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. 

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