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Classical Music

Music In The Making: Soldiers’ Songs

Featuring works by Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Paul Hindemith, and Charles Ives.


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On this week's episode of Music in the Making, we're honoring Memorial Day by featuring music written by soldiers and about soldiers.

Ralph Vaughan-Williams- "English Folk Song Suite," arranged for orchestra by Gordon Jacobs
Moores School Symphony Orchestra; James Keene, conductor
Moores Opera House

Ralph Vaughan-Williams in 1915

Our first selection is by English composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Artillery during World War I. Vaughan-William was also an enthusiastic collector of folk music, and incorporated many beloved tunes into his own compositions. His "English Folk Song Suite" features numerous examples, and consists of three movements: March, Intermezzo, and a second March. The work clearly displays his love of country, and perhaps recalls his wartime experiences in its orchestration for military band. Gordon Jacobs, a student of Vaughan-Williams, produced the orchestral arrangement heard here.

Paul Hindemith-Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 11 No. 4
Lawrence Wheeler, viola; Sohyoung Park, piano
Moores Opera House

Hindemith’s quartet of fellow soldiers

The next work is from the German composer Paul Hindemith, who also fought in the First World War. Conscripted in 1917 when he was only twenty-two years old, Hindemith continued to compose and play during the war, even forming a string quartet with his fellow soldiers. Of his experience, he later wrote, "Music reached out beyond political boundaries, national hatred and the horrors of war." The Sonata for Viola and Piano was written shortly after the war ended, in 1919. Hindemith indicates that the second movement, "Theme and Variations," should be played "like a folksong." Unlike Vaughan-Williams, however, Hindemith does not quote a specific melody, allowing the movement to be reminiscent of anyone's home.

Charles Ives-Three Places in New England
Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra; Larry Rachleff, conductor
Stude Concert Hall

Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment
United States National Park Service
Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment

Charles Ives is famous for quoting and paraphrasing popular melodies, many of which you'll hear in "Three Places from New England." Each movement depicts a specific location at a particular point in time. The first, The "Saint-Gaudens" in Boston Common, refers to a Civil War memorial erected in honor of the first all-black regiment to serve in the Union. Contemporaneous popular songs, such as "Marching through Georgia," and "The Battle Cry of Freedom," are woven throughout. In the second, titled Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut, Ives imagines a Fourth of July celebration held at this historic site. During the festivities, a little boy daydreams about the soldiers of the Revolutionary War who once camped there. This movement includes many more familiar tunes, including an altered rendition of the national anthem. Finally, The Housatonic at Stockbridge recreates the atmosphere of the banks of the Housatonic River, and includes hymns heard from a distant church.

This episode originally aired Sunday, May 29th, 2016. Catch Music in the Making every Sunday at 7:06 PM on Classical.