Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stanley Ritchie


Stanley Ritchie is an Australian violinist, author, conductor, and teacher born (in Yenda, New South Wales – about 350 miles west of Sydney, Australia) on April 21, 1935.  He is known for a successful career encompassing a wide range of musical activity.  He is, however, probably best known for his later involvement in Baroque music, being a specialist in period instrument performance.  In fact, he may well have been one of the first artists to teach (historically-informed) early music practice in America, if not the first.  Sergiu Luca also pioneered early music playing on baroque instruments in the mid-1970s and was the first to record the Bach unaccompanied violin works on a period instrument; however, he did not become as well-known in the field as later violinists did.  It is interesting to note that (in 1980) Austrian violinist Norbert Brainin became involved in a widespread movement in England and elsewhere to lower the tuning of “A” from 440 hz to 432 hz but without success.  This would have applied across the board, not just Baroque music.  I personally favor a lowering of the standard tuning.  The 440 tuning has made music sound a little too brittle and brilliant.  Nevertheless, I think we should keep modern strings – they simply last longer.  Ritchie began his violin studies at age 7 with someone whose name is unknown to me.  He enrolled at the Sydney Conservatory of Music as a young man and graduated in 1956.  He was 21 years old.  Two years after that, he went to Paris where he studied with Jean Fournier (pupil of George Enesco and brother of cellist Pierre Fournier.)  Ritchie finally came to the U.S. in 1959.  He was 24.years old.  In New York, he studied with Joseph Fuchs, Oscar Shumsky, and Samuel Kissel.  In 1963, he became concertmaster of the New York City Ballet.  After two years, he moved to the Metropolitan Opera where he served as Associate Concertmaster.  Raymond Gniewek was the concertmaster at the time.  From 1970 to 1973, Ritchie was a member of the New York Chamber Soloists.  He was appointed Assistant concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony and played in that orchestra from 1973 to 1975.  In 1975, he joined the Philadelphia String Quartet (University of Washington - Seattle, Washington) as first violinist.  Since 1970, he had developed an interest in early music performance as played on instruments fitted to original Baroque standards or specifications (if one can call them that), using Baroque bows as well.  Supposedly, German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter has said that period instrument players are “players who ordinarily wouldn't make it, who make silly accents with the bow, cannot produce a sound, and think they are making something profound."  If she in fact made that statement, she has since changed her opinion to a highly positive view.  Ritchie has been professor of violin at Indiana University since 1982 but has continued to concertize and teach far and wide.  He has recorded for various labels, including EMI, Decca, Dorian, Nonesuch, and Harmonia Mundi.  Opinions vary, of course, but my choices for the best authentic (period) instrument ensembles in the world are: the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, Tafelmusik, Europa Galante, Il Giardino Armonico, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, and Les Musiciens du Louvre.  Ritchie’s recording of Vivaldi’s concerto in e minor (with the Academy of Ancient Music) is available on YouTube here.  Vivaldi wrote more than 200 violin concertos – eleven of them are in e minor.  This one is the second in Opus 11 - Opus 11 contains 5 violin concertos and number 2 is the one in e minor.  Whether it’s true or not, it has been widely reported that Igor Stravinsky (or Luigi Dallapiccola or Darius Milhaud) once said that Vivaldi - one of the most important Baroque composers - didn’t compose 600 concertos; “he composed one concerto six hundred times.”  Ritchie has played a Jacob Stainer violin of 1679 for some time.  I do not know if he is still playing it.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Joe Venuti


Joe Venuti (Giuseppe Venuti) was an American jazz violinist, band leader, teacher, and arranger born (in Philadelphia) on September 16, 1903.  Next to Stephane Grappelli, he is probably the world’s best known jazz violinist, though there have been many others.  Their recordings accorded each a worldwide audience, but Grappelli worked mostly in Europe as Venuti worked mostly in America.  He began his violin studies at age 4 and attended public schools in Philadelphia.  As far as anyone knows, although it is said he claimed to, he never attended a music conservatory.  He may also not have graduated from High School.  According to several sources, he did study the violin intensely as a boy and was a member of the James Campbell School Orchestra.  Venuti may have also received instruction at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, at which several members of the Philadelphia Orchestra taught.  In any case, Venuti achieved a magnificent technique.  He also learned to play guitar, mandolin, and piano.  His knowledge of classical music was expanded through attendance at concerts in Philadelphia and New York.  He began playing in public at age 15, in a trio.  At about this time, he formed a friendship with Eddie Lang (Salvatore Massaro), the famous jazz guitarist.  They had attended the same grammar school and played in the school orchestra together but had never become professional associates until their early teens.  Their recordings are now classics in the jazz world.  Venuti started his career in Detroit in March of 1924 with Jean Goldkette’s (Graystone Ballroom) band.  Venuti also did some of his earliest recording work with this band.  He was 21 years old.  He returned to Philadelphia in September of 1925 but soon thereafter moved to New York.  In 1927, he joined Jimmy Dorsey, Frank Signorelli, and Eddie Lang to form a band called the Blue Four in Atlantic City.  However, Venuti was practically always a freelance violinist, playing where it suited him.  One of the bands he also played with during this time was the Scranton Sirens.  He then joined Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in 1929, playing in the 1930 film The King of Jazz.  For the next few years he did a lot of recording with various artists and bands.  In his career, he got to work with, among many others, Tommy Dorsey, Dave McKenna, Manny Klein, Benny Goodman, Barrett Deems, Bix Beiderbecke, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bud Freeman, Frank Signorelli, George Barnes, Glenn Miller, Harold Arlen, Jack Teagarden, Joe Haymes, Jimmy Dorsey, Johnny Prophet, Kay Starr, Earl Hines, Eddie Lang, Russ Morgan, Red Norvo, Ruth Robin, Louis Prima, Lennie Hayton, Marian McPartland, Zoot Sims, Smith Ballew, and Bing Crosby.  His main recording labels were Okeh, RCA Victor, Decca, and Bluebird.  In 1935, after returning from Europe, Venuti launched his own band and led a series of big and small bands after that.  After serving briefly during the war, he moved to California in 1945.  In 1952 and 1953, he played for the Kraft Music Hall on radio - Bing Crosby had served as announcer, master of ceremonies, or host on that show between January, 1936 and May, 1946.  In 1963, Venuti settled in Seattle, Washington, and continued working throughout the country, though more and more sporadically.  It has been said that Venuti drifted into obscurity between 1936 and 1966 but that may be an exaggeration.  In 1967, he had a big comeback with live shows and recordings, both here and in Europe.  A performance at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival played a big role in that comeback.  YouTube has many of his video and audio files.  Here is one and here is another.  In them, you will see that Venuti is playing what appears to be a cheap violin.  It appears that way because that’s what it is – he was known to play on very cheap instruments.  This YouTube audio file has Venuti and Grappelli playing a duo – it is very easy to tell them apart.  Venuti died (in Seattle) on August 14, 1978, at age 74.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Jan Hrimaly

Jan Hrimaly was a Czech violinist and teacher born (in Pilsen, Hungary) on April 13, 1844.  He is known for having written a Scale Study book which is still in use today.  He is unusual in that he spent the major part of his career in Russia – in fact, once he established himself in Moscow, he never returned to his native country.  His father was an organist and composer and his first teacher was probably an older brother - Vojtech.  All of Hrimaly’s other brothers and sisters were musicians as well.  It has been said that he and three of his brothers actually founded the very first string quartet in Czechoslovakia.  It had to have been prior to 1861.  Hrimaly enrolled at the Prague Conservatory in 1855 at age 11.  His violin teacher there was probably Moritz Mildner.  Hrimaly graduated in 1861 and quickly became concertmaster of an orchestra in Amsterdam.  Nobody seems to know which orchestra.  He was 18 years old.  He was there for four years.  At age 23, he was appointed violin teacher at the Moscow Conservatory.  He then took over as violin professor for his father-in-law, Ferdinand Laub, in 1874.  He was 30 years old.  Hrimaly remained at the conservatory until the year of his death – 46 years.  That is probably one of the longest tenures of all time, if not the longest.  In 1874, 1876, and 1882, he took part in premiering Tchaikovsky’s second and third string quartets and piano trio, in that order.  Between 1874 and 1906, he was also concertmaster of the Russian Musical Society Orchestra in Moscow, although I don’t know what that is or was.  It can be assumed he was an outstanding teacher since he lasted so long at his teaching post.  His students include Josif Kotek, Reinhold Gliere, Stanislaw Barcewicz, Alexander Petschnikov, Julius Conus, and Peter Stolyarsky.  Hrimaly died on January 24, 1915, in Moscow, at age 70.  Were it not for his scale study book, he would likely be quite (unjustly) forgotten.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Judith Ingolfsson

Judith Ingolfsson is an Icelandic violinist and teacher born (in Reykjavik, Iceland) on May 13, 1973.  From her home base in Germany, she leads a very busy international career and is well-known for being the Gold Medalist at the 1998 Indianapolis International Violin Competition, now considered one of the top three violin competitions in the world, on a par with the Queen Elizabeth and Tchaikovsky violin competitions, though these last two have been in existence far longer.  In 1999, she was named Debut Artist of the Year by National Public Radio (USA.)  In 2000, she toured the U.S. as soloist with the Iceland Symphony, culminating with highly acclaimed performances in Carnegie Hall (New York) and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  WQXR (New York) and Chamber Music America gave her their Record Award for her debut CD in 2001.  She has toured throughout the world, appearing with almost every major orchestra, every major conductor, and in every important venue.  Her playing has been described as being “rock solid, marvelously precise, and very elegant.”  Ingolfsson began her violin studies at age 3 (same age as Jascha Heifetz when he began) and had performed in public by age 5.  Her first violin teacher was Jon Sen, concertmaster of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra.  In 1980, her family immigrated to the U.S.  She was 7 years old.  She made her orchestral debut in Germany at age 8, playing Bach’s A minor concerto.  At the age of 14, she entered the Curtis Institute where her main teacher was the famous violin pedagogue Jascha Brodsky (pupil of Lucien Capet, Eugene Ysaye, and Efrem Zimbalist.)  Prior to that, she had a number of different teachers due to the fact that her family lived in various States before settling in Philadelphia.  It is fascinating that Guila Bustabo (a concert violinist who had the dubious distinction of having been arrested by General George C. Patton right after the end of World War Two) was one of her teachers.  Carol Glenn and Josef Gingold were also among her teachers during that time.  After graduation from Curtis, she studied further at the Cleveland Institute of Music under David Cerone and Donald Weilerstein.  In addition to her concert and recital engagements, Ingolfsson plays at a number of music festivals around the world, including the well-known Barge Music series in New York, the Spoleto Festival, Grand Teton Music Festival, Reykjavik Arts Festival, Juniper Music Festival (Utah), and the Aigues-Vives en Musiques Festival in France - Aigues-Vives is a small city in southern France, perhaps no more than 60 miles from the Spanish border.  Her chamber music concerts have included performances with the Miami String Quartet, the Vogler String Quartet, the Avalon String Quartet, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  Ingolfsson has already appeared with over 100 different orchestras throughout the world, in addition to numerous television and radio broadcasts for PBS, CBS, and NHK (in Japan.)  She was appointed to the faculty of the University of Colorado (Boulder) in August of 2006 but soon moved to the Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik und Darstellende Stuttgart (State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart) in Germany in October of 2008.  Her recital accompanist is usually (Russian concert pianist and conductor) Vladimir Stoupel, with whom she formed a duo (the Ingolfsson-Stoupel Duo) in 2006.  Ingolfsson has played the Gingold Stradivarius of 1683 (also known as the Martinelli Strad), a 1750 Lorenzo Guadagnini, and a modern violin by French luthier Yair Hod Fainas, constructed for her in 2010.  I have heard the Gingold and the Guadagnini up close for hours and both are great-sounding violins.  The Fainas violin I have not yet heard but I am willing to bet it has a gorgeous sound, as good a sound as the best Stradivari violins.  (I admit I much prefer new violins to old.)  Ingolfsson has been recording commercially since 1999.  Her abundantly-praised recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto can be found here.  You can also find out why her recent recording of the Ysaye Solo Sonatas has been so highly acclaimed here.  A wonderful YouTube video of Ingolfsson in performance can be seen (and heard) here.  The photo is by Michael Rosenthal, taken during a piano trio performance.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Henri Marteau


Henri Marteau was a French violinist, teacher, and composer, born (in Reims, France) on March 31, 1874.  He was a child prodigy and was similar to Felix Mendelssohn in that both of his parents came from wealthy families; however, Marteau’s parents were musicians as well – his mother was a pianist (and former pupil of Clara Schumann) and his father was a violinist and President of the Philharmonic Society of Rheims.  After hearing Camillo Sivori play a concert at the Marteau residence at age 5, Marteau began his violin studies with his father.  One usually reliable source states that Sivori himself presented the child with a violin.  Sivori would have been about 64 years old at the time.  Marteau later proceeded to study with a Swiss violinist named Bunzl (a pupil of Wilhelm Molique) and after three years went to study with Hubert Leonard at the Paris Conservatory.  He was 8 years old.  Leonard may have been Marteau’s uncle but I am not certain of that.  He made his debut at age 10 in Reims, playing for a very large audience – possibly more than 2000.  At age 13, on December 14, 1887, he played a Bruch concerto (probably the one in g minor) in Vienna, with Hans Richter on the podium.  Brahms was in the audience - it has been said that he was fascinated with the young violinist.  Grove’s Dictionary of Music says this took place when Marteau was 10 years old but that is probably quite incorrect.  In 1888, he made his debut in London, England.  He was 14 years old.  He then studied with Jules Garcin at the Paris Conservatory beginning in 1891.  In 1892, he was awarded first prize by the conservatory.  By then he was already an established touring artist.  In 1893, he toured the U.S. and again in 1898.  He also played in the U.S. in the years 1894, 1900, and 1906.  I don’t know if those appearances were part of a broader concert tour.  Marteau was a sensation each time.  It has been said that when he performed in Boston on his first U.S. tour, he played the Bruch g minor concerto with the Boston Symphony without rehearsal.  Arthur Nikisch was on the podium and Marteau had 12 curtain calls.  On March 3, 1893, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic playing the first Bruch concerto.  Anton Seidl was on the podium.  His last concert with this orchestra was on March 18, 1906.  He played Vieuxtemps' concerto number 5 on that occasion.  He was 31 years old.  On November 28, 1894, he premiered Theodore Dubois’ violin concerto in Paris.  That work has probably not been heard from since, except, perhaps, in France.  Marteau toured Russia in 1897 and 1899.  By age 26, he was professor of violin at the conservatory in Geneva, Switzerland.  Seven years later (1907), he was called upon to take over Joseph Joachim’s position at the Advanced School of Music (Hochschule fur Musik) in Berlin, where he remained until 1915.  There was some grumbling over this appointment because he was not German and it was rumored he had even been asked to renounce his French citizenship if appointed.  He supposedly refused and, being an international celebrity of the violin, was appointed anyway.  However, being French, he was placed under house arrest in Lichtenberg in 1916 because of hostilities between France and Germany in World War One (1914-1918.)  He eventually settled in Sweden and became a Swedish citizen in 1920.  Marteau eventually also taught at the music conservatories in Prague (1921), Leipzig, and Dresden.  Max Reger and Jules Massenet composed violin concertos for Marteau.  In fact, Marteau was a champion of Reger’s music and played dozens of concerts with him throughout Europe.  It has been reported that it was over a dispute over Reger’s music that Marteau’s first string quartet ensemble broke up.  The quartet probably had a name but I don’t know what it was.  He later re-assembled another quartet in Berlin.  In April of 1894, Marteau played a piano quartet concert with Anton Hegner (cellist), Jan Koert (violist), and Aime Lauchame in New York.  It wasn’t the first time so it would appear that he played chamber music concerts on a regular basis though his ensembles are not reported (in any sources I found) to have been well-established or even well-known.  He played a Giovanni Paolo Maggini violin which had belonged to his teacher, Hubert Leonard, and had previously been in the possession of the Austrian Emperor.  He also owned and played a 1709 Stradivarius violin which now bears his name, a 1720 Guarnerius Del Gesu (one source says from 1731) which also bears his name, an 1827 J.B. Vuillaume, and a 1925 Gaetano Sgarabotto violin.  These last four violins together were valued, in Marteau’s day, at approximately $15,000, or $175,000 in today’s dollars.  They are now worth approximately $7,000,000.  In 1920, one could buy a Stradivarius for less than $5,000.  An average person in 1920 could buy one if he worked 25,000 hours or 12 years at minimum wage and saved every penny for just that purpose.  An average person today could buy one if he worked 400,000 hours or 192 years at minimum wage.  It has always been my opinion that those old violins are simply not worth the trouble.  Their values have been hyper-exaggerated by dealers.  Marteau’s tone was said to be large and brilliant and his style warm and charming.  One reference (E.N. Bilbie, 1921) claims that Marteau, prior to 1914, played six concerts at intervals of one every two weeks and that he played three concertos at each of them – 18 different concertos altogether.  Besides a substantial amount of chamber music, Marteau composed an opera, a cantata, two violin concertos, and a cello concerto.  Marteau died (in Lichtenberg, Germany) on October 3, 1934, at age 60.  In 2002, his home in Lichtenberg became the site for part of the tri-annual Henri Marteau violin competition which was established in that year.