Icarus, Op. 48
a programmatic suite in four movementsInstrumentation: full orchestra (detailed below)
Duration: about 25 min.
I. Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus)
II. The sea
Premiered: October 26, 1976 (National Symphony Orchestra - Antal Dorati, conductor)
Publication Information: White Bear Lake, Minnesota: Regus, c1975 (103 p. score + ms. parts)
Score available from: Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at Free Library of Philadelphia.
Recording available from: CRI, American Masters: Gene Gutchë
Icarus, Op.48, is a programmatic suite divided into four movements. Two melodic subjects only serve as principal theme: the Columbus Motif and a paraphrase of America the Beautiful. The latter enters with the fourth movement, while the first is the dominant subject throughout. In this suite, the Icarus myth is treated freely and should only be regarded as symbolic. In essence, Columbus, a seafaring adventurer, measures his wits against the sea and comes to grips with his rebellious men. Countering these obstacles is the promise of a vast new continent.The music is austere and assumes a raw physical power. Power can mean many things. Wealth is power. Position can direct our lives. Ideologies have destroyed civilizations. Today we need the strength which Columbus implanted into our new world. It is the strength Washington/Lincoln/Kennedy possessed...a deliberate aim to set all men free. By this means we become powerful. I don't know about you, but I love this country. Tolerate everything. Dismiss the doubt. Accept. Overlook. Break many cups. In compassion is joy. One of these days our earth shall be likened to the moon. When that happens, another Icarus will rise and take us to a new star.
- derived by Michael Barone from the composer's texts and the original, largely unattributed LP album annotations.
2 Flutes (II: Alto Flute)
3 Oboes (III: Eng. Hn.)
3 Clarinet (II: Eb, III: Bass)
4 Horns in F
From Fanfare, The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors (March/April 1978) of Gutchë's Icarus (released on a Turnabout record with Vincent Persichetti's The Hollow Men)
Played by The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Zinman
Gene Gutchë, now seventy, is one of those eccentric but fascinatingly self-made characters operating on the margins of American musical life. A German emigré from his teens and more or less self-taught, he turned to music only in his forties after a checkered career in business. He has carved a unique niche for himself, particularly in the mid-West, where performances of his music have become increasingly frequent over the past fifteen years.
Although he has tried his hand at a half-dozen symphonies and several string quartets, he is best known for a strange series of what, for want of a better name, must be termed "symphonic portraits" of various conqueror figures drawn from ancient history and mythology--Holofernes, Perseus, the Gemini, Genghis Khan, etc. Icarus is described as a "programmatic suite" by the composer, who sees a parallel between the mythical Greek pioneer of flight and Christopher Columbus as both representing types of heroes who ultimately succeeded in spite of their apparent failures. From the composer's own words, it is clear this work also has strong symbolic and patriotic overtones as a study of the uses, consequences, and responsibilities of power.
Whether or not the music itself can sustain such an ambitious weight of meaning, there's no denying its raw excitement and momentum, with quick, terse motifs scurrying through the full registers of the orchestra, and threatening tone-clusters suddenly erupting into pounding, imperial climaxes. Although the thematic ideas are not particularly distinctive, and the tone-painting lacks enough dramatic specificity to be truly memorable, this music still conveys considerable conviction and far more vitality than the etiolated 12-tone academicism or slick potpourris one often encounters today. As someone who considers some of the most effective dramatic music of the century to have come out of Hollywood, this critic intends no disparagement when he describes Gutchë as providing topnotch movie music intended solely for the concert hall. In view of his sophisticated orchestral techniques and vivid pictorial power, one could think of him as a space-age Respighi, minus the tonal sensuousness and splendor, of course.
The performance by the Rochester Philharmonic (not to be confused with the Eastman Symphony Orchestra) under the talented American-born David Zinman (a Conductor whom tape recordists associate with Dutch Radio Broadcasts) is polished and persuasive, though, as is often the case with Turnabout, extra volume and treble are necessary to bring out the recording's partially hidden virtues.
[Final paragraph deals with the Persichetti work.]
P.S. [Paul Snook]