As we celebrate the planet we live on for Earth Day, we can also celebrate how the beauty of nature has inspired composers to write some of their best works throughout the centuries. Over the next few weeks, we'll be highlighting music inspired by the four elements: water, fire, earth and air. Take a journey across our world with beloved and lesser-known classical works.
This week, we'll be exploring works inspired by earth. Listen and learn about how this element, in its many forms, influenced composers throughout history.
Yoshi Weinberg- Four Elements: IV. Earth
Here is what Yoshi Weinberg said about the following piece:
"Four Elements for flute and harp is a work that pays homage to four women composers that have had a profound impact on my musical life. For each composer, I chose an element that, to me, best represents their musical language: Water for Pauline Oliveros, Fire for Kaija Saariaho, Wind for Shulamit Ran, and Earth for Katherine Hoover. For each movement, I let the element shape and inspire the musical outcome of the duo. In the movement Earth, I imagine a sunrise over the Grand Canyon, and a feeling of groundedness while watching the tremendous power of nature unfold before my eyes."
Four Elements was commissioned in 2019 by e(L)ement Duo, seen here performing as members of Classical MPR’s Class Notes Concerts program. Enjoy this performance from Karen Baumgartner on flute and Mallory McHenry on harp.
Wadada Leo Smith - America’s National Parks
With his suite America’s National Parks, trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith explores the spiritual and psychological idea of preserving public landscapes for people to connect back to the nature from which we all came. Inspired by his own research into the National Parks and the Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the expansiveness of Smith’s reflections in the six movement suite include government-designated parks (Yellowstone, Sequoia/King’s Canyon and Yosemite, respectively) and what Smith considers to be potential parks, though “park” in a very loose sense of the word. For instance, the first movement, New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718 considers how New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz should be a national park since “New Orleans was the first cultural center in America and therefore it produced the first authentic American music.” While the designation of official parks of great natural wonder and historical legacy have inevitably been subject to the controversy and will of politicians, Smith wonders about the meaning of a park if it was designated by the people’s sacred connection to the land and what has taken place on common spaces that are shared by all of us.
Composed for his Golden Quintet and recorded in 2016, the music draws from Smith’s background in jazz, blues and classical genres, painting pictures of these sacred landscapes with the sounds and timbres of trumpet, cello, piano, bass and drums.
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Sinfonia Antartica
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the music for the 1947 film, Scott of the Antarctic, about the explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s expiration attempts on the South Pole. So inspired was Vaughan Williams by the story and landscape of Antarctica, that he chose to incorporate the film’s score into his seventh symphony, known as “Sinfonia Antartica.” Vaughan Williams relied on his imagination of the unforgiving chilling landscape of snow and ice rather than watching the film as he wrote the music. In addition to typical symphony orchestra instrumentation, parts were written for solo soprano, women’s chorus and keyboards including organ. Lending the symphony is a theatrical component. The score calls for an aeliophone (wind machine) and wordless women’s chorus to depict the blizzarding winds and ice. Whales, penguins and glaciers are also featured in the story which captivated the first audiences and helped make the piece a hit from the start.
Angélica Negrón - Chorus of the Forest
Angélica Negrón’s Chorus of the Forest aims to give a voice to the trees. The work is an immersive choral experience, exploring humanity’s relationship with the forest in a world increasingly dominated by technology and human invention. The work brings to light our connections and lack of connection with nature, especially as climate change and deforestation take the center stage and threaten our planet.
William Grant Still - Wood Notes
Throughout his music, William Grant Still infused his love of nature and the surrounding world. In his Wood Notes, Still looked to poet J. Mitchell Pilcher’s poem of the same name to evoke imagery of the American South. Listen and be transported to different places in the U.S.
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