Maud Powell: An American Legend
Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Ingram Auditorium at Brevard College
BEACH Violin Romance
BRAHMS Violin Sonata No. 3
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR / POWELL Deep River
MENDELSSOHN String Quintet No. 1
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BMC celebrates the life and legacy of violinist Maud Powell on the 150th anniversary of her birth. The first American-born virtuoso was recognized as ''the most powerful force for musical advancement in America" during her lifetime. Her life was dedicated to her violin, to music, and to humanity. Her artistry set a standard for all the world to follow. BMC wishes to thank the Maud Powell Society for their enthusiastic participation in this concert.
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Maud Powell (1867-1920): An American Legend
The art of violin playing was about to be revolutionized when Maud Powell stepped into the Victor recording studio for the first time in 1904. The unparalleled standard for violin performance that Powell engraved on the spinning wax ushered in the modern age of violin playing and marked the historic marriage of recording technology to the highest achievement in violin playing.
The Victor Company's choice of Maud Powell to be the first solo instrumentalist to record for its newly inaugurated celebrity artist series (Red Seal label) was no surprise. Maud Powell was internationally recognized as America's greatest violinist who easily ranked among the supreme violinists of the time—Joseph Joachim, Eugène Ysaÿe, and later, Fritz Kreisler. A popular favorite as well, she won the affection of the American public with her unabashed enthusiasm for the violin.
This opening of Karen Shaffer’s article on Maud Powell’s achievement highlights her pioneering role as a ''recording artist.'' In 2014, The Recording Academy bestowed posthumously the 2014 Grammy Special Merit Award for Lifetime Achievement on this extraordinary artist. 2017 marks her 150th birthday.
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
It is only fitting to open tonight’s program with a work by another American musical pioneer whose 150th birthday is also celebrated this year. The Violin Romance is one of many works written for Maud Powell. They premiered the work together at the 1893 Women’s Musical Congress. It was Beach’s first published chamber work and as such betrays her stylistic roots in the German romanticism of Brahms. Her keen sense for creating sublime melodies, however, is already on display—beginning with a stunning 25-measure opening phrase presented by the violin.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Premiered on December 22, 1888, in Budapest with Jenõ Hubay on violin and the composer at the piano.
This Brahms Sonata was often on Powell’s recital program, including on November 27, 1919, when she collapsed at the end of the program—after she had placed her violin on the piano! As Brahms’s last Violin Sonata, it represents his late style, which is characterized by extreme concision and clarity of thought. Despite the ''extra'' fourth movement, the third sonata is not any longer than the previous two.
Brahms’s three Violin Sonatas and his Violin Concerto were written for and strongly influenced by violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim. As it turns out, Powell studied with Joachim in Berlin in 1884, which surely offered her great insights into the music of Brahms.
Deep River (arr. Powell)
Powell recorded her arrangement of Deep River on June 15, 1911. The composer had dedicated the song to her. She often included the work on her recitals, making it the first time a white, classically trained musician performed an African-American spiritual. Showing her awareness of racial issues, Powell acknowledged that ''under her white hand this music is a poor imitation of an actual spiritual.'' Deep River would remain one of her favorite recordings, because ''it’s a real American tune.''
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18
Writing a polished string quintet at the age of 17 would be a major accomplishment for just about anyone. For Mendelssohn, however, it was just another day at the office. Having already composed a true masterwork with his progressive Octet, Mendelssohn now tried his hand at something more traditional.
The outcome is a work that reflects the enthusiasm of a teenager with the polish of a seasoned musician. The most striking element of this work is the extensive use of counterpoint (two more lines moving independently), which pervades the otherwise conventional movement structure. He had initially composed a minuet and trio that not only employed extremely complex counterpoint, but the trio was organized as a double canon, which was then inverted. He eventually realized that his enthusiasm for counterpoint had gotten the better of him and replaced the minuet with an intermezzo. His ''teenage enthusiasm'' can nevertheless be found in other ways—such as the scherzo-like intrusion (in the wrong key) at the end of the first movement’s exposition.
- Siegwart Reichwald