Three New England Sketches

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Three New England Sketches by Walter Piston is a symphonic suite dating from 1959.

Walter Piston American composer, music theorist and professor of music

Walter Hamor Piston Jr,, was an American composer of classical music, music theorist, and professor of music at Harvard University.

This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1959.



The Sketches were commissioned by the Worcester County Musical Association for its 100th Annual Music Festival, and the cycle is dedicated to the conductor Paul Paray. [1] They were composed in the summer of 1959 when Piston, as had become his habit, retreated to the Green Mountains in Vermont to work from a hilltop with a magnificent view spread out before him. [2] While the composer did not consider it a symphony he stated that each of the three movements did conform to symphonic development and indicated that each movement represented his impressions of that aspect of the New England region. It was first performed on October 23, 1959, by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Paul Paray. [3]

Worcester Music Festival is a classical music festival held in Worcester, Massachusetts since 1858, and it is claimed to be the oldest music festival in the United States.

Paul M. A. Charles Paray was a French conductor, organist and composer. He is best remembered in the United States for being the resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade.

Green Mountains mountain range in Vermont, U.S.

The Green Mountains are a mountain range in the U.S. state of Vermont. The range runs primarily south to north and extends approximately 250 miles (400 km) from the border with Massachusetts to the border with Quebec, Canada. The part of the same range that is in Massachusetts and Connecticut is known as The Berkshires or the Berkshire Hills and the Quebec portion is called the Sutton Mountains, or Monts Sutton in French.


The work is in three movements:

A typical performance will last around 17 minutes.

While Piston disowned any specific programmatic intentions, he did not object if others made their own associations. The movement titles, he said,

were the subjects that prompted me to compose. I did not intend to openly suggest the subject matter, but a man came up to me, following the premiere, and said, "I hope you don't mind my saying that I smelled clams during the first movement." I said, "No, that is quite all right. They are your clams." Each individual is free to interpret as he wishes. [4]

The first two movements (both of which are loose binary forms) are especially evocative with, for example, "amazingly life-like" bird and insect chirps and buzzes in "Summer Evening". The last movement, "Mountains", is—appropriate to its title—in an arched ABCBA form in which the sections are differentiated by tempo and expressive character: A is "Maestoso" and monumental, B is "Risoluto" and lively, and C is "Meno mosso" and atmospheric. [5]

Binary form is a musical form in 2 related sections, both of which are usually repeated. Binary is also a structure used to choreograph dance. In music this is usually performed as A-A-B-B.

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  1. Howard Pollack, Walter Piston, Studies in Musicology (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982): 131.
  2. Howard Pollack, Walter Piston, Studies in Musicology (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982): 116.
  3. Steven Lowe, Liner notes to Walter Piston: Symphony No. 4, Capriccio for Harp and String Orchestra, Three New England Sketches. Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz, conductor. Naxos CD 8.559162. [Hong Kong]: Naxos, 2002.
  4. Walter Piston, "Can Music Be Nationalistic?", Music Journal 19, no. 7 (October 1961): 25 & 86. Quotation on 86.
  5. Howard Pollack, Walter Piston, Studies in Musicology (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982): 131–32.