FOR THE PEACE OF CITIES (..Sarajevo..Dayton...) for two violins and orchestra (1998)
Koplow’s words on the genesis of his work For the Peace of Cities: “Years ago (CCO concertmaster) Jim Braid asked me for a work for violin and orchestra...I then got in touch with Paul Nadler in Ft. Myers FL, to see if he would like to get into the act.” Nadler suggested a work for two violin solo parts, bringing Minnesota Orchestra’s concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis into the project. “The piece was for the CCO’s 25th anniversary season, and this piece reunites the founding and the original principal violinists...the CCO’s founding conductor joined the reunion too.
“Do you know the section (Dies Irae) of the Britten War Requiem that sets Wilfred Owen’s poem about a battle? ‘Out there we walked quite friendly up to death / Sat down and eaten with him cool and bland.’ It ends with a description of the soldier of the future: ‘We laughed, knowing that better men would come, and greater wars, / When each proud soldier brags, he wars on Death — for Life; not men — for flags.’ To me this is a description of the true function, now and in the future, of the military — as peacekeepers (I know this is a tricky concept). A good peacekeeping example is the American mission in Bosnia. I was also moved that we are so close to the site of the Accord that brought an end to that war: Dayton OH. So this music is offered as a gesture of empathy to the peoples of the Yugoslavia, who suffered ridiculous and deadly war at the end of the century.
“About the music. It makes some use of actual Bosnian folk material, including Kad ja podjoh na Bembasu which has been called the national anthem of Sarajevo. The first section in For the Peace of Cities uses motives derived from this melody and also one nearly complete quote. The music shows contrasting moods, emotions, tempi, and energies. A village dance, suited for out-of-doors celebrations, is given a freely rendered hearing, not an exact quote. The section ends simply with a third Bosnian folk tune quoted rather literally — four times a solo instrument is answered by pairs of players. After this simple — naive — moment, the second section begins. It is energetic and brutally violent. The violin soloists seem assailed by a hostile environment. The third section recalls earlier material including a full statement of Kad ja podjoh na Bembasu. At the end the village dance returns, greatly extended, and getting faster and faster and more intense. But it’s an affirmation of life and hope. In all I am trying to present my music and ideas with a strong Bosnian flavoring.
“I found it moving that one way that Bosnians ‘fought’ and remained human was to maintain their artistic institutions. At great personal cost they affirmed the best in human culture.” — Philip Koplow
How Sweet the Sound
“Once it was considered mandatory to commission new music for all state occasions, for civic and religious events, for personal celebrations and memorials. A composer like Franz Joseph Haydn was considered a skilled craftsman, like a silversmith, whose work was required to add importance, meaning, and beauty to an event.
“For our 50th anniversary, the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony wanted to commission a new work — certainly a fitting act for a mature musical organization. We also wanted to thank the late Dr. Edward Kezur for his friendship and support of the orchestra. This music is dedicated to him.” — Philip Koplow
Composer Philip Koplow (1943-2018) arrived in the greater Cincinnati area in 1976 when he was appointed composer-in-residence at Northern Kentucky University. Koplow, a Cleveland native, received his musical education at Kent State University and earned a doctorate at the Cleveland Institute of Music under the eminent American composer Donald Erb. He considered himself a survivor of both childhood learning disabilities and the school shootings at Kent State University in May of 1970. His struggles to learn to read and his experiences during the turbulent Vietnam War era left him with a driving need to communicate and a belief that music — new music — was an important way to affirm humane and “classical” values:
“With the arts we can keep faith with our ancestors, speak for justice, and even address the most tragic and painful issues. If you are hurt and angry don’t use violence — write a poem or a song. Use your feelings to create something.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. assassination took place on the composer’s birthday, and became a viola sonata and later a work for viola and orchestra. Reactions to the Vietnam War became a string quartet, and the shootings at Kent State a choral work. The 1952 Moscow executions of six Jewish poets became The Night of the Murdered Poets commemorative concert (with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, 1983) which saw the premieres of works by Koplow, Bonia Shur, and Jonathan Kramer — all settings for chorus and orchestra — of poems by the martyred poets. For the 25th anniversary of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the composer created a work based on Bosnian folk music for two violins and orchestra: For the Peace of Cities (... Sarajevo .. Dayton ..). This music was also a hymn of thanksgiving for the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the war in Bosnia.
How Sweet The Sound... exists in an earlier version for solo cello (1985). The first half of this work was composed in a surgery waiting room while Koplow’s wife, Cordelia, was having minor surgery. The same week the brilliant young cellist, Gita Roche, had come to live with the Koplow family for the summer. Roche had been the principal cellist of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra during the “Murdered Poets” concerts, and held the fourth chair in the Baltimore Symphony cello section. This earlier version, Variations On A Hymn Tune, has been in the repertoire of several cellists and recorded by Jan Slavik on the Master Musicians Collective label.
The orchestral version “retains the perspective of a solo cello piece, so it is conceived differently than if I had set out to write an orchestral piece,” according to the composer. Like the solo version, the orchestral work takes full advantage of available “colors.” It is underpinned with much delicate and ringing percussion. The work opens and closes with a long sustained high note (“a”), which forms a mysterious unity between the beginning and the ending. From the first high note a descending melody floats down through the strings. This introductory melody returns several times, forming interludes. A series of variations on the great old hymn Amazing Grace follows. Each variation is in a new key, implying that God’s love and inspiration is available to all people in all times.
Music for Prague 1968 (1968)
Music for Prague 1968, written by Czech composer Karel Husa, was composed after the Soviet Union crushed the Prague Spring reform movement in Czechoslovakia. While at his cabin in America, Husa listened to reports on the events in his homeland as they were broadcast on the radio. Deeply moved, he composed this piece, which was commissioned by Ithaca College and premiered in Washington, DC at the Music Educators National Conference.
Filled with allusions and symbols, the piece references a recognizable theme from the 15th-century Hussite song Ye Warriors of God and his Law, a piece that sings of resistance and hope. Music for Prague 1968 recreates the sounds in Prague during the attacks with the use of bells, trombones that imitate air raid sirens, and oboes imitating sections of Morse code. The piccolo solo represents bird calls that symbolize freedom, which the composer wrote “the city of Prague has seen only for moments during its thousand years of existence.”
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima was composed in 1960 by Krzysztof Penderecki and dedicated to the residents of Hiroshima killed and injured by the first-ever wartime use of an atomic weapon.
Penderecki’s stated intent with Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima was to “develop a new musical language.” When he heard an actual performance of his piece, he stated “I was struck by the emotional charge of the work... I searched for associations and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims.”
According to reviewer Paul Griffiths, the sonoric manipulation and counterpoint makes the listener “uneasy” as the piece “refer[s] to an event too terrible for string orchestral screams.” Threnody’s sustained tone clusters and various extended techniques are matched by a score full of thick black lines, about as eerie to the eye as the resulting sound is to the ear.
Pamatnik Lidicim (Memorial to Lidice) H.296 (1943)
Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů was one of the first artists to memorialize the massacre in Lidice, Czechoslovakia in 1942, with his Memorial to Lidice. On a night in late June 1942, Nazi troops swept through the village of Lidice, killing the men and deporting the women and children. The buildings were burned to the ground and the entire town was leveled. The massacre was intended to avenge the plot to assassinate the S.S. leader Reinhard Heydrich.
From its gripping opening measures, Memorial to Lidice creates an “inner world” with the layering of two dissonant keys, C minor and C-sharp minor. Throughout the work’s development, Martinů quotes a hymn to St. Wenceslaus, the patron of Bohemia. The piece reaches its height of intensity in the middle of the piece before the initial adagio returns, bringing a hopeful quotation: the “victory call” from the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The piece then closes in C major.*
(*Notes adapted from “Memorial to Lidice by Bohuslav Martinů”:
Hilmar-Jezek, Kytka. “Memorial to Lidice by Bohuslav Martinů - Remembering the Tragedy.” Tres Bohemes | A Place for Everything Czech, 29 May 2018, www.tresbohemes.com/2018/06/memorial-to-lidice-by-bohuslav-martinu/)
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