Music we've been missing (Part 4); an American romantic
Call me old fashioned, but I'll always have a soft spot for the romantic repertoire -- and the neo-romantic. Hey, I'm down with atonality, too, and just about every other stylistic language, but I'm still a pushover for a good tune and rich harmony. So, when it comes to considering worthy music we don't hear enough of in our concert halls these days, I'm bound to think of Howard Hanson.
Although he's had his champions in recent years (notably Gerard Schwarz and Leonard Slatkin), the composer still seems to be pretty much ignored by American orchestras. And my guess is that most American audiences have little knowledge of Hanson, or little interest in him.
Of course, there's a long list of other American composers likewise left on the sidelines. Locally, we have barely scratched the surface of the repertoire left by our greatest composer, Charles Ives, for example. Out of sheer patriotic duty, if nothing else, his music should be programmed every season -- and I'm talking about a lot more than just the occasional posing of The Unanswered Question. American concert-goers should embrace his Symphony No. 2 as fervently as Russians embrace Tchaikovsky's Fifth. We need to hear Ives' challenging Symphony No. 4, too.
But I digress. I'll return to Ives in another installment of this riveting what-we're-missing series. For now, back to Hanson. My own favorite, naturally, is ...
his Symphony No. 2, which carries the name "Romantic." The big, recurring theme in this score is one of those melodies that just burrows into you (if you're at all susceptible to this sort of thing), and the whole piece reveals sensitive craftsmanship.
I still remember the first time I encountered this symphony at some tender age, when I switched the dial on the car radio as I was driving. The sound hooked me, so much so that I had to sit in the parking lot after getting wherever I was going and hear the rest, so I could find out what it was. I've been an ardent fan of that symphony ever since.
There's more where that came from, of course -- six other symphonies, for starters. And it's worth noting Hanson's only opera, Merry Mount, which had its stage premiere at the Met in 1934 with no less than Lawrence Tibbett in the cast and Tulio Serafin conducting. The work has much to recommend it, as a recent recording (its first) demonstrates, so maybe that will help spark some renewed interest.
Meanwhile, those symphonies await greater attention. Here are excerpts from the first three, which, I hope you'll agree, demonstrate how much great stuff we've been missing: