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Schuman, Copland, and "Water" Music

Today, two composers were featured on Composers Datebook: Aaron Copland and William Schuman. Although both of these composers played a role in wind and band development in the 20th century, today's blog post will focus on Schuman. Although the piece featured on Composers Datebook is not George Washington Bridge, the information is interesting nonetheless. You can find the Composers Datebook text as well as the audio link at the bottom of this post.

William Schuman was a composer whose contributions to the band repertoire cannot be overstated. Schuman, an American composer, was the first winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1943. Among his many works for band, four pieces stand apart as the most performed: Chester, Be Glad Then, America, When Jesus Wept, and George Washington Bridge. Of the four, George Washington Bridge is the earliest piece (written 1950) and is the only piece not part of the larger work The New England Triptych. You can find more information on the piece below as well as a recording and biographical information on Schuman.

Below you can find program notes on the piece by the composer.

There are a few days in the year when I do not see George Washington Bridge. I pass it on my way to work as I drive along the Henry Hudson Parkway on the New York shore. Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic and, of course, my own mood as I pass by.

I have walked across it late at night when it was shrouded in fog, and during the brilliant sunshine hours of midday. I have driven over it countless times and passed under it on boats. Coming to New York City by air, sometimes I have been lucky enough to fly right over it. It is difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.

- Program Note by William Schuman

Additional Schuman Resources:

George Washington Bridge, United States Marine Band

Composers Datebook: Copland and Schuman at Watergate

Composers Datebook audio link (7/20/2010)

In the summer of 1972 five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and soon the term "Watergate" came to signify a political scandal that nearly led to the impeachment of then-president Richard Nixon.

But if you had said, "Watergate" to someone in D.C. in July some 30 years earlier, you probably were referring to a series of outdoor concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra, whose "Watergate Concerts" were held on the banks of the Potomac near the Lincoln Memorial.

These concerts presented a mix of old and new music, classical favorites and recently composed works by American composers. For example, on today's date in 1945, the weather in D.C. was clear and warm when Alexander Smallens conducted an outdoor Watergate Concert that included the recently-composed suite from Aaron Copland's ballet Rodeo and William Schuman's orchestral suite entitled Newsreel.

Both suites had, in fact, been premiered at summertime Pops concerts: Copland's at a 1943 Boston Pops Concert conducted by Arthur Fielder, and Schuman's by the New York Philharmonic at one of their 1942 Lewisohn Stadium concert, conducted by Smallens.

Schuman's suite was inspired by the popular newsreel features shown at movie theaters in those days -- a time when radio ruled, and if people wanted to see footage of places and faces in the news, they had to turn to the movies, not CNN.

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