It’s in the Stars: Songs of Fate

Samuel Barber (1910-1981): Sure on This Shining Night

Sure on this Shining Night is a choral arrangement of the third song from Barber’s Four Songs Op. 13, originally published in 1940. The text comes from an untitled lyric from James Agee’s first published collection of poems, Permit Me Voyage (1934). The words concern a man walking outside on a summer night, reflecting on both the darkness and the kindness of the world.

In 1979, Barber had just rented an apartment in New York City and was trying to call home, knowing that Gian Carlo Menotti was probably there. Barber couldn’t remember his new phone number, so he called the operator from a phone booth. She refused to give him the number until he revealed his name. She confessed a “weakness” for Sure on this Shining Night and asked him to sing a few bars. He did, and she gave him the number.

Rafael Inciarte (b.1909-1983): Rumbamban

Born in Santiago de Cuba, Inciarte began music studying with his father at the age of nine. He also took clarinet lessons and played the guiro in a local dance band. At twelve he played clarinet in the Manzanillo Municipal Band, which his father directed. Later he played tenor saxophone at the Santiago de Cuba Municipal Band. In 1927 he moved to Guantánamo, where he joined the Municipal Band. In 1955 he became its conductor. He was also the director of the Guantánamo School of Music. Rumbamban is Inciarte’s arrangement of a Cuban folk song.

George Gershwin (1898-1937): “Our Love is Here to Stay” from The Goldwyn Follies (arranged by Darmon Meader)

Gershwin’s last work before his death was “Our Love is Here to Stay,” originally titled “It’s Here to Stay” or even “Love Is Here to Stay” when it appeared in the movie The Goldwyn Follies in 1938. Gershwin left no verse for the song, so his brother Ira and pianist Oscar Levant fashioned one, based on what they knew George wanted, with musical reconstruction by Vernon Duke.

The film featured Adolphe Menjou, Edgar Bergen (with Charlie McCarthy), Vera Zorina, and the Ritz Brothers, with choreography by George Balanchine. The plot concerned a movie producer’s selection of a “Miss Humanity” to provide common sense opinions on his films. One of her ideas is casting a short-order cook, played by Kenny Baker, as a leading man. It is he who sings “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

The song’s popularity was ensured when it was sung by Gene Kelly to Leslie Caron in the film An American in Paris in 1951. It was also used in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) and When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Paul Dukas (1865-1935): Fanfare from La Péri

La Péri was one of four ballets given their premieres in Paris on April 12, 1912, each with its composer conducting. The story of the Dukas work is based on an old Persian myth.  A “péri” is a kind of ancient Persian fairy. King Iskender, facing a midlife crisis, searches the world for the Flower of Immortality. He finally encounters the sleeping Péri with flower in hand. The King snatches it, but notices in the process that she is gorgeous. After the Péri‘s ecstatic dance, he returns the flower.  Fairy and Flower disappear, and the king prepares for death. Before the ballet proper begins, the brass play a brief fanfare to the ballet.  

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54

During the summer of 1868, Brahms visited the naval port of Wilhelmshafen. He had been reading an ode titled Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”) that Friedrich Hölderlin inserted in his novel Hyperion, and while brooding at the harbor, began setting the ode to music. He didn’t finish it until three years later. Hermann Levi conducted the first performance on October 18, 1871, in Karlsruhe.

The text contrasts the bliss of the immortal gods with the despair of mankind. According to biographer Karl Geiringer, “this cheerless conclusion was deeply repugnant to Brahms, greatly as the wonderful poem–inspired with the very breath of antiquity–may have attracted him by its forceful expression and beautiful diction. He adopted the expedient of repeating the luminous orchestral prelude at the end of the work, thus closing on a note of reconciliation.”

George Gershwin (1898-1937): Cuban Overture

Gershwin went to Cuba in mid-February, 1932. “Cuba was most interesting,” he said, “especially for its small dance orchestras, who play most intricate rhythms most naturally.”

His traveling companions included publisher Bennett Cerf, who recalled, “In Havana a sixteen-piece rumba band serenaded him en masse at four in the morning outside his room at the old Almendares Hotel. Several outraged patrons left the hotel the next morning. George was so flattered that he promised to write a rumba of his own.”

The result was Cuban Overture, initially called Rumba Rhapsody, or simply Rumba, for piano duet. Armed with some Cuban percussion instruments he’d brought home, Gershwin then orchestrated the music in time for the first performance, on August 16, 1932, before 18,000 at Lewisohn Stadium. Albert Coates conducted the New York Philharmonic in what Gershwin later called “the most exciting night I have ever had.”

Biographer Edward Jablonski calls the work “a straightforward easy-to-take (but not necessarily easy to play) little piece…. It is in Gershwin’s typical fast-slow-fast form. His use of polytonality adds the spice of dissonance and his writing for the orchestra is sure. The slow middle theme, introduced by a solo clarinet, he marked `plaintively’.”

Georges Bizet (1838-1875): Carmen Suites

Based on a short novel by Prosper Mérimée, as adapted by Ludovic Halévy and Henri Meilhac, Carmen was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875.  Halévy later wrote an account of the premiere: “Act I well received…. End of the act good–applause–recalls. A lot of people on the stage after this act. Bizet surrounded and congratulated. The second act less fortunate. The opening very brilliant. Great effect from the Toréador‘s entrance, followed by coldness. From that point on, as Bizet deviated more and more from the traditional form of opéra-comique, the public was surprised, discountenanced, perplexed. Fewer people around Bizet between the acts. Congratulations less sincere, embarrassed, constrained. The coldness more marked in the third act. The only thing applauded was Micaëla‘s air, of old classical cut. Still fewer people on the stage. …After the fourth act, which was glacial from first to last, no one at all except three or four faithful and sincere friends of Bizet’s. They all had reassuring phrases on their lips but sadness in their eyes. Carmen had failed.”

Despite its shaky beginnings, the opera’s popularity took off after the Viennese production the following October. Bizet never lived to see the amazing success of his opera; he died three months after the Paris premiere.

Bizet himself arranged two orchestral suites from the opera.

-Program Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2016.