Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2008 by Fred Flaxman

Program 137
"Americans in Paris"

Copland: opening of “Buckaroo Holiday” from Rodeo performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta [Naxos 8.559240 track 2] [under the following]

This music sounds as American as classical music ever gets. After all it is called “Buckaroo Holiday” and it is from a ballet by Aaron Copland which he called Rodeo [roh-DAY-oh], even though the normal pronunciation of that word in English is, of course, ROH-dee-oh. Well, Copland was a lifelong city slicker, so what did he know?

But where do you think Aaron Copland went to learn how to compose music like this? The answer is Paris, France. And Paris, France is the same city that the American composer Walter Piston went to to learn how to write music. These two even had the same French music teacher: Nadia Boulanger, as did George Antheil, Burt Bacharach, Robert Russell Bennett, Paul Bowles, Elliott Carter, David Diamond, Philip Glass, Roy Harris, Ned Rorem, Roger Sessions, Virgil Thomson and a whole host of other Americans.

Nadia Boulanger, who lived from 1887 until 1979, was a French composer, conductor and music professor. But most of all she was a music educator at the highest level, teaching many of the most important composers and conductors of the 20th Century. Virgil Thompson once said about her that every town in the United States had a post office and a Boulanger pupil.

MUSIC: fades out

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. Stay with me for the next hour and we’ll explore together music of three of these “Americans in Paris,” starting with one who wrote a piece with a very similar title: George Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

Gershwin went to Paris in 1928, after already writing Rhapsody in Blue and his Piano Concerto, in search of more thorough training in composition. When he asked Maurice Ravel for lessons, Ravel, according to one legend, asked Gershwin how much money he made each year. Upon hearing the response, Ravel said: “Then, Mr. Gershwin, I think I should be taking lessons from you.”

In any case, Ravel refused Gershwin’s request. Another legend has it that he told Gershwin that he could teach him only how to be a bad Ravel, and it was better for him to be a good Gershwin.

Gershwin’s An American in Paris is a symphonic poem reflecting the impressions of an American visitor to Paris. Despite the piece’s enormous energy, much of it is lonely music, reflecting home sickness. Max Harrison, who wrote the program notes for the recording we are about to hear, said that it was this fusion of vitality and sadness that is an important element in the powerful and lasting appeal of this work.

Here it is as played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn in a 1984 Philips Digital Classics CD.

MUSIC: Gershwin: An American in Paris, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn [Philips 412 611-2, tracks 2 and 3] [18:01]

George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. André Previn led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

You are listening to “Americans in Paris” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

Our next two American composers in Paris actually did study there. Harvard graduate Walter Piston, who lived from 1894 until 1976, did postgraduate work with both Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger in France, after which he taught at his alma mater for 34 years.

Piston moved with his family in 1905 from Rockland, Maine, where his Italian grandfather Antonio Pistone had settled, to Boston. He became interested in music at the age of 17 and taught himself to play the violin and piano well enough to perform in restaurants and theaters while earning a living as a draftsman. After serving as a Navy bandsman in World War I he committed himself to a musical career.

Piston’s melodious suite from his ballet The Incredible Flutist is probably his most popular composition. The ballet is Piston’s only dance work. It was created for the setting where it was first performed — a concert of the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler on May 30, 1938.

Choreographer Hans Wiener’s scenario is set in a sleepy village in a southern climate. Just after siesta, a circus comes to town with a parade. Chief among its unusual attractions is the Incredible Flutist, who meets the prettiest daughter of the local merchant and falls in love with her.

The rich widow the merchant has been courting now reacts, but when the couple is discovered embracing she faints dead away. The Flutist revives her and sets everything right, breaking the spell he himself has cast. The circus leaves the village as unexpectedly as it had arrived.

Piston prepared his suite not long after the ballet’s premiere. Fritz Reiner introduced it with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1940. Let’s listen to excerpts from the suite now with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin on an RCA Victor Red Seal CD from 1991.

MUSIC: Piston: The Incredible Flutist performed by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin [RCA Victor 60798-2-RC]

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin played excerpts from Walter Piston’s suite from his ballet The Incredible Flutist. I’m sure you noticed that the Circus March included vocal sound effects — crowd cheering and dog barking. These were spontaneous contributions by enthusiastic orchestra members at the ballet’s premiere, which were later incorporated into the score.

I’m going to conclude this hour of “Americans in Paris” with Four Dance Episodes from another American ballet, Rodeo by Aaron Copland.

Copland was Nadia Boulanger’s very first American pupil in Paris in 1920. He didn’t return to the U.S. until 1924. His ballet Rodeo was commissioned by Agnes de Mille and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942. De Mille not only wrote the story-line for Rodeo, she also created the choreography and danced in the starring role as the Cowgirl.

Rodeo is a love story set in the American Southwest. The girl in this case is a cowgirl, a tomboy whose desperate effort to become a ranch-hand creates a problem for the cowboys and makes her the laughing stock of the other women. Happily, by the final curtain everything turns out well.

In this music Copland quotes from a variety of American folk-tunes, which helps to make this score truly American while saving Copland the difficult task of creating memorable original melodies. In this Naxos American Classics CD from 2006, JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

MUSIC: Copland: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta [Naxos 8.559240, tracks 2-5] [18:54]

JoAnn Falletta conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in this Naxos recording of Four Dance Episodes from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo.

That brings this hour of “Americans in Paris” on Compact Discoveries to a close. I hope you have enjoyed this music. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening, and reminding you that you can stream most Compact Discoveries programs on demand. For more information on this and other Compact Discoveries programs, go to www.compactdiscoveries.com on the internet. This is program number 137.

This Compact Discoveries program is a presentation of WPVM, Asheville, North Carolina, a broadcast service of the Mountain Area Information Network.

MUSIC: Copland: opening of “Buckaroo Holiday” from Rodeo performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta [Naxos 8.559240 track 2]

Program Ends at 58:00

  ©2008 Compact Discoveries