The Emperor’s Roundup

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A critic in 1811 loved it, but also said it was “one of the most difficult” piano works to play. Mr. Lessner is definitely up to the task, having performed his first recital at 11 and composing music for over 70 films and television shows, including CBS’ “48 Hours” and “Monday Night Football.”

Beethoven was hiding in his brother’s basement composing the “Emperor” while French artillery bombarded Vienna, a life he described as “...misery of all sorts." In the midst of chaos, he wrote an ordered concerto of true grandeur. He titled it “Grand Concerto” but a music publisher renamed it the “Emperor” (to improve sales?)

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We’ll perform one of Hollywood’s best-known Western scores, “The Big Country” (1958), by Jerome Moross, a composer practically unknown today. Moross worked primarily on musicals, ballet scores, and classical compositions - but he never took composition classes, saying, “I don't want to learn how somebody else writes."

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Over a 50-year career, Elmer Bernstein composed many famous scores, including “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), possibly his masterpiece. “Once in a while — it doesn’t happen often — you hit on something quite thrilling,” he said of this score. In no small part due to his music, the film took on a life of its own and became the second most-shown film on TV (second only to “The Wizard of Oz”).

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Ferde Grofé wrote “The Grand Canyon Suite” (1931) for jazz band (he was also the original arranger for Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”). Working in practically every aspect of 20th century music - film, radio, recording, jazz, classical - Grofé wrote arrangements for million-sellers, but nothing came close to the success he enjoyed with the “Grand Canyon Suite.” He watched sunrise at the Grand Canyon in 1916 and wrote: “I was spellbound... you could hear nature coming to life... I couldn’t describe it in words...”

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“Billy the Kid” (1938) by Aaron Copland is probably the first true American ballet, combining classical, cowboy, and folk music in a completely accessible style. Copland loved what he called the gifted listener, “... who intends to retain his amateur status... such a listener excites the composer in me.” Born in Brooklyn, Copland was wary of trying his hand at Western music, but the ballet director kept pushing him. And so, he said, “In the summer of 1938, I found myself writing a cowboy ballet in Paris, France.”