Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gould: American Concertette

Cover by Alex Steinweiss
The more works by New York-born Morton Gould (1913-1996) I hear, the more I am convinced that he is one of the most seriously underrated of American composers.  I'm sure the abundance of popular-music stylings that pop up in his pieces hasn't helped his case any, nor has the fact that, in the 1940s and 1950s at least, he made his share of Kostelanetz-like arrangements of popular tunes which he recorded with his own orchestra.  But the best of his work has wit, charm and craftsmanship second to none for an American composer.  Typical is this gem of a miniature piano concerto from 1943, which he originally called "American Concertette" - it didn't receive the subtitle "Interplay" until turned into a ballet two years later:

Morton Gould: Interplay (American Concertette), for piano and orchestra
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia
Morton Gould, pianist and conductor
Recorded August 1, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MX-289, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 39.55 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 20.96 MB)

The piece is in four short movements, the second of which is a quirky Gavotte, and the third a Blues that took on a life of its own as a solo piano piece.  Incidentally, the suffix "-ette" to denote works of smaller structure than full scale ones (e.g., "Concertette," "Symphonette") was Gould's invention, which he subsequently came to regret.


  1. Ah, the memories of Robin Hood Dell concerts in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia...this natural amphitheater, overlooking the Schuylkill River(pronounced "skookl" by the natives), featured great soloists and a reduced Philadelphia Orchestra...concerts were free and typically, 18,000+ were in attendance....thanks for the album.

  2. I had this recording once when Columbia transferred it to vinyl. Lovely to hear it again after all this time, Bryan.

  3. I wonder why, Bryan, Gould 'came to regret' the rather clever "diminutive" he awarded these two charming, pleasing works? Maybe I could speculate, being old enough to remember the "Longines Symphonette" radio program of the early 1950s...but, surely Morton Gould, himself, was no musical snob and appreciated the lighter vein along with the great Arthur Fiedler, Jose Iturbi, and other artists of the forties who deigned to put up their long hair from time to time...

    Incidentally, I appreciate your one foray (so far) into stereo Lp territory with the now-rate Gould Shostakovich LP, and this brings to mind a mono long play that I'd surely love to hear again: Antal Dorati's c.1953/4 recording of Gould's Spirituals. I've always thought that this performance packed a bigger wallop than Gould's own Chicago Sym. recording on Victor (rather dumbed down by Dynagroove) or the early stereo Everest -- Susskind, wasn't it? Not terribly idiomatic. I once begged a certain back bay "cap'n" who puts out restorations of LPs on CD to produce his own transfer of the Gould, since neither Mercury nor Philips seem to have done so; he sent me a scathing refusal, saying "Morton Gould's music is s---!" which shocked and offended ME, as I certainly do not agree (as do many collectors I happen to know.)

    S. - retired recording engineer

    1. S., you're in luck - I have that Dorati Gould recording on a Mercury Wing reissue from the 60s, coupled with the Kubelik/Chicago Sym. Bloch Concerto Grosso, and it's on my to-do list. Stay tuned.

      There's a great biography of Gould by Peter Goodman ("Morton Gould: American Salute") that discusses the issue of Gould's light-vs.-serious works. It seems he came to feel typecast as a light music composer and resented not being taken seriously as a symphonic composer, and not having his works performed by the big orchestras after c. 1960. Surely the regret over the "-ette" suffix stems from these feelings.

  4. Bryan, is there any way you could re-upload the Gould American Concertette, please? Both flac and mp3 files are kaput! I'd more likely use the mp3 but would be happy for either (or both). Thanks.