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.