The music of Howard Hanson tonight. The dean of what became known as Modern American Music from roughly the 1930s to the late 1950s. Founder of the Eastman School of Music, who did much to put America on the map as far as serious music was concerned. Even though many highly influential composers passed through the Eastman School, the general tone of composition was one of conservative structure and execution and it may have proved stifling for some who were looking for new avenues of expression.
Case in point is this piece – Centennial Ode was written for the 100th anniversary of The University of Rochester, and it is in typical Eastman School style which, although calling for something bombastic and celebratory, isn’t memorable nor very engaging. It may go to explain why the majority of Eastman School of Music graduates didn’t go on to achieve a lot of recognition during their lives, and have gone largely forgotten since.
Not all of it is unremarkable – there are some very worthy pieces and some very talented composers who did not justify the obscurity they were handed. Trouble was – when Contemporary Classical music took the radical turn in the 1960s, much got abandoned in the process – it became an all-or-nothing stance and that wound up not being healthy for the state of Contemporary Music, particularly in the U.S. – there has been a gradual creeping back, the last couple of decades. But the majority of music composed during the Hanson years has gone largely unnoticed.
This Centennial Ode hasn’t been commercially available in any form as far as I know. This may have been one of only a handful of performances given during that Centennial year of the school. Howard Hanson was a prolific composer, but much of his work hasn’t been performed in the past few decades. It might be a good time to go on an archeological dig and dust some of these pieces off to see if they’ve held up with the passage of time, or if our opinions on them have changed. Might be interesting.
Here is Howard Hanson’s Centennial Ode with a spoken introduction by Hanson as broadcast on June 4, 1952.