Saturday, September 22, 2007

In the beginning

One of the more exotic pieces of music being performed this season by the Seattle Symphony is a collaborative work called the Genesis Suite.  The story of the work's creation, demise, and restoration is involved.  In the shortened version, Nathaniel Shilkret floated the idea of doing a piece inspired by the Bible to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Castelunovo-Tedsco confessed his interest in doing the same.  Castelunovo-Tedesco asked his friend Ernst Toch to compose a section, and so on before seven of the most well known composers of the day were all working on their own part of the work.  The Genesis Suite was premiered in 1945 and recorded shortly thereafter. 

Soon after, a fire at Shilkret's house destroyed essential parts of the work, dashing any hope that the music might be performed or recorded again. 

Of course, then the Milken Archive learned about this work and set out to bring it back.  Voila, there you have it.     

Earlier this summer, I took a chance on the Genesis Suite as part of one of my E-Music downloading excursions.  This decision to download this reconstructed piece seems providential as it was shortly thereafter I discovered the Seattle Symphony would be performing the piece as part of its 2007/2008 season.

Musically, the piece is interesting enough but nothing exceptional.  To me, the work seems important for its historical qualities.  It is the only known project rivals Schoenberg and Stravinsky worked on together.  It also showcases a diverse collection of compositional talent.  From a historical standpoint, nearly every contributing composer is Jewish (with the exception of Stravinsky), most fled Europe as anti-Semitism and German hostility grew.  

This work leaves me wondering how Europe's music might have developed had these prominent voices remained in Europe and had WWII not created a post-war challenge for composers seeking new ways to communicate through music.  But I am also left wondering how American music would have developed.  America's music voice was shaped by immigrant composers.  Valid reasons for including the work in a season focusing on the work of immigrant composers.  

Yet, the work seems more a novelty than a work destined to become widely performed. 

I suppose, given this novelty, it is well suited to a dramatic staging like the one being done in Seattle.  Seattle artist Dale Chihuly will be providing visuals for the performance of the Genesis Suite, much as he did last year for the staged performance of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle.  On commission, Chihuly provided breathtaking blown, glass sculptures of what waited behind each door.  The sculptures provided extra-musical stimulation for what would have been an otherwise ordinary staged performance of Bartok's rarely performed opera.   



Anonymous said...

The glass sculptures are quite beautiful and dramatic. That must have been fun to see.

dpaste said...

Well Zach, I gave it a shot, but your site's not for me even though I like classical music. I just don't like it enough to read about it in detail. Give James a smooch for me.

Anonymous said...

Enjoying the blog, Zack. Thanks.

Just to be accurate, Dale Chihuly is from Tacoma, not Seattle. :-)

Anyway, enjoy the Northwest classical music scene, and keep up the interesting blog.