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Frontiers, Op. 34

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Paul Creston
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra Leonard Slatkin conductor/Leonidas Kavakos, violin Feb. 3 - 5, 2005
© Richard Freed

This work was composed in 1943 under a commission from André Kostelanetz, who conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the premiere on October 14 of that year. Hans Kindler conducted all the National Symphony Orchestra's prior performances of this work, the earliest on November 19, 1946, and the latest on June 22, 1947, outdoors at the Watergate.

The large orchestra specified in the score comprises 3 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, tom tom, cymbals, gong, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, and strings. Duration, 10 minutes.

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During World War 2 two conductors of foreign birth active in our country commissioned series of patriotic works from American composers, as morale-boosters. The Englishman Eugene Goossens, who was then the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (and had not yet been knighted), commissioned a series of fanfares, which brought us Aaron Copland's famous Fanfare for the Common Man and some twenty other pieces that have not achieved such celebrity. The Russian-born André Kostelanetz, who was at that time best-known for his weekly broadcasts of light music but was also appearing as guest conductor throughout North America, commissioned several well known American composers to create more substantial “portraits” of famous personalities in our history. Copland's contribution to this series was his Lincoln Portrait ; Virgil Thomson brought forth a piece on New York's colorful Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia; Jerome Kern, a celebrated composer of musical comedies, produced a marvelously tuneful Mark Twain (which really ought to be given a hearing now and then). Paul Creston chose not to focus on a single individual, but sought to celebrate “the westward American migration achieved through the vision, constancy and indomitable spirit of the pioneers”; he called his piece Frontiers.

The work enjoyed several performances during the 1940s—among them Arturo Toscanini's with his NBC Symphony Orchestra in November 1945 and Leopold Stokowski's with the New York Philharmonic at the end of the following year, as well as four by Kindler and the NSO and numerous others—but it has not been heard much since those early postwar years. It is a colorfully scored piece in three sections which correspond to the “vision, constancy and indomitable spirit” mentioned by the composer.

Creston, whose original name was Giuseppe Guttoveggio, was an entirely self-taught composer who became a distinguished pedagogue and the author of two highly respected books: Principles of Rhythm and Creative Harmony. He composed Frontiers at about the same time as his Second Symphony. Under Howard Mitchell, the National Symphony Orchestra recorded Creston's Second and Third Symphony and gave the premieres of Nos. 4 and 5, the latter commissioned for the orchestra's 25th anniversary (1956). The last of Creston's six symphonies, commissioned by the American Guild of Organists and scored for organ solo with orchestra, also had its premiere in Washington, in June 1982.