Gershwin, Harris, Haydn

By Ray Brown

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Today's 4:00 request comes from Clay Hopes, listening to us in the picturesque city of Zurich. He wanted to listen to the sisters Katia and Marielle Labeque perform the 2-piano version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and so he shall, and thanks to him the rest of will enjoy it too.

At 7:00 we'll be playing another important American symphonic work, one that in the decades during and immediately following WWII was found more often on orchestra concert programs than Rhapsody in Blue: the Third Symphony of Roy Harris. Harris was born in a log cabin (really) in the backwoods of Oklahoma; his family moved to California when Roy was five, in 1903. As a young man he fell in love with nature and poetry, and drove a truck for a living while studying music theory. He eventually came to the attention of Aaron Copland, who sent him to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. He learned to compose away from the piano while lying in a hospital bed, having broken his back in a fall. He returned to the US in 1929 and befriended Serge Koussevitzky, who led the premiere of Harris' First Symphony with the BSO in 1933. His most popular work followed two rejections: Koussevitzky disliked Harris' Second Symphony and refused to conduct it, leading to a falling-out between the two men; and not long afterward Jascha Heifetz refused a piece for violin and orchestra he had commissioned from Harris. Harris reworked the violin piece into a symphony and sent it to Koussevitzky; all was forgiven, and after he led the premiere of the work in 1939 the Third Symphony was immediately taken up by many orchestras, hungry for an accessible but substantial American work. As Harris has noted, "Let's not kid ourselves, my Third Symphony happened to come along when it was needed." Harris characterized the work's five sections as Tragic, Lyric, Pastoral, Fugue-Dramatic and Dramatic-Tragic.

After that we'll hear Haydn's Cello Concerto in C major, which bears the distinction of being the most significant twentieth-century discovery of a long-lost eighteenth-century work. There is no record of its having been performed between 1765, when it was presumably written for Joseph Weigl, Esterhazy's principal cellist, and 1961, when it was discovered in a Prague library. Cellists immediately took to it; within ten years of its discovery there were already numerous recordings, several published editions, and had become a standard audition piece for young cellists. Can you think of any recently discovered work by a major composer - or any other kind of artist - that was so immediately embraced? Please comment!

Here's two very different performances of the last movement of the Haydn C major:




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