Composers Datebook®

Opposite-coast bouquets and brickbats for Weill and Sessions

Roger Sessions (1896-1985) — Symphony No. 2 (San Francisco Symphony; Herbert Blomstedt, cond.) London 443 376 Kurt Weill (1900-1950) — Act 1 Intro, from Street Scene (Scottish Opera Orchestra; John Mauceri, cond.) London 433 371


Composer's Datebook - January 9, 2022

2:00


January 09, 2022

Synopsis

On this day in 1947, Pierre Monteux led the San Francisco Symphony in the premiere performance of the Second Symphony by American composer Roger Sessions. Prior to this work, Sessions had written in a more broadly accessible style, but this new symphony proved more dissonant and challenging. At the time, Sessions cautiously stated: “Tonality is complex and even problematical nowadays.” For their part, the San Francisco audiences found the new work both complex AND problematical. There was hardly any applause. Musical America’s critic wrote that Sessions (quote): “seemed to express the epitome of all that is worst in the life and thinking of today.”

Ouch!  Today, the Sessions Second doesn’t sound ALL that challenging, but performances of this or any of his symphonies remain rare events.

While Sessions’ symphony was being panned in San Francisco, a new stage work by the expatriate German composer Kurt Weill opened to rave reviews in New York. Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” opened on Broadway on this same date in 1947. “[It’s] the best contemporary musical production to grace any American stage,” enthused the “Musical America” critics. “We cannot imagine that an audience from any walk of life would not enjoy it. It has everything.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Roger Sessions (1896-1985) — Symphony No. 2 (San Francisco Symphony; Herbert Blomstedt, cond.) London 443 376

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) — Act 1 Intro, from Street Scene (Scottish Opera Orchestra; John Mauceri, cond.) London 433 371

On This Day

Births

  • 1839 - American composer John Knowles Paine, in Portland, Maine;

Premieres

  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 154 ("Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren") performed on the 1st Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1880 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera "May Night," in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Jan. 21);

  • 1904 - Debussy: "Estampes," by Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes, in Paris;

  • 1909 - Ravel: "Gaspard de la Nuit," by Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes, in Paris;

  • 1937 - Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 4, in Los Angeles, by the Kolisch Quartet;

  • 1939 - Bartók: "Rhapsody" (two movements) for clarinet, violin, and piano, in New York City, with clarinetist Benny Goodman, violinist Joseph Szigeti, and the composer at the piano; For the 1940 recording session of this work, commissioned by Goodman, Bartók added a middle movement and changed the title to "Contrasts";

  • 1947 - Roger Sessions: Symphony No. 2, by the San Francisco Symphony, Pierre Monteux conducting;

  • 1947 - Kurt Weill: opera "Street Scene," in New York City at the Adelphi Theater;

  • 1948 - Walter Piston: Symphony No. 3, Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra; This work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1948;

  • 1976 - William Bolcom: "Seasons" for guitar, in New York City;

  • 1987 - Joan Tower: "Silver Ladders," by the St. Louis Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting;

  • 1988 - Alvin Singleton: "After Fallen Crumbs" for orchestra, by the Atlanta Symphony, Michael Palmer conducting.