The Robert Shaw Chorale’s 1962 Soviet Tour

November 17, 2010

To improve cultural and state relations during the Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. traded ideas, technology, scholars, and artists. As part of these exchanges, the U.S. State Department sponsored a seven-week Russian tour of the Robert Shaw Chorale. The Chorale’s repertoire for the tour included Schubert’s Mass in G, pieces by Debussy and Gershwin, some African American spirituals, Bach’s Mass in B minor, and Arnold Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden (“Peace on Earth”).

The Chorale’s first performance in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) coincided with a dramatic moment of political conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.—the Cuban missile crisis. [click on article to enlarge]

Among other events of the Russian tour, Shaw visited a group of young Russian artists. Their apartment was filled with abstract art, as well as five religious icons that had been painted since the initial performance four weeks earlier of the B Minor Mass. The painter of these icons was Yuri Vassilievich Titov, a graduate of the Moscow Architectural Institute, shown here with his wife, Lena.

Yuri Titov

The B Minor Mass took on profound personal and artistic significance for Titov. Following the Chorale’s Moscow performance of the Mass, Titov began to focus on spiritual and iconographic painting, according to Titov’s close associate and friend, composer Kamil Tchalaev. Titov proffered his icon of Jesus to Shaw with the following blessing: “And may this Russian Spas [God] be from now on your guardian.”

Yuri Titov

Yuri Titov

Titov’s involvement with religion, as well as his practice of experimental art, attracted the attention of the Soviet government, which labeled him a dissident. The Soviet crackdown on “free experimentation” in the arts is chronicled here by a friend of Shaw’s who worked in the U.S.S.R. for the U.S. State Department.

Yuri Titov and his family were often imprisoned in so-called psychiatric clinics, as shown in this drawing by Titov, in which he depicts his imprisonment.

In 1972, the KGB advised Titov and his family to leave the country, but much of Titov’s art was destroyed as they passed through customs. Titov settled in Paris, and at the present day, he continues to produce art. Read more about Yuri Titov here.

-Elizabeth Pinborough and Emily Ferrigno

“Encountering the Other” in the Yale Daily News

November 5, 2010

 “Size Doesn’t Matter in Music Library Exhibit” by Chantel Simpson

Henry Gilbert, composer of American music

November 2, 2010

Henry Gilbert (1868-1928) believed that American composers needed to break free of “European ideas of beauty,” in order to create music that reflected an American national character. Gilbert was well known for incorporating African-American and Native American music into his work.

In 1893, Gilbert attended the Chicago World’s Fair, finding employment as a bread-and-pie cutter in a restaurant. He was fascinated by the cultural displays at the Fair, and took down hundreds of folk songs that he heard there. Below is his sketchbook, as well as the first page of an essay he wrote about his experience:

Henry Gilbert

A rattle that Gilbert fashioned himself, for use in his Comedy Overture on Negro Themes:

Edward Curtis (1868-1952), a well-known photographer of Native American peoples, hired Gilbert to transcribe Indian melodies that Curtis had recorded onto phonographic cylinders. Gilbert composed music based on these melodies for Curtis’s “picture-opera,” A Vanishing Race, which Curtis presented throughout the United States in 1911 and 1912.

In this letter from Curtis to Gilbert, Curtis discusses the terms and payment of their agreement:

Listen to a 1912 orchestral recording of Signal Fire to the Mountain God by Henry Gilbert (played by Prince’s Orchestra, Columbia A-5457).

Music Library Exhibit Opens Oct. 13

October 5, 2010

Poulenc’s “Rapsodie nègre”

August 4, 2010
Poulenc

photo by Fred Plaut MSS 52 Box 18

The Frederick and Rose Plaut Papers consist of over 35,000 photographs taken by Frederick Plaut during his years as a recording engineer for Columbia Records. Francis Poulenc was a dear friend of Rose Plaut – this photograph was taken during a trip to France.

Poulenc was a composer of the Parisian avant-garde. His work exhibits a fascination with evocations of the distant past, as well as the primitive. His first piece, Rapsodie nègre (1917), draws upon an exotic African theme – much in vogue in Paris at the time. The piece consists of five movements:

  1. Prelude
  2. Ronde
  3. Honoloulou – Vocal interlude
  4. Pastoral
  5. Final

The third movement, Honoloulou, is set to a poetic text purportedly by Liberian poet Makoko Kangourou in a language of nonsense syllables. The book in which Poulenc found the text has never been located, and the Liberian poet was almost certainly a hoax. Poulenc himself stated that, “The Rapsodie nègre is not an exotic or picturesque work: it is simply a work of free melody.”

-Allie Kieffer and Emily Ferrigno

Listen to “Honoloulou”, played by Francis Poulenc, Hugues Cuenod, tenor

Read more about Poulenc’s Rapsodie nègre.

The Bamboula

May 25, 2010

 

Bamboula Coleridge Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London, England on August 15, 1875 to an English mother and a Sierra Leone-born father. He was described as the “black Mahler”, and led a successful career as a composer and conductor. One of Coleridge-Taylor’s most famous pieces, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” exemplifies the exoticism and romantic appeal of the American Indian at the time. “The Bamboula” is the name of a drum and a dance brought to the Americas and the Caribbean by African slaves. The piece was a commission for Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, founders of the Norfolk Music Festival in Connecticut, to which Coleridge-Taylor was an invited guest in 1906 and 1909.

The Coleridge-Taylor Collection, Misc. Ms. 290

The Stoeckel Family Papers, Misc. Ms. 247

Thomas de Hartmann’s “Chants Maoris”

April 30, 2010

Thomas de Hartmann Papers, MSS 46, Box 19 Folders 154 & 155

Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1886-1956) found great inspiration in the art of Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Gauguin. He dedicated his “Chants Maoris” (op. 12 & op. 15) to the memory of Gaugin, who was known for his extensive travels and idealized portrayals of so-called “primitive” cultures.

Search the Thomas de Hartmann Papers

Read more about Gauguin and Maori Art

Virgil Thomson at the East-West Music Encounter

March 15, 2010

Virgil Thomson
Thomson in Japan, 1961 (photo #577)

The East-West Music Encounter took place in Tokyo, in 1961. East Asian, Indian, Indonesian and West European musical performances were showcased; papers were read and discussions were held. Various reports of the conference were given in the July 1961 issue of Musical America, including an editorial by American composer Virgil Thomson entitled “Toward Improving the Musical Race”. The editorial begins,

Yes, Buddha loves me,

Yes, Buddha loves me,

Yes, Buddha loves me;

The sutras tell me so.

So sing the Japanese children in their Sunday Schools. And though the fine old pentatonic tune, which we know as “Yes, Jesus loves me”, sounds to us so plainly Scottish, it might just as well for them be ancient Chinese. Even its harmonization in Western style shocks none, since for some 90 years now Western music, and only Western music, has been taught in their public schools.

(A draft of Thomson’s editorial can be found in the Virgil Thomson Papers, MSS 29A)

Lyric Airs, 1804

March 5, 2010

Lyric Airs“, published in 1804 by Edward Jones, contains “specimens of Greek, Albanian, Walachian, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, Chinese and Moorish national songs and melodies.” It also claims to be “the first selection of the kind ever yet offered to the public.” These various melodies are transcribed into Western notation, like the Chinese song “Chin-Chin-Joss” :

call no: NC1479 R8 A1 J6++ Folio

Orientation

February 26, 2010

From music periodical “Fanfare“, published November 1921. This image accompanies an article entitled “Orientation” by Leigh Henry, the editor. This issue also includes the article, “African Primitive Instrumental Music” by Watson Lyle.

Read the article “Orientation” by Leigh Henry