Home » Events » Symphony San Jose presents American Masters: Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, Ellington

Symphony San Jose (Public Domain)
MUSIC: Four composers, whose works defined America in the ‘30s and ‘40s, come together on one grand program: Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, and Ellington.

Symphony San Jose presents American Masters: Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, Ellington

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Date(s) - 04/03/2022
2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

San Jose Center for the Performing Arts


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Four composers, whose works defined America in the ‘30s and ‘40s, come together on one grand program: George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Duke Ellington.

Copland’s expansive, optimistic Appalachian Spring became known as “the quintessential American sound.” In fact, all four composers could stake that claim. Gershwin and Bernstein each gave us a brilliant mix of symphonic music, jazz and Broadway. And Duke Ellington’s stunning reflection on Black history from slavery to the Harlem Renaissance is considered one of the greatest examples of long-form jazz. Drawing on the blues, soaring gospel music, work songs, swing, and more, Ellington created an all-American orchestral masterpiece.

Concert Program

NOTE: Long-form Jazz – The rich legacy of Duke Ellington, one of America’s most prolific composers, Duke Ellington is credited with over a thousand works. He often called them ‘American Music’ rather than jazz. Ellington’s 30-year collaboration with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn produced not only countless songs but several long-form compositions – suites more at home in concert halls than in, say, Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. The greatest of these is Black, Brown and Beige.

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IMAGE courtesy of Symphony San Jose (Public Domain)

One comment

  1. Lee Kopp says:

    Some edited playbill notes on the January 22 program:
    George Gershwin wrote An American In Paris after a visit to France and it premiered at Carnegie Hall on Dec 13, 1928. He achieved early success as one of the most brilliant songwriters on Broadway, but had more ambitious dreams. He aspired to be recognized as a serious classical composer, but felt that American classical music had to incorporate elements of jazz in order to find a distinctive national voice. Rhapsody in Blue was Gershwin’s first step in that direction, followed by the Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and finally, Porgy and Bess. The opening jaunty section of American in Paris is in the typical French style in the manner of Debussy followed by a rich “blues” which is more intense and simple than the predeeding.

    Aaron Copland wrote Appalachian Spring for choreographer Matha Graham based on “The Dance”, a section of a poem by Hart Crane. In the original context of the poem, “spring” was meant as a source of water, not a season. Copland had written two earlier ballets on American themes (Billy the Kid and Rodeo); Appalachian Spring is different from its predecessors in that its mood is gentle and lyrical from beginning to end. Copland received the Pulitzer Prize in music for Appalachian Spring in 1945. The various musical sections are contrasted in tempo and character based on simple scales and triads with a folksy feeling of square dances and country fiddlers, unison strings of sentiment and religious tones, variations on a Shaker theme sung by a solo clarinet, and a suite based on the Shaker melody “Simple Gifts.” All blend together in a score with a remarkable sense of unity and an aura of peace and love.

    Leonard Bernstein’s fame in writing Broadway shows grew simultaneously with his career as a classical conductor and concert composer. The ease with which he moved back and forth between popular and serious music set him apart from contemporaries in either field. Bernstein wrote the hit musical On the Town in 1944 at age 26. Dissonances that one would think are at home only in classical music blend easily with dynamic, jazz-influenced musical idioms. The Three Dance Episodes in the program are based on the songs, “New York, New York/The Great Lover”, “Lonely Town”, and “I Get Carried Away/Times Square 1944”.

    Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was widely recognized by the 1940s as one of the greatest jazz musicians in the United States. He first made his name with short numbers such as “Take the A Train”, “Sophisticated Lady”, and “In a Sentimental Mood”, but he always had the ambition to compose more extended works. His landmark work, “Black, Brown and Beige” was introduced at Ellington’s Carnegie Hall debut in 1943. It marked his transition from the jazz clubs to the concert hall. The composer called his work a three-movement jazz symphony, a “tone parallel”, meaning that it “paralleled” an extra-musical idea–namely the history of African-Americans from slvery to freedom, and their important contributions to American history and society. Ellington himself considered it one of his most important works. In the words of Wynton Marsalis:; “It sits alone in the history of jazz.”

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