Friday, November 25, 2011

Ulysses Kay: 'The interplay of these musical materials is what led me to call the piece 'Fantasy Variations.'

[ABOVE: Norman Dello Joio: New York Profiles; Citadel 88124 (1997) BELOW: Ulysses S. Kay]

The prolific composer Ulysses Simpson Kay (1917-1995) composed Fantasy Variations (15:00), which is Track 9 on the CD Norman Dello Joio: New York Profiles; Citadel 88124 (1997). The original recording is an LP made by the Oslo Philharmonic and conductor Arthur Bennett Lipkin, in 1963. Ulysses S. Kay is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, Here is the entry for Fantasy Variations:

“Fantasy variations, W89, for orchestra (1963). New York: MCA Music, 1966 (#11093-044). 76p. Commission: Arthur Bennett Lipkin and the Portland (ME) Symphony Orchestra. Instrumentation: 2222 (p), 4331, timp, perc, strings. Première: 1963/XI/19; Portland [ME]; Portland Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Bennett Lipkin, conductor. Duration: 15:00.
LP: Oslo Philharmonic: Arthur Bennett Lipkin, conductor. Remington Musirama R-199-173 (1963).
LP: Oslo Philharmonic: Arthur Bennett Lipkin, conductor. CRI SD-209 (1963).”

The liner notes for Citadel 88124 (1997) tell us, in part:
“Ulysses Kay (1917-1995) came from his native Tucson, Arizona, after graduation from the University of Arizona, to study at the Eastman School of Music. He also worked at the Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center, Yale and Columbia University – and the roster of his teachers has included Bernard Rogers, Howard Hanson, Paul Hindemith, and Otto Luening.

“Following completion of wartime service in the Navy, Kay over the following years garnered just about every fellowship and award available to an up-and-coming young American composer – these including the Columbia University Alice M. Ditson Award, the Broadcast Music, Inc. Award, the Prix de Rome, a Fulbright Grant to Italy, and an American Academy/Institute of Arts and Letters grant.”

The liner notes also quote Ulysses Kay:
“Over the years musical ideas or materials occur to a composer as he works from day to day.Most often these ideas are fragmentary motives, distinctive rhythms, or merely relationships between notes. In themselves the import of these ideas is negligible, but they are important for the composer, for they are the raw material out of which a composition grows.

“Just such an experience happened to me, beginning in 1958, with the materials used in my Fantasy Variations. The opening horn motive was jotted down then in my sketchbook, and other related ideas came to me from time to time. Though I had no idea what kind of piece these ideas night make, they stayed on my mind until Mr. Lipkin commissioned an orchestral piece from me. Then their purpose became clear, and I wrote the work between March and July of 1963.

“The piece consists of an introduction and thirteen variations, followed by the theme. Motivic ideas are stated in the introduction and fused for development in the succeeding variations. Then specific elements from this material are unified to form the theme, which, I feel, provides a noble and fitting conclusion to the work. The interplay of these musical materials is what led me to call the piece Fantasy Variations.”

The liner notes add: “Conductor Arthur Bennett Lipkin premiered the work on November 19, 1963 with the Portland, Maine, Symphony Orchestra." We have been able to purchase this CD from for $8.99 plus shipping.

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