Part of the series America‘s Composers, this segment features Hanson conducting one of his own, lesser-known works. Fantasy Variations On A Theme Of Youth for pIano and orchestra featuring the Eastman School Symphony along with Alfred Mouledous, piano.
The series America’s Composers was a fascinating look at what was a rather busy and productive outpouring of what at the time was considered Contemporary American Classical music. Sadly, very few of the names mentioned in this series are remembered today; some barely, and only by way of one or two pieces.
Dr. Howard Hanson’s interest in educating the general public through innovative means became apparent as early as 1938. At this time he engaged the talents of student ensembles at the Eastman School to present Milestones in the History of Music on the radio. This weekly series of programs presented a sweeping survey of the history of Western music which was broadcast locally in Rochester, New York on WHAM and nationally on the NBC Red Network. In recognition of these efforts, the Peabody Award for outstanding service to music was awarded to Hanson, the Eastman School and WHAM in 1946. Hanson also engaged his student ensembles to present a similar series for the CBS radio network which he entitled Milestones in American Music. This series presented orchestral, choral and chamber music composed by eighty two American composers from the mid 19th century to modern times. As Hanson himself indicated this was “the first attempt at a rather complete presentation of the American picture in music.”
Dr. Hanson was a vigorous supporter of Contemporary Music, and his tenure at the Eastman School of Music is legendary. As director for 40 years of the Eastman School of Music, he built a high-quality school and provided opportunities for commissioning and performing American music. In 1944, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony No. 4, and received numerous other awards including the George Foster Peabody Award for Outstanding Entertainment in Music in 1946.As a composer himself, Hanson achieved a modicum of success, but even his work has fallen into obscurity in recent decades.
So perhaps a reminder now and then about the vast untapped libraries of undiscovered and long-forgotten works might be a good thing.
For now, here is that performance of Hanson’s Fantasy Variations On A Theme Of Youth, as broadcast on February 9, 1953.