FEATURE image: The Angeles Chorale is based in greater Los Angeles, California, and has been active as an all-volunteer choral group for more than 40 years. Fair Use.
WHO IS JOHN RUTTER AND WHAT IS HIS GLORIA ABOUT?
Gloria by English composer John Rutter (b. 1945) is a musical setting of parts of the Latin Gloria which is a Christian hymn. Rutter’s work was written in 1974 and has been part of the Christmas concert tradition ever since.
The Latin Gloria is known as “The Hymn of the Angels” because they are the words the angels sang in Luke 2:14. The angelic host hovered over the shepherds in the field to announce Christ’s birth. “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” the shepherds heard the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest.”
Only twenty minutes long, John Rutter’s chorale masterpiece Gloria is reputed to be a challenging work. The performance by the Angeles Chorale at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena on December 15, 2012 strives for perfection in this excellent all-volunteer chorus porformance.
MUSIC THAT IS VIBRANT, ACTIVE, PERSONAL, ALIVE
The Angeles Chorale takes the three movement work as its own. This is a musical performance that is vibrant, active, personal, alive, and while not perhaps the most refined performance of this favorite work on record, it provides the listener with an aural experience that leaves one on the edge of their seat which is a power not typically found in other performances. This engaging vibrancy could be part of Sutton’s ease and familiarity with popular musical forms, such as for film and television, that infuses this choral piece’s unique harmonies, structures, and rhythms with a branded verve and, if imperfectly, then confidently based on the chorale and brass’s obvious performative exuberance and enjoyment.
Allegro vivace – “Gloria in excelsis Deo”
Andante – “Domine Deus”
Vivace e ritmico – “Quoniam tu solas sanctus.”
The performance is 20 minutes.
VOLUNTEER CHORAL GROUP FOUNDED IN 1975
For over 40 years, the Angeles Chorale has brought inspiring choral music to greater Los Angeles, California. It is an all-volunteer choral group comprised of about one hundred voices. The Angeles Chorale was founded in 1975 as one of the local Valley Master Chorales and merged in 1987 with California State University Northridge’s Masterworks Chorale under the baton of Artistic Director John Alexander.
For the next nine years Alexander led the assemblage into a professional standard, and changed its name to the Angeles Chorale. Donald Neuen took over the podium in the 1996-1997 season. Neuen, Director of Choral Activities at UCLA, focused the chorale’s repertoire on classical music masterworks for chorus and orchestra such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler. For the 2010-2011 season, Neuen handed the baton to its present-day Artistic Director Dr. John Sutton, who had been with the chorale since 2004. Sutton continues to actively study with Professor Neuen, now retired, among others, and utilizes the Angeles Chorale’s versatility and mastery in classic music and current music in concert programming.
FEATURE image: The St. Bavo Cathedral Choir performs Christmas carols and other seasonal music for voice, many in modern settings. Fair Use.
The Advent program (2012) includes well-known carols along with Anton Diabelli’s Pastoral Mass In F Major For Solos, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 147. The concert also includes excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s 11-part choral piece, A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, composed in 1942.
Full Program: John Francis Wade (1711-1786) : Oh, come all ye faithful Anton Diabelli (1781-1858): Pastoral Messe in F-dur, op.147 Willcocks: The First Nowell Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): A Ceremony of Carols Richards: Over the Country Britten: A New Year Carol Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Hark the herald angels sing Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Fantasia on Christmas Carols
CONCERT SPACE IS EARLY 20TH CENTURY CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL IN HAARLEM, NETHERLANDS
The concert was performed and recorded at the (Catholic) Cathedral Basilica St. Bavo in Haarlem on December 16, 2012 during Advent. The construction of the immense church took place between 1895 and 1930 on the Leidsevaart. It is different from and not the iconic Grote Kerk on Haarlem’s main square. As a cathedral, St. Bavo Basilica was built as the Catholic bishop’s church but it is also an active local parish. The St. Bavo Cathedral Choir is the church’s largest choral group, and an important part of the dual activity of the church.
The monumental church building, its art collection, organs, future museum, and the liturgical support of its Music Institute are all important aspects of serving and celebrating the Gospel in the service of others. The church community does not limit itself solely to believers within the territory of the parish, but offers a hospitable home for all who feel connected to it. https://rkhaarlem.nl/kerken/bavo-kathedraal-haarlem/
ORIGIN, PRACTICE OF THE CATHEDRAL CHOIR. WORKS PERFORMED
The Cathedral Choir who performs this Advent 2012 concert is comprised of all the choirs put together and can hold more than 100 people. The “Kathedrale Koor” sings on average once a month and for the major festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
The full Cathedral choir is also used at large concerts and other important diocesan and other large events. The choir’s repertoire is wide with centuries of church music being represented. Large works with organ are especially performed, such as Masses by Louis Vierne (1870-1937) and Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) as well as works by Louis Andriessen (b. 1939) and Herman Strategier (1912-1988). The works of Jan Valkestijn, former Magister Cantus of the Music Institute and composer of several works for the Cathedral Choir, are also regularly performed.
How Deep Is Your Love (1977) by the Bee Gees ranks number 375 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.1 It sits between White Room (1968) by Cream and Unchained Melody (1965) by The Righteous Brothers. Barry Gibb, the lone surviving Bee Gee today, reportedly said that How Deep Is Your Love is his favorite Bee Gees song. 2 In 2011 it was voted in a TV poll as the UK’s favorite.3 Recorded in the spring of 1977 in anticipation of the album and film Saturday Night Fever to be released later that year— How Deep Is Your Love was released in the U.S. as a single in September 1977. Three months later, after the smash-hit film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta was released, How Deep Is Your Love became the number one song in the U.S. on Christmas Eve 1977 and stayed in the top spot for three weeks. Although the song had started on the charts in October 1977, when it reached number one it stayed in the top 10 for four months until April 1978 which, at that time, set a longevity record. There are two official music videos for How Deep Is Your Love featuring the Bee Gees.4
Fig. 1. There are two official music videos performed by the Bee Gees of How Deep is Your Love. The music of the Bee Gees (left to right: Robin, Barry, and Maurice Gibb) and the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta breathed fire into the disco music craze and helped define the disco era in the late 1970’s.
Fig 2. A huge international pop music hit starting in late 1977, How Deep is Your Love written and performed by the Bee Gees made its way into the Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track album that went Platinum on January 3, 1978 and was certified 16x Multi-Platinum on November 16, 2017. It remains one of the top ten-selling albums of all time.
When the Bee Gees were asked by film producer Robert Stigwood to provide five songs for a film tentatively titled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night based on the 1975 New York magazine fiction article about the urban disco scene, they didn’t want to compose music specifically for a film (although Barry did write the title song for Stigwood’s follow-up picture, Grease). It didn’t help that the Bee Gees were given neither a script nor hardly told what the movie plot was about. They offered Stigwood, their longtime manager, songs that they were already working on, namely, Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, If I Can’t Have You (later sung by Yvonne Elliman), More Than A Woman, and How Deep is Your Love.5 At one early screening with John Travolta and director John Badham, among others, the Bee Gees were pleased though a little surprised when they saw for the first time scenes of the re-titled Saturday Night Fever with their music and lyrics to back it up. Although the music soundtrack at this juncture was demo cuts, the songs they wrote and performed meshed perfectly with the film’s scenes about which they had never been told very much. To be added to their astonishment—as much as anyone else’s there attending that rough cut – is that the Bee Gees had no idea they had embarked on a motion picture that would soon prove to be a milestone in film history. Saturday Night Fever would perfectly capture a moment in time and forever define the disco age.
Fig. 3. John Travolta attended the London premiere of Saturday Night Fever on March 22, 1978 with Kay Edwards.
Following its world premiere in Hollywood on December 7, 1977, Saturday Night Fever became an enormous success. It became Chicago film critic Gene Siskel’s favorite film—soon after, Siskel famously bought Tony Manero’s white suit at a charity auction in 1978 for $2,000. Colleague and friend Roger Ebert writing shortly after Siskel’s death in 1999, believed that Saturday Night Fever had struck Siskel mainly on an emotional level but also for its themes that had impressed him. Other influential film critics were similarly praiseworthy of the film’s subject matter. At the 50th Academy Awards on April 3, 1978 Saturday Night Fever had received only one nomination (John Travolta for Best Actor) in a year where Annie Hall and Star Wars dominated the competition.Robin Gibb later observed that Saturday Night Fever was made on a very low budget, released very late in the year and had no expensive promotion. The film’s word of mouth was good, however, which even included its star, John Travolta, who at its world premiere at then-Mann’s Chinese Theatre admitted watching the musical film on the big screen as if seeing a fantasy or dream for the first time.6
Fig. 4. Tony Manero’s shiny white polyester suit — bought off the rack in Brooklyn for the making of the film Saturday Night Fever— has been compared to a symbol of aspiration and hope in what is otherwise a dark movie.
Conceptually the song How Deep Is Your Love materialized when, working with collaborator Blue Weaver, Barry Gibb’s instigating question to him in beginning to compose it was: “What is the most beautiful chord that you know?”7 It was the first song the Bee Gees composed that ended up in the film Saturday Night Fever. After a creative hit-and-miss process at the piano – and further collaboration with Robin and Maurice – the song was put together in the middle of night in about four hours at the Château d’Hérouville studios in France.8 This was part of the Bee Gees’ usual working process – arriving into the studio around three o’clock in the afternoon and ending their workday near or after midnight – resulting in all of the film’s songs written quickly, with the lyrics finished later and the disco music taking longer.9 The Bee Gees’ falsetto singing had always been emotional, and it was often by way of collaborating with industry talent— other musicians, producers, and the like—that their music developed in new directions. By the time How Deep is Your Love came about, the Bee Gees had a reputation for being open to suggestions, including the personally emotional piano chords Blue Weaver offered the Brothers Gibb that night.10 The creation of How Deep Is Your Love followed a course already prevalent in the Bee Gees musical career – an attitude of collaboration and creativity in the studio that allowed ideas to be suggested, and beautiful melodies to quickly emerge as the result. Though How Deep is Your Love was composed in one sitting, its arrangement and production took longer which changed some of the song’s original structure. The title was based on what the Bee Gees simply maintained was the variety of connections listeners could make with the phrase How Deep is Your Love – and so providing the song with further universal appeal.11 Following the film’s U.S. release by Paramount Pictures on December 14, 1977 Maurice Gibb believed its ultimate success was the combination of its phenomenal 23-year-old star John Travolta and the music soundtrack whose album had already been certified Gold on November 22, 1977 and certified Platinum on January 3, 1978. The combination of star power and music – along with stunning word of mouth and critical acclaim – created a record-shattering synergy for both film and soundtrack album featuring Bee Gees songs making the cultural impact of Saturday Night Fever swift and enduring. How Deep is Your Love remains one of the most anthologized love songs of the modern era. As recently as November 16, 2017, the soundtrack album was certified 16x Multi-Platinum.12
Fig. 5. John Travolta in the 1970’s. Playing 19-year-old Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever about a teen with a good job at the local hardware store in Brooklyn who is trying to dance his way to a better life. His performance earned the 23-year-old Travolta an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role that year.
Fig. 6. Brooklyn-born Donna Pescow was a newcomer and played Annette in Saturday Night Fever. Annette is Tony’s former dance partner and would-be girlfriend.
Fig 7. Like Donna Pescow and others in the cast of Saturday Night Fever, co-star Karen Lynn Gorney, John Travolta’s love interest in the film, was a newcomer. Even Travolta who had a swelling fan base because of his ongoing role as Vinnie Barbarino in the popular late 1970’s TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, was not seen as a dance man. Hungry to take his acting career to the next level, Travolta’s energetic dance scenes had critics praising his performance as among the best ever filmed.
Fig. 8. A two-minute scene of disco dancing by John Travolta thrust his energetic performance and the new star into the annals of film history. (This is a portrayal of Travolta as Danny Zuko in Grease.)
Fig. 9. “Robert Stigwood explained to the Bee Gees about this young guy, who every weekend blows his wages at a disco in Brooklyn. He’s got a really truly Catholic family, and he’s got a good job, but he blows his wages every Saturday night. He has his mates with him. Then he comes back and starts the week again, and this goes on every Saturday night. But it’s just this one Saturday night that’s filmed. So that’s what we knew (about a film we were writing music for) except it was John Travolta playing the part…” Maurice Gibb in Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography.
How Deep Is Your Love quickly reached number one internationally in countries such as Canada, Brazil, Finland, Chile, and France. In the Bee Gees’ native England it reached number three which delighted the newly–resurgent pop music group in that they had a top five hit in a country that by the mid-to-late 1970’s saw Punk and New wave rock in the ascendant.13 The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, also released in 1977, was banned on the airwaves by the BBC for its “gross bad taste” though today it ranks number 175 on the Rolling Stone’s Greatest Hits list – 200 slots higher than the Bee Gees’ disco ballad, How Deep Is Your Love. How Deep Is Your Love and the Saturday Night Fever album provided superstar momentum for the Bee Gees’ next projects, but like their careers up to that point, the English-Australian pop-rock band simply continued their readiness to create music. In The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees, Blue Weaver understood the Bee Gees’ success during this period was not due to their “virtuosity,” although their falsetto vocals were “brilliant,” but their collaborative working method which they pursued until reaching the final product that satisfied them – and clearly satisfied some part of the rest of the world.14
Fig. 10. In 1978 Barry Gibb observed about Robin and Maurice and himself: “When we were kids, we’d sit on each other’s beds all night and plan our careers. We decided that when we got to the top, we’d have our own office. We wanted to get to a point where we wouldn’t have to ever work again so we could sit back and enjoy everything we had accomplished. A few years ago that seemed forever out of reach. Sometimes I think I’m living that dream now. We’ve never really made it before. If this is indeed the top, then it’s better than what we imagined. It’s a lot of fun.” Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography.As the Bee Gees, Barry and twins Maurice and Robin became one of the world’s biggest bands ever selling more than 220 million records. In 1997 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maurice died in 2003 and Robin in 2012. In 2017 Barry told CBS News: “So when I lost them all, I didn’t know whether I wanted to go on. ”
Fig. 11. 70-year-old Barry Gibb was honored during Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees in April 2017 where he got up on stage to close out the show to perform a few hit songs.
During one visit to the hospital while Robin was in a coma, Barry sang a song that he had written for him called The End Of The Rainbow.
Song’s recording and release dates – Bee Gees Anthology (songbook) by the Bee Gees, Hal Leonard (1991) and Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.116.
Didn’t want to compose music for a film – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411; Hardly told the film plot – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.110.
Surprised music with unseen film meshed – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.111; Ebert on Siskel’s favorite film – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-saturday-night-fever-1977 – Retrieved January 24, 2018; other critics’ praise of film- see Pauline Kael, “Nirvana,” The New Yorker, December 26, 1977, pp. 59-60; film low budget, released late- The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411. Regarding the white suit that had been bought off the rack in Brooklyn for the film, its symbolism in Saturday Night Fever has been postulated. Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a designer and historian of film costume stated that the white suit was a symbol of aspiration and hope in an otherwise “dark little movie” – see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/aug/06/john-travolta-white-suit-v-and-a – retrieved January 25, 2018.
Song’s musical concept – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411-412.
First song composed for Saturday Night Fever, Château d’Hérouville – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.109.
Songs written quickly – Ibid., p.109; lyrics later – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 415.
Open to suggestions – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.107. emotional piano chords – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 411-12.
song composing, arrangement, and production – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 409 and 412. Title chose Ibid. p. 412.
Movie’s ultimate success – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.112. Costing $3.5 million to make, Saturday Night Fever earned an impressive $237.1 million –see “Saturday Night Fever, Box Office Information”. Box Office Mojo – retrieved May 26, 2014. Soundtrack album certified God and Platinum -http://www.beegees-world.com/bio_gplat.html -Retrieved February 1 , 2018. certified 16x Multi-Platinum on November 16, 2017 – see https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/- retrieved January 24, 2018.
Richmond, Virginia-based producer and musician Matthew White first learned about English singer-ongwriter Flo Morrissey from an article about her on The Guardian website. They met at a music event in London in October 2015.
The two international artists were signed to different record labels, but found out they had musical interests in common and that they worked well together. Morrissey and White discovered, for instance, that they both liked recording cover versions of great songs, especially ones that were personally resonating. As young performers they liked that they could hone their vocal performances and work with production values using these others’ time-honored musical compositions. They were also excited to introduce these songs to a new generation of listeners by way of their contemporary versions.
Morrissey (b. 1994) and White (b. 1982) teamed up for a collaborative full duet album of ten cover songs called Gentlewoman, Ruby Man. Recorded in 2016, the album was released in January 2017 on Glassnote Records.
Following months of preparation, the cover songs were selected from a wide range of musical artists and recorded in 10 days in downtown Richmond at the studios of Spacebomb Records, a label founded by White in 2011.
The album’s first track is their cover version of Little Wings’ Look At What The Light Did Now. Little Wings is a band founded in the late 1990’s in San Luis Obispo, California, by Alabama-born indie rocker Kyle Field (b. 1972). The original Little Wings version of the song is a vocal duet with acoustic guitar released in 2002. The song received limited reviews at the time though they were mostly positive.
Gentlewoman, Ruby Man tracklist: 1. Look At What The Light Did Now (Little Wings Cover) 2. Thinking ‘Bout You (Frank Ocean Cover) 3. Looking For You (Nino Ferrer Cover) 4. Color Of Anything (James Blake Cover) 5. Everybody Loves The Sunshine (Roy Ayers Cover) 6. Grease (Bee Gees Cover) 7. Suzanne (Leonard Cohen Cover) 8. Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground Cover) 9. Heaven Can Wait (Charlotte Gainsbourg Cover) 10. Govindam (George Harrison Cover)
They started to compile a list on Spotify of around 500 songs. From there, they whittled the list down to just ten songs. Morrissey and White discovered that the songs they ultimately selected weren’t necessarily compositions they expected to do going into the project. Chosen material that surprised them included newer compositions and songs that extended into genres such as R&B.
As planned, the indie rock production featured 10 songs from a diverse group of musical artists. These included Leonard Cohen, Frank Ocean, the Bee Gees, and James Blake.
FEATURE image: Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), African-American poet, standing, at right, in a photograph of the Howard University Class of 1900. William Grant Still extensively used Dunbar’s poetry in his Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, “Afro-American” in 1930.
African American pianist, composer and arranger, and vocalist Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). She demonstrated remarkable musical talent in modern genres as diverse as classical, free jazz, hard bop, swing, big band, and gospel.
By John P. Walsh
Following the tradition set down by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the White House officially announced that June 2017 was to be African American Music Month. The proclamation in part reads: “During June, we pay tribute to the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to American music. The indelible legacy of these musicians who have witnessed our Nation’s greatest achievements, as well as its greatest injustices give all Americans a richer, deeper understanding of American culture. Their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” A very nice tribute although I would hasten to attach onto its last sentence – “and all other American musical genres.” This could then include the significant contributions by African American artists to classical music such as William Grant Still (1895-1978), Florence B. Price (1887-1953), Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990), and Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).
William Grant Still (1895-1978).
William Grant Still (1895-1978) is the “dean” of African-American classical music composers.
Born in Mississippi, William Grant Still grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, both in Ohio.
In addition to composing over 150 works— including five symphonies and eight operas— William Grant Still is an African American composer with several musical “firsts” to his name.
He is the first African American composer to conduct a major American symphony orchestra—the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936.
He is the first to have a symphonyperformed by a leading orchestra—his Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, “Afro-American” (1930) bythe Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931.
Still’s first symphony (he wrote five) sought to express Black culture within mainly European classical symphonic tools and forms available at that time.
About his intentions for the music, Still wrote: “I seek in the ‘Afro-American Symphony’ to portray not the higher type of colored American, but the sons of the soil, who still retain so many of the traits peculiar to their African forebears; who have not responded completely to the transforming effect of progress.” (see- Catherine Parsons Smith’s William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2000, p. 121.)
Arranged in four movements of about 6 minutes each, Still headlined each movement with quotes from poems by early 20th-century African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). In 1899 Dunbar published his Poems of Cabin and Field and died tragically of tuberculosis at 33 years old in 1906. The “Afro-American” Symphony’s 4 movements are entitled: I. Moderato assai (“Longing”); II. Adagio (“Sorrow”); III. Animato (“Humor”) and IV. Lento, con risoluzione (“Aspiration.”)
The stanza by Paul Laurence Dunbar that William Grant Still selected to follow the fourth movement reads:
“Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul, Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll In characters of fire. High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky, Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly, And truth shall lift them higher.”
William Grant Still is the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company—his Troubled Island (1939) by The New York Opera Company in 1949.
Finally, William Grant Still is the first to have an opera performed on national television—his A Bayou Legend (1941) in 1981.
Florence B. Price (1887-1953).
Florence B. Price (1887-1953) is the first African-American female composer to have a major symphonic composition performed by a leading American symphony orchestra. This occurred on June 15, 1933 in Chicago in conjunction with the city’s A Century of Progress International Exposition (Chicago was founded in 1833).
Visitors can still see the Auditorium Theatre on Michigan Avenue where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor completed in 1932in a world premiere performance. That historic concert also included musical works by Harry T. Burleigh (main entry below), tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977), and mixed-race English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) who was known as the “African Mahler.”
Florence B. Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas into a mixed-race family (her father was a prominent dentist and African American) and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and taught piano, organ and voice at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia as well as privately.
In 1927 she moved to Chicago where in a musical career as a composer that produced over 300 works, her métier blossomed. Price’s music often incorporated rhythms expressed in Africa-based musical traditions and African-American folk tunes and spirituals arranged in elaborate orchestrations derived from the European Romantic composers.
In addition to Symphony No. 1 in E minor (1932), some of Florence B. Price’s best known works include her Fantasie Negre (1929), Mississippi River suite (1934), and Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (1940). In 1940 Florence B. Price was the first female African American composer inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
A word on Florence B. Price’s well-known Mississippi River suite (1934): Price composed it in 1934 with a dedication to one of her prominent teachers at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago where Price continued her musical studies after she arrived to the city in 1927.
The suite uses the contrivance of a boat navigating the Mississippi River and along its path experiencing its diverse expressions of human life and history as told in musical sections.
The FIRST part depicts dawn on the river.
The SECOND part portrays its American Indian heritage by using an array of percussion.
The THIRD part expresses the African American experience along the river utilizing well-known negro spirituals— such as, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; Stand Still Jordan;Go Down, Moses; and Deep River.
The FINAL part has the suite conclude with a melodic cacophony of contemporary tunes during the 1930’s including River Song, Lalotte, and Steamboat Bill.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).
Langston Hughes, who was born in Joplin, Missouri, said he wrote the poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, after he was crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1919 and inspiration struck. Even after he helped lead the Harlem Renaissance in New York City as a poet, novelist, and playwright in the 1920’s, Hughes, who grew up in the American Midwest (Kansas, Illinois and Ohio), said he always knew the Heartland best.
William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990).
William L. Dawson (1899-1990), born in Alabama, was a composer and arranger, trombonist, and music educator. Dawson continually was learning so to use the rich heritage of African American music and later African music as the basis for many types of music that he composed and arranged.
After graduating with highest honors from Tuskegee Institute he studied music and composition in Kansas City and Chicago. For many years he performed as first trombonist with the Chicago Civic Orchestra.
It is Dawson’s work as music director with the 100-voice Tuskegee Institute Choir that led to many distinguished and celebrated national and international choral performances in the mid-twentieth century.
As a composer William Dawson is most famous for his Negro Folk Symphony which he wrote in 1934 but revised in 1952 after studying indigenous African music throughout West Africa. Dawson visited several countries in West Africa that year to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.
The three movements of the symphony are entitled: “The Bond of Africa,” “Hope in the Night” and “O, le’ me shine, shine like a Morning Star!”
William Dawson conducts the Tuskegee Institute Choir in 1955 in his arrangement of the negro spiritual Listen to the Lambs written by R. Nathaniel Dett first performed in 1913.
In 1952, Dawson visited several countries in West Africa to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was first written in 1934. The new work was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.
Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949).
Harry Burleigh (1866–1949), born in Erie, Pennsylvania, was an eminent African-American baritone, and influential classical composer and arranger.
As a student at New York City’s National Conservatory of Music of America, Burleigh became associated with Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) who heard the baritone sing spirituals and encouraged him to create arrangements for these melodies.
With the Czech composer’s active interest, Burleigh developed into one of America’s most important composers and arrangers of spirituals. He created arrangements for more than 100 songs including “Deep River,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” which are classics today. Burleigh’s “In Christ there is no East or West” remains a church hymnal standard. Burleigh set poems by Walt Whitman to music also.
When Burleigh was accepted in 1894 as baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan—a post where he stayed for over 50 years—it was by a vote of the congregation which had never allowed African-Americans to worship there before. The congregation voted to a tie—that was broken in Harry Burleigh’s favor by congregant by J. P. Morgan.
While Burleigh’s advocacy of negro melodies through writing, speaking engagements and new arrangements was always indefatigable, he found time to coach many well-known singers, including Enrico Caruso, Roland Hayes, Marion Anderson, and Paul Robeson.
Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).
A self-taught pianist, by the time she was 20 years old Mary Lou Williams was a professional musician and touring bandleader.
In her formative years she looked for inspiration to Chicago bandleader and composer “Lovie” Austin (1887–1972). Quite soon Williams’ own records as a pianist and arranger began to sell briskly.
In a 50-year-plus career she wrote and arranged music for bandleaders such as Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Benny Goodman (1909-1986) and served the beloved mentor to slightly younger African-American musical artists who became household names in the world of jazz: Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), Miles Davis (1926-1991), Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), Bud Powell (1924-1966), and Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), to name a few.
Though Mary Lou Williams’ musical accomplsihments are not well-known in popular culture, almost 40 years after her death, her recordings are a treasure to listen to and she is much honored for her inspiring work by her admirers—many of whom are artists and great institutions.
Mary Lou Williams’ album, Zodiac Suite, released in 1945 and remastered here from the original acetates, is a 12-part interpretation of the astrological zodiac composed and performed on the piano by Mary Lou Williams who is accompanied by two of her hand-picked session musicians—all innovators from the clubs of New York—namely, Canadian jazz double-bassist Al Lucas (1912-1983) and American jazz and rhythm & blues drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker.
Each movement is a set of classically-inspired jazz tone poems for the signs of the horoscope: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
FEATURE image: La Ghirlandata. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). 1873. Oil on canvas. 124 x 85 cm. Guildhall Gallery, London. City of London Corporation. Public Domain.
All variations of the name Brigid mean “power, strength, force, and authority” as well as “vigor, virtue and fortitude.”
By John P. Walsh
In Ireland a generation ago the girl’s first name of Brigid (along with Mary) was one of the island’s most popular. In the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed that a lot of Irish-American girls were named Brigid, or wished to be. By the 2010s the name of Brigid was no longer, in Ireland at least, very popular as other girls’ names replaced it.1
In Ireland the name Brigid is rendered in a healthy variety of ways.
The well-known Bridget is the English variant. In this Irish folk song Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Brigid O’Malley), it is the Irish language Brid (pronounced Breed) that is used. The Irish also offers Bride, Brídín, Brighid, Brighidín, Brigit, Breeda, and others. With so many alternatives for a very ancient name it may be surprising that none of them rank high on the popularity charts although their accumulated usage may do so.2
The root word of Brigid translates as “fire.”
With its root word being breo (which means fire), all variations of Brigid have the Irish word brígh in common. According to the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language, brígh has multiple definitions and meanings. It primarily connotes “power, strength, force, and authority” but also translates as “vigor, virtue and fortitude.” In medicine, brígh refers to the antidote which proves to be strongly effective.3 As Brid is sometimes translated as “strong-willed” and “high born,” it is clear that this girl’s appellation possesses excellent qualities that, along with the beauty of its sound when spoken and its venerable ancient history, may be expected to one day again reach into the top 100 Irish names for girls.
St Brigid of Ireland statue by Timothy P. Schmalz. The sculpture of St. Brigid at Knock Shrine in Ireland captures that moment where Brigid gave her father’s treasured sword to a leper in the presence of the King of Leinster. Before her father was able to strike her down, she explained that, by way of the leper, she could give the sword of God. The King, being a Christian, forbade her father to strike her down and granted her her freedom saying: “Brigid’s merit before God is greater than our own.”
Mother was a slave, father was a pagan chief.
The first Irish historical figure directly associated with the name Brid or Brigid that is most relevant to the name in Ireland today is St. Brigid (c. 451–525). Along with saints Patrick (418-493) and Columba (540-615), Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints.
Legends swirl around this early Christian figure from the moment of her birth, including the story of angels seen hovering over the Irish cottage where she was born near Dundalk at the foot of the Cooley Mountains. History records that her mother was a Christian slave and her father was a pagan chief.
Legends from ancient times. Patron saint of ireland.
Soon after Brid’s birth, her mother was sold and had to leave her father’s house although young Brid stayed. There are many Irish fioretti or folk tales relating Brid’s fantastical holy exploits during this period of her early youth. One appealing story among many tells of her disobeying her father so to journey to visit her enslaved mother. Traveling alone along Ireland’s wild pathways, Brid located her mother who was tending her owner’s cattle. Mother and daughter worked side-by-side until their labors’ fruit proved so abundant that Brid was able to secure her mother’s freedom. How Brid later chose to consecrate her life to God as a nun which led to her founding Ireland’s first monastic community of women is also explained in legends.4
Pre-Christian Celtic goddess.
St. Brigid of Ireland’s misty past is informed by a pre-Christian Celtic goddess named Brigid whose mythology as we know it today was first recorded, ironically perhaps, by early Irish Christian monks. As in St. Brid’s story of liberating her enslaved mother, the pagan goddess Brid is closely aligned to the cow as well as the sheep, but also animals with mythological qualities of regeneration such as the rooster and snake. Surrounding this more remote Brid is a panoply of supernatural qualities and events told in legends and folklore.5 Yet this ancient pagan Celtic goddess has her even older forebears in the Proto-Indo-European goddesses that are over 5,000 years old. In ancient Mesopotamia one finds a certain Brid who was deity of the hearth.6
Brigit is a powerful spiritual and religious form in Irish history. She is one of the most complex and contradictory goddesses of the Celts. That pagan goddess is the patroness of healers, poets, and metal workers-all of the inspired and practical civilized arts. Associated with fire and light, Brigid is the guardian of inner vital energy.
Nineteenth Century Irish Folk song.
Bríd Óg Ní Mháille is an Irish folk song in a long line of Irish musical taste about forsaken love. It is performed here brilliantly in the Irish by singer Gillian Fenton who is accompanied on traditional Irish harp by Fiachra O’ Corragáin. There are many traditional and contemporary renditions, however, of this popular late nineteenth-century Irish Gaelic song. Its surge of popularity is an entirely local Irish story.
There was a certain young man in mid-20th-century County Mayo who was a Gaelic teacher. He took particular fancy to this tune about a young Irishman who lost his love — the titular Bridget O’Malley — to another suitor. He was left “heartbroken…the arrows of death…piercing my heart.”7 The Gaelic teacher, armed with this air about “the beauty of Oriel without any doubt…now married to another…” took it with him back to the county just next door, his native Donegal, where its popularity flourished.
St. Brighid of Ireland is shrouded in ancient legends and myths. A play featuring Brigid of Ireland casts her story as a tragedy.
The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-77, Oil on Canvas, 186 cm x 111 cm (73in x 44 in), Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port sunlight, Merseyside. There is twelfth century story in which Merlin is beguiled by a female figure whose vision thereof inspires or causes History. The female form is sometimes associated with Brigantia. In some stories-illustrated in a mid 19th-century painting such as this one by Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne-Jones she is the figure who nurtures the development of human potential–a Muse.
Saint Brigid of Ireland (c. 451 – 525) is one of Ireland’s patron saints. From the moment of her birth in the mid-fifth century, Brigid’s story is shrouded in Christian legends and tales. St. Brid is a direct descendant of the older pagan Celtic goddess of the same name. Until the mid-sixteenth century, St. Brid’s fire was a flame burned in her honor for literally 1000 yearsby nuns in the monastery in Ireland she founded.
St. Bride by John Duncan, 1913. Bride is one of the many variations for the English Bridget or Irish Brighid. Others include Brid, Brídín, Brighidín, Brigit, and Breeda.
There is another Irish Gaelic song referencing the name Brid that is titled Fair Bridget (Brid Bhan) and also emanates out of Donegal. It is not as popular as Bríd Óg Ní Mháille, but speaks about a modern young Brid –- similar to the mother of ancient St. Brid –-who is taken out of her home to tend cattle in a far-away place not her own. It is heartbreak for this fair Brid to begin a new life where the cows graze on the “sour grass” of the mountain sides. Like St. Brid’s mother, this fair Brid, it is told, eventually returned to her native place, although the song doesn’t tell us, only local legend.
The listener, however, can be assured of the veracity of these melancholy verses for in Bríd Óg Ní Mháille it says: “There is nothing more beautiful than the moon over the sea or the white blossom, and my love is like that with her golden tresses and her honey-mouth that has never deceived anybody.”
Oh Bríd O’Malley You have left my heart breaking You’ve sent the death pangs Of sorrow to pierce my heart sore A hundred men are craving For your breathtaking beauty You’re the fairest of maidens In Oriel for sure
I’m a handsome young fellow Who is thinking of wedlock But my life will be shortened If I don’t get my dear My love and my darling Prepare now to meet me On next Sunday evening On the road to Drum Slieve
‘Tis sadly and lonely I pass the time on Sunday My head bowed in sorrow My sights heavy with woe As I gaze upon the byways That my true love walks over Now she’s wed to another And left me forlorn
There are thousands of Irish folk songs, a traditional and often nationalistic musical genre that is experiencing today a renaissance and renewal as song collections are widely available that began to be compiled in the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth century at a productive pace.
These folk song collections include the Francis James Child collection of 305 Scottish and English ballads (which has ramifications for the first Irish song discussed here) from the final decades of the nineteenth century to recent collections including Folksongs of Britain and Ireland compiled by Peter Kennedy in 1975.1
The popularization of an extensive range of Irish folk songs proliferated in the twentieth century with the inclusion of sound recordings and broadcast programs on radio and television. Music and words that started in local communities returned to them by way of mass media such as the popularity of “Beidh ceol, caint agus craic again” (“We’ll have music, chat and craic”) used by Seán Bán Breathnach for his Irish-language chat show SBB inaShuí, broadcast on RTÉ from 1976 to 1982.
Folk songs, local songs, are experiencing a twenty-first century renaissance with a return to traditional, local cultural sources through the prism of contemporary interpretations and arrangements by established and new musical performers in Ireland and other countries around the world, including the United States. These artists find commercial value in performing mainly traditional material on their own terms.3
Craicing Selfie with Seán Bán Breathnach.
Weile Weile Waila is a folk song that emerged in Ireland during the hardship of the Great Hunger of the 1840s and early 1850s when by necessity hundreds of thousands unto millions of Irish emigrated to the United States and Canada and to many other parts of the world out of sheer desperation.4
Weile Weile Waila is a children’s nursery rhyme specific to Ireland first catalogued by Harvard English professor and folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896) who discovered over a dozen variants for this song titling them “The Cruel Mother.”5 In Child’s incomplete catalogue of ballads — his project interest in the British Isles in the 1880s and 1890s was more literary than musical — its overall subject offerings range from romance and legends, the supernatural, history, morality tales, and riddles, and in no way precludes darker subjects and themes as is found in Weile Weile Waila.
This folk song could be called a “murder” ballad as well as a “family strife” ballad or “abuse of authority” ballad, all of which are considered “Child” ballads named for Francis James Child who catalogued their type.
Which of the 17 versions of this song that Child collected as “The Cruel Mother” best meshes with this Irish ditty belies traits they appear to all share: a woman gives birth and using a pen-knife kills the child, often with the descriptive relish to tear “the tender heart.”6
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882–1898 of Francis James Child. Reviewing this product revealed a treasury of folk music in the British Isles that has been especially active since the end of the eighteenth century.
Undated engraving of F.J. Child, the dedicated scholar at the root of folk music collections in the British Isles by Gustav Kruell (German, 1843-1907). There is a faint image of a rose at the upper right.
The song’s title phrase Weile Weile Waila is itself murky. Likely medieval in origin, the term’s original meaning is lost to history although in Ireland in the nineteenth century it was primarily used for a popular exclamation of grief – an emotion much roused and justified on the island in that time period.7
This Irish version of Francis James Child’s “The Cruel Mother” poses its own specific plot. An “old” (no longer “cruel”) woman who “lived in the woods” stabs an infant “three months old” to death along the banks of the River Saile, a stream which may refer to one that flows in and near Dublin today.
A tiny portion of the River Saile featured in the Irish folk song Weile Weile Waila may be a local name given to the River Poddle in the city of Dublin. The River Poddle is a tributary of the Liffey, rising in Cookstown to the north of Tallaght. From its source, it flows into Dublin City, and splits at Mount Argus at what is known as the “Tongue” or “stone boat” in the photograph pictured above.
In the Irish version, the old woman is probably not the mother of the baby which provides a remarkable variant to a historic song that extensively describes a cruel mother. Yet the old folk song’s dark flavor is retained for use as a nursery rhyme obviously sung by a young mother to her child perhaps with humor and loving, benign menace.
The old woman uses the song’s prevalent pen-knife (here made “long and sharp”) and is quickly approached and arrested by “two policemen” and “a man” to be “sent to jail” where she is dispatched to the gallows and executed for the crime. This series of events unique to the Irish lyric (some of it was updated as recently as the 1970’s) is that the cruel mother’s hope for eternal mercy or fear of eternal damnation that ends many of the Child Ballad versions is replaced with harsh justice for the old woman in the here and now. The death of the baby is specifically lamented.
Suffering associated with The Irish Famine of 1845-50 depicted in a contemporary sculpture (1997) called Famine by Rowan Gillespie in Dublin. While causes and numbers are hotly debated, approximately one million people died and at least one million more emigrated from Ireland according to David Ross in Ireland: History of a Nation (2002, Geddes & Grosset, New Lanark).
The song retains in each verse that popular Irish exclamation of grief -– Weile Weile Waila -–injecting into its dark proceedings, now made into a nursery ditty, a forlorn lyric that stands on the precipice to describe with open eyes shocking and oftentimes glossed-over ancillary misfortunes in Ireland during years of mass starvation and disease in the mid-nineteenth century. Its specificity of Irish suffering -– the “end” of the old woman and the baby — describes a cycle of viciousness met by harsh earthly justice that makes for a sobering two minutes of Irish folk music. The song’s material carries forward to the present a sharp slice of Ireland’s former meaner times when members of local communities could be driven to despicable acts when necessary resources for survival are long delayed. In this short nursery rhyme with an ample and well-documented folk song history– and popularized in the 1970’s by the folk band The Dubliners –Irish parents and children alike could be entertained by others’ calamities where the guilty are meted out justice and the innocent are bemoaned.
(“There was an old woman and she lived in the woods…”) Woman begging with baby in Clonakilty (County Cork), Ireland. Portrait print of a destitute mother holding her baby in one arm and a begging bowl in the other. These miserable conditions were brought on by the Great Famine and compounded by socio-economic practices such as forced evictions of poverty-stricken peasants from their homes and farms.
The Dubliners featuring Ronnie Drew perform Weila Weila Waila in a 1988 television performance (2:19 minutes). Twenty years later, at Ronnie Drew’s funeral in 2008, the large gathering of mourners sang this song to his memory in unison clapping and stamping their feet.8
The Dubliners began performing as a group in 1962. The group was composed by Ciarán Bourke, Barney Mckenna, Luke Kelly, John Sheahan, and Ronnie Drew.
LYRICS Weile Weile Waila:
And there was an old woman and she lived in the woods A weila weila waila There was an old woman and she lived in the woods Down by the River Saile
She had a baby three months old A weila weila waila She had a baby three months old Down by the River Saile
She had a penknife long and sharp A weila weila waila She had a penknife long and sharp Down by the River Saile
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart A weila weila waila She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart Down by the River Saile
Three loud knocks came knocking on the door A weila weila waila Three loud knocks came knocking on the door Down by the River Saile
There was two policeman and a man A weila weila waila There was two policeman and a man Down by the River Saile
They took her away and they put her into jail A weila weila waila They took her away and they put her into jail Down by the River Saile
They put a rope around her neck A weila weila waila They put a rope around her neck Down by the River Saile
They pulled the rope she got hung A weila weila waila They pulled the rope she got hung Down by the River Saile
Now that was the end of the woman in the woods A weila weila waila And that was the end of the baby too Down by the River Saile
Quote Seán Bán Breathnach – Fintan Vallely, Companion to Irish Traditional Music, New York University Press, New York, 1999, p. 9.
New bands recording Irish folk songs include, in Ireland, The Corrs; in Britain, The Pogues; and in the United States, Dropkick Murphys as well as Flogging Molly. There are many others.
There are many sources on the subject of Irish emigration in the mid-nineteenth century. What is noteworthy is that the causes for it and numbers involved in it frequently remain intensely debated.
On the subject of Child Ballads – see Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2011 and E. Housman, British Popular Ballads, Ayer Publishing, 1969.
Shadow of the Cat was Grammy-nominated for Best Latin Jazz. Gato Barbieri looked to two major sources for the album’s inspiration. The first was the 30th anniversary of his Last Tango in Paris (1972) for which Barbieri won a Grammy Award for the film score. The second was his huge-toned, raucous yet smooth jazz-pop sound Barbieri created in five albums he made at A&M Records in the mid-to-late-1970’s.
Following a six decade career as a music original, Gato Barbieri died on April 2, 2016 at 83 years old.
Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement in 2015. “What do you play?”
By 2006 Gato Barbieri was content that in a long musical career he had pursued playing different musical styles—jazz, Latin, film orchestration, etc.—and did not limit himself to a single genre.
In November 2015 Gato Barbieri received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for music that has been described as “mystical yet fiery, passionately romantic yet supremely cool.” Around the same time, Barbieri gave his final concert at the Blue Note club in Greenwich Village. That was the club where the “Cat” first performed in 1985 and—still sporting his trademark black fedora hat—started performing again there in 2013 on a monthly basis until his last concert on November 23, 2015.
“The jazz people they don’t consider me a jazz musician. If I am Latin, they don’t consider me Latin. So I am here in the middle,” Gato said. “It’s a good thing. You know why? Because they say, ‘What do you play?’ I say, ‘I play my music — Gato Barbieri.’”
Mid1960’s- Jammin’ fusion.
Gato Barbieri and Italian-born wife Michelle married in 1960 and moved to Rome in 1962, where Gato began collaborating with American jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (1936-1995). The year is 1966. Tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri is joined by trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz vibraphonist Karl Berger (German, b. 1935) and bassist Bo Stief (Danish, b. 1946). In 1966 Barbieri and Cherry recorded two albums for Blue Note—Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisors. Also in that early era Gato recorded with jazz saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy (1934-2004) and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (b. 1934).
Recordings for Flying Dutchman and Impulse!.
In the early 1970’s Barbieri recorded a handful of albums on the Flying Dutchman label and later signed with Impulse! where he recorded his classic “Chapter Series” which included Latin America and Hasta Siempre (both 1973), Viva Emiliano Zapata (1974) and Alive in New York (1975).
Barbieri’s free jazz meant he was playing with American jazz double bass player Charlie Haden (1937-2014) and American jazz pianist Carla Bley (b. 1936), among many others. The Cat could also be found jamming with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke (b. 1951), Brazilian jazz drummer and percussionist Airto Moreira (b. 1941), Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill (1921-2001) and American jazz musician Lonnie Liston Smith (b.1940).
Gato Barbieri’s free-jazz playing and improvised style that mined Latin jazz in multi-artist projects in the late 1960s and early 1970s attracted Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci (1941-2018) for his next film project. In 1972 Bertolucci recruited Gato Barbieri to compose the score for Bertolucci’s brutal sex-fantasy film Last Tango in Paris (1973) starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.
Bertolucci hired Barbieri to incorporate the Italian director’s ideas for an original blend of jazz, strings, and tangos to embody his highly controversial X-rated film’s chaos of spirit and ferocious sexuality that gave nod to American and European avant-gardists with a splash of Hollywood popularity. The musical score for Last Tango in Paris was a professional triumph for the 41-year-old Gato Barbieri.
The film, censored and disliked across a range of groups as well as whole nations, received two Academy Award nominations – for Best Actor for Marlon Brando’s performance and Best Director for Bertolucci. At the April 1974 ceremony, Oscar in both categories, went to others – respectively, Jack Lemmon for Save the Tiger and George Roy Hill for The Sting. The film was neither nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, nor was its musical score recognized in any way.
After Last Tango in Paris opened in New York City on February 1, 1973, Gato Barbieri’s musical score was an instant international sensation. In March 1974, at the 16th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Gato Barbieri won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition (“Album of Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special”) for his work on Last Tango in Paris.
Gato Barbieri performed benefit concerts, one for the Friends of Chile benefit concert in Madison Square Garden on May 6, 1974. Gato Barbieri’s five albums on A&M Records in the mid-to-late 1970s featured a more soothing jazz-pop sound.
Caliente! (1976) on A&M Records was released at the beginning of the peak of the jazz-fusion and disco eras. Produced by Herb Alpert, Gato Barbieri plays with sizzling heat relying on tango-infused Argentine fluency as well as the influence of Sonny Rollins (b.1930), John Coltrane (1926-1967) and Pharoah Sanders (b. 1940).
Caliente! is beautifully arranged and executed which makes for enjoyable listening. The concept of strings combined with rhythmic danceable funk anted up Barbieri’s raucous sound and made Caliente! a successful primogeniture to Herb Alpert’s instrumental Rise in 1979 which became a huge international hit.
“Tango is tragedy.”
“Always in the tango is tragedy,” said Barbieri in 1997. “She leaves him, she kills him. It’s like an opera—but it’s called tango.”
In the 1980s the “Cat” kicked it up a notch for Para Los Amigos (1984), an album which spotlighted the rock-influenced South American sound.
By the early 1990’s Gato had taken time off from creating in order to evaluate his musical style and identity going forward. Suddenly, in 1995, Michelle Barbieri, his wife of 36 years, as well as manager and confidant, died. In deep bereavment, Gato took up his saxophone and began to record again. This effort soon produced the 1997 album, Qué Pasa, Gato Barbieri’s first album of the decade.
In 1996 Gato Barbieri married his wife Laura and they soon had Christian, their son. After Gato’s death on April 2, 2016 at 83 years old, Laura Barbieri told The Associated Press: “Music was a mystery to Gato, and each time he played was a new experience for him, and he wanted it to be that way for his audience.”
FEATURE image: Sir Georg Solti conducting the CSO in Orchestra Hall in November 1971.
By John P. Walsh
PART I: Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, & Georg Solti.
In 2013 just ahead of Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals the principal conductor and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dressed up in a Chicago Blackhawk’s sweater to conduct his orchestral version of their pep rally song.1 Riccardo Muti (Italian, born 1941) has worn many hats as opera and classical music conductor in a forty-year career but perhaps none with such hometown flair.
In the decades before his 2010 CSO appointment Riccardo Muti appeared to have had a knack for getting into all sorts of fine arts trouble – his resignation as music director from La Scala in summer 2005 is recent although early in his career Muti walked away from productions in Florence, Milan, and Paris because of irreconcilable differences over artistic questions. Despite these encounters, Muti continues to be one of today’s celebrated Mozart and Verdi specialists while unconventionally asserting his prestige by mounting major productions of lesser known composers. From his earliest days as principal conductor of the opera festival Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1968 to his appointment as chief conductor of the London Philharmonia in 1972 – both posts held into the early 1980s – as well as a longstanding association with the Salzburg Festival starting in 1971, Muti is only recently being acclaimed in America for what he has long been famous for in Europe – as a first order musical firebrand who makes opera scores spring to vivid life.2
When Riccardo Muti was made music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980 – a prestigious post with an American orchestra which had had only two previous music directors since 1912 (namely, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy) – Muti almost immediately stepped into the annals of controversy as a conductor in America. Classical music lovers bred on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s broad, brilliant live and recorded performances under Stokowski and Ormandy found a nemesis in Muti. Verging on his 40s, the new conductor’s ideas for this venerable orchestra with a traditionally lush and enveloping string sound were received by Philadelphia audiences with dismay. It seemed that Muti strictly observed notated musical scores and shaped distinctive interpretations from them which altered a 75-year-old sound brand. Still touting its “distinctive sound”3 today as well as other past glories, the Philadelphia Orchestra under the 44-year reign of Eugene Ormandy (1936–1980) earned 3 Gold records and 2 Grammy Awards.4 In 2014, more than 20 years after Muti’s resignation from Philadelphia, critics continue to weigh in on his enduring influence. One hears the heaving sigh of relief that Muti revolutionized less than they feared.5 Musical idealism remains Muti’s calling card coming into Chicago. Do his efforts at parceling annotated music merit negative criticism? The “very clean sound” which CSO musical director Fritz Reiner (1953-1963) brought to Chicago at a time when the orchestra was looking for stable leadership is praised; the “lean sound” which Muti brought to Philadelphia following 70 years of stable leadership produced misgivings.6 At the October 3, 2014 CSO matinée performance of Polish-themed music (Panufnik, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony) it is evident that Chicago’s premier group of players is subjected to a similar set of permuted articulations under Muti’s command. Yet these CSO musicians are mindful of their musical worth and perform at a high level whoever appears on the podium responding to what is asked of them.
Under music director Fritz Reiner the CSO’s celebrated brass section was born; later, Sir Georg Solti (1969-1991) gave it luster and clarity while Daniel Barenboim (1991-2006) added richness and depth. What is Muti doing?7 Since its founding in 1891 Riccardo Muti is the CSO’s tenth music director. Each of his predecessors had their own style but not all had the same impact or influence on the orchestra which harbors its own strong personality.8 I began my CSO concert subscription when today’s Symphony Center was Orchestra Hall and Sir Georg Solti was its music director. Like most everyone else in Chicago I was in awe of Solti. By 1985 he had with the CSO and chorus won 7 Grammy Awards for a succession of Mahler symphonic recordings plus 15 more Grammys for his Verdi, Puccini, Schoenberg, Berlioz, Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner, and Brahms. Over the next six years when I was regularly in the Hall Solti’s CSO won another 6 Grammy Awards – for his Liszt, Beethoven, Bartók, Wagner, Bach and Richard Strauss. Solti’s accomplishment in this area is wonderfully mind boggling.9 Both music director Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon (1963-1968) wished to heighten the orchestra’s national and international profile by recordings and tours but it was maestro Solti who fulfilled and then surpassed these earlier objectives. When Solti finally left his post as music director in 1991 after 22 years at its helm he had the legacy of having established Chicago as one of the very best orchestras in the world.
As music director at Covent Garden for ten years starting in 1961 Solti generated a reputation for being “the screaming skull”10 because of his intense and at times bruising style. But musicians not much later in Chicago saw a different and more complex man. Solti did not bait or act harshly toward them as Reiner had done in the mode of Arturo Toscanini (Italy, 1867-1957). Reiner, in the first hour of the first rehearsal as music director, fired one of the musicians. He worked constantly after that to instill fear into his orchestra. He insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” and inflicted cruel verbal tests onto his men to test, to his mind, their character. While believed to be utterly lacking in ready wit or sensitivity as sometimes displayed by the combustible Reiner, Solti was seen by his musicians to turn inwards into a private world.11 Unlike Leonard Bernstein, Solti could appear fashion challenged – he showed up at rehearsal in baggy pants and a simple coat thrown over a rumpled shirt. Nor did Solti drive a flashy sports car à la von Karajan or act podium showman like Stokowski. While Martinon and Solti were “late starters” to music, a 53-year-old Martinon came to the orchestra fully formed while 57-year-old Solti continued an intense drive to advance.12
The 1970s underway, Solti proved to be not the terror in rehearsal Reiner had been nor seeking anyone’s approval like Martinon. And while Solti was accessible and sometimes sought to be an intermediary to certain first-rank players’ intramural conflicts, he remained markedly tense. Solti did admit to “gentle bullying”13 in Chicago but only to get his way with the music. Respect for the CSO is high among its music directors while at Covent Garden Solti admiited he had been “a narrow-minded little dictator.”14 Under Solti’s leadership the CSO’s technical brilliance produced clear, lustrous, and notably loud sound – known as “Der Solti-Klang.” With Solti the CSO’s 1970 appearance at Carnegie Hall was a rousing success and for its first European tour in 1971 the orchestra basked in stellar reviews. In six weeks they played in Scotland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and England. By 1972 the CSO won its first Grammy Awards under Solti for Mahler Symphonies 7 and 8, whose music was first suggested to Solti to conduct by Theodor Adorno. Sir Georg Solti and Chicago made for a winning team and the city shared in its glory.15
In performance Solti’s large conducting gestures could appear stiff and stylized – one more aspect of the Toscanini temperament he dismissed. As Solti espoused Toscanini’s belief that music cannot be chopped up and must relax and flow Solti did not follow Toscanini’s lead – as Riccardo Muti, a Toscanini admirer, does not- to forego the written musical score on the conductor’s podium during a concert. If Muti’s reason is to read and interpret a score’s annotations, Solti’s was a psychological one. Like Toscanini Solti committed the music to memory but kept the annotated score ever-present to serve as an insurance policy for musicians, especially singers, who Solti believed needed reassurance that the conductor had everything under control during a performance. Despite this careful preparation, a recurring criticism of Solti’s work is that it “lack[ed] refinement…finesse and, above all, attention to detail.” 16 For the keen musical mind of Daniel Barenboim who brought neither Solti’s or Muti’s purpose to the podium he nearly always conducted like Toscanini with no score.
When Sir Georg Solti died suddenly in September 1997 there was the critical reaction linking him to the passing of an era – an erstwhile time of “old school toughness” when a conductor was a “super-hero” who did not negotiate musical interpretation but demanded it and never shared credit or fame with any musician. But this, of course, is largely myth. The era of “democratic playing” which is criticized as today’s musical model – that is, one of dialogue and partnership between conductor and ensemble – is in fact something that started in the United States and elsewhere around 1960 when Solti was embarking on the next four decades of his best work.17 In what ways is Muti’s directorship affecting “the Chicago sound”? How is this new and highly experienced, talented and forceful conductor – conducting Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” on October 3, 2014 Muti jabbed the air like a boxer – an old Solti gesture – changing this vital orchestra? CSO’s future lies in Muti’s head, heart and hands and while players are incredibly talented (no orchestra plays Strauss and Mahler better) Muti keeps them on a tight leash. How do the musicians respond to his direction? Results from such control and semiotic interpolation of a composer’s intention in the score should be the grounds on which the public will judge Riccardo Muti over time. The CSO strives to play to its Chicago audience, not to one in Asia or Europe, and so the case for Muti’s rise or fall will essentially be local.
NEXT: Daniel Barenboim.
1 Huff post Chicago, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra Plays ‘Chelsea Dagger’ In A Classy Show Of Support For The Hawks,” 06/20/2013. Retrieved October 2014.
11 insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” – Peck, p. 2; private world – Furlong, p. 52.
12 flashy sports car – Furlong, p.79; podium showman – Furlong, p.81; “late starters” – Furlong, pp. 58 and 87; fully formed – Furlong, p.60; intensely driven – Furlong, p. 83, 141.
13 Furlong, p.86.
14 Furlong, p. 88.
15 technical brilliance – Furlong p.81; “Der Solti-Klang” – Furlong, p. 85; “stellar reviews” – Review of ”The Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Robert M. Lightfoot; Thomas Willis,” by M. L. M., Music Educators Journal, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Dec., 1974), pp. 87-88; European itinerary – http://csoarchives.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/solti-26-1971-tour-to-europe/. Retrieved October 2014; suggested to Solti by Theodor Adorno – Sir Georg Solti, Memoirs, Knopf, NY 1997, p. 100.
16 On Solti’s and Toscanini’s relationship – see Furlong, pp. 86; 93-94, 141; for quote “lack[ed] refinement…” – Furlong, p. 85. Solti first worked with Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and was invited by him to New York in 1939.
17 Old school toughness – Review of “The Right Place, the Right Time! Tales of the Chicago Symphony Days by Donald Peck,” by Lauren Baker Murray, Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Sep., 2008), pp. 21-22; “super hero” – “Editorial: Leading from the Front,” The Musical Times, Vol. 138, No. 1857 (Nov., 1997), p. 3; dialogue and partnership… started in…1960 – Furlong, p.110.
The Italian early Baroque ensemble “Ensemble Accordone” was founded in 1984 by two musicologists—composer Guido Morini (b. 1959) and tenor Marco Beasley (Italian-English, b. 1957). In the last decade the duo, in collaboration with other musical artists, has recorded and released 10 albums.
The 45-minute opera called Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis (Revive the Life Force Spirit) is composed by Moroni and appeared in 2009. It is divided into three parts with thirteen chapters and includes a prelude and interlude in Gregorian chant.
While Ensemble Accordone’s main focus is arranging and performing musical literature mainly of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis is one of two recent albums by the group conceived from original compositions by Morini.
In their interpretations, Ensemble Accordone often seeks collaboration with outside musical artists. This is also the case for Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis, an opera for three soloists, three choirs, organ and basso continuo concertante. With texts drawn from the the Old Testament, the first part is called Effuderunt Aquas Nubila (Poured out of murky waters).
Featured are the Helicon and Euterpe choirs as well as soloists Elisabetta de Mircovich and Claudia Caffagni. Special guest musicians include Karen Peeters, Jaap Kruithof, Edwin Derde, and Guido Morini. The opera’s conductor is Geert Hendrix.
While Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis is imbued with the monophonic structure of sixth century Gregorian chant as well as Baroque polyphony of one thousand years later, Ensemble Accordone consciously strives in this album to have early music be easier for today’s listener to enjoy.
While today’s listener may not recognize or be able to identify this melodious music’s traditional backbone, the manifestation of a “rigorous lyricism” demonstrates Ensemble Accordone’s creative confidence in bringing early music into relevant practice for the 21st century.
Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis is the first part of a trilogy of compositions dedicated to the Christian Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. By design, the new commission by the Basilica Cattedrale della Vergine Assunta (Lodi Cathedral in northern Italy) is to counter today’s materialism by configuring the great religious traditions in a new way through contemporary music and words. Of course, the musical heritage, careful and creative arrangment, powerful lyricism and performative precision are intended to have universal appeal regardless of the listener’s ethical or religious convictions.
The opera describes the presence, vital breath, and action of the Spirit in the life of the individual and community. It’s libretto of Old Testament verses is a new Latin translation by Ettore Garioni.