Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Facts and Sources

A question regarding sources of information used in the compilation of these blog posts has recently come to my attention.  I, of course, do not pull stories or facts out of thin air.  For every statement regarding a date or occurrence found on this blog there is at least one corresponding source.  I have found that the misinformation out there is indeed considerable.  One must be careful.  However, if there is ever any question as to the validity or reliability of any source, I always clearly state it.  This blog often contains details which are very hard to come by though sources do exist for those details.  I simply do not divulge them because that would make them less special.  I have found that other people who write things on violinists (elsewhere) are not terribly objective - nor are they persistent in their research.  There are three sites in particular which are very sloppy in their detective work – I will not name them but they are well-known.  One of those sites is notorious for publishing erroneous information.  A case in point: the writer who stated that Theodore Spiering had made many appearances with the Chicago Symphony under conductor Theodore Thomas simply did not bother with checking the one source which would have set the facts straight.  Another example is the story about how Beethoven changed the dedication of his last violin sonata from George Bridgetower to Rodolphe Kreutzer – the true facts are simply not known, though many music historians insist that their version is the correct one.  That’s how things get Romanticized - not to say presented dishonestly - and become objects of ridicule and speculation.  Nevertheless – having said all this – if there is anyone out there who cares to challenge anything presented here as fact, let him tell me so and I will make clear where my information comes from.  Until such time, my sources will remain unmentioned.  After all, this is not a dissertation – it is a blog to be enjoyed for what it is.  It is, however, trustworthy.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Theodore Spiering

Theodore Spiering (Theodore Bernays Spiering) was an American violinist, teacher, composer, and conductor, born (in St Louis, Missouri) on September 5, 1871.  He is remembered for a number of accomplishments which today are largely forgotten, though he was a pioneer of musical life in America (on both coasts) in the early part of the Twentieth Century.  His first lessons, at age 5, were with his father (Ernst Spiering), concertmaster of the St Louis Symphony.  He first played in public at age 7.  His later studies from age 15 (1886 to 1888) were with Henry Schradieck, violin professor at the Cincinnati College of Music.  When he arrived, Simon Jacobsohn was also probably still teaching there.  He then went to Europe in 1888 where he studied with Joseph Joachim in Berlin from 1888 to 1892.  He returned to the U.S. in 1892 and soon joined the violin section of the Chicago Symphony which had been formed a year earlier (1891.)  He was 21 years old.  One source states that he made many solo appearances with the orchestra under Theodore Thomas.  Regrettably, the source is incorrect.  Spiering only played once as soloist under Thomas  - that was on February 17, 1893.  The work he played was Schumann’s Fantasy for violin, opus 131.  (Since Max Bendix was concertmaster until 1896, that can only mean that Spiering was one of the other top violinists in the orchestra.  Theodore Thomas was known for selflessly promoting new music and new artists.  He presented no fewer than 112 U.S. premieres as conductor of the Chicago Symphony, a record which I predict will never be matched by anyone.)  Spiering also immediately began his teaching career there and eventually became Director at the Chicago Musical College (1902 to 1905.)  He also soon organized the Spiering String Quartet which was very successful and remained active between 1893 and 1905.  He left the Chicago Symphony in 1896.  After 1905, Spiering took to concertizing in Europe for four years.  When he again returned to the U.S. - four years later – he became concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic (1909-1911) at Gustav Mahler’s invitation, the salary offered being $5,000 (equivalent to about $130,000 in today’s dollars.)  In fact, when Mahler returned to Europe due to serious illness (from which he died), Spiering conducted the last 17 concerts of the orchestra’s season.  He was 40 years old.  Spiering debuted with the Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on November 10, 1909 with the Bach E Major concerto.  Mahler requested this work himself.  On February 25 and again on March 27, 1910, Spiering played the Vieuxtemps violin concerto number 5 with the Philharmonic.  For each solo appearance, Spiering received an additional $200.  It was expected that Spiering would be offered the conducting job after Mahler’s death but he was passed over in favor of a European conductor – Josef Stransky.  Spiering subsequently returned to Europe to guest conduct the Bluthner Orchestra of Berlin and (possibly) the Berlin Philharmonic, among other orchestras.  He was highly regarded in Germany and England – a review of a concert given in Berlin by the Bluthner Orchestra in late December of 1912 is a testament to that fact.  It has been said that when Jascha Heifetz (at age 12) played at a private residence in Berlin, Spiering was one of the violinists present - Fritz Kreisler was there too. When war broke out in Europe in 1914, Spiering once more returned to the U.S.  He was 43 years old.  He guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, concertized, and did a lot of teaching.  Reviewing a recital he presented at Aeolian Hall in New York on November 3, 1916, the music critic of the New York Times perceptively noted that Spiering’s virtuosity as a violinist was somewhat diluted (“especially as it referred to his bowing”) by his varied interests in music – conducting, teaching, and composing.  On December 8 of the same year, he played the Bruch concerto in g minor with the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock.  In 1921, he expected the conducting job at the St Louis Symphony to be offered to him - St Louis was his hometown, after all - but that, too, went to someone else – Rudolf Ganz.  In September of 1923, he again relocated to Europe, resided in Berlin and Vienna, wrote music, and guest conducted various orchestras.  On March 18, 1925, having once more made the trip back to the U.S., Spiering guest conducted the Portland (Oregon) Symphony and was almost immediately offered the post of Music Director.  He accepted and then traveled to Europe once again to rest and select new scores for the upcoming season of his orchestra.  Spiering died suddenly (in Munich) on August 11, 1925, at age 53, having never gotten any of the conducting jobs he really wanted.  He played a Guarnerius Del Gesu from 1729.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Emanuel Vardi

Emanuel Vardi (Emanuel Rosenbaum) was a Russian (many would say American or Israeli) violinist, violist, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher, and painter, born (in Jerusalem, Israel) on April 21, 1915.  There is anecdotal evidence which actually gives his date of birth as October 14, 1917.  He is known for having been one of only two violists to have ever given a solo recital in Carnegie Hall.  He was also the first violist to record the 24 Paganini (violin) Caprices – transposed a fifth lower, of course.  Vardi began his violin studies with his violinist father at about age 3 in Israel (Palestine, at that time.)  He began piano studies simultaneously with his pianist mother.  The family was already settled in New York when he – at age 6 - gave a piano recital in Aeolian Hall which created a very favorable impression, even among professional critics.  Vardi continued private violin lessons with Joseph Borisoff and others until age 12, at which time he entered the Institute of Musical Art, the precursor of the Juilliard School.  There, he studied with Constance Seeger.  It has been said that he also took one lesson from Leopold Auer, who died soon thereafter (1930.)  Later, he enrolled at Juilliard, where he studied with Edouard Dethier and Felix Salmond, among others.  However, he was then still a violinist.  At age 21 he left Juilliard to join the NBC Symphony as a violist.  He became the youngest member of this legendary orchestra.  Carlton Cooley and William Primrose were on the first stand of the viola section so Vardi was further back, but I don’t know how far back.  In any case, after Primrose left the orchestra, Vardi moved up to the first desk as Assistant Principal.  The ill-tempered Arturo Toscanini was the conductor.  Five years later, Vardi’s New York recital debut at Town Hall in February, 1941 was a sensation.  He was 25 years old.  He also soon thereafter played at the White House, accompanied by pianist Earl Wild, for President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.  During World War II, he played in the Navy Band (the Navy’s Symphony Orchestra) and with the Navy’s string quartet, which included violinists Oscar Shumsky and David Stone, and cellist Bernard Greenhouse.  He was one of four official soloists, the others being Shumsky, Earl Wild, and David Soyer, whose duty it was to alternatively perform a concerto with the orchestra once every month.  After the war, Vardi rejoined the NBC orchestra, but continued to expand his solo activities.  On May 23, 1946, he appeared as viola soloist in Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic - something considered unorthodox in those days - playing Alessandro Rolla’s viola concerto – Rolla had been a violinist and violist and was one of Nicolo Paganini’s teachers.  From 1950 to 1952, Vardi was studying art in Florence, Italy, and concertizing all over Europe, playing a 1770 Guadagnini violin.  Returning from Europe, Vardi again played with the NBC orchestra but became Principal Violist of the Symphony of the Air, the orchestra which was formed after the NBC Symphony was disbanded.  He also played with the Guilet Quartet, led by the last NBC Concertmaster Daniel Guilet – Guilet later organized the well-known Beaux Arts Trio.  By then, Vardi had begun to solidly put the viola on the musical firmament as a solo instrument.  From that point, Vardi’s career encompassed painting, teaching, concertizing, conducting, and recording with both classical and jazz and pop musicians - this was many years before crossover work had become fashionable or had even been contemplated by violinists Ivry Gitlis, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, and Nigel Kennedy, and cellist YoYo Ma.  Among many others, he worked with Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone.  As have Joshua Bell, Toscha Seidel, Louis Kaufman, Yehudi Menuhin, Ytzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, Israel Baker, Endre Granat, and Glenn Dicterow, Vardi recorded for many movie soundtracks – Aladdin, Tootsie, Fame, Kramer Vs Kramer, and Sleepless in Seattle are among them.  He also championed contemporary composers and inspired them to write music for the viola.  A very rare audio file of Alan Shulman’s Variations for Viola (with Vardi and the NBC Orchestra) is available here.  YouTube also has various audio files of Vardi’s Paganini Caprices recording – you can listen to number 17 here.  Several of his solo recordings are also available on the internet although Vardi recorded on violin as well – the two Bartok Rhapsodies and the Tibor Serly violin concerto are examples of Vardi’s violin discography.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s (1978 to 1982), Vardi was chief conductor of the South Dakota Symphony.  In addition, he conducted for movie and television soundtracks.  In 1984, at age 69, as have several other highly gifted artists (Andre Previn, Charles Dutoit, Eugene Ysaye, Ole Bull, Pablo Casals, and Richard Wagner), Vardi married a much younger woman – violinist and painter Lenore Weinstock, a student of his.  They relocated from New York to the state of Washington in 2007.  By then, Vardi had injured an arm (in 1993 – I don’t know which arm) and had given up playing almost entirely.  He had nevertheless continued giving master classes, teaching privately, working with various music festivals around the world, and painting.  An iconic painting of William Primrose by Vardi can be seen at the Vardi art website.  I do not know where the original painting is.  I do know that Lenore Vardi plans to publish a book about Vardi’s life in the near future.  Among his many compositions for viola is the Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Paganini.  As far as paintings go, he completed more than 300 originals.  Vardi played two Strad violas early in his career – one of them the Strauss Stradivarius (Stradivari possibly only made between 13 and 18 violas – nobody knows for sure.)  I had not heard of the Strauss Strad viola until now.  The Strad violas I know of are the Archinto, the Axelrod, the Gibson, the Cassavatti, the Mahler, the Russian, the Tuscan, the Spanish Court, the MacDonald, the Paganini, and the Kux.  Nonetheless, Vardi’s favorite viola was one constructed in 1980 by Hiroshi Iisuka of Philadelphia.  He also played a Vincenzo Postiglioni violin.  Vardi died (in North Bend, Washington) on January 29, 2011, at age 95.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Calvin Sieb

Calvin Sieb was an American violinist and teacher born (in Newark, New Jersey) on May 30, 1925.  He is known for having spent most of his career in France and Canada.  He started his violin studies at age five with Mandel Svet but in 1938, began his studies (privately) with Hans Letz, a well-known chamber music player and teacher of the time.  He continued with Letz until 1943, the year he graduated from Columbia High School.  He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1943 or 1944 and was discharged in 1945.  From 1945 until 1948 he was at the Juilliard School, studying with Letz and (perhaps) Ivan Galamian.  In 1949 and 1950, he studied with Emanuel Vardi, the famous violist, though at another music school.  In 1950 he went to France to study with Jacques Thibaud in Paris.  A year later, upon his return to New York, he accepted a position as violin professor at the Quebec Conservatory (1951-1956) and Assistant Conductor of the Quebec Symphony (1951-1953.)  He was 25 years old.  He was concertmaster of the CBC Symphony, with which he did a lot of studio work, from 1954 to 1958.  He then became, in 1960, concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony, remaining with the orchestra until 1979.  He was also an active recitalist and concert violinist during this time.  In 1970, he became a naturalized Canadian citizen.  While he played in the Montreal Symphony, he got to use the Laub Strad, purchased for the orchestra by John McConnell, a Canadian businessman.  According to Sieb, the first American performance of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto was played in Chicago on this instrument.  That is, of course, not true.  That American premiere performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto was given in 1889 by Maud Powell and the New York Symphony, and not with this violin.  In 1979, he relocated himself to France, where he became concertmaster of the orchestra in Toulouse.  He came back to Canada in 1989 and was appointed professor at the University of Ottawa.  He was 64 years old.  He retired from this post in 2001.  Somewhere along the way, he invented a mute and something called a violin chin rest pad.  Sieb died on May 21, 2007, at age 81.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nixon in China

I have written a few times regarding the need for new music, though perhaps not in this blog. I did write concerning the fact that we have no new violin concertos, as of 1948, which have gained a permanent place in the repertory.  Oscar Wilde once said: "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." If you think about it, this applies to ALL art. That's why dissonant, incoherent contemporary music has failed so dramatically and resoundingly. Nobody is interested in listening to it a second time. Mascagni's opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, has been performed over 44,000 times since it was composed in the late 1800s - about 350 times per year. By comparison, the modern opera, Nixon in China (by John Adams), has perhaps been produced 10 times and performed 50 times since it premiered in 1987 in Houston, an average of 2 times per year. I believe it may as well be dead. This opera, in fact, is one of the better known works of the Twentieth Century. After Elgar premiered his First Symphony in 1908, it was performed no fewer than one hundred times in its first year. There are over twenty recordings of it and it is still being regularly programmed by conductors around the world. Nowadays, composers write a piece, it is performed a half dozen times and then put away for good. Audiences really do know what they want and what they like. Composers should have been taught to trust and respect the audience's judgment long ago. Instead, modern composers have wanted to teach classical music audiences what is good for them to listen to; the audiences have not been fooled. Music is to the point where it sounds like it was written by engineers and mathematicians. We are back to square one. Perhaps what I hear about the modern concert hall being nothing more than a museum is true. We need new music more than ever - but not the kind we have been getting for the last sixty years.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ferdinand Laub

Ferdinand Laub was a Czech violinist, teacher, and composer, born (in Prague) on January 19, 1832.  Though he worked closely with Tchaikovsky and other famous musicians, he is almost completely forgotten today.  It has been said that he lived the life of a Romantic (Bohemian) because he had no permanent residence.  Since he gave a public concert at age six, he must have had lessons from infancy, though it is not known with whom he began his violin studies – it may have been his father or mother.  By age nine, he was already being praised by well-known musicians, including the Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull.  In 1843, he entered the Prague Conservatory, where he studied with Moritz Mildner.  He was 11 years old.  Archduke Stephan subsequently gave him an Amati violin and recommendations which helped Laub in Vienna.  Upon leaving the Conservatory in 1846, he played in the Imperial band (Court Orchestra) in Vienna.  He was 14 years old.  Hungarian violinist Joseph Bohm was playing in the same orchestra at that time.  In 1850, he toured Europe as a soloist and was very well received in Paris and London.  From 1853 to 1855, he taught at a music school in Weimar, where Joseph Joachim had previously taught.  From 1855 to 1862, he taught at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin.  He was also concertmaster of the Court Orchestra there (until 1864.)  In 1864, he undertook another European tour with three other musicians.  Musicians with whom he came in contact included Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Hans Von Bulow, Clara Schumann, Bedrich Smetana, Heinrich Ernst, and Joseph Joachim.  In 1866, at age 34, he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory.  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky called him “the best violinist of our time.”  Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky did not write his famous violin concerto for Laub – Laub died before the concerto was even begun.  Perhaps it might have been – we will never know.  Tchaikovsky wrote the concerto for Joseph Kotek (who later refused to play it) but dedicated it to Leopold Auer, a teacher at the St Petersburg Conservatory, who did not particularly like it and did not play its premiere.  However, Laub, as first violinist of a string quartet, did give the first performances of Tchaikovsky’s first and second string quartets.  In 1874, Laub was forced to stop working altogether because of illness.  On March 17, 1875, he died (in Gries, Northern Italy), on his way to a spa, being only 43 years old.  Laub played the Laub Stradivarius of 1722 (or 1727 – sources differ) which later went to violinist Alexander Petschnikoff and later still to Calvin Sieb, concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony.  It is now presumably in the hands of one of the concertmasters of that orchestra, since the violin belongs to the orchestra.  Laub’s compositions include violin and vocal works which are now never performed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Joseph Bohm

Joseph Böhm (Josef Bohm) was a Hungarian violinist and composer born (in Budapest) on March 4, 1795.  He is best known for having been the Director of the Vienna Conservatory and the teacher of famous violinists; Joseph Joachim, Jeno Hubay, Jacob Grun, Heinrich Ernst, Eduard Remenyi, and Jacob Dont among them.  He is also considered the founder of something called the Viennese School of violin playing, whatever that means.  His first teacher was his father, concertmaster of the Pest Theatre Orchestra.  Later, he studied with Pierre Rode.  Bohm made his public debut in Vienna in 1816.  He was 21 years old.  He toured Europe as a soloist for several years.  In 1819, he became the first violin professor at the Vienna Conservatory.  Vienna was the musical capital of Europe at the time.  In 1821, Bohm established a string quartet.  He also became a member of the Court Orchestra - the Imperial band.  He continued to tour but retired from concertizing in 1827.  He retired from the Conservatory in 1848, but only because the Revolution caused it to close its doors.  He was 53 years old.  He continued to play in the Court Orchestra until 1868.  He was 73 years old by then.  He worked with Beethoven but how much time he spent in his company is unknown.  Beethoven never dedicated any works to him.  Bohm’s quartet sort of premiered Beethoven’s string quartet number 12 (opus 127, written in 1825), which turned out to be the first of Beethoven’s late quartets.  The actual premiere took place on March 6, 1825, under the direction of violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh.  That performance was a flop and Beethoven was very displeased.  Beethoven then asked Bohm to take charge of a second premiere which took place in late April, 1825.  That second premiere was, by all accounts, an unqualified success.  Beethoven was by this time completely and irrevocably deaf but he could tell how things went by watching the movement of the performers.  Bohm played none other than the Prince Khevenhuller Stradivarius of 1733 (from 1820 until the day he died – 56 years he had it.)  Upon his death, the violin went to his nephew (Louis Bohm) and eventually (in 1930) ended up in the hands of another famous violinist – Yehudi Menuhin.  Bohm died (in Vienna) on March 28, 1876, at age 81.  Beethoven had been dead 49 years.