Sunday, June 30, 2013

Charles Loeffler

Charles Loeffler (Charles Martin Loeffler) was a German violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Schoneberg, Germany – the outskirts of Berlin) on January 30, 1861.  While claiming to be French (Alsatian), he spent most of his career in the U.S. and rose to prominence before being almost forgotten.  He was resentful toward his native Germany because his father had been imprisoned for being on the wrong political side of things and died in prison.  Not unlike violinist Nicolai Berezowsky many years later, he was considered a major composer in his day but gradually fell out of favor.  Many music critics called him one of America’s greatest composers.  He began his violin studies at about age 9, in 1870.  Several sources state that he entered the Advanced School for Music in Berlin at age 13, that is, 1874.  There, he studied with Joseph Joachim and Edouard Rappoldi.  Composition he studied with Clara Schumann’s half-brother, Woldemar Bargiel.  After three years, he traveled to France where he further studied (presumably at the Paris Conservatory) - violin with Joseph Lambert Massart (pupil of Rodolphe Kreutzer) and composition with Ernest Guiraud, teacher also of Claude Debussy.  Loeffler played in the famous Pasdeloup Orchestra and later on (1979 to 1881) in a private orchestra engaged by Paul von Derwies.  Cesar Thomson also played in this private orchestra although he was not there by the time Loeffler arrived.  Loeffler was 20 years old when he left for the U.S.  One source states Loeffler set foot in the U.S. on July 27, 1881.  By then, he had already lived in Germany, France, Russia, Hungary, and Switzerland.  He soon got a job playing in the New York Symphony.  He also played in orchestras put together for occasional concerts by Theodore Thomas.  In 1882, he was engaged by the Boston Symphony, where he was assistant concertmaster for over twenty years.  Franz Kneisel was concertmaster during most of those years (1885-1903.)  Loeffler played with the orchestra until 1903.  His first appearance as soloist with the Boston Symphony took place on November 20, 1891.  He played one of his own works, his first orchestral composition.  His works were often played by American Orchestras during his lifetime.  In 1905, none other than violinist Karl Halir and composer Richard Strauss presented one of his works for violin and orchestra in Berlin.  It has been said that Loeffler was a very careful and conscientious composer.  Here is one example of a chamber music work.  His music has been described as eclectic, influenced by the Symbolist movement.  He even wrote music for jazz band, possibly the first classical composer to do so.  His most famous work is something called A Pagan Poem.  Opinions vary, of course, but in my estimation, this work is worthy of being included in the repertoire of every orchestra in the world.  As far as I know, the  Pagan Poem has only been recorded 3 times.  As did violinist Richard Burgin much later, Loeffler frequently traveled to France and other parts of Europe.  After leaving the Boston Symphony, he was very active not only composing but in various musical endeavors.  He was on the Board of Directors of the Boston Opera Company at its inception in 1908.  He was instrumental in establishing the Juilliard School of Music in New York in 1924.  Other composers dedicated works to him.  He lived long enough to count George Gershwin among his friends.  After his death, his manuscripts and correspondence went to the Library of Congress.  The rest of his possessions went to the French Academy and the Paris Conservatory.  His best-known students are probably Arthur Hartmann and Katherine Swift (George Gershwin’s lover.)  Loeffler died (in Medfield, Massachusetts) on May 19, 1935, at age 74.  Among other violins, Loeffler played a JB Vuillaume from (about) 1840 and a 1710 Stradivarius now known as the Duc De Camposelice or Camposelice for short.  He used the violin between 1894 and 1928, at which time it was returned to its Boston owner.  That Stradivarius was later owned by Vasa Prihoda, husband of Austrian violinist Alma Rose for a time, and then eventually ended up with the Nippon Foundation until it was sold at auction in 2006. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Scipione Guidi

Scipione Guidi was an Italian violinist born (in Venice) on July 17, 1884.  He is one of many outstanding violinists who established themselves in Hollywood as studio musicians – players such as Louis Kaufman, Israel Baker, Heimo Haitto, Toscha Seidel, Felix Slatkin, Paul Shure, Eudice Shapiro, and Joseph Achron.  He is known among cognoscenti and music specialists, especially because of his extraordinary recording of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben tone poem, but most everyone else is not at all familiar with him.  The famous recording was done in December of 1928 with the New York Philharmonic and Willem Mengelberg, the conductor to whom Ein Heldenleben was dedicated.  Between November, 1905 and January, 1929, Mengelberg performed the Strauss work no fewer than 21 times with the philharmonic.  Guidi was the soloist for almost all of these performances.  Guidi studied at the Royal Conservatory in Milan.  At what age he began his studies is unknown to me.  He is said to have begun teaching at the same school later on.  However, he soon moved to London where he formed a trio.  I do not know whether it was a string or a piano trio.  From London he moved to New York.  In New York, he was hired (in 1919) as concertmaster for the National Symphony of New York.  He was 35 years old.  In 1921, when the National Symphony of New York was absorbed by the New York Philharmonic, he stayed on as concertmaster.  Willem Mengelberg had been the conductor of the National Symphony and was then hired as conductor of the restructured New York Philharmonic.  Guidi formed the New York Trio in 1919 (with Clarence Adler, piano, and Cornelius Vliet, cello) but had to leave the trio in 1923 because he simply became too busy with orchestral work.  Louis Edlin took his place as violinist.  As far as I know, Guidi first soloed with the New York Philharmonic on November 26, 1922, playing Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.  Josef Stransky conducted.  Guidi went on to appear at least 12 times as soloist with the orchestra.  Among the works he played were Beethoven’s concerto, Bruch’s g minor concerto, Mendelssohn’s second concerto, Saint Saens’ third concerto, Beethoven’s triple concerto, and Brahms’ double concerto (with Alfred Wallenstein on cello.)  In 1928, the New York Philharmonic merged with the New York Symphony, another New York orchestra.  Guidi retained his post as concertmaster.  In 1931, one year after the ill-tempered Arturo Toscanini took over the orchestra as permanent conductor, Guidi moved to St Louis.  He was 47 years old.  In St Louis, Guidi served as concertmaster of the St Louis Symphony, under conductor Vladimir Golschmann.  On December 7, 1934, Guidi played the Sibelius concerto with the orchestra, with Golschmann conducting.  That was the first performance of the concerto in St Louis.  American violinist Maud Powell had premiered the Sibelius concerto on November 30, 1906 - apparently, it took 28 years for the work to travel from New York to St Louis.  It has been said that it was Golschmann who recruited Guidi for the concertmaster job.  It has also been said that Golschmann later fired him in the middle of a rehearsal in 1942, during a disagreement about how a passage should be played.  Guidi went to Los Angeles after losing his job in St Louis and played in Hollywood studio orchestras.  He also became conductor of the Glendale Symphony.  After Guidi passed away, his spacious home just off Sunset Boulevard was purchased by harmonica virtuoso, George Fields.  Later on, for almost two years, Fields used part of the house as his personal recording studio.  He said Guidi’s inscribed photos of many of his famous colleagues on the walls of his study – Bruno Walter, Jascha Heifetz, Antal Dorati, Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Casals, Arturo Toscanini, Yehudi Menuhin, Fritz Reiner, Wanda Landowska, Wilhelm Backhaus, Willem Mengelberg, Walter Damrosch, Vladimir Horowitz, and Wilhelm Furtwangler among others - were “formidably inspiring.”  Among Guidi’s violins was a 1772 Guadagnini, purchased in 1930.  Guidi died (in Los Angeles) on July 7, 1966, at (almost) age 82.  His Guadagnini is now very valuable but I do not know what became of it.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Giovanni Ricordi

Giovanni Ricordi was an Italian violinist and publisher born (in Milan) sometime in 1785.  Mozart was then still very much alive.  Ricordi is a good example of violinists who give up their performing careers to pursue other interests – violinists such as Iso Briselli, Arthur Judson, Patricia Travers, Laura Archera, and Olga Rudge.  He began his violin studies at an early age but who his teachers were is a mystery.  He was good enough to become the concertmaster of a theatre orchestra in Milan.  However, by age 18, he was already working as a music copyist and dealer in instruments.  By 1806 he had a contract with the Carcano Theatre to supply parts and scores for their productions.  He liked the business well enough to undertake a trip to Germany in 1807 to study in Leipzig at the Breitkopf & Hartel printing establishment.  A few months later, he returned to Milan to start his own publishing company – Casa Ricordi.  He was 23 years old.  He must have been a little bit of a workaholic because he was also the prompter at the opera house (La Scala) during this time.  It can be said he established one of the first music libraries.  Ricordi gradually acquired most of the theatrical works by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi, among many others.  By 1814, he had published his first catalogue, by that time already owning almost 800 scores.  He had by then probably given up violin playing in public completely though I am not certain of that.  In 1840, Ricordi persuaded the Austrian government to establish something akin to copyrights for composers and publishers in Italy.  The idea – which we now take for granted - soon spread worldwide.  Ricordi died (in Milan) on March 15, 1853, at age 68.  By 1908, the number of Ricordi Editions had reached 112,446.  Ricordi eventually also got into printing books and advertising posters.  Some of the posters are collectors' items although still quite affordable.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stuff Smith

Stuff Smith (Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith) was an American jazz violinist, singer, bandleader, and composer born (in Portsmouth, Ohio) on August 14, 1909.  Smith was the first jazz violinist to use an amplified (electric) violin.  However, as were jazz violinists Eddie South and Johnny Frigo, he was somewhat overshadowed by Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli.  As far as I know, he only studied violin with his father, beginning at age 6 or 7.  Another interesting thing about Smith is that he is buried in Denmark.  He took part - along with Duke Ellington and Count Basie - in the very first outdoor jazz festival – that was in May, 1938, in New York.  The festival was a huge success even though it ran for less than six hours.  It has been said that his sound was not smooth and pretty but his rhythmic drive, intensity, and inventiveness more than made up for that.  The same thing was said of classical violinist Bronislaw Huberman.  Smith began playing publicly with his family’s band when he was 12 years old.  He attended Johnson Smith University in North Carolina but left at age 15 - he played professionally from that age forward.  From 1926 to 1928 (one source says 1927 to 1930), Smith was a member of Alphonse Trent’s group.  Trent was a well-known bandleader whose band played in the finest hotels in the Southern U.S.  Smith was 19 years old.  Afterward, he free-lanced, touring with pianist Jelly Roll Morton, as well as other jazz musicians.  Although he did a lot of traveling, his home bases were Buffalo, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  He formed (with trumpet player Jonah Jones) the Onyx Club Boys, a sextet (one source says it was a quintet) which played at the Onyx Club, beginning in 1935, in New York City.  Often, he would perform with a monkey on his shoulder.  It was a stuffed monkey, of course.  Smith knew Fritz Kreisler and it has been said Kreisler admired his playing.  Smith recorded with a group called the Stuff Smith Trio, although the other two members of the trio alternated, depending on the instrumentation.  One source states that in 1943, he briefly took over Fats Waller’s band after Waller died.  Smith played in a group with jazz pianist Billy Taylor too.  On June 9, 1945, he, Billy Taylor, and Ted Sturgis (on bass) played a concert in New York’s famous Town Hall - Benny Goodman had already played his historic jazz concert in Carnegie Hall in 1938.  In 1947, Smith joined Jazz at the Philharmonic, a very large group of touring jazz musicians managed from Los Angeles and put together by Norman Granz, a jazz impresario.  It operated between 1944 and 1957.  Smith’s playing has been described as virtuosic, technically adventurous, and full of good humor.  Joel Smirnoff (violinist with the Juilliard String Quartet for many years) was quoted as saying that Stuff Smith’s point “was not to be sophisticated, but to swing as hard as possible.”  You can hear for yourself here.  Smith recorded enough material (for the Vocalion, Verve, Capitol, Decca, ASCH, and Varsity labels) to fill 6 or 7 of today’s CDs.  He recorded with Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stephane Grappelli, among other artists.  He also played alongside many other jazz artists; Sun Ra and Charlie Parker are among them.  Here is a Smith video on YouTube.  His violin hold and posture were similar to that of French concert violinist Jacques Thibaud.  For reasons unknown (to me), between 1946 and 1955, Smith did very little commercial recording or none at all.  In 1958, Art Kane (Arthur Kanofsky) took a photo (for ESQUIRE Magazine) of 57 jazz musicians in front of an apartment building in Harlem (New York) titled A Great Day in Harlem.  Smith is the only jazz violinist in that photo.  Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Thelonius Monk, Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, and Sahib Shihab are among the jazz greats in that iconic portrait.  In 1965, Smith went to live in Copenhagen, Denmark.  For the rest of his life, he worked in Europe, sharing the stage with many European jazz players, some of whom had come from the U.S.  Stuff Smith died on September 25, 1967 (in Munich, Germany) at age 58.  A book by William F. Lee titled American Big Bands says Stuff Smith died (on the same date given above) in Chicago.  Even a great jazz violinist cannot die in two different places at the same time so I’m guessing, since Smith is buried in Denmark, that Munich is the far likelier place of death.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tai Murray

Tai Murray is an American violinist and teacher born (in Chicago) on May 22, 1982.  She is known for having recently recorded what is now considered the standard by which all other recordings of the Ysaye solo violin sonatas will be judged - as a young student, she participated in masterclasses with a direct disciple of Ysaye: Josef Gingold.  Murray is also known for having privately played a violin “in the nude” – an unvarnished violin, that is.  That violin was created for her in 2007 by Mario Miralles, one of the best violin makers in the world.  It has been said he has a ten-year waiting list.  I do not know why Murray played it - not in a concert, of course - before it was finished - possibly because Miralles wanted to hear how it was coming along while still in the workshop.  Luthiers find it easy to disassemble and re-assemble violins.  Of course, the violin is now fully varnished although Murray actually used her (circa) 1690 Giovanni (aka Joannes or Johannes) Tononi violin to record the six Ysaye Sonatas.  (Johannes Tononi was the father of the more famous luthier, Carlo Tononi, one of whose violins Jascha Heifetz owned and played - in fact, the Tononi violin was the instrument he played in his famous Carnegie Hall debut.)  Murray began her violin studies at age 5 with Brenda Wurman and shortly thereafter entered the Sherwood Conservatory of Music (founded in 1895) in Chicago.  Even though money was very scarce (a financial condition which befell many nineteenth century child violinists and their families, including the hyper-famous Bronislaw Huberman), by age 8, she had transferred to the University of Indiana where she studied with Mimi Zweig, Yuval Yaron, and Franco Gulli.  At age 9, she made her public debut, playing Mozart’s fourth concerto (in D) with the Chicago Symphony.  (Notorious Czech violinist Vasa Prihoda also made his public debut with this concerto.)  She played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the Utah Symphony (and Joseph Silverstein) at age 16.  The reviews were very favorable.  Her intonation was said to be “superhuman” and her bowing technique “magical.”  The Strad has said that she displays “sophisticated bowing and vibrato.”  You can observe (and enjoy) her superlative handling of the bow on several YouTube videos.  Another music critic described her sound as being imbued with “steely sweetness.”  It is truly almost impossible to describe sound with words but I think that comes close.  You can hear for yourself here.  Murray received her Artist Diploma from Indiana University’s School of Music at 18 then moved on to Juilliard in 2001.  There, she studied with Joel Smirnoff (former first and second violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet and now President of the Cleveland Institute of Music.)  She graduated from Juilliard in 2006 - some sources say 2004.  Meanwhile, she had been concertizing.  On February 3, 2001, she soloed with the San Antonio Symphony, playing the Glazunov concerto.  Michael Morgan was on the podium.  She was 18 years old.  Since then, she has gone on to concertize as a soloist with some of the world’s major orchestras, as a recitalist, and in conjunction with several prestigious chamber music ensembles, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  In addition to the Tononi and Miralles violins, she has played a 1727 Guarnerius Del Gesu, on loan from the Juilliard violin collection.  Murray is now based in Berlin, indulging in her passion for languages – she has already immersed herself in French, Japanese, and German.  That, unbeknownst to the general public, is not an unusual activity for violinists.  That and chess.  Murray has said that when not performing, she practices into the wee hours of the morning.  She likes to be where people have a “sense of shared general curiosity, a certain crackle-and-pop that drives things.”  (I love that quote.)  Aside from Maxim Vengerov, she is the only violinist I know who loves to dance Tango, although she also dances swing and salsa, and loves ballet.  (Murray’s portrait is courtesy of Marco Borggreve, a European photographer who photographs the world of music.)