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David Del Tredici

Inspired by today's Composers Datebook, which you can find below, today's blog post will focus on the music of David Del Tredici and his two works for band: In Wartime and Acrostic Song (arr. Mark Spede). Today's Composers Datebook, program notes for both pieces, and recordings are below. Enjoy!

Del Tredici in Wonderland

On today's date in 1964, a 27-year old Californian named David Del Tredici got a big break, when his setting of I Hear An Army, a poem by James Joyce, was performed by soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson at the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts.

Del Tredici composed other works to poems by Joyce, which were equally well received. More commissions followed -- as did a Guggenheim Fellowship, a summer at the Marlboro Festival as its resident composer, and a teaching job at Harvard University.

As successful as Del Tredici's Joyce settings were, he is best known for a remarkable series of works inspired by another writer, Lewis Carroll, the 19th century British creator of the Alice in Wonderland books.

Beginning in 1968, with a choral work titled Potpourri, Del Tredici created in short order An Alice Symphony and over a dozen other Lewis Carroll-inspired pieces. In 1980, one of these, In Memory of a Summer Day, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

"Poetry turns me on," says Del Tredici, "and certain poets force me to write music for them . . . When I read a poem, I know before I'm through that I'll set it . . . It's the energy of the words, rather than the sense of the words. It's the mood that's important."

In Wartime

Notes by Timothy Reynish


Despite this being Del Tredici’s 70th birthday year, according to the Boosey and Hawkes record the work has notched up just a handful of performances since 2003. In Wartime is a work of strong contrasts, the gentle Americana of a chorale prelude on Abide with Me gives way to a sinister march which proceeds with implacable tread until it erupts in the fateful confrontation of East and West, the National Song of Persia, Salamati, Shah hurled against the opening chord sequence of Tristan und Isolde. The Battlemarch is recapitulated and ends in a final wail of pain, an extraordinary coup de theatre

Born 16th March 1937 , David Del Tredici is now firmly established in the pantheon of American composers. “Del Tredici,” said Aaron Copland, “is that rare find among composers – a creator with a truly original gift. I venture to say that his music is certain to make a lasting impression on the American musical scene. I know of no other composer of his generation … who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.”

David Holland of the New York Times wrote recently:

Even if you didn’t like David Del Tredici’s music, you would be obliged to admire its intrepidity and self-confidence. This 70-year-old American composer has risen above a vicious Hundred Years’ War of opposing musical styles, nearly by himself and with remarkable serenity. Sidestepping the armed camps of Serialism, neo-Romanticism, neo-Classicism, Minimalism, New Age and world musics, Mr. Del Tredici reminds us that it is not how you write but what you write that makes music interesting.

As usual with the wind world, the musical press have yet to attend a performance of In Wartime, even though it was played at the New York CBDNA Conference. However, in a review for Music Web International, Jonathan Woolf wrote

David Del Tredici’s In Wartime was written in 2003 during the time of the Iraq War and is cast in two movements – Hymn and Battlemarch. It opens in hymnal hope with high piccolo and low trombones exploring the registral potential of a wind band, the percussion opening into a welter of sound. Del Tredici introduces Abide With Me in fragmentary form, stated only to be immediately broken up before it’s stated, memorably, in full. The second movement drives ever onward, sometimes with mechanistic venom, quoting the Persian national song Salamati, Shah! and the beginning of Tristan und Isolde in oppositional contrast. The dense implacability of the writing gives way to mysterious ascending arabesques, vaporous instrumental fillips by each instrumental section in solo voices. The work ends with a wounded siren, a wail of pain as the composer aptly puts it in his own programme notes. Some of the sonorities he conjures put me in mind of Milhaud in La Création du Monde – especially his writing for the saxophone - and part of it evoked Janačék’s Sinfonietta in its abrupt but striking brass writing.

Compared with Milhaud and Janacek, admired by Copland, Pullitzer prize-winner, – seventy years old with a new work for band that is being generally ignored by the wind band fraternity. Can it be that the great man has penned a turkey, or are we just not ready for him yet?

David Del Tredici, In Wartime

Penn State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble

"Acrostic Song" from "Final Alice"

Notes from the San Jose Wind Symphony

David Del Tredici (b. 1937), arranged for band by Mark Spede. A native of Cloverdale, California, David Del Tredici is widely regarded as the leader of the Neo-Romantic movement in contemporary American music. After making his piano debut with the San Francisco Symphony at age 17, he went on to receive a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. in 1964 from Princeton University. Del Tredici enjoys a successful career as a composer and teacher. He has received several prestigious awards, including the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for In Memory of a Summer Day. Del Tredici has had works commissioned and premiered by nearly every major American and European orchestra. Currently, he maintains an active composition schedule while serving on the music faculty at the City College of New York.

Early in his career, many of Del Tredici’s compositions consisted of elaborate vocal settings of texts by James Joyce and Lewis Carroll. Del Tredici completed Final Alice in 1975, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is a large-scale work intended for amplified soprano voice, folk group (comprised of two soprano saxophones, banjo, and accordion) and full orchestra. This work is a series of arias, separated by various dramatic episodes, which, in the words of the composer, “teeters between the worlds of opera and concert music.” The final aria, Acrostic Song, is a setting of the concluding poem from Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. The poem itself is an acrostic, with the initial letters of each line spelling out the name of the “real” Alice, Alice Pleasance Liddell.

David Del Tredici, Acrostic Song from Final Alice, arr. Mark Spede Rutgers University Symphony Band, Peter Stanley Martin, conductor

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