This does'nt happen often lately, but I'm always pleased when it does. That is, when I come across a performance of a composition that I've never heard, but (perhaps) always thought I should know. In these instances, I find that I listen with a focus and dispersed-intention that I don't always achieve when listening...usually, I'm listening for something, some hook or handle, or listening for what another has told me is useful to listen to...for example, I'm looking forward to listening to more music of Stefan Wolpe in order to hear for myself the (described by Robert Morris, OSM issue 6) 'respiration' of the work...and in what ways this happens.
As I've said above, I also appreciate and anticipate those times when I'm listening without any mission or agenda, only to listen. The latest occassion for this kind of listening (for me) is Francis Thorne's Symphony Nr. 5. For some reason I have confused, (well, till now), Francis Thorne with Andrew Imbrie and (sometimes) with Irving Fine. Why do I do this? There is a particular harmonic glow that accompanies the music of these composers, and this glow is not dissimilar to that achieved by Walter Piston, Roy Harris, William Schuman, and even Carl Ruggles and Wallingford Riegger. I don't think, similarities notwithstanding, that I'll be confusing Thorne with these composers any longer.
The Symphony Nr. 5 is compact in design, straightforward in execution, elegant linearly, and carefully wrought harmonically. My wont is here to write 'rugged', but this term, while appropriate, has become so far entwined with descriptions of Ruggles, and in a way that I find offensive, that in good conscience I can only mention the term in passing...more of a hint of how I found this piece on my listening.
One train of thought that recurred to me over and over again was a train of thought that said to me: "that's a nice trumpet line; what a nice english horn solo!; ooh, Thorne wrote that picc. line very well..." and other things like that. As I consider why I think these isolated judgements, instead of, say, judgements about the phrase-rhythm of harmony, or about the cohesion of the formal design, etc., I began thinking of Plato's Thaetetus, and the discussion there about the relationship of parts to a whole, or totality. Why is it, with this piece, there are passages, textures, ideas, features of the work that I admire very much, and yet I'd probably listen to several other pieces before I return to this work and listen to it again.
The facts: Thorne was born in 1922 in Bay Shore, New York. He did'nt work professionally as a musician until his early thirties when he quit his day job on Wall Street to play as House Pianist for some ritzy-sounding place on 52nd street. At some time he studied formally with Paul Hindemith at Yale, and also studied with David Diamond in Florence. The Symphony Nr. 5 dates from 1984, and the recording I have is with the composers orchestra...that's all that was on the burned cd...anyhow, it times in at about 24 minutes. The scherzo is great.