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Although its premiere in New York in 1931, with Copland at the piano, left its audience baffled, a reprise performance at Yaddo in 1932, also by the composer, established the piece as a landmark, a distinction it has held ever since.
The Variations consist of a short, compact theme, twenty variations, and a coda. The theme, which moves from minor to major and back to minor, features a pungent four-note motive(E-B#-D#-C#) related to Copland's penchant for the Octatonic scale(thus explaining the resemblances to Stravinsky's Octet and Shostakovich's "D-S-C-H" signature motive) . This four-note motive colors the entire piece. Arthur Berger writes, "each chord or figure may be traced directly back to it. If only for this aspect, the work is a masterpiece of construction."
While composing the Variations, Copland undertook a systematic and chronological study of music literature, in particular keyboard works and variation form. The form, which sweeps through nine variations, climaxes in the tenth, dissipates in the eleventh, accelerates in the twelfth, starts deceptively slow in the nineteenth, crests in the twentieth, and concludes grandly in the coda. The Variations have a cumulative effect, like the Passacaglia of Webern or the final movement of Brahms' fourth symphony, where each variation is related to the following in the sense that it builds architecturally, solidly one after the other.
The Variations lives in another form as a transcription by the composer for the Louisville Symphony Orchestra; Orchestral Variations (1957). This orchestral version contains interesting color contrasts within as well as between the individual variations; and although some of the music's motoric elements transfer less well for orchestra than, say, its more grandiose passages, the work as a whole not only strikingly illuminates the original piano version but constitutes an impressive work in its own right, one deserving to be better known.
-Notes by Howard Pollack
Earl Kim writes: "Samuel Beckett
The following is the Obituary from Harvard for Composer
Earl Kim on
Earl Kim, Professor of Music Emeritus, Dies at 78. His compositions have been performed by an array of artists, including Perlman, Mehta and Ozawa. Memorial services for Earl Kim, the James Edward Ditson Professor of Music Emeritus, took place in the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall of the Music Building last Sunday. The 78-year-old composer died of cancer on Nov. 19 at his Cambridge home.
A master of exquisitely calibrated sonorities balanced by eloquent silence, Kim demonstrated a special gift for placing words into economical but evocative settings. He most frequently drew inspiration from Samuel Beckett, whose words he infused with uncanny insight.
Shortly before a special May 1990 concert honoring
Kim at Sanders Theatre, composer Jeff Nichols (then one of Kim's Ph.D. dissertation
advisees) described his mentor as "an incredibly eloquent man [who can] penetrate
the often-abstruse approaches that composers use these days and get down to very
concrete musical issues without losing sight of the subtleties involved in a real
Kim also succeeded in being "tonal in a way that could only be happening now," Nichols added. "He creates tonal attractions with materials that are quite contemporary in their structures. I don't quite understand the secret of how he does it." Kim's works range from solo piano pieces, chamber music, and song cycles to the short Beckett-based opera Footfalls (1981) and extended multimedia theater works such as Exercises En Route (1971; for soprano, chamber ensemble, dancers, three actresses, and film) and Narratives (1979; for woman's voice, high soprano, teleprojected actor, chamber ensemble, television, and lights). This year, the Boston Chamber Music Society premiered The White Hour, Kim's last major work.
A distinguished roster of groups and performers brought Kim's works to life: actress Irene Worth, violinist Itzhak Perlman (who premiered Kim's Violin Concerto in 1979 and his Caprices for Solo Violin in 1980), conductors Zubin Mehta and Seiji Ozawa, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Marlboro Music Festival, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Several of his works were also broadcast over radio (U.S. and Europe) and national television (U.S.).
Active in the concert hall as well, Kim collaborated as a pianist with singers such as Benita Valente and Bethany Beardslee. From 1977 to 1981, he conducted Cambridge's Ariel Chamber Ensemble.
A student of Roger Sessions, Ernest Bloch, and Arnold Schoenberg, Kim in turn taught composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, and Bernard Rands (now Harvard's Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music) at Princeton during the 1960s and frequently served as a composer-in-residence at major music centers and festivals (Aspen, Dartmouth, Marlboro, Tanglewood) and academic institutions (Brandeis, Hartt College, Princeton).
Born on Jan. 6, 1920, in Dinuba, Calif., Kim attended the University of California, Los Angeles (1940-41), studying composition and theory with Schoenberg. He went on to study with Bloch and Sessions at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his master's degree in 1952. He taught at Princeton University from 1952 until 1967, when he came to Harvard. Kim assumed the Ditson Professorship of Music in 1971 and retired in 1990, when he also resigned as co-chair of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) music panel to protest congressional restrictions (enumerated in the "Helms amendment") on artistic freedom in NEA-funded projects. Kim had earlier been politically active as a co-founder and president of Musicians Against Nuclear Arms (1981-84) and participated in a 1983 benefit concert for Physicians for Social Responsibility at New York's Avery Fisher Hall.
His many honors included a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1965), a Brandeis Creative Arts Award (1971), and commissions from the Koussevitzky, Fromm, and Naumburg foundations.
Kim leaves his wife, violinist Martha Potter, and daughter Eva of Cambridge; Shawna Kent (daughter from his first marriage) of New York City; two grandchildren; and a brother, Yin Kim, of California.
The family requests that contributions in Kim's memory be made to the musical ensemble of one's choice or to Radcliffe's Bunting Institute.
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College
The Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson(1830-1886)were composed ... During the same period Copland finished the Piano Quartet and made the first set of Old American Songs. Initially Copland came across the famous "Chariots", and was so struck by its imagery that he started the musical setting of what became the cycle's final song. Copland explained "I fell in love with one song, "The Chariot", and continued to add songs one at a time until I had twelve. The poems themselves gave me my direction, one that I hoped would be appropriate to Miss Dickinson's lyrical expressive language." Copland went on reading Emily Dickinson, fascinated by the New England recluse who wrote nearly 2000 poems, virtually unpublished in her lifetime, but never left her house in her later years. (He was obliged to work with the texts available in 1949, so there are differences between what he set and Thomas H. Johnson's monumental edition of 1955). Vivian Perlis, Co-Author with Aaron Copland of "Copland: 1900-1942' published by St. Martins/Marek writes he even visited the Dickinson home in Amherst in order to soak up the atmosphere and to see for himself the view from her upstairs windows, where she had become a recluse. Soprano Phyllis Curtin said, "I understood the poems better after knowing the Copland music."
The poetry of Emily Dickinson occupies a unique place in American Literature. On the one hand, their simplicity and brevity make many of her poems unusually accessible. Some of them have strong appeal to children; "I'm Nobody" and "The Railway Train" became almost as familiar as nursery rhymes to generations of American children. On the other hand, her serious poems are both perfect and profound. The noted poet and critic Allen Tate wrote for instance of "the Chariot (the last poem of Copland's settings): "If the word great means anything in poetry, this is one of the greatest in the English language. The rhythm charges with movement the pattern of suspended action back of the poem. Every image is precise and, moreover, not merely beautiful, but fused with the central idea."
To set such poems to music makes the utmost demands upon a composer. The music must follow the rhythm and imagery of the poetry without obstrusiveness. To set these poems to tunes in the superficial sense would be an artistic failure bordering on sacrilege. but the music must still have strength of its own it it is to add anything to the poems.
The idea to orchestrate the songs came in 1958. With his well-known practicality, Copland hoped that this might create a wider audience for the songs. The orchestral version contains 8 of the 12 songs that he felt would lend themselves best to the orchestral sonorities. The first orchestral performance was a 70th birthday celebration which took place at Alice Tully hall in NY on November 14, 1970 :Gwendolyn Killebrew, Mezzo-soprano, with the young Michael ilson Thomas conducting the Juilliard Orchestra. This was also the Premiere of the Chamber version of the Appalachian Suite.
In Copland's own words: "The poems center about no single theme, but they treat of subject matter particularly close to Miss Dickinson: nature, death, life, eternity. Only two of the songs are related musically, the seventh(6th) and the twelfth(8th). Neverthless, the composer hopes that, in seeking a musical counterpart for the unique personality of the poet, he has given the songs, taken together, the aspect of a song cycle." The Dickinson poems were first performed in New York in May 1950 by Alice Howland and the composer. (Each song is dedicated to a composer and friend: respectively, David Diamond, Elliott Carter, Ingolf Dahl, Alexei Haieff, Marcelle de Manziarly, Juan Orrego-Salas, Irving Fine, Harold Shapero, Camargo Guarnieri, Alberto Ginastera, Lukas Foss, Arthur Berger. Interestingly, except for Foss and the Latin-Americans, all these were pupils of Nadia Boulanger.)
Emily Dickinson (1830
The oddness of Emily Dickinson's later years has provided raw material for many hundreds of speculative books and papers; none has thoroughly explained her, and a fair number have only added to the clouds of obfuscating myth. Dickinson had what appears to have been a normal childhood---was bright, witty, had friends, went to parties---but by her early 30's began a withdrawal which later became almost complete: there were occasions when even people whom she obviously loved had to speak with her from the other side of an ajar door.
Dickinson never married, and lived all her life in the family home, a large solid brick house near the center of Amherst, Massachusetts. Her paternal grandfather founded Amherst College; her father was that school's treasurer, as well as a member of Congress. Dickinson attended a local grammar school and, for about a year, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley. Her closest friends knew she wrote poetry, because she often included poems or lines from poems in her letters. What they had no way of appreciating, however, was the magnitude of her solitary achievement. When she died at 56 her sister Lavinia found in a drawer over 1,700 poems --- the result of a lifetime's concentrated work. And since the publication of a small selection of those poems four years after her death, Dickinson's reputation has risen; today her place among the very best poets to have written in English is unchallenged.
Dickinson's letters --- she was a great and prolific letter writer --- reveal a slow transformation of style during her 20's, from conventionally phrased well-wrought sentences to spare, gnomic, highly charged, idiosyncratic and often difficult phrasings punctuated by dashes, with capitalizations for emphasis. This latter style is also that of the poems. Short, often obscure, deceptively simple-looking, the poems have a way of focusing down the reader's attention to where one proceeds word by word, savoring the audacity and rightness of each choice.
Dickinson in her early 30's made some tentative attempts to get published, but her work was far ahead of its time and she did not meet with success. Only seven poems were published in her lifetime, each changed by editors to suit the day's standards of rhyme, punctuation and meter. ``It was not Death...'' (almost all her poems are untitled) is number 510 in Thomas H. Johnson's definitive 1955 edition, and it has been dated approximately to 1862.
To find out more about Emily Dickinson go to this website