Photo of the Snowbird Mountains at dawn, Graham County, North Carolina (October 26, 2005)

Selected Reviews of Harold Schiffman´s Music

 
 
 
A B C  D E F  G H I  J K L  M N O  P Q R  S T U  V W X  Y Z
 
 
 
  Alma (2002) Harold Schiffman's recent (2002) cantata Alma, for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra deserves a place in the repertory of every serious choral group. . . . These settings of poems about the mountains of Schiffman's native North Carolina, by Kathryn Stripling Byer, combine lovely folk-like melodies with very sophisticated part writing. There is no attempt to hide the beautiful simplicity of many of the melodies behind academic devices; this honesty of presentation is one of the most fetching aspects of this very fetching, 32-minute piece.
[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (Summer, 2004)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1035:
Harold Schiffman: Alma, Prelude & Variations, Chamber Concerto No. 2
 
   
 
    In short, a very fine release that pays deserved tribute to a most distinguished composer whose well-crafted and communicative music repays repeated hearings.
Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International (May 2005)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1035:
Harold Schiffman: Alma, Prelude & Variations, Chamber Concerto No. 2
 
 
 
  Blood Mountain A Song Cycle (2007) While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Blood Mountain Suite (2008)

... this beautiful music .... Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) is a true American romanticist. His music is adamantly tonal, deeply lyrical, and very skillfully crafted (his Second Symphony is one of the best of its kind that I've ever heard).

His Symphony 2 (2008) is a nicely balanced work of clear melodic statements and gorgeous orchestral colors, yet the music is neither sentimental nor trite. If Schiffman is an American romantic, he's very much sui generis. You won't hear the ghosts of the usual suspects of the American romantic pantheon here. I think it's Schiffman's gift for lyricism and his ability to conjure original melodic patterns that allows him to stand out and stand on his own.

[Regarding]. . . Branchwater Variations for guitar and orchestra (1987). Katalin Koltai is the guitarist, and her work is competent and controlled. It's a soft work, gentle and alluring. I genuinely enjoyed every work here — even the mildly grumpy Overture to a Comedy (1983) — the only one that harks back to an earlier romantic composer, Arnold Bax. And that's not bad at all.

I've been reviewing classical music for about 15 years, and each year I discover composers who have worked and lived "under the radar", so to speak for their entire careers. These are men and women who would find a greater audience if they only had more exposure. Harold Schiffman is one of them. I recommend his music, and I would very much like to hear more of it (and hope someday that I will).

Paul Cook, American Record Guide (May‑June 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
 

A 72-minute disc of Harold Schiffman's orchestral music offers his Second Symphony, two sets of variations (the short Ninnerella Variata and a terrific 16-minute piece for guitar and orchestra, Variations on "Branchwater"), a short, effective Overture to a Comedy, and the Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestration (without voice) of an even more colorful and impressive song cycle (R 1050).  Expert performances by Mátyás Antal and the Győr Philharmonic, with Katalin Koltai the solo guitarist.  This orchestra has performed many Schiffman works and he wrote the Second Symphony in its honor.  It is colorful music, a good deal simpler than most of Schiffman's music and very easy listening.

[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (May, 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
  While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Capriccio (1959) Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) studied with Roger Sessions at Berkeley in the 40s and then spent most of his career teaching at Florida State. He retired in 1983. North/South founder Max Lifchitz seems to be his most active recording champion; he seems to have been almost entirely ignored by the major companies. This program will make you wonder why.

His First Quartet (1951) is an assured three-movement work in neoclassical style, clear (if sectional) in outline, and fluent in its discourse, with meticulous counterpoint, clean lines, and serious tone. The opening movement juxtaposes Pistonian baroque with soaring romantic lyricism. II is a dark nocturne juxtaposing pleading soliloquy with more forbidding material. The finale is less schematic and more playful, with an amusing muted waltz thrown in for good measure. This is an impressive work for a 23-year-old composer, written just before he began a three-year stint in the Army. This recording is its first.

Written 30 years later, the Second Quartet (1981) is leaner, more tonal, and more obviously personal in its utterance. The piece spins out from its two contrasting opening themes: one warmly expressive, the other more (sardonically?) playful. It proceeds through a competitive scherzo and a serene though bipolar Ivesian prayer, and closes with a convincing culmination. The quartet texture is most reminiscent of Shostakovich, but with an American bent. Mr. Schiffman´s technique is impeccable, and his clear musical thinking makes for a haunting experience that sticks with you. It´s one of the best works in the medium I´ve heard in a while.

The program concludes with a brief encore, an entertaining and vibrant Capriccio from 1959. The Hungarian quartet [The Auer Quartet] plays beautifully, and they´re nicely recorded as well. Be aware that the quartets are presented in reverse order. This was a nice surprise.
Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (May/June 2006)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1039:
Harold Schiffman: The String Quartets
 
   
 
    The String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 by American composer Harold Schiffman are separated by 30 years, and although they are recognizably products of the same artist, there are stark differences that reflect, one speculates, the changes in musical attitudes between 1951 and 1981. The earlier work is crisp, carefully constructed, and quite chromatic. There is a Stravinsky-like quality of organization and precision. In the context of some of the things that were being written at the same time, the language might be called conservative, in spite of sounding dense and challenging even to modern ears. By 1981, Schiffman´s expression had become more focused and direct, tinged with a lyric component. . . .

The earlier quartet (and the Capriccio, eight years later) is a work I can admire, whereas the later one is music that I can enjoy, and be moved by. I would not argue with the proposition that this sentiment could be generalized to the music of the respective overall vintages of these quartets. The Auer Quartet, a young ensemble from Budapest, does an excellent job of dispatching this material, and is well recorded. . . .
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine (January‑February 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1039:
Harold Schiffman: The String Quartets
 
 
 
  Chamber Concerto No. 2: In Memoriam Edward Kilenyi (2000) In short, a very fine release that pays deserved tribute to a most distinguished composer whose well-crafted and communicative music repays repeated hearings.
Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International (May 2005)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1035:
Harold Schiffman: Alma, Prelude & Variations, Chamber Concerto No. 2
 
 
 
  Concertino for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra (1977) Both Max Lifchitz and Robert Levy have devoted themselves (in different ways) to giving numerous American composers a hearing. Lifchitz presides over North/South Recordings, with two new releases offering Harold Schiffman´s two well-written String Quartets, superbly played by the Auer Quartet. . . . and a disc where Lifchitz leads a chamber orchestra in works by Kraft, Tann, Schiffman and Alburger. . . . Schiffman´s delightful Concertino for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra seems the most lasting of the works.
[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (May 2006)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1037:
American Tapestry
 
   
 
    Schiffman´s Concertino for Oboe rises above the other works.  .  .  . The pleasant continuous flow goes down easy and tastes good.
Josh Mailman, American Record Guide (November/December 2004)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1037:
American Tapestry
 
   
 
    Harold Schiffman lists Roger Sessions and Ernst von Dohnányi as his mentors. His Oboe Concertino dates from 1977 and is eminently approachable. The pleasant, lilting first movement is easy on the ear without being in any way anonymous, while the finale seems to imply a Stravinskian march. . . .
Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine (January‑February 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1037:
American Tapestry
 
 
 
  Concerto for Oboe d´Amore and String Orchestra (1988) Schiffman´s music partakes of what may be best referred to as ‘20th Century mainstream’. It is traditionally conceived, often lyrical, sometimes rugged and mildly dissonant, but it communicates directly, without excessive fuss. Schiffman has a remarkable orchestral and instrumental flair, the latter particularly in evidence in the beautiful Oboe d’amore Concerto.
Hubert Culot, Classical Music on the Web (April 2002)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1021:
Harold Schiffman: Symphony & Concerti
 
   
 
    The symphony has substance, strength, and integrity, and a clear profile.
Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide (May-June 2000)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1021:
Harold Schiffman: Symphony & Concerti
 
 
 
  Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1982) Schiffman´s music partakes of what may be best referred to as ‘20th Century mainstream’. It is traditionally conceived, often lyrical, sometimes rugged and mildly dissonant, but it communicates directly, without excessive fuss. Schiffman has a remarkable orchestral and instrumental flair, the latter particularly in evidence in the beautiful Oboe d’amore Concerto.
Hubert Culot, Classical Music on the Web (April 2002)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1021:
Harold Schiffman: Symphony & Concerti
 
   
 
    The symphony has substance, strength, and integrity, and a clear profile.
Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide (May-June 2000)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1021:
Harold Schiffman: Symphony & Concerti
 
   
 
    . . . . [A] fine, dramatically structured work full of intrigue and peppered with wit. Exploiting both atonality and a firm harmonic awareness, it inspects new and old sounds with poise.

The concerto is written in one movement, concentrating on a simple, short motive as it progresses through five distinct territories. After a fast, unfussy introduction, there is a slow, dancelike section, a central scherzo with trio, a forthright, hymnic restatement, and a lighthearted finale. A haunting, thoughtful work, it is definitely not a showcase for show-offs. Virtuosity in touch and color takes precedence over digital acrobatics, with the piano often sounding the melody in languid octaves, like a cantor in reverie, and frequently dissolving its voice into the orchestra fabric. Not that the keyboard operates in one low gear: the scherzo is anchored by a jaunty, jazzy basso ostinato, and the work is capped by a spitfire cadenza.
John Habich, Musical America (August, 1984)
Review of first performance: February 14, 1984
 
 
 
  Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (2006) Is it possible for a veteran American composer to write music reminiscent of his most important teacher, Roger Sessions, and still sound "old-fashioned?" With so many stylistic trends coming and going over the past 50, 60 years, it's refreshing to hear American music that reflects the toughness and stringency of works composed in the early part of the 20th century. But note also that Schiffman, who earned his degrees at the Universities at Berkeley, Princeton, New Jersey and Tallahassee, Florida, also studied with the renowned Ernest von Dohnányi, whose lyrical nature also rubbed off on Schiffman. Thus, these three relatively recent works make for an interesting contrast with the somewhat tougher Symphony previously released.
H&B Recordings Direct (ca. December 1, 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1047:
Harold Schiffman: Three Concerti
 
   
 
    Harold Schiffman was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1928. His most significant teacher was Roger Sessions. Schiffman's precision of utterance, economy of means, and unerringly apt and colorful orchestration reflect Sessions's influence. In these three concertos he sounds like Sessions with simpler and more direct textures, and a far greater lyrical gift.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra of 1979 was composed in memory of a colleague of Schiffman at Florida State University-the late Roger Drinkall. In this sumptuously scored piece, I hear sidelong glances at Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, and Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, but then I tend to hear a lot of things these days. Whether those allusions are conscious or unconscious inputs by the composer is irrelevant. What matters is that Schiffman has woven these and other strands into a fine, largely neo-Romantic work which, in the end, projects his inimitable voice over all others. The more neo-Classical "Double" Concerto for Horn, Bassoon, and String Orchestra of 1992 was composed in fulfillment of a commission from a husband and wife team in the North Carolina Symphony-the late hornist Eileen Gress and bassoonist Victor Benedict. The work's deft opening exploits instrumental sonority as a crucial element, and its melodic material suits the articulation properties of each of the solo instruments to a proverbial T. The movement is full of unselfconsciously flowing counterpoint, and is enlivened by unexpected pedal-point shifts. The balances between the soloists and the orchestra are exemplary.

The elegiac second movement presents variations on thematic material of the first movement, and the finale incorporates hunting horn calls as a friendly nod to Eileen Gress. My general impression of this piece, after numerous hearings, is that of enormous cerebral expertise on the part of its composer, but an expertise leavened with infectious amiability.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra of 2006 was composed at the request of the soloist on this offering, Rebekah Binford. For its thematic material, Schiffman went back to sketches for a violin concerto he had jotted down in 1953 while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany. Like the Cello Concerto, the orchestra is sonically rich, deploying a harp and a celesta. The soaring lyricism of its first movement brings Samuel Barber to mind-but a somewhat leaner and cleaner Barber. The opening of its second movement is strikingly atmospheric, utilizing the harp to both great effect and affect. The third movement opens with a cadenza that morphs into an amiable (again that word) romp. Rebekah Binford, like all the soloists on this release, turns in an exemplary performance.

The sound of the orchestra in all cases is a bit too colorless and thin for my taste, but it always successfully conveys each musical line, and though the Györ Philharmonic Orchestra under Mátyás Antal is no Vienna Philharmonic, it plays with outstanding musicianship, and is totally simpatico with the essences of these three scores. This music creates the illusion of having been spontaneously dropped into the head of its composer, and then simply transcribed. This is only my illusion. I have made no attempt to contact this composer, other than through his music. He may, in fact, have sweated bullets to bring these pieces to such satisfying fruition. Here Schiffman, like so many successful composers of the past, is writing for his friends, and from the evidence before me, his friends are legion.

William Zagorski, Fanfare Magazine (July‑August, 2008)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1047:
Harold Schiffman: Three Concerti
 
 
 
  Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1979) Is it possible for a veteran American composer to write music reminiscent of his most important teacher, Roger Sessions, and still sound "old-fashioned?" With so many stylistic trends coming and going over the past 50, 60 years, it's refreshing to hear American music that reflects the toughness and stringency of works composed in the early part of the 20th century. But note also that Schiffman, who earned his degrees at the Universities at Berkeley, Princeton, New Jersey and Tallahassee, Florida, also studied with the renowned Ernest von Dohnányi, whose lyrical nature also rubbed off on Schiffman. Thus, these three relatively recent works make for an interesting contrast with the somewhat tougher Symphony previously released.
H&B Recordings Direct (ca. December 1, 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1047:
Harold Schiffman: Three Concerti
 
   
 
    Harold Schiffman was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1928. His most significant teacher was Roger Sessions. Schiffman's precision of utterance, economy of means, and unerringly apt and colorful orchestration reflect Sessions's influence. In these three concertos he sounds like Sessions with simpler and more direct textures, and a far greater lyrical gift.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra of 1979 was composed in memory of a colleague of Schiffman at Florida State University-the late Roger Drinkall. In this sumptuously scored piece, I hear sidelong glances at Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, and Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, but then I tend to hear a lot of things these days. Whether those allusions are conscious or unconscious inputs by the composer is irrelevant. What matters is that Schiffman has woven these and other strands into a fine, largely neo-Romantic work which, in the end, projects his inimitable voice over all others. The more neo-Classical "Double" Concerto for Horn, Bassoon, and String Orchestra of 1992 was composed in fulfillment of a commission from a husband and wife team in the North Carolina Symphony-the late hornist Eileen Gress and bassoonist Victor Benedict. The work's deft opening exploits instrumental sonority as a crucial element, and its melodic material suits the articulation properties of each of the solo instruments to a proverbial T. The movement is full of unselfconsciously flowing counterpoint, and is enlivened by unexpected pedal-point shifts. The balances between the soloists and the orchestra are exemplary.

The elegiac second movement presents variations on thematic material of the first movement, and the finale incorporates hunting horn calls as a friendly nod to Eileen Gress. My general impression of this piece, after numerous hearings, is that of enormous cerebral expertise on the part of its composer, but an expertise leavened with infectious amiability.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra of 2006 was composed at the request of the soloist on this offering, Rebekah Binford. For its thematic material, Schiffman went back to sketches for a violin concerto he had jotted down in 1953 while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany. Like the Cello Concerto, the orchestra is sonically rich, deploying a harp and a celesta. The soaring lyricism of its first movement brings Samuel Barber to mind-but a somewhat leaner and cleaner Barber. The opening of its second movement is strikingly atmospheric, utilizing the harp to both great effect and affect. The third movement opens with a cadenza that morphs into an amiable (again that word) romp. Rebekah Binford, like all the soloists on this release, turns in an exemplary performance.

The sound of the orchestra in all cases is a bit too colorless and thin for my taste, but it always successfully conveys each musical line, and though the Györ Philharmonic Orchestra under Mátyás Antal is no Vienna Philharmonic, it plays with outstanding musicianship, and is totally simpatico with the essences of these three scores. This music creates the illusion of having been spontaneously dropped into the head of its composer, and then simply transcribed. This is only my illusion. I have made no attempt to contact this composer, other than through his music. He may, in fact, have sweated bullets to bring these pieces to such satisfying fruition. Here Schiffman, like so many successful composers of the past, is writing for his friends, and from the evidence before me, his friends are legion.

William Zagorski, Fanfare Magazine (July‑August, 2008)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1047:
Harold Schiffman: Three Concerti
 
   
 
    What was perhaps the weekend´s best crafted work . . . came on the same program in the form of festival director Harold Schiffman´s Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1979).
James Wierzbicki, Musical America (October, 1981)
Review of performance: May 8, 1981
 
   
 
    The Cello Concerto is full of long lines and enjoyable sounds.
David W. Moore, American Record Guide (February, 1983)
Review of Orion Master Recordings, Inc. ORS 81414:
Harold Schiffman: Concerto for Violoncello . . .
 
 
 
  Double Concerto for Horn, Bassoon and String Orchestra (1992) Is it possible for a veteran American composer to write music reminiscent of his most important teacher, Roger Sessions, and still sound "old-fashioned?" With so many stylistic trends coming and going over the past 50, 60 years, it's refreshing to hear American music that reflects the toughness and stringency of works composed in the early part of the 20th century. But note also that Schiffman, who earned his degrees at the Universities at Berkeley, Princeton, New Jersey and Tallahassee, Florida, also studied with the renowned Ernest von Dohnányi, whose lyrical nature also rubbed off on Schiffman. Thus, these three relatively recent works make for an interesting contrast with the somewhat tougher Symphony previously released.
H&B Recordings Direct (ca. December 1, 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1047:
Harold Schiffman: Three Concerti
 
   
 
    Harold Schiffman was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1928. His most significant teacher was Roger Sessions. Schiffman's precision of utterance, economy of means, and unerringly apt and colorful orchestration reflect Sessions's influence. In these three concertos he sounds like Sessions with simpler and more direct textures, and a far greater lyrical gift.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra of 1979 was composed in memory of a colleague of Schiffman at Florida State University-the late Roger Drinkall. In this sumptuously scored piece, I hear sidelong glances at Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, and Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, but then I tend to hear a lot of things these days. Whether those allusions are conscious or unconscious inputs by the composer is irrelevant. What matters is that Schiffman has woven these and other strands into a fine, largely neo-Romantic work which, in the end, projects his inimitable voice over all others. The more neo-Classical "Double" Concerto for Horn, Bassoon, and String Orchestra of 1992 was composed in fulfillment of a commission from a husband and wife team in the North Carolina Symphony-the late hornist Eileen Gress and bassoonist Victor Benedict. The work's deft opening exploits instrumental sonority as a crucial element, and its melodic material suits the articulation properties of each of the solo instruments to a proverbial T. The movement is full of unselfconsciously flowing counterpoint, and is enlivened by unexpected pedal-point shifts. The balances between the soloists and the orchestra are exemplary.

The elegiac second movement presents variations on thematic material of the first movement, and the finale incorporates hunting horn calls as a friendly nod to Eileen Gress. My general impression of this piece, after numerous hearings, is that of enormous cerebral expertise on the part of its composer, but an expertise leavened with infectious amiability.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra of 2006 was composed at the request of the soloist on this offering, Rebekah Binford. For its thematic material, Schiffman went back to sketches for a violin concerto he had jotted down in 1953 while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany. Like the Cello Concerto, the orchestra is sonically rich, deploying a harp and a celesta. The soaring lyricism of its first movement brings Samuel Barber to mind-but a somewhat leaner and cleaner Barber. The opening of its second movement is strikingly atmospheric, utilizing the harp to both great effect and affect. The third movement opens with a cadenza that morphs into an amiable (again that word) romp. Rebekah Binford, like all the soloists on this release, turns in an exemplary performance.

The sound of the orchestra in all cases is a bit too colorless and thin for my taste, but it always successfully conveys each musical line, and though the Györ Philharmonic Orchestra under Mátyás Antal is no Vienna Philharmonic, it plays with outstanding musicianship, and is totally simpatico with the essences of these three scores. This music creates the illusion of having been spontaneously dropped into the head of its composer, and then simply transcribed. This is only my illusion. I have made no attempt to contact this composer, other than through his music. He may, in fact, have sweated bullets to bring these pieces to such satisfying fruition. Here Schiffman, like so many successful composers of the past, is writing for his friends, and from the evidence before me, his friends are legion.

William Zagorski, Fanfare Magazine (July‑August, 2008)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1047:
Harold Schiffman: Three Concerti
 
 
 
  Duo Concertante (1993) While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Fantasy-Suite for Solo Viola (1980) Not surprisingly, the most keenly anticipated event of the Chamber Music evening was the world première of a Fantasy-Suite in five movements for Solo Viola by HAROLD SCHIFFMAN, . . . , who recently had the honour of an evening devoted entirely to his own works at New York's Alice Tully Hall. Sensitively played by its dedicatee, the distinguished American viola player ANN WOODWARD, the Fantasy-Suite, cast in five traditional movements but written in a pleasingly accessible, highly accomplished modern style, proved to be a work which will surely find its place among the favourite contemporary works for unaccompanied Viola, an instrument which has only comparatively recently emerged as a fully emancipated member of the solo repertoire.
Albi Rosenthal, The Boars Hill (Oxford) Newsletter (July‑August 1982)
Review of first performance: August 1, 1982
 
   
 
  While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Four Songs from Peacock Pie (1983) The best moments came in a new work by Harold Schiffman. “Four Songs from ‘Peacock Pie’ by Walter de la Mare,” written especially for the Apple Trio. Mr. Schiffman´s delicate song cycle features an incisive understanding of the texts and a gentle wit.
Tim Page, The New York Times (February 27, 1983)
Review of first performance: February 21, 1983
 
 
 
  Nine Pieces for Piano (1975) The melodic school had the first word by way of Harold Schiffman´s Nine Piano Pieces (1975), an accessible and varied collection of vignettes in which simple melodies were set in the perspective of a mildly acidic harmonic world.  .  .  .
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times (January 7, 1992)
Review of performance: January 5, 1992
 
   
 
    The two pieces by Harold Schiffman are separated by more than twenty years, but share a concise, rather debonair mode of expression. The careful economy of Schiffman´s language suggests his teacher, Roger Sessions, but this music is much more diatonically melodic, hence, accessible, than the work of the mentor. This crisp, yet expressive music . . . is consistently enjoyable after many hearings, and the strongest work on this disc.
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine (January, 1993)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1001:
Contemporary Romantics
 
 
 
  Ninnerella Variata (1956)

... this beautiful music .... Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) is a true American romanticist. His music is adamantly tonal, deeply lyrical, and very skillfully crafted (his Second Symphony is one of the best of its kind that I've ever heard).

His Symphony 2 (2008) is a nicely balanced work of clear melodic statements and gorgeous orchestral colors, yet the music is neither sentimental nor trite. If Schiffman is an American romantic, he's very much sui generis. You won't hear the ghosts of the usual suspects of the American romantic pantheon here. I think it's Schiffman's gift for lyricism and his ability to conjure original melodic patterns that allows him to stand out and stand on his own.

[Regarding]. . . Branchwater Variations for guitar and orchestra (1987). Katalin Koltai is the guitarist, and her work is competent and controlled. It's a soft work, gentle and alluring. I genuinely enjoyed every work here — even the mildly grumpy Overture to a Comedy (1983) — the only one that harks back to an earlier romantic composer, Arnold Bax. And that's not bad at all.

I've been reviewing classical music for about 15 years, and each year I discover composers who have worked and lived "under the radar", so to speak for their entire careers. These are men and women who would find a greater audience if they only had more exposure. Harold Schiffman is one of them. I recommend his music, and I would very much like to hear more of it (and hope someday that I will).

Paul Cook, American Record Guide (May‑June 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
 

A 72-minute disc of Harold Schiffman's orchestral music offers his Second Symphony, two sets of variations (the short Ninnerella Variata and a terrific 16-minute piece for guitar and orchestra, Variations on "Branchwater"), a short, effective Overture to a Comedy, and the Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestration (without voice) of an even more colorful and impressive song cycle (R 1050).  Expert performances by Mátyás Antal and the Győr Philharmonic, with Katalin Koltai the solo guitarist.  This orchestra has performed many Schiffman works and he wrote the Second Symphony in its honor.  It is colorful music, a good deal simpler than most of Schiffman's music and very easy listening.

[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (May, 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Overture to a Comedy (1983)

... this beautiful music .... Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) is a true American romanticist. His music is adamantly tonal, deeply lyrical, and very skillfully crafted (his Second Symphony is one of the best of its kind that I've ever heard).

His Symphony 2 (2008) is a nicely balanced work of clear melodic statements and gorgeous orchestral colors, yet the music is neither sentimental nor trite. If Schiffman is an American romantic, he's very much sui generis. You won't hear the ghosts of the usual suspects of the American romantic pantheon here. I think it's Schiffman's gift for lyricism and his ability to conjure original melodic patterns that allows him to stand out and stand on his own.

[Regarding]. . . Branchwater Variations for guitar and orchestra (1987). Katalin Koltai is the guitarist, and her work is competent and controlled. It's a soft work, gentle and alluring. I genuinely enjoyed every work here — even the mildly grumpy Overture to a Comedy (1983) — the only one that harks back to an earlier romantic composer, Arnold Bax. And that's not bad at all.

I've been reviewing classical music for about 15 years, and each year I discover composers who have worked and lived "under the radar", so to speak for their entire careers. These are men and women who would find a greater audience if they only had more exposure. Harold Schiffman is one of them. I recommend his music, and I would very much like to hear more of it (and hope someday that I will).

Paul Cook, American Record Guide (May‑June 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
 

A 72-minute disc of Harold Schiffman's orchestral music offers his Second Symphony, two sets of variations (the short Ninnerella Variata and a terrific 16-minute piece for guitar and orchestra, Variations on "Branchwater"), a short, effective Overture to a Comedy, and the Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestration (without voice) of an even more colorful and impressive song cycle (R 1050).  Expert performances by Mátyás Antal and the Győr Philharmonic, with Katalin Koltai the solo guitarist.  This orchestra has performed many Schiffman works and he wrote the Second Symphony in its honor.  It is colorful music, a good deal simpler than most of Schiffman's music and very easy listening.

[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (May, 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
  While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Passacaglia in B Minor (1947) Last night in the Music Building of Woman's College,* Elliot Magaziner, talented young American violinist, gave a lively and adventurous recital which featured the "Passacaglia in B Minor" by Harold Schiffman, Jr., young Greensboro composer. . . .

The "Passacaglia in B Minor" by Harold Schiffman, Jr., was notable in that this young man has a conspicuous talent for composition. The local young composer was called on for several bows by the enthusiastic audience. . . .
Henry S. Wootton, Jr., Greensboro News** (ca. 1947)
Review of performance: ca. 1947
*Now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
**Now the Greensboro News & Record
 
   
 
  Elliot Magaziner, talented young American violinist, was heard in a recital last night in the Music Building of Woman's College* [–] a recital composed of works by contemporary composers including the "Passacaglia in B Minor" which was written by Harold Schiffman, Jr., of Greensboro. . . .

Harold Schiffman, Jr.'s composition, "Passacaglia in B Minor" was most impressive and was enthusiastically received by the audience which called the young composer to his feet three times. . . .
Henry S. Wootton, Jr., Greensboro Record** (ca. 1947)
Review of performance: ca. 1947
*Now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
**Now the Greensboro News & Record
 
 
 
  Pentalogue for Violin and Piano (1963) The most interesting of the chamber and solo works was Harold Schiffman´s Pentalogue for violin and piano. . . . His five-movement work displayed a sparse and spidery texture that supported a captivating lyricism. . . . [T]his is a distinguished work that should find its way into the repertory.
J. F. Goossen, The Musical Quarterly (October, 1964)
Review of performance: April 24, 1964
 
 
 
  Prelude and Variations for Chamber Orchestra (1970) In short, a very fine release that pays deserved tribute to a most distinguished composer whose well-crafted and communicative music repays repeated hearings.
Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International (May 2005)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1035:
Harold Schiffman: Alma, Prelude & Variations, Chamber Concerto No. 2
 
   
 
    Schiffman´s Prelude and Variations . . . was a real crowd pleaser. The gentle dissonances opening the Prelude created a suspended excitement which was carefully maintained throughout the entire work.
Jean Foster, The Tallahassee Democrat (ca. November 2, 1970)
Review of first performance: October 30, 1970
 
 
 
  Rhapsody for Guitar (1982) Harold Schiffman's "Rhapsody," in its New York premiere, proved an elastic exercise in chromatic counterpoint . . .
Tim Page, The New York Times (January 23, 1983)
Review of New York première, January 16, 1983
 
 
 
  Seven Bagatelles (1989) While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Six Bagatelles for Piano (1954) The two pieces by Harold Schiffman are separated by more than twenty years, but share a concise, rather debonair mode of expression. The careful economy of Schiffman´s language suggests his teacher, Roger Sessions, but this music is much more diatonically melodic, hence, accessible, than the work of the mentor. This crisp, yet expressive music . . . is consistently enjoyable after many hearings, and the strongest work on this disc.
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine (January, 1993)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1001:
Contemporary Romantics
 
 
 
  Sonata for Flute and Piano (1975) A highly chromatic work that alternates between tonal, atonal and more traditional chordal textures, it is a well-developed piece that has particularly nice architecture in its terse opening movement.
Carl Cunningham, The Houston Post (October 7, 1976)
Review of first performance: October 6, 1976
 
 
 
  Sonata No. 1 for Piano (1951) While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Spectrum, My Ladye Jane´s Booke: Eighteen Fugues and Postludes for Piano (1992) Spectrum is a triumph of homage to past styles, techniques, and composers because Schiffman has used his musical materials with skill and imagination. He is a creator, not a curator. . . . Schiffman´s strength is his ability to create compelling themes and subjects – the musical nuggets that determine whether a piece will be repeatedly appealing, even catchy, or just well worked out.
Bradford Gowen, Piano & Keyboard (November‑December 1996)
Review of Andres Edition score and of North/South Recordings N/S R 1009:
Spectrum, My Ladye Jane´s Booke
 
   
 
    This piece is a treasure-trove of technique for composers and pianists. . . .
Stephen D. Hicken, American Record Guide (November‑December 1996)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1009:
Spectrum, My Ladye Jane´s Booke
 
   
 
    Harold Schiffman´s ambitious Spectrum is a handsomely-crafted work in the Bachian spirit. . . . Schiffman offers 18 fugues and postludes, solving the problem of balancing the weightier fugues with the lighter postludes impressively. The work, subtitled “My Lady Jane´s Booke,” is affectionately and effectively played by Jane Perry-Camp.
[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (April 1996)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1009:
Spectrum, My Ladye Jane´s Booke
 
 
 
  String Quartet No. 1 (1951) Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) studied with Roger Sessions at Berkeley in the 40s and then spent most of his career teaching at Florida State. He retired in 1983. North/South founder Max Lifchitz seems to be his most active recording champion; he seems to have been almost entirely ignored by the major companies. This program will make you wonder why.

His First Quartet (1951) is an assured three-movement work in neoclassical style, clear (if sectional) in outline, and fluent in its discourse, with meticulous counterpoint, clean lines, and serious tone. The opening movement juxtaposes Pistonian baroque with soaring romantic lyricism. II is a dark nocturne juxtaposing pleading soliloquy with more forbidding material. The finale is less schematic and more playful, with an amusing muted waltz thrown in for good measure. This is an impressive work for a 23-year-old composer, written just before he began a three-year stint in the Army. This recording is its first.

Written 30 years later, the Second Quartet (1981) is leaner, more tonal, and more obviously personal in its utterance. The piece spins out from its two contrasting opening themes: one warmly expressive, the other more (sardonically?) playful. It proceeds through a competitive scherzo and a serene though bipolar Ivesian prayer, and closes with a convincing culmination. The quartet texture is most reminiscent of Shostakovich, but with an American bent. Mr. Schiffman´s technique is impeccable, and his clear musical thinking makes for a haunting experience that sticks with you. It´s one of the best works in the medium I´ve heard in a while.

The program concludes with a brief encore, an entertaining and vibrant Capriccio from 1959. The Hungarian quartet [The Auer Quartet] plays beautifully, and they´re nicely recorded as well. Be aware that the quartets are presented in reverse order. This was a nice surprise.
Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (May/June 2006)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1039:
Harold Schiffman: The String Quartets

The String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 by American composer Harold Schiffman are separated by 30 years, and although they are recognizably products of the same artist, there are stark differences that reflect, one speculates, the changes in musical attitudes between 1951 and 1981. The earlier work is crisp, carefully constructed, and quite chromatic. There is a Stravinsky-like quality of organization and precision. In the context of some of the things that were being written at the same time, the language might be called conservative, in spite of sounding dense and challenging even to modern ears. By 1981, Schiffman´s expression had become more focused and direct, tinged with a lyric component. . . .

The earlier quartet (and the Capriccio, eight years later) is a work I can admire, whereas the later one is music that I can enjoy, and be moved by. I would not argue with the proposition that this sentiment could be generalized to the music of the respective overall vintages of these quartets. The Auer Quartet, a young ensemble from Budapest, does an excellent job of dispatching this material, and is well recorded. . . .
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine (January‑February 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1039:
Harold Schiffman: The String Quartets
 
 
 
  String Quartet No. 2 (1981) Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) studied with Roger Sessions at Berkeley in the 40s and then spent most of his career teaching at Florida State. He retired in 1983. North/South founder Max Lifchitz seems to be his most active recording champion; he seems to have been almost entirely ignored by the major companies. This program will make you wonder why.

His First Quartet (1951) is an assured three-movement work in neoclassical style, clear (if sectional) in outline, and fluent in its discourse, with meticulous counterpoint, clean lines, and serious tone. The opening movement juxtaposes Pistonian baroque with soaring romantic lyricism. II is a dark nocturne juxtaposing pleading soliloquy with more forbidding material. The finale is less schematic and more playful, with an amusing muted waltz thrown in for good measure. This is an impressive work for a 23-year-old composer, written just before he began a three-year stint in the Army. This recording is its first.

Written 30 years later, the Second Quartet (1981) is leaner, more tonal, and more obviously personal in its utterance. The piece spins out from its two contrasting opening themes: one warmly expressive, the other more (sardonically?) playful. It proceeds through a competitive scherzo and a serene though bipolar Ivesian prayer, and closes with a convincing culmination. The quartet texture is most reminiscent of Shostakovich, but with an American bent. Mr. Schiffman´s technique is impeccable, and his clear musical thinking makes for a haunting experience that sticks with you. It´s one of the best works in the medium I´ve heard in a while.

The program concludes with a brief encore, an entertaining and vibrant Capriccio from 1959. The Hungarian quartet [The Auer Quartet] plays beautifully, and they´re nicely recorded as well. Be aware that the quartets are presented in reverse order. This was a nice surprise.
Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (May/June 2006)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1039:
Harold Schiffman: The String Quartets
 
   
 
    The String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 by American composer Harold Schiffman are separated by 30 years, and although they are recognizably products of the same artist, there are stark differences that reflect, one speculates, the changes in musical attitudes between 1951 and 1981. The earlier work is crisp, carefully constructed, and quite chromatic. There is a Stravinsky-like quality of organization and precision. In the context of some of the things that were being written at the same time, the language might be called conservative, in spite of sounding dense and challenging even to modern ears. By 1981, Schiffman´s expression had become more focused and direct, tinged with a lyric component. . . .

The earlier quartet (and the Capriccio, eight years later) is a work I can admire, whereas the later one is music that I can enjoy, and be moved by. I would not argue with the proposition that this sentiment could be generalized to the music of the respective overall vintages of these quartets. The Auer Quartet, a young ensemble from Budapest, does an excellent job of dispatching this material, and is well recorded. . . .
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine (January‑February 2007)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1039:
Harold Schiffman: The String Quartets
 
 
 
  Symphony (1961) The symphony has substance, strength, and integrity, and a clear profile.
Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide (May-June 2000)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1021:
Harold Schiffman: Symphony & Concerti
 
   
 
    Schiffman´s music partakes of what may be best referred to as ‘20th Century mainstream’. It is traditionally conceived, often lyrical, sometimes rugged and mildly dissonant, but it communicates directly, without excessive fuss. Schiffman has a remarkable orchestral and instrumental flair, the latter particularly in evidence in the beautiful Oboe d’amore Concerto.
Hubert Culot, Classical Music on the Web (April 2002)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1021:
Harold Schiffman: Symphony & Concerti
 
 
 
  Symphony No. 2: Music for Győr (2008)

... this beautiful music .... Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) is a true American romanticist. His music is adamantly tonal, deeply lyrical, and very skillfully crafted (his Second Symphony is one of the best of its kind that I've ever heard).

His Symphony 2 (2008) is a nicely balanced work of clear melodic statements and gorgeous orchestral colors, yet the music is neither sentimental nor trite. If Schiffman is an American romantic, he's very much sui generis. You won't hear the ghosts of the usual suspects of the American romantic pantheon here. I think it's Schiffman's gift for lyricism and his ability to conjure original melodic patterns that allows him to stand out and stand on his own.

[Regarding]. . . Branchwater Variations for guitar and orchestra (1987). Katalin Koltai is the guitarist, and her work is competent and controlled. It's a soft work, gentle and alluring. I genuinely enjoyed every work here — even the mildly grumpy Overture to a Comedy (1983) — the only one that harks back to an earlier romantic composer, Arnold Bax. And that's not bad at all.

I've been reviewing classical music for about 15 years, and each year I discover composers who have worked and lived "under the radar", so to speak for their entire careers. These are men and women who would find a greater audience if they only had more exposure. Harold Schiffman is one of them. I recommend his music, and I would very much like to hear more of it (and hope someday that I will).

Paul Cook, American Record Guide (May‑June 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
 

A 72-minute disc of Harold Schiffman's orchestral music offers his Second Symphony, two sets of variations (the short Ninnerella Variata and a terrific 16-minute piece for guitar and orchestra, Variations on "Branchwater"), a short, effective Overture to a Comedy, and the Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestration (without voice) of an even more colorful and impressive song cycle (R 1050).  Expert performances by Mátyás Antal and the Győr Philharmonic, with Katalin Koltai the solo guitarist.  This orchestra has performed many Schiffman works and he wrote the Second Symphony in its honor.  It is colorful music, a good deal simpler than most of Schiffman's music and very easy listening.

[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (May, 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
  While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
 
 
  Variations for Two Pianos (1966) Harold Schiffman´s Variations proved to be a richly-textured, meticulously-sculpted essay in the difficult two-piano medium. The work has a strong sense of style and a sure emotional impact.
J. F. Goossen, The Tuscaloosa News (April 27, 1968)
Review of performance: April 26, 1968
 
 
 
  Variations on "Branchwater," for Guitar and Orchestra (1987)

... this beautiful music .... Harold Schiffman (b. 1928) is a true American romanticist. His music is adamantly tonal, deeply lyrical, and very skillfully crafted (his Second Symphony is one of the best of its kind that I've ever heard).

His Symphony 2 (2008) is a nicely balanced work of clear melodic statements and gorgeous orchestral colors, yet the music is neither sentimental nor trite. If Schiffman is an American romantic, he's very much sui generis. You won't hear the ghosts of the usual suspects of the American romantic pantheon here. I think it's Schiffman's gift for lyricism and his ability to conjure original melodic patterns that allows him to stand out and stand on his own.

[Regarding]. . . Branchwater Variations for guitar and orchestra (1987). Katalin Koltai is the guitarist, and her work is competent and controlled. It's a soft work, gentle and alluring. I genuinely enjoyed every work here — even the mildly grumpy Overture to a Comedy (1983) — the only one that harks back to an earlier romantic composer, Arnold Bax. And that's not bad at all.

I've been reviewing classical music for about 15 years, and each year I discover composers who have worked and lived "under the radar", so to speak for their entire careers. These are men and women who would find a greater audience if they only had more exposure. Harold Schiffman is one of them. I recommend his music, and I would very much like to hear more of it (and hope someday that I will).

Paul Cook, American Record Guide (May‑June 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
 

A 72-minute disc of Harold Schiffman's orchestral music offers his Second Symphony, two sets of variations (the short Ninnerella Variata and a terrific 16-minute piece for guitar and orchestra, Variations on "Branchwater"), a short, effective Overture to a Comedy, and the Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestration (without voice) of an even more colorful and impressive song cycle (R 1050).  Expert performances by Mátyás Antal and the Győr Philharmonic, with Katalin Koltai the solo guitarist.  This orchestra has performed many Schiffman works and he wrote the Second Symphony in its honor.  It is colorful music, a good deal simpler than most of Schiffman's music and very easy listening.

[Paul Turok], Turok´s Choice: The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings (May, 2009)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
   
 
  While Harold Schiffman loves and plays the banjo–the cover photo of the first of these two CDs catches him enthusiastically pickin' and grinnin' on his North Carolina mountain home's porch–he's not a naïve, even if gifted, musical hillbilly but a sophisticated composer.  A student of Roger Sessions, Schiffman at times sounds like a mid 20th-century American modern and at others like a composer steeped in folk music; often the two strains intermingle convincingly.

Blood Mountain: A Song Cycle, whose title seems to cry out for epic poetry, tells a dramatic, even cruel story–remember, not all folk songs are chirpy, cheerful ditties.  This ballad in seven sections, whether atmospheric, bustling, or starkly chilling, speaks with the uncontrived honesty of the best folk music.  Blood Mountain Suite, an orchestral transcription of the same material, substitutes various solo instruments – trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet – for the vocal part.  Like Copland's Appalachian Spring it would make a fine ballet score.  I find the instrumental version "softer" than the sometimes stark, minimal (in the sense of being performed by only two musicians) vocal and piano original.  Writing of his Variations on "Branchwater" for guitar and orchestra, Schiffman humorously confesses that "Rather than send musicologists and folklorists on a wild goose chase, I have decided to admit that 'Branchwater' is not a folk song at all, but a tune I composed specifically for this piece.  I chose the name because, as all good Southerners know, the best way to enjoy the delights of bourbon whiskey is with a little plain water commonly called, in the American South, 'branchwater' (or sometimes simply 'branch'), as if it came from a creek."  The piece begins with a guitar solo that's reminiscent of English Renaissance settings of famous tunes of the day.  Eventually the prevailing "nationality" drifts southeast to Spain (think Rodrigo) and one of the most enjoyable variations is a light-hearted Latin dance (mambo?) with a prominent muted trumpet.  The music is gracefully scored for a light orchestra and melodically ingratiating.

Schiffman's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor can be heard in the brief quotation of Paganini's famous theme (you know the one) that he injects into the second movement of the Fantasy-Suite for viola, a primarily serious work whose moods range from mournful or passionate to sarcastic and darkly energetic.  The third movement, a dolorous arioso (my term for Schiffman's Largo), sounds rather Baroque–although not without 20th-century touches– exhibiting a stylistic affinity not so pronounced in the other movements.  In the Duo Concertante and the Seven Bagatelles Schiffman develops his themes at length in absorbing dialogues between the pairs of instruments: violin and clarinet in the duo, flute and oboe in the bagatelles.  The bagatelles also include several solo movements.  The music is direct, consonant, deeply moving, or scampering by turns, and never seems to strain after effect, unfolding in a natural, easy way that seems the inevitable outgrowth of the thematic potential.  All sounds easy in the hands of the musicians, so one can assume an idiomatic felicity in the parts that enables the players to concentrate on the music's beauty.

The piano sonata might be thought of as a distant relation to the Barber sonata.  There's a similar granitic insistence on close intervals in the first movement, intermixed with delicate, scurrying passages, along with a romantic modernist expression that proclaims "20th century."  To continue the parallel, the first movement is followed by a scherzo, but one that is more angular in line and periodically more dynamically assertive than Barber's.  The slow third movement is primarily solemn and dramatic, in a style somewhat akin to Schoenberg's piano writing but with more melodic appeal.  Unlike the Barber slow movement, Schiffman's includes some faster passages.  The final movement is aggressive, closer in impulse or attack to Prokofiev than to Barber's intricately constructed subject (the fourth movement of the Barber sonata is an exciting and masterfully executed fugue).

Overture to a Comedy is a witty prologue to an opera that Schiffman wasn't able to complete.  More's the pity as the tunes are very winning, with rhythmically pert themes alternating with truly lovely, dreamlike episodes.  Much like Leonard Bernstein, Schiffman has the knack of combining artistic quality with popular appeal.  Schiffman's Symphony No. 2, "Music for Győr" is, in the composer's words, "a paean commemorating my 10-year love affair with the city of Győr, Hungary, and its glorious philharmonic orchestra."  Accordingly, the music clothes itself in Hungarian dress, although, in a wider sense–in other words, not limiting the inspiration to Hungarian music, but going further afield—one can also hear Dvořák, Smetana, and even Brahms (this last "echo" is the more rhythmic and instrumental than thematic).  I'm not saying that Schiffman purposely imitates any particular composer; probably any music written in a presumably Hungarian, conservative style would evoke the same associations.  In any case, this is a tuneful piece, amiably lyrical, sprightly, or soulful by turns.  Summing up, Schiffman is a versatile composer whose talent is apparent in whatever idiom he chooses to express his very musical personality.  Definitely worth hearing.

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine (September–October, 2010)
Review of North/South Recordings N/S R 1053:
Harold Schiffman at 80!
and North/South Recordings N/S R 1050:
Harold Schiffman: Orchestral Works
 
       

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Banner photo: Snowbird Mountains at dawn, Graham County, North Carolina (October 26, 2005)
Unless indicated otherwise, all photographs are by Jane Perry-Camp.
Unless indicated otherwise, all compositions are published by Andres Editions, P.O. Box 3477, Tallahassee FL 32315.
All scores and parts published by Andres Editions are available from the publisher at the cost of reproduction and shipping.
Copyright © 2010 Harold Schiffman; Webmaster: Elsa Leslie, CABEL; Last Updated: September 25, 2010 8:26 AM