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Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

slatkin

slatkin

The following is a list of ten pieces, each received well at the time of composition but fortune has not been so kind to over the years. Of course, there are more than 10 and this selection barely scratches the surface. Perhaps it is not just the pieces, but also the composers who seem to have disappeared from the American musical landscape. That is sad, as our legacy of outstanding composers and works from this country is amazing.

I hope that you will find a few of these works to your liking and that perhaps, hearing them now will encourage you to investigate other pieces by these and other composers. Here then, is a starting point for what could a most interesting journey.


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1. Donald Erb


The Seventh Trumpet


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2. Jacob Druckman


Lamia


1

3. William Schuman

Symphony No. 8

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4. Walter Piston

Symphony No. 6

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5. Carl Ruggles


Sun Treader


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6. George Crumb


Echoes of Time and the River


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7. Roger Sessions

Symphony No. 2

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8. Alan Hovhaness


Mysterious Mountain


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9. George Rochberg

String Quartet No. 3

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10. Morton Gould

Suite from

Fall River Legend

  • Mike M.

    “Mysterious Mountain” forgotten? Not so sure about that one, but the remainder of the list at least for me is intriguing and informative. Must check them out. Thanks, Maestro!

  • Karl

    How about symphonies; Mennin 7th; Blackwood 2nd; Schuman 6th; Rochberg 2nd; Sowerby 4th (never performed); Harris 1933; etc. There are also minor masterpieces like the 1st and 3rd Symphonies of EB Hill; music of Gruenberg; Whithorne; Piston 3rd and 7th; music of Lees; Lopatnikoff; the Choric Dances by Creston; Thompson 3rd symphony and his Trip to Nahant, Jazz Poem,; Dello Joio’s Variations Chaconne and Finale and his brilliant Fantasy and Variations for piano and Orchestra, etc. It is a shame we keep hearing Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein over and over again.

    • victor

      Absolutly right!

  • Stephen

    I agree with Mike M. re “Mysterious Mountain.” There are a handful of recordings and it does sneak into concerts every know and again. Of the 66 other Hovhaness Symphonies, a few of which should be heard more often, including #50 “Mount St. Helens. To add to Karl’s symphony suggestions (Hi, Karl!), I’ll add my own: Piston 2, Mennin 3, John Vincent Symphony in D, R. Thompson 2, Homer Keller 3, Libby Larsen 1, Antheil 4, Creston 2, Harris 6, Lees 2.

    I attended the rehearsals and concerts of the premiere of Erb’s “The Seventh Trumpet,” in, I think 1970. It’s really cool piece and long gone in the repertoire. In one section, Erb calls for the wind players to hang their key ring on one of the instrument keys, and wiggle them. The effect was pretty eerie. Don was a very fine composer and I don’t think any of his music is available on CD anymore, sadly. It’s a shame. Don was also a great guy.

    • Shrimani Jade Senay

      HI Stephen. Actually CDs are available! My favorite is the St Louis Symphony CD. Just Google them and you will find where to get them. Enjoy!

    • John Casey

      A strong endorsement for the R. Thompson 2nd, a true masterpiece. Bernstein does it best. Also “Mysterious Mountain,” of course, and happily we have the magnificent Reiner recording of that.

    • Byl Strother

      There’s about six CD’s worth of his music, mostly chamber music although the Slatkin Concertos CD with Lynn Harrell is one of them, available on Google Play. I would presume that other streaming services would have a lot of the same group. It’s better than nothing. The Seventh Trumpet is not in there anywhere but for anyone curious that’s an option.

    • Paul

      Interesting you should mention Homer Keller. I met him in the 60’s as a kid. He liked a wind band piece I had composed. Must discover his music !

      • Stephen

        His 3rd Symphony is a neglected masterpiece. On LP, and subsequently released on CD, it is, I think, no longer available. Too bad!

  • You misspelled “Schuman.” A common mistake, I’m guessing. Great list!

  • Sandra Ferrell

    Any list that does not include Harold Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra is useless.

    • macrov

      Thank you! It should be on top of the list.

  • Cool. I already have 5 of those on record (thanks Naxos 😉 ).

  • Geoffrey S. Lapin

    Robert Kurka’s 2nd Symphony is like Americanized Prokofieff!

  • Piston’s Fourth Symphony (1950) is his greatest, and, to me, the finest American neo-classical symphony of all!

    • John Casey

      Yes, one of the best pieces of neo-classical Americana one can name.

    • Stephen

      Nah, Piston 2 is better!

  • Slatkin probably did the definitive recording of Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (better than I’ve ever heard it performed anywhere else, that’s for sure), and it should be included. It really is quite an amazing work and deserves to be heard more often.

    • Bob-oh

      I never could warm up to Hanson’s 2nd. I thought it was pretty good the first time I heard it. Then I thought it really only had one tune repeated over and over and forever associated with Alien. 🙂

    • Kevin Scott

      Hanson’s fifth symphony (Sinfonia Sacra) is one work that is not played as often as it should. It is the tightest, and shortest, of his seven symphonies and is a powerful and emotional experience. As for Slatkin’s recording of the “Romantic”, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree, as I feel the composer’s own recording from the late 1940s for Columbia, and Charles Gerhardt’s 1968 recording with the National Philharmonic for RCA are far more authoritative.

      • AZ Cowboy

        Just so you know, Gerrard the made cut of a few bars at the end of the symphony. That stupid move takes it out the running. I think Schwarz with Seattle did it best.

  • John Casey

    I would add the Harris 3rd, one of my personal favorites, along with the Thompson 2nd, the Piston 4th and the Schuman 3rd.

    • Kevin Scott

      I would also add Harris’s seventh symphony, which I feel is a work that is on a par with the Third. Ditto Randall Thompson’s first symphony, a dramatic work that is as close to modernism as he got in his music. The old Abravanel/Utah Symphony recording of this work should be reissued big time!

  • Stradi

    Interesting omission of a composer contemporaneous with many of these composers, David Diamond, who produced symphonic works on a very high level but antagonized many in the establishment. This list, after all, reflects Mo. slatkins tastes and experience with repertoire. With a few exceptions, he seems drawn to edgier, more overtly dramatic music, which would explain the lack of Hanson, Shapero and Diamond. But I’d put in an argument that they are very much worth exploration.

  • strongerthandirt

    Thank you for the list. I agree with the commenter who loved your Hanson Symphony. This is a small item to add, but I’ve always liked Hoagy Carmichael’s “Prayer & Cathedral Vision” from Johnny Appleseed Suite.

  • David J Gill

    In Cleveland Christoph von Dohnanyi championed and renewed some undeservedly little known works and some tired war horses by programing them repeatedly over a number of seasons, recording them etc. One of those successfully reconsidered with was “Sun Treader.”

  • Scott Foglesong

    Minor correction: William Schuman (one ‘n’), and not two.

  • Ann Raven

    Thank goodness I heard Alan Hovhaness fairly often on WFMT. I love his work!

  • Bruce

    I heard “Echoes of Time and the River” at the U of C in Mandel Hall in May of 1967, surprisingly played by the CSO in an all contemporary music program under Martinon, except the Crumb, which was conducted by associate Erwin Hoffman. (World Priemier) I sat up close and experienced a conversion to contemporary music that night. I promptly went out an bought finger cymbals, which were prominently featured in the piece.

  • John King

    I can never understand why Coplands opera “The Tender Land” is so forgotten.The orchestral suite is occasionally performed.Slatkin gave a concert performance of the entire operaat Barbican London & I taped it off the radio but I know of no commercial recording.

    • macrov

      There was a recording by Philip Brunelle and the Plymouth Chamber Series (forget the label) 20-some years ago which seemed quite good.

  • Matthew B. Tepper

    I actually saw a performance of Erb’s “The Seventh Trumpet.” It was a Los Angeles Philharmonic run-out concert to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on March 17, 1973. André Watts played Tchaikovsky PC #1, and the conductor was a fresh-faced, plump but vigorous moptop named James Levine. After intermission, Levine conducted Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique from memory, which impressed me very much. (I could probably conduct it from memory now — with a few rehearsals — and I’m not even a professional conductor.)
    I’m sad to say that the audience laughed out loud at Erb’s piece. Perhaps some were reminded of the trumpetless mouthpieces in P.D.Q. Bach’s “Iphegenia in Brooklyn,” I don’t know. The I met the composer afterwards and he was desolate. At the time I was trying to pick out a college to continue my music studies, and I briefly considered the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he was teaching at the time. Oh well.
    (The reason I recall the exact date is that Erb was wearing a green suit, shirt, and tie. Figure it out.)
    (If Maestro Slatkin actually reads this: Thanks for accepting me into your master class in Minneapolis thirty-odd years ago. I’m sorry I never was able to get a conducting career going. It’s a very tough field!)

    • Stephen

      Erb was ‘desolate?’ Do you mean he was isolated in some far off place? Or was he ‘disconsolate?”

      i attended the World Premier of ‘The Seventh Trumpet.’ in Dallas. I knew Don. Nice guy, very good composer. I miss him. I got drunk with him one night.

      • David Badagnani

        Definition 5 of “desolate”: sad, forlorn and hopeless

      • Stephen

        Definition 5 of any word is very weak. Given Mr. Tepper’s reference, I’m not quite sure what he meant. ‘Disconsolate’ is still a better word.

        dis·con·so·late
        ˌdisˈkäns(ə)lət/
        adjective
        adjective: disconsolate
        without consolation or comfort; unhappy.

        Thanks,

        Stephen, Annoying Mensa Genius

      • Matthew B. Tepper

        He was freakin’ SAD, guys. I was there, you weren’t.

      • Matthew B. Tepper

        Oh, and “Annoying MENSA Genius” (don’t forget to put the acronym in all caps!) is a tautology. It’s also redundant.

  • Chas Baker

    Ives 4 has been a favorite for many years.

  • Kevin Scott

    There are many works that deserve to be on this list, but I will name a few. First and foremost is Bernard Herrmann’s sole symphony from 1941, a powerful work that has only been recorded twice and performed about six or seven times since its premiere.

    Other works that I would cite as being forgotten are William Grant Still’s fourth symphony, Elie Siegmeister’s fourth symphony, Robert Russell Bennett’s Sights and Sounds, George Frederick McKay’s violin concerto, Margaret Bonds’ Ballad of the Brown King, any of Irwin Bazelon’s symphonies, Ulysses Kay’s Markings, and Avrohom Leichtling’s eighth symphony, one of the best symphonies by an American composer that awaits a world premiere.

  • David Frieze

    Piston’s 6th Symphony has been recorded more than twice, and I heard a live performance of it at Tanglewood about 25 years ago. Maybe the most accessible and memorable piece on this list.

  • D___

    I agree with the comments about Hovhaness’ symphonies. The Mount St. Helens Symphony should be heard more often.

    David Diamond’s Rounds used to be played a lot, but it’s hardly played these days. Very nice music.

    Ferde Grofe’s Mississippi Suite is on the lighter side, but it too is unfairly neglected.

    Ellie Siegmeister’s music isn’t heard much anymore, but pieces like his Western Suite would be a nice addition to a concert program.

  • macrov

    Harold Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra should be on top of the list. If you count him as an American, Miklos Rosza’s Violin Concerto belongs there, too.

    Maestro Slatkin is actually in a position to do something about – I believe he directs and orchestra that plays music, and could play these pieces.