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Let’s Get Away From It All: Natural Wonders

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The following is the first in a series of three guest posts by Music Division Archivist Anita M. Weber.

Stretch of highway 66 in Mohave County in Arizona
Stretch of highway 66 in Mohave County in Arizona, 2018, Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, Prints and Photographs Division.
Sheet music cover for Route 66
Bob Troup, “Route 66,” lead sheet, Burke & Van Heusen, inc., 1946, copyright deposit EP 3820, Music Division.

No vacation for you this summer? Me either. But I’ve found a way to take a few trips through music, plotting out three escapes that provide something for everyone. For many people summer vacation means a road trip. So for our first trip let’s hop in the car and head for western North America – a land of extreme beauty and grandeur.

I’m a native Chicagoan, so on this vacation we are taking iconic Route 66 west (because it’s my dream world, the road is in its heyday). “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” by Bobby Troup and sung by the Nat King Cole Trio is setting a nice swing-y mood that will take us almost all the way to California. On the way, we’ll “see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona” and won’t “forget Winona” or Kingman, Arizona, before heading northwest to our first stop: Death Valley National Park.

Page one of Ferde Grofé's dedication copy of Death Valley Suite
Ferde Grofé’s dedication copy of Death Valley Suite, ozalid copy, Ferde Grofé Collection, Music Division.

Here Ferde Grofé will be our guide to this often bleak and desolate land. Grofé composed his Death Valley Suite in 1949 to celebrate the centennial of the “49ers” trek through Death Valley on their way to the California gold fields.

In four movements Grofé takes us on a journey to the “Funeral Mountains” (grim, bleak, dark, foreboding), a “Desert Water Hole” (with a magisterial opening that becomes playful as it segues into “Oh Susannah,” cinematic in sound) and through a “Sandstorm” (a swirling, whirling, tempest, followed by the clearing sky and calm/peace). We also take a ride on an “Emigrant Train” (a rollicking jaunt, train wheels rolling, movement, and a sense of fun/camaraderie).

Now let’s continue 500 miles northward to a different type of beauty – Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California.

Poster for Lassen Volcanic National Park from 1938
Lassen Volcanic National Park, Ranger Naturalist Service, Department of the Interior, ca. 1938, Prints and Photographs Division.
Page 1 of Samuel B. Fields, “Lassen Volcanic Peak National Park”
Samuel B. Fields, “Lassen Volcanic Peak National Park,” 1923, copyright deposit E 553704, Music Division.

When it became a national park in 1916 (just two years after its last eruption), Lassen Peak was the only volcano protected by the federal government. Five years after this plug dome volcano joined the national park system, Samuel B. Fields poetically described the “torrents of foam, shouting geysers, cinder cone, hot boiling cauldrons, icy caves and flow’r-y glade [that] in turn delight the eye” in his simply titled “The Lassen Volcanic National Park.”

After hiking a bit at Lassen and perhaps taking a dip at the park’s cooling Manzanita Lake it is time to drive 870 miles east-northeast to Montana to visit Yellowstone National Park where our two guides, Joseph Adam and Nicolas Slonimsky, await.

Austrian-born Joseph Adam, director of the music department and professor of piano at Montana State University in Bozeman, composed Yellowstone National Park Suite, op. 5 in 1923. The movement names serve as a guide to this glorious park: the “Old Faithful Inn” built of towering lodgepole pine logs, the great polychrome “Morning Glory” pool, wildlife in the form of bear “Cubs,” and the “Grand Canyon” created by lava flow and carved by the Yellowstone River. Adam’s suite is a set of tone poems that bring the beauty of the park to life through sound, especially “Morning Glory” which one listener noted is descriptive of the pool with music that has “a tone poetry that is as iridescent as the subject.”

First page of Joseph Adam's Yellowstone Suite
Joseph Adam, Yellowstone Park Suite, op. 5, 1923, copyright deposit E565578, Music Division.
Poster for Yellowstone National Park from 1938
Yellowstone National Park, Ranger Naturalist Service, Department of the Interior, ca. 1938, Prints and Photographs Division.


Cover to the 1951 edition of Nicolas Slonimsky's Yellowstone Suite
Nicolas Slonimsky, “Yellowstone Suite,” 1951, ML24. S636 Y4, Music Division.

Our next guide, Nicolas Slonimsky, takes a different tack. In his Yellowstone Suite, written in 1951, the Russian-born musical trickster takes us on an altogether different tour of Yellowstone. Five movements of this suite also take us to the park’s sites: “Paint Pot Basin,” “Clepsydra (Water-Clock Geyser),” “Roaring Mountain,” and of course, “Old Faithful.” But in his imaginative introductory text and his off-kilter music Slonimsky also reminds us of some of the dangers in the wild.

One is forewarned about the steamy vents: “Fumaroles and solfataras,” he notes in the introduction to movement three, “are tiny but mean volcanic vents. Fumaroles fume; solfataras exude solfo, which is Italian for the odor of over-ripe eggs.”  “One of these geyserlets,” Slonimsky complains, “sent a jet of steam up the author’s trouser leg, scalding his ankle sufficiently to enable him to display raw flesh burns for fully a week.”

Instead of Adam’s “Cubs,” Slonimsky sees black bears and reminds us that “Black bears of Yellowstone Park are, in the words of the National Park Service brochure, ‘apparently friendly but potentially very dangerous.’” Thus forewarned, with bear bells and bear spray in our packs, we can spend a week or more taking in the geysers, fumeroles, and hiking trails of this vast, glorious park before resuming our journey.

With passports in hand, we’ll drive 670 miles along the spine of the Rocky Mountains where our final stop finds us in Alberta, Canada at beautiful Lake Louise with its turquoise lakes and the Victoria glacier.

Lead sheet for Lake Louise by Andre Kostelanetz
Andre Kostelanetz, “Lake Louise,” lead sheet, 1927, Andre Kostelanetz Collection, Music Division.
First page of manuscript full score for Lake Louise by Andre Kostelanetz
Andre Kostelanetz, “Lake Louise,” manuscript full score, Andre Kostelanetz Collection, Music Division.

Russian-American conductor Andre Kostelanetz visited this area by train in 1927 while on a cross-country trip to California. The beauty of the area and the lake itself inspired him to compose “Lake Louise,” for solo harp.

And here’s a treat for you – a chance to listen to Mr. Kostelanetz, himself, play his composition (transcribed for piano) and enjoy a peaceful respite at the end of our long journey.

Comments (5)

  1. Great post! Creative and fun!

  2. What a wonderful way to travel (now that we can’t). Thank you and I’m going to go listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing LET’S TAKE A WALK AROUND THE BLOCK.

  3. Wow what a trip! Not only fun but boy did I learn a lot ! Thanks

  4. Thank you for this great post. I’m looking up all of this music on Spotify. Not being familiar with all of Grofé’s work before, I discovered he composed a bunch of “Suites” including Hudson River Suite and a very fun Hollywood Suite.

  5. The Nicky Slominsky info is so interesting. Who knew?
    The father of the The Thesaurus of Scales

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