Spring 2007


Spring Concert 2007

Saturday, June 2 • 8:00 PM, PAC

Join the Cal Poly Symphony in a celebration of music that explores our national identities. Hear music that brings to life the folk songs of a nation, evokes the Wild West, or recaptures the glory of ancient Rome.


Ives: The Unanswered Question
Copland: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves
Respighi: Pines of Rome

Program Notes:

Charles Ives - The Unanswered Question
(1908, revised 1930-35)

Charles Ives felt no need to create successful, popular music. As a wealthy insurance executive, he was free to write experimental works that anticipated musical trends by half a century and which remained unheard for years. From his bandmaster father, he inherited a tremendous interest in experimentation - overlapping disparate layers of sound, borrowing hymn tunes and playing them in conflicting keys, etc. From such American Transcendentalists as Ralph Waldo Emerson, he learned to value intuition over tradition and to pursue beauty in a way that few thought beautiful. The music he wrote is difficult, disorienting, and thoroughly American.

The Unanswered Question does not borrow tunes from traditional American music, as do some of Ives' other compositions. It does, however, make us think, and in so doing accomplishes one of Ives' main objectives. The piece is conceived as a scenario, enacted by three independent groups of instruments, and is written in a style that does not lend itself to superficial enjoyment. Ives describes the scenario in this way:

The strings play ppp throughout ... [and] represent "The Silences of the Druids - Who Know, See and Hear Nothing." The trumpet intones "The Perennial Question of Existence", and states it in the same tone of voice each time. But the hunt for "The Invisible Answer" undertaken by the flutes and other human beings, becomes gradually more active, faster and louder. ... "The Fighting Answerers", as the time goes on, and after a "secret conference", seem to realize a futility, and begin to mock "The Question" - the strife is over for the moment. After they disappear, "The Question" is asked for the last time, and "The Silences" are heard beyond in "Undisturbed Solitude."

Copland - Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo

Aaron Copland exists in the popular imagination as the creator of quintessentially American music. His ballets, including Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, have come to define for us what the wild west and rural America sound like. However, this is but one side to the composer's music.

When, in 1925, the conductor Walter Damrosch finished leading the New York Symphony Orchestra in a symphony by the then unknown Copland, he felt compelled to turn to the audience and proclaim, "If a young man can write like that at the age of 23, in five years he will be ready to commit murder!" After this comment, Copland the modernist was very much in the news. The Copland that most of us know incorporates a little bit of this modernism and mixes with it a good deal of Americana and melodic simplicity. It is the music that Copland hoped would reach people, and so it has.

In 1942, the choreographer Agnes de Mille asked Copland to write a ballet - a "cowboy ballet" for the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo. Having just written Billy the Kid, Copland replied, "Oh no!  I've already done one of those!" She won him over. This ballet would be lighthearted where Billy the Kid was dark. It would be different.

The story of Rodeo is indeed simple. A young woman - already a skilled cowpoke - hopes to catch the eye of the head wrangler at Burnt Ranch. Despite her prowess, she only succeeds in gaining his affection when she shows up at the Saturday night dance in a pretty dress! The four movements performed tonight are taken with little change from the ballet.

Buckaroo Holiday introduces us to the young woman, her feats of roping and riding, and the activity at Burnt Ranch. It includes two tunes that Copland found in "Our Singing Country," a collection of tunes collected by John A. Lomax from around the U.S. early in the twentieth century. First, the trombone quotes "If he be a buckaroo by his trade" in a humorous solo. Then, the whole orchestra shouts out the railroad-building song, "Sis Joe," complete with its unpredictable rhythms.

Corral Nocturne shows the girl at her loneliest, without the help of any cowboy tunes.
Saturday Night Waltz begins with the strings tuning up (rather forcefully), but settles into a main tune vaguely based on the song "Goodbye, old paint."

Hoe-down, made famous as an accompaniment to the words, "Beef: It's what's for dinner," is the energetic celebration that concludes the action. It begins with a direct quotation of the fiddle tune "Bonyparte," collected by Lomax in Kentucky in 1937. "McLeod's Reel" makes an appearance in the trumpet solo, although Copland changes the tune to make it even more unpredictable.

Copland's genius lies in his ability to incorporate American folk music into this work without us knowing what is pre-existing music and what is new. His own language draws on the music he quotes, and those tunes take on aspects of his own, more modern voice to the extent that we simply hear life in the wild west.

Vaughan-Williams - Fantasia on Greensleeves

The tune we know as "Greensleeves" has accompanied many different texts throughout time. It is mentioned in A Handful of Pleasant Delights from 1584 as "a new Courtley Sonnet, of the lady Greensleeves. To the new tune of Greensleeves." Later, in the 19th century, it was given a Christmas text by William Chatterton Dix: "What child is this."

Vaughan-Williams had the earlier association in mind as he worked on Sir John in Love, an opera based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. He incorporated this tune, as well as a lighthearted folk song, "Lovely Joan," which makes an appearance as a contrasting middle section. Both tunes were woven together to provide atmospheric music for the opera. The Fantasia heard tonight was arranged as an independent work and premiered in 1934.

Ottorino Respighi - Pines of Rome (Pini di Roma)

Respighi began his musical studies as a violinist at the Liceo Musicale of his native Bologna. His mastery of both violin and viola provided him work for some time after graduation, but it was his composition studies with Luigi Torchi that most influenced the young composer; Torchi was a musicologist with a passion for early music, and to his pupil he gave a lifelong fascination with everything from Gregorian chant to Renaissance dance music.

In the winter of 1900-01 and again in 1902-3, the young composer traveled to Russia as an orchestral violist. While there, he was able to study briefly with the dean of Russian orchestral music, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, one of history's most famous orchestrators. Respighi confessed that these few lessons were vital for his understanding of orchestral color - the very characteristic to which he owes much of his success.

After further travels abroad, Respighi returned to Italy and Bologna, making ends meet by playing in orchestras and in the Mugellini String Quartet, and of course, by transcribing music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The search for a permanent teaching post led him in 1913 to Rome's Liceo Musicale di S Cecilia. The capital was naturally a musical center, but decisive for Respighi, it was most of all an orchestral center. The first breakthrough of the composer's career was fittingly an orchestral masterpiece, and the first of three homages to Rome: Fountains of Rome, first performed in 1917.

Pines of Rome, like the earlier Fountains of Rome, uses nature as an inspiration. Here, it is not so much depicted as used as a springboard for dreams and images. Rome's ancient glory is evoked with atavistic pageantry, including calls from buccini - the ancient trumpets of the Empire's capitol - and the triumphant, unstoppable marching of legions of soldiers.

It is no wonder, then, that Mussolini admired Respighi's orchestral work greatly, and even put it to use for fascist propaganda. The composer, however, remained removed from politics, seldom writing to goverment officials and never ingratiating himself to them as others did. He was endorsed despite his indifference. Indeed, with a reputation that extended even to the United States, he had no need of official support. His music had escaped the struggles of his country, and survives today purely on its own strengths and evokative power.

The work is in four sections, played without break. Following are the descriptions provided by the composer:

I. The pine trees of the Villa Borghese
Children are at play in the pine groves of Villa Borghese; they dance round in circles, they play at soldiers, marching and fighting, they are wrought up by their own cries like swallows at evening, they come and go in swarms. Suddenly the scene changes, and...

II. Pine trees near a catacomb
...we see the shades of the pine trees fringing the entrance to a catacomb. From the depth rises the sound of mournful psalm-singing, floating through the air like a solemn hymn, and gradually and mysteriously dispersing.

III. The pine trees of the Janiculum
A quiver runs through the air: The pine trees of the Janiculum stand distinctly outlined in the clear light of a full moon. A nightingale is singing.

IV. The pine trees of the Appian Way
Misty dawn on the Appian Way: solitary pine trees guarding the magic landscape; the muffled, ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps. The poet has a fantastic vision of bygone glories: trumpets sound and, in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun, a consular army bursts forth towards the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.


Tickets for the concert are $10 to $12 for the public, $8 to $10 for seniors and $6 for students. They are on sale at the Performing Arts Ticket Office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. To order by phone, call SLO-ARTS (756-2787).

Patrons who buy season tickets to four Music Department events through the Performing Arts Ticket office will receive a 10 percent discount; a 15 percent discount is given to those who buy tickets to five or more events.

The concert is sponsored by Cal Poly's Music Department, College of Liberal Arts and Instructionally Related Activities program. For more information, call the Music Department at 756-2406.


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