(Gunther Schuller conducts the University Symphony in music
by Chadwick, Dvorak, and Delius on November 20 and 22.)
DO YOU FIND THE “NEW WORLD” SYMPHONY AN “AMERICAN” WORK?
I find very little American influence in it. But when I conduct it,
there are two places where I ask orchestras to think in terms of
American music. One is at the very end – the final cadence — where
there’s a bass line right out of “Shortnin’ Bread.” If that isn’t jazz,
what is it? It certainly made me sit up the first time I heard it. I
wouldn’t dare to make a definite connection to black American music,
however; maybe it’s just a coincidence. The other “American” spot I
find in the symphony is that passage in the slow movement where the
basses play pizzicato. I tell the bass players to think of this as
early jazz, to play it almost with a little bit of swing. Of course,
I’m out on a limb here. But I must say that when this passage isn’t
played with some rhythmic bounce, it does lose something.
tell the truth, I can feel Americanisms much more strongly in George
Chadwick’s Jubilee, which I’m conducting in the Austin festival. This
piece has a certain feeling of looseness, certain harmonic influences –
those sixth and ninth chords that are beginning to creep into
vaudeville and popular music of the time. There’s something happening
here which is not European. This is music that could not have been
composed in Germany in 1895 – no way.
conducted Jubilee at the New England Conservatory, at Tanglewood, and
on dozens of pops concerts. Not that I wanted to relegate it to pops,
but these were concerts on which I did early American works – some
Griffes, some Paine, some Converse, some Chadwick – and then ragtime
and jazz. I would certainly say that Jubilee deserves to be an American
staple. But one can say that about a lot of that early American
symphonic music. I’ve long fought to gain some recognition for these
composers. There’s still a prevalent notion that American concert music
begins with Copland – that, yes, earlier American music existed but
it’s all Germanic and pedantic. That’s b.s.
THE MUSIC OF THE BRITISH COMPOSER FREDERICK DELIUS WAS A GREAT EARLY INFLUENCE FOR YOU, WAS IT NOT?
happened because Thomas Beecham started to record most of Delius’s best
orchestral and choral works starting in the late twenties, and by the
mid-thirties he had put out something like four volumes of Delius, each
of which comprised 12 78-rpm sides. That’s a lot of music. Remember, in
those days only three Dvorak symphonies had been recorded -- there was
actually more Delius on record than Dvorak. And when I started hearing
this music at the age of 11 or 12, I just went crazy. There was
something in me that craved that chromaticism. Even before that, as a
choirboy, every time we’d rehearse a new work I’d look for the
accidentals. If there were no sharps or flats I knew I wouldn’t be
interested. We called that “white music.”
didn’t compose white music. And beyond that, it’s wonderfully touching
and melancholic. As a young man, that completely captivated me. Even
today, I get goosepimples, something physical happens to me when I hear
Delius’s harmonies. I’ve never conducted Sea Drift, his great Walt
Whitman setting, without finding myself totally in tears at the end.
Delius has a kind of occult effect on some of us – I know it leaves
others not only totally cold, but antagonistic. But for me Delius was
one of the major influences in my musical life, one of the reasons I
became a composer.
which was inspired by the sounds and sights of the Florida plantation
which he managed in his early twenties, is a work I’ve never before had
an opportunity to conduct. In fact, I have to confess I haven’t heard
it in 20 years. It’s one of the first Delius pieces in which he
consolidates something like his mature style. Speaking of which, I
would say that Delius and Scriabin are the two composers who were able
to take Wagnerian harmony and create a purely personal idiom. In
Tristan and Parsifal you find places that harmonically approach
atonality. In the case of late Delius and late Scriabin, you don’t
findcthat. Rather, you find something more like polytonality. They
invested Wagner’s chords – which they often used in the second and
third inversion – with a totally new effect. They made those harmonies
"I still remember when I first encountered Jubilee, on the old Howard Hanson Recording; I thought, 'Wow, who is this guy?'"
IN ADDITION TO "APPALACIA" AND "JUBILEE", YOU'RE CONDUCTING THE DVORAK CELLO CONCERTO IN AUSTIN.
don’t know what to say except that it’s possibly the most marvelous
cello concerto ever written. I was lucky to take part in the Dvorak
Cello Concerto in my first concert as a symphonic musician. This was at
the Manhattan School of Music when I was the first horn, and 13 or 14
years old. The conductor was Hugo Kortchak, a Czech who Dvorak knew.
Every note of the first and third horn parts in the that concerto is
just precious. The whole thing is an inexplicable masterpiece. You
know, it’s like a first love – these first things you encounter, they
have such as an impact.
AN AMERICAN COMPOSER, HOW DO YOU RELATE TO THE AMERICAN COMPOSERS OF
THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY – THE PERIOD OF “JUBILEE,” AND
“APPALACHIA,” AND THE “NEW WORLD” SYMPHONY?
done that primarily by insisting on performing their music. You know,
I’m one of the few Americans who have devoted a good part of their life
to exhuming the American music Americans composed before 1920. I have
to say, had I ever found myself the music director of an important
American orchestra, I would have programmed this music in quantity, and
created festivals around it. I still remember when I first encountered
Jubilee, on the old Howard Hanson recording; I thought, “Wow, who is
this guy?” The two big John Knowles Paine choral works I’ve recorded –
the Mass and St. Peter – and were pieces that had not been played in
decades. They were totally ignored. That “Dona nobis pacem” that
concludes Paine’s Mass – which was premiered in 1866, a year after the
end of the Civil War — that’s about as beautiful as music can get,
period. If you can get through that without being moved, you’re