The 1960s are looked back on as one of the most radical and progressive eras in human history. America became liberated by the power of free speech, bringing major human rights issues into the spotlight, the world superpowers stumbled ever so close to war, The Beatles conquered the world, and man landed on the moon. The developments of this time were enormous across technological, social, political and cultural fields. Not only was development rapid, but also incredibly diverse. A snapshot of 1960 reveals events we might not mention in the same sentence that in fact happened in the same year.
On March 6, the US announces it will send 3500 troops to Vietnam. On May 1 the Soviets shoot down an American spy plane over Soviet territory. June 1 saw New Zealand's first television station broadcast in Auckland, and around the same time the first Ford Falcon was sold. In the popular culture world, The Beatles first performed under this name on August 17, The Flintstones made their first television appearance, the musical Oliver! premiered in London on June 30, and an Australian classic Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport was released by Rolf Harris. Not many people would also associate this year with the premiere of Shostakovich's 7th and 8th String Quartets, and Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream at Aldeburgh. And on the East Coast of America, Ned Rorem was beginning to make waves as a composer.
Although not aligned with many of the controversial musical figures in America at the time, Rorem carved out a reputation for himself not only through music, but also through writing. Along with several essays on music covering everything from Bernstein to the Beatles, his diaries delve into psychological depths many wouldn't be game enough to explore. Much of the writing is uncompromisingly honest, and this is something that is reflected in just about everything Rorem touches. His music, while he stuck with tonality in all but a handful of experimental works, is confronting in its realism, often aggressive, as can be heard in Poems of Love and the Rain below, and in many ways, unique. Rorem's compositional output is simply enormous, over 500 songs, 10 concertos, 3 symphonies, 2 full scale operas, plus a significant collection of chamber and keyboard works. Despite this prolific output, Rorem's music has been largely overshadowed by the big names in experimental music at the time such as Stockhausen, Carter and Berio.
Commissioned by the Musica Viva Trio in 1959, Rorem "painfully ejected" the Flute Trio during a two month stay in Yaddo, New York, during the summer of 1960. It appears the composer did not enjoy writing this piece, lamenting in his diary "never have I written a work with less enthusiasm". Musica Viva Trio flautist Bernard Goldberg wanted a piece that would challenge the virtuosity of the group. The resulting piece is hostile in nature, and pushes the boundaries both of virtuosity and bleak control of the instruments. Rorem has interlocked the four movements in pairs, with the first and third being based around a set of 6 notes, while the second and fourth are based around a separate group of 4 notes. The piece has a raw Shostakovichian vibe, with angular outer movements and bleak second movement given a cautious reprieve by the third movement.