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Luise Vosgerchian Centennial

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Today is the 100th birthday of a great musician who died in 2000. The renowned Luise  Vosgerchian was adored for decades as one of the most dynamic and progressive pianists and teachers ever in the entire Boston area, at NEC, the Longy School, Brandeis, and Harvard, where she propagated the pedagogical legacy of Nadia Boulanger to two entire generations of musicians. She wasn’t a traveling virtuoso; she worked full time but also stayed at home to raise a family. Some remember that she had played Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain with the Boston Symphony in 1946. Many now cherish her recording of Schumann’s Kreisleriana and Schubert’s late B-flat Major Sonata, D 960 (Titanic Ti-210).

Yesterday a Zoom meeting of about 30 of her former students and colleagues as well as her two sons found  everyone ready with many affectionate stories. I might have been the oldest of those who attended, remembering Luise from 1954, when I heard her and Gregory Tucker play Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion at a Longy School concert at Sanders Theater. Five years later, in my junior year at Harvard, she taught me for a few weeks, in her first year as Preceptor in piano; ten years after that, she had moved up to take the Walter W. Naumburg chair as full professor, succeeding Piston, and eventually she taught the famous harmony course, Music 51. Keyboard harmony and score-reading were essential components, dreaded and simultaneously cherished by all who dared enter, from Bach’s WTC Preludes to a full score of l’Histoire du soldat, clefs and meter changes and all. “Play I-vi-IV-V-I in F-sharp major with the tenor and bass in the right hand, the soprano in the left hand, and sing the alto.”  Bob Levin told of how he had come to Harvard fresh from years of study with Boulanger, because of which Luise resolutely declined to teach him but soon hired him as her assistant. Yo-yo Ma recalled how Luise had set him to analyzing Haydn piano sonatas, always asking (e.g.): how did Haydn get from there (beginning of the Development) to here (end of the Recap)? Always, the emphasis was not on what you could play, but on what you could hear, and what you could imagine with your ear — and these were ideally the same thing.

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4 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I’ll be forever grateful to Luise Vosgerchian for opening up my ears, during those basement sessions at the Harvard Music building, even as she cheerfully tolerated my keyboard ineptitude.
    And I am thankful as well for the letter she eventually wrote to the foundation that was funding my graduate studies. She successfully convinced that institution to forego their stated, U.S.-only, rules, thus allowing me to study abroad, in Paris, with Nadia Boulanger.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — November 10, 2022 at 11:12 am

  2. Yes, Happy Birthday to Dr. Vosgerchian! I had the great fortune to take her “Development of the String Quartet” class at Harvard in 1993 (including the opportunity to write a quartet movement for the ensemble-in-residence), and later to study composition with one of her students, Lyle Davidson, at New England Conservatory. A great musical lineage.

    Comment by Ruth Hertzman-Miller — November 11, 2022 at 10:06 am

  3. Local recording engineer and audio journalist Brad Meyer captured her Schumann and Schubert work for Titanic Ti-210 and wrote this interesting note for the early-2000s Boston Audio Society test CD where a ‘Kreisleriana’ passage is included:
    ‘The pianist is the late Luise Vosgerchian, recorded on a seven-foot Bechstein piano in the very reverberant courtyard of the Fogg Museum at Harvard, June 1990. Two small Neumann cardioid microphones in an ORTF array were supplemented with a “shuffler” circuit (built by David Griesinger) that adds a small amount of bass and lower midrange to the L-R part of the signal. The piano’s slightly nasal tone, distinctively different from a Steinway, is pretty well represented in the recording, and the miking is closer than usual because of the reverberant room. Since early reflections were suppressed acoustically and by mike placement, the effect in most rooms is of the piano, followed by the listening room, followed by a long, lower-level reverb from the space. (Available on Titanic Ti-210).’

    She was ever a question-asker. Fifty years ago, when I was an English teacher, I had one of her kids, a wonderful student and all-round teen, and at parents’ night I met with her to convey same. After I had finished my report, she asked about practically everything, it seemed. My background, educational and musical; the Brandeis music department; grad school and what authors I studied; what it was like be a classical stringer for local papers and what did I think of so-and-so; how my own keyboard hackery with Schubert, Beethoven, and Bach were going, and why; how come we were reading more than one Vonnegut novel; was I strict about grammar and usage; did I like reviewing and editing papers; and on and on. Fortunately she was the last parent of the evening. It was quite the thrill.

    Comment by david moran — November 11, 2022 at 2:20 pm

  4. I’d never met her despite spending 4yrs on Harvard faculty. The vid via my friend Lynn’s channel is a real gem that’d give viewers an idea how she approached music pedagogy.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9i0fyF9X-8

    Comment by Sheldon — November 13, 2022 at 12:14 pm

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