- Two sets of percussion parts are provided in the rental parts: six for the non-stereophonic version and eight for the stereophonic version. See placement diagram in the score.
The general character of my Concerto for Orchestra, which the New York Philharmonic Society commissioned for its 125th anniversary, was suggested by the Nobel prize-winning poem Vents (“Winds”) by the French poet who calls himself St. John Perse. The poem had attracted me by its expansive, almost Whitmanesque, descriptions of a United States constantly swept by forces like winds, forces that are always transforming, remolding, or obliterating the past and introducing the fresh and the new. In the course of the poem many such changes are described, as, for instance, winds that disintegrate and blow away the meaningless husks of past season – of “hommes de paille” – and scatter seeds and moisture for the next season. From time to time a shaman is invoked who magically encourages the words of the winds, and the poet himself speaks in a prophetic voice.
But Perse’s poem only served as a point of departure, for as I worked on this Concerto, the music naturally began to take precedence over the poem and I began to find Perse’s poetic tone, especially his, to me, rather contrived primitivism, did not correspond to the tone of the work that was taking shape and so I took no further thought of the poem after a certain point and followed the musical conceptions the work seemed to impose on me.
In a piece that deals primarily with the poetry of change, transformations, reorientation of feelings and thoughts, and gradual shifts of emphases as do most of my works and in particular this one, the matter of succession of material becomes very important, since how the ideas are formed and how they are related and connected gives expression to the poetry they evoke. Thus the individual instant, the characterized sound or brief passage, like trees in a storm, gain an added meaning by their contexts. In this piece four movements interpenetrate each other throughout. Each movement comes into focus against a background of the other three. Each, of course, has its own character, sound and development during the entire length of the piece.
Hence to call these four movements by number is somewhat misleading, since the largest statement of each, which comes in the order described, is counter pointed or interrupted by more or less extended fragments of the others. The first movement, which emerged from one of the layers of music heard at the beginning, features the cello section (sometimes divided in to as many as seven different soloists, as are all the strings) piano harp, marimba, xylophone and wooden percussion. It centers around the lower middle register and is in a moderately fast speed throughout the work. The second movement features high strings, high winds and metallic percussion, and started very fast and lightly and bit by bit becomes slower over the whole work. The third features the double basses, tuba, horns, timpani and other low-pitched instruments and keeps to its recitative-like character. The forth features the violas, oboes, trumpets, snare drums and other medium high instruments and starts with slow fragments that become faster as the work progresses until it expands into a rapid conclusion. As with all my works, the primary intention is expressive and the entire musical vocabulary, instrumentation and form have been chosen to further this. I do not espouse any of the present aesthetic point of view consciously and this score is a continuation of the musical thinking that has always been present in my compositions and that characterizes all of them, especially from my Piano Sonata (1945) or my Piano Concerto (1965).
I am told, the line of continuity of my works is very definite, so much so that it would be hard to situate them in relation to the various musical trends that have come and gone during the past 20 years. For instance, the “serialissm” prevalent here and in the 20’s and 30’s was influenced but the Schoenberg school, Ives, Varese, Ruggles, Crawford, Sciabin, and Roselavetz, all of whom had certain tendencies in that direction.
In fact, I was very much interested in the avant-garde in the 20’s and 30’s with its random, its collages, its fun and games with audiences and its artistic paradoxes, and have felt that the cause was won then and did not need to be repeated again. The next step had to be taken and this is what I have tried to do in so far as my works can be said to adopt any aesthetic position, for I have been more concerned with the works than in the aesthetic they represent.
Concerto for Orchestra