However when Bernstein put the finishing touches on Prelude, Fugue and Riffs in late , the Herman organization had disbanded. Bernstein later adapted some of its music for use in the show Wonderful Town. The original was finally heard for the first time in an episode of the CBS television show Omnibus, hosted by Bernstein and entitled What Is Jazz, that aired October 16, Benny Goodman played the clarinet lead intended for Herman. Prelude, Fugue and Riffs is scored for a standard dance-band instrumentation of solo clarinet, saxes and trumpets in fives, four trombones, piano, string bass, and drums, to which Bernstein adds a second percussion part.
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BORN: August 25, Revised into a different, unperformed format in Benny Goodman was clarinet soloist, with the composer conducting on a broadcast of the Omnibus television show.
That he left as large an oeuvre as he did is a testament to his astonishing musical fluency and to his embrace of a wide variety of American styles. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Bernstein was schooled at Harvard where he graduated in and, following advanced work at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, returned to his home state.
There he worked at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood and was taken under the wing of Serge Koussevitzky, musical director of the Boston Symphony. In , he moved to New York, the city with which he would become most famously associated. While working as assistant conductor to Arthur Rodzinski, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein stepped in at short notice—on November 14, —to substitute for an ailing conductor Bruno Walter at a Philharmonic concert and, as they say, the rest is history.
By that time, he was already making a mark as the first conductor to truly harness the power of the rapidly developing medium of television. He continued to oversee the series until he handed it off in to Michael Tilson Thomas, then the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony. Bernstein presented seven Omnibus installments on a variety of musical topics.
Bernstein included its script in his essay collection The Joy of Music, along with those of his other Omnibus topics, which included American musical theater, the innovations of Stravinsky, and the brilliance of Bach. The piece had been on the back burner for some while. In late , he revised the piece, with a reduced instrumentation, to serve as a ballet scene in Wonderful Town, the musical he was writing with Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
That scene was cut from the show during preliminary try-outs, but Bernstein did incorporate bits of it into two numbers in that show. The score on the whole went back into his files. The Omnibus broadcast finally offered a reason for Bernstein to complete the work. He ended up dedicating it not to Benny Goodman, who many sources have stated was the soloist in the premiere. In fact, the clarinetist was Al Gallodoro, whose rich career included playing lead clarinet and alto saxophone with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and bass clarinet in the NBC Symphony.
The three continuous portions of the piece stand as essentially independent episodes, each focusing on a different sound-world within a standard swing band. The Prelude features the trumpets, trombones, and percussion—at first intoning a snappy gesture, then a sultry tune. The Fugue is a bouncy expanse of counterpoint not quite two minutes long featuring the five saxophones, with punctuation from the percussion and some underpinning from the double bass.
The texture builds through this section before the fugue subject makes some final appearances and the piece reaches its swing-band raise-the-roof conclusion. Keller Portions of this essay appeared earlier in the program books of the New York Philharmonic and the Edinburgh International Festival and are used with permission.
Wells Scarecrow Press September
Prelude, Fugue & Riffs, for clarinet & jazz ensemble