University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Autograph Scores from the American Composers' Concerts, 1925-1930

Volume XVII · Spring 1962 · Number 3
Autograph Scores from the American Composers' Concerts, 1925-1930

As early as 1941 John Tasker Howard wrote in his book, Our Contemporary Composers:

A few years ago Howard Hanson was recognized as the leader of the younger group of American composers, those who were bringing fresh ideas to our native music.... As Director of the Eastman School of Music, and through his inauguration and continuance of the American Composers' Concerts at Rochester, he has done more to encourage his fellow artists and to give new talent a hearing than any other single individual in the country. These concerts have taken place every year since their initiation in the spring of 1925.

In spite of his devoted interest in the development of American music, Hanson is no chauvinist; he is not an advocate of a "nationalistic" school. To him American music means music written by Americans. It makes no difference what their backgrounds may be, whether they are descendants of the settlers of Plymouth, Jamestown, or Wilmington, or whether they are sons of immigrants newly arrived. His sole interest is that America contribute its gift of music to the world, that a rich creative musical life may flourish in this country, that some of the glorious ideals that are American may be transmuted into living tone.

The American Composers' Concerts were begun by Howard Hanson on May 1, 1925, at the end of his first year as Director of the Eastman School of Music. Each year four concerts were given in Kilbourn Hall and in the Eastman Theatre. Later, in 1935, these programs were replaced by two annual Symposia of American Music, with the fall symposium devoted to the reading of works by composers from all over the United States, and the spring symposium to the reading of music by the students, faculty, and graduates of the Eastman School of Music. In the meanwhile, in 1931, the Annual Festivals of American Music were instituted, with the result that the thirty-second consecutive festival is being presented this year. During each festival season five or six formal concerts are given, with performances by chamber ensembles and soloists as well as choral groups, bands, and orchestras. Ballets and operas have also been presented from time to time. Through the many programs a good cross-section of trends in American music may be heard. Coincidental with the concerts have been the publication and the recording of American compositions. Dozens of works are currently available in both monaural and stereophonic sound, while the printed scores of many significant pieces may be obtained through the publishing company of Carl Fischer. Thus most music-lovers and a great many laymen know the music which has been written, performed, and enjoyed through the efforts of Howard Hanson.

In relation to the Sibley Music Library the American Composers' Concerts, the Symposia, and the Annual Festivals of American Music have added still another aspect to the interest in our native works: the collection of compositions representing the best of American creative effort. By the end of the 1959 season over a thousand pieces had been performed at the American Composers' Concerts and the Annual Festivals, out of which 489 compositions by 355 writers were given their world premières, and some fifteen others were given their first American performance. In addition, works by 346 Eastman School of Music students, faculty, and alumni had been performed at the Symposia. The scores for many of these compositions are to be found in the Sibley Music Library. During the years before World War II some composers presented their holograph scores to the library. In the postwar years the practice of giving autograph manuscripts has been supplanted by the presentation of black-and-white reproductions of the composers' holograph printed by the ozalid process. The library has supplemented these gifts by the purchase of works in print and of works published in facsimile by the Composers' Facsimile Editions, the American Composers' Alliance, and the Tritone Press, the last-named being a new venture begun by an Eastman School of Music alumnus, William Presser. So numerous have these acquisitions been that no estimate of the number of compositions in the library has been attempted, and only a short résumé of some of the autograph scores presented during the period from 1925 to 1930 can be given here. In the following list the first performances have been given by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra unless otherwise noted. The information about place and date of composition is taken from the scores themselves.

  • Bacon, Ernst. Beat! Beat! Drums! for full orchestra and voice, to a text by Walt Whitman. Rochester, 1926. First performed April 29, 1927.
  • Bacon, Ernst. Der Du von dem Himmel bist, for baritone solo and full orchestra, to a text by Goethe. Rochester, 1924. First performed April 29, 1927.
  • Bacon, Ernst. Prelude and Fugue for Orchestra. Chicago, 1925. First performed April 23, 1926.
  • Berckman, Evelyn. The Return of Song, tone poem for orchestra after a fable of Lord Dunsany. New York,ca. 1926. First performed April 29, 1927.
  • Boyd, Jeanne. "Andante lamentabile," from Symphonic Suite. Peterborough, 1922. First performed November 25, 1925.
  • Brown, Gertrude. Prelude and Allegro. First performed in Kilbourn Hall, February 20, 1930.
  • Copland, Aaron. "Cortège macabre," from Groh, a ballet in one act. First performed May 1, 1925.
  • De Lamarter, Eric. Psalm 144, a solo cantata for baritone. Geneva, Ill., 1915. First performed during the season 1927-1928.
  • Delaney, Robert. The Constant Couple, a suite for orchestra. Santa Barbara, Calif., 1927. First performed by the Rochester Little Symphony Orchestra, May 17, 1928.
  • Howe, Walter Edward. Outside the Tent, a symphonic poem for orchestra, inspired by Deirdre of the Snows by John M. Synge. Andover, Mass., ca. 1924. First performed November 25, 1925.
  • Kaun, Bernhard. Sketches, a suite for orchestra. Rochester, 1927. First performed April 29, 1927.
  • Kroeger, Alfred. S.P.D.S., a symphonic poem for orchestra. Rochester, ca. 1925. First performed November 25, 1925.
  • Luening, Otto. Symphonic Poem for Large Orchestra, Op. 15. Rochester, ca. 1925. First performed November 25, 1925.
  • McKay, George Frederick. "From the Black Hills," Short Symphony. Lead, So. Dak., ca. 1924. First performed May 1, 1925.
  • Morris, Harold. Poem for Orchestra, after the poem Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. New York, ca. 1926. First performed November 21, 1927.
  • Porter, Quincy. Ukrainian Suite for String Orchestra. Cleveland, ca. 1925. First performed in America, May 1, 1925. (The library also owns a revised score, ca. 1925.)
  • Riegger, Wallingford. Caprice for Ten Violins. Ithaca, N. Y., 1927. First performed January 23, 1928.
  • Rogers, Bernard. Adonais, a symphony in two parts, based upon two poems of Shelley, Prometheus Unbound and Adonais. Kent, Scotland, 1927. First performed April 29, 1927.
  • Rogers, Bernard. Prelude to Hamlet. London, 1928. First performed May 8, 1929. Rogers, Bernard.Soliloquy for Flute and Orchestra. New York, ca. 1924. First performed May 1, 1925.
  • Royce, Edward. Far Ocean, a tone poem for orchestra. Rochester, 1929. First performed June 3, 1929.
  • Royce, Edward. Fire Bringers, a tone poem for orchestra. First performed April 23, 1926.
  • Sanders, Robert L. Suite for Large Orchestra. Rome, 1926-1928. First performed in America, November 22, 1929.
  • Silver, Mark. Peace and War, a symphonic poem. New York, 1918. First performed May 1, 1925.
  • Still, William Grant. Darker America, for orchestra. New York, ca. 1927. First performed November 21, 1927.
  • Still, William Grant. "Miniatures, No. 1," from The Journal of a Wanderer. New York, ca. 1929. First performed May 8, 1929.
  • Thompson, Randall. Pierrot and Cothurnus, prelude to a play in one act by Edna St. Vincent Millay. 1922. First performed in America, November 25, 1925.
  • Thompson, Randall. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, for orchestra, suggested by a chapter of the same name in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. Rome, 1924. First performed in America, April 29, 1927.
  • Thompson, Randall. Symphony No.1 for Orchestra. Franceston, 1929. First performed February 20, 1930.
  • Tweedy, Donald Nichols. L'Allegro, a symphonic study for orchestra, suggested by a poem by George Eliot. Rochester, 1924. First performed May 1, 1925.
  • VanVactor, David. Chaconne for String Orchestra, after Bach. Chicago, 1928. First performed by the Rochester Little Symphony Orchestra, May 17, 1928.
  • Weiss, Adolph. I Segreti, a tone poem for large orchestra, suggested by Goethe's poem, Die Geheimnisse. Rochester, 1921. First performed May 1, 1925.
  • White, Paul. Voyage of ye Goode Shippe Mayflower, an historical ballade for orchestra and chorus, Op. 11. Rochester, 1928. First performed during the season 1929-1930.

The above works represent only those pieces which were given their first performances during the first five years of the American Composers' Concerts. Holograph scores of compositions played during the concerts but not for the first time are also in the Sibley Music Library. Leo Sowerby's Medieval Poem for Organ and Orchestra, composed in Chicago in 1926 and played during the concert season that year, is a case in point.

At the time of the first performance of his "Cortège macabre," Aaron Copland was a young and promising composer. Now, in 1962, he is regarded as one of America's outstanding musical creators. The same may be said of Otto Luening, who was the executive director of the opera department at the Eastman School of Music when his Symphonic Poem was first played. At present he is associated with the music department at Columbia University and, with Vladimir Ussachevsky, a graduate of the Eastman School, is a leader in the development of compositional techniques using tape recorders. George Frederick McKay, whose "From the Black Hills" was played in 1925, was the first graduate in composition from the Eastman School and as Professor of Composition for many years at the University of Washington he has had occasion to assist other young American composers in starting their careers.

Douglas Moore, Quincy Porter, and Randall Thompson are all outstanding music educators as well as composers. All three have been honored by the University of Rochester with the awarding of the Mus. Doc. degree, honoris causa. Douglas Moore has been associated with the music department at Columbia University for many years as its head; Quincy Porter has been Director of the New England Conservatory and later Professor of Music at Yale; and Randall Thompson is connected with the music department at Harvard.

Wallingford Riegger, whose Caprice for Ten Violins was played in 1928, was affectionately known as the "Dean of American Composers" until his death last year. William Grant Still, long recognized as the leading Negro symphonic composer in the United States, was the first to combine the musical characteristics of the Negro with the symphonic forms of the European tradition and the new idioms of American music. After more than thirty years his Afro-American Symphony and Darker America are outstanding examples of their genre.

As the Annual Festival of American Music goes into its thirty-second consecutive season, it is obvious that the concerts have grown in importance and magnitude since the first American Composers' Concerts were begun. The programs now include works by leading Latin American composers as well as those from the United States and Canada, and Howard Hanson has had the satisfaction of having launched the successful careers of more composers than anyone else in the Western world.