Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prelude, Fugue, Riffs, and FBI Files

Today would be Leonard Bernstein's 95th birthday if he were still alive (H/T to Adam Bear). As described on Wikipedia:
Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history."

His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.
To celebrate this day, I will share a recording of a piece I first heard when I was in junior high school: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949). The All Music Guide to Classical Music offers this description:
Prelude, Fugue and Riffs is scored for a standard dance-band instrumentation of solo clarinet, saxes and trumpets in fives, four trombones, piano, string bass, and drums, to which Bernstein adds a second percussion part. It is one of the most frequently performed of Bernstein's shorter concert works, and has been widely embraced by wind ensembles in particular. While it was intended as a sort of crossover piece that combines jazz and classical elements, the material in Prelude, Fugue and Riffs leans more heavily in favor of the jazz aspect. Stravinsky's jazz-inspired music is an obvious point of reference for this work, and the similarity is felt most strongly in the opening Prelude, scored for the brass. This is followed by the Fugue for the saxes. In the Riffs section the solo clarinet is heard over the whole ensemble, which concludes with a riff reminiscent of Count Basie and of Kansas City-style ensemble jamming.
And with that out of the way, here is the recording (also H/T to Adam Bear):

If you now desire to learn more about Bernstein and are deeply suspicious of musicians, perhaps you will enjoy perusing the more than 500 pages of FBI files on him here which begin the same year Prelude, Fugue and Riffs was finished. They reflect another side of American life during the middle of the twentieth century.

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