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Karel Husa - "Apotheosis of this Earth"

July 9, 2010

In light of the environmental destruction that we see on the news every night, Karel Husa's Apotheosis of this Earth remains as current and relevant as it was when it was written in 1970. Husa is very famous in band circles for his music as he has written extensively for the medium--Music for Prague: 1968, Apotheosis of this Earth, Concerto for Wind Orchestra, Al Fresco, Les Couleurs Fauves, a Percussion Concerto and Trumpet Concerto are just some of the notable pieces Husa has contributed to the wind repertoire.

 

Husa, a Czech-American composer and 1969 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his String Quartet No. 3, has said that he believes Apotheosis to be his best piece. The piece is relatively controversial because of its difficult aesthetic and its performance problems, but regardless these do not detract from the power and emotion of the work. You can find more information on the piece, a recording, and a short biography of Husa below.

 

The program note below is taken from the score and was written by Karel Husa.

 

The composition of Apotheosis of this Earth was motivated by the present desperate stage of mankind and its immense problems with everyday killings, war, hunger, extermination of fauna, huge forest fires, and critical contamination of the whole environment.

 

Man's brutal possession and misuse of nature's beauty - if continued at today's reckless speed - can only lead to catastrophe. The composer hopes that the destruction of this beautiful earth can be stopped, so that the tragedy of destruction - musically projected here in the second movement - and the desolation of its aftermath (the "postscript" of the third movement) can exist only as fantasy, never to become reality.

 

In the first movement, "Apotheosis", the Earth appears as a point of light in the universe. Our memory and imagination approach it in perhaps the same way as it appeared to the astronauts returning from the moon. The Earth grows larger and larger, and we can even remember some of its tragic moments (as struck by the xylophone near the end of the movement).

 

The second movement, "Tragedy of Destruction", deals with the actual brutalities of man against nature, leading to the destruction of our planet, perhaps by radioactive explosion. The Earth dies as a savagely, mortally wounded creature.

 

The last movement is a "Postscript", full of the realization that so little is left to be said: The Earth has been pulverized into the universe, the voices scattered into space. Toward the end, these voices - at first computer-like and mechanical - unite into the words "this beautiful Earth", simply said, warm and filled with regret...and one of so many questions comes to our minds: "Why have we let it happen?"

 

This work was commissioned by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association and is dedicated to Dr. William Revelli, Conductor of Bands at the University of Michigan, upon his retirement, in recognition of his devoted service to music, to education, and to his colleagues.

 

Below is a short biography on Husa.

 

Husa learned to play the violin and the piano in early childhood and, after passing his final examination at high school, he enrolled in the Prague Conservatory in 1941 where he studied in a class of Jaroslav Řídký, and attended courses in conducting led by Metod Doležil and Pavel Dědeček.

 

After the end of the Second World War, Husa was admitted to the graduate school of the Prague Academy, where he attended courses led by Řídký and graduated in 1947. At the same time, he decided to continue his studies of composition and conducting in Paris. In 1947 he studied with Arthur Honegger and Nadia Boulanger. He studied conducting with Jean Fournet, Eugène Bigot and André Cluytens. After finishing his courses in conducting at École Normale de Musique de Paris and at Conservatoire de Paris he embarked on a career during which he has conducted the world's leading orchestras and participated in many major projects. He divided his time between composing and conducting, taking an ever more active part in Parisian and international musical life.

 

His First String Quartet marked a big step on the composer's path to the realm of international music: the Quartet received the 1950 Lili Boulanger Award and the 1951 award at the music festival in Bilthoven in the Netherlands. It has since also been performed on many other occasions, e.g., at the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Brussels (1950), festivals in Salzburg (1950), Darmstadt (1951), and the Netherlands (1952) as well as at various concerts in Germany, France, Sweden, England, Switzerland, Australia and the United States. Other compositions written by Karel Husa during his stay in Paris include Divertimento for String Orchestra, Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, Évocations de Slovaquie, Musique d'amateurs, Portrait for String Orchestra, First Symphony, First Sonata for Piano, and Second String Quartet. Throughout this period, the composer's underlying preoccupation and interest was style, which was primarily influenced by Vítězslav Novák, Janáček, Bartók and Stravinsky.

He is probably best known for his Music for Prague: 1968, a work in memory of the 1968 Soviet bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia. His String Quartet No. 3 won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Husa is the 1993 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition presented by the University of Louisville for his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. From 1954 until 1992 he was a professor at Cornell University and lecturer at Ithaca College from 1967 to 1986. Husa now resides in Apex, North Carolina.

 

He is a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.

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