Irwin Bazelon

  • Irwin Bazelon died on August 2, 1995 at the age of seventy-three. His untimely death occurred just two months after the completion of a recording of three orchestral works with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. All told, he composed nine symphonies and over sixty orchestral, chamber and instrumental pieces. He was writing his Tenth Symphony, from which Prelude to Hart Crane’s “The Bridge” had been performed and recorded in 1992.

    Born in Evanston, Illinois on June 4, 1922, he graduated from DePaul University, with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music. After studying composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale for a short time, he went to Mills College in Oakland, California to work with Darius Milhaud. In 1948 he moved to New York City. His rhythmically complex and often jazz-tinged music bristles with the tension, energy and hustle-bustle of contemporary urban life.

    In his early years in New York, Bazelon supported himself by scoring documentaries, art films and theatrical productions, including two American Shakespeare Festival plays. During the 1950s and 1960s he composed more than fifty scores of this kind, which proved to be an invaluable preparation for his orchestral music. Among these was his signature theme for NBC News programs, arguably the most famous eight seconds of music in the 1960s. In a valedictory of sorts, he wrote Knowing the Score: Notes on Film Music. Published in 1975, this book is widely used as a text in colleges and universities.

    As a guest composer, he lectured at many schools, including Rutgers University, Williams College, the University of South Carolina, Eastman School of Music, the University of Wisconsin, Oberlin College, Rice University, the University of Virginia, the University of Arizona and the University of Akron. In England he was a guest of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and the University of Sheffield. As an authority on film music and a master composer, young people were drawn to his feisty spirit and no-nonsense approach to earning a living by applying compositional talents to the commercial world without sacrificing integrity.

    Bazelon’s works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instrument and voice have been performed throughout the United States and Europe. He conducted his music with such orchestras as the National Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Kansas City Philharmonic and Frances Orchestre Philharmonique de Lille. He received grants and commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Koussevitzky Foundation “for his contribution to American music” the Fromm Foundation, the Kansas City Philharmonic, the New Orleans Philharmonic, the American Brass Quintet, the Boehm Woodwind Quintette and the Royal Northern College. His Fire and Smoke for symphonic wind band opened the Aspen Music Festival in June, 1994.

    A long time horse racing enthusiast, one of his best known works, Churchill Downs (Chamber Concerto No.2), is named for the home of the Kentucky Derby. In some small way, the racetrack helped launch Bazelon’s symphonic career. With the money from a big win at Aqueduct, he recorded a concert ballet with sixteen members of the New York Philharmonic, the tape of which led directly to his conducting his Short Symphony (Testament to a Big City) with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. in 1962. This was his major orchestral debut.

    In 1991 his piano piece Sunday Silence was named after the winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby, and has since been performed all over the United States and Europe. He expanded this work into Symphony No. 9, which he dedicated to the race horse. It turned out to be his last symphony. Recorded in the summer of 1995, it was released later that year on the Albany label. Of these works, Bazelon would explain that they were “evocative and never descriptive.”

    His music is distinguished for its coloration as well as its propulsive rhythms. He was particularly partial to brass and percussion, but there are also beautiful lyrical passages such as those in Alliances for cello and piano. As one reviewer stated, “There are flashes of real beauty, the kind projected by a man with a tough exterior and an inner sensitivity. The long, often fading cello lines are punctuated meaningfully by the piano which is also given a hesitant solo passage sounding so close to musical speech that one’s imagination begins to take flight.”

    When asked why his often complex music had no easily recognizable melodies, Bazelon responded, “My music is melodic; it is the melody of the 21st century.”

  • Cover Title (Subtitle) Duration Instrumentation
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    Works for Voice
    Four? Parts Of A World
    Song Cycle for Soprano and Piano From Poems By Wallace Stevens
    111-40135 15:00
    Legends & Love Letters 411-41094
    Works for Keyboard
    Imprints 490-00776
    Re-Percussions 490-00777
    Sunday Silence 410-41295
    Vignette 110-40717 Harpsicord
    Chamber Ensemble
    Alliances 114-40705
    Bazz Ma Tazz 414-41175 13:00
    Concatenations 114-40893 15:00
    Cross Currents 494-01686
    Cross Currents 494-01687
    Duo 494-01683
    Early American Suite 11720 15:00 1 1 1 1 – 1 0 0 0; Hpsd.(or Pno.)
    Fairy Tale
    for Solo Viola and Chamber Ensemble
    11722 15:00 Solo Vla.;1(Picc.) 0 2(B.Cl.) 0 – 1 1 0 0; Perc. Pno. Vcl. Cb.
    For Tuba with Strings Attached 11723 12:00 Solo Tu.; 2Vln. Vla. Vcl.
    For Tuba…With Strings (Quartet) Attached 114-40894 12:00
    For Percussion Quartet
    114-40584 Percussion Ensemble
    Fusions 11726 15:00 1 1 2(B.Cl.) 1 – 1 2 1 0; Perc. Pno. Vla. Cb.
    Merry Wives Of Windsor 416-41226
    Partnership 494-01684
    Sound Dreams 11733 12:00 Fl./Picc. Cl. Vla. Vcl. Pno. Perc.
    Suite 494-01688
    Suite from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” 11737 14:00 1(Picc.) 1 1(Eb Cl.) 1 – 2 2 0 1; 2Perc. Pno. Vla. Vcl.
    Taming Of The Shrew 416-41170
    Three Men On A Dis-Course
    For Bb Clarinet, Cello, and Solo Percussion
    114-40835 7:00 Chamber Ensemble
    Woodwind Quintet 494-01685
    Memories of a Winter Childhood 11728 17:00 5(Picc.) 2(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
    Overture to Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew” 11730 10:00 1(Picc.) 1 1 1 – 2 2 1 0; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Str.
    Prelude to Hart Crane’s “The Bridge”
    for String Ensemble
    11732 9:00
    Spirits of the Night 11735 18:00 3 3 4 3 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Str.
    Trajectories 11749 20:00 3(Picc.) 2 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 2 1; Timp. 5Perc. Str.
    Spires 11734 18:00 2 2(E.H.) 2(B.Cl.) 2(Cbsn.) – 2 2 1(B.Tbn.) 0; Timp. Perc. Pno. Str.
    Triple Play 11750 11:00 2Tbn. and Solo Perc.
    Orchestra with Soloist(s)
    Concert Ballet
    Centauri 17
    11717 23:00 1 1 2(E-flat Cl. B.Cl.) 1 – 1 2 0 1; Theremin or Lyric Soprano 3 Perc. Pno. Vla. Vcl. Cb.
    Concert Overture 11718 10:00 3 3 3 3 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Str.
    for Solo Brass Quintet and Orchestra
    11719 20:00 3 2 4(EbCl. B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 3 2 2 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Str. Brass Quintet: Hn., 2Tpt., Ten.Tbn., B.Tbn.
    Entre nous
    for Solo Cello and Orchestra
    11721 20:00 Solo Vcl.; 3(Picc.) 2 3(B.Cl.) 2 – 2 2 2 1; Timp. 4Perc. Str.
    Fourscore + 2
    for Percussion Quartet and Orchestra
    11724 25:00 4Perc. Soli; 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. Pno. Str.
    for Orchestra
    11727 17:00 Soprano; 3(Picc.) 2 4(Eb Cl./B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Str.
    for Solo Trombone and Orchestra
    11729 12:00 Solo Tbn.; 3(Picc.) 2 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 2(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Str.
    for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble
    11731 15:00 Solo Sop.; 1(Picc.) 1 3(EbCl. B.Cl.) 1(Cbsn.) – 1 1 1 0; 2Perc. Pno. Str.(1 0 1 1 1)
    Symphony Concertante
    for Solo Clarinet, Trumpet, Marimba and Orchestra
    11738 20:00 3(Picc.) 2 3(B.Cl.) 2 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Str.
    Symphony No. 1 11739 22:00 3 3 4 2 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Cel. Str.
    Symphony No. 3
    for Brass, Piano and Sextet
    11740 22:00 0 0 0 0 – 4 6 4 2; 4Perc. Pno. Cel. Sextet: Fl.(Picc.) 2Cl.(E-flat Cl. B.Cl.) El.Gtr. Vla. Vcl.
    Symphony No. 4 11741 30:00 4 3 4 3 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 5Perc. Pno. Cel. Str.
    Symphony No. 6 11742 25:00 3(Picc.) 2 4 3 T.Rec. – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 5Perc. Pno. Accord. Str.
    Symphony No. 7
    Ballet for Orchestra
    11743 18:00 3 2 4 3 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Amplified Pno. Str.
    Symphony No. 8
    for Strings
    11744 25:00 Str.
    Symphony No. 81/2 11745 12:00 3(Picc.) 2 3(B.Cl.) 2 – 2 2 2(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Str.
    Symphony No. 9 (Sunday Silence) 11746 15:00 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 2 2 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Str.
    for Solo Clarinet and Small Orchestra
    11748 17:00 Solo Cl.; 2(Picc. A.Fl.) 1 1 1 A.Sax. – 3 2 2 0; 2Perc. Hp. Str.(0 0 6 4 2)
    Band / Wind Ensemble
    Fire and Smoke
    for Timpani and Symphonic Wind Band
    17499 8:00 Solo Timp.; 3(Picc.) 2 4(Eb Cl., B.Cl.) 2 – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; 4Perc.

    …interesting sonorities…
    –Jay Joslyn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Bazelon’s work combines a continuum of tension in the form of constantly overlapping held notes with an open spacious flurry of arpeggio and scale figures. High points come with the brief volume flairs led by the percussion; tranquility reigns from start and finish.

    –Louise Kenngott, Milwaukee Journal

    …beginning [with] disjointed phrases, punctuated by what the composer called “impact accents.” … the silences between these phrases were as significant as the clusters of notes themselves… evocative of the pounding beats of the horses’ hooves as they rounded the track.
    –Fred Volkmer, The Southampton Press

    …engrossing with its rhythmic, lyric, and coloristic imagery and harmonic change.
    –John Jonas Gruen, East Hampton Star

    …sheer power and drama … clearly one of the great symphonies of the twentieth century.
    –Harold Farberman,

  • Bazz Ma Tazz BAZZ MA TAZZ
    Albany Records (TROY1089); February 1, 2009
    Performer(s): Aspen Percussion Ensemble, Aspen Trombone Choir, conducted by Jonathan Haas
    Work(s): Bazz Ma Tazz
    Triple Play
    Junctures JUNCTURES
    Albany Records (TROY602); September 1, 2003
    Performer(s): New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Frank Epstein; Burton Fine, viola
    Work(s): Concatenations
    Spirits of the Night
    Sunday Silence

  • 1982: Serge Koussevitzky Prize

  • Fire and Smoke
    for Timpani and Symphonic Wind Band
    Symphony No. 7
    Ballet for Orchestra