The following are program notes that appear in the concert book for Rugged American Elegance for November 4, 2011.
Sonata for Violoncello and Piano
Frederick Shepherd Converse was born in Newton, Massachusetts on January 5, 1871 and died in Westwood, Massachusetts on June 8, 1940.
During his formative years, Converse studied piano, showed an early interest in composition, and entered Harvard (1889-1893) where he studied with John Knowles Paine. After a brief foray into the world of business, he traveled to Munich to continue his musical studies, where he graduated from the Koenigliche Akadamie der Tonkunst with highest honors. Returning to America, Converse and his family eventually moved to a large estate in Westwood, Massachusetts. Converse would become a prominent and highly respected figure in Boston’s musical life for the next four decades.
Converse had a long relationship with the New England Conservatory, serving first as a trustee (an appointment that lasted until his death), then as a teacher (1900-1902 and again 1920-1931), and later Dean of the Faculty (1931-1938). He also taught at Harvard (1903-1907).
Converse was also a leading figure in the creation of the Boston Opera Company (1909-1914), serving on the Board of Directors and as Vice President for all five years. His operas The Sacrifice and The Pipe of Desire were performed by the Company, the latter was also performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910.
Converse wrote music for orchestra, chorus, piano, opera, voice, and chamber ensembles. Included among his output are five symphonies, ten symphonic poems, three string quartets, a piano trio, sonatas for violin, cello, and piano, numerous pieces for chorus, and many art songs.
Converse was one of the last representatives of an American school of composition that had its roots in late German romanticism. Converse’s wife commented that her husband, “always said his work came at the end of an era, that he did not care, because some day his work would be appreciated, that he had had the joy of writing it, and that had made him have a happy life.”
The Sonata for Violoncello and Piano was composed in 1913 and published by the former New England Conservatory Music Store in 1922. The manuscript remains in the collection of NEC.
Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano (1966)
Walter Piston was born on January 20, 1894 in Rockland, Maine, and died on November 12, 1976 in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Piston attended Boston’s Mechanic Arts High School, and earned a degree in painting at Massachusetts Normal Art School (1912-1916). His early years included playing the violin and piano in dance bands and orchestras as well as serving two years in the US Navy Band stationed at MIT during World War I.
After the war, Piston attended Harvard (1920-1924) and was awarded a John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowship upon graduation. He spent the next two years in Paris studying composition and counterpoint with Nadia Boulanger, composition with Paul Dukas, and violin with George Enescu. Upon his return to American, Piston joined the faculty at Harvard where he remained until his retirement in 1960.
During his career, Piston was a highly sought-after composer, receiving commissions from such distinguished ensembles and organizations as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Columbia Broadcasting System, Louisville Philharmonic Society, Juilliard School of Music, and Columbia University’s Alice M. Ditson Fund. His awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, three New York Music Critics Circle Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and eight honorary doctorates.
A highly revered teacher, Piston taught many of the important American composers of the 20th - century, including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Berger, and Elliott Carter. Piston’s three textbooks – Harmony, Counterpoint, and Orchestration – remain admired by students and musicians the world over.
Piston was primarily an instrumental composer. His output includes eight symphonies, concertos for flute, clarinet, violin, and viola, and substantial chamber music, including five string quartets.
The Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano was commissioned in memory of Robert Wurlitzer by his family, and is dedicated to the Balsam-Kroll-Heifitz Trio, who premiered the work on October 10,1966 in Pittsburgh.
Sonata for Violin and Piano
LeRoy Ellsworth Harris was born in Chandler, Oklahoma on February 12, 1898 and died in Santa Monica, California on October 1, 1979.
Harris’ family moved to the San Gabriel Valley, California, in 1903, and in this generally isolated environment, he studied piano with his mother and clarinet in high school. After service in World War I, he attended the University of California, Berkeley (1919), studying sociology, philosophy, history, and economics. He studied composition with Arthur Bliss and Arthur Farwell while in California, and at the suggestion of Aaron Copland, studied in Paris (1926-29) with Nadia Boulanger.
After returning to the United States, Harris’s biggest breakthroughs came with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The BSO premiered Harris’ first three symphonies, the third dating from 1939 practically making Harris a household name.
Additional to his work as a composer, Harris had a distinguished teaching career including positions at Princeton, Cornell, Indiana University, and UCLA. He was an avid proponent of music education, founding the International String Congress to promote string teaching in the United States, as well as composing many works for amateur musicians.
In 1936 Harris married a young pianist Beula Duffey, who Harris convinced to change her name to Johana. Johana Harris became a distinguished concert pianist and longtime faculty member at the Juilliard School. Roy and Johana forged a rich collaboration, promoting American folksong, organizing concerts, and adjudicating at music festivals. He consulted with her about pianistic matters in his pieces, and she premiered most of his works using piano.
Harris wrote over 170 works, including thirteen numbered symphonies, pieces for piano, chorus, band, and various chamber ensembles. In 1942, the Sonata for Violin and Piano was awarded the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Medal for “eminent service to Chamber Music.” Yehudi Menuhin, Josef Gingold, Henri Temianka, Sidney Harth, and Eudice Shapiro are among the distinguished violinists who have programmed it. It was first published as four titled individual pieces: Fantasy, Dance of Spring, Melody, and Toccata. When the sonata was published in its entirety, the titles were dropped. William Kroll and Johana Harris premiered the Sonata for Violin and Piano at the Library of Congress in October 1942.
Piano Trio No. 2 in Bb Major, op. 65
Arthur Foote was born in Salem, Massachusetts on March 5, 1853 and died in Boston on April 8, 1937.
Foote began music studies at age 12 at the newly founded New England Conservatory and studied at Harvard with John Knowles Paine (1870-74). After graduating, and being encouraged to pursue music as a full-time career, he returned to Harvard again in 1875 to continue his studies with Paine. Unique for the time in that his musical training took place exclusively in the United States, Foote received the first Master of Arts degree in music granted by an American university.
Foote was a highly regarded teacher, pianist, organist, and writer. Upon finishing at Harvard, Foote opened a piano teaching studio on Beacon Hill, which he maintained for the next fifty years.
He was a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley (1911) and taught piano at the New England Conservatory (1921-1937). As a pianist Foote appeared regularly in concert, often performing his own chamber music. He was the organist at First Unitarian Church (1878-1910), and was one of the founders of the American Guild of Organists. He contributed essays to music journals, including “Then and Now, Thirty Years of Musical Advance in America” in Etude (1913) and “A Bostonian Remembers” in Musical Quarterly (1937), as well as authoring pedagogical books on harmony, theory, and piano.
A composer firmly positioned in the Romantic tradition, Foote’s catalogue includes works for orchestra, piano, chamber ensembles, voice and choir. Several of his orchestral works were premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including his Suite in E Major, op. 63 (1907/8) which became quite popular during his lifetime. His chamber music, however, brought him the most acclaim, including his Piano Quintet, op. 38, and the Piano Quintet, op. 28.
The Piano Trio No. 2 in Bb Major, op. 65 was composed in 1907-8. Foote and members of the Kneisel Quartet gave the first performance on December 8, 1908 at Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Fenway Court in Boston.