Upcoming Schuller Performances Provoke His Ruminations on 12-Tone Music


Noting that two concerts featuring works by Gunther Schuller are being performed at Jordan Hall in the next ten days, first by the Borromeo String Quartet on November 30, then by New England String Ensemble on December 6, BMInt staff interviewed a hale and hearty Schuller on November 24, the day after his 84th birthday. The stereo was playing Sibelius’ 1st Symphony when they arrived. Mr. Schuller was immediately didactic: “Do you know who’s conducting? Look. Who are the two greatest conductors today?” (It turned out to be Osmo Antero Vänskä.) “Most interpretations are so slow and draggy. This guy makes it like an operatic drama, the way Sibelius wrote it.” With pieces of his birthday cake, brought by BMInt staff, the interview began. Listen to an excerpt here.

Happy 84th Birthday! (BMInt Staff Photo)
Happy 84th Birthday! (BMInt Staff Photo)

How did the Borromeo Quartet come to be playing your fourth quartet in a few days, then recording all four quartets soon after?

Ah, I have almost nothing to do with that. First of all, they did play my third quartet three or four years ago, and I think they played it something like 20 times, including what I consider the best performance of the third quartet that ever happened — in Jordan Hall. They played it beautifully. The Borromeo is one of the two or three best quartets in the United States— just marvelous. Nicholas [Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo] and a young composer who was at the Conservatory, his name is Mohammed Fairouz — he’s very talented he’s only 24 years old, and he’s written already an immense amount of music and happens to be a fan of mine — he and Nicholas are good friends, and he once mentioned my upcoming birthdays — this is only eighty-four — but the next one will really be the big one. So they came up with this scheme of doing all four of my quartets, and not just once, but several times. So that’s how it started.

Fairouz has a piece on the November 30 Borromeo program, too?


Yes, they are playing his Lamentations and Satire, along with both Bartok’s and my fourth string quartets.

Your quartets are not exactly new music; over what period were they written?

The fourth is only, well now, it’s actually six years old! It was written for the Julliard Quartet.

When was the first written?

The first was written in 1957.


Stylistically, do they change very much?


No. No! I don’t change stylistically. My music is  virtually the same stylistically, linguistically, as it was when I was 19 years old.  It’s of course, I’d like to think, more mature, better organized, and so on, and of course it’s more complex. It’s become more complex over the years. But stylistically? No. No. The thing, is I am so proud of these four quartets partly because each one of ’em is totally different in character. But not in style.

By style, do you mean tonal language?

I mean, yeah, well no. My language is always atonal, 12-tone, most of the time. So I just mean that; that’s what we mean by style. C major or tonal music is a style, right? But Beethoven wrote 32 different string quartets. None of ’em sound alike, and that’s my model. In everything. Mozart and those guys.

When you write in this very complex modern language that we have — I prefer to call it a language, rather than a style — and when you work with certain techniques like 12-tone,  there is certainly the danger that successive pieces could sound alike, just because you’re dealing with so  many sort-of rules of behavior. Although you work with rules in classical music, too —  Boy! were they strict. My goodness, they were more strict than what we have  — but anyway, there’s always this danger that you will repeat yourself, you know.

The first quartet, as I said, was written in 1957. The next was 1965.  I wrote the second quartet in seven days on a transatlantic trip on the Europa — oh, no! The New Amsterdam. The third quartet was dedicated to Louis Krasner, who was retiring from his teaching at the Conservatory and other things, and then the last quartet was for the Julliard. They are all, they are in my language, this is what I am proud of, and yet they are distinct animals. Different breeds. [continued]


If you hear something, write something! Boston Musical Intelligencer is One Year Old


Last October with my colleagues, Lee Eiseman (publisher) and Bettina A. Norton (executive editor), I participated in the launch of the Boston Musical Intelligencer. Though it was clear enough to me at the beginning of this undertaking that Boston needed better coverage of its classical music scene, I was not prepared for the rapidity with [continued]

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Hallelujah! Jordan Hall’s Scaffolding is Coming Down


Just in time for the seasonal “Hallelujah Chorus” from Boston Baroque, patrons of concerts at Jordan Hall can offer their own “Hallelujahs.” The scaffolding and protective fabric screens, which have obstructed the entire façade for almost a year, are coming down. NEC personnel are assuredly offering their own Hallelujahs — the project was ahead of schedule and under budget.

The ceremonial unveiling, to be presided over by NEC President Tony Woodcock, will take place on Wednesday, November 18, at noon. NEC is also offering “festive music and refreshments.”

<p>New terracotta cornice and mable panel.</p>
Terra cotta cornice and marble panel above Jordan Hall entrance. (BMInt Staff )

All four of New England Conservatory’s buildings have been undergoing $20 million in deferred  maintenance work for the last year, but Jordan Hall is the one that has impacted concert-goers. While scaffolding was up, patrons found it difficult to drop off concert-goers and newcomers were baffled about where to find the entrance. The original signage put up by the contractors was “inadequate,” explained Public Relations Manager Ellen Pfeifer, so NEC staff attempted to improve upon it — with limited success, if one eavesdropped to other concert-goers on the way in.

“But it is almost a moot point now,” laughed  Ms. Pfeifer.

Built in 1903, the building has been known from the beginning simply as “Jordan Hall” — and not “The Eben Jordan Memorial Building” or some such, which some observers think more appropriate, since it was paid for by Eben Jordan II of Jordan, Marsh Department Store.

Jordan Hall was designed by Edmund Wheelwright, architect for the Massachusetts Historical Society, built four years earlier, and the nearby much more elaborately detailed Horticultural Hall, completed in 1901.  He was also architect for one of Boston’s most beloved bridges, the Longfellow, more familiarly, the “Salt-and-Pepper” Bridge, and the understandably idiosyncratic Harvard Lampoon (Wheelwright was a founder.). He is often credited with being the designer of the Anderson Memorial Bridge (1913-15), but it was probably the work of his successor firm; he had been institutionalized with mental illness for two years prior to his death in 1912.

Although the façade of Jordan Hall is less ornate that either of its neighbors, it does have nice neo-classical detailing, such as the cornice and dentate molding under the roof. And it sports a wrought-iron balcony running along one-third of the facade at the second-story level. Like Massachusetts Historical Society’s building, however, Jordan Hall’s brick is yellow, and not red, brick. [continued]

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Disklaviers, Propellors, and Electric Bells: BMOP Offers Antheil Program


BMInt interviewed Paul D. Lehrman, composer, author, consultant, educator, one of the world’s leading experts on MIDI, computer music and expert on George Antheil, whose “Ballet mécanique” will be performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project on November 13th at Jordan Hall.

George Antheil is infamous as a “bad boy” composer. Is his Ballet mécanique music? Should we bring ear plugs?

Ballet mécanique is most definitely music. It is not a “noise” piece, although it presages that genre, along with many other genres, in its use of cacophony, silence, sound effects, and a huge amount of repetition. You can hear many musical influences within the piece: ragtime, Stravinsky, the Italian Futurists, jazz, and there’s even a snippet of Rimsky-Korsakov. So at the time it took the definition of “music” in new directions, but within a context that was recognizable, and today is fairly common.

When we did the premiere in Lowell in 1999 we gave out earplugs, but they turned out to be unnecessary, since the hall was fairly dead, and we were  conservative in deciding how hard to push the Disklavier player pianos. Jordan Hall is much brighter acoustically, and we now know more about how loud the pianos can go without suffering some sort of damage, so even though we are only using eight Disklaviers, it’s going to be quite loud. The players will all be wearing earplugs; it might not be a bad idea for the audience to be prepared as well.

Antheil’s score calls for some unusual “instruments” such as airplane propellers and weird bells. Can you tell our readers how you solved these problems?Antheil_caricature300

Antheil used electric fans with sticks or leather straps stuck in them — the “baseball card in a bicycle wheel” effect — at his performances, and some modern performances have used similar devices. But they are very hard to set up, and we don’t have much time in the hall. So we will be using digital samples of small airplane engines that were made in 1999 for the premiere. The bells are a collection of seven different-sized electric bells that I gathered over the years, which are triggered according to the score using MIDI-controlled relays. The siren is a real siren, which varies in pitch and volume according to the amount of voltage applied to it.

How does your version of the score differ from those circulating previously?

Antheil wrote two versions of Ballet mécanique. Before the revival of this version, the one that most people had heard of was written in 1952. It is for a fairly conventional percussion orchestra, with the notable addition of two airplane propellers, and it uses four pianos but no player pianos. It’s performed often and has been recorded about a half-dozen times. But Antheil’s first version, which is the one we’re playing, was written in 1924 and is a totally different piece. It has four player-piano parts, each to be played on four instruments, for a total of 16, and the parts are much more complicated and raucous than the human-played parts in the later version. It also has three airplane propellers and a siren. It is much longer and more drawn out than the later version, with a huge amount of relentless, driving repetition and a blocky structure that is not at all audience-friendly. It also includes 20 silences towards the end, each one getting longer than the one before it, which can really drive audiences nuts — and this was almost 30 years before John Cage’s 4’33”. The 1952 Ballet mécanique is a great piece, but it doesn’t have the scope, the power, or the sheer audacity of the early version.

Before 1999, the 1924 version had been played only with a single player piano, since technology to synchronize multiple player pianos didn’t actually exist. Antheil performed the piece a few times in Paris and once in New York. It wasn’t heard again until Maurice Peress conducted a performance in 1989, and never since then. But I just found out a group is performing it with a single player piano at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, on November 22. I would love to hear that performance, but unfortunately I can’t get away. [continued]

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Cracks Repaired: Durufle To Be Played by Wood on “Just Right” Organ


Ross Wood is the perfect person to be playing the Duruflé Requiem on Old South Church’s notable organ next Sunday afternoon. Wood has played in Duruflé ‘s own church in Paris — St. Étienne-du-Mont, where the composer was organist from 1929 until his death in 1982. Wood also took master classes with Monsieur and Madame [continued]

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“Every Beethoven Sonata is Important”: Pianist Till Fellner Talks about his Playing


The distinguished young Viennese pianist, Till Fellner, will be playing an all-Beethoven recital in the Piano Masters Series at Boston Conservatory of Music’s Seully Hall on November 3 at 8:00 P.M. Program details can be found under Upcoming Events. BMInt interviewed him during a lull in one of his practice sessions.

Why are you doing the complete Beethoven set?

Well, the Beethoven sonatas are one of the greatest challenges for every pianist. You probably know the famous quote from Hans von Bülow, “The Well Tempered Clavier and the Beethoven sonatas are the Old Testament and the New Testament of the piano repertoire.” In the last few years, I’ve played the 48 preludes and fugues, so now it’s time to tackle the 32 Beethoven sonatas.

BMInt staff photo
Contemplating Beethoven’s Death Mask (BMInt staff photo)

Can you compare your version to others?

There are two recordings of the sonatas I admire very much. One is Alfred Brendel’s most recent recording and the other is Wilhelm Kempff’s from the ’50s. Of course, I don’t want to compare myself with these great pianists, but they have been a source of much inspiration for me.

Do you feel a special connection with Alfred Brendel? Are there any similar qualities to your playing?

Alfred Brendel is my most important musical influence. As a student of his, I’ve learned a lot. I would like to point out two things: First, Mr. Brendel has shown me both through his playing and teaching that the composer comes first and not the interpreter. So as a performer you should try to serve the composer. Second, Alfred Brendel has the wonderful ability to work on every detail of a piece but at the same time build the architecture. I hope that I have a similar attitude of respect for the intentions of the composer.

Can you suggest things we should be listening for in your recital at Boston Conservatory?

This is the fourth program in my traversal of the Beethoven sonatas. Next Tuesday’s portion gives the audience a chance to listen to some of the less well-known sonatas from various periods of Beethoven’s life. Of course we all love the famous pieces like the “Tempest” and the “Waldstein,” etc, but with a composer like Beethoven, every sonata is important. Also you will be experiencing the lyrical side of Beethoven’s music. Sometimes we only think of Beethoven’s heroic qualities, but lyricism, grace and fervent expression are equally important in his music. [continued]


What Makes Mendelssohn Great?


The Celebrity Series of Boston will be presenting the Borromeo and Ariel String Quartets in  “What Makes it Great?” featuring the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major on Saturday evening, November 7, 2009 at Jordan Hall.

There’s a difference between one who is a genius and one who is precocious. One writer says that “genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains,” while another says that “a genius is someone who can do effortlessly what nobody else can do at all.” Mendelssohn has been called the “gentle genius,” who is often compared with Mozart. Mozart’s career is the more famous, perhaps, for its ups and downs, and for its unquestioned successes in opera. But Mendelssohn, as a composer, was more precocious than Mozart, in that nothing that Mozart had composed by the age of sixteen matches Mendelssohn’s achievement at the same age.

Their backgrounds were different, to be sure. Mozart was schooled in hard knocks from an early age, when his loving but domineering father dragged him and his sister all over Europe to be exhibited as Wunderkinder. Much of the power of Mozart’s later style has been attributed to the inner strength he derived in breaking away from his father’s influence. Mendelssohn’s well-to-do family allowed his extraordinary talents to flourish in a more sheltered environment; indeed, when he was twelve years old, his doting parents went so far as to hire a string orchestra for him to conduct once a week. Mendelssohn amply repaid this pampering with a veritable flood of early compositions that show amazing mastery for one so young, including twelve symphonies and several concertos — not to mention that in his teens he was already an excellent pianist and soon became one of the greatest of nineteenth-century conductors. (In 1829, aged 20, Mendelssohn directed the Berlin Singakademie in an epoch-making revival, the first performance of J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion since its premiere a century earlier.)

In 1825 Mendelssohn composed one of the all-time greatest works of chamber music: the Octet in E-flat major for strings. String quartet groups all over the world today relish the opportunity to join forces in performing this mighty piece. [continued]

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Book Review Musical Exoticism – Images and Reflections


Book Review

Musical Exoticism – Images and Reflections

by Ralph P. Locke

Price: $99.00 ISBN: 978-0-521-87793-0 Cloth

Cambridge University Press, 421 pages with 31 b&w illustrations, index

This thorough discussion of musical color and affect commonly referred to as representing “exoticism” is exhaustively researched and analyzed in this new volume by Musicology Professor Ralph P. Locke of the Eastman School of Music.  Its scholarly perspective and construct will appeal most directly to serious students of music, though there is much here that will engage any curious music lover.

Professor Locke has taken on an enormous task – that of explicating and illustrating how Western composers and jazz performers have employed certain techniques to add a sense of perfume, tang, and aural otherworldliness to their music that sets it apart from the familiar and comfortable. The how and why of this makes for an engaging read, aided by well-chosen illustrations and musical examples.

I confess that I hadn’t really thought too deeply about musical exoticism in the past, though I certainly thought “I knew it when I heard it.” After spending only a few minutes perusing this book before reading it closely, I was astonished with how deep and wide a subject this is. As a means of intriguing further interest in Professor Locke’s research, I’ll briefly cite several composers and a few of their obviously “exotic” works he examines: [continued]

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Yeghishe Manucharyan worth noticing in Tancredi


Excitement is building about the production of Tancredi from Opera Boston, being held tonight (October 23) and on October 25 and 27. Boston opera fans by now know Amanda Forsythe, and recent media coverage had touted Eva Podles. For good reasons. But Yeghishe Manucharyan is also a singer who is, or certainly should be, eliciting [continued]

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Marcus Thompson Heads BCMS


Marcus Thompson, the new Artistic Director of the Boston Chamber Music Society, will, (on Sunday, October 18, 7:30 at Sanders Theater) be performing with his colleagues again—but for the first time as their director. The Boston Musical Intelligencer wanted to hear from him what to listen to and look for in the coming subscription season and in BCMS’s future.

<p>BMInt. Staff Photo</p>
BMInt. Staff Photo

BMInt.: Marcus, from the look of the new brochure, a lot seems to be happening at BCMS this year. Where is that organization headed under your leadership and what can we expect to hear that’s different?

M. First, let me thank you for the opportunity to speak with you and to your readers. We are really excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for BCMS.  Many artistic and organizational challenges have been on our minds since we undertook a self-study and started thinking about how we need to address our second quarter century. We are in a time of renewal. We want to build our audience in and around Boston, connect to the next generations, seek ways to fit better with local institutions –all while continuing to do some of the most exciting music making in Boston.

BMIint.: Last season there were no BCMS concerts in Jordan Hall and no mention of it in the coming season. Is BCMS no longer playing pairs of concerts in the city?

M. We love Jordan Hall. We sound great in Jordan Hall! But Fridays after work are a tough time to fill the house. It became increasing hard to justify the expense.

We wanted to take a break and figure out how we made it work well for so many years. So, we’re looking carefully at audience building, other venues and formats, including run-outs, and hoping to renew the pairs, and, in time, our presence in Jordan Hall.

BMInt.:  One of the first things I noticed in your programming was that you are doing two works from the 21st century, both Boston Premieres, within the first two concerts. How is that going to sit with your more traditional audience? [continued]

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Pilot Program Becomes Farewell Concert, with John Williams Harp Commission Premiere


Principal Harpist Ann Hobson Pilot’s retirement after 40 years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra is to be celebrated in Symphony Hall next Wednesday evening. September 23, in a program that includes the premiere of On Willows and Birches for Harp and Orchestra by John Williams.

BMint. Staff Photo
BMInt. Staff Photo

In 1939 major orchestras were mostly closed to women other than harpists. World War II changed that, as women were called upon to fill vacant seats. But it wasn’t until 1952 that a woman was appointed first chair of a major symphony orchestra in the United States — Dorothy Anthony Dwyer, first flute of the BSO. The next woman to be appointed to a principal chair at the BSO was Marylou Speaker (Churchill), in 1977, but not until fifteen years later. Ann Hobson Pilot, who had been in the harp section since 1969, was appointed to the principal harp chair in 1980.

Hobson Pilot played in Washington, DC, in the late 1960s, where she felt uncomfortable with attitudes towards African-Americans, a problem she did not face in Boston. But she a big supporter of Project STEP, encouraging young African-American children to study string instruments.

BMInt interviewed Ann Hobson Pilot backstage at Symphony Hall this morning.


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Constellation Center’s Delay Worries Classical Music Presenters


The domino effect of the current economic crisis is affecting the Classical music world, but not only for its effect on endowment income. Many organizations, especially smaller ones without their own performance halls, are looking for less expensive venues for their season’s programs, though without sacrificing fine acoustics.

So music organizations recently have been asking how work is progressing on the eagerly-sought Constellation Center.

One of the more compelling visions that has emerged in the last few years, Constellation Center was announced to be a mini Lincoln Center in Kendall Square, Cambridge, that would provide three critically needed auditoriums to the Greater Boston performing arts community. The site would be close to the Kendall Square T stop on the Red Line but would also be adjacent to ample indoor parking lots. The rental prices would be reasonable. There would be one of the world’s finest Wurlitzer Theater organs, as well as a Baroque tracker similar to one Bach would have played, both proposed gifts to the Center, as well as a small third organ. And the acoustics would be state-of-the art, the best available in the world, with the sound programable for the style of music to be played.

<p>Glenn KnicKrehm alongside a model stage.</p>
Glenn KnicKrehm alongside a model stage.

The brainchild of Glenn KnicKrehm, a Boston-based engineer and management consultant, the idea first surfaced in 2001, when Constellation Center was incorporated. The project received a great deal of publicity when he led an all-day presentation to attendees at the biennial Boston Early Music Festival in 2003. Presentations were given by the architects, then Stubbins Asssociates, and the team of acousticians, detailing their research while visiting sites throughout Europe. The Center, KnicKrehm announced, was to be up and running in five years.

Six years later, ground has yet to be broken. [continued]

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Harvard Musical Association Grant Funds New Work by Gandolfi on Program for Concord Chamber Music Society


The Concord Chamber Music Society starts its 10th anniversary season on September 20 with the world premiere of a new Gandolfi work, Line Drawings. The commission was funded in part by a grant from the George Henschel Community Awards Committee of the Harvard Musical Association. Lest the commission seems a path-breaking step for Gandolfi, it [continued]

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André Previn’s OTHER Tanglewood Appearances, in Delightful Ozawa Hall


Tanglewood offered its fans two rare opportunities this past weekend, two chances to hear André Previn in concerts devoted exclusively to him in Ozawa Hall: one, a recital of his songs at the Prelude Concert on Saturday, August 15, at 6:00 p.m.; the other, on Sunday evening at 8 p.m., a session of great jazz songs, with the maestro on the piano and David Finck on bass.

Andre Previn and David Finck perform jazz great songs. Photo by Hilary Scott
Andre Previn and David Finck perform jazz great songs. Photo by Hilary Scott

The purportedly major event of the weekend was not Previn as composer or pianist, but as conductor. At the concert on Saturday night, Mr. Previn conducted Beethoven Symphony #4,  Liszt  Piano Concerto No. 2 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Ravel La Valse. (This writer wishes to add one comment: For those who may have seen Mr. Previn at the Boston Symphony last spring and were concerned about his frail health, he thankfully seemed in far better condition for this concert.)

Ozawa Hall, designed by William Rawn Associates and completed in 1994, is a gem: its all-over rectilinear, beautiful interior space; elegant window openings; warm Richardson-esque/Japanese/Arts-and-Crafts wood throughout; great acoustics; and just perfect size. Its wall at one end, when fully open, contributes to the airiness and affords views of the rapt audiences on the lawn. [continued]

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Musical Insurrection to Institution: Bang on a Can


Bang on a Can has long since passed from musical insurrection to institution. Its trademark marathon concerts (grown out of the practices of a new music group at Yale, where the group’s founders studied) have become a staple of ensembles nationwide. NEC’s annual Summer Institute for Contemporary Piano Performance, for one, culminates with a marathon show.

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It is a notable seachange in performance practice. Whether it came out of youthful rebellion, an attempt to cultivate a party atmosphere, or as a mirror of the pace of music after minimalism is unclear (all of the above?). Regardless, presenting downtown music like this feels natural. A similar presentation of the Bach-to-Brahms rep would come off somewhere between odd and blasphemous, depending on whom you asked.

A few years ago, BoaC set roots at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass.) for an annual summer festival. It has a mix of student instruction and concerts like any other, but maintains an aesthetic center of its own: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Meredith Monk have appeared in the past as artists-in-residence.

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Postcard from Maine: Music Culture in the Easternmost U.S.


Eastport, Maine, where I have a summer home, is the easternmost city in the United States, population year-round about 1,600, and a little more than 2,000 in the summer. Lubec, considerably smaller, is two miles further east but is incorporated as a town. These two major urban centers of Washington County (total population about 33,000, area about 2,600 square miles, more than twice the size of Rhode Island) frame the American reaches of Cobscook Bay, a smaller offshoot from the much larger Passamaquoddy Bay which is mostly Canadian-bordered.

Except for the Fourth of July, when the holiday influx raises the temperature to as many as 10,000 people, Eastport is a quiet, friendly, low-key community with a thriving arts environment. There is a considerable nucleus of painters, sculptors, ceramists, instrument makers, and writers, and some of these also participate in Stage East, a small but very popular theater company. A special international treasure is a newspaper, The Quoddy Tides, published twice a month and serving not only the American communities around Cobscook Bay but also the islands of nearby New Brunswick: Deer Island, Campobello, and Grand Manan. [continued]

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The Harpsichord in America 1884 – 1946


Editor’s Note: The article which follows, from a Harvard Musical Association Bulletin of April, 1946 should be of interest to votaries of the Boston Early Music Festival. If readers know the whereabouts of the cited instruments and collections please respond by blogging.

It appears, from research by the writer, that there was only one harpsichord in Boston in 1885 in playable condition. It was the property of Mr. Morris Steinert, founder of the house of M. Steinert and Sons. Mr. B. J. Lang, who did much for enlarging the horizon of music in Boston, organized a festival for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bach, born March 21, 1685. In Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” there is the need of a harpsichord, and Mr. Steinert’s instrument was played by Mr. Lang. This was probably the first time for a period of sixty years that a harpsichord had been used in a public concert in Boston.It is interesting to know how little the compilers of the Comprehensive Dictionary, published in 1871, knew relative to the harpsichord. They give the meaning of the word harpsichord: “A keyed instrument, or harp, strung with wire.” That of the virginal is worse: “A musical instrument.” These definitions show the lack of knowledge relative to the instruments because of their rarity. In 1884 there was probably only one harpsichord in the United States in playable condition, and only one player who knew how to use it properly relative to tone colors and the proper touch for the keys and that was Mr. Morris Steinert. At this time of writing (1946), there are fourteen professional harpsichordists in the United States. There is also a maker of harpsichords whose instruments are as splendid in qualities of tone as the best instruments made by the famous makers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and their volume is considerably larger, a virtue needed in these years of large halls. [continued]


Early Music World Looks To Boston


Every other summer, the city of Boston becomes the ultimate destination for connoisseurs of early music – that is, music written many centuries ago and performed in the style popular at the time of its composition. But as music lovers of all types have discovered over the years, this “rarefied” music is as beautiful, exciting, and relevant as anything written in recent times. Next month from June 6 through 14th, the Boston Early Music Festival will present its “weeklong extravaganza of early music” (The Boston Herald), jam-packed with fully-staged opera performances, concerts by the world’s leading soloists and ensembles, over 100 concurrent events including lectures and dance workshops and the world-famous Exhibition. [continued]

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Rockport Chamber Music Festival, June 4 – July 2


Every summer since inception of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in 1981, distinguished musicians from around the country have come to Rockport to perform concerts of extraordinary quality. The festival has been under the direction of Artistic Director and renowned pianist David Deveau since 1995. Chamber Music – the foundation on which Rockport Music’s rich [continued]

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Historic Concert at Methuen Music Hall


The Harvard Musical Association collaborated with The Methuen Memorial Music Hall Association on the re-enactment of the Inauguration of the Great Organ at the Boston Music Hall. (The organ was moved to the Methuen Memorial Music Hall in 1909.) Organists Peter Sykes, Sandra Soderlund, Mark Dwyer, and Brian Jones played the original program of works by Bach, Palestrina, Handel, Lefébure-Wély, Paine, Purcell, and Mendelssohn. An addition was the world premiere of a new work, Odyssey, written for the Methuen organ by Herbert Bielawa. click here for review

The Great Organ Now In Methuen

In April, 1851, Harvard Musical Association issued a circular soliciting from the public and its membership commitments of funds to build a grand music hall seating 3,000 people. Sixty days later, $100,000 had been raised— much from the HMA Directors and members. The Boston Music Hall opened on November 20, 1853 with a miscellaneous benefit concert dedicated to raising monies for a Great Organ.

Jabez Baxter Upham, president of the Boston Music Hall Association and Treasurer of the Harvard Musical Association, spent the next several years campaigning on behalf of acquiring “the greatest organ in America” for the Boston Music Hall. His exploratory trips to Europe convinced him that the firm of E. F. Walcker of the Kingdom of Wurtemberg should build the great instrument. The firm, Herter Brothers of New York, was chosen to construct the heroic and magnificent casework of American Walnut.

On November 2, 1863, the largest organ in America was introduced to the press and public in one of the the greatest musical media events of 19thcentury Boston. This is the account from Dwight’s Journal of Music: [continued]


Dissertations on Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Ives’s Fourth Symphony


These two works, performed in early March 2009 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Alan Gilbert, elicited these observations by musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto.

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

A rhapsody, says the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a composition of irregular form and often improvisatory character,” a convenient definition especially when the composer isn’t certain what else to call a composition. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies are mostly sectional, with the sections unrelated to each other; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has one or two themes that return repeatedly but are sparingly developed; and even the second scene of Berg’s Wozzeck, which depends on dramatic progression, was called by him a “rhapsody on three chords.” Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is more highly structured and formally economical than the title would indicate. It consists of 24 variations, some of them freely expanded into cadenzas, but with an overall layout roughly corresponding to a three-movements-in-one form, fast-slow-fast. The theme from Paganini’s 24th Caprice was the springboard for one of Liszt’s Grand Etudes (No. 5), as well as for virtuoso variation sets by Schumann and Brahms and, in our own time, by Lutoslawski; but Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody has always been the best known of all of these, and, of all of his works for piano and orchestra, the most grateful to play. It may not be as popular with the public as the immortal Second Concerto, but neither is it as grandiose and bombastic. I’m looking at the performance history, too. Rachmaninoff played the premiere of the Rhapsody in Baltimore in 1934, and the Boston premieres in 1937 with Koussevitzky. (I remember that Rachmaninoff twice was offered, and twice refused, the directorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.) I grew up with a recording of the Rhapsody played by Julius Katchen and the London Philharmonic under Sir Adrian Boult, and I never heard a better one; but Tuesday’s performance at the Boston Symphony under Guest Conductor Alan Gilbert was certainly of that caliber. [continued]

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Musing on Mozart and Studying with Boulanger


Lee Eiseman, program chair of Harvard Musical Association, conceived of this publication, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as the reincarnation of Dwight’s Musical Journal, published by John Sullivan Dwight with the support of HMA for 35 years -from 1852 until 1881.

Robert D. Levin, a world-wide acclaimed classical performer, composer, and musicologist, is Dwight P. Robinson Professor of Humanities in the Music Department of Harvard University. At a recent meeting with Eiseman, executive editor Bettina A. Norton, and musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto, Levin commented on the role of the Intelligencer.

When I once visited a high school in Laguna Beach to talk about music education, I met a Chinese gentleman, a Mr. Chang I think was his name, and he ran a band program at the school. But they had abolished the string program!

Eiseman: Well, the bands are for marching with the football team.

Levin: Of course. So, they had abolished the string program, and I got up there in front of everybody and I said, “The string program is the soul of the place. The brass players who play in the band love to play in the band, but, BOY! do they love to play Wagner – and they love to play these big romantic symphonies, the Dvorak symphonies, and Tchaikovsky, and stuff like that. If you really want to see fire in their eyes, that’s what you gotta have, but you can’t do that without wind players and especially string players… this is the essence of the whole thing.”  I left the next morning and went up to Northern California to address another school.  Then I flew home, and about three days later, I got a call from the superintendent. He said, “You know something? The next morning, a couple came in to my office and gave me a check for $10,000 for a string program.”  There is a saying that all politics are local. It made me think that maybe it would be more important to go around to these high schools than to play with the great orchestras of the world.

When I was in high school I played in the band…. Anyway, these things can be done. I believe the educators want to do this. The problem is they do not have funding for anything.

Eiseman: In that sense, it’s a luxury, because it happens only if a private donor comes in and offers to pay for it.

Levin: That’s what has happens in our free enterprise non-regulated system gone mad. People are starting to talk about the fact that the American infrastructure is going to hell. You go to China and everything is new. You go to East Germany, whose infrastructure was neglected under Communism and but totally rebuilt after reunification, with gleaming highways and high-speed rail and a brand new telecommunications system, whereas the overpass at Sullivan Square was torn down because it had rusted to pieces, and a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. And we’ve got the still-unaddressed consequences of Katrina. [continued]


Who cares if classical music dies? Is it the canary in the coal mine?


Lee Eiseman, program chair of Harvard Musical Association, conceived of this publication, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as the reincarnation of Dwight’s Musical Journal, published by John Sullivan Dwight with the support of HMA for 35 years -from 1852 until 1881.

Robert D. Levin, a world-wide acclaimed classical performer, composer, and musicologist, is Dwight P. Robinson Professor of Humanities in the Music Department of Harvard University. At a recent meeting with Eiseman, executive editor Bettina A. Norton, and musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto, Levin commented on the role of the Intelligencer.

Eiseman: Presuming that there is such a thing as musical intelligence in Boston, I wonder whether musical intelligence and musical instruction have been in a steady state of decline for the past 200 years. I wonder if the dead-cat bounce has occurred yet. The Puritans required every pupil in the public schools  to learn the equivalent of solfège so that they could chant the Psalms. And by 1880, according to John Sullivan Dwight, there was still enough interest in the subject to provoke a debate about fixed or moveable Do in musical instruction in the Boston Public Schools.

Levin: A guest teacher tried to teach me moveable Do in the third grade, and I got into a knock-down drag-out fight with her. …Well, I was eight years old. I had no idea what movable Do was, but I thought it was absolutely the biggest crock that you could ever imagine. She chalked an A major scale up on the blackboard and wrote Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. I exclaimed, “No no no; that’s La Ti Do Re Mi Fa Sol La!” She said, “What are you talking about?” And my homeroom teacher rejoined, “Bobby, just let her teach what she wants to teach and keep quiet!” [continued]


The Rite of Spring: Confronting the Score


Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is 95 years old this year and is still fresh. And, sometimes, still controversial. I remember that when Pierre Monteux, who had conducted the riotous premiere in Paris in 1913, conducted it again with the Boston Symphony in 1957, 200 people walked out. Ten years later I heard it played by [continued]


Notes on Korngold’s Quartet No. 3


Hollywood was a magnet for musicians in the decade of the 1930s. Developments in the new art of sound-film moved quickly; in the world-wide Depression the film industry was rolling in money, constantly developing new technologies and attracting new creative talent. Then, in 1933, came the expulsion of Europe’s Jewish, modernistic, or otherwise subversive musicians by a dictator whose ideas about music were a particularly strong part of his monomania. Composers fleeing Hitler from not only Germany (where their music was banned immediately in 1933) but from other countries falling under Nazi dominance, came together in the fascinating and often frustrating atmosphere of Hollywood, where music was too often treated with disdain. The question for each European composer who worked in the film industry was how to retrieve his own soul after selling it. How would he be able to return to composing the music he felt was inhim to write “for himself”?

The Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was recognized for his remarkable musical gifts when he was a child by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Forced as a prodigy by his formidable father, music critic Julius Korngold, young Korngold was an internationally acclaimed composer of operas from the age of 18. In Hollywood in 1934, for an assignment at the request of Max Reinhardt, the famous Austrian theater producer and director, Korngold took to film scoring as if he were composing opera and later said so: “Just as I do for the operatic stage, I try to invent for the motion picture dramatically melodious music with symphonic development and variation of the themes.” Although he had no previous experience in this field, so keen were Korngold’s dramatic ideas that Reinhardt declared, “If he were not the great musician that he is, he would become a great dramaturg.” The Warner Brothers studio paid Korngold more than any other film composer, allowed him fewer assignments, and gave him the extraordinary privilege of asking producers for changes in their film footage. His name appeared as prominently in the screen credits as the film director’s name. His film fans became so numerous they formed clubs. [continued]

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