Henry Brant’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
Pulitzer prize-winning composer Henry Brant has made significant contributions to American contemporary music throughout his career. His Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, written during Brant’s Americana and Satire period, re-interprets the style and rhythms of jazz and folk music to create a work that speaks to all audiences. In a similar fashion to Brant’s teacher and mentor Aaron Copland, the work is deceptive in its melodic simplicity while presenting challenges to both the soloist and orchestra. In fact, the Concerto’s use of innovative techniques such as slap-tongue, flutter-tongue and extended altissimo made the work virtually unplayable by most for nearly fifty years with the exception of the saxophone virtuoso Sigurd Rascher for whom the Concerto was written. This fact led the composer to publish an alternate chamber version, leaving the original in relative obscurity.
Although many saxophonists have approached Brant in recent years about performing the original orchestral version, Dr. Noah Getz was the first to be granted a performance with orchestra since Rascher’s last performance in 1953. During hours of interviews and lessons, Brant communicated the meaning of the work to Dr. Getz. This thorough knowledge of the Concerto allows Dr. Getz to perform the work with a clear understanding of the stylistic intentions of the composer. Important both for its musical artistry and cultural legacy, Henry Brant’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra will challenge and delight both orchestra members and audiences.
Dr. Henry Brant is one of the few surviving members of the Young Composers Group. Led by Aaron Copland during the early 1930’s, the group was a veritable think tank of the most prominent emerging musical talents in New York City. While each had their own distinct style, one trend emerged that would have lasting effects on the cultural and musical heritage of the United States. This trend would use the folk music of the United States as its inspiration and musical material. While not a new idea in European Art Music (Composers such as Bartok, Stravinsky and Dvorak had incorporated folk music from their native countries throughout the beginning of the 20 th century to create some of their most important and enduring works) it would prove to be the path that led to one of America’s most important contributions to art music in the 20 th century. The most famous examples were written by their mentor, Aaron Copland, and included works such as Rodeo, Appalachian Spring and Fanfare for the Common Man . Brant, the youngest member of the group, wrote concertos incorporating Americana that pre-dated most of these compositions. Brant’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, written at the height of this movement, is an excellent example of a work that successfully uses American folk music for inspiration. Recorded interviews with Brant reveal a highly articulate and innovative advocate of American Music who speaks about the Concerto at length and provides a picture of the musical and artistic environment that was the source of this important music.
While many know Copland’s Americana works through numerous recordings and frequent use in movies and television, few know the broader context that allowed these works to be created. This American musical legacy must be passed to future generations. Creating a recording of Brant’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra and including excerpts of the Brant interviews and musical examples illustrating musical Americana will shed light on this important musical innovation. Henry Brant has requested my involvement in bringing this work to a larger audience through performances and this recording project.
Letter of Recommendation
To Whom it May Concern:
This is to confirm that Noah Getz has studied my Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra intensively under my guidance, during 2001, that I consider him fully capable of performing it at the highest level of excellence, and that I recommend him as a soloist of the first rank in this work whenever the occasion may arise.
Santa Barbara , California
Henry Brant Biography
Henry Brant, America’s pioneer explorer and practitioner of 20th Century spatial music, was born in Montreal in 1913 of American parents and began to compose at the age of eight. In 1929 he moved to New York where for the next 20 years he composed and conducted for radio, films, ballet and jazz groups, at the same time composing experimentally for the concert hall. From 1947 to 1955 he taught orchestration and conducted ensembles at Juilliard School and Columbia University. At Bennington College, from 1957 to 1980, he taught composition; and every year he presented premieres of orchestral and choral works by living composers. Since 1981 Brant has made his home in Santa Barbara, California.
In 1950 Brant began to write spatial music in which the planned positioning of the performers throughout the hall, as well as on stage, is an essential factor in the composing scheme. This procedure, which limits and defines the contrasted music assigned to each performing group, takes as its point of departure the ideas of Charles Ives. Brant’s principal works since 1950 are all spatial; his catalogue now comprises nearly 100 such works, each for a different instrumentation, each requiring a different spatial deployment in the hall, and with maximum distances between groups prescribed in every case. All of Brant’s spatial works have been commissioned.
Brant’s spatial music has been widely performed and recorded in the U.S. and Europe, and his long career has been recognized by numerous awards and honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Prix Italia (which he was the first American composer to win), the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction, election to the American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters, and Mayor Kevin White’s official proclamation making March 7-11, 1983 a Henry Brant Week in Boston. In June 1984, the Holland Festival presented a special week of 10 all-Brant retrospective concerts. Brant received an ASCAP/NISSIM Award in 1985, A Fromm Foundation grant in 1989, and a Koussevitzky Foundation award in 1995. In May 1998, The Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel acquired Brant's complete archive of original manuscripts including over 300 of his works. Brant received the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Wesleyan University in September 1998.
In recent years Brant’s spatial music has explored wider areas and larger performing forces: Orbits (1979) for 80 trombones and organ; Meteor Farm (1982), a multicultural work for expanded orchestra, two choirs, jazz band, gamelan ensemble, African drummers/singers and South Indian soloists (each group retaining unaltered its traditional music); Western Springs (1983) for two orchestras, two choruses and two jazz bands; and Fire on the Amstel (1984) for four boatloads of 25 flutes each, four jazz drummers, four church carillons, three brass bands and four street organs’a three-hour aquatic procession through the canals in the center of Amsterdam. These and many subsequent large works deal with environmental subjects, as does Desert Forests (1985) for multiple orchestral groups; and Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities (1986), which deployed two choirs, orchestra, jazz band, large wind ensemble, large percussion ensemble, five pianos, bagpipe band and five solo singers throughout a sports arena in St. Paul, Minnesota. Brant’s expanded Millennium 2 (1988) calls for a 35-piece brass orchestra, jazz combo, percussion ensemble, gospel choir, gamelan ensemble, bluegrass group, boy’s choir, three pianos, organ and ten vocal soloists.
In October 1994, Cultuurcentrum De Oosterpoort in Groningen, Holland, presented Brant in Nederland, a 7-hour ‘marathon’ of all-Brant concerts, comprising 22 works both spatial and non-spatial composed over a 60-year span including: Angels and Devils (1931), Origins (1952), Orbits (1979), Litany of Tides (1983), and the premiere of Trajectory (1994). The last-named presents acoustic, spatial, independent music for concert/theatrical performance simultaneous with an abstract silent film. All the concerts were broadcast live by VPRO Radio. Also in 1994 Henry Brant completed A Concord Symphony, his orchestration of Ives’s Concord Sonata, a project begun in 1958. He conducted its premiere in Ottawa in June 1995. Dormant Craters (1995) for percussion orchestra was conducted by Brant at an outdoor premiere in Lincoln Center, New York in August 1995.
Brant’s Plowshares and Swords (1995), for orchestra spatially deployed throughout Carnegie Hall, and with a separate part for each player, received its premiere in February 1996. At the same concert, Brant conducted A Concord Symphony in its American premiere.
A 1997 spatial work, Festive Eighty, commissioned by the Goldman Memorial Band of New York, had its first performance in Central Park in July 1997. Brant shared the conducting with the Band’s music director, Gene Young. In Vienna’s Musikverein, Dennis Russell Davies conducted the Vienna Radio Orchestra in the premiere of Brant’s completion of Schubert’s B minor Symphony on October 14, 1997, and the first European hearing of the Ives-Brant A Concord Symphony, on October 21. Brant himself conducted the October 1997 concert of the die reihe ensemble in Vienna, presenting his Homage to Ives (1975) and The Glass Pyramid (1980). In November 1997 the San Francisco Other Minds Festival programmed Brant’s Homeless People. This 1993 work, a premiere, placed members of a string quartet in the four corners of the hall, with Brant on stage playing directly on the piano strings, and an accordionist stationed in the center of the hall.
Brant’s 1998 activities included two premieres. Four Traumatics (1942) was performed by pianist Neely Bruce of Wesleyan University at an all-Brant’s concert honoring the composer on his 85th birthday. And Common Interests (1998) an instant music composition for the OPUS415 Marathon in San Francisco, mobilized eight ensembles into the concert’s grand finale.
In 1999 Brant completed Mergers, a symphonic narrative for five orchestral groups, organ and two singers, requiring five conductors. Also in 1999 the large-scale, multicultural work, Meteor Farm (1982) received its European premiere at Dartington Hall, England.
Prophets (2000) for four cantors and a shofar player received its premiere at the Uilenberger Synagogue in Amsterdam in April 2000. Glossary (2000), a Continental Harmony commission in celebration of the new millennium, was premiered in Santa Cruz, California on May 13, 2000. Glossary is scored for voice and twelve instruments (its text, by Henry Brant, is a glossary of computer terminology.)
Brant won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his orchestral work, Ice Field’Spatial Narratives for Large and Small Orchestral Groups, commissioned for Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony by ‘Other Minds’ (a San Francisco-based organization devoted to promoting the music of innovative composers), with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Multi-Arts Production Fund. The world premiere took place on December 12, 2001 in Davies Hall, home of the San Francisco Symphony. The size of the orchestra called for is large but fairly conventional. However, two conductors are called for to coordinate the instrumental forces, which are arrayed on the stage and at specific places throughout the hall. The work also calls for a large pipe organ with a 32 foot stop (and preferably a 64 foot stop as well). The organ part, which is intended to be improvised, was performed by the composer at the premiere. As with most of Henry Brant’s large works for orchestra, Ice Field was tailored to the expressive spatial possibilities of the space where the work would be first performed, Davies Symphony Hall. But experience has taught that it will work well in any suitably large concert venue. The work’s title is related to an experience Brant had in 1926, when he was just twelve years old, on a transatlantic voyage to Europe with his family. The ship spent one whole day passing through a field of icebergs. Says Brant: "I claim that the memory of that experience is reflected in Ice Field, but it’s only a title. I was thinking about this when I started to write it, but the idea of trying to depict an iceberg in sound is something I wouldn’t want to attempt."
The following is excerpted from The New Grove Dictionary of American Music:
Brant’s early published music shows marked contrasts in style from work to work and a pronounced interest in unusual timbral combinations. Angels and Devils (1931, revised in 1956 and 1979) is a concerto for flute with ten members of the flute family. Brant has continued to explore timbre in such works as Origins (1952) a percussion symphony, and Orbits (1979), which requires 80 trombones in individual parts. A far-reaching innovation came in 1953 with the performance of Antiphony 1 for five widely separated orchestral groups positioned in the auditorium and on stage. This example of ‘spatial music’ predated Stockhausen’s Gruppen by five years. Unlike Stockhausen, however, Brant followed and expanded Ives’s concepts of stylistic contrast and spatial separation. In Antiphony 1 and almost all of Brant’s subsequent spatial works each group is assigned music quite unrelated in timbre, texture, and style to that of other groups. Rhythmic coordination is maintained within each ensemble, often by conductors, but in order to allow for possible time lags in the hall, Brant has devised procedures to permit overall non-coordination within controlled limits. These and similar techniques are employed in The Grand Universal Circus (1956), which presents simultaneous contrasted musical and dramatic events throughout the entire theatre area, and Voyage Four (1963), a ‘total antiphony’ in which musicians are located on the back and side walls and under the auditorium floor, as well as on stage.
Brant wrote that in 1950 he had ‘come to feel that single-style music...could no longer evoke the new stresses, layered insanities, and multi-directional assaults of contemporary life on the spirit.’ His use of space became central to his conception of a polystylistic music, and his experiments have convinced him that space exerts specific influences on harmony, polyphony, texture, and timbre. He regards space as music’s ‘fourth dimension,’ (the other three being pitch, measurement of time, and timbre)...Although Brant continues to experiment with new combinations of acoustic timbres, he does not use electronic materials or permit amplification in his music. (www.carlfischer.com/brantbio.html)
Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra -Henry Brant
Recorded live in 2002 with Noah Getz and the Florida State University Philharmonia