13th Annual Festival

Tuesday, February 12, 1952

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Town Hall concert. Madam Serge Koussevitzky gives Koussevitzky Foundation Award to WNYC for the American Music Festival. Interview with Elie Seigmeister. 7 sides.

Seymour N. Siegel speaks, then introduces Madame Serge Koussevitzky.

"Today marks the opening of WNYC's 13th annual festival of American music. The number of contemporary works which have had their first hearing at these festivals is truly impressive. Through these programs year after year, encouragement has been given to a great many of young composers. The listening public has had an opportunity to become aware of it's own musical heritage and the basis of all musical culture has been broadened and deepened. It is indeed a fitting occasion that WNYC should receive this mark of gratitude from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation created by my husband, Serge Koussevitzky, ten years ago to serve in various ways the same cause for which these festivals are dedicated. It is particularly fitting that the first award of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation should be presented to the radio station of the City of New York because of Serge Koussevitzky's long-cherished hope that music and the fine arts be recognized and supported by governments as essentials elements in the life of the people."

Siegel introduces Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri.

This award is given to you as well as WNYC. American Music Festival cannot exist without your support and interest. We live in an age with greater leisure time, which we must fill and fill profitably in order to lead full and good lives. There is a need for something more personal in entertainment. This we can find in music. You will fine not only the old favorites, but the new music which expressed the feelings of our age. Your sole responsibility is to listen to and enjoy the many public concerts and studio broadcasts for the next ten days.

New York Woodwind Quartet performs Symphonia for Woodwind Quartet by Bernhard Heiden. Samuel Barren, flute; Jerome Roth, oboe; David Glazer, clarinet; Bernard Garfield, bassoon; Ralph Pile, French horn.

New York Wind Ensemble includes an augmented quintet including Norman Greenberg, French horn; Robert Nagel (composer) and Theodore Weiss, trumpets; Julian Magon (?), trombone; Josef Novotny, tuba. Performing Divertimento for Ten Winds by Robert Nagel.

Four songs by Elie Siegmeister. Music set to texts by Lanston Hughes. Brenda Miller sings and Elie Siegmeister at piano. Song titles: Chalkmarks on the Pavement; Childhood Memories; Yes, No or Maybe; It Ain't Me.

Joseph Goodman's Fantasy for Flute, Cello and Piano. Written for the Segal Trio which includes Mary Stretch, piano; Muffy Vonn, cello; and Edith Segal, flute.

Interview with Elie Siegmeister. Siegmester's inspirations? Stravinsky, Beethoven, Musorgsky, Prokofiev, Ives. Talk about composing film scores.

How Siegmeister came to write the four songs to the words by Langston Hughes. Hughes wrote poems, sometimes a couple of lines of poetry and Siegmeister would compose around it and then Hughes would add some more lines. Have you written in concerto form? No. Chamber music? Yes, mostly in his early years. Recently, mainly symphonies. What do you look for in the future of American music? Symphony and musical play, an evolution of an American style which would partake in both these elements.

Introduces compositions by Marcel Grandjany and Gunther Schuller. New Chamber Music Society, under Paul Wolf's direction, perform Poem for Harp, Horn and Orchestra by Grandjany, then followed by Le Petite Suite by Schuller.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 8611
Municipal archives id: LT7391


Gunther Schuller, Bernhard Heiden, Madam Koussevitzky, Marcel Grandjany, New Chamber Music Society, New York Wind Ensemble, New York Woodwind Quintet and Elie Siegmeister


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About American Music Festival

Conceived in 1939, the first WNYC American Music Festival hit the air in February 1940. For more than forty years, it was a station tradition of live events and concerts, reflecting "the culture of a peaceful people, in a land where men and women of any race and creed were free to compose and perform music based on any and all themes." From Lincoln to Washington's birthdays the festival's concerts filled WNYC's airwaves, providing listeners with the full range of live American music from classical, to folk, to jazz and everything in between both in-studio and from concert stages around the city.

The festival was a response to the dominant Euro-centric musical attitudes of the time. Reflecting on the festival's birth, station Director Morris Novik wrote in 1945, "It was obvious that something should be done to fill the gap that was a serious hindrance to the furthering of the cause of native American musical genius. There were no provisions for encouraging and fostering this talent, and only a very limited means of presentation of Americans works that deserved to be heard."

Four Objectives of the American Music Festival

  1. Provide a sounding board for talented young American musicians.
  2. Grant a hearing and performance to any meritorious works or compositions of native composers.
  3. Promote the cause of American classical music, which is heard all too rarely on concert programs.
  4. Interest the public in the appreciation of good American music.

In its first six years, listeners heard Morton Gould, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Bowles and Deems Taylor, some for the first time on radio. On the folk front, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger were regular performers. In jazz, listeners heard from the likes of Benny Goodman, Sam Price and Albert Ammons.

The first ticket, to a "POP CONCERT," was for the All Star Army Band with Private Johnny Messner conducting and Private Buddy Moreno as vocalist. Also performing was the U.S. Maritime Service Orchestra with Ensign Philip Lang conducting.

The second ticket, part of the closing concert for the series, was for admission to a concert featuring the music of Aaron Copland. This program included:

  • "Dance of the Adolescent" with Aaron Copland and Leo Smith, pianos.
  • "As It Fell Upon A Day" performed by Shirley Sinclair, soprano; Anabel Hulme, flute; and Meyer Kupferman, clarinet
  • "Three Pieces from Our Town" with Aaron Copland, piano
  • "Danzon Cubano" with Aaron Copland and Leo Smit, pianos and Isaac Stern, violin

During a concert intermission at one of the early festivals, (the final concert of the 1941 season), Aaron Copland stated that the radio audience was key to developing American music. In fact, he closed his remarks by hoping for "bigger and better WNYC festivals in the future." Following his intermission speech, the Brooklyn Academy audience heard a world premiere of a choral work by another American composer, Roy Harris.

By the mid-1980s WNYC's American Music Festival had run its course. The last few festivals were a shadow of their former glory as eleven days of live concerts were compacted into a day-long "Americathon". This single day of performances was sandwiched between broadcasts of American music from the studios on record only.

In the early 21st century the days between Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays were still a time for WNYC to focus on American music. In fact, in 2001 the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) recognized WNYC last year with one of their first-ever Concert Music Awards. It honored WNYC for "75 years of enlightened broadcasting featuring the music of our time."

Thanks to the NYC Municipal Archives and its Director, Kenneth R. Cobb, and to Andy Lanset for his research and preservation work.


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