Saturday, April 30, 2022

Laura Newell and the Stuyvesant String Quartet

Jay Shulman, the son of the great composer and cellist Alan Shulman as well as the nephew of the great violinist Sylvan Shulman (both Alan and Sylvan were members of the Stuyvesant String Quartet), sent me this excellent recording last week. Some of the music on it is familiar to me, like the nifty neo-classical Casella Harp Sonata, the Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances, the Malipiero Sonata, and the harp solo from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, but some of it is not, like the Ibert Trio for Violin, Cello, and Harp, Laura Newell's amazing transcription of Respighi's 1904 Notturno, and the 1919 Quintet for Strings and Harp by Arnold Bax.

Jay introduces Laura Newell eloquently:
The present album of selected works performed by harpist Laura Newell. American harpist Laura Newell was born December 16, 1900 in Denver. She studied harp there with Kajetan Attl, and at New England Conservatory with Alfred Holy. A pioneering orchestral and chamber freelance musician in the male-dominated musical world of the era, she played with the Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony, and in New York with WOR's Wallenstein Sinfonietta, NBC Symphony, and on radio and television with The Bell Telephone Hour. She recorded the Britten Ceremony of Carols with Robert Shaw for Victor twice, and recorded the Debussy trio for Columbia and Decca. Her recordings with the Shulman brothers - of the Ravel Introduction and Allegro, with the New Friends of Rhythm, and these recordings for their Philharmonia label - reflect her remarkable versatility, which transcended genres. Her student and close friend, founding editor of the American Harp Journal Sam Milligan, said that she had "the cleanest technique I ever heard." She retired in the early 1970s and devoted her creative activity to painting watercolors, calligraphy and enamels. Laura Newell died in New York City January 24, 1981.
For the harp-minded this is a recording to get for the sensational harp playing, but for my money (or absence of, since this was a surprise gift that came in the mail) the twelve and a half minutes of Bax is of incredible value for people who love chamber music. And the score is in the IMSLP, so if you click on the link you can follow along in order to see how beautifully the piece is put together (as a composition) and how beautifully it is interpreted.

The Stuyvesant Quartet was one of the twentieth century's great string quartets, and these reissues are from recording sessions they had smack in the middle of the century: 1951 and 1953. The original recordings were released on Philharmonia records as PH-102 and PH-109.

You can order the CD here for $11. Eleven bucks for so much mid-century pleasure? It boggles the mind.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

What's in an umlaut? What's in a pseudonym, for that matter?

I have been doing some reading today about Eugène Ysaÿe, and came across two things I didn't know about him and his legacy. The first comes from Anne-France Massaut, the orchestra librarian of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, and was offered as a comment on a list she compiled of all of Ysaÿe's orchestral music. Massaut is reporting (below) about a conversation she had with Michel Ysaye, one of Eugène Ysaÿe's grandsons. Or perhaps I should say one of Eugène Ysaye's grandsons.
The other tidbit concerns his grandson Jacques, who is in the center of this family photo, which I found on his Facebook page:
Jacques, who died in 2017 at the age of 94, wrote music under the pseudonym Jack Say. His discography has many more pseudonyms.
As Jack Say he was probably best known for "Brass Bonanza" or the Hartford Whalers Song:

You can follow this link for an article from March of 2022 that devotes a whole paragraph to "Brass Bonanza," and you can read even more about "Brass Bonanza" here.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

DIY Self-cleaning glasses case

I wanted a small and flexible case for my music-reading glasses. Rather than trying to find one in a store, I took matters in hand and used materials I found on and around my desk. If you want to make one, here's what to do:

Now every time I switch glasses, I get a freshly-cleaned pair to put on. I imagine there could be many variations on this theme that don't involve tape, but the tape does provide a good deal of stability. An extra layer of a sturdy fabric would probably work just as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Expressive Exercise: The Girl with the Pilates Mat

I certainly enjoy getting exercise outside, and get a great deal of pleasure out of being in nature, but sometimes, when outside is not welcoming because of rain or cold, I have to get my exercise inside.

My indoor exercise of choice used to be The Nickolaus Technique, but in order to do those exercises I had to constantly refer to a book, and had to spent a great deal of time on the floor. This year, during this winter-like spring, using an ipad that can plug into the TV, a little YouTube exploration has led both Michael and me to engage happily in Rachel Lawrence's thirty-minute sessions of Pilates. We started with the sessions for people over sixty, and are now enjoying the sessions that she offers (out of the generosity of her heart) for people of all ages.

I think that what I enjoy most about it is how dance-like it feels to do these strengthing exercises. Rachel Lawrence spent her younger years as a dancer, and has the knack of teaching movement in a way that feels expressive, clear, and even musical.

Some of the sequences that she offers remind me of sequences of movement that I did as a young adolescent when I went to "fine arts" camp (meaning dance, drama, and art: I began as a drama major and ended as an art major) and took Hindu dance classes. But when I took those dance classes they were simply torture to me. I wasn't strong enough, I wasn't flexible enough, I wasn't confident enough in my body, and, unlike "native" dancers, I did not find joy in movement for movement's sake.

But now, in my post-menopausal, anti-adolescent, and viola-centered state of being, I am, through the instruction and example of Rachel Lawrence, finding joy in movement. We have also been sharing some of these exercises with Michael's ninety-year-old mother, and doing just five or ten minutes makes her light up.

I'm also finding that the increased sense of balance and improved posture that I have makes my walking even more enjoyable. And, along with my trusty shoulder rest (the kind I use with my viola is called "Pedi"), and my better posture and improved "core" strength, orchestra rehearsals are so much more comfortable.

Thank you, Rachel!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Dreidel Fantasie played by Paul Cortese

Just released today! Recorded in sunny Spain in February.

You can find the music here.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Karen Walwyn Plays Florence Price's Piano Music

For much of her professional career, the pianist Karen Walwyn has been a champion of Florence Price's piano music. Thanks to the windfall discovery in 2009 of a large number of Price's unpublished manuscripts, found during the renovation of a house in St. Anne, Illinois, where the Price family lived during the final years of Florence's life, Walwyn has a great deal more of Price's music to learn, perform, and record. Michael Cooper has been engraving and editing this musical cache for G. Schirmer (a project that will take many more years), and Walwyn has started recording the music.

This first Walwyn recording of Price's solo piano music includes the E minor Piano Sonata, a piece that won a well-deserved prize in the 1932 Wanamaker Competition. It was not published during Price's lifetime, and only after a great deal of work by Price's biographer Rae Linda Brown, did G. Schirmer publish the Sonata in 1997. The Sonata is one of Price's best known and most often recorded solo piano pieces. My hope is that Walwyn's superb recording will inspire many more performances and recordings of it, not because Florence Price was an African American woman, but because in this work she combines a complete mastery of the European formal tradition with a unique and deeply expressive musical voice. It is, in many ways, the kind of American voice that Antonín Dvořák might have been thinking about in an 1895 article he wrote for Harper's Magazine, though he probably hadn't imagined that voice as being the voice of a woman:
A while ago I suggested that inspiration for truly national music might be derived from the Negro melodies or Indian chants. I was led to take this view partly by the fact that the so-called plantation songs are indeed the most striking and appealing melodies that have yet been found on this side of the water, but largely by the observation that this seems to be recognized, though often unconsciously, by most Americans. All races have their distinctively national songs, which they at once recognize as their own, even if they have never heard them before. When a Tcech [sic], a Pole, or a Magyar in this country suddenly hears one of his folk-songs or dances, no matter if it is for the first time in his life, his eyes light up at once, and his heart within him responds, and claims that music as his own. So it is with those of Teutonic or Celtic blood, or any other men, indeed, whose first lullaby mayhap [perhaps] was a song wrung from the heart of the people.

It is a proper question to ask, what songs, then, belong to the American and appeal more strongly to him than any others? What melody could stop him on the street if he were in a strange land and make the home feeling well up within him, no matter how hardened he might be or how wretchedly the tune were played? Their number, to be sure, seems to be limited. The most potent as well as the most beautiful among them, according to my estimation, are certain of the so-called plantation melodies and slave songs, all of which are distinguished by unusual and subtle harmonies, the like of which I have found in no other songs but those of old Scotland and Ireland. The point has been urged that many of these touching songs, like those of Foster, have not been composed by the Negroes themselves, but are the work of white men, while others did not originate on the plantations, but were imported from Africa. It seems to me that this matters but little. One might as well condemn the Hungarian Rhapsody because Liszt could not speak Hungarian. The important thing is that the inspiration for such music should come from the right source, and that the music itself should be a true expression of the people's real feelings.
The CD begins with Price's set of five Preludes that Price wrot between 1926 and 1932. Like Chopin in his Preludes, Price and a knack of drawing out the most personal expression from pianists, and I imagine that, like Chopin, she wrote these Preludes with a pianist's enjoyment in mind. Karen Walwyn's masterful performance of these pieces is a great pleasure to hear, and I trust that after hearing this recording pianists everywhere will want to play them. And they are far more technically accesesible than Chopin, or even Gershwin.

Price's "In the Land O'Cotton Suite," from around 1926, was among the first of her published pieces that used images from agrarian life in the Southern states (often with a rose-colored vantage point describing daily tasks from the lives of enslaved ancestors). This suite began Price's relationship with several Northern publishing companies, and paved the way for her to leave her native Little Rock, Arkansas for Chicago, where she spent the remainder of her career.

During the 1920s and 1930s Price wrote a great deal of music for teaching, and she had relationships with many important publishers (including G. Schirmer, Carl Fisher, Theodore Presser, and Authur P. Schmidt). "Joy in June" is a lovely example of one of these teaching pieces. "Child Asleep" from 1932 has only recently been published. Price wrote it on her daughter Florence Louise's fifteenth birthday.

I love hearing Price's piano music. People seem to measure a composer's success by their orchestral music (in Price's time and in the twenty-first century). Florence Price is often introduced as the first African American woman to have a piece performed by a major American orchestra, and just recently has been honored by the Grammy Award that the Philadelphia Orchestra received for their recording two of her Symphonies. But hearing her solo piano music, music written in her true musical "mother tongue," played with such expressive love and musical intelligence, provides the real measure for me of Florence Price's tremendous musical value.

You can get a copy of the CD here

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Elgar's Harmony Music for Woodwind Quintet

In addition to playing bassoon in a woodwind quintet (two flutes, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon) with his brother Frank, the young Edward Elgar wrote seven pieces of "Harmony Music" beginning in 1878, seven years before the publication of his Opus 1. John Morrison has collected and edited these pieces, and has given this introduction to his edition that can be found in the IMSLP:
Elgar’s seven works titled Harmony Music (from the German Harmoniemusik, music for wind ensemble) were among the pieces he wrote between the years 1878 and 1881 for the wind quintet he played in with his friends. Other works for the quintet included sets of Four Dances, Five Intermezzos, and Six Promenades, an Adagio Cantabile (subtitled Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup) and an Andante con Variazioni (Evesham Andante). The Harmony Music shows the self-taught composer’s development in the use of form as well as his enjoyment of experiments with harmony. The first four works are single movements, the lengthy No.5 is a carefully crafted little symphony with four movements, and the Nos. 6 and 7 with two movements each show on-going maturity.

The players for whom Elgar wrote the quintets were his young friends, who met regularly for music on Sunday afternoons. He wrote for the instruments available and to suit the capabilities of their players. The players were The group played in a garden shed behind the shop, explaining the curious sub-title ‘Shed.’

The Leicester brothers worked in the family’s printing business in Worcester High Street, with William as apprentice to his father. The music group was led by Hubert, then a chartered accountant, who kept the instrumental parts assembled into part-books, being choirmaster at St. George’s Church at the time Edward was assistant organist to his father William Elgar. Hubert Leicester became Mayor of Worcester (several times) and wrote a book called ‘Forgotten Worcester’ in 1930.

The second flautist, Frank Exton, was a surveyor and lived near Worcester in the village of Claines, close to the home of Will Grafton who in 1879 married Elgar’s sister Pollie.

Helen Weaver, daughter of shoemaker William Weaver whose shop was opposite the Elgars, must have been interested, for Harmony Music No. 2 is subtitled ‘Nelly Shed’. It was a sign of the start of the serious relationship between Edward and Helen which ended in 1884 with heart-breaking separation after a short engagement. Helen Weaver played the violin, and for Harmony Music No.7 the wind quintet was joined by a violinist: but it was Frank Elgar’s friend, Karl Bammert, a German watchmaker then lodging at the Elgar music-shop.

The part-books were kept by Hubert Leicester before being taken back by Elgar, who wanted to ‘recycle’ some of the music in later works. The books then joined the collection of John Parr, a bassoonist and instrument collector, and were eventually acquired by the British Library.
You can find the scores to this set of seven by way of this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to them here:

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Public Space and Private Space

I am finally able to play violin again for an hour or so at a time. Viola still has its physical stresses for me, so I'm trying to only play a little bit of viola every day. When I was not able to practice, I spent a good deal of time scrolling through public spaces on the internet. I even joined Twitter, a format that doesn't do much for me as a participant (i.e. tweeter). And though I got a lot of help with recovery from my playing injury from the helpful and kind people in the viola Facebook group, much of Facebook seems to me like voices in the wilderness calling out for meaningful interaction, or making posts to "document" meaningful interactions they have had with friends.

I have, in the past, anticipated that I would have a sense of connection (or relief from disconnection) when something has been "released," like a recording or a publication, but the rare response (a comment rather than a "like") on Facebook seems so very fleeting.

When I play music in real time with friends, the satisfaction I get feels anything but fleeting. In the case of my weekly meetings with my pianist friend John David, it lasts for the whole week. In the case of playing Haydn quartets with my friends, where the interval between meetings is two weeks or more, that connection with Haydn sometimes lasts until the next meeting. And the satisfaction I get from completing a writing project is, in my private space, enough to make me feel satisfied by the effort I have put into it. But once that project is finished, and the parts are made and submitted either to the IMSLP or to a publisher, it feels kind of "gone."

I don't like to amplify my work the way many musicians (composers and performing musicians) amplify their work daily in their various social media worlds. One post about it is enough for me. And if what I have written is of any value to anybody, I would feel better if that value comes from a personal connection or from playing something with others or for others.

I try my best to ignore the quantification of engagement, and I try my best not to care about whether it does no or does not give validity to the work I do, but once in a while, during periods of physical isolation from a larger musical community (not because of Covid but because of basic geography) I start to wonder about my place in any musical world larger than my rather small physical circle of people.

I know that I am not alone in not knowing. Perhaps the whole musical experience concerns the connections that happen between one private space and another, scattered across time.

Friday, April 01, 2022

In Celebration of the Day

"April Fool" is the second duet in my set of Four Spring Dances for Two Violins (that link goes to the entry in the IMSLP). This is a performance the Duo Mycorrhizae recorded in 2020.