Friday, June 14, 2024

Marion Bauer Four Songs, Opus 16 set to poems of John Gould Fletcher

I am so grateful to learn about the American imagist poet John Gould Fletcher (1886-1950) from the American composer Marion Bauer (1882-1955). The four songs published in 1924 as Opus 16 don’t seem to be available for purchase as a set but "Through the Upland Meadows," "Midsummer Dreams," and "In the Bosom of the Desert" are published as separate titles by Schirmer, which is now Wise Music (print on demand). For some reason Schirmer/Wise has not reissued "I Love the Night," the third song in the set. However the complete 1924 Schirmer edition is available at six university libraries and can be found through the worldcat. If you are a soprano looking for great music to sing in English that uses tonal language like that of Lili Boulanger and Gabriel Fauré (particularly his Verlaine songs), you should consider adding these Bauer songs to your repertoire.

Marion Bauer wrote this set of songs in 1922. "Through the Upland Meadows" is dedicated to the singer and early-music scholar Yves Tinayre, and "I Love the Night" is dedicated to the Canadian soprano Éva Gauthier, who premiered the song in Aeolian Hall on October 23, 1922. Lillian Gustafson gave the first performance of the entire set on March 21, 1925.

We know that Bauer was considering orchestrating this set of songs, because she developed a four-handed version of the piano part, which is something she did in preparation for orchestrating.

It is not known if she ever completed the orchestration. This set of of songs would make an excellent orchestration project for a composer familiar with Bauer's orchestral work who is in a position to gain permission to make and publish an orchestration. I don't believe that I am important enough a composer for Wise to consider engaging for such a project.

When I performed Marion Bauer's exquisite viola sonata back in 2012, there was very little information to be found about her life and work. Here is what I knew at the time (from a program):
The American composer Marion Bauer grew up in Walla-Walla, Washington, moved to New York in 1903, and then traveled to France where she exchanged English instruction for lessons in composition and analysis with Nadia Boulanger (Bauer was the first of Boulanger’s many American students). When Bauer returned to New York, she helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center, and the American Composer’s Alliance. She and Amy Beach were founding members of the Society of American Women Composers. Bauer taught composition, analysis, and music history at New York University from 1926-1951, and she taught at The Juilliard School from 1940-1955. She was a mentor and teacher to Ruth Crawford (Seeger), Aaron Copland, and Milton Babbitt. In addition to writing three books about music, Bauer wrote a great deal of chamber music, piano music, and vocal music, but only a small number of her many publications have been reissued, and her work as a composer was largely forgotten after her death.
Now we have an annotated list of her known works, and Mount Holyoke has collected and catalogued fifty of her manuscripts in their library. There are now also twenty-five of her pieces available in the IMSLP.

I have really enjoyed listening (again and again) to this set of four songs on a new recording called "New Moon" that will be released on June 20th by the Boston-based arts organization Calliope's Call. The Bauer songs are performed exquisitely by soprano Evangelia Leontis and pianist JJ Penna. Also on the recording are songs set to a reworking/translation of poems from the Persian poet Hafiz by the American composer Sarah Hutchings (sung by Leontis), "Valentines from Amherst," settings of Emily Dickenson's poetry, by the American composer Jodi Goble, and Libby Larsen's "Love after 1950" set to poems by Rita Dove, Julie Kane, Kathryn Daniels, Liz Lochhead, and Muriel Rukeyeser, performed beautifully and thoughtfully by Penna and mezzo-soprano Megan Roth.

The recording ends with a great unaccompanied two voice setting by Gilda Lyons of  "The Parting Glass," a traditional Scottish poem.

Now that I have enjoyed Bauer's setting of the four Fletcher poems, I want to read more of his work. I am looking forward to reading his books and collections of poems that are in the Internet Archive

I learned from an entry in the Poetry Foundation website that John Gould Fletcher was born in Arkansas in 1886, and his father, who had the same name, was a member of the confederate army. That family background might eventually have led him, after immersing himself in music, French Symbolism, and Asian art and philosophy, to be associated with a conservative group of poets called The Fugitives.

Fletcher started writing poetry while he was a student at Harvard, and after his father died in 1906, and he inherited the family fortune, he dropped out of Harvard. A few years later he left for Europe, and returned only after the outbreak of World War I.

If you follow the above link on the Poetry Foundation website you will find the rest of his fascinating biography, which involves friendships with Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and many other interesting people.

In 1938 Fletcher received the Pulitzer Prize for his Selected Poems, and then his work fell into obscurity.

There are many creative people in various creative fields (music, art, literature) who have done work I admire with whom I do not share sympathetic feelings. I think that Fletcher might be one of them. He was an exact contemporary of Florence Price, who was born in Little Rock 1887 and lived there at the same time there as Fletcher did. Price also was in Boston studying at the New England Conservatory at around the same time Fletcher was a student at Harvard. (While he was at Harvard he spent much of his time visiting museums and going to concerts--maybe some were at the New England Conservatory.) 

Back in Little Rock Fletcher would have been in the some of the same physical spaces as Price (or at least walked the same streets), but Fletcher might not have seen someone like Florence Price as a person he would want to know because of her race. And I bet he would have admired her music, which he could have heard either in Little Rock or in Boston. I am, of course, eager to be proven wrong about this hunch. 

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