Monday, July 4, 2016

On America's Day of National Recognition - A Wrench in the Spokes of Stravinsky's Wheel??...

Of course, today's date serves America its  annual reminder as an elemental and  historically redolent celebration  of the 240th year of its existence. This nation becomes  a kind of boiling-pot on this date; of fireworks, the hot dog, and parades, with a warm glance at the military veteran who has and continues to be an elemental part of our brief history.
When I consider the meaning of this date each year, constantly changing images emerge;everything
from the first fragile days, through the Civil War, Slavery, Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution etc.etc.
Interestingly; how this year I've been re-hashing some of the musical chapters that have been  written into my personal  'book' that came about as reactors to  such 'things'  American, as,  - how about Jazz?
One rather odd incident occurred in 1944 in Boston.  Odd, because the Central Figure was not an American; rather, a gentleman from Mother Russia - his name, Igor Stravinsky. He had just completed the first of his(I believe)four harmonic versions of the  Star Spangled Banner. His primary reason for undertaking this project was no more than making it less  difficult to sing it, as he thought that it was too ungainly, in its traditional harmonic garb, to sing well. And so, he embarked upon some subtle harmonic changes (including a secondary dominant 7th !) in order for, in his opinion, the anthem to be sung with more 'naturalness' by way of the harmonic changes he introduced. On a particular day, his arrangement was to be performed, but some rather disturbed leaders in Boston  circles arranged to have some police confront the composer with a warning that a statute, passed in the legislature  during  the period of World War I, stating that  a fine would be imposed if the national anthem was tampered with. Actually, that statute merely warned not to use the anthem as either an exit march, or any background to dancing of any sort.
This "tempest in a teapot " disturbed the great composer, who during this period was lecturing at Harvard, as I recall.
The upshot: there are several recordings of Stravinsky's version of the anthem, including one replete with chorus. So much for that...
Other nods to Americanism in music would include Stravinsky  being commissioned by the legendary bandleader Woody Herman to write for Big Band. The music is titled "Ebony Concerto"(do refer to my Sept. 21, 2013 blog for more info).
Equally impressed by America's contribution to the language of music were such notables as Ravel and Debussy - and how about Russia's  love affair with Gershwin's folk opera "Porgy and Bess?"
And I could go on...

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