New Morning for the World: “Daybreak of Freedom”

        Joseph Schwantner is one of America’s most distinguished composers, having gained recognition for his talent early in his career.   Born in Chicago, he was educated at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and at Northwestern University, having received a doctorate at the latter in 1968.  In the following years he taught at the Eastman School of Music, Julliard, and Yale.  The list of his commissioned works is long, and he has enjoyed performances of his music by some of the most distinguished musicians of our times.  He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1979.

        New Morning for the World: “Daybreak of Freedom” was commissioned by AT&T, upon the suggestion of the Director of the Eastman School, Robert Freeman, in 1981. The première was given at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1983 by Eastman’s orchestra.   Owing to Freeman’s devotion to the Pittsburgh Pirates, he suggested that Pirates baseball star, Willie Stargell, be selected to do the narration for the first performance.   The composer recounts:

The words that I selected for the narration were garnered from a variety of Dr. King’s writings, addresses, and speeches, and drawn from a period of more than a decade of his life.  These words, eloquently expressed by the thrust of his oratory, bear witness to the power and nobility of Martin Luther King’s ideas, principles and beliefs.

        Schwantner’s musical style is an effective instrument for the dramatic setting of King’s words.  Interjections of ominous, heavy drums are imposed upon sparkling motives set in high tessituras by pitched percussion, strings and woodwinds.   Orchestra color is one of the composer’s chief compositional focuses, and the listener will have ample opportunity to hear the full resources of the orchestra called to service.  Schwantner’s effective writing for the orchestra, his flair for drama, and adroit manipulation of texture is immensely appealing to most, and he has done much to help contemporary audiences appreciate the best in new music.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan