1919 Presentation

I’m almost back home, waiting to board my flight to Atlanta after what was a surprisingly comfortable flight across the Atlantic. I was able to upgrade to an Economy Comfort seat (yay airline status!!), and was lucky enough to get an exit row window with tons of leg room, a wall to rest my head against, and a tiny neighbor. I slept a few hours and was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to learn we only had 2.5 hours left in the flight. I am definitely tired, but I feel somewhat human, which is more than I can say for how I felt when I woke up this morning!

The Viola Congress was really special. There were some really unique presentations and projects, and even though I am exhausted and viola-ed out, I am also invigorated and excited about new projects and the next Congress, which will be in Poznań, Poland at the end of September 2019. This works out REALLY well for the 1919 project on which I collaborated with Daphne Gerling, Hillary Herndon, Andrew Braddock, Bernadette Lo, and David Bynog. See, if you’re a violist, you probably know that the Rebecca Clarke Sonata and the Ernst Bloch Suite were tied for first place in a composition competition held in 1919. But do you know anything about that competition or why is came to pass?

Here’s a super watered-down version: The competition was the project of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a rich patroness of the arts. She held ten Berkshire Festivals between 1918 and 1938, through which many important works were composed. For the 1919 competition, entries were for Viola and Piano. Coolidge cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of Bloch’s Suite, thinking a man’s win would likely cause her competition to be taken more seriously than if a woman’s piece won. Sigh. But that was nearly 100 years ago, and the Clarke Sonata has certainly passed the test of time.

So, on September 25th, 1919, the Bloch and Clarke joined the viola repertoire. But what about the other entries to the competition? A total of 72 pieces were entered, and for the past several years, members of our team have been researching other possible entries (I have not done any of this research myself). All pieces were submitted anonymously, so there is some serious sleuthing required. At this point, a bunch of pieces have been discovered and added to the catalogue of possible entries, and what we did in Rotterdam (after talking about Coolidge and the Festival) is play excerpts of 11 of these entries. Some of the pieces are rather terrible, and some are really quite interesting.

I have enjoyed learning this forgotten music, and look forward to performing more (hopefully) on the exact 100-year anniversary of the competition in 1919 in Poznań.

In an interesting twist of fate, the number 1919 kept popping up while in Rotterdam, but I only took this one photo. Fun, huh?

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My flight is getting ready to board, so that’s it for now.

Happy practicing!