Bongo Divertimento

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Composer Gene Gutchë was born in Berlin but spent much of his life here in the Twin Cities after moving here to study at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s.

Gutchë’s Bongo Divertimento was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director Leopold Sipe. His ten year tenure is characterized by similar such ventures — in fact, the SPCO’s first program stated its intention to “devote the major portion of its programs to the wonderful literature, both classic and contemporary, that is not ordinarily played by large symphonies.”

The recording was made before an audience in 1962, and was released by the SPCO itself. It is presumably one of their rarest recordings, although it has been issued on CD by the Schubert Club. If you listen carefully, you can hear audience members laughing near the end of the short work’s third movement.

Most of Gutchë’s music harks to the romantic era, although there is a definite Stravinsky-an flair to some of his later music. Passage in Bongo Divertimento presage Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking atonal score to the science fiction classic Planet of the Apes, recorded six years later.

The piece is divided into five movements, described as such in the album’s liner notes:

Perpetuo sets a pace for solo bongos.

Pettifoggery is a type of “con game,” a moment of dishonest jazz interrupted by the sobering strains in the orchestra.

Blue Bottle Fly is a musical duel between a soloist and a pest.

Pasticco is in imitation. A Muted trumpet sounds a Neoclassical theme against which the timbales strum a bygone rhythm.

Magpie presents two birds chattering noisily in the cool of a summer morning while their neighbors in the forest protest.

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