Andre Kostelanetz is not remembered as a composer, nor did he consider himself one. Early in his career he wrote Lake Louise, a harp piece later arranged for piano and orchestra. In 1939 Kostelanetz, with Mack David and Mack Davis, adapted the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E major into "Moon Love," and with David turned Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 in D major – Andantecantabile into "On the Isle of May." These pieces contain the lush orchestrations for which Kostelanetz is known, but none are much recalled today.
Where Kostelanetz made his mark on the repertoire is as a commissioner of new works. His correspondence with Jerome Kern and Alan Hovhaness reflects his enthusiasm for working with colleagues in the creative process. When Kostelanetz identified a gap in the type of music he wanted to present, he sought a composer to create a piece for him.
Kostelanetz's first set of commissions, the Portraits of Great Americans, was composed in the early months of World War II. He desired American concert music that would express the character and patriotism of the American people. The resulting pieces—Lincoln Portrait by Aaron Copland, Portrait for Orchestra (Mark Twain) by Jerome Kern, and Mayor LaGuardia Waltzes by Virgil Thomson—premiered within six months of the declaration of war.
Kostelanetz sought music that typified the people, spirit, and geography of America, commissioning works in differing genres. He chose composers who brought out the color or feel of a place or person but he didn't force a topic or person on a writer. When commissioning a work Kostelanetz requested music that could be played and listened to often and that could be learned in a couple of 5- to 6-hour rehearsals.
Kostelanetz favored the melodeclamation—poetry accompanied by concert music—he heard growing up in Russia and commissioned several pieces in this style. For Magic Prison, he and poet Archibald MacLeish together developed the concept for the piece deciding first to use letters as the text and then choosing Emily Dickenson as their author and Ezra Laderman as the composer.
Kostelanetz also worked with poet Ogden Nash who created verses for two classical pieces: Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals and Tchaikovsky's Children's Album (op. 39) which became Between Birthdays. Nash's humorous verses for Carnival of the Animals first appeared on a Columbia Masterworks recording of the piece. On the original album Noël Coward recited the verses which were then dubbed over or spliced in between sections of the previously recorded music.
Of Kostelanetz's commissions, Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait, another melodeclamation composition, is perhaps the most enduring—by one estimate performed by U. S. orchestras on average 13 times per year during the 2000s.
- Aaron Copland – Lincoln Portrait, 1942
- Jerome Kern – Portrait for Orchestra (Mark Twain), 1942
- Virgil Thomson – Mayor LaGuardia Waltzes, 1942
- Paul Creston – Frontiers, 1943
- Ogden Nash – words to Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, 1949
- Ferde Grofé – Hudson River Suite, 1955
- William Schuman – New England Triptych, 1956
- Alan Hovhaness – Floating World (Ukiyo) – Ballade for Orchestra, 1964
- Paul Creston, Henry Cowell, Alan Hovhaness – Images in Flight (for Eastern Airlines), 1966
- Alan Hovhaness – To Vishnu (aka Symphony No. 19), 1966
- Ezra Laderman and Archibald MacLeish – Magic Prison, 1966
- Alan Hovhaness – And God Created Great Whales, 1972
Materials on this site that document Kostelanetz's commission activity include recordings of Lincoln Portrait, Mayor LaGuardia Waltzes, Portrait for Orchestra (Mark Twain), Frontiers, "Rip van Winkle" from Hudson River Suite, New England Triptych, Magic Prison, and And God Created Great Whales; correspondence with Aaron Copland, Ferde Grofé, Jerome Kern, Fiorello LaGuardia, and William Schuman; programs; photographs; radio interviews with Kostelanetz; a televised performance of Carnival of the Animals; and a hyperlinked list of scores.
Performances of Kostelanetz's compositions are also part of the site.