Written by Ken Meltzer


Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986)

John Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on February 15, 1947. 

The first performance of Short Ride in a Fast Machine took place in Mansfield, Massachusetts, June 13, 1986, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 

Approximate performance time is four minutes.

The Great Woods Festival commissioned American composer John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, in celebration of the inaugural concert at Great Woods, Mansfield, Massachusetts.  The premiere took place on June 13, 1986, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Short Ride in a Fast Machine is precisely what its name suggests—a fleeting, hectic, and breathless journey that keeps its passengers on the edges of their seats from start to finish.  Since its premiere, Short Ride in a Fast Machine has proven to be immensely popular, and remains one of the most performed of all contemporary orchestral works.


Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Opus 37 (1803)

Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna, Austria, on March 26, 1827. 

The first performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3 took place at the Theater-an-der-Wien in Vienna on April 5, 1803, with the composer as soloist. 

It was as a pianist that the young Ludwig van Beethoven first ascended to prominence in Viennese musical circles.  Audiences accustomed to the elegant and refined approach of such virtuosos as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Muzio Clementi were stunned by the elemental force of Beethoven’s violent attacks upon the delicate fortepianos of the day.  But pianist and composer Carl Czerny also noted that audiences were moved to tears by Beethoven’s keyboard performances, “for apart from the beauty and originality of his ideas, and his ingenious manner of expressing them, there was something magical about his playing.”

Beethoven was the soloist in the world premiere of his Third Piano Concerto.  The concert, which took place at the Vienna Theater-an-der-Wien on April 5, 1803, also included a performance of Beethoven’s First Symphony, as well as the first performances of his Second Symphony and the oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives.  The concert was far from a total success, the product of limited rehearsal time, especially for a program featuring such a generous amount of new material.

Beethoven’s pupil Ignaz von Seyfried offered this eyewitness account of the Concerto’s premiere:

In the playing of the concerto movements he asked me to turn the pages for him; but—heaven help me!—that was easier said than done.  I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most on one page or the other a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory, since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to put it all down on paper.  He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible pages and my scarcely concealable anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper that we ate afterwards.

Over time of course, the Third Concerto has become one of the mainstays of the repertoire for solo piano and orchestra.

There is no question that Beethoven intended the Third Piano Concerto to display his unique talents as a concert pianist.  The stormy opening movement (Allegro con brio) looks forward to another work in the key of C minor, the immortal Fifth Symphony, Opus 67 (1808).  The second movement (Largo) evokes first-hand accounts describing Beethoven’s ability to move audiences to tears through the sheer beauty of his playing.  The finale (Rondo. Allegro), on the other hand, reveals a lighter, even more humorous side of Beethoven that is too often overlooked.


Symphony No. 3 (1946)

Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 14, 1900, and died in North Tarrytown, New York, on December 2, 1990. 

The first performance of the Symphony No. 3 took place in Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 18, 1946, with Serge Koussevitsky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Approximate performance time is forty-three minutes.

Aaron Copland remains America’s foremost composer of concert music.  Copland’s masterful and heartfelt incorporation of American folklore and melodies into such works as the ballets Billy the Kid (1940), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944), the Lincoln Portrait (1942) for speaker and orchestra, and his arrangements of Old American Songs (1950 and 1952), have long inspired the affection and admiration of performers and concert audiences.

Despite the immense popularity of such works (or perhaps, because of it), Aaron Copland also sought to compose pieces that built upon the traditions of European concert music.  The Clarinet Concerto (1948), written for Benny Goodman, represents one such venture, although the stylistic influence of American jazz is also quite prominent.  Copland’s Third Symphony, commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation, represents perhaps the composer's most ambitious work in this traditional vein.  Copland’s Third followed two relatively brief Symphonies, completed in 1925 and 1933.

The composition of the Third Symphony took place between 1944 and 1946.  Copland finished the orchestration of the final movement on September 29, 1946, just a few weeks before the Symphony’s premiere on October 18, with Serge Koussevitsky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  The New York Music Critics Circle selected Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony as the best work by an American composer played during the 1946-7 season.

Aaron Copland Discusses his Third Symphony

In Copland’s program notes for the premiere of his Third Symphony, he cautioned:

One aspect of the symphony ought to be pointed out: it contains no folk or popular material.  During the late twenties it was customary to pigeonhole me as a composer of symphonic jazz, with emphasis on the jazz.  More recently I have been catalogued as a purveyor of Americana.  Any reference to jazz or folk-material in this work was purely unconscious.

While it is true that all of the melodies are Copland’s own, the spirit of such works as Appalachian Spring and Lincoln Portrait may be found in the Symphony’s transparent orchestration and beautiful, arching themes.

In addition, Copland acknowledged the presence in the Third Symphony of one of the most familiar and beloved American concert works:

I do borrow from myself by using Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) in an extended and reshaped form in the final movement.  I used this opportunity to carry my Fanfare material further and to satisfy my desire to give the Third Symphony an affirmative tone.  After all, it was a wartime piece—or more accurately, an end-of-war piece—intended to reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time.

The Third Symphony is in four movements.  Copland describes the first (Molto moderato) as “broad and expansive in character”.  The second movement (Allegro molto) serves the function of the Symphony’s lively scherzo.  Copland describes the slow-tempo third movement (Andantino quasi allegretto) as “the freest of all in formal structure.  Although it is built up sectionally, the various sections are intended to emerge one from another in continuous flow, somewhat in the manner of a closely knit series of variations.”  Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (Molto deliberato) serves as the introduction to the main portion of the Symphony’s finale (Allegro risoluto) that propels to a majestic close.