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Four Duets (performance scores) - OB/EH

Composer: Wilder, Alec

Publisher: TrevCo

Edition: 3226 - 70436


Four Duets
for oboe and English horn
by Alec Wilder (1907-1980) - American composer

Alec Wilder's music is a unique blend of American musical traditions - among them jazz and the American popular song - and basic "classical" European forms and techniques. As such it fiercely resists all labeling. Although it often pained Wilder that his music was not more widely accepted by either jazz or classical performers, undeterred he wrote a great deal
of music of remarkable originality in many forms: sonatas, suites, concertos, operas, ballets, art songs, woodwind quintets, brass quintets, jazz suites and hundreds of popular songs.

Alec Wilder was born Alexander Lafayette Chew Wilder, in Rochester, New York on February 16, 1907. He studied briefly at the Eastman School of Music, but as a composer was largely self-taught. As a young man he moved to New York City and made the Algonquin Hotel - that remarkable enclave of American literati and artistic intelligentsia - his permanent
home, although he traveled widely and often. Mitch Miller and Frank Sinatra were initially responsible for getting Wilder's music to the public. It was Miller who organized the historic recordings of Wilder's octets beginning in 1939. Combining elements of classical chamber music, popular melodies and a jazz rhythm section, the octets became popular and eventually legendary through these recordings. Wilder wrote over twenty octets, giving them whimsical titles such as "Neurotic Goldfish," "The Amorous Poltergeist," and "Sea Fugue, Mama."

It is a relative rarity for a composer to enjoy a close musical kinship with classical musicians, jazz musicians and popular singers. Wilder was such a composer, endearing himself to a relatively small but very loyal coterie of performers, and successfully appealing their diverse styles and conceptions. It was John Barrows who served as Wilder's friend and mentor, not only urging him to compose in the larger forms but also introducing him his musical colleagues.

In the early 1950's, Wilder became increasingly drawn to writing concert music for soloists, chamber ensembles and orchestras. Up to the end of his life, he produced dozens of compositions for the concert hall, writing in his typically melodious and ingratiating style. His works are fresh, strong and lyrical, and very much "in the American grain.' No one will ever be sure just how much music Wilder wrote. Sketches of music sometimes entire pieces - were often written on small scraps of manuscript paper while he rode a train, sat on a park bench or waited in an airport terminal. Scattered about collections of Wilder's friends were dozens of compositions which never reached performance or publication. Some may still lie in piano benches and desk drawers wherever Wilder visited, for he wrote almost entirely for friends, and most of his pieces were gifts to them or their children.

Despite his slightly rumpled-professor look, Alec Wilder had a touch of unpretentious elegance and style, always with coat and tie, reflecting a comparable blend of spontaneous looseness and formal discipline in his music. There is also humor, sly humor, the humor of an intelligent, sensitive mind in his music. Although he protested the label (perhaps sometimes too vigorously), Alec Wilder was a bonafide eccentric. If some of his music sometimes has a lopsided , irregular shape, it is because he intended to throw us off guard in making a musical or emotional point. In his popular songs he often created seven-and-nine bar phrases which, nonetheless, always feel as natural as the more orthodox eight-bar structures of Tin Pan
Alley. Alongside his more complex sinuously winding melodies, Wilder could also create tunes of haunting simplicity. "I'll Around" is surely an extraordinary example of the latter, while the ravishing theme of Alec's Serenade (from the "Jazz Be Suite for Four Horns") is a superior representative of the former, a melody worthy of an Ellington or a Gershwin, or a Schubert, and arguably one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed in our century.

Wilder died of lung cancer on Christmas Eve in 1980 in Gainesville, Florida - "just in time to keep from becoming better known," as he might have joked. The successful National Public Radio 56-show series, "American Popular Song," which he hosted with Loonis McGlohon (his co-writer in later years), was bringing about a renaissance of popular song. People were beginning to seek interviews with Wilder, and this attention made him nervous. Had he lived. he probably would not have had enough courage to attend either the 1983 ceremony at which he was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame or the 1991 dedication of the Alec Wilder Reading Room in the Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music.