Thursday, December 24, 2009
Unjustly Neglected Composers: Amanda Maier
While seeking out material for our annual March concert of music written by women, my pianist friend randomly came upon a sonata for violin and piano by Amanda Maier in the World Cat. After the first two measures we both agreed to postpone our previous choices for this year's program for another year, and spend a few wonderful months with Amanda Maier. I set out to find out everything I could about her, which led me to corresponding with her great grandson, and locating the rest of her music.
Amanda Maier was born into a working-class family (her father was a baker), she became the first woman to get a music degree from the Stockholm Conservatory of Music in 1869. She continued her studies from 1873-1876 with Engelbert Röntgen, the concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, at the Leipzig Conservatory. Like many of the other violin soloists of her time, she wrote her own music. She wrote her B-minor Violin Sonata while she was in Leipzig (around the time of the above picture, taken when she was 20). It was published in Stockholm in 1878, and it is possible that Amanda included this work in her extensive tour through Sweden and Norway during the spring and summer of that year.
She met her future husband, Julius Röntgen, in Leipzig. He was the son of her violin teacher. They married in 1880, and entertained guests like Johannes Brahms and Edward Grieg in their home. Both Brahms and Grieg admired Amanda's ability as a composer, but the ethos of the time prevailed, and when Amanda became a mother, her main musical outlet became teaching her sons.
She contracted tuberculosis after the birth of her second son, and she died at the age of 41 in 1894. Her superb violin sonata probably went unplayed until 1994 when it was recorded for the first time. Here's the first movement, the second movement , and the third movement. This recording, and this excellent series of performance videos beginning with this one miraculously appeared on YouTube at about the same time that we first read the music (just a few weeks ago).
The Stockholm State Library houses her manuscripts and published editions of her other music. There are also diaries in old Swedish, and an exchange of letters with Johannes Brahms. I have written to the rare manuscript people there, requesting that they contribute scans of these works to the Petrucci Library, but I would seriously appreciate it if anyone in Stockholm with access to the library could help make a case for making Amanda Maier's music available to musicians everywhere. The B-minor Sonata is the only piece available through interlibrary loan, and the paper, from 1878, is growing weak. There are only two copies in circulation in the United States. One is at the Loeb Library at Harvard, and the other is at the University of California, Riverside. There's a copy in Copenhagen as well as the one in the copy in Stockholm.
In manuscript there are 25 Preludes for Piano (1869), a Violin Concerto (1875), a piece for cello and piano (1880) that she wrote with her husband, a couple of songs, and an E-minor Piano Quartet (1891). Her Six Pieces for Violin and Piano (1878) were published, and are available at the Haag in the Netherlands.
I hope that someone (or everyone) reading this will share my enthusiasm for this unjustly neglected composer, and share in my quest to make her music easily available to anyone who would like to play it.
UPDATE: There are more photos of Amanda Maier here.