Awadagin Pratt, piano
Pandora Undone from Mythology Symphony
Western music includes several composers of instrumental music whose oeuvre is inextricably bound to narrative; they include particularly Hector Berlioz and Richard Strauss. Stacy Garrop shares this focus. “The sharing of stories is a defining element of our humanity; we strive to share with others the experiences and concepts that we find compelling.” Garrop shares stories by taking audiences on sonic journeys – some simple and beautiful, while others are complicated and dark – depending on the needs and dramatic shape of the story. She has also produced innovative programs to bring music to school children at all levels.”
Garrop composed the five-movement Mythology Symphony as single movements between 2007 and 2013, as the commissions came in. Each movement is a description of a figure from Greek mythology. Pandora Undone was the last, commissioned by the Chicago College of the Performing Arts. It can be programmed as a stand-alone piece.
The myth of the goddess Pandora (Greek for all gifts) comes from Theogony by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Pandora’s curiosity about the mysterious contents of a sealed casket gets the better of her, so that when she opens it, all the evils are released to plague the world forever. But also escaping the casket is Hope, tempering the escaped malevolence.
Garrop enhances the story by imbuing Pandora with a more full-fledged personality. She interprets her as a girl dancing in an environment of Eden-like innocence.
The casket – or her curiosity about it – has its own agency (and musical theme)
which becomes both increasingly insistent and threatening. In s sense, it is analogous to God’s stern prohibition to Adam and Eve against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – even including church-like chimes
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
The Piano Concerto No. 1 is among the works the young Beethoven composed after he had moved in 1792 from his native Bonn to Vienna. Like Mozart when he left Salzburg, also for Vienna, Beethoven had outgrown the musical establishment of his patron in Bonn, the elector Maximilian Franz, but he traveled to the Imperial capital not so much as a master but rather to study composition with Franz Joseph Haydn. At the end of 1793 Haydn wrote to the elector on his student’s behalf for an advance in salary, enclosing five compositions “of my dear pupil Beethoven,” who he predicted would “in time fill the position of one of Europe’s greatest composers.” The parsimonious elector was unimpressed.
Nevertheless, Beethoven quickly acquired a glowing reputation as both a pianist and composer. He had come already provided with important aristocratic connections that greased the way into the highest social circles, where noblemen were in competition with each other for the best in-house musical establishment. The period between 1792 and 1795 was probably the happiest in the composer’s life. Signs of his deafness had not yet appeared, and his passionate nature – even affability – signaled a young lion, rather than the irascible, slovenly and sickly misanthrope of his middle and later years.
Originally composed in 1795, revised in 1798 and again before publication in 1800, this concerto is actually not the first Beethoven wrote, although it was the first to be published. What is known today as No. 2 preceded it by a year. In 1784, Beethoven had written a youthful concerto in E-Flat WoO (Work without opus number) 4, which was not published in its entirety until 1890.
Beethoven himself was the pianist at the premiere of the original version of this Concerto in Vienna in 1795, but the manuscript was barely finished before the concert. His close friend, the physician Franz Wegeler, described the scene: “Beethoven did not write the rondo… till the afternoon of the day before the concert…Four copyists sat in the room outside, and he gave them the pages one by one as they were finished.”
By Beethoven’s own admission, the First Concerto still reflects the styles of Mozart and Haydn much more than his own. It begins with a lengthy and formal orchestral opening, ceremonial in style, after which the soloist makes his entry with a new opening theme.
The piano, however, enters with a new theme that harmonizes with the main theme instead of eactly repeating it.
The second theme is presented differently in the first
and second expositions.
The interplay between the piano and orchestra is reminiscent of the Mozart concerti, where the orchestra provides quiet background accompaniment for the soloist when both play together. This lighter accompaniment was, of course, acoustically necessary since the pianos of the time lacked the power of those even in the first part of the nineteenth century.
The slow movement, again, harks back to the Mozart model. Even the themes are Mozartean.
If in the first movement soloist and orchestra are partners, in the second it is the piano that dominates and develops and embellishes the themes, often aided by the clarinet, its special orchestral partner throughout this movement, in a chamber music-like interplay.
The rhythmic and sparkling rondo finale is a true orchestral romp, in which the soloist and orchestra try to outdo one another. Beethoven handles the rondo in a regular manner as a refrain between contrasting episodes of new thematic material.
A note about the cadenza to the first movement: Only incomplete fragments remain of the cadenza that Beethoven used at the premiere. By 1809, the composer’s hearing loss prevented him from performing in public, and he wrote three new cadenzas of differing lengths and difficulty for pianists of varying abilities.
In the years 1798 to 1809, the piano underwent a rapid evolution, not in small part as a result of Beethoven’s demands and specifications. While the concerto was written for a piano of five octaves, like Mozart’s, by the time Beethoven composed the cadenzas in 1809, he was writing for a piano of 5 1/2 octaves and commensurate power and sound to match. Consequently, a piano corresponding to Beethoven’s 1798 instrument for which the concerto was written, would not be able to play the 1809 cadenzas he wrote for it.
Ellis Island: The Dream of America
“Ellis Island: The Dream of America was born out of my fascination with the relationship between history and music. I’m drawn to good stories—especially stories which come from the past but are relevant to the present—and as an orchestral composer, I’m intrigued by the potential of the orchestra as a storytelling medium. Of course, orchestral music cannot tell stories in a literal way, but its ability to suggest scenes and emotions, and evoke responses in listeners, has challenged and stimulated composers for centuries.” Peter Boyer
Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island was the gateway for over 12 million European immigrants to the USA (Immigrants from other parts of the world came in through different ports of entry.) In 1973, in an attempt to preserve the history of this epic migration, there began the Ellis Island Oral History Project, recording interviews with immigrants who had passed through this gateway. Over the years, the project has collected about 2000 interviews, housed in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
Boyer composed Ellis Island in 2001-02 on commission from the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, Connecticut, using seven interview excerpts from the Oral History Project read by actors, coupled with projections of historical images from the Ellis Island Archive.
Although Boyer’s work began before 9/11, the work takes on an emotional intensity in light of the tragedy. The music is recognizably American, with echoes of Aaron Copland and the more lightweight Morton Gould. Muted orchestral accompaniments support the recitations, and interludes follow each recitation.
Most of the accounts follow the same trajectory, represented in a few minutes in the Prologue: the voyage from the old world into the ominous of the unknown;
to the sight of land;
to arrival and hope in the new – although experiences with immigration personnel on the island are sometimes as frightening as the ocean trip itself.
The interludes echo the same trajectory: initially reflecting the narrator’s reason for emigrating and ending with the arrival – although their experiences with immigration personnel on the island are sometimes as frightening as the ocean trip itself. Boyer makes little attempt to reflect the musical traditions of the speakers’ home countries, although he does capture the emotional tone of their individual testimonies. For example, Interlude 3, following Sicilian immigrant Lillian Galleta’s account of a storm off the straits of Gibraltar, is a violent musical seascape.
After the seven immigrants have safely landed and processed for a new life, Boyer concludes Ellis Island with the words of Emma Lazarus carved on the plaque from neighboring, welcoming Liberty Island.
Composer and conductor Peter Boyer is a native of Rhode Island who received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Hartt School of the University of Hartford. He has also studied with noted composer John Corigliano. His numerous compositions have been performed and praised worldwide. Currently he works as freelance composer and conductor and is on the conducting faculty at UCLA.