Ned Rorem – Music Of Ned Rorem – Program 112 – 6th Annual Music Festival – WOR/WNYC – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
The music of Ned Rorem tonight, featuring Rorem at the Piano accompanied by Ellen Greenburg, violin – Betty Crawford, piano – Janet Lauren, soprano and Leslie Ochs, flute. It was recorded in the studios of WOR and broadcast over WNYC in New York on February 18, 1946.
With the sad news this past Friday of the passing of Ned Rorem, one of the fiercely independent and uncompromising voices of mid-twentieth century American Classical music was no more.
The following excerpt is from Wikipedia who offer an excellent survey of the music of Ned Rorem:
“Ned Rorem is best known for his vocal art songs, of which he wrote more than 500. Many are coupled into some thirty or song cycles, written from the early 1940s to 2000s. Much of his earliest songs remain unpublished; his first published cycle is the Flight for Heaven (1950), a setting of nine poems by the lyric poet Robert Herrick, along with a piano interlude. In general, Rorem stressed the importance of a cycle’s overall structure, paying close attention to the song order, progression of keys and transition between songs. He also emphasized theatricality, aiming to convey an overarching message via a unified emotional affect or mood. Like in other genres, the musicologist Philip Lieson Miller remarked that “Rorem’s chosen field of song is not for the avant garde and he must be classified as conservative”, and that “he has never striven for novelty”. Miller elaborates that this conservatism is not extreme enough to allow for convenient formal analysis. Ned Rorem’s strict definitions of what constitutes a song has molded them to be typically be single-voice and piano settings of lyrical poems of moderate length. He named songs by Monteverdi, Schumann, Poulenc and the Beatles as particular favorites. To obtain certain effects, however, Rorem has experimented with more modernist effects, such as intense chromaticism, successive modulations and alternating time signatures.
Ned Rorem’s main interest in the art song is the setting of poetry, rather than the human voice. Numerous commentators have lauded his abilities in prosody, with Grove Music Online noting that he “sets words with naturalness and clarity, without compromising the range and scope of vocal lines”. The vast majority of Rorem’s songs are set in English; he has expressed concern over the difficulties of composing in other languages in regards to having his compositions performed. In his early years, he was particularly devoted to the poems of his friend Paul Goodman, and later set my works by Theodore Roethke. Rorem composed numerous cycles to the poetry of an individual writer: John Ashbery, Witter Bynner, Demetrios Capetanakis, George Darley, Frank O’Hara, Herrick, Kenneth Koch, Howard Moss, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Walt Whitman, who he dedicated three cycles. His few settings in other languages include French poems by Jean-Antoine de Baïf, Jean Daurat, Olivier de Magny, Henri de Régnier, Pierre de Ronsard, as well as ancient Greek texts by Plato.
While of Ned Rorem’s songs are accompanied by piano, though some have mixed instrumental ensemble or orchestral accompaniment. A pianist himself, his accompaniment parts for the instrument are often less secondary to the voice and more a “full complement to the melody”. They include motives to emphasize textual elements—such as rain and clouds—and wildly diverse in sometimes responding to the voice in counterpoint or simply doubling the vocal line. He often uses the Renaissance-derived ground bass technique of a slow and repeated bassline in the left hand. Reflecting on his piano accompaniments, the writer Bret Johnson describes Rorem’s musical hallmarks as “chiming piano, rushing triplets, sumptuous harmonies”.”
Here is a program devoted to his solo as well as ensemble work as well as Art Songs he is so well known for.
A caveat – because of the historic importance of this broadcast, it’s a shame the original recordings are in such bad shape – age and misuse as well as poor storage take their toll and these broadcast transcriptions are no different. Some of the steps to reduce the overwhelming distortion and damage may sound a bit extreme, but the original sound is far worse – so it becomes the lesser of two evils. The important point is the music and the performances survive and they are offered as a record and a tribute to an icon.
Enjoy in the spirit they are presented.
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