A week of Great American Symphonies
Literary types have their "Great American Novels," cinephiles their "100 Greatest American Movies." But what do fans of American classical music have? Tune in afternoons this week to WFCR to find out, as we present an Independence Day series of Great American Symphonies, complete with fanfares, fireworks, and even a trip out to the ol' ballgame.
"If I had pitchers who could pitch as strongly as you do in your Symphony, my worries would be over." So wrote a baseball manager (or team owner, according to other sources) to the composer of Monday afternoon's Symphony, a work that captured the attention of its time have few classical works before or since. The early biography of its composer, Roy Harris, reads like a prequel to "The Grapes of Wrath." Born in an Oklahoma log cabin on Lincoln's Birthday in 1897, Harris moved with his family in 1903 to a farm in the San Gabriel Valley of California. Mostly self-taught as a composer, Harris drove a dairy truck to make ends meet in his twenties, before encouragement from Aaron Copland and other prominent young composers led him to Paris and studies with famed pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Back in the U.S., Harris scored his first success when Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered his "Symphony 1933," later making it the first American symphony to be recorded commercially. "Koussy" and the BSO also gave the first performance in 1939 of Harris'smagnum opus , his Symphony No. 3.
What made Harris's Third such an instant and enduring classic? Listen to this afternoon's broadcast of the superb recent concert performance by Kevin Rhodes and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. From first note to last, the Symphony flows without break, surging, receding and swelling like a river wending its way through majestic scenery as it rushes to the ocean. Rather than stress the contrast and conflict intrinsic to most symphonies, Harris's Third evolves organically out of its long opening cello melody, one both as homespun as a church hymn and as pregnant with possibilities (brilliantly realized) as the subject of a Bach fugue. Striving, seeking, lamenting, yearning, the Third speaks to a constant hunger in the American national spirit, as relevant today as it was in 1939. Join us late in the 1:00 hour Monday afternoon to be swept along. I'll have more to say about the rest of this week's American symphonies in later blog posts.