• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 24: "Ladies and gentlemen!"

By now you know that I have a particular affinity for the “lost” generation of American wartime composers. We’ve covered Virgil Thomson already, and his suite from the film The Plow that Broke the Plains. This week, we’re talking about William Schuman…whose name is NOT pronounced like the German Romantic composer Robert Schumann :)

Schuman was a lifelong New Yorker, inspired as a young man to pursue composition by Toscanini’s New York Philharmonic; and, like Toscanini, he would go on to become a New York cultural icon. Schuman not only received the very first Pulitzer Prize for Music, but also served as President of the Juilliard School and later, President of Lincoln Center. Like I said, a New Yorker through and through!

His most performed piece (to my knowledge, anyway) is the New England Triptych, a three-movement orchestral work based on texts by William Billings. After that, I’d point you toward his masterful Third Symphony. But this week, I’m offering you just a very small taste of his sound world—it’s Schuman’s Circus Overture!

Originally composed in 1944 as Side Show for Orchestra, Schuman himself had this to say about the piece…

"The opening is a grandiose orchestral version of “Ladies and Gentlemen”— this is the barker attracting attention to his side show. It will be observed that this theme is heard often during the piece, in the manner of a rondo. This is carnival music and the materials have been developed with this in mind. I have tried to compose, in this instance, music that would be sufficiently virtuosic to go over with an average theater audience, and, at the same time, have enough purely musical interest to make it a serviceable repertoire piece for our symphony orchestras."

The performance is the Seattle Symphony led by their longtime Music Director Gerard Schwarz. Enjoy! :)

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