American Record by Stephen Robinson
This recording project, the second solo release from guitarist Stephen Robinson, represents original works for guitar by living American composers. Three of the works were commissioned by or dedicated to the artist. This body of work gives voice to the American guitar of the late 20th century, with an impressively broad range of character, technique, and musical depth. Frederic Hand
Trilogy for Guitar (c. 1983)
Born in Brooklyn, New York, guitarist/composer Frederic Hand (b. 1947) is a graduate of Mannes School of Music, where he now teaches. He also studied with Julian Bream in England on a Fulbright Scholarship. As a soloist and with his ensemble Jazzantigua, he tours regularly throughout the U. S. and has performed frequently in Europe and South America. He has recorded for CBS records and Musical Heritage Society, and his television and film credits include "Kramer vs. Kramer" for which he arranged and performed the film's theme music.
On the occasion of his Musical Heritage Society recording of his own works, Hand wrote his thoughts on Trilogy, which he graciously made available for this recording. He composed the piece between 1976 and 1977, during a time that he became interested in fusing the rhythmic and harmonic language of jazz into classical composition. While the work involves the integration of classical and jazz genres, he considers it a classical work since it is fully composed. Hand cites the recording 'Crystal Silence' by Gary Burton and Chick Corea as the inspiration for the rhythmic motif that opens the first movement, though the piece develops along conservative and classical lines. The second movement owes its inspiration to Bill Evans, one of the great jazz artists of our time. Hand wrote, "This is the most effortless of the three movements to write and is a kind of melancholy thank you to a man whose music I so admire." The third movement, in which odd meters abound, is reminiscent of Dave Brubeck's 'Blue Rondo Ala Turk,' from the first jazz album Hand owned. The delightful section with a 'jazz bass feeling' provides one of the many moments of motion and energy in this work. Samuel Adler
Sonata for Solo Guitar (c. 1990)
Samuel Adler (b. 1928) composer, conductor, and teacher - came to the U. S. in 1939 from his native Germany. He holds degrees from Boston University, Harvard University and honorary doctorates from Southern Methodist University and Wake Forest University. His composition teachers include Piston, Thompson, Hindemith, and Copland. Since 1966 he has been professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music, and chairman of the composition department since 1974. He is the recipient of many commissions, grants and awards, including the Army's Medal of Honor, and has conducted major orchestras in the U. S. and abroad. Adler is a prolific and eloquent composer and author. His catalog includes over 200 published works in all media and he is the author of three books and many articles published in leading American and European journals.
The Sonata, commissioned by and dedicated to Stephen Robinson, is the composer's first work for solo guitar. He generously contributed his thoughts on the piece for use in these notes. The work is in 4 movements. The first, ‘Quite fast,’ is based on repeated notes, an idea that returns frequently after each phrase. A dance-like middle section gives the movement an ABA feeling. In the second movement, ‘Tempo di Valse,’ the composer continuously develops the first melodic idea; a haunting Trio area transforms the idea into a sighing motive. The slow movement makes use of a meditative chordal idea and is largely based on harmonic considerations, interrupted by fragmented melodies which develop themselves throughout the movement. The last movement, marked ‘Very fast and wild’ and inspired by the ‘Fandango’ style, is a Spanish dance-like peace in rondo form. As in the first movement, repeated notes and chords punctuate the sections of this short movement. Ned Rorem
Suite for Guitar (c. 1980)
Ned Rorem (b. 1923), distinguished and active composer, pianist, and writer, holds degrees from the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School. His composition teachers include Sowerby, Menotti, Thompson, and Copland. He has subsequently taught at several institutions, including the Curtis Institute (1980 - 1986). Mr. Rorem has written of his awareness of an audience for his compositions, and the resulting commitment. This work for guitar - with its singing, accessible, often declamatory style - reflects his prolific and eloquent activity in both the written word and vocal composition. The suite was commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra and first performed at Blossom Music Center by Joseph Breznikar on July 25th, 1980. It is the second of Rorem's works for guitar, preceded by ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ for guitar and flute. An awareness of the architecture of the seven movement suite lends appreciation for the listener. Movement I (’Like a distant shower of silver’) has two contrasting sections, first in melodic descending diminished 4th, and second a ‘Broad and sad’ figure reminiscent of the sarabande rhythm. Both of these figures return in the truncated Movement VII ('Brisk'), though craftily altered through inversion and extension respectively. Movements II ('Rollicking') and VI ('Loud and fast and dry') use compound duple-triple meters in reversed designs. The central three movements use thematic or motivic repetition to create three distinct moments of beauty. In III ('Allegretto') a melodic line with the nature of an unsettled folk tune appears three times. Each statement thickens in vocally conceived counterpoint, with a satisfying repose at movement's end. Movement IV ('Melancholy') combines a rhythmically straightforward, though chromatic treble melody with an ostinato that moves in off-beats throughout all three statements of the melody. The trio of miniatures at the center of the Suite concludes with V ('Rapid, like raindrops'), written in 12/16 and organized through the manipulation of two distinct rhythmic-melodic idioms. Rorem's writing invites study, which is rewarded by discoveries of his craft and ingenuity on many levels. Harold Schiffman
Rhapsody for Guitar (c. 1991)
Harold Schiffman (b. 1928 in North Carolina) holds degrees from University of North Carolina, University of California at Berkeley, and Florida State University. His principal composition teacher was Roger Sessions, with additional study under Ernst von Dohnanyi and John Boda. After a distinguished teaching career, in 1985 Schiffman was designated Professor Emeritus of Composition at the Florida State University. He has composed works in virtually all media and is the recipient of an impressive array of awards and commissions. After several years' association during and following the artist's student days at Florida State University, Dr. Schiffman wrote the Rhapsody in 1982 on commission from Stephen Robinson, who gave the first performance that year. This is a single-movement sectional work, with clear contrasts in figuration and mood, from the opening 'Maestoso' through movements of singing beauty and frenetic excitement. The composer writes that "since the piece was written for Steve, I had in mind a work that would display two facets of his playing: the lyrical and the athletic. In a larger sense, one might say that these are archetypal notions of song and dance which tend to pervade all my music." Harold Blanchard
Innocent Meanderings (c. 1994)
Composer/pianist/teacher Harold Blanchard has been involved in countless recording and performing projects around the world. He is particularly well known for his collaborations with flutist Hubert Laws. With his home base near Stetson University, he has become acquainted with Stephen Robinson's interest in new music for guitar, with this work as one result of several years collaborations.
"Innocent Meanderings" is written in one movement, organized by a ternary (ABA) design. The idea of 'meandering' came to the composer as he considered the contour of the melodic line of the first phrase. The harmonic progressions of the 'Serene' B section later 'meander' further, interrupting the otherwise consonant and fixed - 'innocent' - tonality. The composer sought to create an improvised feeling in this piece, using a number of meter changes and chords built in 4ths, a structure often heard in improvised jazz on guitar or piano. Blanchard lyrically masters the distinction of moods and motives for each of the two contrasting sections of the work, making the listener's journey through "Innocent Meanderings" delightfully accessible.
Notes by Jean Ohlsson Rickman
Associate Professor of Music, Stetson University