Thursday, July 04, 2013

Liberating the 1812 from the Fourth

This is an updated version of a post originally written July 4, 2007

Personally, I think it's past time to retire the "1812 Overture" from 4th of July concerts. I get it. It's got canons. Canons go boom. Fireworks go boom. We have a piece of classical music that goes boom.

But have you really listened to this work? Tchaikovsky wrote it to commemorate the Battle of Borodino, where Russian forces turned back Napoleon. The work contains the Russian and the French national anthems and uses those two tunes to represent the ebb and flow of the two armies.

Is blasting out the "God Save the Tsar" really the best way to celebrate Independence Day? And what about "La Marseilles"? Perhaps an apologist could construe it as an acknowledgment of Lafayette's contributions, but it wasn't that long ago we insisted those potato strings be called "freedom fries."

So let's forget the Russian overture written by a Russian honoring the victory of a Russian monarch over a French military dictator and trot out some red-blooded American classical music written by real Americans.

Here are some suggestions for rousing, American music written by Real Americans.

Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore

- Daugherty's composition embodies the vernacular of American music and culture. His Metropolis Symphony is a musical portrait of Superman (a distinctly American superhero) and his world. Mount Rushmore has four movements, corresponding to the four presidents it depicts: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. Daugherty quotes Revolutionary War songs in Washington's movement, 18th Century French music in Jefferson's, and the finale is an inspiring Copland-esque setting of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" for orchestra and chorus. This should be a standard work for 4th of July concerts!

Charles Ives: Variations on "America"

- No composer sums up the American spirit of independence of thought than Ives. His variations on this distinctively American tune are original and inspired and makes more traditional arrangements just sound uninspired.

Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 66, "Hymn to Glacier Park"

- Hovhaness was another American original, placidly making his own music without getting sucked into the academic fashions of the day. Hovhaness drew inspiration from mountains, and his symphony to Glacier Park captures the grandeur and spaciousness of this national treasure.

Howard Hanson: "Merry Mount" Suite

- Harris had a distinctly American voice, and his opera "Merry Mount" is a distinctively American story. Based on the short story "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it dramatizes the conflict between the fun-loving colonists of Mount Wollaston, Massachusetts and their more serious Puritan neighbors.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Union Paraphrase en Concert

- Gottschalk was an internationally renowned piano virtuoso. In many ways, he was the American Franz Liszt, performing and composing. The "Union Paraphrase" is an excellent example of Gottschalk's technique and a rousing piece of musical Americana.

Many celebrations will feature some Aaron Copland (usually "Fanfare for the Common Man"), or some Leonard Bernstein -- good choices, but there are so many more. We have a rich classical music tradition stretching back over 200 years -- music written by Americans that have a distinctively American voice that speaks to us today.

If you don't like the concept of American flags being made in China, then why settle for 4th of July music written in Russia?

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