is a certain irony in the fact that the greatest American symphonist
of the latter half of the 1800s and the early years of the twentieth
century is virtually unknown in the United
Kingdom. A brief look at the CD catalogues
shows that three record companies have made brave attempts at
presenting this repertoire – Chandos, the redoubtable New World
Records and, of course, Naxos. There are shorter pieces scattered
around a number of ‘American’ music samplers, but it is fair
to say that Chadwick’s reputation is based on perhaps a dozen
CDs. So my impression is that it is perhaps not only on the
British side of ‘the pond’ that he is little appreciated.
what is the reason for this? Well two things must be said, and
I suppose they are interrelated. Firstly American music is dominated
by ‘the greats’ such as Copland, Barber and Bernstein and, of
course, Gershwin. All of these men tried to introduce a sense
of ‘the American’ into their music – be it ‘jazz’ or ‘hoe-down’.
But the key was that they looked towards the ‘homeland’ for
inspiration and not to Europe
- at least ostensibly. And this is what came to be the accepted
philosophical underpinning of much music composed at this time.
secondly, in the same way that Vaughan Williams and Bax pushed
the great symphonies of Parry and Stanford into obscurity, the
works of Chadwick were pushed to one side by the ‘jazz’ age.
As in England,
it has little to do with quality - more to do with fashion or
as British listeners know, Parry, Stanford and the other Victorian
and Edwardian composers have been making a limited come-back
in the last two decades. At least we have a good repertoire
of recorded symphonies and concertos from this interesting era.
It is partly inspired by a desire to hear the precursors to
the ‘greater’ 20th century works but has actually
revealed a corpus of works that has a life and vibrancy of its
the same manner, as New World Records have often proved, there
is a considerable interest in the musical heritage of American
music. Whether it is Native American or the work of the ‘bluesman’
it contributes to the grand total.
slowly but surely George Whitefield Chadwick’s music is being
re-integrated into the grand repertoire of the Nation.
last general comment is that in America,
as in Europe,
it is no longer a sin to have written music that could be seen
as being slightly derivative. Chadwick’s models were Schumann,
Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and even Mendelssohn. He had
studied in Leipzig with Joseph Rheinberger – so his traditional credentials were impeccable.
Once upon a time this would have condemned him to everlasting
obscurity: thankfully we have moved on from that foolish attitude.
And as we shall see, there is more of ‘America’
in these works than may at first be imagined.
want to consider the Symphonic Sketches first of all.
They were actually composed over a ten year period (1895-1904).
Yet this in no way spoils their consistency. The programme notes
suggest that this work was perhaps Chadwick’s greatest. It is
in fact a ‘symphony’ in all but name. Each movement is given
a pictorial or descriptive title and is prefaced by lines of
verse suggesting the mood of the music.
first movement is called Jubilee. This is effectively
a rondo – which contrasts fast and loud music with passages
that are quite reflective and even introverted. The influence
of ‘negro’ tunes has been detected by musicologists; we find
the composer using the ‘habanera’ rhythm to underpin a tune
that owes much to Stephen Foster. Yet none of these allusions
spoil the general effect of a well constructed and unified first
second movement, Noël is truly beautiful. There is a
stillness and a serenity that moves the listener to tears. I
hear echoes of Dvořák; others perhaps have heard Ives.
The music evokes the Nativity – but this is a New
England scene – not a renaissance one.
And this is as it should be - for Chadwick was celebrating the
birth of his second son, Noël.
Hobgoblin is another good case of transference. This is my favourite moment
on this CD - here we have a short musical sketch that depicts
that most English fairy from the most English playwright – Shakespeare’s
Puck. Now of course it is easy to say that Chadwick has leant
heavily on Mendelssohn – but this would only be half the truth.
Puck, the Bard and Felix have been transported into the secret
places of New England
and given a very local turn of step. This is Halloween music
at its best – full of crisp rhythms and subtle orchestral effects.
It should be an encore the world over.
last movement of this work is a kind of Vaudeville parody. It
tells the stock tale of a hobo or tramp that was once popular
in the music halls. The actual story line seems to have been
lost – but the general effect is of ‘messing about.’ However
there is a more ‘serious’ element to this movement. The tramp
tries to gain the audience’s sympathy, however it is just a
show – the hobo runs off-stage with ‘a tip of the hat and a
wink of the eye.’
Second Symphony in B flat was composed over a three year
period. In fact separate movements were performed as the work
progressed. The Scherzo first saw light of day in 1884
and was apparently extremely successful. It was followed by
an Introduction and Allegro which approximates to the
I first heard this work I was put in mind of Dvořák’s New
World Symphony – which in spite of its popularity is still
one of my favourite works. And this was strange – because Chadwick
wrote his symphony nearly a decade before Dvořák hit the
American Coast. It has been well said that the two
composers shared a common aesthetic which meant that a number
of their themes ‘could be, but are not, folk melodies.’
opening movement is predicated upon a horn-call based on the
‘black’ notes. This ‘motto’ appears at various times and in
differing guises throughout the work. Unlike some commentators,
I do not see Native American or African-American influences
here so much as a Schumann-esque open-air feeling. This is quite
a European movement and none the worse for it. It is no coincidence
that this work is in the same key as Schumann’s ‘Spring’
Symphony and Schubert’s Fifth.
Scherzo, which is the second movement, is absolutely superb.
There is very much a ‘light’ music feel to this piece that would
become more prevalent in fifty years time. Once again it would
be easy to say that Mendelssohn was the model - however there
is plenty that is original here. There is an Irish feel to much
of this music that has been well described as ‘winking at you’.
slow movement nods to Tchaikovsky. However the passion, romance
and sheer depth of the music are all Chadwick’s own. It is amazing
how such lovely music can have lain forgotten for over a century.
finale – an allegro non troppo - echoes the opening movement’s
horn-calls and the remainder of the movement is a paean of praise.
The programme notes liken it to the conclusion of Schumann’s
Spring Symphony and certainly no one could deny the freshness
of every note in this fine movement. Thematic ideas are recalled
from previous movements as this symphony happily reaches it
coda. It is one of those musical moments that make the listener
glad to be alive.
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine and their conductor
Theodore Kuchar are perfectly at home in ‘Uncle Sam’s’ sound-world.
However, their website does not appear to be up to date so it
is a little difficult to find out what their repertoire is and
what other CDs they have made ... which is a pity as they seem
to be a fine orchestra.
is a great CD and introduces us to one of the ‘forgotten’ names
of American musical culture. A few years ago Naxos
issued a companion volume [8.559117] containing tone poems and
overtures. Together they make a fine introduction to Chadwick’s