the music of Alec Wilder

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My story with Alec Wilder

It was in the year 2000 when I organized a concert under the title "Jazz meets classical music". It was with my wind ensemble. We played classical music from the beginning of the 20th century, inspired by jazz. We played Bohuslav Martinu's Sextet and Kurt Weill's "Dreigroschenmusik". Some of our colleagues Friedemann Graef, Christof Griese and Nikolaus Schäuble composed or arranged some pieces for the woodwind ensemble for this occasion.
The last performance was in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Of course, after the concert we went to a restaurant to eat and drink. A well-known song at the time sang about the nights in Kreuzberg being special, longer and more beer. A young saxophonist, David Milne, from the USA was there and he asked me: "Do you know Alec Wilder?" "Not yet" I replied, the next day I remembered and started my research.
I found the Richmond organization and the contact to Judy Bell on the internet. I searched for the music and wanted to play the octets and so it went on, until today I am on a journey of discovery.
Come with me...

Quotes by Alec Wilder

People need to listen. They should listen not only to music, but to each other. And people need to read everything they can get their hands on. You've got to study life. How can you know anything unless you know how the whale swims, or how the stars work? You can't get anything for nothing. You can't make a hobby out of life."

I'm concerned with the miracle of life in all of its incredible forms. I'll stop for a spider, a bird, a tree, a flower, a child, a book, a storm, a sound, a scent, a smile. I'll blow bubbles, watch bobble birds, read a dictionary, listen to a sad take, "There was no ambition to be famous, no desire to have pieces played by famous orchestras, no secret wish for commissions or prizes or for being "taken up" by prominent art lovers. I simply hoped I could learn to do something well." Alec Wilder

What makes Alec Wilder special?

Absolutely, his music is original. Who can resist the charm of his octets
? The blending of classical music with elements of jazz
runs consistently through his works. It is not cheap showmanship, it is very well crafted. Not all of his works are easily accessible, they only become accessible gradually. His tonal language is specific. Alec Wilder as a person must have been just as unusual, a reserved person. The statement that there was no ambition to become famous creates sympathy at a time when it was more common to strive for publicity and collect successes.

He preferred to compose for friends and gave them the scores afterwards, which is why it is difficult to have an overview of his work, let alone reconstruct everything. He composed for well-known musicians, Mildred Bailey, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, the list could be extended considerably.

He found a famous advocate in Frank Sinatra, who not only interpreted a number
of his songs, but also made a legendary recording of some
works, classical pieces and some of his octets in 1938. "Believe or not, Frank
Sinatra can do a lot more things than sing....
" anounced by Wilder.

Many of his songs have become jazz standards.

After Kurt Weill'sdeath, he took over the collaboration with Arnold Sundgaard for so-called "school operas".

During this time, he began composing music for children. Together with the illustrator Maurice Sendrak he wrote a book "Lullabies and Night Songs",
the music for Alice in Wonderland and another legendary recording of the work
"A Child's introduction to he orchestra" under the direction of the bandleader
and oboist Mitch Miller, a very close friend of Wilder.

The 60s were turbulent years in America, Alec did not feel comfortable with life in the
twentieth century and the 60s bothered him, especially the excitement of the
Vietnam War. He developed a piece "Children's plea for peace"
(1968), based on compositions by schoolchildren, a moving piece in
its simplicity.
This work is perhaps one of his most touching ideas.

Alec Wilder

1907 - 1980

Wilder studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, whose director at the time was Howard Hanson. He studied composition with Edward Roxce and counterpoint with Herbert Inch.

During his student days, he was involved in a protest against the rigid pedagogical procedures, which was symptomatic of a conflict between him and the director Howard Hanson, (composer and conductor), both of whom could not have been more different, both in person and in their view of music. Nevertheless, this was a time for experimentation, a time for learning. "I still write pop songs and struggle with the lyrics,..... My role model of a pop singer was Ethel Watrers, so I wrote everything in her style. I also heard a guy, he sings with the Delta Rhythm Boys, I write the male songs for him, his name is Bing Crosby.

During this time there were some false starts when trying to enter the business of a songwriter
, nevertheless there were some successes e.g. with the song "All the King's horses " in a Broadway revue "Three's a crowd ".

After Rochester, Wilder started his career in New York, where he found a kind of "confessor" in James Sibley Watson, because of his childhood it is not surprising that Alec looked for friends who gave him the support of a family, among these longtime friends are, besides Watson, Charles Dunn, an older friend who probably introduced him to European classical music, the photographer Louis Ouzer,
and from Eastman School days, the oboist Mitchel Miller, whose later wife Frances Alexander was a pianist, the clarinettist Jimmy Carrol, the horn player John Barrows and the tenor Frank Baker.

At a time when the names George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin shone on Broadway, it was difficult for a new voice to be heard. So his career began as an arranger for the Ford Motor Show Friday Night on CBS. He arranged a series of light classical pieces for a 16-piece orchestra that included Mitch Miller on oboe and English horn. It was Mitch Miller who asked Wilder, when he had to play a series of baroque concertos, " Why don't you use these instruments with a harpsichord and make a "kind of jazz chamber music". That was it, the idea for the Wilder Octets was born. These pieces became legendary, and made his enigmatic reputation that would follow him throughout his career. These octets lie somewhere between popular jazz idioms and the realm of formal concert music. He gave them whimsical names, such as "the neurotic goldfish, the amourous poltergeist, Jack, this is my husband".... In any case, they are daring and truly original. These octets were recorded in 1939 and Mitch Miller described them as the "origin of all jazz chamber music".

Wilder meets the lyricist William Engvick, who has arrived from California, and they form a team for the songs. The first "hits" appear: "It's so peaceful in the country", "while we're young". Alec Wilder arranges mainly for Benny Goodman.

Wilder met Frank Sinatra, for whom he had written some arrangements and who was already very popular, Sinatra heard some of Wilder's previously unpublished classical works. Sinatra was very impressed, and as a result the record "Frank Sinatra conducts Alec Wilder" was made, consisting of the Air for flute, oboe, bassoon, English horn, Slow Dance, Theme and Variations, and some of the octets.

This recording represents a turning point, from then on Wilder devotes himself more to classical
compositions, but also continues to write popular music, but he opens up
the field of orchestral music, chamber music, film music, etc.

His "Piece for Orchestra" by Erich Leinsdorf was premiered in 1947, but Wilder was still more interested in small ensembles.

In 1948, Wilder met the playwright and lyricist Arnold Sundgaard , who had become famous through his collaboration with Kurt Weill. Sundgaard had the idea for a libretto "The wind blows free", and it was the dancer Gene Kelly who suggested Alec Wilder as a possible composer.

After Weill's death, Sundgaard was left alone with a contract with publisher Schirmer for "School Operas". Fortunately, Alec Wilder was able to take over this task. At the same time, he began to write music for children. At the end of the 1940s, Wilder met his friend the horn player John Barrows in New York, who introduced him to the composer Gunter Schuller, who himself played the horn. The result was the Jazz Suite for 4 horns + rhythm section.

There is a single trip to Hollywood, where he works with Engvick on the score for a musical, which is never performed. At home in New York, he works on an opera "Ellen" and continues to collaborate with Sundgaard.

He writes many chamber music sonatas for almost all instruments, flute, saxophone, tuba, bassoon, and horn sonatas for his friend Barrows, through whom he gets to know the New York Woodwind Quintet, for which some pieces are written. Gunther Schuller begins to catalog Wilder's works, and together with Clark Galehouse and Howard Richmond, the TRO The Richmond Organization, the works are edited and published by Margun Music. In this phase of increasing admiration and recognition, Wilder writes books himself, including "The American popular Song". Finally, Wilder writes several concertos with orchestra and wind orchestra, many of which are written for well-known
jazz musicians, e.g. Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Clarke Terry, Roland Hanna.

One of his last works is, quite atypically, a church cantata.

Alec Wilder dies on Christmas Eve 1980 in Florida.




https://www.facebook.com/groups/183634511740197  friends of Alec Wilder

https://www.robertlevymusic.com/     ein großartiger Unterstützer der Musik Wilders