Monday, April 30, 2018

Birthday Piece Number 10

Today is my fifty-ninth birthday, so here is the tenth in a series of "birthday pieces" for viola d'amore and piano that I began when I turned fifty. My first "birthday piece" had fifty measures, and each year I add one more. This year's piece has fifty-nine measures for fifty-nine years. My viola d'amore is in the shop getting some repairs done, so this year's birthday piece can be played on either viola or viola d'amore. You can listen to a computer-generated recording here, and you can get the music on this page of the IMSLP.

You can find the rest of my birthday pieces in the IMSLP too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Paul Hindemith clearly knew the music of Algernon Ashton, and so should you

The first example is from the second movement of Algernon Ashton's Viola Sonata, Opus 44, and the second example is from the second movement of Paul Hindemith's Viola Sonata, Opus 11, number 4.

The homage is palpable.

Ashton was born in Durham, England in 1859, and died in London in 1937. His 1888 Viola Sonata bears homage to several German composers (particularly Bach, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms). It was published by Simrock in Berlin, and would have certainly been available to Paul Hindemith, who was born in 1895 and was a violist.

Hindemith started work on his Opus 44 Sonata (his first viola sonata) in 1914, and played the first performance in Frankfurt in 1919.

Here's Ashton's New York Times obituary, (available to Times subscribers), a Wikipedia article about him, and an article by David Wright that mentions Ashton's hatred of originality and progress in music.

I think Ashton, had he knowledge of or interest in the music of the young Hindemith, would have been be pleased with what Hindemith did with his theme (if it was Ashton's to begin with).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Marie Jaëll A minor Sonata transcribed for viola

I didn't think I would be able engrave the massive and complicated piano part of the Jaëll A minor Sonata when I wrote my last post about my viola transcription of the piece. But since I couldn't imagine anyone else taking the initiative to do it, and I feel that it is a substantial addition to the repertoire, I spent the past month facing (and solving) some serious engraving difficulties while I patiently entered the 76-page piano part into Finale. I finished it today, and to celebrate I uploaded the sonata into the IMSLP. It was truly a labor of love. I believe that the piece will win the hearts of other violists as well as the pianists they play with. When we performed it in March that audience liked it too.

Marie Jaëll was born Marie Trautman in Alsace. She studied piano with Ignaz Moscheles, and then with Henri Hertz at the Paris Conservatory, where at sixteen she won a first prize for piano performance. She married the pianist Alfred Jaëll, and the couple set up a salon in Paris. Marie Jaëll was the first pianist to perform all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas in Paris. She wrote piano music, chamber music, vocal music, symphonic poems, concertos, and an opera, and studied composition with Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Saëns. She was a close friend of Franz Liszt, and Saint-Säens considered her interpretations of Liszt’s music to be definitive. Jaëll wrote her A minor Cello Sonata in 1881, and it was published in Paris in 1886.

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP. You can learn more about Marie Jaëll here, and here.

Friday, April 13, 2018

"The Collar" for Bassoon and Narrator! What a great idea!

I just learned that an ensemble in India will be performing my setting of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Collar" with bassoon instead of with cello or viola.

What a great idea!

I just made an "official" transcription and uploaded it to this page of the IMSLP. You can also get it here.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

In Search of "Lost" Violinists

I was talking with my father yesterday about article in Sunday's New York Times, (my father was around in New York during the 1960s, and never heard of Saul Lipshutz) and it brought to his mind a fellow student at Curtis, Michael Serber, who, according to my father was the very best violinist around Philadelphia during the 1940s, and, as far as he knew, didn't continue in music.

I thought it would be interesting to see what a few Google searches could find.

I found an obituary for Serber that revealed that he was concertmaster of the National Symphony, the American Ballet Theater, and the National Gallery Orchestra before going to medical school at Howard University. He was the Clinical Director of the Atascadero State Hospital in California, and "pioneered the systematic teaching of non-verbal components in assertive training and introduced the use of film and videotape feedback to teach assertiveness, tenderness and other social and sexual skills."

He died from Cancer at the age of 42.

Curtis has put listings from all of its concerts on line, and I was very excited to find this program for a concert in 1948:

[click for a larger view]

My father, who, like Serber, studied with Ivan Galamian, didn't pursue a career as a soloist. He went into science, and got a Ph.D. in chemistry. He continued to play professionally (i.e. he got paid to play) while he worked at NASA, and if he hadn't taken an audition for the Boston Symphony he might have been one of those "what ever happened to" violinists. But contingency intervened, and he is now known as one of the great violists. (Yes, I know that a viola joke could be inserted here. You can do it yourself.)

There are a great number of musicians who have chosen alternative careers to that of being a soloist (and a lot of them are working in orchestras, teaching, and practicing medicine, law, science, musicology, etc., and probably making a better and more stable living than a soloist) who could be profiled in meaningful ways by the New York Times.

But people like stories about redemption. I say "phooey" on redemption.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Leap Frog for Two Violas

After she saw my "La Grenouillère" viola sonata, my friend Robin Kearton commissioned me to write a duet for violas based on the game of leap frog.

You can hear me and Robin play "Leap Frog" here, and the music will be available soon on this page of the IMSLP.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

What to believe

The other day a profile appeared in the New York Times about a boat builder named Saul Chandler who changed his name from Saul Lipshutz after he stopped playing the violin. Somehow he became known to Alex Vadukul, a writer in search of someone he felt had a human interest story that would resonate with readers (and it did). Vadukul put the words "redemption" and "lost prodigy" in the title, and illustrated the story with striking photographs. The words "excellent," "gift," and "genius" pop up all the time. Those are the words of Vadukul, who interprets Chandler's stories with the eye and ear of a writer who really wants to believe the stories he is told.

Michael and I both questioned how much of Chandler's story is true.
After a few beers, however, Mr. Chandler might tell a story that is not of the cheerful maritime sort:

“I played Carnegie Hall twice before I was 13.”

“I was known for my Bach.”

“They turned me into a trained monkey.”

“If I could forget about music I would.”

When asked to say more, he shrugs, and the stories fade into the barroom haze. But this mysterious specter follows him to his boat. When music is playing on the radio, if a certain violin concerto comes on, he may get up and switch the station off. “The violin upsets me,” he said. “It reminds me of terror.”

In the 1960s, Mr. Chandler was one of the most promising classical violin prodigies in New York.
Details in this article gnaw at my brain. If Chandler was one of the most promising violin prodigies in New York during the 1960s, with a career as a soloist in Europe as well, why are there no reviews of his concerts anywhere to be found in newspapers online? Vadukul mentions newspapers "that chronicled his talents."

(Michael only found one reference to Chandler--then Lipshutz--playing the solo part in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #5 when he was a student at New Providence High School in New Jersey in 1963.)

I think that Chandler might, in the course of the past 50 years, augmented his accomplishments. I think that Vadukul, who knows about music from reading at least one book about musical prodigies, wanted to believe him.

I can't imagine how a violin that had been sitting in its unopened case for 50 years and gave off a musty odor could look like this:

I wonder how, after 50 years, the violin could have a bow with it that still had hair, a bridge and sound post that were both still standing, and strings that still looked new.