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Goldman, Revelli, and the Modern American Concert Band

Frank Battisti | November 2013

    Music in the United States, in its numerous manifestations and styles, underwent significant changes in the 1930s and 40s. Jazz, according to Gunther Schuller, was “literally exploding in myriad directions – not only musically and stylistically, but geographically as well.”1 George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rogers, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Vincent Youmans, Arthur Schwartz, and Vernon Duke were reshaping both Hollywood musicals and American music theatre. Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, William Schuman, and Charles Ives were weaning American classical music away from its European ancestry.2
    However, American bands continued to perform transcriptions and arrangements of orchestral literature, opera excerpts, light music (waltzes, polkas, and patriotic and popular tunes), and numerous marches. No significant body of original band music existed at this time. Band literature, in general, lagged far behind what was being created and performed in other areas of American art music. In 1939 Percy Grainger wrote the following about band music:

    With the exception of military marches almost all the music we hear played by wind bands (military bands) was originally composed for other mediums (for orchestra, for piano, for chorus, as songs for voice and piano) and afterwards arranged for wind band – and as good as never by the composer. Notable exceptions are Wagner’s Huldigungsmarsch, Henry Cowell’s Celtic Set, R. Vaughan Williams’s Folksong Suite and Toccata Marziale, Gustav Holst’s two Suites for Band and Hammersmith, Hindemith’s Concert Music for Wind Band, Ernst Toch’s Spiel, Florent Schmitt’s Dionysiaques, Respighi’s Hunting-Tower Ballad, and several compositions by Leo Sowerby.3
    With the exception of Leo Sowerby, none of the composers cited by Grainger are American.
    Most American band directors in the 1930s and 40s felt no compulsion to expand or improve band repertoire. The existing literature provided bands with the kinds of music needed to entertain audiences and embellish civic functions and celebrations. Fortunately, there were a few band directors who felt differently. One was Edwin Franko Goldman, who was painfully aware of the lack of original high-quality music for bands as well as the almost total absence of works by great composers, most of whom considered the band to be a non-artistic, functional, and entertainment vehicle. In 1920, Goldman organized the first American competition for serious new band works in an effort to stimulate composers to write for band. Victor Herbert and Percy Grainger judged the competition and awarded the winning prize of $500 to Carl Busch for his Chant of the Great Plains.
    Nine years later Goldman organized the American Bandmasters Association. He believed that an organization consisting of the best American band directors could provide the leadership needed to raise the artistic standards of bands and band music and induce prominent composers to write works, especially those in larger forms, for band. The association’s 1932 convention concert programs reflected Goldman’s passion for elevating and expanding the band’s literature. Included among the new pieces performed at the convention were premiere performances of two works by prominent world composers: Hammersmith by Gustav Holst and Huntingtower Ballad by Ottorino Respighi, which was commissioned by Goldman and the ABA.
    In 1936, Goldman initiated the Goldman Band’s summer concerts on The Mall in New York’s Central Park as well as at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. On July 21, 1942, he conducted a complete concert of original works with the band. The program included works by American composers Leo Sowerby, Morton Gould, Paul Creston, William Schuman, and Henry Cowell. The League of Composers organized a concert on January 3, 1948 to honor Goldman on his seventieth birthday. For this occasion Walter Hendl and Percy Grainger conducted the Goldman Band in a program of all original works written by distinguished American and international composers, including George Auric, Henry Cowell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Percy Grainger, Arnold Schoenberg, Arthur Honegger, Albert Roussel, and Nicholai Miaskovsky. In sponsoring the concert the League hoped to motivate other bands to perform more original music. Richard Franko Goldman, Edwin’s son and later conductor of the Goldman Band, described the concert as a turning point in concerts presented by bands in America. Henry Cowell, in a 1948 article, praised Goldman’s contribution to music:

Goldman has made …[a]… significant contribution to music as a result of his determination to improve the quality of music available to the symphonic band…. That it is now possible to offer a program of fine art music of great variety and interest, all written expressly for the band by famous living composers, is very largely due to the efforts, influence and persuasiveness of  Goldman…. Goldman began many years ago to urge the best known composers of Europe and America to contribute to the repertory of good music for band by writing with wind instruments in mind. His success in this undertaking has made it unnecessary for bandmasters to depend any longer on the artistically deplorable arrangements, for winds, of music conceived for strings.4

    William D. Revelli, director of the University of Michigan Band, was another band conductor who recognized the need to advance the professional development of bands, band music and band directors – specifically those directing university and college bands. In 1941 Revelli founded the College Band Directors National Association, originally called the University and College Band Conductors Conference. The mission of the Association was to advance “the college band as a serious and distinctive medium of musical expression.” During its 72-year history, CBDNA has played a major role in the development of band literature through commissions and performances of new works by important American composers. It has also helped elevate the artistic standards of band and wind ensemble conducting through its conferences and workshops.
    Revelli was also editor of G. Schirmer’s University of Michigan Band Series from 1940 to 1945. This editorship position gave him an opportunity to make a frontal attack on the problem of band repertoire. The series contained both original works and transcriptions and were “…scored with the flexibility to conform to the broad limitations of school band instrumentation…”5 All pieces were published with sets of parts for full and symphonic band instrumentation. The following were among the eleven original works in the series:

Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie Doon by Percy Grainger (1949).
Theme and Variations, Op. 43a by Arnold Schoenberg (1949
Zanoni, Op. 40 by Paul Creston (1949)
A Solemn Music by Virgil Thomson (1949)
Three Street-Corner Sketches by George Frederick Whitney (1949)
River Jordan: Fantasy on Negro Spirituals by Maurice C. Whitney (1950)
George Washington Bridge by William Schuman (1951)

The series also included six transcriptions:

Piano Concerto in A Minor, First Movement, by Edvard Grieg, transcribed by D. F. Bain
In the Cathedral by Irving Cheyette, a transcription of À l’église for piano, Op. 3 by Gabriel Pierné (1947)
Military March Number Three by Felix Greissle, a transcription of march number three from Three Marches Militaires for piano four hands, D. 733, by Franz Schubert (1947)
Fugue No. IV by C. K. Wellington, a transcription of “Fuga 4” from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 849, by J.S. Bach (1948)
Symphony in D Minor, First Movement by César Franck, arranged by Vernon Malone (1950)
Pavane by Irving Cheyette, a transcription of the “Pavane” from the opera Étienne Marcel by Camille Saint-Saëns [©1950]

    As conductor of the University of Michigan Symphony Band Revelli, especially in his later years, championed contemporary American composers and their music by commissioning, programming and performing their works. As a master conductor-teacher, Revelli also exerted substantial influence on the teaching of instrumental music in public schools and higher education.
    The foundation for modern American concert bands and wind ensembles can be traced back to the pioneering work done by Edwin Franko Goldman and William D. Revelli in the 1930s and 40s. Through their dedicated work a momentum was created that resulted in the transformation of American wind bands into an expressive musical medium with a rich and expanding original literature. Prior to 1940 there were few important works available for performance by American bands, and most of what was available was written by non-American composers. By comparison, today numerous major American and international composers create works for the medium that are premiered and performed by professional and exceptional college and university bands, wind ensembles, and orchestras in major venues throughout the United States and world.  

End Notes
1The Swing Era – The Development of Jazz, 1930 – 1945 by Gunther Schuller (Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 5).
3Score for Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger (Schott & Company, Ltd., 1940, p. 2).
4The Wind Band, as cited in Edwin Franko Goldman (Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1962), pp. 85-86.
5Evolution of Contemporary College Wind Band Repertoire and Programming in the United States: 1800-2010, doctoral dissertation by Kenneth G. Bodiford (University of Alabama, 2012, 27).