I wrote some program notes for a concert titled “Six Flags Over Texas.” The program was about the nations that have occupied Texas through history, with a clever hook referencing a local amusement park (now closed).
The Star-Spangled Banner was made the national Anthem of the United States of America by congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, and was signed by President Herbert Hoover. The lyrics are from a poem entitled “Defense of Fort M’Henery,” written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key after he witnessed the bombardment of the Fort by the British Royal Navy in the War of 1812. Held by the British during the battle, the lines describing “bombs bursting in air,” and “red rockets gleaming,” are direct descriptions of the battle from Key’s vantage point. He was without knowledge of who won the battle until the fifteen stripe and fifteen star flag was flown over the Fort, whose “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired the poem. The flag, sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill, is know as the “Star-Spangled Banner Flag,” and hangs in the Smithsonian. The tune, written for John Stafford Smith, is “The Anacreontic Song,” originally written for a society of amateur musicians in 18th century London. The anthem turns 200 in September of 2014.
Born in 1882 in Seville, Spain, Joaqin Turina demonstrated his musical talent at an early age. He left Spain to peruse compositional studies in Paris, under the great impressionist composer Vincent D’Indy. Turina’s studies in Paris culminated with the premier of his symphonic poem, La Procession du Rocio, by the Madrid Symphony Orchestra in 1913. The colorful, picturesque work describes a festival and procession held every year in his hometown of Seville. The impressionism of his teachers mixes freely with his Spanish roots throughout the work, creating a swirling cacophony of orchestral colors that transports the listener to a street corner in Seville.
Jaques Offenbach, born in Cologne in 1819, achieved international fame as a cellist while he dreamed of writing for the theatre, specifically the Opera-Comique in Paris. He was employed as a cellist by the theatre in 1835, but it took him until 1867 to receive his first commission from them. In between those dates, he started his own opera company, and wrote a number of opera that catapulted to international fame, including Ophèe aux enfers, which features the famous Can-Can, La belle Hèléne, and La vie parisienne. The work Ballet Parisienne includes the overture and Galop for La vie parisienne, and the Can-Can from Orphèe aux enfers. Offenbach’s tuneful, light, and humorous musical style has become synonymous with French comic operas. He used his musical genius to satirize other composers, governments, and major institutions through musical jokes and snappy libretti.
Laredo Paso Doble was commissioned by legendary band director Elmo López and the Martin High School Band in 1964. It was premiered at dual concerts in Laredo, TX, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The composer, James Clifton Williams, was a gifted horn player, performing with both the San Antonio and New Orleans Symphonies before concentrating on composition. He taught composition at both the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Miami. The term Paso Doble refers both to the music used for the entrance of a bullfighter into the ring, and the traditional dance based on the drama and intrigue of bullfighting. Laredo Paso Doble is an episodic work that references both the bullfighter and the dance through the dramatic motives, and quick changes in theme.
The first piano concerto ever to be recorded, Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto is one of the composer’s most famous works, and one of the most famous piano concerti of all time. Born in Berg, Norway in 1843, he traveled to Leipzig to study. One of his most important works, Grieg wrote the piano concerto at the age of 24. The concerto is heavily influenced by the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann, and Grieg’s interest in Norwegian folk music. The third movement, which will be heard today, is based on an athletic Norwegian folk dance, the Hailling. Traditionally performed with high leaps, kicks, and handstands, the Hallingdansen gave Grieg the perfect basis for the movement’s jaunty melody and technical fireworks.