Monday, February 27, 2017

Concert of Music for Viola and Piano by Women



John David Moore and I play two concerts a year. One has music written by women and one has music written by men. We can honestly say that we play as much music written by women as we do music written by men. Or we could say that we play as much music written by men as we play music written by women.

Our program for this March has two transcriptions and two pieces originally written for viola and piano. Mel Bonis’s Sonata for Cello and Piano works very well on the viola. I believe my transcription, which I just uploaded into the IMSLP, is the first viola transcription (though I would be very happy to learn that I am not alone in my viola adventure with the piece). The original was published in 1905 with a dedication to Maurice Demaison, a Paris art critic.

Mel (Mélanie) Bonis (1858–1937) entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of sixteen, where she studied organ with César Franck and Auguste Bazille, and harmony with Ernest Guiraud. Her more than 300 works include nine volumes of music for solo piano and piano four hands, music for organ, vocal music, orchestral music, and chamber music.

The other transcription is from the Dutch composer Henriette Bosmans (1895-1952), considered to be one of the most important Dutch composers of the early twentieth century.

Bosmans wrote her Impressions for Cello and Piano for the French cellist Gérard Hekking, the principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1903 through 1914. Like much of her cello music, these pieces were written for the upper register of the cello, so they can, for the most part, be played on the viola in the intended octave.

The rest of the program has works written for viola and piano by the British composers Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) and Kalitha Dorothy Fox (1894-1934).

Maconchy spent her childhood in Ireland. She studied composition with Charles Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music. Dame Elizabeth (thanks Lisa) was a prolific and highly decorated composer. She wrote her Viola Sonata in 1937, but it remained unpublished until 2015.

K. Dorothy Fox is one of the sixty-three women with entries in Corbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, and was a member of the Society of Women Musicians (SWM), which was affiliated with the Royal College of Music. We know about her death (a suicide reported in the minutes of the SWM), but nothing of her life. Fox’s Sonata for Viola and Piano (which is in the IMSLP), one of ten pieces in her catalog, was published in 1925 with a dedication to G.H.B. Fox. There are mentions in various periodical publications of a G.H.B. Fox who played chess and cricket, but it is unclear whether he was a musician or how he may have been related to the composer. We do know that this Sonata was once broadcast on the radio from Bournemouth, and that it was part of a concert on July 12, 1931 concert celebrating the twentieth anniversary concert of the SWM. That concert also also included a piece by Elizabeth Maconchy.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thinking About Spring

Once again we have a tease of spring sandwiched between bouts of winter. Yesterday we were putting salt on the ice on the front step (so that the mail carrier wouldn't slip), and today, with the thermometer reading 61 degrees, I'm wearing a summer dress and am tempted, after doing some hefty practicing, to go dig in the spot in the back yard that will be our garden once official spring arrives.

Michael and I finished 1984 today, and I found a reference to "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" in the introduction (I always read introductions last). I thought I would share a bit of it here.
As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters. The spring is commonly referred to as ‘a miracle’, and during the past five or six years this worn-out figure of speech has taken on a new lease of life. After the sorts of winters we have had to endure recently, the spring does seem miraculous, because it has become gradually harder and harder to believe that it is actually going to happen. Every February since 1940 I have found myself thinking that this time winter is going to be permanent. But Persephone, like the toads, always rises from the dead at about the same moment. Suddenly, towards the end of March, the miracle happens and the decaying slum in which I live is transfigured. Down in the square the sooty privets have turned bright green, the leaves are thickening on the chestnut trees, the daffodils are out, the wallflowers are budding, the policeman's tunic looks positively a pleasant shade of blue, the fishmonger greets his customers with a smile, and even the sparrows are quite a different color, having felt the balminess of the air and nerved themselves to take a bath, their first since last September.

Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle? There is not doubt that many people think so. I know by experience that a favourable reference to ‘Nature’ in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually ‘sentimental’, two ideas seem to be mixed up in them. One is that any pleasure in the actual process of life encourages a sort of political quietism. People, so the thought runs, ought to be discontented, and it is our job to multiply our wants and not simply to increase our enjoyment of the things we have already. The other idea is that this is the age of machines and that to dislike the machine, or even to want to limit its domination, is backward-looking, reactionary and slightly ridiculous. This is often backed up by the statement that a love of Nature is a foible of urbanized people who have no notion what Nature is really like. Those who really have to deal with the soil, so it is argued, do not love the soil, and do not take the faintest interest in birds or flowers, except from a strictly utilitarian point of view. To love the country one must live in the town, merely taking an occasional week-end ramble at the warmer times of year.

This last idea is demonstrably false. Medieval literature, for instance, including the popular ballads, is full of an almost Georgian enthusiasm for Nature, and the art of agricultural peoples such as the Chinese and Japanese centre always round trees, birds, flowers, rivers, mountains. The other idea seems to me to be wrong in a subtler way. Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him? I have always suspected that if our economic and political problems are ever really solved, life will become simpler instead of more complex, and that the sort of pleasure one gets from finding the first primrose will loom larger than the sort of pleasure one gets from eating an ice to the tune of a Wurlitzer. I think that by retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and — to return to my first instance — toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.
At any rate, spring is here, even in London N. 1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.