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

©2012 by Fred Flaxman

Program 202
"Musical Rivers"

MUSIC: Johann Strauss: opening of The Blue Danube Waltz performed by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan [Deutsche Grammophon 400 026-2, Track 1] [under the following]

Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz may be the most famous piece of music ever written that was inspired by a river, but there are many other beautiful pieces honoring many other famous rivers of the world. Stay with me for the next hour and we’ll sample several of them. This is Compact Discoveries, and I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

MUSIC: fades out

Our “Musical Rivers” journey will take us down the Mississippi, the Shenandoah, the Hudson, the Swanee, and the Moldau. And we’ll hear Paul Robeson sing songs inspired by rivers, starting with his famous rendition of Ol’ Man River.

MUSIC: Kern/Hammerstein: Ol’ Man River from “The Best of Paul Robeson” [Delta CD6252, Track 1] [2:33]

Ol’ Man River sung by Paul Robeson. Robeson was born in 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of a runaway slave who later graduated from Lincoln University. After a four-year scholarship at Rutgers University, Paul Robeson went to Columbia Law School. He first became famous in 1925 when he performed a concert of Negro spirituals to an ecstatic New York audience.

Dogged by appalling racism throughout his life and career, Robeson nevertheless toured extensively across the U.S., before causing a sensation in 1928 by his appearances as Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in New York and in Showboat in London, where his part included singing Ol’ Man River.

You are listening to “Musical Rivers” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. We are starting with the most famous of the American rivers: the Mississippi.

Ferde Grofé, who to this day is best known for orchestrating George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and for his own Grand Canyon Suite, wrote two suites inspired by rivers: the Mississippi Suite and the Hudson River Suite. The Mississippi Suite is in four movements: 1. Father of Waters, 2. Huckleberry Finn, 3. Old Creole Days, and 4. Mardi Gras. In this Naxos compact disc recording the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is conducted by William Stromberg.

MUSIC: Grofé: Mississippi Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Tracks 1-4] [13:35]

Ferde Grofé’s Mississippi Suite. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by William Stromberg.

As I mentioned earlier, Grofé also wrote a Hudson River Suite, which I’ll play for you later in the hour. But now it’s time for another river song sung by Paul Robeson: Shenandoah.

At the beginning of this hour I mentioned that Robeson sang Ol’ Man River as part of his role in the London cast of the musical Showboat. While he was there in 1929, he was refused entrance to the Savoy Grill because he was black. But that didn’t stop him from returning to England in the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello.

All during his life Robeson used his voice to promote spirituals and to benefit the labor and social movements of the time, singing for peace and justice in 25 languages throughout the U.S., Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa. In 1933 he made a large donation to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany, and he even contemplated relocating his family to Russia, where he said: “Here, for the first time in my life, I walk in full human dignity.”

Such fearless political activity led him into serious trouble in the U.S. The FBI labeled him a leading communist and withdrew his passport. His career suffered serious damage through canceled concerts and disruption by racist mobs. And Robeson was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He died in 1976 at the age of 77.

Here’s his version of Shenandoah on this Compact Discoveries hour devoted to “Musical Rivers.”

MUSIC: Traditional/Terry: Shenandoah from “The Best of Paul Robeson” [Delta CD6252, Track 4] [3:08]

Shenandoah sung by Paul Robeson.

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

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

Earlier in this hour I played the Mississippi River Suite by Ferde Grofé. The Hudson River also inspired him and we hear that suite next. It has five movements: 1. The River, 2. Henry Hudson, 3. Rip Van Winkle, 4. Albany Night Boat, and 5. New York! But we only have time to bring you the first three. Once again the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is conducted by William Stromberg.

MUSIC: Grofé: First three movements of the Hudson River Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559017, Tracks 7 - 11] [12:31]

The first three movements of Ferde Grofé’s Hudson River Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg.

This is Compact Discoveries -- on the air, on line, and on the Sky.FM Compact Discoveries Radio channel seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

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

Our next stop in this tour of “Musical Rivers” is down south.

MUSIC: Foster/Brown: Swanee River sung by Paul Robeson” [Delta CD6252, Track 10] [3:10]

Swanee River sung by Paul Robeson. This is from a Delta CD called “The Best of Paul Robeson.”

Well so far this hour, except for the opening music, all of our “Musical Rivers” have been in the United States. But we must go to Europe if we’re going to hear one of the most famous classical pieces inspired by a river.

It is called the Moldau in German or the Vltava in Czech, and it is by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, from his cycle of symphonic poems called Má Vlast / My Country. The piece portrays the flow of the river, beginning with the two initial small streams, followed by the merger of the two creeks into a single stream, and then the flow through groves and meadows, where feasts are taking place, on towards Prague in a wide bed. The river and the music finally disappear in the distance in a majestic flow into the Elbe.

MUSIC: Smetana: Vltava from “My Country / Má Vlast” performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Václav Smetácek [Supraphon 11 0082-2031, Track 2] [11:12]

Smetana’s Vltava / The Moldau from “My Country / Má Vlast,” performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Václav Smetácek on a Supraphon compact disc recording.

Most composers who write music inspired by rivers are moved by their beauty and majesty, of course, and by the movement of the water. Well I’m going to conclude this hour-long exploration of “Musical Rivers” with a song that points out that rivers can also be very dangerous and destructive. Here’s Paul Robeson singing River, Stay ‘Way from My Door.

MUSIC: Woods/Dixon: River, Stay ‘Way from My Door from “The Best of Paul Robeson” [Delta CD6252, Track 15] [3:21]

Paul Robeson. River, Stay ‘Way from My Door.

MUSIC: Johann Strauss: opening of The Blue Danube Waltz performed by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan [Deutsche Grammophon 400 026-2, Track 1] [under the following]

And that concludes our tribute to “Musical Rivers” on Compact Discoveries. If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to compactdiscoveries.com on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. There you’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening.

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” Information and ordering at sixtyslices.com. And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. [0:26]

Total Program Timing: 58:00