This Friday William Sullivan will be presenting a program entitled Music for a One-Man Band, Fun and Inspiring Transcriptions. This will be an opportunity to hear the organ of Third Baptist utilized to it’s orchestral best! Come this Friday at 12:30 to hear the concert:
- Poet and Peasant Overture, Franz von Suppé (1819 – 1895), Tr. Edwin Lemare (1865 – 1934)
- Humoresque (Op. 101, No.7), Antonín Dvo?ák (1841 – 1904), Tr. Wm. Sullivan (1954 – )
- Stardust with Arabesque No. 1 (or vice versa), Howard “Hoagy” Carmichael (1899 –1981), Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918), Tr. & Arr. Wm. Sullivan
- Crown Imperial – William Walton (1902 – 1983), Tr. Herbert Murrill (1909 –1952)
Some extraneous notes
Transcribing music of other genres for solo organ performance dates back to the 17th century. In the nineteenth century, the art gained momentum when organists began transcribing orchestral and chamber works to public acclaim. Such was British organist W. T. Best, who would find out what the Liverpool Symphony was performing that week, write out his own transcriptions, and perform the same program at the town hall or some other venue with a suitable big pipe organ – and charge less at the door. Edwin Lemare, a British concert organist who immigrated to the U.S., brought the transcriber’s art to its apotheosis. However, tastes change. Transcribing went out of vogue and was looked upon with contempt by reforming purists who ruined the fun during their Back-to-Bach reign of terror in the mid to late 20th century. I think it was really a sour grapes thing because a lot of those works took some real skill to play and required a type of organ that was nearing extinction as symphonically-conceived romantic instruments were routinely scrapped or mangled in favor of a sterile neo-baroque sound. Never mind the fact that Bach and his contemporaries regularly transcribed works by others and Bach even “repurposed” his own compositions (e.g., the Schübler Chorales), but I digress. Thankfully, there is revived interest in this unique repertoire as well as new interest in building or restoring the instruments needed to play works of this genre. Nearly every major concert organist once again has transcriptions in his or her repertoire. Fun is back. Now, about today’s selections . . .
My first exposure to Franz von Suppé’s music (and other famous works) was through Carl Stalling’s unforgettable orchestral scores that graced the products of Warner Brothers’ Animation Department. As a kid, Music 101 was held on Saturday morning. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd were probably my best teachers, sharing the music of Brahms, Liszt, von Suppé, and Rossini in high-brow performances like “Baton Bunny”, “Rhapsody Rabbit”, “The Rabbit of Seville”, or “A Corny Concerto.” That is where nuggets like von Suppé’s opera overtures live on in our collective conscience, even after the mediocre stage works to which they were once connected have sunk into oblivion. Others also contributed to my early musical education – Disney (Mickey Mouse), Fleischer Studios(Popeye), and Walter Lantz (Woody Woodpecker), but Warner Brothers beat ‘em all, although I have to give credit where credit is due: My first exposure to Poet and Peasant was actually not through WB but an early Popeye flick named “Spinach Overture,” in which a really lousy orchestra got its act together after consuming a prodigious amount of canned spinach at the behest of Popeye, although he never inspired me to eat the stuff. I also remember a Walter Lantz film “Poet and Peasant” that featured Andy Panda conducting an ensemble of farm animals named the “Hollywood Washbowl Orchestra.” That one was actually nominated for an Oscar. But, in final analysis, I got more laughs and more musical knowledge from Warner Brothers. I just wished they would have let Wile E. Coyote clobber that smart-aleck road runner at least once, or did he in the last episode? I don’t recall.
During his sojourn in the United States from 1892-1895, Dvo?ák compiled a sketchbook in which he collected indigenous musical themes (e.g., folk songs and spirituals) or jotted down original ideas that struck his fancy as he took in the sights and sounds of America. Some of these themes and ideas found their way into works such as the Eighth (“New World”) Symphony, the String Quartet in F Major (“American”), the Quintet in E Flat Major, the Sonatina for Violin, and the cycle of short piano works he labelled “Humoresques”. At the Bily Clocks Museum and Antonín Dvo?ák Exhibit in Spillville, Iowa, it was stated that the dotted rhythms of the seventh Humoresque were inspired by the clickety-clack of the rails underneath the composer as he traversed the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad on his Iowa visit, but I have no documentation for that surmise (although it is a plausible explanation and I would like to believe it). The seventh Humoresque took off in popularity immediately and was soon published in arrangements for various instruments and ensembles and even set to lyrics. One writer opined that this work and Beethoven’s Für Elise are the most famous small piano pieces ever written. But the real climax to this success story wasn’t until the 1990s when it became Slappy Squirrel’s theme song in the television show Animaniacs. Oh, those Warner Brothers were at it again!
Howard Hoagland “Hoagy” Carmichael — composer, pianist, singer, actor, and bandleader – penned four of the most-recorded American pop songs of all time: “Stardust”, “Georgia on My Mind”, “The Nearness of You”, and “Heart and Soul.” Carmichael composed “Stardust” while a law student at my alma mater, Indiana University in Bloomington (he did manage to complete a law degree but never did anything with it). During his student years Hoagy played piano at fraternity parties to make extra money. That is how he met jazz legend Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke, whose band, the Wolverines, were in town to play for frat gigs and speakeasy engagements. The two apparently spent a lot of time together that spring listening to Stravinsky’s Firebird and drinking bootleg gin. You will hear a little salute to Bix and his cornet today toward the end of the piece. The opening of Stardust sounds so much like the beginning of Debussy’s Arabesque that I couldn’t resist combining the two. For those interested in further study, Hoagy’s autobiography consists of two out-of-print memoirs: The Stardust Road (1946) and Sometimes I Wonder (1965). These occasionally turn up on E-bay. There is also an unpublished 1932 memoir that gives a detailed account of his early years in Bloomington and his campus musical career, but you have to drive to Bloomington to read it at the university’s Archives of Traditional Music. Maybe Warner Brothers will turn it into a new animated series or something (“Star Bunny”? Or how about “Dust Bunny”?)
Written at the commission of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Crown Imperial was first performed by the B. B. C. Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sir Adrian Boult in 1937 and played again three days later at the coronation of King George VI. The work graced the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and was one of the recessional pieces played at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. The title is a reference to a line from a poem by William Dunbar (1465-1520) honoring the city of London: “In beawtie berying the crone imperiall.” Crown Imperial could have just as well been written by Edward Elgar, the composer of the well-worn Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, without which a high school or college graduation cannot seem to be deemed “official.” The march is stylistically so close to those five famous marches of Elgar’s that pundits gave it the nickname “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6”. But it’s a fun piece and makes a great closer. Wm. S.