Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Teresina Tua

Teresina Tua (Maria Felicita Tua) was an Italian violinist born (in Turin) on May 22, 1867.  Her date of birth is somewhat vague – she may also have been born on April 23, 1866.  For a time, she was called the “violin fairy” for her angelic face and good looks.  However, her fame did not last into the twentieth century.  She studied at the Paris Conservatory with Joseph Lambert Massart, taking a first prize in violin at the age of thirteen.  In 1882, she toured Germany.  She played in London, England for the first time on May 5, 1883.  It has been said that in Europe, everywhere she played, she created a sensation.  She very successfully toured all of Europe and Russia.  One source states that in Russia, in the fall of 1885, her accompanist was none other than Sergei Rachmaninoff.  He was not impressed with her playing but shared the stage with her for three months.  Stating that she did not play particularly well, he went on to say that "as an artist, she is not serious, but she has talent."  Soon after touring the U.S. – in 1887 – she gave up her public stage life altogether.  A review of one of her performances in New York (New York Times, October 18, 1887) was fairly typical of the reception she received in this country.  After her debut performance in New York on October 17, 1887, the reviewer pointed out (among other shortcomings) that “Her enunciation of rapid passages is often unfinished and at times absolutely unintelligible, and her double stopping is frequently distressing to the acute ear.”  The reviewer also noted that Tua seemed to want to beguile her listeners with her looks rather than with her playing.  After she returned to Europe, Tua seemed to gradually lose interest in concertizing further but devoted some of her time to teaching.  It also didn’t help that in 1889, she married a wealthy member of the nobility – Giuseppe Franchi Verney.  When he died, she married another aristocrat – Emilio Quadrigo.  Her economic incentive to keep playing– if there had ever been one – was thus destroyed.  A similar thing happened to Johanna Martzy.  Another now-obscure violinist (and Tua's contemporary), Arma Senkrah, also gave up playing in public after marrying an attorney in Weimar.   Her ultimate fate, however, was very dissimilar.  According to a usually reliable source, from 1885 until about 1935, Tua played a Stradivarius constructed in 1708.  From 1909 forward, she owned and played a 1709 Stradivarius – now in a museum in Turin – given to her by a British friend and patron (Ludwig Mond) via his will.  In 1940, she entered a convent and was obliged to give this violin up.  She was 74 years old.  Tua died on October 29, 1956, at age 90, largely forgotten. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Giovanni Giornovichi

Giovanni Giornovichi (Ivan Mane Jarnović) was a Croatian violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Palermo, Italy) on October 26, 1747.  He was a virtuoso violinist who was very well-known in his lifetime though completely forgotten today.  I would never have heard of him had it not been for the short blog about George Bridgetower which I wrote immediately preceding this blog.  He was one of Bridgetower’s teachers in England.  One source states that his full name (i.e. first and last name) - other than in the birth certificate for a daughter born in London in 1795 - did not appear in any document or program during his lifetime, not even in his published works.  The first reference work to actually publish his first name was published in 1840.  Another oddity about him is that his surname appears to have had at least nine different spellings.  Perhaps he purposely desired to be known – or publicize himself - by a single name, such as other artists have since then, including Midori, Liberace, Houdini, Prince, and Madonna.  Who knows?  It is believed that he studied with Antonio Lolli in Italy and that his ancestry derived from Dubrovnik, Croatia.  It is documented that he made a very successful debut in Paris on March 25, 1773 – he was 25 years old.  His playing was described as being brilliant, amazing, and elegant.  Subsequently, his appearances all over Europe (but especially in England and France) received great acclaim.  Among the cities he toured and played in were London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, Stockholm, and St Petersburg.  He also shared the stage with musicians who are now legendary, including Joseph Haydn.  It is known that from 1779 to 1783 he worked for a member of the aristocracy in Prussia.  From 1883 to 1886 he was employed by Empress Catherine II of Russia.  From 1790 until 1796 he lived in England.  He took to touring again from 1797 to 1802.  Then he moved permanently to St Petersburg where he died (while playing billiards) on November 23, 1804, at age 57.  He composed over 70 works, 22 violin concertos among them – music which is now almost never played.  Nonetheless, the Starling Chamber Orchestra can be heard in three of the concertos at Instant Encore’s website here.  They have recorded three CDs featuring Giornovichi’s violin concertos.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

George Bridgetower

George Bridgetower (George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower) was a Polish-African violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Biala, Poland) on February 29, 1780, though this date of birth is far from certain.  Some sources give this date as October 11, 1778 or simply 1779.  Though he was an accomplished concert violinist and teacher, he is best known for his brief association with Beethoven and his Kreutzer Sonata.  It appears that his father worked in the household of Prince Esterhazy, Joseph Haydn’s employer, which is where he probably received his early musical training.  His Polish mother might have been employed in another royal household nearby.  He gave his first public performance in Paris on April 13, 1789, playing a concerto by Giovanni Giornovichi, and caused a sensation.  Whether he was 9, 10, or 11 years old is anyone’s guess.  On February 19, 1790, he appeared in London, England, playing a solo between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.  On June 2 of that same year, he and Franz Clement (who was 9 years old at the time) played a concert sponsored by a member of the British nobility.  After a few more public performances in England, he became a member of the first violins in the orchestra of the Prince of Wales, where he remained employed for 14 years.  The Prince of Wales, an important patron of the arts, arranged for Bridgetower to receive private lessons from Francois Barthelemon, Giovanni Giornovichi, and Thomas Attwood, recognized eminent musicians of the time.  Bridgetower – as did other members of the orchestra - divided his time between Brighton and London.  In 1802, Bridgetower visited his mother in Dresden.  He played very successful concerts there in July of 1802 and March of 1803.  He obtained permission to extend his leave and was thus able to visit Vienna in April of 1803.  He played in Vienna and was soon ushered into the highest social circles, including that of Prince Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven’s royal patrons.  Bridgetower supposedly met Beethoven through an introduction by Lichnowsky – so the story goes.  Beethoven was then working on his Opus 47, the famous violin sonata number nine – the Kreutzer Sonata.  Some sources say Bridgetower actually asked Beethoven to write the sonata.  In any case, both of them premiered the sonata on the morning of May 24, 1803, reading from Beethoven’s manuscript.  It has been said that the violin part of the second movement had not been written out separately, compelling Bridgetower to read that movement from Beethoven’s piano score.  Another version has the premiere taking place on May 17, not May 24.  Still another version has Bridgetower receiving the manuscript fully copied out the day before the premiere.  The fact remains that both played the premiere of the work and the thing was soon afterward dedicated to Bridgetower.  However, there was a quick falling out between the two (very soon thereafter) over some remarks Bridgetower made (about a woman both of them knew) that Beethoven found offensive.  Some versions actually have Bridgetower and Beethoven competing for the affections of the woman.  Who knows?  Beethoven subsequently rescinded the dedication and re-assigned it to Rodolphe Kreutzer who actually never played the piece, finding it incomprehensible.  Bridgetower was about 24 years old.  In June of 1811, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Music from Cambridge.  He continued to teach violin and piano and play concerts in Europe, especially Italy and France, for many years.  A small piano piece of his was published in 1812.  George Bridgetower supposedly died in poverty in London on February 20, 1860, although he left an estate of about one thousand British Pounds Sterling, a very good sum in those days.  He was about 80 years old. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Theodore Thomas

Theodore Thomas (Theodore Christian Friedrich Thomas) was an American violinist, conductor, and arranger born (in Esens, Germany – not to be confused with Essen, Germany) on October 11, 1835 (Brahms was 2 years old.)  Today, he is hardly remembered as a violinist though he made his living as one for the first 20 years of his musical life, which began at age 6.  However, what is well-known is that he founded the Chicago Symphony and conducted it from 1891 to 1905, although he also conducted other orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.  Thomas exemplifies the quintessential entrepreneur.  His father (Johan), a professional provincial musician, seems to have been his only teacher in violin.  By age 7 he had played for the King of Hanover. Thomas was by age ten performing (in his home town) at social events and in taverns as well.  Thomas never attended a conservatory or a university.  The family came to the U.S. (New York City) in 1845.  Thomas played in the Navy Band and pit orchestras in the surrounding areas of New York City until about 1849.  He then toured briefly as a recitalist, giving concerts as far South as Mississippi.  He was fourteen years old and traveled alone.  In 1850, back in New York, he took conducting lessons from Karl Eckert while playing in various orchestras which toured the U.S. widely, accompanying major artists of the day, including Jenny Lind, Henrietta Sontag, and Sigismond Thalberg.  It has been said that his approach to violin sound changed upon hearing these two singers (Lind and Sontag.)  He joined the first violin section of the New York Philharmonic in 1854.  In 1855, he organized a musical series of piano quintet concerts called the Mason-Thomas concerts, featuring himself as first violinist and William Mason as pianist.  The series lasted for 14 years.  After a concert in 1859, he was called "America's most accomplished violinist" by a Chicago newspaper.  Thomas unexpectedly made his conducting debut in New York in 1859, filling in for an ill opera conductor - as Toscanini also did later.  He then founded the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1862 with which he toured the Northeast (New York to Chicago) and initially made his great reputation as a conductor.  He was 27 years old.  The orchestra actually made its debut on December 14, 1864.  I don’t know if Thomas ever regularly played the violin in public again after that.  However, as late as October of 1870, he played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata at a concert in Boston.  His accompanist was a Miss Anna Mehlig, a noted concert pianist of the day.  From 1877, Thomas also simultaneously conducted the New York Philharmonic (founded in 1842) until about 1891, in addition to other regional orchestras.  He became the highest paid conductor of the time.  It must be noted, lest present-day readers imagine an impossible amount of work, that seasons in those days consisted of about six or eight pairs of concerts.  Nevertheless, his own orchestra played - during tours -  as many as 62 concerts in the span of four months.  In 1888, due to financial difficulties, the orchestra (the one bearing his name) was disbanded.  Thomas was by then 53 years old.  In 1889, a Chicago businessman, meeting Thomas by chance in New York, invited him to come to Chicago to form a permanent orchestra there.  Thomas is supposed to have uttered a memorable response.  Whether any of that is true is anyone's guess.  However, in the summer of 1890. Thomas married that businessman's sister.  By December of 1890, Thomas had signed a contract to direct a permanent orchestra in Chicago.  In October of 1891, the Chicago Symphony presented its first concert under Thomas.  The orchestra consisted mainly of former members of his old orchestra, several former members of the New York Philharmonic, and some musicians brought in from Europe.  Sources vary widely as to how many came from each group.  The season consisted of twenty pairs of concerts presented over twenty weeks.  During his tenure (of thirteen and one half years), he conducted 112 U.S. premieres with the orchestra - more than any conductor since then (of any U.S. orchestra) could ever come close to.  Not bad for a guy who never attended a conservatory.  Theodore Thomas died (in Chicago) on January 4, 1905, at age 69. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I have been curious lately about the longevity - life span -  of concert violinists.  It seems most of them age rather well and die in old age.  Some have died young, of course, but, among the ones I surveyed here, half reached 80 years of age or more and the other half at least reached age 72.  I did a random check of twenty violinists born in the Twentieth Century (on this blog) and found the average age at death was 81.  The one lasting the longest died at age 99.  Curiously, among female concert violinists, a great number of them (comparatively) died young.  The ratio is, of course, skewed because, over time, there have been fewer women violinists than men.  Ginette Neveu died at 30; Arma Senkrah died at 36; Alma Rose' at 37; Eda Kersey at 40; Edith Volkaert at 42; Alma Moodie at 44; Maud Powell at 52; Johanna Martzy at 54; and Camilla Urso at age 59.  With time, that disproportion will correct itself since there appear to now be more female concert violinists than male.  Among the men who have died young are: Katya Tsukanova (17), Josef Hassid (26), Gregory Cardi (28), Eitan Silkoff (29), Nico Richter (29), Julian Sitkovetsky (32), Francois Prume (33), Ottokar Novacek (33), Ossy Renardy (33), Dmitri Kogan (38), Noel Pointer (39), Jitka Suranska (40), Michael Rabin (40), Lucien Martin (42), Ferenc Vecsey (42), Andrei Korsakov (44), Henryk Wieniawski (44), Benjamin Godard (45), Tor Aulin (47), Paul Kochanski (47), Carl Rosa (47), Christian Ferras (49), Karl Halir (50), Philippe Hirschhorn (50), Chevalier De Saint George (53), Ida Levin (53), Nicolai Berezowsky (53), Lucien Capet (55), Joseph Achron (56), Eddie South (57), Stuff Smith (58), Leonid Kogan (58), Nicolo Paganini (58), Julian Olevsky (59), Grigoras Dinicu (59), and Vasa Prihoda (59).  On the other hand, Olga Rudge lived to age 100 and Roman Totenberg to age 101.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Patricia Travers

Patricia Travers was an American violinist and actress born (in Clifton, New Jersey) on December 5, 1927.  She is known for having given up her professional career entirely and dropping from sight in 1951, still in her early twenties.  She is also known for having owned the Tom Taylor Stradivarius (1732), the violin Joshua Bell used to play.  That violin was sold to a collector in 1954, three years after she retired.  It is now being played by Mark Steinberg, first violinist of the Brentano Quartet.  She also played a 1733 Guarneri violin.  Travers died only recently.  She began studying the violin before the age of 4.  Her teachers were Jacques Gordon (concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony for almost a decade and teacher at the Eastman School of Music) and Hans Letz (pupil of Joseph Joachim and concertmaster of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra for a time.  Letz believed, as did Bronislaw Huberman and Frans Bruggen, that Rhythm was the most important element in music.  He also taught at Juilliard.)  A single source says that Travers also attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.  Her first public performance was at age 6.  She gave her first Carnegie Hall recital in 1938, at age 9.  She appeared with the New York Philharmonic on July 6, 1939, playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol.  She was 11 years old.  Two years later, she appeared in the movie There’s Magic In Music (1941.)  Here is a YouTube video showing her playing in the movie.  Finnish violinist Heimo Haitto also took part in that movie - he was 18 years old at the time.  Travers had a very promising and active career going and played with most major American and European orchestras from age 10 onward, including the orchestras of Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, London and Berlin.  She also recorded several discs, one of them being the first recording of Charles Ives’ second violin sonata.  Joan Field had been the first to record the first Ives violin sonata.  People have taken wild guesses as to why Travers suddenly stopped playing.  She did not suffer a nervous breakdown as did Josef Hassid.  It is not an easy thing to stop doing something one truly enjoys.  If she had felt fulfilled, successful, or happy as a performer, she would not have stopped playing.  Approval from her audiences and critics would have been enough to keep her going.  An early article (1939) in a music journal stated the following: “We feel sure that the prophecy that Patricia Travers is to become known as one of the great women violinists will be fully realized.”  Toward the end, after a performance in Boston (1951), a critic wrote “…she is not yet either a brilliant technician or a compelling interpreter.”   What may have contributed to her decision to stop was that the economic motive to keep working was not there – she came from a well-to-do family.  It’s the old push-pull theory at work - in order for a person to move forward, there must be a push from within and a pull from without.  Some sources say she devoted the last six decades of her life to helping run her family’s business interests – similar to what Iso Briselli did, except he stopped playing much later in life.  As far as I know, she never had any students.  Patricia Travers died on February 9, 2010, at age 82. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Russian Violin Makers List

Well, I am no expert, but I can put a list together as well as anyone else.  Here are a few Russian violin makers you might be interested in knowing.  I will take a wild guess and say that Russia probably has not had as many makers as have come out of Holland (approximately 300.)  Present-day Cremona (Italy) boasts about 500 makers.  At present, there are no violin-making schools in all of Russia – not even one.  As you can see, there are very few Russian makers, the vast majority unknown.  Whether any of them are outstanding is really something I would not know about.  In any case, here is my (arbitrary) list: Mikhael Azoyan, Dmitry Badiarov, Vladislav Baginsky, Leon Dobryanski, Nikolay Frolov, Andranik Gaybaryan, Jury Ivanov, Nicolaus Kittel, Anatoly Kochargin, Anton Krutz, Alexander Krylov, Yuri Malinovsky, Amiran Oganezov, Ivan Pashin, Ivan Petrovitsch, Yuri Pochekin, Araik Resyan, Rigat Rubus, Armin Schlieps, George Schlieps, Lev Sobol, Vyacheslav Suprun, Boris Sverdlik, Daniel Tomaschev, Alexander Tulchinsky,  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Russian Violin Makers

In terms of fame, and very likely in terms of expertise, Italian, French, and German violin makers have the Russians beat by a long shot.  At least that’s the general opinion.  Whether that is so because the violin was actually invented in Italy (around 1530) and the most prolific makers worked from there and were the first to become famous is anyone’s guess.  The names of da Salo, Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri, Maggini, Carcassi, Storioni, Gagliano, Guadagnini, Ventapane, Rogeri, Ruggieri, Pressenda, Albani, Gobetti, and Montagnana, are certainly very well known.  Their violins are prized above all others.  On the other hand, Russian makers are not known at all.  This peculiarity is striking since the whole world knows that most of the world’s celebrated violinists are Russian.  To filter them further, most among these superlative Russian players are Jewish – Oistrakh, Goldstein, Kogan, Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, Milstein, and Gitlis, to name a few.  So, why aren’t there any great Russian violin makers – makers whose names are household words – Jewish or otherwise?  Perhaps it has to do with tradition – like the tradition of exceptional French wine making or fine watch making by the Swiss.  After Amati (and his relatives) and other early makers started violin making enterprises, the violin construction economic engine took off; soon, imitators sprang up elsewhere in Italy - some of them really good.  Entire families (such as the Guarneris and the Stradivaris) got involved in the trade and the tradition of fine Italian violin making was thus established.  By the time the ideas and patterns for violin making spread to other parts of Europe, the Italians had been at it for more than fifty years.  Then the Italian violin virtuosos got going as well.  Up until 1750, they were dominant in the violin playing sphere.  Italian violinists like Corelli, Somis, Pugnani, Tartini, Geminiani, Vivaldi, Tommasini, and Locatelli had few (if any) corresponding contemporaries in the other European countries or Russia.  There was a time when Spain ruled the seas.  There was also a time when the Roman Empire ruled the world.  Nothing lasts forever.  Who knows whether the Russian violin makers will not some day soon take over the business?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Martin Marsick

Martin Marsick (Martin Pierre Joseph Marsick) was a Belgian violinist, teacher, and composer born on March 9, 1847.  He created a scandal toward the latter part of his life as did Jean Marie Leclair at the very end of his.  Thanks to a few of his students, he will forever remain in the history books, even if his name is not exactly the most remembered among violinists.  These students included Bronislaw Huberman, Carl Flesch, George Enesco, and Jacques Thibaud.  He is also identified with the violin David Oistrakh played from 1966 until the day he died – the Marsick Stradivarius of 1705.  That violin ended up in the hands of Igor Oistrakh, but its present whereabouts are unknown to me.  In 1854, seven-year old Marsick was admitted to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Liege (in other words, the Liege Conservatory.)  He studied violin with a very obscure teacher named Desire Heynberg and graduated in 1864.  Brahms was about 31 years old at the time.  Marsick then continued his studies in Brussels with Hubert Leonard.  Later still (1868) he went to Paris – which he made his home from that time forward - to study with Joseph Lambert Massart at the Paris Conservatory.  He was 21 years old.  Sponsored by the Belgian government, he went to Berlin in 1870 to study privately with Joseph Joachim.  In 1871, he founded a string quartet – not an unusual thing to do for recently-graduated violinists.  His debut took place in Paris in 1873.  He then concertized in Europe and the United States for about 20 years.  He was by then playing a Nicolo Amati violin from 1652, given to him by a member of the French nobility.  Conductors with whom he frequently worked in Paris included Edouard Colonne, Jules Pasdeloup, and Charles Lamoureux.  He also gave concerts with a piano trio which included Anatolyi Brandukov (teacher of Gregor Piatigorsky), and Vladimir de Pachmann (pupil of Anton Bruckner.)  In 1892, Marsick was appointed professor of violin at the Paris conservatory.  He was 45 years old.  He stayed until 1900.  In that year, he left his job, his students, and his wife and did not return until 1903.  The woman he lived with during this brief time was married and the situation, which was widely known, created a scandal.  It has been said that this incident ruined his career.  In 1906, he published a study book for violinists entitled Eureka (Opus 34, 18 pages long) and another book (Violin Grammar) published in 1924.  Perhaps these books are available in France.  Thibaud did record at least one of his pieces (Opus 6, number 2, Scherzando) about one hundred years ago and that recording is still available.  Among many other things, Marsick also composed three violin concertos, a quintet, a piano quartet, and a music drama.  Whether these works are nowadays performed is unknown – I would guess probably not, except perhaps in France.  According to some sources, Marsick died in poverty (in Paris) on October 21, 1924, at age 77.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Russian Violinists

These Russian violinists (and a few more) are included among those about whom I have written micro biographies:  Joseph Achron, Iso Briselli, Zakhar Bron, Mischa Elman, Leonard Friedman, Elizabeth Gilels, Ivry Gitlis, Boris Goldstein, Alexei Gorokhov, Eduard Grach, Jascha Heifetz, Julia Igonina, Iliana Isakadze, Ilya Kaler, Leonid Kogan, Andrei Korsakov, Natasha Korsakova, Louis Krasner, Albert Markov, Nathan Milstein, Viktoria Mullova, David Oistrakh, Anna Rabinova, Vadim Repin, Alexander Schneider, Abram Shtern, Toscha Seidel, Vladimir Spivakov, Steven Staryk, Peter Stolyarsky, Maxim Vengerov, Abram Yampolsky, Zvi Zeitlin, Efrem Zimbalist,....  Even among avid and knowledgeable concert goers, only three or four are known.  I asked a violinist colleague the other day whether he had heard a certain recording by Ivry Gitlis.  He did not even know who Gitlis was.  It is generally agreed that Heifetz, Gitlis, Kogan, Milstein, and Oistrakh, are at the very top.  The others are superlative players who for reasons known only to a few, have never achieved that rank which bequeaths an aura of violinistic sainthood of sorts – more than mere historic immortality.  Nevertheless, they form the superstructure on which the others stand, the ones against whom we identify the greatest.  It is also interesting that some of the greatest Russian players were students of a Hungarian, not Russian, violinist: Leopold Auer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Felix Galimir

Felix Galimir was an Austrian violinist and teacher born (in Vienna) on May 12, 1910.  Although he was one of the early members of the Israel Philharmonic (the Palestine Symphony Orchestra) he did not stay there long.  Today, he is mostly remembered for having taught at the Juilliard School of Music for some time and his long tenure (more than four decades) at the Marlboro Music Festival.  He also enjoyed a very successful career as an orchestral player and chamber music player.  Galimir entered the Vienna Conservatory at age 12 (some sources say age 14.)  He studied with Adolf Bak and Simon Pullman and graduated in 1928.  He played the Beethoven concerto in his public debut performance.  He studied further with Carl Flesch in Berlin in 1929 and 1930.  He had by then already founded the Galimir String Quartet with three of his sisters (1927 – the sisters were Adrienne on second violin, Renee on viola, and Marguerite on cello.)  Between 1930 and 1936, he must have had numerous engagements in Europe both with the quartet and as a soloist, though I am simply assuming that to be the case.  In 1936 (one source says 1934), he recorded Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and Ravel’s string quartet with the Galimir Quartet.  It may have been the first recording of the Berg Suite.  Some sources claim it was the first recording of the Ravel quartet though it was not, it was the second recording of that work – the first recording of the Ravel was by the International Quartet in 1927.  The Galimir recording won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1937.  Also in 1936, he was accepted into the violin ranks of the Vienna Philharmonic although he was forced out in 1937.  He had until then only been a regular substitute player at the Vienna State Opera.  He (and two of his sisters – one of them being Renee, the violist in the quartet) then went to Palestine, having been urged to do so by violinist Bronislaw Huberman.  His father and his other sister left for Paris.  In 1938, he came to the U.S from Palestine and played a solo recital at Town Hall the same year.  He was 28 years old.  He founded another Galimir String Quartet (which played for radio broadcasts at WQXR) and joined the NBC Symphony in 1939, then being led by the ill-tempered conductor, Arturo Toscanini.  Mischa Mischakoff was the concertmaster at the time (and remained so until 1952.)  Galimir stayed until 1954, when the orchestra was disbanded.  Galimir then served as concertmaster of the NBC Symphony of the Air from 1954 until 1956.  Also in 1954, he began teaching at the City College of New York.  He finally joined the Juilliard faculty in 1962.  The Curtis Institute (Philadelphia) appointed him to its faculty in 1972 (some sources give an earlier date.)  In 1976, he began teaching at the Mannes College of Music.  Galimir recorded many times (on the Vanguard, Period, Decca, and Columbia labels) as a member of chamber groups, orchestras, or as soloist.  A rare live performance of a rarely heard Beethoven piece (on YouTube) is available here.  He remained active until just a few weeks before he died, on November 10, 1999, in New York City, at age 89.  The quartet with the Galimir name had finally disbanded in 1993, after 65 years.  Among Galimir’s students are Mark Kaplan, Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Koh, Miranda Cuckson, Leila Josefowicz, and Ani Kavafian.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Edouard Dethier

Edouard Dethier (Edouard Charles Louis Dethier) was a Belgian violinist and teacher born (in Liege) on August 25, 1885.  Though he was a well-known recitalist and concert violinist for a time, he is now best remembered as a teacher at the Juilliard School of Music, since before it became the Juilliard School of Music.  He began his violin studies with his brother Gaston while still a child.  At the age of eight, he enrolled in the conservatory of his hometown (Liege), from which he graduated with a First Prize – Eugene Ysaye had studied there also (1865) as a seven-year-old child.  Dethier entered the Brussels Conservatory at age 15, winning a first prize one year later (at age sixteen) after entering the Brussels violin competition.  One year after that, he was already teaching at the Brussels Conservatory.  He was 17 years old.  He was then also appointed concertmaster of the opera orchestra of Brussels.  During his student days and early career, he was a close friend of Polish violinist, Paul Kochanski.  Dethier came to the U.S. (New York City) in 1905, establishing himself as a recitalist and teacher, although he toured for a few years.  He played the Vieuxtemps concerto in d minor (number 4) with the New York Symphony on June 6, 1905.  On November 29, 1907, he debuted with the New York Philharmonic, playing Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.  He again soloed with this orchestra on December 18, 1910, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto.  Gustav Mahler conducted on that occasion.  By then, he had already been appointed (in 1906 or 1907 – sources vary) to the faculty of Juilliard – he was 21 years old.  As did Ivan Galamian after him, Dethier taught there until the day he died.  As far as I know, there are no commercial recordings by him and I also have no idea what violins he played.  After 1911, Dethier must have had no financial worries as he had that year married Avis Putnam, the daughter of a famous publisher.  Among his many pupils were Julius Hegyi, Robert Mann, Louis Lanza, Emanuel Vardi, Sally Thomas, Genevieve Greene, Julius Schulman, Anna Tringas, Joan Milkson, and Paul Zukofsky.  Dethier died (in New York City) on February 19, 1962, at age 76. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Arabella Steinbacher

Arabella Steinbacher is a German violinist (and pianist, as were Fritz Kreisler, Arthur Grumiaux, Louis Persinger, and as is Julia Fischer) born (in Munich) on November 14, 1981.  She is now in the forefront of concert violinists performing all over the world.  She began studying the violin with Helge Thelen at the age of three.  He was her teacher for six years.  At age nine, she became the youngest violin student of Ana Chumachenko at the Munich Academy of Music. She received further musical inspiration and guidance from Ivry Gitlis, one of the oldest living concert violinists (among whom are also Zvi Zeitlin, Camilla Wicks, Ida Haendel, Robert Mann, David Nadien, Albert Markov, Abram Shtern, and Ruggiero Ricci.)  In 2001, she was awarded a scholarship by the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation.  She made her debut in March, 2004, in Paris, playing the Beethoven violin concerto, actually stepping in at the last moment for an indisposed violinist.  She was 22 years old.  Many other artists have begun their careers in similar fashion – Leonard Bernstein and Shlomo Mintz come to mind.  Steinbacher made her New York recital debut in June, 2006.  She has also already appeared with most major orchestras in the world – the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic are the exceptions.  Steinbacher has recorded extensively and many videos of her playing can be found on YouTube.  One such can be found here. She received the German Record Critics Award in 2005 for her recording of both of Darius Milhaud’s rarely-heard Violin Concertos.  She now records exclusively for PentaTone Classics.  Arabella Steinbacher plays the Booth Stradivarius (1716) provided by the Nippon Music Foundation and uses a bow from luthier Benoit Rolland.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Orchestra musicians

I often wonder what orchestra musicians in the times of Corelli, Vivaldi, Bach, Zelenka, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bizet, Verdi, Berlioz, Paganini, Rossini, Puccini, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev thought about their music when it was being played for the first time.  Orchestral music is an art that requires many collaborators.  It’s not just one man and his piano.  What thoughts passed through their minds as they labored to understand and decipher, and practiced and rehearsed what the composers had just written?  Did the manuscripts contain a lot of misprints?  Was the music illegible?  Did they even have enough light to see the notes?  Did they have enough rehearsal time to learn the music?  Composers frequently finished their work at the last minute.  Was the conductor clueless?  Was the music any good?  Did they hesitate to speak out?  Were they just there to do a job and go home?  Were they all free-lancers?  Organized, standing (civic) orchestras did not come into existence until about 1800.  Did they take on other work to make ends meet?  Did they ever praise or encourage a composer?  Did they think they got paid enough for their services?  What did they think about the aristocracy?  Did they ever think they were making history?  Did they drink on the job?  Was the music even well-played?  Did they care about that?  What did they think of Bach’s Mass in B minor or Handel’s Messiah?  What did they think of Mozart’s Haffner Symphony or his Don Giovanni?  When Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was premiered, who played in the orchestra?  What did they think of Brahms’ Second Symphony?  What did they say about Bizet’s Carmen?  What did they think of Paganini and his impossible concertos?  What did they say about Tchaikovsky when he conducted?  Who was playing in the orchestra when the riot took place during Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiere?  Did orchestral musicians think about their audiences at all?  Did the audiences think about them at all?  Only God knows.  Even among the very best-known orchestras in the world – the New York Philharmonic, for instance - the rank and file musician is invisible.  With some luck, the concertmaster’s identity and abilities might be known, but only to a few.  The rest of the players are anonymous.  They don’t even talk to the conductor, except perhaps about innocuous topics (and only now and then), but certainly not about the music at hand.  Perhaps it’s no different than it is in other enterprises or industries which hire dozens or hundreds or even thousands of people.  We know Mozart and Schumann and Wagner and Berlioz wrote quite a bit about their work and their lives.  Many other more contemporary musicians have also written books about their experiences – Arnold Steinhardt, Leopold Auer, Louis Kaufman, Albert Spalding, Isaac Stern, Joseph Szigeti, Ivry Gitlis, Ned Rorem, Henri Temianka, Carl Flesch, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, Steven Staryk, Ida Haendel, Charles Munch, Riccardo Muti, Igor Stravinsky, Mischa Mischakoff, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Charry, and Gunther Schuller, to name a few.  They are all higher-profile musicians.  What about the guy in the third stand of the cello section, or the third trumpet player, or the woman in the fourth stand of the first violin section, or the assistant principal in the viola section, or the second horn player?  Except for when they play, they keep quiet.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Edith Lorand

Edith Lorand was a Hungarian violinist, singer, and conductor born (in Budapest) on December 17, 1898.  She is remembered for the great number of recordings she produced for German labels of the 1920s and 30s – Odeon, Parlophone, and Beka.  Her specialty was salon music of that era – it included opera music arrangements, dance music, popular songs, and light classical pieces.  That was during a time when live music was played at the more elegant hotels and restaurants all over Europe.  Up to a point, her biography reads somewhat like Alma Rose’s.  She studied to be a concert violinist but her ambition (and abilities) took her in a different direction.  Though her mother was an accomplished pianist, her father was not a musician.  Her first public performance was at a charity concert in Budapest at age six.  Lorand graduated from the Royal Music Academy in Budapest where she studied with Jeno Hubay.  She also later studied with Carl Flesch – either in Berlin or Vienna.  She made her debut in Vienna and Berlin in 1920.  She was 22 years old.  One source states that critics of the day compared her to Fritz Kreisler and Pablo Sarasate.  Lorand also became fluent in French, Italian, and English.  She made Berlin her home and base of operations until 1934.  After her debut, Lorand played as a concert soloist a few times and founded and recorded with a quartet and a trio (which included Gregor Piatigorsky, the cello player) but soon found her calling as conductor of a 15-piece all-male orchestra called the Edith Lorand Orchestra.  The orchestra, but especially Lorand, enjoyed great success throughout Europe.  They made regular radio broadcasts in Holland, Austria, Sweden, Germany, and England, and even appeared in movies.  The orchestra performed in the most important theatres as well, not just hotels.  It has been said that she became a symbol of female emancipation.  By the late 1920s, she was one of the top stars of the record industry.  In France, she was known as the Queen of the Waltz and in England as the Female Johann Strauss.  On April 1, 1930, she signed a three year recording contract with Lindstrom AG, which called for her to produce at least 144 tunes per year, averaging six two-sided records per month, with a fee of at least 36,000 Marks per year (about $107,000 in today’s dollars.)  Despite her great popularity and success, she had to flee Germany for Hungary in 1934.  In Hungary, she organized her All-Gypsy Orchestra which toured as far as the 1935, where one of her concerts took place in Carnegie Hall.  In December 1937, she had to flee Hungary for the U.S., where she established herself in Woodstock, New York.  She was 39 years old.  Her orchestra in the U.S. (with different musicians, of course) was called the Viennese Orchestra.  Her success here did not come close to what she had in Europe but she managed, playing as far afield, in September of 1939, as the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where composer Ingolf Dahl became her pianist for a short while.  She had a reputation for being demanding and autocratic.  In 1945, she was engaged to play in Vienna for an extended time but returned to the U.S. afterward.   In May 1960, she returned to Berlin, intending to resettle and restart her career.  However, on November 23, 1960, she died in New York, at age 61.  Many of her recordings are easily found on the internet and a very old video of her conducting a fast rendition of a famous waltz is available here.  Lorand played a 1744 Guarneri Del Gesu which later ended up (for 15 years) in the hands of Richard Burgin (of the Boston Symphony) and is now in Europe.  She must have taken very good care of that violin because it has been described as being in stunning condition and appearance.  A 1775 Guadagnini was also hers for a while.  That violin is now being played (though not owned) by Seattle violinist Maria Larionoff. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Charles Munch

Charles Munch was a French violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Strasbourg, when it was German territory) on September 26, 1891.  Today, nobody remembers him as a violinist.  Although he conducted many great orchestras, he is best known for his tenure at the Boston Symphony, from 1949 to 1962.  He first studied violin at the Strasbourg Conservatory (inaugurated in 1855.)  His first job as a violinist was in an orchestra conducted by his father (an organist), playing in the second violin section.  In 1912, at age 20, he graduated from the conservatory and moved on to Berlin for further study with Carl Flesch.  He also studied with Lucien Capet at the Paris Conservatory.  In 1920, he was appointed professor of violin at the Strasbourg Conservatory while he was also playing as assistant concertmaster of the Strasbourg Philharmonic.  He was 29 years old.  Later on, he was concertmaster of the Gurzenich Orchestra in Cologne.  (The Gurzenich Orchestra is really not to be trifled with.  It played the world premieres of Brahms’ Double Concerto (1887), Strauss’ Till (1895), Strauss’ Don Quixote (1898), Mahler’s Third Symphony (1902), Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (1904), and Max Reger’s Variations (1907.)  He then served as concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1926 to 1933) under Bruno Walter.  In 1933, he left Germany for Paris.  He had already made his conducting debut there in November, 1932.  He was 41 years old at the time of his debut.  As far as I know, after 1933, he never again touched the violin in public.  In 1938, he helped found the Paris Philharmonic.  He had already begun teaching conducting at the Paris Conservatory (1937-1945.)  During the war years (1939-1945), he conducted the Paris Conservatory Orchestra.  For this, he was later accused of being a Nazi collaborator, though the charge did not stick.  The Boston Symphony he first conducted in December, 1946.  His legacy with the Boston Symphony is well-known and documented in dozens of recordings.  Heifetz recorded the Beethoven concerto with Munch and the Boston Symphony in November of 1955.  I don’t think Heifetz recorded it ever again.  If Munch ever recorded anything as a violinist I don’t know where that recording might be found.  After 1962, Munch conducted European orchestras and guest conducted all over the world.  He once owned (from 1925 to 1960) a violin which had been stolen from Eugene Ysaye in Russia - a 1734 Stradivarius - which had been earlier played by Hugo Heermann.  That violin ended up with Henryk Szeryng who left it to the City of Jerusalem who then let the Israel Philharmonic borrow it.  He died on November 6, 1968, in Richmond, Virginia, at age 77.  Here is one of his many YouTube videos. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Robert Virovai

Robert Virovai is a Hungarian concert violinist born (in Duravar, Yugoslavia) on March 10, 1921.  Except for this blog profile, he is today almost totally forgotten.  He began his violin studies with his mother at age 6.  By age 8, he was studying at the Belgrade Conservatory with Peter Stojanovich, a Serbian violinist, teacher, and composer.  He spent four years there.  He then studied, from the age of 13, with Jeno Hubay at the Budapest Conservatory.  Hubay later said of him, “Virovai plays so beautifully as to astonish even me.”  Some sources say Hubay declared him his best pupil.  He lived in New York City for a while but later spent most of his career in Europe.  He made his U.S. debut (playing a rented Stradivarius) on November 3, 1938, at age 17, with the New York Philharmonic.  He played Vieuxtemps’ Fourth Concerto in d minor (Opus 31) and all critics agreed he was sensational, one of them declaring that “his attack was positively ferocious.”  He later played a solo recital at Carnegie Hall on December 17 of the same year.  Virovai was soon placed among the front ranks of violinists.  It was said that his playing was “remarkable for speed, accuracy, and beautiful tone.”  He toured the U.S. for two or three years after that, playing with the most important orchestras.  Then he dropped out of sight, spending most of his time in Europe.  As far as I know, he has never commercially recorded anything, though that would be extremely unusual since recording technology had a progressive surge in the 1950s when Virovai would have been in his thirties.  Most violinists reach their apogee between thirty and fifty years of age.  Why there is no record of a discography is a mystery.  Perhaps I just don’t know where to look.  Later on, Virovai played and taught in Switzerland, where he now lives.  As a youth, Virovai was fluent in four languages – German, Hungarian, Croatian, and Slovenian.  Perhaps today, he is fluent in a few more. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rudi Berger

Rudi Berger is an Austrian violinist, singer, pianist, guitarist, and composer born (in Vienna) on November 19, 1954.  Be that as it may, Rudi Berger has actually become the most-recorded jazz violinist of another country (Brazil) and may very well be the only Austrian jazz violinist in the world, though he has lived and worked outside of Austria for many years.  His classical training on violin and piano – begun when he was six - took place at the Vienna Conservatory where he studied with Guenther Schich and Karl Barilly, learning the works of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Paganini, Kreutzer, Rode, and all the rest.  As have other jazz artists, he began playing jazz as a very young student, having been drawn to it from age fourteen.  His grandfather (Rudolf Berger) and his uncle were strong influences in this regard.  By age fifteen, he had begun to teach himself to play electric guitar and had joined Viennese Blues legend Al Cook in performances and recordings.  Later on, he worked as a violinist, pianist, guitarist, and singer in a night club band and with a Viennese Waltz Orchestra.  (Jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, although best known as a violinist, also played saxophone, piano, and accordion.)  In 1977, he became a soloist with the newly-formed Vienna Art Orchestra.  He was 22 years old.  He worked with this orchestra for three years while at the same time forming a Jazz Rock group called Good News in 1978.  In 1985 and ’86 he was voted Violinist of the Year by Jazz Live, a European jazz music magazine.  By then, Berger had formed the Rudi Berger Quartet, Rudi Berger Project, and Rudi Berger Group jazz ensembles.  Berger moved to New York in September of 1986, having already released his first album, First Step, in Europe.  In New York, Berger restarted his career by working as a street musician for about a year.  During that time, New York jazz radio station WKCR invited him and his New York Quartet to play a two-hour live Jazz Concert Special.  Among the jazz clubs he worked in were the Village Vanguard, the Bottom Line, the Village Gate, Indigo Blues, and the Knitting Factory.  His international reputation was established in 1988 at the American Music Theater Festival in collaboration with Astor Piazzola, well-known Argentine tango cross-over composer.  Since 1990, he has toured in Europe, Japan, the U.S., and South America.  Berger’s collaborators in film and Grammy-nominated studio recordings have included Tonhino Horta, Mauro Rodrigues, Yuri Popoff, Gerry Weil, Jay Anderson, Phil Bowler, Mike Clark, Ron McClure, Victor Bailey, Michael Gerber, Peter Madsen, Art Frank, Charles Fambrough, Joseph Bowie, and Nana Vasconcelos.  In 1993, Berger performed in Brazil for the first time.  Between 1998 and 2002, he traveled between Brazil, New York, and Vienna, moving among three cultures and working in essentially different jazz worlds.  He was guest instructor at the University of Minas Gerais in Brazil between 1998 and 2000.  In 2003, Berger moved to Brazil permanently, working regularly with some of Brazil’s top composers and musicians, including Toninho Horta, Selma Reis, and Nelson Ayres.  Here is one of his YouTube videos and here is one of his recent CDs – In Search of Harmony.  Rudi Berger plays a 1992 violin by American violin maker David Burgess. His bow of choice is by English bow maker Howard Green - "a really, really great bow," Mr Berger says.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Liana Isakadze

Liana Isakadze is a Georgian (Russian) violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Tbilsi) on August 2, 1946.  She is very well known in Europe and Russia though not in the U.S.  She began studying music at age three.  One of her first teachers was Leo Shiukashvili.  She was to have been a pianist but became a violinist by pure chance.  Isakadze first performed in public (as a violinist) at age 7 and by age 9 had already soloed with the Georgian State Orchestra.  Her first recital took place when she was 10.  She started winning prizes at competitions when she was 12, including First Prize in the 1970 Sibelius Competition (Helsinki, Finland.)  She graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1968.  She was 22 years old.  Her principal teacher there was David Oistrakh.  Isakadze has been concertizing in Russia and Europe ever since.  Ironically, Isakadze and her cellist brother – Eldar Isakadze - were rehearsing the Brahms Double Concerto with Oistrakh (as conductor) in Amsterdam in 1974 when he suddenly died while there.  In 1971, she became a soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic (1970-1994) and ten years later was made head of the Chamber Orchestra of Georgia (a province of the Soviet Union at that time.)  She led this orchestra for fifteen years.  In 1988 she was named People’s Artist of the USSR, the youngest to be so named.  Isakadze has also received various other honors from the governments of various countries.  For over two years, she even served as a Deputy in the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies (March 1989 to December 1991.)  She has resided in France and Germany for many years and presided over various music festivals in Georgia, Russia, and Europe.  She has also given Master classes at the Mozarteum (Salzburg, Vienna) among many other venues.  Her recordings are very numerous and YouTube has many videos of her playing.  Here is one of them - a small slice of a nice violin concerto by Georgian composer Otar Taktakishvili.  For many years,  Isakadze played a Stradivarius violin from the Russian State collection.  I do not know what violin she is playing these days.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

James Ehnes

James Ehnes, is a Canadian violinist born on January 27, 1976.  Ehnes is probably, along with Leila Josefowicz, the best known Canadian violinist concertizing today.  He is also one of the most-recorded contemporary violinists, with over 25 CDs to his credit.  One of those CDs is similar to ones which Ruggiero Ricci and Elmar Oliveira have done previously – a comparison of some very remarkable and valuable violins.  Many have said that Ehnes is the most underrated violinist of this generation, though that has also been said of Pinchas Zukerman.  In fact, YouTube has very few videos of his performances though I did find this one.  He began violin lessons with his father, a trumpet player, at age 4 (some sources say age 5.)  At age 9 he began studies with Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin, pupil of Louis Persinger and violin professor at Brandon University (Manitoba, Canada.)  His first recital he gave at age 10.  At age 13, he performed as soloist with the Montreal Symphony, playing Ravel's famous Tzigane.  After 1989, his main teacher was Sally Thomas, pupil of Ivan Galamian.  Ehnes graduated from The Julliard School (New York) in 1997, winning several prizes along the way.  He was 21 years old.  Ehnes has been concertizing on a world-wide scale ever since.  His debut appearance with the New York Philharmonic took place on July 7, 2003.  On that occasion, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto.  The Canadian (British) Monarchy and the Canadian Governor General have also bestowed honors on him.  In 2008, he won a Grammy for his recording of the Korngold concerto; he has also won several other awards for his recordings.  His technique is so advanced and polished a Canadian newspaper has called him “the Jascha Heifetz of our day.”  Another reviewer stated that Ehnes “achieves a sonority of such beauty that words cannot describe it.”  For the last fifteen years, Ehnes has spent part of his summer with the Seattle Chamber Music Society - in 2012, he becomes its Artistic Director.  His violin is the Marsick Stradivarius from 1714, although he has also played the 1717 Windsor Stradivarius and a Riccardo Antoniazzi (1853-1912) violin.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Protesting politely

If you follow the musical news at all, you must know that some Pro-Palestinian protestors disrupted a Proms concert by the Israel Philharmonic (and Gil Shaham) last night. I am all in favor of freedom of speech and peaceful protests for redress of government abuses. However, there are many good venues available for these protests already, no matter what issues may be in play. A concert by defenseless musicians is not one of them. The protestors were the tyrants and bullies in this case. Here is just one video of the event.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irina Muresanu

Irina Muresanu (Irina-Roxana Muresanu) is a Romanian violinist born (in Bucharest, Romania) on May 26, 1971.  Muresanu is known for attaining a very successful (and well-balanced) concertizing career on both sides of the Atlantic.  She began her violin studies at age 7 with Vlad Cristian.  She later studied with Stefan Gheorghiu, (pupil of George Enesco and David Oistrakh) who had also taught Silvia Marcovici much earlier.  Muresanu earned her first degree at the Bucharest Academy in 1994.  That same year, she came to the U.S for further study and her career has been non-stop ever since.  In the U.S. she studied at the University of Illinois and at the New England Conservatory.  One of her teachers in Boston was Michele Auclair.  The Los Angeles Times has written that her performances contain “musical luster, melting lyricism and colorful conception.”  Strad Magazine called her Carnegie Weill Hall performance “a first-rate recital.”  Her debut performance at Weill Hall took place in 1997.  She was 26 years old.  In 1999 she received her Artist Diploma from the New England Conservatory.  She had already won top prizes in major competitions, including the Montreal and the Queen Elizabeth (Belgium.)  Although her repertoire includes the standard concertos and recital pieces every violinist plays, her recordings contain many contemporary or seldom-heard modern works.  One of the latest is the violin concerto composed for her by Thomas Lee premiered in March and recorded in August of 2010.  Besides concertizing with major orchestras around the world, she is now Artist-in-Residence at the Boston Conservatory and teaches at Harvard University.  The Boston Trio, which she joined in 2002, is Ensemble-in-Residence at the New England Conservatory.  Muresanu, as do almost all contemporary concert violinists, also plays chamber music and gives Master Classes at music festivals in the U.S. and in Europe, including those in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium.  You can see and hear one of her YouTube videos here - Prokofiev's Second Concerto, one of my favorites.  Her violin is an 1856 Giuseppe Rocca. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rediscovering Joseph Achron

The Joseph Achron Society, headed by pianist Samuel Zerin, is working on digitizing and publishing dozens of Achron’s scores, scores which are still in manuscript form, but especially his version of Paganini’s 24 Caprices.  These are NOT arrangements in the style of Leopold Auer’s, they are Achron’s original compositions based on the Caprices.  The project will disseminate music which has lain dormant for decades.  It reminds me of the rediscovery of J.S. Bach’s music, Antonio Vivaldi’s, and Jan Dismas Zelenka’s as well.  There are literally thousands of violinists out there who will be able, for the first time, to study and play these magnificent works.  For the project to succeed, funding – that most crucial element – must be secured.  The Joseph Achron Society hopes you can help.  Their website will show you how far even ten dollars can go toward assisting the project.  Become part of a historic achievement and receive a free score as well.  Nothing beats discovering new music.   (Here is a symphony Zelenka wrote – more like a violin and oboe concerto - which you have likely never heard.  It is as good as anything Vivaldi ever wrote but it was unavailable to the public for over 200 years.) 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maddalena Lombardini

Maddalena Lombardini (Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen) was an Italian violinist, harpsichordist, singer, and composer born (in Venice) on December 9, 1745 (Bach was 60 years old and would live an additional five.)  Today, she is remembered thanks to a well-known (and lengthy) letter which her teacher, Giuseppe Tartini wrote to her on March 5, 1760, outlining several details of violin technique.  The letter is often quoted in music journals and Tartini biographies.  From age seven (1753), she was trained in one of the four hospitality homes (orphanages or Ospedale) in Venice.  This one was called the Ospedale dei Mendicante – Home for the Indigent.  (The orphanage where Antonio Vivaldi usually taught was called the Ospedale della Pieta.)  These institutions, begun in the sixteenth century, were combination orphanages and churches.  They not only took in orphans, but the elderly, poor, and infirm as well.  Music instruction for girls was important to these institutions for both its educational value, and for the income from public attendance of church services at which excellent music performances were featured.  The student body consisted of between sixty and eighty girls.  Although Lombardini was not an orphan – she was the daughter of impoverished aristocrats - she was admitted to the music school of the Ospedale based on her musical talent, as were a few other children who were not orphans.  Her teachers at the orphanage were Antonio Vivaldi, Baldassare Galuppi, and Nicola Porpora.  While at the Ospedale, Lombardini was occasionally allowed to leave the orphanage to study both violin and composition with Tartini in Padua (about twenty five miles west of Venice.)  It has been said she was his favorite pupil.  Lombardini could have become a nun but, in 1767, she chose to marry a violinist-composer by the name of Ludivico Sirmen.  She was 22 years old.  They took off on a tour together and were well-received everywhere.  However, she also concertized by herself to great public acclaim.  Lombardini and Sirmen eventually separated and from that day forward, her constant travel companion was a priest - Don Giuseppe Terzi; according to one source, they died within nine days of each other.  Sirmen established a personal relationship with someone else, too - a now-forgotten Countess.  Lombardini and Terzi's travels took them to London, Paris, and St Petersburg (Russia), among other places.  She first played in London on January 9, 1771 and was highly praised.  Curiously, on April 15 of that year, instead of playing a violin concerto, she played a harpsichord concerto at a benefit concert.  By the time she was 28, she had turned her attention to singing (for reasons known only to herself) but was not able to duplicate her earlier violinistic successes.  In London, she played in the Italian opera orchestra and sang leading opera roles as well.  Nine years later, she was appointed concert singer to the Court of Saxony (Dresden, Germany, 1782.)  In 1785, she appeared at a Concert Spirituel in Paris for the last time. She was 40 years old and her star power had dimmed.  However, at least one source states that by then, she was already a wealthy woman - she had been since 1798.  Her compositions - most of them works which included the violin - were well-regarded by her contemporaries.  Interestingly, most of her pieces were published (in England, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany) before 1774.  There is speculation that some of them may have been written while she was still a student at the Ospedale.  In any case, she was not yet thirty years old at the time of publication.  Even Leopold Mozart praised her writing after hearing one of her concertos played in Salzburg in April of 1778.  Her string quartets have been compared to Joseph Haydn's.  YouTube has several examples of her music - violin concertos and string quartets - here, here, and here.  Recordings of her music are not hard to find on the internet.  Lombardini, who had once been compared to the great Pietro Nardini, apparently died in obscurity (in Venice) on May 18, 1818, at age 72.  Nonetheless, her compositions (and Tartini's letter) have made her immortal.