“For much of his professional life, Ed Wolfe has been making musical notes about the things he sees much the way anyone else would jot reflections in a journal.
For the most part, those notes went into files because, for 38 years, Wolfe had to make a living as a junior and senior high band director.
But the freshly retired 61-year-old does not have that problem any more. He has the time and he has the money and he is making the most of both to turn his jottings into full compositions.
So it has been with “Teton Sketches,” a composition that began years ago when he noted his impressions as he gazed through the panoramic window of a lodge high in the mountains.
He captured both the literal vista before him and the one in his imagination where animals and native Americans moved through the forest, using the medium he loves, music.
Those notes have matured into “Teton Sketches,” which will debut when the California Chamber Orchestra opens its season Saturday at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater.
Wolfe is one of four composers whose works make up the program for the season opener and the only one still alive. The others are Arthur Honegger, a 20th century French composer who died in 1955, Jacques Ibert, who died in 1962, and American composer Samuel Barber, who died in 1981.
Honegger was among the Les Ses, French composers whose music was drawn from everyday life, rather than the loftier themes that marked much of the music the preceded them. His “Pastorale d’ete” was drawn from a Bernese Alps vacation he took in 1920.
The Barber selection is “Capricorn Concerto,” drawn from his experience at his home on the Hudson River and written while he was in the Army in 1944.
Ibert’s “The Italian Straw Hat” is the musical story of a hat that disappears on the owner’s wedding day.
Wolfe said that, after he retired last year, he reconnected with some of the people who had passed through his life during his student and teaching years, among them Warren Gref, artistic director for the Golden Valley Music Society, and director of its California Chamber Orchestra.
Wolfe was working on a master’s degree in music composition at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque when Gref arrived as the new horn instructor.They got together in Wolfe’s revived brass quintet and put together a program for educational presentations, weddings and church gigs, among other settings.
They left Albuquerque about the same time eight years later, Gref for San Diego and Wolfe for San Dimas.
Now that he is retired, Wolfe said he wants to perform again, perhaps put the brass quintet back together, teach and compose.
“I want to keep my hand in and spend some time in my home,” he said. “It goes where it goes. I’ll take it a year at a time.”
He has put together a state-of-the-art studio at home and has begun giving lessons, performing and pulling out those long-ago musical notes to turn into full compositions.
When he contacted Gref, he found a willing conscript.
“Warren asked me whether I had anything for chamber orchestra.” As it happened, he had only recently finished “Teton Sketches” and Gref put in the orchestra’s season opener.
Gref will also use a technique the orchestra has employed in other performances. He has turned “Teton Sketches” into a visual, as well as aural, experience with photos of the mountains around the Teton peaks projected onto a screen behind the orchestra while the music plays.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13
Where: Old Town Temecula Community Theater, 42051 Main St., Temecula
Tickets: $12.50-$30 (Temecula Presents package price $100-$130″
If one can accept the premise that education is the essential condition at the base of all of the arts, it follows that the work of art itself would necessarily have an educational value; it would necessarily contribute to the progress of humanity. That being said, music, as we accept it in Western Civilization, is the youngest of the art forms being regularly performed and accepted from about 1500 to the present. Ancient music before about 1500, although enjoying mini-revivals throughout the world on some occasions, remains to most of the public, a curiosity at best and ugly at worst!
The art of music has its rules, precepts and laws. They are not arbitrary and are necessary to the understanding of the form itself. These rules, developed by the common practice of composers of the past 500 years, and studied exhaustively by enthusiastic (and sometimes not so enthusiastic) students and composers are ever evolving and complex in nature; some relating to the disciplines in science and others being derived by esthetics. Analysis of and reverence for those composers who have preceded us is not only right, but is a necessary condition for the advancement of the art form itself and its contribution to humanity.
Music (as it has evolved in Western Civilization) fulfills three basic functions for most of its audiences: It must be entertaining, it should be educational and to most of us, it is a spiritual experience. It shares the characteristics of the other art forms and includes elements of the sciences as well. If one examines the rudiments of music, it is obvious that the art form has for its basis (sonorous) vibration, rhythm, melody and harmony. To these, the composer adds the nuances of dynamics, articulation, orchestration etc., but the main elements are the organization of rhythm (which is based on mathematics; specifically arithmetic), melody (which in its origin probably evolved from linguistics), and harmony (which in obeying the laws of vibrations-the laws of physics), depends on the sciences. Music therefore is primarily derived from mathematical science, natural science and the science of physics in its rhythm, melody and harmony. None of these three elements however can or should stand alone without the science of esthetics, or artistic effect-in other words, expression.
If, as one hopes is the case, a composer has the need to write, he is bound by his need to communicate through his creation. Expression, then, becomes the goal of the art form itself. At this point, one comes to the realization that music should have some type of form. It can readily be compared to the more ancient art form of architecture. To compose music is to put into order uneven elements. Initially, the composer begins to determine which will be the principal element.
One begins almost immediately (as in architecture) to deal with the concept of “proportion”. A common approach might be “have a big, grand motive together with some other smaller secondary ones, and join them well together.” In other words, “something should dominate all the rest, either by its grandeur, or by its function, (or by its interest).” This concept certainly applies to architecture and it also applies to the musical composition. Saint Saens even went so far as to describe the art form in this way: “Music is an architecture of sounds”.
Following this model, in architecture, sculpture, painting etc. the work generally progresses from the general to the particular; that is the “ensemble” appears before the “details.” In literature, music etc., the “detail” leads to the appreciation of the “ensemble”; it proceeds from the “particular” to the “general”. If you look at a cathedral of the Baroque period, the magnificence of the whole strikes before the minute florid details are seen, but in Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” the motive is presented and extended to the point of complete development and eventual musical climax. It is important to note that the motive or musical idea must be very clear and precise so that it is easily grasped and remembered.
In the study of music theory, important consideration should be given to the tools of composition. They are: harmony, counterpoint, fugue and orchestration. By beginning with the understanding of chord progression or succession, one understands the hierarchy of the tonal structures as it evolved in the music of Western Civilization. An often-misunderstood subject is that of “modulation” which should actually be an example of “expression” rather than an “aimless attempt for trivial effects or showmanship”. It is also possible to accept that modulations to higher tonalities can represent a move towards “the light” whereas a modulation to a lower key might be understood as a movement towards “darkness”. It is also possible to assume that key signatures with several flats might sound darker than keys with several sharps (except when performed by keyboards, mallets and other instruments with fixed tuning). As one develops a thorough knowledge of harmony, “counterpoint” becomes an important compositional tool. It is assumed to be a “stricter style”. Harmony deals with the chords; a vertical sonority, but the “mechanism of notes”, counterpoint, suggests harmony through the horizontal statement of the imitation of melody. By the use of contrary motion, a symmetry of melody against melody is found and by manipulations such as “inversion”, “retrograde”, “retrograde inversion”, “augmentation” and “diminution”, the composer’s craft can become very interesting indeed, bringing the art form to a rather complex but beautiful climax. Other manipulations such as “canon” (“rule” of music strictly followed), “stretto” (a succession of “canons”) and even the “perpetual canon” (which continues with no point of conclusion), are all examples of tools that may be employed by the crafty composer. Finally, perhaps the highest form of musical understanding lies in the successful design of a “fugue”, in which the main idea is developed after the rules of “perpetual imitation”.
The fugue makes use of all the types of imitation both simple and complex, combined and invertible, but at the same time developing and accompanying the principal theme or themes! It is, then “the perfection of counterpoint” all that a good composer should know and be able to demonstrate in his work.
Finally, there is an opinion that one is a “genius” or has considerable “talent”, but what do these terms actually suggest about composition? “Genius” is the pinnacle of creation, the “soul elevated to (its) highest expression”. A genius is the “prototype” of “all which he engenders”. “Genius” is inborn and no teacher can teach it. No human power can create it nor can it be found “where it is not”. “Genius” can only grow and manifest itself through “talent”.
“Talent”, however (although not powerful enough to create essentially original work), is acquired from good teaching and logical study. “Talent” is essentially the “care giver” of “genius”; it is through “talent” that musical “genius” can be demonstrated. “Genius” without “talent” is paralyzed and the gifted artist must, through diligent study, acquire as much “talent” as possible.
A third trait, often ignored, but just as important as the other two is “musical taste”. With this acquired attribute, one can begin to recognize the faults and strengths in the works of others as well as in one’s own works and to appreciate them and discriminate “with a sane judgment”. So, then, the “genius” creates, the “talent” imitates and the “taste” appreciates.
Through artistic education, regardless of how extensive or excellent, “genius” cannot be achieved, but through that same education, the origination of “talent” and the development of “musical taste” will occur and will serve “genius” well.
Ed Wolfe (in preparation for a “meet the composer” Q&A session on September 7, 2008, in Temecula)
• Introduction, background and distribution of materials:
1) Education and background
2) Teaching Career
3) Early Compositions
• Richard Strauss and other influences:
1) Strauss on being “modern”- a paraphrase: “Modern?…Have ideas like Beethoven, be a craftsman and as prolific as Bach, orchestrate with the effectiveness, simplicity and grace of Mozart, and be a true example and representative of your own times….then you will be modern!”
2) Strauss on his compositions:
“I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer!”
3) Arturo Toscanini on Richard Strauss:
“To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again.”
• The 20th century composers: (Bartok, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Hovhaness, Copland, Honegger, Barber and Britten)
Bartok (1881-1945)-Nearly 2,000 folk tunes from mostly Hungary and Rumania; five books and numerous articles; was a virtuoso pianist; 153 piano pieces in six books of graded difficulty and finally will be an enduring force in music of the 20th Century. Two of my favorite works: Concerto for Orchestra and the Violin Concerto both of which I have enjoyed performing.
Hindemith (1895-1963)-A practical musician who plunged immediately into contemporary music with no visit to Romanticism or Impressionism first (unlike Bartok and Stravinsky); an accomplished violinist and violist (as well as many other instruments); wrote many Song Cycles, much Chamber Music; four String Quartets; Mathis der Mahler; Symphony in Eb; Symphony for Concert Band. One of my favorite Hindemith works is the Sonata for Bassoon, Trumpet and Piano which I performed on my senior recital. His musical philosophy is set in his work A Composer’s World and highlights four areas: Communication, Craftsmanship, Tonality and Symbolism.
Stravinsky (1882-1971)-Somewhat of a revolutionary, he is often thought of as “the most original and influential composer of the Twentieth Century.” He studied with Rimsky Korsakov in St. Petersburg from 1905-1908. Among his most performed works are Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, The Firebird, Symphony of Psalms, Agon and The Rake’s Progress. Among his most famous quotes on music is: “Music is given to us specifically to make order of things, to move from anarchic, individualistic state to a regulated, perfectly conscious one, which alone insures vitality and durability.” He was often considered to have a Neoclassical phase and later a neo-Gothic phase in his chamber music. Of the rudiments of music, rhythm was paramount in his music and a rhythmic study of his works demonstrate and real element of unity in the very prolific span of musical composition during his lifetime. The use of shifting meters and misplaced accents are but two examples of a very intricate treatment of rhythm in most of his work. Also, the use of interchangeable major/minor parallel keys and the modes (notably dorian) are extensive throughout his works. It is through self imposed limitations and constraints, that Stravinsky found his “freedom” to create. “Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
Hovhaness- (1911-2000)-An early developer and fusion of “East-West”music decades before the term “World Music” had been coined, he most often returned to “archaic” models of composition totally rejecting the Twentieth Century schools of Americana, serialism and atonality. Largely overlooked because of his “aloof” attitude towards the musical establishment, he was considered a predecessor to the Spiritual Minimalists of the 1960?s and 1970’s. His works are often thought of as “mystical, visionary and even intoxicating”.
Copland (1900-1990)-An accomplished pianist, he is best known as a composer of Americana. His Nationalism is shown to one extent or another in almost every major work quoting folk songs, hymns, and “scenes” of America’s culture. Among his well known works are El Salon Mexico, Billy the Kid, Quiet City, Fanfare for the Common Man, Lincoln Portrait, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, and The Red Pony (most of which I have been fortunate enough to perform). Stravinsky was his model, but Faure was his favorite composer and ( since one of his teachers was the great Nadia Boulanger) he greatly admired the French Impressionists and in particular, the members of Les Six (Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honneger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Telleferre). They were widely seen as reactionaries against Wagnerism and Impressionism, although they were closely tied to them. Copland was famous for “open” harmony, percussive orchestrations, changing meter, polyrhythms, polychords and even tone rows at times. He died of Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 90.
Honegger (1892-1955)-A member of Les Six, he was considered one of the prominent avant-gardists of the Twentieth Century utilizing bold rhythms, sometimes “violent energy”, bold colors and sharply dissonant harmonies. Much of his work is programmatic in nature and he made extensive use of short, striking melodies and strong ostinato rhythms. Among his more prominent works are Jeanne d’ Arc au Bucher (Joan of Arc at the stake), King David, five symphonies, Pacific 231, Horace Victorius and the Concertino for Piano and Orchestra.
Barber (1910-1981)-There is much more to Barber’s music than Adagio for Strings (originally a movement from a string quartet). He was the composer of orchestral, opera, choral and piano music as well. He was a child prodigy and entered the Curtis Institute at the age of 14. He apologized to his mother in a letter (at the age of nine) that he wanted to be a composer and not an athlete ( a great worry of his). Among his more interesting works are Music for a Scene from Shelley (based on “Prometheus Unbound”), The School for Scandal, Symphony in One Movement, The Violin Concerto and of course the very beautiful Adagio for Strings. His compositions made use of techniques including polytonality, atonality, twelve-tone technique, and even occasionally some Jazz. Also used in some music was a re-visiting of Neoclassicism.
Britten (1913-1976)-A conductor, violist and pianist, wrote many works for the stage including Paul Bunyon, Agamemnon, Peter Grimes, The Rape of Lucretia, The Beggar’s Opera (after John Gay), The Little Sweep and Billy Budd to mention but a few. He also wrote many choral works (many liturgical and some based on famous poetry), numerous solo songs and music for the radio. Among his orchestral works are Sinfonetta for Chamber Orchestra, Simple Symphony for Strings, A Piano Concerto, A Violin Concerto, An American Overture, A Cello Symphony (for his friend Rastropovich), Several String Quartets, Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury (which I have performed), three suites and numerous works for film. One of his best known works, A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (made to be an educational film in 1946) has a spoken narrative which is often omitted during concert performances. Perhaps his most daring piece is the War Requiem for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, orchestra, chamber orchestra, boy’s choir and organ (and we perform this where?)! His main influences were Stravinsky and Mahler, an interesting coupling.
• Contemporary Composers:-Check out their sites and music.
Alex Shapiro-Friday Harbor, WA., www.alexshapiro.org. A very talented composer, lecturer and article author who is becoming quite well known throughout the country and the world.
Mark Zuckerman-Roosevelt, NJ., www.mazicmusic.com. A Rutgers visiting Professor of Music studied with David Epstein, Elie Yardin, Milton Babbitt, J.K. Randall and Peter Westergaard on the way to his PHD. from Princeton.
Greg Bartholomew-Seattle, WA., www.gregbartholomew.com. Has had his choral and instrumental works performed throughout Canada, the USA and Australia. He holds degrees from William and Mary and the University of Washington.
Warren Furman-Montrose, PA., www.hitecharts.com. Modernistic electronic music with a lyrical quality.
James Cohn-Newark, NJ. A traditionalist with credentials dating back to Julliard in 1950. Studied with Roy Harris and Bernard Wagenaar.
Michelle Diehl-Sioux Falls, SD., www.michellediehl.org. Another young talented composer who is receiving invitations, commissions and performance opportunities throughout the USA. Much of her work is for strings.
Alain Mayrand-Burnaby, BC, Canada. www.alainmayrand.com. A well- rounded instrumentalist with a composing propensity for rhythm, expressiveness of melody and fun orchestral colors.
Rebecca Lloyd – New York, NY. www.rebeccalloyd.com. Has extensive film credits and connections all over the world. Her degrees are from schools in Australia and her work is high energy, rhythmic music ranging from common practice examples to experimental and even World Music of many cultures. She is a lady on the move!
• The persons mentioned above share the websites of Classical Lounge, (www.classicallounge.com) and/or Classical Matters (www.classicalmatters.com) designed by Terry Williams, a very talented and supportive classical music enthusiast) and are actively contributing to our world of classical music by composing interesting pieces in several different genres and styles. They are talented and energetic folks.
• Absolute Music, Program Music and Organized Sound: My works-
1) Absolute Music: Music for it’s own sake leads to listening for pleasure, mood, backgrounds to other media, at concerts, recitals and movie or video presentations. Traditional forms of previous eras (binary, ternary, rondo, sonata allegro, theme and variations, contrapuntal forms and song form (expanded ternary).
2) Programmatic Music:
Music that is tied to the written word can be poetic or can tell a story but can also be Liturgical or can be a larger work such as Opera or the Mass. In my music, it also may simply be descriptive of or generated by images.
3) Abstract or Experimental Music:
Widely explored in the Twentieth Century and still popular today in certain genres of modern composition, this music is, in my view, largely organized sound, sometimes generated by acoustic instruments, sometimes by electronic instruments and often using the electronic devices as the instrument itself rather than as a tool. (Random Music examples from my youth used a deck of cards, an alarm clock a guitar pick-up with a grand piano and often a reel to reel tape recorder).
• Organization of my works:
General techniques include a balance of unity and variety; traditional and experimental (see my blog on www.edwolfemusic.com “Tradition is a Key to Current Compositions); and finally acoustic and electronic. As I begin a new composition, I generally make a thematic outline of the work or movement with an approximate key (or at least tonal center) scheme. From this outline, a form for the piece or movement usually emerges. I try to write without the aid of a keyboard or other external device (to continue to train my ear and add a limitation on myself that will focus the work I have begun). Periodic checks on my piano or keyboard (if a figure is in doubt) will occur. In general I employ the following concepts:
1) Melody-May be consonant or dissonant; may exhibit tonality or a lack of tonality; and finally it may follow the accepted rules of melody writing (from the common practice period of composition) or deliberately relax or even destroy those rules; but may sometimes be serial (twelve-tone) or perhaps even have some elements of chance.
2) Harmony-Consonant or dissonant; tonal or not; traditional voice leading concepts but relaxed; triadic or modern; contrapuntal or point to point; perhaps some chance harmonies or clusters, even serial. (Usually, when my melody is tonal, the harmony is adventuresome and when the melody is dissonant, harmony tends to be more traditional. I also like the use of open intervals in chords, less often clusters).
3) Rhythm-Perhaps the most important component, it can be traditional or standardized with known meters and pulses using “tuplets”, “hemiola”, polyrhythms and sometimes sound layering. Sometimes “call and response” patterns are introduced as well as recalls, premonitions and quotes from other sources. (An analysis of rhythms to be used in my outline is often useful, and particularly in my choral works, a rhythm score based on the text is completed before even one note is written).
4) Form-I tend to stay close to established forms for my absolute music, but in the other two genres, the forms might be relaxed, linear, free or even non existent. (Rhythm and Form can be major components in adding unity to my works).
5) Orchestration-I make use of colors, groupings of sound, section work, solo work, instruments and voice, voice leading (appropriate to the ability of the instrument or voice and ranges of the instrument and voice) as well as transposition of ideas to other voices or instruments and seasonings of percussion. (Orchestration and arranging is really fun once you get the hang of it!).
6) Nuances- Dynamics, articulations, special effects, ornaments, changes in tempo and meter (and shifting accents) can bring a line to life. Here is an area of experimentation and even exploitation (with taste please).
• Program Music-How we observe our surroundings:
1) Snapshots-Think about how you see your world. Is it like mine; a series of perspectives and scenes with or without motion? Eyes move quickly from one scene to another mostly without “panning” (as a camera might in the motion pictures).
2) Deliberate panning eye movement-similar to a “movie or video” camera; a slow continues movement including a linear motion from one perspective to another.
3) Our other senses-touch, smell, taste, hearing and whatever “sixth sense” one might possess (or think one might possess). The concrete senses can, with imagination, lead to the production of a sound or sounds appropriate to the description of one’s surroundings and or feelings; a truly magical journey. Imagination is the key and a thorough understanding or command of your craft is the vehicle.
• “Teton Sketches”-Background:
Warren Gref (artistic director of the Golden Valley Music Society in Temecula, CA) and I first met when he came to the University of New Mexico as the new horn instructor. I was working on my M.M. degree in composition while teaching instrumental music in the Albuquerque Public Schools. (It was an interesting time in those days and Warren’s hair was shoulder length, my beard had disappeared and my mustache made me look rather dapper!…. (Ok, so I never looked dapper). As soon as I heard him perform, I knew that I had to have him in my brass quintet, so I re-formed the Albuquerque Brass Quintet (not to be confused with the New Mexico Brass Ensemble formed by James Whitlow in the 50’s and still in existence) and put together a library of music appropriate for educational presentations, weddings, church gigs and other concert settings. Playing in that group with Warren, Ray, Jeff and Evan was a highlight of my week each and every week. Warren and I left Albuquerque at approximately the same time; Warren and his wife Ann to perform in San Diego and I to teach in San Dimas. Those thirty years went by fairly quickly and along the way, Nancy (my wife) and I were privileged to have Warren and the San Diego Symphony Brass Quintet perform at our wedding ceremony in Simi Valley.
Upon my retirement last Spring, I began searching the web for “old” friends and found many of the folks I had known in my past including Johnny Cheetham, Ron Lipka, Sam Trimble and Warren Gref. When I e-mailed Warren, he asked, almost in passing, if I had any works for chamber orchestra. I did not, but quietly went to work on a project that I had wanted to write since our vacation to Yellowstone in 2002.
• The Project: Teton Sketches for “smallish” chamber orchestra.
My “visual representations” in the writing of my compositions, (heavily influenced by masters of programmatic music, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner), tend not to tell a story, but to describe snapshots or sketches of things that I observe in nature or in my “mind’s eye”. My masters thesis “Caverna” is a musical tour through Carlsbad Caverns in Southern New Mexico and has recently been re-scored for wind ensemble with the new title, “Formations”. With each new “snapshot” of a formation, melodic material, harmonic textures and instrumental timbers change. With the entire journey, one feels a movement from place to place with recollections of scenes that had been witnessed earlier in the tour as a unifying thread. So it was with “Teton Sketches” as well.
As my wife and I traveled across Utah, not much in the way of musical interest was occurring, but just North of Salt Lake City, there began to appear a line, just a purple trace of a rather impressive mountain range. The range was dark and far away. I had never been to Wyoming before and had no idea what musical treasures would emerge during the next three days. As we approached Jackson Hole, however, details of the grandeur and magnificence were everywhere. The range had acquired detail, icebergs, crevices, water falls, trees, boulders and wildlife. Jackson Hole itself was a trip! Western influence, Indian culture, wildlife taxidermy and, oh yes, antlers! Antlers were everywhere…entryways to parks, arches above doorways, trophies on the walls and sold in the stores!
The ride to the top on the tramway was spectacular and the view of Jackson Hole and the surrounding valley from the peak was grand indeed. No wonder these youngest of all mountain ranges, the Cascades were called the Grand Tetons! What majesty, what power, but, I digress…
In this setting, the mind races and the creative juices flow. I was taking mental “snapshots” (as well as filmed ones) freely. The next day we arrived at “the lodge”. The lobby was huge! The bar was huge! The rooms were huge, but nothing compared with the view. You see, the entire Western wall of the lodge was a window, a panoramic view of miles and miles of majestic mountains! The lobby had comfortable chairs and lounges (all facing West) and the bar next to the lobby had a continuation of the window with the opportunity to sit at tables (facing West). Just outside was a massive patio with chairs, tables and lounges (most of which were facing West). And just to the West of the patio was…the lake! And what a lake it was. It seemed to run into and bump the mountain itself. It was huge with birds…thousands of them… and people…thousands of them!
One cannot help remembering our American History and the buffalo hunters, the trappers, Bill Cody, the cowboys and Indians of our youth who now had become “western folk” and “Native Americans”. Tourists were busily snapping pictures of everything. But I (people stared strangely) was drawing staff lines on a piece of tablet borrowed from the bar tender (my manuscript tools were in my luggage) and there was not a moment to waste. I had to get some melodic material down. So, there I sat. At the bar with my diet Coke writing melodies and annotating visual impressions while people stared, shook their heads, and put in a new roll of 35 MM film!
• The Music:
The themes written and an outline of the form noted, we moved on to Yellowstone with my visual “snapshots” filed away in my “mind’s eye” for viewing another day. When Warren asked about my work for a “smallish” chamber orchestra, I looked through my notes of unfinished works and the melodies of that previous visualization leapt off the pages of that now yellow tablet with the hand drawn staves. I set about putting it together. I now had the tools to work at a quicker pace than “in the old days”. My software and new MAC took the place of my Osmiroid pen and onion skin paper. No more blueprints were required. I would just use my printer!
The introduction was easy: a dark image of a distant group of mountains outlined against a clear blue sky…”purple mountain’s majesty” and all that. The emergence of detail gave rise to the movement of the wildlife (seen and imagined) and the imitations of the fugue-ette began to emerge. Bill Cody was leading expeditions to fight the “Native Americans”. Fur trappers were hiking into the mountain passes to avoid the law. The “Native Americans” were dealing with the trappers in their own unique way, and plotted against the “western folk”. Yep, each snapshot was clear. Majestic formations kept getting in the way. Trumpet and horn fanfares crept into the serene string passages almost abruptly and seemingly out of place. The darkness of the night gave rise to dark keys (seven flats instead of five sharps with adjusted tendency tuning of the musicians on their instruments…that would do the trick!). The dance of the “folks” in the town halls of nearby towns at twilight and into the evening, (but an uneven, not polished dance) filled the night air with excitement and merriment. No formality here. Just plain folks having a good time and, yes momentary recall of previous “snapshots”. That’s the ticket! That’s “Teton Sketches”.
• Questions and Answers-(I will stay as long as you wish).
-Ed Wolfe, 2008
Tradition, an option for my original compositions, has been observed, modified, copied or most recently overlooked by the modern composer. Drawing inspiration, ideas and formal content from composers of the common practice period and before enables the modern composer to combine the very best practices of the past with the innovations and technological advances of the present. Music, as it evolved, generally fell into one of two types: absolute music (music for its own sake) and program music (music tied to the printed word).
These two types of music evolved into the myriad forms we have observed, listened to and written over the many centuries of “published” or “performed” selections. The forms of absolute music are well known from the sonata to the concerto through the many genres of chamber music to the symphonic work and more recently to the band and electronic instruments of today and the recent past.
Program music, however, infinitely more complex, traditionally dealt with some form of text, whether it be liturgical, poetic, narrative, dramatic or imagined! Program music, dating back to the beginnings of the written word itself, came into its own in the Romantic Period (although Beethoven used elements of it even in his symphonic works) through the use of solo songs, liturgical settings and opera. The culmination of program music as we have come to recognize it might be considered to be the operatic works of Wagner and later the tone poems of Richard Strauss, although this over simplification is merely an example of the thousands of programmatic works in different genres available to the audiences of the common practice period from the Baroque to the Impressionists.
During the Twentieth Century, much attention was paid to expanding the harmonization and creation of melody. Dissonance became more the norm than the exception. With the exception of the French Impressionists who took Romanticism to a whole different level, absolute music and program music moved away from the traditional forms, tonalities and harmonic progressions of the common practice period and moved towards experimental ism, destruction of tonality and even collages of sound that shattered the traditional concepts of concert music as it had evolved (as well as sometimes shattering the fragile ear of the listener and the interest of the concert goer!). Neoclassicism of the early Twentieth Century brought some aspects of tradition back in the forms produced and the concept of tonality (used now more often as a movement towards a key center rather than the use of key schemes with progression in the traditional sense). The Expressionists, the Serialists, the Neoclassicists, the Experimentalists, all searching for that style that would give to their listener a different approach and a new direction, also contributed to the rise of popular music and the evacuation of the concert hall to the large venues seen in the last fifty years at rock concerts, jazz concerts and folk concerts. The classical concert hall seemed to be attended by the musically elite, the wealthy or the socially well-heeled. A sense of tradition seemed to be lost and an alienation of our audiences seemed to be taking place.
How then, can we reach out to our audiences? A return to tradition while using the best practices of the composers of the past including the outstanding composers of the Twentieth Century seems to be in order. In my music, there is a conscious effort to use traditional forms, recognizable forms, that could be as simple as Binary or as complex as the Sonata Allegro form or Theme and Variations or even Arch form. By placing formal limitations on my compositions, my challenge, much like the explanation offered by Paul Hindemith, becomes one of creating new material with interest for the listener and still expressing the absolute or programmatic music effects desired. It is my opinion (like Russ Garcia) that rhythm is a unifying factor and a factor that can and should add interest to the music being written, In addition, much like a comment made by Vaclav Nelhyble in May of 1967 (during one of my Form and Composition classes) that “present day composition is undefinable….largely imitative of known composers…with offbeat trends being called music…that there was not enough traditional material in these composers…that Electronic Music was tailored to the musically illiterate and, finally that Twelve Tone music is much the same…anyone can write it!” He continued to say that “tradition can not be destroyed because we are born with it and that ears are not made for quarter tone music”
These comments, although extreme to be sure, left an impression on a young Ed Wolfe and the evolution of my original works have made use of Twentieth Century techniques like Serialism, Minimalism, Impressionism and many other “isms” but always within a concept of traditional forms or self imposed constraints like tonality and/or modality schemes. Melody might be twelve tone, for example with triadic or open (chords of the P4th or P5th) harmony as in the “Sonata for Oboe” or traditional modality as in “Modal Moods”. But the larger forms like “Teton Sketches” and “Formations” are definitely programatic in nature (with nature being the key word). They are not based on the printed word as in Impressionism nor do they minimize the composer’s importance as in Expressionism. Instead, they are snapshots. Think about how we observe our surroundings on a daily basis. As we turn our head, our view immediately changes to a new snapshot with a different subject or view. We do not often “pan” slowly from one angle to another much like the video or movie camera and, even though our view might have motion as we look at it, when we move our eyes or head, a new snapshot appears with a different view (with or without motion). So it is in my larger works, “Caverna”, a musical tour of Carlsbad Caverns in Southern New Mexico was written for full orchestra and is a succession of musical snapshots as I progressed through the cave. Most of the tourists were shooting picture after picture with their flash cameras as each new formation appeared. I, on the other hand was writing down melodies and potential key scheme outlines on manuscript paper. I must tell you, there were some curious stares from those avid photographers!
“Teton Sketches” is a journey from Northern Utah through the Teton Range and ending at Yellowstone. Most of the piece was written while sitting at the lodge and viewing the range through the largest picture window I had ever seen!
So, my music is a synthesis of the traditional forms of the common practice period along with the traditional and nontraditional harmonic concepts of the Twentieth Century and earlier and perhaps most importantly, it is not music that can only be understood by me, my family, my private students or my “clique” as in much of the music of the Twentieth Century. Hopefully it is music that can be understood by concert goers and web listeners all around the world, That is the goal. That is the tradition.