celebrating three hundred years of music by women
Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)|
Crawford combined composing some highly experimental and innovative American music with being a folk music specialist. She was an outstanding figure among early American modern composers in the 1920s and early 1930s. And as a specialist in American traditional music, she transcribed, edited and arranged important anthologies in the 1940s and 1950s. She was the first woman to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in composition. She studied with Charles Seeger from 1929, and married him in 1932. Her children Pete and Peggy Seeger became important folk musicians. Compositions from her time in Chicago (1924-9) show her predilection for dissonance and post-tonal harmonies influenced by Scriabin. Her reputation as an innovator comes mainly from the works she composed in New York 1930-3, when she concerned herself with dissonant counterpoint and indigenous American serial techniques. Her small, but concentrated output includes a highly thought of Violin Sonata, three Suites for various chamber ensembles, and several vocal works.
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Music for Small Orchestra. 1926. 10 mins
1. Slow, pensive. 2. In Roguish humor. Not fast. Fl, cl, bn, 4 vns, 2 vcs, pn.
This was Crawford's first work for more than two instruments. She features the alto range in the very unusual scoring. Instruments are often used in the extremities of their registers, such as a high bassoon above a low flute, the cellos playing higher than the violin. There is an impressive rhythmic and tonal diversity among the various strata. In the solemn first movement the mood of "night music" expands from a single tone to a multilayered harmony and rhythm. The contrasting and humourous second movement has a "roguish" theme offset by an ostinato on cello, bassoon and piano. This piece was never played in Crawford's lifetime.
Published by A-E Editions (1993) Ann Arbor, Mich., USA
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String Quartet. 1931. 2 vn, va, vc. 12 mins
1. Rubato assai. 2. Leggiero. 3. Andante. 4. Allegro possible
This is considered Crawford's masterpiece. Though brief, there is a structural complexity and density of part writing which give it an overwhelming tragic power. She described the slow movement as a study in dissonant dynamics, the waxing and waning of crescendos and diminuendos carefully organised to be shaped through single pitches in each instrument. She arranged this movement as Andante for String Orchestra in 1938.
Published by New Music (Vol 14, Jan 1941) New York, USA
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Suite for Wind Quintet. 1952. fl, ob, cl, hn, bn. 10 mins
1. Allegretto. 2. Lento rubato. 3. Allegro possible - Andante - Allegro - Meno mosso - Tempo primo
This Suite won first prize in a National Association of American Composers and Conductors competition. It was part of her re-emergence as a composer after a fallow period; however she only lived for one more year. She leaned heavily on past material to recharge herself. The ostinato in the first movement and the third movement's twelve-tone row are quite similar to material in the String Quartet, while the dirge-like second movement recycles an unpublished chant for women's chorus entitled To an unkind God. The repeated-note figures and lively rhythms of the third movement evoke American fiddle tunes.
We gave the UK première in February 2003. The London Evening Standard described it (not entirely accurately!) as "a lightish, even mischievous confection" stemming from Schoenbergian roots.
Published by Continuo Music Press, (1969) New York, USA