Peltz, Gonzalez, SomerOn April 15, Charles Peltz and the NEC Wind Ensemble extend the theme of Music: Truth to Power by performing music on the theme of "Songs of Revolution."

On this program, William Drury will also conduct NEC Symphonic Winds in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, and conducting student Lina Marcela González Granados will conduct both wind ensembles.

Eden MacAdam-Somer will lead NEC's American Roots Ensemble in a selection of William Billings songs that relate To William Schuman's New England Triptych, also performed on this program.

As background to this very rich program, Charles Peltz {CP}, Lina Marcela González Granados {LMGG}, and Eden MacAdam-Somer {EMS} have collectively provided the notes that follow.



Music: Truth to PowerMusic: Truth to Power

Tonight the Wind Ensemble Department makes its final contribution to NEC’s “Music: Truth to Power” festival. We present music of rebellion informed, inspired, and shaped by words and the poets who crafted those words. From the 20th century we hear music inspired by sophisticated and elegant wordsmithing: from Lorca caught in the maelstrom of the Spanish revolution to the communist zealot Berthold Brecht as he futilely tries to convince the German masses to rise under the red banner.

We end, though, with words that made all modern revolutions possible, words crafted within walking distance of where we sit tonight: the religiously inspired texts of Billings, calling for the “shining city on a hill” to throw off the iron chains. The revolution that the inspired colonists in passionate congregation were to fight made all other revolutions conceivable. It is said by some that the American has been the one great revolution to have succeeded immediately and permanently, as those who fought it imagined it would.

We are deeply grateful for the contributions of Eden MacAdam-Somer and her always vital American Roots Ensemble singers. Their spirit of conjoining spontaneity and purpose resonates with that of those who first sang these words of truth to power over 200 years ago, here, in our Boston. {CP}

Revueltas: Homenaje a Federico García Lorca

It was only in the final quarter of the last century, decades after his premature death at age 40, that Silvestre Revueltas began receiving anything like the recognition his music calls for in the Latin American music scenario. And it is not surprising that a spirit as creative as Revueltas, with so emphatic a regard for the Spanish element in his people's heritage, should have responded to the genius and the personality of his Spanish contemporary Federico García Lorca. Lorca, who in his even shorter life (1898–1936) so distinguished himself as a playwright, poet, and novelist that he was enshrined as a personification of the spirit of the free creative artist. On hearing of García Lorca’s assassination by the fascists, Revueltas immediately composed this memorial work.

One might expect it to be an impassioned lament for the murdered Spanish poet, but the homage is very different from a requiem. While Revueltas's work does contain its share of mournful cries, it juxtaposes mourning with raucous celebration, reflecting the Mexican attitude that the apprehension of death should provoke a more intense love for life.

A trumpet solo, evoking the mourning of the relentless fate of the murdered poet, transforms itself into a playful and “childish” melody in the first movement “Baile” (Dance). The middle movement, “Duelo” (Sorrow) is a meditation, written in a style close to the Andalusian martinetes sung by miners and prisoners awaiting execution. In imitation of the characteristic hammer-and-anvil accompaniment, there is the image of utter and inconsolable devastation. The unbearable pain is interrupted with the energetic “Son;” the last movement where the popular mariachi blends with classical compositional techniques to celebrate the life of a true Spanish soul.

The bright and often brusque timbres that immediately strike us cannot be understood without listening to the small village bands and mariachis that are so abundant in Mexico. Revueltas listened to them without prejudice and synthesized a daring and original concept of orchestration from their sounds. The importance of trumpets, tuba, and clarinets in his music, for instance, is drawn directly from the instrumentation of such bands, as is his delight in the use of biting and purposefully unrefined articulation. Revueltas also exploits the out-of-tuneness of the village bands. By consistently choosing instruments of extreme register like the piccolo, the bass and E-flat clarinets, the tuba, and the contrabass, shrillness and spontaneous dissonance become a characteristic of color rather than intonation. And rather than ignoring or "correcting" such provincial habits as lack of precise coordination or limping phrasing, he recognized their potential and found ways to positively integrate these spontaneous asymmetries into his musical language. He was able to extract what is intrinsic in meaning and form to Mexican mestizo music and build upon it a compositional technique that led to a truly unique, “Revueltian" style. {LMGG}

Arutiunian: Concerto for Trumpet
and Symphonic Band

Born in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, Arutiunian was a pianist, composer, and teacher dedicated to that city and to Armenia and its music. He was a composer embraced and often awarded by the regime during his lifetime, and thus his music is not deeply experimental or innovative, which would have been looked at askance. It is, however, well crafted, employing gestures (often rhythmic) that capture the attention of the listener.

His Concerto for Trumpet, written in 1950, might be his most famous work. It is made up of five sections patterned A-B-A-B’-A (fast-slow-fast-slow-fast). Blazing trumpet opens the piece—probably the most idiomatic opening of all trumpet concertos—and this brassy intro leads to the swaggering A material. The slow music is languid, almost sexy, as syncopated quasi tango rhythms undulate under the trumpet seducer. {CP}

Weill: Little Threepenny Music

Photographs of Kurt Weill do not seem to betray a revolutionary. He seems, in fact, rather meek to look at. This son of a famous Dessau cantor was not destined to live life as a famous musical revolutionary. Not for him the other revolutionaries of his time who “wrote for posterity”: no jealousy of Stravinsky’s rhythmic drive, Schoenberg’s pitch manipulations or Varèse’s electronic sound imagination.

But this student of Humperdinck and Busoni was most assuredly an innovator, and his early works, including a strong violin concerto with accompaniment by small wind ensemble, show tremendous creativity in all the musical elements. By 1927 he was drawn into the world of musical theater. What attracted him to the lure of words demanding music? Was it his family history celebrating the “Word” of the Torah and Talmud through music? Or was it the cynically loquacious time in Germany where so many had so much to say with post-war passion and bitterness? His most famous collaborator in Europe was Berthold Brecht; and the two created both the opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and Three Penny Opera, the latter based on John Gay’s 18th-century ballad opera portraying the face of London’s underclass.

That underclass fascinated Brecht, for it was they who Brecht saw as the revolutionary proletariat who would kick down the door for communism. For Weill, the play afforded him a forum for his newfound ability to facilely marry his well-developed craft in classical composition with his inspired interest in American dance (“jazz”) music. This mixture of styles was, in a manner, revolutionary, and so attractive that Otto Klemperer commissioned the suite for the instruments onstage tonight. (This instrumentation is larger than that of the original). Each movement is a recasting of songs from the opera, each containing the surface of “snappy” gestures of '20s dance music. However, submerged close to the surface are the pungent harmonies and counterpoint which betray the sardonic wit, venality, and violence of Brecht’s characters. {CP}

Schuman: New England Triptych

A long-time champion of an "American" musical sound and style, William Schuman consciously chose iconic American subjects as extra-musical material for his compositions. New England Triptych draws on works of the 18th-century composer to evoke an atmosphere of the Revolutionary period.

Schuman was so desirous that his intent be communicated fully to an audience that he prefaced his score with the following note:

"William Billings (1746–1800) is a major figure in the history of American music. The works of this dynamic composer capture the spirit of sinewy ruggedness, deep religiosity, and patriotic fervor that we associate with the Revolutionary period…. I am not alone among American composers who feel an identity with Billings and it is this sense of identity which accounts for my use of his music as a point of departure. These pieces do not constitute a 'fantasy' on themes of Billings, nor 'variations' on his themes, but rather a fusion of styles and musical language."

Chester is adapted from the hymn used as a marching song by the Continental Army. An appropriately hymnlike beginning changes into a texture of almost improvisatory running lines, which eventually become accompaniment to a return of the march tune in the brass.

When Jesus Wept uses its source material as a point of departure for an extended, lyrically sad round with embellishments and melodic extensions.

Finally, Be Glad Then, America is marked by spirited forward momentum, a brief fugal section, and a concluding reference to the "shout and rejoice" passage in Billings's original. A timpani solo opens the work and is developed primarily by the strings. Trombones and trumpets begin the main section as a varied setting of the words "Be glad then, America, Shout and rejoice." The following lines are included in Billing's anthem:

Yea, the Lord will answer
and say unto his people - behold!
I will send you corn and wine and oil
And ye shall be satisfied therewith.

Be glad then, America,
Shout and rejoice.
Fear not O land,
Be glad and rejoice.



"Perhaps it may be expected that I should say something concerning rules of composition; to those I answer that Nature is the best dictator, for not all the hard, dry, studied rules that ever was prescribed, will not enable any person to form an air … For my own part, as I don't think myself confined to any rules of composition, laid down by any that went before me, neither should I think … that any one who came after me were in any ways obligated to adhere to them, any further than they should think proper … I think it best for every composer to be his own carver."
—William Billings

William Billings was America’s foremost choral composer, known for the emotional depth and rhythmic vitality of his works. Born into a poor Boston family, Billings worked as a tanner by trade and was a largely self-taught musician. By the mid-1780s he was a renowned composer and a well-known itinerant master at singing schools throughout Massachusetts, where congregational singing was a central part of Christian worship. In spite of his fame, Billings died in poverty, leaving behind a large family and a rich legacy of American sacred music.

The proliferation of singing schools in New England created a demand for new hymns and hymnals that were written and printed in America. As singing schools increased in number and spread throughout the colonies and into the southern parts of the country, demand continued to increase. In 1770, Billings published The New-England Psalm-singer, which contained over 100 psalms, hymns, anthems, and canons, and featured a frontispiece engraved by Paul Revere. The success of this publication stimulated a great outburst of musical creativity on the part of other composers, secure in the knowledge that there was a clear demand and appreciation for their music.


In the late 18th century, singing teachers began using the four-shape note system as a sight-reading aid. Although this system was later overtaken by the more popular seven-shape system, “fasola” singing remains a strong part of many religious communities throughout the American South, and also thrives in folk revival communities internationally.

Chester, written in 1770, is one of Billings’s best-known hymns. During the American Revolutionary War, it was second in popularity only to Yankee Doodle. Billings wrote the original lyrics himself, but today you will also hear two verses written by Philip Doddridge. Also written in 1770, When Jesus Wept is a simple yet compelling canon, which brings Billings’s pathos to the fore. Be Glad Then America is an excerpt from a larger work, An Anthem for Fast Day, published in 1794, an excellent example of Billings’s more ambitious choral works.

Our performance tonight draws on New England and African American sacred singing traditions as well as our own “carving out” of these compositions in true Contemporary Improvisation style. Having read Billings’s own words on the subject of composition and creativity, I feel certain that he would have approved! {EMS}