Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2003 by Fred Flaxman

Program 33
"One-Hit American Composers"

MUSIC: Virgil Thomson: excerpt from The Plow that Broke the Plains performed by the Symphony of the Air conducted by Leopold Stokowski [Vanguard Classics SVC 1] under

FLAXMAN: Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to "One-Hit American Composers."

MUSIC: fades out

FLAXMAN: What is a one-hit composer? Well, quite simply, it's a composer who had just one big hit in his career. Now that doesn't mean, of course, that he or she wrote only one piece. It doesn't mean that he or she didn't write several pieces that are worth listening to. What it means, in my mind, is that the average to above-average classical music lover, when asked to name a piece by the composer under discussion, could, at best, name just this one piece. Remember, I am not talking about classical music experts here. I am talking about fairly informed classical music listeners.

Perhaps a more objective way of determining who the one-hit composers are would be to look at a catalog of all the compact discs which are currently available. These composers would have multiple recordings of their one hit, and few if any recordings of their other works.

When I went through my own CD collection trying to pick-out one-hit composers, I discovered that there were quite a few, and they were of many nationalities. I picked out enough one-hit American composers alone to fill at least two hours of Compact Discoveries programs. So let's get started right away with a short piece that will serve as our overture. It is by Morton Gould, who was better known as an arranger and orchestrator than as a composer. I think his clever march score, American Salute, which is based on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," is his one big hit.

MUSIC: Gould: American Salute, Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler [RCA Victor 6806-2-RG, track 1] [4:07]

FLAXMAN: Arthur Fiedler conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra in this compact disc recording of Morton Gould's American Salute. The song which inspired the piece, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," was first published in 1863 under a fictitious name. It was later claimed by Patrick Gilmore, a famous Irish-born Boston bandmaster, but that claim might have been fictitious as well.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries, and I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman. In this hour we are exploring one-hit American composers. Next on my list is Edward MacDowell, who lived from 1860 until 1908. His one big hit was his Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Opus 23.

Although MacDowell was born in New York and died in New York, he studied in Europe, stayed there for many years, and is very much a part of the European romantic music tradition. Franz Liszt loved his music and made sure it was published. MacDowell's First Piano Concerto was dedicated to Liszt.

Let's listen to MacDowell's Second Piano Concerto now as performed by the American pianist, Donna Amato, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the American conductor, Paul Freeman.

MUSIC: MacDowell: Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23, with Donna Amato and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman [Archduke Records, DARC 1, tracks 4, 5, 6] [28:00]

FLAXMAN: Edward MacDowell's big hit, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23. Donna Amato was the pianist. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Paul Freeman.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and in this hour I am exploring one-hit American composers. We started with Morton Gould's American Salute. Then we heard MacDowell's Second Piano Concerto. Next we'll hear Walter Piston's big hit, The Incredible Flutist.

Although Walter Piston's name sounds very English and he was associated for many years with Boston, he was born in Rockland, Maine, where his Italian grandfather, Antonio Pistone, had settled. Piston was 11 when his family moved to Boston. He graduated from one of the local universities - Harvard - and taught there for 34 years. But, like virtually every other prominent American composer of the period, he did postgraduate study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, as well as with Paul Dukas, who was a one-hit composer himself - the creator of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

The Incredible Flutist was a ballet. It was first performed at a concert of the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler on May 30, 1938. The story takes place in a sleepy village in a southern climate. Just after siesta time, a circus suddenly comes to town with a parade. Its chief attraction is the Incredible Flutist. He enchants the prettiest daughter of the local merchant. The merchant has been courting a rich widow, who now finally responds. But when they are discovered embracing, she faints. The flutist revives her, breaking a spell that he himself has cast. The circus leaves the village as unexpectedly as it had arrived.

We'll listen to the suite from the ballet which premiered in 1940. You'll notice, I'm sure, that the "Circus March" includes vocal sound effects - the cheering of the crowd and even the barking of a dog. These were spontaneous contributions by enthusiastic orchestra members at the ballet's premiere, which were later added to the score.

MUSIC: Piston: The Incredible Flutist with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra [RCA Victor 60798-2-RC, tracks 1-11] [16:37]

FLAXMAN: Walter Piston's The Incredible Flutist. Leonard Slatkin conducted the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. I can't find the name of the flutist anywhere in the program notes or on the jewel box which came with this RCA Victor compact disc, but there is a credit for "canine contributions." They are listed as "Margie Slatkin and Bud." The recording dates from 1990.

Although Walter Piston wrote several symphonies, Three New England Sketches, and other works, The Incredible Flutist remains his one big hit, and this Compact Discoveries program is devoted to one-hit American composers.

We'll close now with an excerpt from music critic Virgil Thomson's one big hit, the suite from the 1936 documentary motion picture, The Plow That Broke the Plains. In this piece Thomson makes use of cowboy waltz tunes, weaving together "I Ride an Old Paint" with touches of "Laredo" and "Git Along Little Dogies." The Symphony of the Air is conducted by Leopold Stokowski in this Vanguard Classics compact disc.

MUSIC: Thomson: The Plow That Broke the Plains with Leopold Stokowski conducting the Symphony of the Air [Vanguard Classics SVC 1, track 8]

FLAXMAN [under the above]: With this excerpt from The Plow That Broke the Plains by Virgil Thomson we come to the end of this hour of Compact Discoveries, which I have devoted to one-hit American composers.

This is your guide, Fred Flaxman, hoping that you have enjoyed this musical journey. I welcome your comments on this and past Compact Discoveries programs and your suggestions for future themes. My e-mail address is That's all one word and Flaxman is spelled F-l-a-x-m-a-n.

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the generous, caring people who support classical music on public radio with their membership contributions, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach/Boca Raton, Florida.

MUSIC: finishes above selection by 58:00

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