not only in its superb compositional craft, but also in its warmth, passion, and sheer beauty.
The symphony opens with the "Angelic Concert," drawn from Grünewald's serene, vibrantly colored panel of Mary and the infant Jesus being serenaded by an angelic orchestra. Soft, widely spaced chords in the strings and woodwinds create a mystical slow introduction. Then trombones proclaim the old German folksong "Es sungen drei Engel" ("Three Angels Sang"), and this chorale spreads throughout the orchestra. The tempo accelerates for a bustling theme beginning in the violins. An infectiously happy flute melody rounds out the exposition before the contrapuntally exciting development section. High violins pealing like celestial bells conclude a movement of timeless, beyond-this-world joy.
Mourning replaces joy in the slow movement, "The Entombment," inspired by Grünewald's bleak panel of Christ being laid in the tomb by his grieving disciples; this music, slightly modified, became the opera's conclusion. Muted strings, weighed down by sorrow, labor painfully upward, while a solo flute, the voice of desolation, keens above. As the brass instruments enter, they join the upward struggle, climaxing in a loud cry that hints of resurrection.
"The Temptation of St. Anthony," Grünewald's terrifying vision of demonic monsters tormenting the monastery's patron saint, generates the final movement, as long as the first two put together. In the opera, Grünewald has a vision in which he is St. Anthony undergoing the torments of moral/artistic conscience. In the slow introduction, ferocious string trills, painful dissonances, and hissing rolls on the drums summon up the demons. The quick-tempo main section begins with relentless galloping rhythms and a theme in the strings that reeks of pure evil. Under a high trill in the violins stretched to the brink of madness, a quieter section suggests mental rather than physical torture. The fast music returns, but soon the demons are routed by the Gregorian chant "Lauda Sion Salvatorem" ("Zion, Praise the Savior") in the woodwinds. St. Anthony/Mathis has conquered his tormentors; a final blazing brass "Alleluia" chorale proclaims his victory.
Instrumentation: Two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.
Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Mussorgsky/ Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel
Born in Karevo, Ukraine, March 21, 1839; died in St. Petersburg, March 28, 1881
When one of his closest friends, the artist and architect Victor Hartman, died of an aneurism at age 39 in 1873, a devastated Modest Mussorgsky helped organize an exhibition of Hartman's paintings in St. Petersburg early the next year. He then decided to "draw in music" (his words) ten of them in a work for solo piano that he composed rapidly during June 1874. Apparently, he had no plans to orchestrate his Pictures at an Exhibition, and the work was not even published until after his death. It remained little known outside of Russia.
All this changed in 1922 when Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Maurice Ravel, one of the greatest orchestrators of the 20th century, to score Pictures for his Paris ensemble. Working with love and respect for Mussorgsky's music, the Frenchman created a masterpiece in a new genre, in which uncommon instruments like the tuba, alto saxophone and celesta enrich a glowing orchestral canvas. Several other composers have subsequently produced orchestrations of Pictures, but Ravel's remains the touchstone.
The following movement descriptions draw on the words of Russian art critic Vladimir Stassov, friend to both Hartman and Mussorgsky:
Promenade: Mussorgsky depicts "himself … as he strolled through the exhibition, joyfully or sadly recalling the talented deceased artist … he does not hurry, but observes attentively." This music returns throughout the piece as a linking device, changing to reflect the composer's different responses to the pictures. By 1874, Mussorgsky had grown fat, and we hear this in the music's stately, lumbering gait.
Gnomus: "A fantastic lame figure on crooked little legs … This gnome is a child's toy, fashioned, after Hartman's design, in wood for the Christmas tree … in the style of the nutcracker, the nuts being inserted in the gnome's mouth. … The gnome accompanies his droll movements with savage shrieks."
Il vecchio castello ("The Old Castle"): This is a sketch of a medieval Italian castle; a troubadour is singing in the foreground. Above the strumming of the guitar, the alto saxophone with a bassoon partner sings the troubadour's song in dark sepia tones.
Tuileries: Stassov wrote that this high-spirited episode is based on a picture of children playing with their nurse in Paris' Tuileries Gardens.
Bydlo ("Polish Cart"): This melancholy piece, featuring solo tuba, portrays a heavy Polish ox-drawn wagon. Low strings and bassoons depict the groaning of its wheels. Mussorgsky intended this to begin loudly, but Ravel gradually builds the volume, then lets it fade as the wagon rumbles toward us, then moves away.
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks: "In 1870, Hartman designed the costumes … for the ballet Trilbi at the Maryinsky Theatre. … In the cast were a number of boy and girl pupils . . . arrayed as canaries. Others were dressed up as eggs." Hartman's sketches in which the children's arms and legs protrude from the egg shells inspired this chirping piece of high woodwinds and celesta.
Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle: "Victor Hartman gave Mussorgsky two of his sketches from real life, those of the rich and the poor Jew" from Sandimir, Poland. Mussorgsky named the two and richly characterized the haughty rich man (in low unison strings and winds) Goldenberg dismissing the whining pleas (muted trumpet solo) of the poor Schmuÿle.
Limoges—The Market: "Old women quarreling at the market in Limoges."
Catacombae and "Con mortuis in lingua mortua" (Catacombs and "With the Dead in a Dead Language"): In the solemn tones of low brass this bursts immediately from Limoges. Hartman's picture shows the artist, a friend and a guide examining the Paris catacombs by lamplight. A pile of skulls is heaped in one corner; Mussorgsky imagines that they begin to glow from within.
The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba-Yaga): Powerful and grotesque, "this piece is based on Hartman's design for a clock in the form of Baba-Yaga's hut on hen's legs, to which Mussorgsky added the ride of the witch in her mortar." Baba-Yaga is a Russian fairytale witch who lures children into the woods, eats them, then crushes their bones in a giant mortar in which she rides through the woods. Baba-Yaga soars upward into …
The Great Gate of Kiev: The grand finale, based on the "Promenade" music, depicts Hartman's competition design for a ceremonial arch in Kiev to commemorate Tsar Alexander II's escape from an assassination attempt. It is "in the massive old Russian style in the form of a Slavonic helmet." Kiev is the historic seat of Russian orthodoxy; Mussorgsky incorporates a Russian orthodox hymn-tune sung by the woodwinds. Ringing with church bells and brass fanfares, the work climaxes in a blaze of Slavic glory.
Instrumentation: Three flutes, two piccolos, three oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celeste and strings.