Wednesday, October 14, 2009

William Grant Still's 4th and 5th Symphonies, and 'Poem for Orchestra' Now on Naxos 8.559603

[William Grant Still: Symphonies Nos. 4, 'Autochthonous' & 5, 'Western Hemisphere'; 'Poem'; Fort Smith Symphony; John Jeter, conductor; Naxos 8.559603 (2009); Cover painting ”Crossing America in an express train, United States” (1859) by Nathaniel Currier and James Merrit Ives, The Art Archive]

On Sept. 3, 2009 AfriClassical posted “William Grant Still's Symphonies Nos. 4, 'Autochthonous' & 5, 'Western Hemisphere' on Naxos in October.” The CD, Naxos 8.559603, also includes Still's “Poem” for orchestra, and was recorded by The Fort Smith Symphony of Fort Smith, Arkansas under the direction of John Jeter, its conductor for the past 12 years. The CD is now available. The liner notes are by David Ciucevich, Jr.:

“Like many African-Americans of his generation, Still achieved many 'firsts': first to hav e a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra (1935, New York Philharmonic,
Afro-American); first to conduct a major orchestra (1936, Los Angeles Philharmonic); first to conductan orchestra in the Deep South (1955, New Orleans Philharmonic); first to have an opera produced by a major company (1949, Troubled Island,New York City Opera), and first to havean opera broadcast on television (posthumously in 1981, A Bayou Legend, PBS).”

The Fifth Symphony was originally the Third Symphony before Still withdrew it. After the creation of the Fourth Symphony, he revised the work as the Fifth Symphony.” The composer's wife Verna Arey, speaking for him, gave descriptive titles to the symphony's four movements: 1. “The vigorous, life-sustaining forces of the Hemisphere” (briskly) 2. “The natural beauties of the Hemisphere” (slower, and with utmost grace) 3. “The nervous energy of the Hemisphere” (energetically) 4. “The overshadowing spirit of kindness and justice in the Hemisphere” (moderately). The revised work was given its premiere by the Oberlin College Orchestra under the direction of Robert Baustian at the celebration of the composer's 75th birthday on 9th November, 1970.”

Poem for Orchestra was commissioned by the Kulas American Composers' Fund for the Cleveland Orchestra at the suggestion of then music director Erich Leinsdorf. The work was first performed in Cleveland with Rudolph Ringwall conducting on 7th and 9th December, 1944, later receiving a New York Philharmonic performance under Artur Rodzinski. The Poem, 'one of Still's key works' in the words of Robert Bartlett Haas, is an extensive symphonic poem 'inspired by the concept of a world being reborn spiritually after a period of darkness and desolation' in the words of Verna Arvey.”

“Regarding the
Fourth Symphony, Still remarked: 'As the subtitle indicates, the Fourth Symphony
has its roots in our own soil, but rather than being aboriginal or indigenous, it is intended to represent the spirit of the American people.'” (William Grant Still is profiled at AfriClassical,.com which presents a complete Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University)

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