52_At My Sweet Recall-COVER At My Sweet Recall: The Letters of Edward Johnson and Beatriz d’Arneiro (1906 – 1908)

edited by Gloria Dent

572 pages, photos; $45.00

 

This extraordinary volume of letters was given a dramatic debut when Canadian tenor Ben Heppner and actress Barbara Budd read from it at the recital Heppner gave for Stratford Summer Music this past July. Heppner’s recital, a tribute to the legendary Canadian tenor Edward Johnson, was called Edward and Beatriz: A Love Story, and the letters were written between Johnson and his wife-to-be, Beatriz d’Arneiro.

When they met, Johnson was a twenty-eight year-old singer from Guelph, Ontario making his first visit to Paris. D’Arneiro was an aristocratic Portuguese pianist, seven years older, who was living there. After Johnson returned to North America to pursue his career, their already intense relationship continued to develop through these letters.

In her letters, d’Arneiro writes things like, “To live like I am living, it is better to die.” She constantly demands greater emotional commitment – and more frequent letters. “Why should I count on hearing from you regularly? Why should I count on anything at all in life?” But she never forgets her new role as his vocal coach, writing, “Remember all my instructions about your voice.” She even calls herself his “spiritual mother.”

Johnson does bristle. He writes, “You have “roasted” me, my work, the music, the public, the company I am associated with, everything! Why?” But he nonetheless thrives on her rigorous musical regime, writing, “You were a God-send to me this summer. What I have accomplished!... And you were at the bottom of it.” Her devotion also seems to work its charms. Just three weeks after they meet, he writes, “It makes me feel badly that you are unhappy and I would so love to see you happy.” And later, “You are my main stay and strength.”

Dent, a historian and musician, sets the stage for each step in their relationship with brief commentaries. She identifies the many notable characters who appear in these pages, like tenor Enrico Caruso, composer Franco Alfano, Guelph poet John McCrae, who wrote “In Flanders Fields, and pianist Artur Schnabel, who d’Arneiro inexplicably calls “a piece of inflated conceit”. In an epilogue, Dent tells how d’Arneiro died just ten years after they married. Johnson never remarried. Right up until his death in 1959 he continued to credit her with his many successes.

Since being quoted in Ruby Mercer’s 1976 biography of Johnson, The Tenor of His Time, these letters had lain in the archives of the Edward Johnson Foundation in Guelph until Dent discovered them. She has done a remarkable job of compiling and editing them, though I did find the eccentrically organized index confusing to use. Not only do these letters make compelling reading, but they can now claim their rightful place as a significant chapter in the history of Canadian music.

52_Music and SentimentMusic and Sentiment

by Charles Rosen

Yale University Press

156 pages, score excerpts; $24.00 US

 

Many performers write well, and a number of writers on music play an instrument well. But I can’t think of a musician as accomplished as pianist Charles Rosen who writes about music as brilliantly as he does.

In Music and Sentiment, Rosen takes an exhilarating look at the ways composers represent feelings, and how what they do can both move us – and delight us – so deeply.

This book started life as a series of lectures. I don’t know whether it’s Rosen’s oratorical skills, his special insights as a virtuoso performer, or simply his way with words, but he manages to conjure up a story-line as absorbing as that of a powerful novel, with the hint of a resolution in the end. Not that he would – or even could – offer a “special code” for relating a composer’s score to specific sentiments. “Any theme,” he writes, “can be given whatever emotional significance the composer chooses if he knows how to go about it.” In one of his many examples, he points out that “Liszt, in his Sonata for piano, can make any one of his motifs sound successively diabolical, amorous, religioso, majestic, transcendent, or what you will.”

Rosen is a passionate advocate for modern music. But by the time he reaches the end of the 20th century, he sees various dogmatisms competing against each other. “A representation of sentiment,” he observes, “is not equally efficient in all of these rival trends.” Among those trends he considers less efficient, he targets in particular neo-tonal music. Because of its “understandable delight in using perfect triads”, he finds, “all large-scale richness of expressive tension has been drained away.”

Despite his disclaimer at the beginning that “understanding music in the most basic sense simply means enjoying it when you hear it,” Rosen makes a persuasive case for learning more about the basic materials of music. The more we understand how music works, the more we appreciate it – and the more moved and delighted we can be by it.

52_Gann, No Such Thing as Silence No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33”

by Kyle Gann

Yale University Press

268 pages, photos; $24.00 US

 

At the premiere of John Cage’s controversial 4’33” at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York, pianist David Tudor sat at a piano with the piano lid closed for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. He touched the instrument only to open and close the lid between each of the three moments. The performance created an uproar. Two years later, at the first New York performance in 1954, Cage’s own mother asked composer Earle Brown, whose work was also on the program, “Don’t you think that John has gone too far this time?” But today, as Kyle Gann shows in his thoughtful look at the backround of this ground-breaking work, it has become not just a repertoire staple but a cultural emblem. It has even been recorded numerous times.

Gann quotes a letter Cage wrote to publisher Helen Wolff, whose son, composer Christian Wolff, also had a piece on the Woodstock program. Cage writes, “The piece is not actually silent ... it is full of sounds, but sounds which I did not think of beforehand.” Audience members – through the incidental noises they make in response to the piece – become part of the composition.

By examining the ideas that influenced Cage in 4’33”, not just from music but also from the visual arts, dance, philosophy and religion, Gann shows how Cage came to write this work. Gann emphasizes that it put Cage ‘in on the ground floor as an innovator”. But in fact, when Cage wrote this piece, he was already well-known as the inventor of the prepared piano – though he hadn’t yet developed his chance techniques.

When it comes to looking at the ways 4’33” influenced the culture of our time, Gann discusses the work of composers like Canadian R. Murray Schafer, whom he calls “the so-called father of acoustic ecology.” But he could have expanded his discussion to include all the creative arts and philosophy, since Cage’s influence ranges widely.

I enjoyed the way Gann, a composer and critic, considers his own experiences with Cage’s music, which started when he performed 4’33” in his high school piano recital. Part of the charm of this elegant book lies in his ability to show how Cage’s landmark work blurred the distinction between art and life, opening up new worlds of sound for him as well as for so many listeners.

@thewholenote.com.

51_working_with_bernstein_coverWorking with Bernstein
by Jack Gottlieb
Amadeus Press
383 pages, photos; $24.99 US

“Is this book biased? You bet it is!” writes Jack Gottlieb in this memoir of his years spent working with Leonard Bernstein. As Bernstein’s assistant, on and off,  from 1958 until his death in 1990, Gottlieb worked on Bernstein’s concerts, scripts, program notes, orchestrations, recordings, compositions and  books, and picked up his laundry.

Gottlieb is candid about Bernstein’s always spontaneous, frequently volatile and sometimes shameless behaviour. Gottlieb describes LB, as he refers to him throughout this wonderful “grab-bag” of a memoir, as “passionate, profligate, overextending himself, taxing his associates.” One of Gottlieb’s diary entries reads, “Later LB upsets me by saying I’m a disappointment.” But he remains fiercely loyal to the man and his music. In fact, Gottlieb heads up the Leonard Bernstein Office today.

He creates a portrait of Bernstein in all his genius, exuberance, and irrepressible energy. Bernstein was driven by what Gottlieb calls “a burning need to communicate,” and Gottlieb covers the full range of his remarkably versatile accomplishments as a composer for Broadway, the concert hall and the opera house, conductor, pianist and even lyricist.

Everyone who ever met Bernstein, it seems, has a story. Even the FBI has their own dossier, because of his notorious political activity. But nobody’s anecdotes are funnier or more revealing than Gottlieb’s. Clearly his ability to appreciate the wry side of situations helped him survive an intense working relationship with a very complex man.

Gottlieb, a composer himself, includes his own program notes for many of Bernstein’s works. In their clarity and commitment to Bernstein’s own method of using purely musical values rather than programmatic references to talk about music, they promote appreciation of lesser known works like Gottlieb’s favourite, The Dybbuk, as well as under-estimated late works like Arias and Barcarolles and A Quiet Place.

Gottlieb provides the full text of the notorious yet misunderstood disclaimer Bernstein addressed to New York Philharmonic  audiences in 1962 before conducting Glenn Gould in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D-. “I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist’s wholly new and incompatible concept,” Bernstein said, in part, “and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould.” At the same time, Gottlieb provides a look behind the scenes before the concert as Gould, who Gottlieb describes as “a luminous pianist but quite messy about his appearance”, gets a haircut and grooming from Bernstein’s wife, Felicia, at the Bernstein apartment.

Given that Bernstein never, unfortunately, wrote his own memoirs, this contribution from such an observant, witty and loving associate – and his collection of personal  snapshots - is all the more treasurable.

 

Fanny Hensel: The Other Mendelssohn
by R. Larry Todd
Oxford University Press
454 pages, illustrations & musical examples; $49.50

IN 1842, FELIX Mendelssohn was received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Buckingham Palace. After he performed for them on the piano, the Queen chose a song from his Op. 9 collection, “Italien,” for him to accompany her. “I was obliged,” he wrote in a letter home – quoted by R. Larry Todd in this fascinating biography of Mendelssohn’s older sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel – “to confess that Fanny had written the song (which I found very hard, but pride must have a fall).”

Hensel wrote over 400 works, including songs, piano pieces, cantatas, concert arias, and a major string quartet. Yet few were published in her lifetime, even fewer under her own name. Performances were just as rare. It’s a situation that Larry Todd calls “one of the great injustices of music history,” though it is beginning to change, with publication and performances of her music, as well as excellent recordings like Toronto pianist Heather Schmidt’s recent disc.

As Todd explains, Hensel’s career as a concert pianist, conductor and composer could only be pursued in private, as an “ornament” to her life. It wasn’t just because she was a woman, but more because she was a wealthy upper-class woman – unlike, for instance, her friend Clara Schumann. Even Mendelssohn, who encouraged her composing, dissuaded her from publishing her music under her own name.

Hensel had a devoted and supportive husband, the painter and poet Wilhelm Hensel, and a loving son, named Sebastian Ludwig Felix after her three favourite composers. But her “symbiotic” relationship with her brother was the most complicated and significant one in her life. In 1847, at age 41, she died suddenly from a stroke. Six months later, Mendelssohn too died in the same way.

Todd, who teaches at Duke University, has specialized insight into Hensel and her extraordinary family, as well as the period, having written a major biography of Mendelssohn. The best thing about his book is the sensitive, meticulous way he looks at Hensel’s music and describes her distinctively imaginative and adventurous voice, making a persuasive case for it to be heard more frequently.

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