Robert S. Whitney, long-time conductor
of the Louisville Orchestra, was born
in England in 1904. His birthplace is
the Geordie city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
in North East England. His parents were
American. He attended the Chicago Conservatory
(1922-28). Frederick Stock and De Lamarter
gave him a grounding in conducting at
the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He also
studied with Koussevitsky in 1940-41.
He founded, conducted and directed the
Louisville Orchestra from 1937 to 1967
- an extraordinary tenure. It was also
extraordinary because of its dedication
to the recording and performance of
new music - though often of a conservative
persuasion. The recordings ran from
circa 1953 monophonic until it petered
out in the late 1970s with stereo well
and truly consolidated and had we but
known it, the CD dynasty in the offing.
The present disc is
the first issue in Matt Walters’ revival
of the recordings into the modern market.
It will also secure their future for
future generations rather than being
dependent on collections of vulnerable
LPs dotted here and there among private
and institutional collections.
For the first issue
the unifying theme is the Variation
Form. This is defined as melody altered
by decoration, rhythmic change, change
of mode, elision, omission etc. ‘Variation’
is as Paul Griffith has said essential
to almost all music as repetition and
change are usually in constant play
at least so far as the Western traditions
The four compositions
date from the 1950s apart from the Schuman
which is from 1963.
Variations are an arrangement of his
Piano Variations of 1930 but with the
arrangement made and launched in 1957.
It is a piece that sails very close
to serial technique in its intricate
working of a seven note them. The 1950s
saw a return by Copland to the quasi-serial
techniques of the early 1930s. He left
Manhattan in 1947 and took to the countryside.
This was by no means a signal for Appalachian
tenderness. Instead his music became
akin to then-contemporary Stravinsky.
This is apparent in these Variations.
I would not want to overstate this because
although this is uncompromisingly virile
writing (and performance) superbly put
across in this recording, the monumental
brass gestures pick up echoes with the
Third Symphony and with El Salon
Mexico. The technicians did an excellent
and listener-intimidating job with this
recording; that it was made in 1958
is quite astonishing such is the power
and clarity of the sound.
the only non-American ‘on the menu’.
His 1954 Variations are much more extreme
although the sound-world is more ethereal
than the Copland. In this dissonant
spidery web of music the composer uses
the same tone row that he used for The
Songs of Liberation and Annalibera’s
Notebook for solo piano. Annalibera
was the composer’s daughter. Not dissimilar,
Carter’s music is amongst the most uncompromising
written during the last century. His
Variations were written for the Louisville
Orchestra. A high priest of dissonant
fantasy Carter’s Variations are
a mercurial harum-scarum dream journey
in which mountains and palaces fade
or shatter - like Prospero’s "insubstantial
pageant". Ives’ little Variations
on ‘America’ were written by him
in 1891 for organ. The tune will be
known to British listener’s as God
Save the Queen. It is treated here
to Ives’ irreverence, jaunty nostalgia,
absurd fantasy and bathos. Listen to
the way he spins Chabrier and Massenet
into the picture at 4:20. It’s all great
fun and Schuman is a soul-mate
of a collaborator.
Each set of variations
is given a single track so there is
no easy method of tracking down a particular
variation within any one of these works.
The virtues of this
disc are further enhanced by the composer’s
own notes for each set of Variations.
In the case of the Schuman/Ives it is
Charles Ives’ note for the original
that is reproduced in the booklet.
This is the first disc
in the First Edition catalogue. It is
out of step with the rest in mixing
composers together and in not using
composer portraits for the cover.
This fine disc is the
first issue in Matt Walters’ revival
of the recordings into the modern market.
The unifying thread is the variation
form read through dissonant modernity