Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

In Memoriam F.D.R.

Peter Schickele

Rental
Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

My father arrived in the United States from Germany at about the same time that F.D.R. became president. As an agricultural economist and a staunch advocate of support of small farms - which was an especially urgent issue during the 1930?s, due to the double whammy of economic depression and drought - Rainer Schickele quickly became an ardent Roosevelt enthusiast, and in the mid 1940?s, worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. Our family was part of the huge crowd that lined the streets for the deceased president?s funeral cortege in 1945; what impressed me most, as a nine-year-old boy, was the sight of grown-ups crying in public.

Half a century later, when I was asked to write a cello concerto with some sort of tie to Franklin or Eleanor Roosevelt, the memory of that funeral procession become the guiding inspiration for the piece as a whole, and the specific inspiration for the last movement (Eulogy and Cortege).

One of the paradoxes of governmental involvement in the arts is that it can yield to the ever-lurking threat of censorship ? especially when some of the less uplifting aspects of human behavior are being dealt with ? but it can also help to foster a sense of community. The creation of jobs was a primary goal of F.D.R.?s New Deal policies, and that included jobs for artists. This was an important step, and one not to be taken for granted: it recognized that painters, sculptors, composers, choreographers, writers, and performers were professionals who deserved to make a living.

Another paradox surrounding Roosevelt is that he was a very upper-class member of the Hudson Valley gentry who, in spite of his highly patrician background, had an ability to establish a quick and easy-going rapport with people of all walks of life and all economic levels. He had a terrific sense of humor. He also liked popular music, and the second movement of the concerto (Intermezzo) alludes to that taste, whereas the third movement (Song Set) mixes original tunes with references to three Anglo-American folk songs, ?Ruby,? ?Tom Dooley? and Henry Martin.?

The first movement (Invocation) is mostly elegiac in character, although the opening ? a long, spun-out melody ? gradually builds to a rather jazzy, punchy section before subsiding into the Elysian Fields.

Gore Vidal has suggested that, in spite of being viewed by many rich people as a communist and a traitor to his class, F.D.R. actually saved capitalism by preventing conditions that could have led to more radical changes. The image of Roosevelt as a man born into wealth who nevertheless felt a strong bond with regular folks seems particularly apt for this concerto, in which American folk songs from quite isolated rural areas are placed in cosmopolitan classical surroundings, and played on an instrument that was rare or nonexistent in the area that nurtured the songs. The cello is, however, a passionate instrument, and that too seems appropriate for a work written in memory of one of this country?s most inspiring leaders.

The concerto was written for Paul Tobias. It was commissioned by the New Heritage Music Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization started by a grand old gentleman named Harry Offenhartz. Harry had been a member of the Roosevelt administration and later did well in business, eventually establishing an organization to commission works in honor of persons, events or ideas central to American history. Unfortunately, Mr. Offenhartz died well before the premiere of this concerto on November 11, 2000 in Pasadena, California, with the Pasadena Symphony under the direction of Jorge Mester.

Incongruously, or so I thought, the work was completed on September 13, 2000, in a room at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming. Despite the somberness of the ending, my feelings upon drawing the last double bar were of relief and exultation, since by that time the concerto was about a year overdue. I grabbed a pint of Hagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche, and drove up to a spectacular overlook high above Fremont Lake; there I had my way with the ice cream while the sun set in front of me, and a full moon rose through the pines behind me. I stayed up there several hours, and as I sat on a boulder, surrounded by sagebrush, listening to a pack of coyotes yipping and howling far off to the west, and another group, closer, to the east, I suddenly remembered that ?Home on the Range? was F.D.R.?s favorite song.

(I felt that the foregoing vignette made a nice ending to this program note, but since writing it I have been informed that F.D.R.?s fondness of ?Home on the Range? was what we would now call an urban legend, that he actually detested the song, and that one of his crosses to bear was that everywhere he went, musicians struck up ?Home on the Range,? thinking that they were doing the president a great favor. Sic transit gloria anecdoti).

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the New Heritage Music Foundation, Inc.
Composition Date 2000
Duration 00:22:00
Orchestration Solo Vcl.; 2(dbl. Picc.) 2 2(dbl.B.Cl.) 2 - 2 3 0 0; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Str.
Premiere 11th November, 2000 Pasadena Symphony Orchestra Jorge Mester, Condurtor Paul Tobias, Cello

Details

I. Invocation
II. Intermezzo
III. Song Set
IV. Eulogy and Cort