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Ruth Crawford Seeger - Portrait / Knussen, Shelton, De Leeuw

Release Date: 01/27/1998 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 449925   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ruth Crawford SeegerCharles Seeger
Performer:  Marijke Van KootenHeleen HulstKarin DolmanHans Woudenberg,   ... 
Conductor:  Oliver KnussenJames Wood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg EnsembleNew London Chamber Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

A 1998 "Critic's Choice" from Gramophone magazine.


This is an excellently conceived portrait of a remarkable American pioneer. Crawford wrote most of her music in Chicago in the 1920s and in New York in the early-1930s. She studied with Charles Seeger in New York and then was the first woman to obtain a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Europe, where she showed her work to leading figures such as Berg, Bartok, Honegger and Roussel. When she returned to New York she married Seeger. It was his involvement with folk music, their commitment to Communism and raising a young family in the Depression that gradually cut her off from writing her own exploratory music. She died at only 52 in 1953,
Read more just when she might have been finding her way back to composition with the Suite for wind quintet included here.

As more of Crawford’s music emerges in print and on CD it becomes very clear that she had her own voice even when she was in Chicago, well before she met Seeger, although his ideas were a significant influence from 1930. The earliest work here, the Music for Small Orchestra (1926), demonstrates this. The first movement is based on ostinato and there are suggestions of Ives as chords build into clusters but she could hardly have heard anything of his at that time. The second movement employs some elements of neo-classicism in a distinctly personal, even bantering way.

Crawford’s best-known work, recorded by the Arditti Quartet (Gramavision, 11/90 – nla), is her String Quartet of 1931. This radical piece has been acclaimed for its anticipations of Carter and patches of clusters that would not sound out of place in early Penderecki. It is certainly a courageous document and its Andante works well in her 1938 setting for string orchestra, although it builds up such intensity that it seems slightly short. The Dohnanyi recording with the Cleveland Orchestra is also impressive.

However, there are also novelties here, such as the Three Chants, recorded complete for the first time – an ingenious reflection of monks singing in heterophony in an invented language. Crawford knew and admired Carl Sandburg and her Three Songs to his poems gained her some recognition when they were given at the ISCM in Amsterdam in 1933. She is absolutely at one with Sandburg’s images, from the mechanical violence of the second song to the spooky moonscape of the last.

The Two Ricercare are acidic political statements. The first is in memory of Sacco and Vanzetti, anarchists executed the year before for crimes of which they were widely thought innocent, and the second concerns the exploitation of foreign labour. The cause is populist but the musical language is uncompromising. All these songs are splendidly delivered by Lucy Shelton. De Leeuw is a reliable pianist but the accents in the Study (in octaves like the finale of Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata) could have been more emphatic.

A less familiar facet of Crawford, also aired in this year’s Proms under Knussen, is represented by Rissolty Rossolty, an orchestral setting of three folk-songs from 1939. This is altogether sparkling and delightful and is followed by a Charles Seeger setting – slightly more obvious. Finally the late Suite for wind quintet harks back to Crawford’s earlier style with characteristic use of ostinato and octaves. It is neatly imagined and a sad reminder of what might have been. But this outstanding CD shows us how grateful we can be for everything Crawford did achieve and the booklet provides informative notes by Crawford’s latest biographer, Judith Tick, and a tribute from Knussen.

-- Peter Dickinson, Gramophone [12/97]
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Performer:  Marijke Van Kooten (Violin), Heleen Hulst (Violin), Karin Dolman (Viola),
Hans Woudenberg (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; USA 
Suite for Small Orchestra by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; USA 
Songs (3) by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Performer:  Lucy Shelton (Soprano), Ger De Zeeuw (Percussion), John Snijders (Piano),
Marieke Schut (Oboe)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930-1932; USA 
Language: English 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1930 - 1933). 
Chants (3) for Women's Chorus by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Performer:  Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Jeannette Ager (Alto)
Conductor:  James Wood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New London Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; Berlin, Germany 
Study in Mixed Accents by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Performer:  Reinbert De Leeuw (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; USA 
Ricercare (2) by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Performer:  Lucy Shelton (Soprano), Reinbert De Leeuw (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; USA 
Andante for Strings by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931/1938; USA 
Rissolty Rossolty by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USA 
John Hardy by Charles Seeger
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USA 
Suite for Wind Quintet by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Performer:  Marieke Schut (Oboe), Pierre Woudenberg (Clarinet), Wilma Van den Berge (Bassoon),
Govert Jurriaanse (Flute), Hans Dullaert (French Horn)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USA 

Sound Samples

Music for Small Orchestra (1926): 1. Slow, pensive
Music for Small Orchestra (1926): 2. In roguish humor. Not fast
Three Chants: 1. To An Unkind God
Three Chants: 2. To An Angel
Three Chants: 3. To A Kind God
Piano Study in Mixed Accents (1930)
Three Songs: 1. Rat Riddles
Three Songs: 2. Prayers of Steel
Three Songs: 3. In Tall Grass
String Quartet 1931: 1. Rubato assai
String Quartet 1931: 2. Leggiero
String Quartet 1931: 3. Andante
String Quartet 1931: 4. Allegro possibile
2 Ricercare: 1. Sacco, Vanzetti
2 Ricercare: 2. Chinaman, Laundryman
Andante for Strings
Rissolty Rossolty
John Hardy (1940)
Suite (1952): 1. Allegretto
Suite (1952): 2. Lento rubato
Suite (1952): 3. Allegro possibile

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