Although Warren Benson's music has fallen out of favor among many wind ensembles in the past twenty years, his contributions to the medium cannot be understated and his pieces for winds are among some of the best written for the ensemble. Today's post will explore his work The Solitary Dancer. You can find notes and a recording below.
Warren Benson, The Solitary Dancer
"The President's Own" United States Marine Band
The Solitary Dancer
Basically a self-taught composer, Benson’s music is described as “varied and selective in technique with prominent lyricism and colorful instrumentation.” Warren Frank Benson’s career began at an early age; his major instruments were horn and percussion. He was a professional performer at 14 and a timpanist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at 22. He studied music theory at the University of Michigan (BM, 1949; MM, 1950). Benson’s teaching career began as an instructor at the University of Michigan in 1943 and continued as a Fulbright Teacher at Anatolia College in Greece (1950-1952), director of the band and orchestra program at Mars Hill College (1952-1953) and composer-in-residence and professor of music at Ithaca College (1953-1967). From 1967 to 1994 he was professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music. Benson is a leader among the contemporary composers of serious and artistic wind works. His “inclusive” music encompasses tonality, free atonality, serialism, ethnic elements and other strains. He has written scores for orchestras, singers, chamber players and children’s groups. He is particularly noted for his song cycles and his pioneering work on behalf of percussionists and wind ensembles. Warren Benson wrote approximately 30 major works for wind band. Benson passed away on October 11, 2005.
The Solitary Dancer was commissioned by the Clarence High School Band (New York), directed by Norbert Buskey, and dedicated to Bill Hug. It is considered a masterpiece in economy of resources, sensitivity for wind and percussion colors and subtle development and recession of instrumental and musical frenzy. The work refers to the “quiet, poised energy that one may observe in a dancer in repose, alone with her inner music.” Just prior to writing this work, Benson had composed a ballet and had worked for several months with the young dancers. When asked what advice he had for ambitious composers, Benson answered, “I tell them to take a look at the repertoire and see what’s not there that is present in life. That thought is one of the reasons why I wrote The Solitary Dancer. There just wasn’t any work that was fast and exciting and quiet. Like when a group of people get together and whisper, there is a lot of intensity and excitement, but it never gets loud. It never goes anywhere in that sense. It may bubble and cook but it never really blows the lid off. There are a lot of situations in life like that—just quiet moments.”
- from Program Notes for Band