Yeah, yeah, I bet EVERYBODY’s blogged this one… But I just gotta get on that bandwagon, too! 🙂
Of course, I’m talking about John Williams‘ Air and Simple Gifts composed for and performed at Obama’s inaguration yesterday. The musicians? The venerable Anthony McGill on clarinet, Itzhak Perlman on violin, Yo-Yo Ma on cello (who was also asked by the inauguration committee to organize the performance), and Gabriela Montero on piano.
It’s a beautiful piece, no doubt – the instrumentation reminding me (and lots of others) of Messiaen‘s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, of course, and then my mind instantly turning to Copland‘s Appalachian Spring with the entrance of Simple Gifts in the clarinet. Which, it turns out, was done intentionally; and here I thought I was being clever. 🙂
Williams quotes that passage almost verbatim, and goes on to put the hymn tune through a very Coplandesque treatment before bringing the mood back down to earth with the opening material.
Although Williams chose to use the Copland material because President Obama counts that composer among his classical favorites, there’s another significant point here. In 1953, a pre-inaugural concert by the National Symphony Orchestra at Constitution Hall, a concert attended by then president-elect Eisenhower, was to have included a performance of one of Copland’s most popular works, A Lincoln Portrait. But a Republican congressman (from Illinois, by the way) objected, suggesting that Copland was too liberal and maybe even Communist-friendly, so the piece was pulled from the concert. Inserting the touch of Copland into the Obama inauguration, Williams told Variety last week, offers “a completed circle of events that is nice to think about.”
Without further ado, here is the video, and, if that’s not enough, you may download the mp3 file here!