I have always greatly admired the music of Irving Fine. For twenty five years
I have had the Desto LP (DC7167) of his Symphony, Toccata Concertante
and his glowing Serious Song and the RCA Victor LP (SB6692) which
included his Fantasia for string trio and the CRI LP (SD376) of his
inspiring choral music with the Greg Smith Singers.
Peter Ustinov wrote that Fine's music 'sings' and that he had "a discreet
talent more personal by far than most."
Aaron Copland wrote, "Music has suffered from an overdependence on consecrated
names, when music lovers speak of composers they are generally referring,
in the whole history of music, to half a hundred famous names of whom few
belong to the present century. This does serious injustice to many composers
including Irving Fine whose music has sincerity, quality and vitality. He
had an irreplaceable instinctive musicianship and yet he was modest to a
Leonard Bernstein who gave a performance of his Notturno with the
New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the opening concert of the 1962/3 season
in their new auditorium, a month after the composer's sudden death, said
of Fine, "He was a beautiful spirit in the world of music, this young and
gifted composer. He was goodness itself and that goodness radiates from his
music. He was one of those rare people of whom one can only think good. He
brought only amity and help to his colleagues; inspiration and encouragement
to his students, and honour to everything that he touched."
Bernstein also performed Fine's splendid Symphony during the 1966/7 season
but it was premièred by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Charles
Munch on 23 March 1962. The following August the composer conducted it at
Tanglewood and within a few days he died in Boston. "Irving Fine was not
a composer to be content to find a style and then run off carbon copies."
wrote Arthur Cohn, "Each of his works gives emphatic evidence of superfine
The Toccata Concertante was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra
under Serge Koussevitzky on 22 October 1948. It has a compelling sense of
onward motion, a convincing thematic argument, a fanfare-like persistence,
splendid woodwind solos and a rhythmic drive. It is memorable and absorbing
music and, in addition to all these qualities, there is a wonderful lyricism.
It is one of those flawless works that is so excellent that it is beyond
praise, as is the Symphony.
This is a work I profoundly value. It has absolutely everything. It has no
strengths because it has no weaknesses. It does not resort to academic formulae
or restrictive 'correctness'. It abounds in pithy ideas, colour, drama, beauty
and tension. The opening Intrada is, in the composer's words, "a kind
of choreographic action in which characters enter, depart and reappear altered
and in different groups." There is a gripping suspense which is not achieved
by weird effects but by the expert choice of instrumentation. And there is
an absorbing nervous mystery. The central movement, Capriccio, is
a large scherzo with constantly shifting meters which adds to the tension
and power of this incredible music. The finale Ode is both curiously
prophetic and poignant when one considers the composer's sudden death shortly
after his performance of this last completed work. He was only 47. The crushing
onslaught of tragedy and grief that completes this masterwork knows no equal
in symphonic literature.
And both these works are stunningly original and it is this that separates
the great composers from the rest.
The lighter pieces are equally good. Blue Towers is a dignified version
of college football piece d'occasion dating from 1959. His Diversions
for Orchestra are dedicated to his three daughters, Claudia, Emily and
Joanna. As with Music for Orchestra these pieces are witty but never
vulgar, tender but not coy, and appealing without being banal. It is easy
to dismiss them as charming but to write good quality music of charm takes
a lot of skill and few composers have it.
I prefer the composer's recording of the Symphony and Erich Leinsdorf's
version of the Toccata Concertante but this recording has much to
commend it and I do. This is superlative music for the sensitive and genuine
music lover. For your own sake, beg, borrow or steal it if you can't buy