Nearly forty-seven years after composing my first symphony, Symphony (1961), I finished my second, in Tallahassee, Florida, on February 6, 2008. The work is a paean commemorating my ten-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious Philharmonic Orchestra. Thus, Symphony No. 2 is subtitled Music for Győr. Scored for a large orchestra ─ paired woodwinds, full brass, harp, celesta, percussion, and strings ─ the piece treats various groupings of instruments antiphonally, somewhat in the manner of a concerto. This has particular emphasis in the second movement, a set of double variations, but it is also characteristic of the entire composition.
Ninnerella Variata (Varied Lullaby) was written in Princeton, New Jersey in December, 1956, while I was confined to bed with mumps! It was completed the day after Christmas and is dedicated to my son Roger, who was nineteen months old at the time. It is scored for a small orchestra consisting of single woodwinds, two horns, celesta, and strings. The presence of a percussion instrument (celesta!) may have caused the piece to be disqualified for a competition into which it was entered, the Benjamin Award for “restful music.”
A simple theme is followed by twelve variations. The music proceeds in rather straightforward fashion at first. Then, as it goes on, the theme becomes fragmented, and the fragments are developed individually. A quiet coda concludes the work.
Variations on “Branchwater” was written in response to a commission from guitarist Stephen Robinson who gave the first performance September 18, 1988, in St. Joseph, Michigan, with Robert Vodnoy conducting the Southwest Michigan Symphony. The theme, “Branchwater,” is followed by seven variations, a cadenza, and a finale. Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that “Branchwater” is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece. I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of Bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, “branchwater” (or sometimes simply “branch”), as if it came from a creek.
Blood Mountain Suite is derived from my song cycle, Blood Mountain (2007), dedicated to soprano Gayle Seaton. The cycle is my third work based on texts by North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer. The others are Alma (2002) and Wake (2003).
Cyclic elements appear in the text in the form of words and images that recur from poem to poem: “weaving,” “loom,” “warping,” and especially “blood.” These are reflected in the music through recurring harmonic, motivic, and rhythmic gestures that permeate the texture from song to song. The suite is actually a transcription, for large orchestra, of the songs themselves. The vocal part is entrusted to various solo instruments (trumpet, flute, oboe, clarinet), as the situation demands.
Overture to a Comedy was written in the summer of 1983 in response to a commission from a group that was forming a new chamber orchestra in Wichita, Kansas, at the time. Unfortunately, the funding for the enterprise never materialized and, thus, neither did the orchestra. As a result, the work was returned to the composer unperformed (and unpaid for!).
The comedy in question was an opera I had planned, based on James Branch Cabell's novel, Jurgen, subtitled A Comedy of Justice. The protagonist, Jurgen, an elderly retired poet who has become a pawnbroker, says a kind word about the devil and is rewarded with a year of youth during which he has a number of amorous encounters with famous (and not so famous but always glamorous) women. However, after having “done justice to them,” he returns to his wife because he is used to her!
The opera never materialized either. While copious sketches for it exist, the only completed music consists of two arias and the present overture. Much of the music in the overture is based on those sketches, and one particularly important idea hearkens back to a two-piano piece I wrote in 1945 when I was in high school. The work is scored for a large chamber orchestra made up of paired woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, harp, celesta, and strings.
Meet the composer
Harold Schiffman (b. 1928; Greensboro, North Carolina) has composed in virtually all media. His commissions include those from such diverse groups as the Tallahassee Symphony, the International Trombone Association, the Apple Trio, the Concertino String Quartet, the Mallarmé Chamber Players, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music, as well as from a number of individuals including conductor Richard Burgin, flutist Albert Tipton, soprano Janice Harsanyi, pianist Jane Perry-Camp, and pianist/conductor Max Lifchitz (for North/South Consonance). The North Carolina Symphony and the ARTEA Chamber Orchestra of San Francisco, among others, have premičred his music.
In January 1981, New York's Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, was the site of a twenty-five year retrospective of Mr. Schiffman's compositions, with the performance of both solo and chamber works. Then in November 1992, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, honored him with an all-Schiffman concert of performances ranging from large ensemble to solo. North/South Consonance celebrated Schiffman's seventieth birthday with a 1998 New York performance by Jane Perry-Camp of excerpts from Spectrum, My Ladye Jane's Booke (1992), which had received its complete premičre in November, 1994; his seventy-fifth in 2003 with a program of his music in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; and his eightieth in 2008 with a program of his works at The Gilder Lehrman Hall at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.
In the same year, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music presented a program of Schiffman's music featuring the North Carolina premičre of Alma (2002), a cantata for mixed chorus, mezzo-soprano solo, and orchestra. Further, in Gyor, Hungary, Alma received its European premičre by the Gyor Philharmonic and the Hungarian National Choir, Mátyás Antal, conducting, with Katalin Halmai, mezzo-soprano soloist.
In June 2000, Extravaganza (1998) for three pianos, twelve hands, was the featured work at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Focus on Piano Literature 2000. Recent world premičres include Alma (The Florida State University Philharmonia, The University Singers, Alexander Jiménez, conductor, with mezzo-soprano Nadine Cheek Whitney; April 15, 2005, Tallahassee, Florida); Concertino for Flute and String Orchestra (2004) (Lisa Hansen, flutist, the North/South Chamber Orchestra, Max Lifchitz, conductor; January 9, 2005, New York, New York); and the song cycle Blood Mountain (2007) (Gayle Seaton, soprano, and Jane Perry-Camp, pianist; March 9, 2008, New York, New York).
In addition to performances in the United States, Mr. Schiffman's music has been presented in Europe, Latin America, and the Far East. His publishers include Associated/G. Schirmer, New York; Robert King (Alphonse Leduc, Paris); Southern Music Co., San Antonio; Columbia Music Co., Chapel Hill; Harpa Hungarica, Bloomington; and Andres Editions, Tallahassee. He is a member of ASCAP.
Schiffman's symphonic, choral, chamber, and solo compositions appear on compact discs issued by North/South Recordings (N/S R 1047, 1045, 1039, 1037, 1035, 1021, 1013, 1009, and 1001), Centaur (CRC2204), and Amoris International (AISCVII). The five most recent of these CDs include his cantata Alma (2002), Prelude and Variations (1970), and Chamber Concerto No. 2: In Memoriam Edward Kilenyi (2000); his Concertino for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra (1977); his complete string quartets recorded by the Auer Quartet; his Concertino for Flute and String Orchestra (2004); his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (2006), his Double Concerto for Horn, Bassoon and String Orchestra (1992), and his Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1997). Recently completed compositions include Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (2006), the song cycle Blood Mountain (2007) for soprano and piano, Symphony No.2: Music for Gyor (2008), Blood Mountain Suite (2008) for orchestra, and Blood Mountain (2008) for soprano and orchestra.
Mr. Schiffman received his education at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of California at Berkeley, and The Florida State University, Tallahassee. His principal composition teacher was Roger Sessions with whom he studied at the University of California, as well as privately in Berkeley and again later in Princeton, New Jersey, following three years service (1951-54) in the U. S. Army. In Tallahassee, a further influential mentor was Ernst von Dohnányi. Appointed to the faculty of The Florida State University College of Music in 1959, Harold Schiffman retired from the position of Professor of Composition in 1983 and was designated Professor Emeritus in 1985. He was founding director of The Florida State University Festival of New Music in 1981.
About the Performers
Katalin Koltai was born in Budapest. At the age of 8, she started to play the guitar; she pursued those studies in the Bartók Béla Conservatory and in the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where she graduated in 2007 summa cum laude as a classical guitar soloist from the studio of József Eötvös. In addition, she has studied with Antigoni Goni in the Royal Conservatory of Bruxelles, and with Carlo Marchione in the Conservatorium Maastricht.
Katalin Koltai has performed solo recitals and chamber music concerts in throughout Europe (Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Latvia, Finland, Estonia, Holland, Spain). In the spring of 2006, in Riga, Latvia, she both held a masterclass and gave two solo recitals. Joined by a variety of instrumentalists, frequently plays chamber music, having performed with artists like singer Éva Bodrogi, recorder soloist Christopher Orton, and actress Annamária Láng.
She has also performed at various music festivals (Thy Chamber Music Festival - Denmark, Festival Interpretation of Spanish Song in Granada - Spain, Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival - Finland, Contemporary Music Festival of Young Composers, Budapest – Hungary).
Katalin Koltai promotes contemporary music through performance as well as in commissioning new works. In that regard, several new works have been dedicated to her, and she has given numerous first performances. In 2007 she recorded her first solo CD.
Conductor Mátyás Antal (b. Budapest, 1945) graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music as a choirmaster and flute player, and studied conducting at the Royal Music Academy of Brussels. For two decades after graduation he was a flutist in the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, and at the same time started his career as a conductor. Over the years he worked with several renowned symphony orchestras in Hungary, and held the position of associate conductor of the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra as well as the Hungarian Radio Orchestra. Between 1984 and 2002 he led the famous Budapest Chorus, and from 1990 on he has been Chorus Master of the National Choir of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. Besides his engagements as conductor and choirmaster, in the 1980s and 1990s he taught at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. As a conductor he has performed in most European countries, Japan and China, and has made numerous LP and CD recordings produced by such labels as Hungaroton, Naxos, Portugalsom, CBS, Atemmusik Records, Kiraly Music Network, and North/South Recordings.
In appreciation of his artistic achievements he has been awarded the Liszt and the Bartók-Pásztory Prizes. Additionally, in 2005 the Hungarian government honored Mátyás Antal by awarding him the Magyar Köztársasági Érdemrend Lovagkeresztje (The Knight's Cross of Merit of the Republic of Hungary).
The Gyor Philharmonic Orchestra (Gyori Filharmonikus Zenekar) was established in 1862 by Antal Richter, the father of conductor Hans Richter, who was born in Gyor. Since 1894, it has been the official Orchestra of the City of Gyor, and became a fully professional orchestra in1968. The ensemble of 80 musicians has appeared throughout Hungary and internationally, as well as being represented in recordings distributed worldwide.
The list of conductors during the orchestra's existence includes such maestros as Lamberto Gardelli, Angelo Epfrikian, Kobayashy Ken-Ichiro, Ludovit Rajter, Jurij Simonov, Arvid Jansons, Eugene Goosens, Carlo Zecci, Hiroyuki Iwaki, Miklós Erdélyi, András Kórodi, and Hans Richter, the son of Antal Richter, founder of the Orchestra. Among its resident conductors have been Gábor Franek, László Hermann, Lajos Kiss Dr., Erno Unger, Frigyes Róna, István Kertész, Zoltán Rozsnyai, Béla Vavrinecz, György Fejér, János Sándor, Antal Jancsovics, Tamás Sulyok, Tamás Koncz, and Ádám Medveczky.
Artists such as Ditta Pásztori, Annie Fischer, Zoltán Kocsis, Dezso Ránki, Gábor Janota, Miklós Perényi, György Pauk, István Ruha, Endre Gertler, Gergely Bogányi, Ibolya Verebics have appeared with the Gyor Philharmonic, whose repertoire extends from the classics through works by contemporary composers. Its support of Hungarian composers in particular earned it the honor of receiving the distinguished ARTISJUS Prize in 1988.
Of particular interest in conjunction with the present recording is that Hans Richter "[i]n England . . . also proved to be a 'discoverer' of significant talents . . . , [for] . . . it was Richter who took Erno Dohnányi, the young composer-pianist to England" where Dohnányi's career soon blossomed. The direct connection of this part of Gyor's history with the current recording is that Harold Schiffman studied with Dohnányi, and for a while was his colleague on the faculty of The Florida State University.
Concerning the link between Hans Richter and Erno Dohnányi, please see also The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), s.v. "Dohnányi, Erno" (by Bálint Vázsonyi): "In 1898 Richter took him [Dohnányi] to London, where a single performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto laid the foundation for Dohnányi's world fame as a pianist."