Adolphus Hailstork: Three Spirituals for Orchestra


Born in Rochester, New York in 1941, Adolphus Hailstork is one of the leading composers in the USA. He received his composition doctorate from Michigan State University, where he studied under Owen Reed. As well as studying at MSU, Hailstork also studied at the Manhattan School of Music under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond, as well as at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger. His collection of works spans many genres, with works written for orchestra, chamber ensembles, choirs and soloists. 


The Music 

Three Spirituals for Orchestra was composed in 2005 and was used to help celebrate the reopening of the Crispus Attucks Theater in Norfolk, Virginia. Set into three short movements, Three Spirituals is based on three traditional spiritual songs. 


Movement I – Everytime I Feel the Spirit

The opening dialogue between the strings and woodwind leads into a rich orchestral build up led by the trumpets. This opening theme is used throughout the movement, with the main melody of the spiritual being played in full first by the trumpets. Syncopated accompaniments support the soloists as they play through the main theme. Hailstork uses the bassoon, trumpet and horn to play solo lines, which then sparks the ensemble to unite and play it together. The contrasts between the rich tutti sections and the quieter and more open sections creates excitement in the movement. This movement ends with a reprise of the opening material, although this time now fully-realised.


Movement II – Kum Ba Yah

Perhaps the most recognisable tune of the three, Kum Ba Yah is the basis for the lyrical second movement. Initially led by the cor anglais, the solemn string accompaniment sets the scene for this movement. Nostalgic in character and gentle in execution, this pinnacle second movement is full of rich harmonies, nuanced suspensions and sparkling string writing. The clarinet takes over the melody, subtly developing the melody as it goes along. The cor anglais returns to bring this slow movement to a poignant close.


Movement III – Oh Freedom

The celebratory finale movement is based on the spiritual ‘Oh Freedom’. The intricate woodwind interludes are matched by the rich and sonorous string writing. Hailstork’s use of the full brass section and the percussion also packs a punch as they bring some really exciting textures and sounds to the mix. The interweaving communication between the brass and the rest of the orchestra is at its most prevalent in this movement. A repetitive snare drum rhythm starts off a fugal section. The blues-inspired lower string motif is matched by the other sections which builds up the texture in such an exciting way. 

A revisit of the opening material is heard again as the orchestra heads towards the end of the movement. The main motif is then played in unison as the suite comes to a triumphant close.


Final Thoughts

Adolphus Hailstork’s Three Spirituals for Orchestra is a rich orchestral suite that showcases the composer’s intriguing orchestrations and use of the original spirituals. The suite was last recorded in 2012 by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra under the baton of JoAnn Falletta.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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