When Robert Muczynski enrolled at Chicago’s DePaul University in 1947, he intended to become a concert pianist. But soon, under the mentorship of Alexander Tcherepnin, Muczynski grew interested in composition. By the time he left DePaul in 1952 with a freshly minted master’s degree, his goal had evolved to establishing himself as a composer-pianist, rather in the mold of Béla Bartók.
The career began promisingly, but being a touring composer-pianist was not economically viable, and Muczynski soon settled into the life of a teachercomposer, ultimately serving as the chair of composition at the University of Arizona from 1965 until his retirement in 1988.
One of his academic day jobs in the late 1950s had been heading the piano department at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Muczynski would periodically commute to Dubuque from his native Chicago, and as he neared Iowa he would pass through picturesque Galena, Illinois. Nestled in rolling hills, it was a well-preserved town that had sprung up during a lead sulfi te mining boom in the 1820s. It remains a charming tourist destination, and apparently it so charmed Muczynski that in 1958 he was inspired to write a three-movement orchestral suite about it, without commission or any promise of performance. His motivation remains unclear, and although he designated the suite as his Opus 10, he never published it, and the work has never been performed until now. It is very much in line with what Walter Piston and Howard Hanson were writing at the time—and in fact Galena anticipates Piston’s stylistically similar Three New England Sketches by one year, and Hanson’s Bold Island Suite by three.
Muczynski dedicated Galena: A Town “in memory of my dear friend, Jack Lammers.” Lammers had been one of Muczynski’s piano students at Loras, and Muczynski had sometimes sat in with Lammers during the young man’s gigs as a pianist-organist at a Dubuque cocktail lounge.