The Well-Tempered Ear

YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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TONIGHT at 7:30 the UW-Madison offers free but conflicting online concerts of opera and percussion music

November 24, 2020
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight – Tuesday, Nov. 24 – at 7:30 p.m. the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music will offer two FREE but competing events online.

You would think with so many empty spots in the events calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic that such conflicts could be avoided.

In any case, whichever concert you choose to watch – or perhaps to toggle back and forth between the two – here are the details:

OPERA SCENES

The first concert, done by University Opera, is Opera Scenes.

According to the website description: “What was to be Opera Workshop’s Fall Opera Scenes program has morphed in a delightful way.

“This term, each singer undertook an in-depth study of one particular operatic role. We’ll be presenting the fruits of that study – excerpted recitatives and arias from The Coronation of Poppea, Don Giovanni and Orfeo ed Euridice – staged in each student’s adapted habitat, and filmed by the students themselves.”

Here is the program with specifics about the singers and the selections as well as other aspects such as direction and accompaniment:

UW-Madison Opera Workshop: Professors Mimmi Fulmer, Thomas Kasdorf and University Opera head David Ronis (below) are the directors; William Preston and Molly Schumacher are the TAs.

“Batti, batti” and “Vedrai carino” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Zerlina: Maria Steigerwald
Directors: Molly Schumacher and David Ronis
Pianist: William Preston

“Chiamo il mio ben così” and “Che farò senza Euridice” from “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo: Emily Quartemont
Director: David Ronis
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

“Or sai chi l’onore” and “Non mi dir” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Donna Anna: Sachie Ueshima
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

Excerpts from Act I, Scenes 3, 4, and 10 from “L’incoronazione di Poppea”by Claudio Monteverdi. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson of a previous fully staged production in 2018 by University Opera of the Monteverdi opera.)

Poppea: Molly Schumacher
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: William Preston

Here is a direct link to the one-hour production: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANcPY9sLGls

UW CHAMBER PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE

Also tonight is a concert by the UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble (below), directed by Anthony Di Sanza and Thomas Ross.

It takes place in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center, and will run from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. No in-person attendance is allowed.

The UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble is dedicated to the performance of significant and engaging works for the Western percussion ensemble tradition. Repertoire from diverse trends in 20th and 21st century chamber composition is explored with an emphasis on new compositions for percussion.

Here is a direct link to the live-streamed concert, with more information  about the program and the names of the players if you click on “Show More”: https://youtu.be/iZKO8pZmomA

And here is the program of the mostly new music:

Living Room Music (in the times of Covid) (1940) by John Cage and heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.
I. To Begin
II. Story
III. Melody
IV. End

Spanesque Oscillations (2003) by Steve Riley

For High Hats (2017) by Matt McBane

INTERMISSION

Marimbaireachd (1997) by Matthew Welch

The Lonelyness of Santa Clause (1994) by Fredrik Andersson

Metric Lips (1988) by Bela Fleck (arr. Steinquest)


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