Piston's Salute, Fisk, and Stanford

June 18, 2015
Ray Heigemeir
Jubilee Hall, Fisk University

A recent score arrival highlights an interesting musical connection between Stanford and Fisk Universities. Salute, a fanfare for four b-flat trumpets and optional percussion by the American composer Walter Piston (1894-1976), was written for the Thirteenth Festival of Music and Fine Art at Fisk University in Nashville, held in 1942. The piece was commissioned by Harold C. Schmidt, Director of Choirs and Chair of the Music Department.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers brought Fisk University international renown in the 19th century, and Fisk was later home to an active music department, which, with the activities of the Jubilee Singers, contributed to the health of American vernacular choral practices. The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to tour the world, keeping alive the tradition of the American Negro spiritual.

Schmidt, in consultation with Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress Music Division, formed the Festival around the theme of Pan-Americanism, an advocacy of cultural exchange between the countries of North and South America. The five-day event featured lectures, performances and symposia, with music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Cesar Chavez, and others. Piston’s fanfare was one of a pair—the other composed by Francisco Mignone of Brazil.

In 1947, Schmidt joined Stanford ‘s music department as Director of Choral Activities. He arranged a performance of Piston’s fanfare in the courtyard of the Knoll on May 22, 1949, in a concert that also featured the world premiere of Leonard Ratner’s Serenade for Horn and String Quartet. The fanfare was not performed again until 2012, at Towson University.

A detailed history of the piece, from which some of the above was gleaned, may be found in the introductory notes of the published score.