|MASTERWORKS II: Happy Birthday Lenny!|
Suite from Candide
Arr. Charlie Harmon
During Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunts of the early 1950s, which particularly targeted artists, writers and musicians, Leonard Bernstein and playwright Lillian Hellman decided to use Voltaire’s satirical novel Candide as a vehicle to make a political statement. According to Hellman, the novel attacks “all rigid thinking...all isms.” Bernstein thought that the charges made by Voltaire against his own society’s puritanical snobbery, false morality and inquisitorial attacks on the individual were identical to those that beset American society. Incidentally, Hellman added to Candide’s adventures and adjusted his responses to them, in keeping with the updated political agenda. Bernstein had his own satirical musical axe to grind, describing Candide – with its tour of European folk and courtly dances – as “a valentine to European music.”
After Hellman and Bernstein spent two years of intermittent cooperative work, Candide opened in the fall of 1956. It failed – that is, all but the overture. In its orphaned state, the Overture became a staple of the orchestral repertoire and one of Bernstein’s most frequently performed works. It reflects the breakneck pacing of Voltaire’s satire with its worldwide adventures and buffoonery, interspersed in places by mock-tender moments.
In 1974, equipped with a new libretto that concentrated on its madcap humor rather than its political and social message, Candide was successfully revived. The musical saw 741 packed performances in the Broadway Theater, but Bernstein was still not satisfied. Two operatic versions followed in 1982 and 1989, and a CD of the final version, one of Bernstein’s last recordings, became a bestseller.
Charlie Harmon was Bernstein’s personal assistant and later music editor from 1982. Since the composer’s death, he has been engaged in preparing a critical edition of Bernstein’s music. He states that his goal in creating this suite was to present some of Bernstein’s less well-known music in a more readily available form. He writes: “Since it is not necessary to tell a story in a concert suite, there was no compelling reason to keep to the performance order in the music selected from Candide. More appropriate considerations were key relationships and the pacing of tempi, and what overall shape the suite would have.” Yet, despite Harmon’s disclaimer, the overall trajectory of the plot remains intact. Only the opening of the Suite, taken from Candid’s reunion with his beloved Cunégonde after his worldwide adventures and misadventures, presents a comic irony.
The Suite contains eight numbers, as well as other short bits used as transitions, and only one from the familiar overture; among the less familiar tunes from the show:
1. You Were Dead, You Know
2. Paris Waltz
3. Bon Voyage
4. Drowning Music
5. Ballad of Eldorado
6. I’m Easily Assimilated
7. Best of All Possible Worlds
8. Make Our Garden Grow
Leonard Bernstein composed the light-hearted Divertimento in 1980 to celebrate the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s centennial. It is a parody of a dance suite, with tongue-in-cheek titles for its eight movement:
1. Sennets and Tuckets uses Shakespearean terminology for a mock fanfare.
2. Waltz is a gushy take on an already romantic dance.
3. Mazurka is a mazurka in rhythm only, with nothing Polish about it.
4. Samba could have come out of West Side Story, and is over before you can get up to dance.
5. Turkey Trot also recalls the famous musical.
6. Sphinxes, marked Adagio lugubre perhaps harks back to Schumann’s enigmatic Carnaval.
7. Blues applies a sophisticated “classical” orchestration to a funereal New Orleans procession.
8. In memoriam; March: The BSO Forever. The movement begins with a muffled drumroll and a mournful flute solo, but the ensuing march is a real circus band oompah, recalling Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free.
Selections from On the Town
I Can Cook Too
Lonely Town - Pas de deux
New York, New York
In the 1940s, Leonard Bernstein’s mentor Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, submitted his protégé to a long lecture on how a potentially great conductor should not dissipate his talents. Throughout the remainder of the decade, Bernstein concentrated on conducting, with composing and concert piano performances relegated to second place. Fortunately, he was never able to follow Koussevitzky’s advice for long.
Bernstein was just beginning his career as a composer and had not, as yet, settled into any single style. His “Opus One” was the Clarinet Sonata, a work deriving much of its inspiration from jazz. Around the same time, Bernstein was working on the Jeremiah Symphony, a decidedly “classical” work. For the rest of his composing career, Bernstein would vacillate between the two sides of his musical personality, producing Candide and West Side Story on the one hand, and the Mass and his symphonies on the other hand.
In 1943, when Jerome Robbins, then a dancer with the Ballet Theater (now American Ballet Theater), was looking to make his name as a choreographer, he developed a scenario for a ballet about three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York. Looking for girls, excitement and any kind of fun they could stir up, they find it all. The subject was perfect for the war years, when the city was swarming with sailors on leave. Hunting for a composer, Robbins was turned down by Vincent Persichetti who suggested that he approach Bernstein. Their collaboration, Fancy Free, debuted in April 1944 in the old Metropolitan Opera House, was a spectacular success both in choreography and music.
Realizing that the subject had further potential, Bernstein and Robbins teamed up with Betty Comden and Adolph Green for the book and lyrics, and by December 1944 had createdOn the Town with entirely new music. The show was the toast of the town, quickly becoming a classic. One of its numbers, “New York, New York,” is possibly one of the best-known songs from any musical. On the Town was the first American musical to feature African-American and white dancers side by side. Made into a film in 1949, it has enjoyed numerous revivals, including one featuring opera singers Frederica von Stade, Evelyn Lear, Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey.
1. In “I Can Cook Too,” Hildy, the aggressive cabbie gives Chip the sailor a tour of the city in her cab, which makes her boss send the police after her, claiming she stole the cab. She tries to get Chip to come up to her room by touting her superb cooking abilities.
2. In “Lonely Town”, Gabey the sailor realizes that the city that looks so easy and inviting from on board the ship, can be a lonely and daunting place.
3. Lonely Town: Pas de deux. A dance episode based on Gabey’s song.
4. “New York, New York” is the three sailors’ fantasy about the pleasures offered by the big city.
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
West Side Story was Leonard Bernstein’s attempt to demonstrate that it was possible to write a Broadway musical with the characteristics of high art. He succeeded beyond all expectations. With lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and with Jerome Robbins as director and choreographer, the show opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957 and ran for over 1,000 performances. The movie was just as spectacular a success, as was the recording.
But its birth was not easy. The show was originally conceived eight years earlier as a conflict between Jews and Catholics during the Easter-Passover celebrations and at one point was to be called East Side Story. The protagonists were finally switched to ethnic gangs on the Upper West Side, but no backers could be found. West Side Story became notorious for having been turned down by nearly every producer because no one thought that such a tragic story was suitable material for Broadway. Finally, Harold Prince and Robert Griffith, two successful Broadway producers, emerged as the show’s financial the “angels.”
Casting was another problem. The perfectionist Robbins wanted a cast of 38 who could both dance and sing – a nearly impossible demand in those days, but now the rule rather than the exception. A choreographer first and foremost, Robbins finally settled on dancers who could sing – as opposed to singers who could dance. When Bernstein, unencumbered by staging constraints, re-recorded West Side Story in 1988, he used opera singers for the main roles: Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, Tatiana Troyanos and Marilyn Horne. It became another bestseller.
While describing the tragic life of ordinary people in a New York Puerto Rican ghetto, West Side Story tackles an archetypal theme: love clashing with prejudice and clan hatred, an inner city Romeo and Juliet.
The Symphonic Dances, which Bernstein extracted from the musical, are not in the order of the original show. Consisting of nine segments played without pause, the suite was first performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1961:
1. Prologue: A fantasy on the Jets’ number, the Prologue portrays the rising violence between the two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets in harsh, jazzy dissonances and rhythms.
2. Somewhere: Tony and Maria’s idyllic dream sequence in which the gangs are joined in a peaceful friendship and the lovers united, originally from Act 2 after Tony has stabbed Maria’s brother.
3. Scherzo: The dream continues as the two gangs leave the city for the idyllic countryside.
4. Mambo: The rival gangs compete at a school dance, originally from Act 1 when the two lovers first meet.
5. Cha-Cha, a continuation of the preceding scene in which the lovers, Tony and Maria, from opposing gangs, meet for the first time and dance together. The theme is a variation on “Maria.”
6. Meeting Scene: The lovers hesitantly exchanging their first words. Also based on “Maria,” this is a short transitional passage into the following number.
7. “Cool”Fugue: The hostility of the Jets gradually builds in anticipation of street warfare. A recap of the Jets’ theme precedes the fugue – actually a double fugue – one subject in long notes, the other in a faster jazzy rhythm.
8. Rumble. A violent, dissonant climax, in which both rival gang leaders are killed. The realization of the enormity of the event imposes shocked near silence, a pianissimo flute solo of the fugue theme.
9. Finale: Tony dies in Maria’s arms, a victim of gang violence. Two themes, the first comprises the funeral procession: Maria’s passionate outpouring to Anita and the dream melody of “Somewhere.”
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2018|