Symphony No. 10, "The American Muse"

William Schuman

Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

My ?Symphony No. 10? is subtitled ?American Muse? because it is dedicated to our country?s creative artists, past, present and future. At this time of our Bicentennial celebration, when we are assessing so many facets of our national being, we should derive enormous satisfaction from the incomparable treasure given to us in the short span of 200 years by America?s creative men and women of letters, music, visual arts and all forms of theater. This work, then, is for my colleagues, with gratitude for their achievements and joy in the identification of being one of them.

The music for the symphony began to take shape in my mind after my wife suggested to me that I might want to look again at the opening music for my choral setting of Walt Whitman?s ?Pioneers! O Pioneers!?
?Come, my tanned-faced children?
For we cannot tarry here.?

?Pioneers?, as I called the choral work, composed 39 years ago (since withdrawn along with several other early efforts), was first published in England and first performed by the Westminster Festival Choir of Princeton, New Jersey, on May 3, 1937. My wire?s instinct proved fortuitous, for recalling ?Pioneers? and experiencing again its optimism was precisely what I needed to get me started on the symphony. Optimism is, after all, an essential ingredient in understanding America?s beginnings.

To be sure, the spirit of optimism one expresses in his middle sixties is as removed from that of his middle twenties as are today?s complexities from those of colonial times. The symphony reflects these differences. Between the outer movements is the largely contemplative second movement, and while the variegated facets of the first and third movements surely cannot be described as exclusively optimistic, I trust that, over all, the music emerges as an expression of affirmation. For those listeners who like to have some prior verbal guide to the musical unfolding, the following brief comments may be of some help.

The opening theme, which stems from ?Pioneers?, soon leads to an extended fanfare-like section in which the honors and trumpets are in dialogue with the trombones and tuba. As woodwind instruments join the brass, the music leads to a new section in which the strings enter with high woodwinds, piano and percussion. A long melodic line is presently begun by the strings and horns, with the choir of brass instruments supplying a rhythmic counterpoint in blocked chords. The music continues its forward surge with antiphonal rhythmic figures, a final varied statement on the ?Pioneers? theme and a cumulative propulsion leading to an accelerated close for full orchestra, with the timpani playing an especially important part.

The second movement begins quietly and slowly, with muted strings and woodwinds in a section introductory in character. The first violins then begin a long melody (cantabile dolce, quasi parlando).

As the music proceeds, there are successive statements of the principal melody, always higher in pitch and within increasingly complex textures of harmony, rhythm and contrapuntal lines. Eventually, too, the tempo quickens and the quiet has passed. There is a return of the original violin melody now assigned to the violas two octaves lower in pitch. The movement draws to a close with the mood of the introduction, a final brief reminder of the principal violin melody, and ending music which leads to a quiet resolution.

The third movement opens with the principal scherzo-like theme in pizzicato strings and piano. These opening materials, developed throughout the orchestra in a variety of ways, lead to a new section scored for celesta, harp, vibraphone, chimes, crotales, glockenspiel, piano and solo strings, to which woodwinds and all the strings are later added. A quiet and relatively brief interlude for brass instruments follows. The strings now commence music marked ?Barndance Feeling.? As this music proceeds on its course, the ?Pioneers? theme of the opening movement enters in overlapping statements. Various guises and combinations of the opening theme and the fiddle music culminate in a climax and, briefly, a slow tempo before the final presto possibile.

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra for the American Bicentennial.
Composition Date 1975
Duration 00:30:00
Orchestration 4 4 4 4 - 6 4 4 1; Timp. 6Perc. Pno. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere April 6th, 1976. National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antal Dorati.