New music favorites for July 4th? Surely, you say, we’ve heard all the American patriotic music there is to hear. Maybe, maybe not.
Obviously, my first suggestion is to catch the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s July 4th concert in World’s Fair Park, either live or on WBIR-TV starting at 8 p.m. (Details of that concert were covered in the previous post in this blog.)
However, there are a lot of interesting works that rarely, or never, make it onto Independence Day concerts for a variety of reasons– reasons such as length or sophistication. Admittedly, the attention span of ebullient crowds filled with potato salad, cherry cobbler, and adult beverages waiting for fireworks to begin is not too long. Nevertheless, if you aren’t familiar with either of these two suggestions, give them a whirl.
American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) was truly a man ahead of his time. Most of his music was largely unplayed during his lifetime and, even today, the brilliant rhythmic and tonal sophistication presents obstacles for players… and audiences.
One of his more accessible works for audiences went unpublished until 1949, his Variations on “America,” written in 1891 as a work for solo organ specifically for the Fourth of July. Today, we often hear the work in an orchestral arrangement done by composer William Schumann in 1964. This work, based of course on the melody to “America” (“God Save the Queen”), is witty and charming, yet is as emotionally driven and moving as any piece of patriotic music.
Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) was born in Verviers, Belgium, and became something of a violin prodigy, giving his first concert at the age of six, later touring Europe as a youthful virtuoso. He later studied composition and began to write, mostly music for violin with other instruments for his own performances. The violinist/composer made three tours of the U.S., for which he composed appropriate music. His Greeting to America (Salut à l’Amérique, Fantaisie originale), published posthumously in 1883, is a charming piece for virtuoso violin and orchestra that incorporates entertaining references to “Yankee Doodle” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Both works can be found on YouTube. For the Vieuxtemps, I strongly recommend the Naxos CD “Fantasia appassionata / Ballade and Polonaise / Fantaisie-Caprice / Greeting to America” with violinist Misha Keylin and the Slovak Radio Symphony, conducted by Andrew Mogrelia, Naxos 8.570974.
For Variations on America, check the Sight and Sounds department at the Knox County Public Library for a CD. While you are there, you might want to check out a biography on Ives, Charles Ives : a life with music by Jan Swafford or Charles Ives, the ideas behind the music by J. Peter Burkholder.