Morning in Iowa

Morning in Iowa | David Knopfler | Ensemble 05
CD Soundset SR 1043 (2012)
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Firenze, 1895 – Los Angeles, 1968)
Morning in Iowa, op. 158 (1952/53)
Incidental music to a narrative poem by Robert Nathan (1894-1985)


Angelo Montanaro | Clarinet, Bass Clarinet & Saxophone
Giorgio Dellarole | Accordion
Lorenzo Micheli | Guitar
Daniele De Pascalis | Double Bass
Daniele Vineis | Percussion

Massimo Felici | Conductor and Banjo


Recorded at SMC Studios, Ivrea, Italy, January 15&16, 2010; April 21, 2011  |
Recording engineer: Renato Campajola
Digital editing: Mario Bertodo
Graphic Design: Giorgio Ramaroli |
Cover Photo & Inlay Card Photo: “Quercus Grove Road”, by Tom Atwood |


Morning in Iowa is a project by Lorenzo Micheli & Massimo Felici
developed by Massimo Felici, David Knopfler & Lorenzo Micheli

Produced by Massimo Felici and Lorenzo Micheli


Soundset Recordings |
Soundset Recordings is a Tresóna Multimedia company |



1 This is the kinship and the brotherhood
Allegro moderato ma festoso
This is the brotherhood, the heart and soul
Lo stesso tempo

2 Mary Hilda was all New England
Young Kit Vance was from Colorado
The high-bodied trucks go rocking up the Cape at midnight
Un poco mosso (but heavy)

3 American mountains, how they pull the heart
Moderato. Quiet and serene (on an American Indian theme – Zuni Sunrise Song)
I think I’ll take the cattle East this time

4 The railroad crosses the pass between Raton and Trinidad
Mosso (with the movement of a train…)

5 It was an orange from Fernanda’s hills
Tempo di Habanera (like a Spanish folk-song)
Connor of Kansas, going home that night
Un poco mosso
Around him lay his country calm and still
Andantino (quiet and serene, but not slow)
He touched his brake and stiffened in his seat

6 He was a careful man, and wary
Un poco mosso (in a Ballad tone)
And he’d leave the girl with a solid farmer
Same tempo (reprise of the Ballad)
Everyone has such a tale or legend in his heart
Quiet and soft (in a memory mood)

7 The legend, or the river, led him South
Andante calmo (slow and lazy)
My father was tall and mountain slim
March-like (in a Ballad tone)

8 Mary worked in the corn
Andantino pastorale

9 So there was Kit in St. Louis
Moderato, quasi recitativo – Più mosso a piacere (quasi cadenza) – Tempo di Blues

10 Night of cicadas
Very slow, vague and distant
Ed couldn’t marry, for he had no money
Un poco mosso (rustic and sad)
My mother grew up in an Ozark clearing
Same tempo

11 This is the will and testament of youth
Moderato – Solenne (like a Hymn)
He closed his eyes and felt the air
Slow and dreamy

12 But we forget the land
Quiet and nostalgic (but not too slow – on an American Indian theme, of the Zuni tribe)
Mary Hilda worked in the corn
Allegretto (simple and tuneful)
Mary Hilda hummed a tune
Same tempo

13 The sun came up next day a copper color
Very slow – Vague et mysterious
Now Willie was a man in Alabama
Allegretto (like a Ballad)
The rain
Fast (with a steady and regular speed, like a “Toccata”)
She put her shawl around her
Un poco mosso e agitato (in the same mood of “The Rain”, but slightly slower)

14 A lonely girl can kiss away her heart
Tender and longing (but somehow restless)
And Mary walked out in the rain
Un poco agitato
…and then went over with a splash…
Mosso e agitato
And Mary, coming to the river at last
Sempre mosso e agitato
She had a moment still in which to wonder
Very quiet and thoughtful
There was a cabin nearby on the sands
Same tempo

15 This is the one – she whispered – that I love
Very quiet (but fluent)
Here on this earth much garlanded with love
Un poco più mosso (quiet and fluent), quasi Allegretto

16 Iowa morning, shining in the light
Same tempo of the beginning

Discovering “Morning in Iowa”: a Personal Recollection

It was back in January 2006 when I first came across a mention of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Morning in Iowa”. I was reading the composer’s autobiography, where I found an entire chapter of the book about this unusual score I had never heard of, despite the fact that I had been working on Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music for a long time. In the composer’s words, “Morning in Iowa” was written as incidental music for Robert Nathan’s narrative poem; the whole story, as described by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, was as simple and charming as a fairy tale. I remember googling “Robert Nathan”, then going online and ordering a copy of Nathan’s poem from a used book store in Boston. The hard-cover copy of the original 1944 Knopf edition was delivered to my Milan address a week later or so. I loved Nathan’s poetry right away, from the very first lines. At that point, I couldn’t help desiring to hear that music played.


Besides the literary inspiration, what attracted me was the instrumentation of the piece. It sounded like a composer’s joke, a musical dream and a musical nightmare at the same time: clarinet and saxophone, guitar and banjo, double bass, all sorts of percussive instruments, all mixed together, and – the icing on the cake – an accordion. An accordion! I love the accordion – growing up in Italy, you get to hear so much accordion music – but what a weird idea to use it in such an ensemble, especially for a piece written in 1952!


I had no clue how to find the score. I knew all the so-called “Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection” – scores, letters, books – had been donated to the Library of Congress in DC by the composer’s heirs. Thus, I wrote a very polite letter to the Music Department of the LoC that basically said, I-Really-Want-a-Copy-of-this-Work. I got a very polite reply that basically said, Forget-About-It; Your-Score-Must-Be-in-One-of-the-Many-Boxes-that-Have-Not-Been-Catalogued-Yet. The words they used were much nicer, but the meaning was clear enough. My search was already over, even though it had not even started yet – there was no way I could ask them to open the boxes ahead of their planned schedule. Unless…


I contacted the LoC again, and asked if anybody might have permission to access the uncatalogued boxes. “Sure,” they said, the person that holds the composer’s rights: his daughter-in-law Lisbeth Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The librarian provided me with an email address. I wrote Lisbeth a long email introducing myself, explaining why and how I would be the most respectful and dedicated scholar of the work, promising I would do everything I could to promote, edit, and publish the piece, and I never heard back from her. I knew Mary Hilda and Kit Vance would live their love story even without a proper soundtrack, and stopped thinking about Iowa mornings for a while.


A full year went by. One day – it was cold and snowy, it must have been January or February 2007 – I realised out of the blue that Angelo Gilardino, the editor of most of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s guitar music, surely had to be in touch with Lisbeth Castelnuovo-Tedesco. “How didn’t I think of it before?” I thought. Indeed, he gave me her email address.

I checked the one I had and compared with the new one, and I noticed there was an extra letter missing right before the @. I had written to a wrong address! I put together another letter – same content as above – and sent it to Lisbeth one more time. This time, the mail went through. She was so exquisite as to write back immediately; she put me in touch with Catherine C. Rivers, the librarian who was in charge of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection at the Library of Congress, and within a few days Catherine pulled out of one box a copy of the score. In April 2007 I received the full score and the piano reduction of “Morning in Iowa”, all in the composer’s own hand.


At this point, I had two tasks ahead of me. Editing and publishing the score was the first one (it was finally published by Bèrben Editions at the end of 2010). The second and most important task was turning this score from ink on paper to real music. In order to do so, I had to gather the best crew possible.


Getting Massimo Felici involved into the project was my next step. He had been my companion in the recording of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Complete Guitar Concertos and is one of the world’s most enthusiastic performers of the composer’s music. He had been aware of my quest for “Morning in Iowa” since the very beginning. If “team” is the right word for it, well, then… what a fabulous team we quickly became! We spent hours discussing all the details of the score, we tried to imagine how a live performance would work for a non-English speaking audience, and we did long brainstorming sessions trying to solve the most difficult of the problems: matching the poetry with the music (since the composer didn’t notate cues for the narrator).


Massimo and I called for the collaboration of a colleague and friend, Giorgio Dellarole – is there a better accordionist we could wish for? Then Massimo talked both Angelo Montanaro and Daniele de Pascalis into the project, and they quickly joined in. There were a couple of other percussionists before Daniele Vineis, but when Daniele played with the Ensemble in Germany, in May 2009, everybody loved him so much that we asked him to stay and take part in the recording.


And – how about the narrator?


The narrator had to be somebody that could love both the book and the music. Somebody that could fall in love with the story of an American journey, a tale of cornfields and plains, cattle and apricots, rain and wind, the Great Divide and the Mississippi river. Somebody who had the mind of a poet and a musician at the same time.


I couldn’t help thinking that David Knopfler would be the best person for the job. He was everything I wanted, and much more. But the point was – would David ever agree to do it? I didn’t know him personally, though I loved his music and had his albums pretty much memorised. I had nothing to lose; I took the chance, and emailed him. He quickly responded to my endless letter and told me: “give me a few days to think about your proposal. Do you have a copy of the poem, by the way?” I scanned the poem, made a pdf and sent it to him right away. It was past midnight. He read it, and wrote back to me 30 minutes later. He was in.


In March 2008 I visited Lisbeth Castelnuovo-Tedesco in her New York city home. We spoke for a whole afternoon about Mario’s music and her memories of him, and eventually she wanted to know something about “Morning in Iowa”. Two months later, on an unusually sunny and warm day in May, I met David Knopfler at a pub in Bognor Regis, West Sussex. I had a beer, he had a cappuccino – I think I had a beer because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to drink in an English pub, and I think he had a cappuccino because he thought that’s what you’re supposed to drink when you’re with an Italian. We spent one hour saying how much we loved Nathan’s book, instead of debating technical details. Most of all, we found out right away that we got along very well.


In June 2008 the Ensemble ’05 (a name that it would take too long to be explained) went into a nice, modern studio near Bari, in southern Italy, to rehearse. The première of the piece took place in Monopoli on August 8, 2008, in the beautiful setting of the Villa Meo Evoli. I remember very well a phone call I had with Massimo Felici, the day before flying to Bari. He said: “Now that everything is set up, if the music is bad, we are screwed.” We both laughed nervously. It was absolutely true. But we both knew very well the composer wouldn’t fail.


The composer did not fail, indeed.


More than two years later, in April 2011, this recording was completed. It is meant to be nothing but a genuine act of love towards both Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music and Robert Nathan’s poetry. Also, it is the completion of a long and passionate work of research. I’d be a liar, though, if I said that it was not a lot of fun. And I have to admit that – when the last verse was recorded and everything was over, 5 years after reading “Morning in Iowa” for the first time – I suddenly realised how much I would miss it all.

Lorenzo Micheli
Summer 2012

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