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A Program of American Music

While most people associate classical music with the countries of Western Europe, in our century the tradition has truly become a global one. This concert seeks to explore some of the quality classical music that has been written over the years by composers of our own country.

The program begins with two of Samuel Barber's "Excursions," classically stylized music rooted in different regional American folk idioms, from sea shanties to a country hootenanny scene, complete with a local harmonica virtuoso.

Next on the program is a special performance of "The Alcotts" and "Thoreau," two sections from Charles Ives' landmark composition, the Concord Sonata. Ives wrote this work as a musical reflection of the literature of four famous writers -- Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Thoreau -- all of whom lived in Concord, Massachusetts, circa 1850. Michael Arnowitt will read excerpts from the writings of Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau prior to playing the section of the Concord Sonata that Ives composed as their musical portrait.

(If you are interested in a program of the entire Concord Sonata, performed in this manner by alternating the reading of literary excerpts known to have influenced Ives with the four musical movements, please click here.)

The featured work on the concert is Michael Arnowitt's own transcription for solo piano of Aaron Copland's much-loved ballet score, "Appalachian Spring." Copland's music depicts a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills and is a remarkable evocation of the joy and beauty of rural life.

Also on the program is a major work by Frederic Rzewski, a composer originally from Massachusetts now living in Belgium, entitled "Four North American Ballads." Each one of these four pieces is based on an American folk tune, such as "Winnsboro cotton mill blues," a 1930's millworkers' song. Two of the pieces in this collection allow for moments of improvisation; the set as a whole thereby presents an interesting balance of folk, jazz, and classical elements.

An optional addition to the program is a keyboard piece by Frank Zappa, who at the end of his life, wrote much "serious" music for classical forces which attracted praise from such outstanding musicians as Pierre Boulez and Nicolas Slonimsky.

Samuel Barber is one of America's most expressive composers, and the concert concludes with the finale to his Piano Sonata, a brilliant fugue which combines the liveliness of Baroque counterpoint with Rachmaninoff-like excitement and thunder.


Samuel BarberExcursions #3 and 4
Charles Ives"The Alcotts" and "Thoreau" from Sonata no. 2,
    "Concord, Massachusetts 1840-1860"
Aaron CoplandAppalachian Spring -- ballet music
    transcribed for piano by Michael Arnowitt
Frederic RzewskiFour North American Ballads
    Dreadful memories (after Aunt Molly Jackson)
    Which side are you on? (after Florence Reese)
    Down by the riverside
    Winnsboro cotton mill blues
(optional) Frank ZappaThe Girl in the Magnesium Dress
Samuel BarberFinale (Allegro con spirito) from Sonata for Piano, op. 26