Husa going to the concert? You can watch at home!

No, I haven’t turned into Jar-Jar Binks. That would be Karel Husa, famed Czech-born composer who became a U.S. citizen in 1959, won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1969, and won the 1993 University of Louisville Grawenmeyer Award in Music Composition. Wikipedia tells me these things because, as noted, he is famed.

In August 1968, Husa was sitting on a dock and listening to the BBC describe the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Moved by the events, he composed the world-famous Music for Prague 1968 for symphonic band, premiered on January 31, 1969 by the Ithaca College Concert Band during an MENC conference. In the composer’s own words:

Three main ideas bind the composition together. The first and most important is an old Hussite war song from the 15th century, “Ye Warriors of God and His Law,” a symbol of resistance and hope for hundreds of years, whenever fate lay heavy on the Czech nation. It has been utilized by many Czech composers, including Smetana in My Country. The beginning of this religious song is announced very softly in the first movement by the timpani and concludes in a strong unison (Chorale). The song is never used in its entirety.

The second idea is the sound of bells throughout; Prague, named also The City of “Hundreds of Towers,” has used its magnificently sounding church bells as calls of distress as well as of victory.

The last idea is a motif of three chords first appearing very softly under the piccolo solo at the beginning of the piece, in flutes, clarinets, and horns. Later it reappears at extremely song dynamic levels, for example, in the middle of the Aria.

Different techniques of composing as well as orchestrating have been used in Music for Prague 1968 and some new sounds explored, such as the percussion section in the Interlude, the ending of the work, etc. Much symbolism also appears: in addition to the distress calls in the first movement (Fanfares), the unbroken hope of the Hussite song, sound of bells, or the tragedy (Aria), there is also the bird call at the beginning (piccolo solo), symbol of liberty which the City of Prague has seen only for a few moments during its thousand years of existence.

Wikipedia adds that “the trombones imitate air raid sirens, and the oboes play sections of Morse code.” And:

It is also interesting to note that the third movement, Interlude, is not only played solely by the percussion section, but that it is also a palindrome, starting and ending with a snare roll.

The composer’s words come from the notes for Wednesday night’s final 2010-2011 academic year concert by the OU Wind Symphony, at 8:00 PM in Sharp Hall. The university’s top wind ensemble closes out the year with a program anchored by Music for Prague 1968 under the baton of Bill Wakefield. The other three pieces each have their own guest conductors:

  • Brian Wolfe conducts John Mackey’s Redline Tango (click here to hear the piece and view the entire score in PDF format)

  • Troy Bennefield conducts Adagio para Orquestra de Instrumentos de Viento , a 1966 piece by Joaquín Rodrigo, whose title roughly translates “Adagio for Orchestral Winds”

  • Wilson Wise conducts all six movements of Gordon Jacob’s classic William Byrd Suite (1934), based on the titular composer’s keyboard works intended to be performed on the “virginal,” described as “a relative of the harpsichord in many timbral and mechanical aspects.”

    Yup—the virginal. That Husa pun isn’t looking so bad now, is it?

This is a Sutton Series concert. Admission is $8 for adults, and $5 for students, seniors, faculty, and OU staff. If you can’t attend, you can listen to a live stream of the audio when the concert starts at 8:00 PM CDT.

And in a new twist, you can also watch a live video stream of the concert, including audio! However, since the URL contains “Flash” in it, I would surmise you’ll need a desktop PC with the Adobe Flash plug-in. (Flash is incompatible with iOS devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the few Android devices that include Flash have gotten poor performance reviews for things like live streaming, so I wouldn’t count on it working on anything but a PC.)

The video steram is nice, but I hope if you’re in the central Oklahoma region that you can be at Catlett tonight for the final concert of this school year, full of classic twentieth-century masterworks. See you there!

100 years of “Second Suite in F”

I’ve received a number of complaints1 from people annoyed that the Wind Symphony always goes before the Symphony Band or Concert Band in spring concerts. Well, thanks to a settlement2 with the University Standing Committee on Music Performance Equality3, the Symphony Band and Concert Band go first tonight, April 18, with their final concert of the 2010-2011 academic year.

The concert honors the centennial of the publication of Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F for Military Band, a big gun in the wind arsenal and the bane of generations of conducting students. (If you’ve forgotten why, you can download PDF versions of either the manuscript or published score here. Despite even the U.S.’s unreasonably lengthy copyright laws, Second Suite in F is firmly in the public domain now.)

The Concert Band performs Holst’s second and final suite for winds tonight, under the baton of Dr. Debra Traficante, who also directs Frank Ticheli’s An American Elegy (from 1999, a response to the Columbine tragedy) and John Cheetham’s 1986 A.B.A. Symphonic March, “Kitty Hawk.” The program opens with guest conductor Kyle Winn leading the ensemble in Robert Sheldon’s 2010 Sound Innovations Fanfare, a “bright and buoyant opener sure to grab your attention” that’s “filled with tuneful melodies, soaring lines, and fast-paced technical flourishes.”

After a brief intermission, the classic band literature continues with the Symphony Band. Brian Britt leads that group, whose players auditioned to gain membership, in Roger Nixon’s 1979 Pacific Celebration Suite, and Grainger’s lush wind classic Irish Tune from County Derry, better known to millions as the song “Danny Boy.” Guest conductor Brian Wolfe continues the Grainger with Country Gardens, and then Mr. Britt returns to finish the program with Michael Daugherty’s Desi (a tribute to Mr. Arnaz, but not leaning on the crutch of themes from his well-known tunes familiar to 60 years of I Love Lucy watchers), and John Mackey’s lovely Kingfishers Catch Fire, first heard in Sharp Hall in November 2008 in a Wind Symphony concert.

The concert begins at 8:00 PM tonight (April 18) in Sharp Hall, in Catlett Music Center on the northwest corner of the OU campus. Admission is free, so if you’re worn out by taxes or wildfires or whatever else, take some time for yourself tonight and support the student musicians in the process. You can peek at the program in advance here. And keep Wednesday night free, too, for that’s the Sutton Series Wind Symphony concert. I’ll write more about that tomorrow.


  1. To be precise, that number is “zero.”
  2. Not intended to be a factual statement.
  3. Note: not a real committee, invented for dramatic purposes.