Deer Valley® Music Festival

History of the Music

History of the Music

Explore Logan

By Jeff Counts

A Collection of Sand

Nathan Lincoln de Cusatis

Duration: 12 minutes in three movements

The biography of American composer Nathan Lincoln de Cusatis identifies his eclectic suite of cultural influences as "past musical traditions, communal improvisation, cult films, iconic works of art, and the ambient sounds of the urban landscape." It is the last item on that partial list that forms the molecular heart of his 2021 work for small orchestra A Collection of Sand. "The common thread," he writes about the work's three movements, "is a preoccupation with the pervasive noises of the modern world where foreground and background merge into a single chaotic sonic experience." In this "sandbox," Lincoln de Cusatis riffs on the idea of collecting as he assembles "tiny grains" of music into "movements of contrasting sound, form, and attitude that still seem to complement each other. A secondary collection opportunity then occurs for the listener, who the composer hopes will "sort…through the grains of sound in order to extract the ones they want to keep." Continuing with Lincoln de Cusatis' own note on the piece, the first movement, Ocean of Words, "begins and ends with a chattering montage of independent lines forming a whirling cloud of sound like the murmuring of an anxious crowd. The abrupt ending represents a kind of Information Age apocalypse where the hyperactive pace of human communication accelerates of a cliff." The second movement, Herd Mentality, "is a raucous hive of sound that I begrudgingly dedicate to all the time I spend sitting in traffic. You can hear spewing exhaust, clanging engines and a general subservience to the migratory patterns of the herd." The last movement, Melodic Abyss, "takes a quasi-operatic aria and places it into a contradictory auditory environment of sporadic popping and squeaking." It is as if we are "hearing a piece within a piece…through static-prone speakers."

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24

Samuel Barber (1910–1981)

Duration: 14 minutes

There is no shortage of music written about nostalgia and reminiscence. You could fill multiple playlists with these works, but few composers have captured the wistfully discursive path of memory like Samuel Barber. When he was approached by soprano Eleanor Steber to write a brief voice and orchestra work for premiere in 1947, Barber turned to a prose poem by James Agee. Agee later incorporated the poem into the prologue of his novel A Death in the Family, but when Barber first read it, it was included in an issue of the New York-based literary anthology Partisan Review as a gorgeously self-contained expression of youthful recollection. Though he grew up in Pennsylvania, Barber found much to relate to in Agee's poem about a boy lying in his backyard grass on a languid Knoxville evening. When he met the writer sometime later, in fact, the two men uncovered a few literal parallels in their separate childhood experiences. They both had a musically inclined aunt. They could both hear a streetcar from their porch. This instant relatability is perhaps Barber's greatest gift to Agee's prose. The music he created to transport the text sounds as if he borrowed it from a collective well of innocent recall, as if the experiences of folks lucky enough to have had peaceful childhoods were already mixed and manifested and simply waiting for someone to give them a single voice. Equal to this effortless supernatural aptness is the sense of place Barber creates. Leontyne Price, a longtime champion of the piece, once said "You can smell the South in it." The original version included a full orchestra, but Barber made the wise choice to reduce the instrumental forces in 1950, and this more intimate setting has been the rightful standard ever since.

Overture and "Dove sono i bei momenti" from The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Duration: 4 minutes each.

The Marriage of Figaro was the first of three successful collaborations between librettist Lorenzo da Ponte and Mozart. Based on the second part of the Beaumarchais Figaro trilogy, Mozart's brilliant opera buffa continues the story begun with The Barber of Seville. As the curtain lifts, we find ourselves among the familiar characters on the day of Figaro's wedding to Susanna, but the ceremony is delayed by various intrigues, plots, and other flights of aristocratic spoofery. Figaro shows, as much as anything he ever wrote, Mozart's effortless genius for the pairing of literary absurdity and stunningly beautiful music. That the opera would become the beloved repertory standard it is today, however, was not immediately apparent. The play was banned at first and it took some effort by da Ponte to get permission for his libretto treatment. Also afoot in Vienna at that time was the ongoing feud between the Italian supporters of Antonio Salieri and his perceived artistic "enemies," Mozart not least among them. Salieri and da Ponte had been court colleagues, but professional differences left the poet free to join Mozart. Both men would benefit greatly from the new alliance. Once complete, Figaro enjoyed a successful premiere but only eight more performances in Vienna, where paid hecklers attempted to bring Mozart down. Mozart soon took the production on the road to Prague, and it was there that the history begins to match our own affection. The aria "Dove sono i bei momenti" occurs halfway into Act III. Countess Almaviva has paused for a moment to reflect on the many emotional crosses she must bear, thanks to her philandering husband—loneliness, humiliation, and of course, righteous indignation.

Symphony No. 1 in C Major

Georges Bizet (1838–1875)

Duration: 28 minutes in four movements

Posterity bestows its gifts grudgingly, and examples of artists remembered for just that one great thing are all too easy to identify. Take Bizet. If not for Carmen, would we know him? Sure, there was also The Pearl Fishers and L'Arlésienne. Sure. But let's be honest, he is known today for composing one of the most beloved (and certainly most performed) operas in history. Without it, his not-quite 36 years on this Earth might have come and gone without any notice at all. Perhaps a side benefit then of "one great thing" status is an eventual scholarly interest in an artist's other works, as a method of bringing their lives fully into the light long after they are gone. For Bizet, this occurred in 1933 with his "Symphony in C." He wrote the work in 1855 at the tender age of 17 while studying with Gounod at the Paris Conservatory, but the composer never heard it performed. In fact, he never even seemed interested in hearing it performed, and it stayed on a shelf at the school, unknown and unloved, for 75 years. Symphony in C is gem of early-Classical charm and construction, but it was written when blood-and-guts romanticism was the voice of the day. It is possible that Bizet, a man who would come to know failure quite well, assumed it would embarrass him. When it was finally dusted off and prepared for its overdue premiere in 1935, listeners immediately recognized the symphony for what it was—a highly polished teenage utterance worthy of Mozart or Mendelssohn. Those two geniuses did much more with their short lives than Bizet, certainly, but in Bizet's Symphony No. 1 there was at least the promise of something similar, even if bad luck, bad timing, and bad everything else seemed to conspire against him.

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