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Ingolf Dahl was born in Hamburg, to Swedish parents; he began his studies at the Cologne Music Academy. He later fled the Nazis, first to the University of Zurich and then to Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger. He came to the United States in 1938 and took American citizenship in 1943.
Dahl was on the faculty of USC from 1945 until his death. He taught composition, conducting, and music history, and he directed the Collegium Musicum; one of his most notable courses was "Music of Stravinsky," which he taught for many years. From 1945 to 1958, Dahl directed USC's Symphony Orchestra and established it as one of the finest university orchestras in the country. He put a special emphasis on programming works from outside the mainstream repertory and was known as a champion of American and contemporary music. His programs included the first West Coast performances of Ives' Third Symphony and Copland's Piano Sonata, and premieres of works by Halsey Stevens, Gail Kubik, Walter Piston, David Diamond, Carl Ruggles, Lukas Foss, and many others. Dahl's activities as a pianist and conductor also included regular appearances at the Evenings on the Roof, the Monday Evening Concerts, and the Ojai Festival, of which he was music director from 1964 to 1966.
As a composer, Dahl received several important commissions, among them from the Louisville Symphony Orchestra for his Tower of St. Barbara and from the Los Angeles Philharmonic for his Aria Sinfonica, which was premiered by Zubin Mehta and the orchestra in 1965. Dahl provided the following note about his Concerto a Tre, composed in 1946.
The basic thematic idea... consists of six notes: E-flat, B-flat, B-flat, C, F, F. The character of the work is concertante and playful but at the same time very strictly organized on the basis of the previously stated "thematic germ." These notes are almost ever-present in harmonic and melodic guises too numerous to mention: they are contracted (as at the very end) or expanded (as at the beginning); they are transposed, inverted, telescoped, and also hidden under elaborate melodic designs. It is not the intention of the composer that the manipulations of the "thematic germ" be consciously experienced by the listener. They form the inner-musical mechanism which is a means to an end: the expressive and intellectual musical whole.
Although written in one continuous movement, the Concerto clearly falls into three symmetric sections to which a fast coda is added. The Allegro opening section (in which the main theme is not presented at the outset, but evolves gradually) is not written in any of the traditional forms, but it creates its own form in a variety of inter-related short sections. Rhythm (sometimes reminiscent of jazz techniques) and polyphony are the musical elements most in the foreground. (In a little episode near the beginning, marked bucolico, a faint echo of the fifths and fourths of Swiss folk music can be interpreted as a tribute to that country where the composer spent many of his youthful years.)
The slow central part of the Concerto begins with an intricately worked out color contrast: The warm tone of the clarinet is accompanied by the cold sounds of high string harmonies and open strings. In this Moderato part, organ-like sonorities alternate with the long flowing melodies that culminate in a climactic central section. It ends with a brilliant cadenza for the clarinet. This cadenza leads back to a return of the opening of the work, which is varied and fugally developed. Without a break, the movement gains momentum and ends in a Presto that carries in a headlong flight to the end.
- Orrin Howard served the Los Angeles Philharmonic for more than 20 years as Director of Publications and Archives. He continues to contribute to the program book.