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Joseph Schwantner: "...and the mountains rising nowhere"

June 19, 2010

Joseph Schwantner's ...and the mountains rising nowhere has become a symbol of the current trend in wind music. The piece was premiered by the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1977 in College Park, MD at the national CBDNA conference. UMWO performed the piece in 2009 and you can find the program notes from that performance below.

 

Joseph Schwantner, ...and the mountains rising nowhere

The University of North Texas Wind Symphony, Eugene Corporon, conductor

 

Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943) is an American composer and educator. His first musical instrument was the guitar, which he began studying with Robert Stein at the age of eight. Schwantner credits Stein as the most important influence of his young musical life. Of his initial experiences on the guitar, Schwantner writes:

 

"I didn’t realize until many years later just how important the guitar was in my thinking... to get to the bottom line, when I think about my music, its absolutely clear to me the profound influence of the guitar in my music. When you look at my pieces, first of all is the preoccupation with color. The guitar is a wonderfully resonant and colorful instrument. Secondly, the guitar is a very highly articulate instrument. You don’t bow it, you pluck it and so the notes are very incisive. My musical ideas, the world I seem to inhabit, is highly articulate. Lots of percussion where everything is sharply etched, and then finally, those sharply articulated ideas often hang in the air, which is exactly what happens when you play an E major chord on the guitar. There are these sharp articulations, and then this kind of sustained resonance that you can easily do in percussion — a favorite trick of mine! I think it is right in my bone marrow. I don’t think there is any question about that. I think my music would look differently if I were a clarinet player. So it doesn’t mean I sit around thinking about the guitar when I am writing a piece. Not at all! There is something fundamental about how I think about music, that I think comes from my experiences as a young kid trying to play everything I could on the instrument."

 

Known for his dramatic and unique style and as a gifted orchestral colorist, Schwantner is one of the most prominent American composers today. He received his musical and academic training at the Chicago Conservatory and Northwestern University and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music and the Yale School of Music, simultaneously establishing himself as a sought-after composition instructor. Schwantner’s compositional career has been marked by many awards, grants and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his orchestral composition, Aftertones of Infinity, and several Grammy nominations. Among his many commissions is his Percussion Concerto, which was commissioned for the 150th anniversary season of the New York Philharmonic and is one of the most performed concert works of the past decade. Schwantner is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

 

...and the mountains rising nowhere was Joseph Schwantner’s first composition for wind ensemble. The premiere was given in College Park, Maryland, at the 1977 National Conference of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) by the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger conducting. It is dedicated to children’s author Carol Adler — its title inspired by a line in her poem “Arioso:”

 

arioso bells

sepia

moon-beams

an afternoon sun blanked by rain

and the mountains rising nowhere

the sound returns

the sound and the silence chimes

 

Schwantner commented: “While the work is not specifically programmatic, the poem nevertheless acted as the creative impetus for the composition and provided for me an enigmatic, complex, and powerful imagery creating a wellspring of musical ideas and feelings in sympathetic resonance with the poem.”

 

In writing the work, Schwantner strove to create a composition for winds and percussion that did not sound like the typical band piece, and he succeeded brilliantly. He said: “When I first started to write for wind ensemble there wasn’t much to look at other than Hindemith and Schoenberg. My whole band experience in the public schools had been mostly third-rate music and transcriptions. I grew up with a certain envy of my colleagues who were in orchestra: they got great music to play and we got bad transcriptions and this third-rate “educational” music. You’ll notice in and the mountains rising nowhere that I go a long way to avoid typical band sounds. I had to overcome my school experience.”

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