In case you missed it, here’s the audio from Bill Sullivan’s program on March 1:
Rejoice – Noel Goemanne (1926-2010)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Roberta, 1933) – Jerome Kern (1885-1945)
Dedicated to the One I Love – Lowman “Pete” Pauling (1926-1973) and Ralph Bass (1911-1997)
Organ Sonata No. 2 (1906) – Felix Borowski (1872-1956)
- Allegro con spirito
This afternoon’s program is a sampling of the work of five American composers. Two immigrated to the States and wasted no time in serving up generous helpings of “American” music, albeit with distinct European seasoning. Two others were native-born here and worked exclusively in genres that could only be birthed in a country where European and African traditions collided to create blues, jazz, and all the derivations pertaining thereto. In the other corner, we have a famous New Yorker who, along with George Cohan and Victor Herbert, pretty much invented the Broadway musical. Another collision – only this time it was the European operetta, minstrel show, and vaudeville. So we are going to hear four pieces of music—all different, all derivative, but, in reality, all truly American. Just think “diversity.” Now here is some information about the composers. Three useless but fact-checked Fun Facts® are provided with each sketch at no extra charge.
Belgium-born Noël Goemanne was named in honor of Christmas (The things parents do to their kids!). His early years were without incident aside from getting busted by the Gestapo during World War II for publicly performing the music of Jewish-born Felix Mendelssohn during the Nazi occupation of Belgium. Noël was eventually released (hopefully in time for Christmas), survived the rest of the war, and got married in 1952. Needing a job, and realizing that Europe had an overabundance of organists in those days, he and his wife immigrated to the United States and Noël accepted a position at a Catholic parish in Texas. He later worked in Detroit and finally landed back in Dallas for a 35-year gig at Christ the King. As a composer, Noël tried to live up to his name and left us with an impressive amount of vocal and instrumental Christmas music. However, Rejoice isn’t about Christmas. It was commissioned by Alexander Schreiner, long-time Salt Lake City Tabernacle organist, to have something flashy to play that was about three minutes long for the Easter Sunday broadcast (April 19, 1970) over the CBS network. Schreiner’s successor, Robert Cundick, also played it a few times. Three useless fun facts:
- Among Goemanne’s many vocal works is an arrangement of that well-worn wedding/funeral/special-occasion mainstay known as Pachelbel’s Canon. That arrangement ended up in several scenes of Ordinary People (1980).
- April 19, 1970 marked the third day of an epic tornado outbreak sequence that spun up 33 twisters, 17 of which were category F2. All the air blowing through the pipes while Schreiner was practicing may have been the cause, but we will never know for sure.
- The thematic material in Rejoice is basically an exploration of the melodic interval of the minor third. If you don’t know what that means, think of the plaintive cries of “Free throw!” sometimes heard from overexcited fans at basketball games. I don’t think Goemanne thought of it that when he sat down to write this piece, but it’s more fun to imagine he actually attended a high school regional championship game and got inspired that way. Normal people don’t connect the dots like I do.
Jerome Kern and lyricist Otto Harbach wrote “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” for their 1933 musical Roberta. It’s about the only thing that is still alive and kicking from that show, the 1935 film adaptation, or the 1952 stage remake, Lovely to Look At. Almost everybody who ever was anybody in jazz or pop has recorded this song: Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Conniff, Judy Garland, you name ’em. Then, the Platters got a hold of it and their doo-wop version landed on top of the Billboard 100. An avid hater of rock’ n’ roll, Kern’s widow tried to get a legal injunction to halt the release. Perhaps the surge in royalty payments caused her to rethink her position and she dropped the legal proceedings. The splintering of the group’s line-up around 1960 led to wrangling over the Platters’ name, replete with injunctions, lawsuits, and multiple versions of the act touring at the same time and all claiming to be the “real” Platters. If you go to Branson you can hear the “World Famous Platters,” not to be confused with “Sonny Turner’s Platters,” “Paul Robi’s Platters,” serving platters in the dining room, whatever. Currently, according to www.theplatters.com “There is only ONE legally authorized “The Platters” vocal group performing around the world today” as founded and named by Herb Reed, who won a summary judgement in 2014 to keep anyone else from calling themselves “Platters” without some adjectival qualifier. Always get a good lawyer before you act on any good ideas; the bank account you save may be your own.
Three useless fun facts:
- Money never buys contentment, but it sure takes the edge off things.
- My wife got to dance this song on stage with Eddie Stoval (as in “World Famous Platters”). Eddie’s been at it long enough and has ties back far enough that I declare him a real platter.
- Printed popular sheet music is fake news — you will never find a hint of what these artists did to turn paper and ink into portraits of sound. After all, what is the term for those bound collections of lead sheets cocktail pianists and wedding bands keep around in order to accommodate requests? “Fake books!” I guess that proves it.
“Dedicated to the One I Love” began life as a stomp blues number written by Lowman Pauling and Ralph Bass. Pauling was the guitarist of The 5 Royales, a gospel quintet that discovered there was more money in R&B. The original 1957 recording was a hit for the Royales (charted at #81 on the Billboard 100), the Shirelles (who sweetened it a bit), the Temprees (who turned it into a stunning ballad that reached #17 R&B and #93 pop in 1972), and a few others. Oh, yes, The Mamas & The Papas also covered it but I never liked them. Three useless fun facts:
- To make a good living in music produce it, don’t play it; Bass ended up a successful Motown record producer and Pauling died penniless.
- Ralph Bass also composed the music for Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham’s hit novelty single “Here Comes the Judge” immortalized by Sammy Davis Jr. on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
- Over the years, this song changed lyrics, harmonies, and structure so many times you will have a good laugh trying to figure out how the printed score ever came into being, which has absolutely no resemblance to any known recorded versions. I guess fake news is here to stay (see Useless Fun Fact #3 under Jerome Kern).
Felix Borowski was of Polish descent but was born in Burton-in-Kendal, Westmorland, UK. His father was an accomplished musician of Polish stock. His mom was English and also musically gifted. His dad gave him his first instruction on the piano and violin. Felix continued studies in London and at the Cologne Conservatory. His early compositions won praise from Edvard Grieg. Armed with all these advantages, Borowski moved to the USA in 1896 to become Director of the Chicago Musical College. He worked as a composer, teacher, and newspaper critic, and was the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1908-1956. In the mindset of the purist, “suite” would have been a more appropriate title for this smaller-scaled work than “sonata.” I admit that is correct. But, this work is such a well-crafted gem, it attains sonata status, if there ever was such a thing.
The final three useless fun facts:
- The Chicago Symphony holds a collection of Borowski’s original compositions and arrangements, which, ironically, don’t get programmed much by the CSO–or our orchestra, or anyone else. I’d like to change that.
- In the first movement of the work at hand, Borowski brilliantly connects the development and recapitulation of the principal thematic material using two brief enigmatic phrases that sound suspiciously like examples presented in old-time theory and harmony textbooks to demonstrate chromatic resolution of leading tones and sevenths. In so doing he transformed the trivial into the sublime while taking the listener through a few unexpected twists.
- I discovered this work in 2005 and decided to program it for a performance the week that the Hurricane Katrina aftermath smacked the Lou (see Useless Fun Fact #2 under Goemanne regarding weather distractions). I spent the week without power and learned it almost completely on a piano (which required no electricity) and some time on a harmonium (which only requires pumping by means of feet). Always keep some stuff around that doesn’t require electricity.