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8.111219 - WOMEN AT THE PIANO - AN ANTHOLOGY OF HISTORIC PERFORMANCES, Vol. 5 (1923-1955)
English 

Women at the Piano Vol 5
An Anthology of Historic Performances 1923–1955

 

The legend relates that one afternoon while Adam was asleep, Eve, anticipating the Great God Pan, bored some holes in a hollow reed and began to do what is called ‘pick out a tune’. Thereupon Adam spoke: ‘Stop that horrible noise,’ he roared, adding, after a pause, ‘besides which, if anyone’s going to make it, it’s not you but me!’

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), Female Pipings in Eden (1934)

Writing in the 19 October 1935 issue of the Pacific Coast Musician, Frederique Joanne Petrides (1903–1983), stated “Freed from the shackles and tatters of the old tradition and prejudice, American and European women in music are now universally hailed as important factors in the concert and teaching fields and as promising and at the same time fast developing assets in the creative spheres of the profession.” Petrides was a Belgian-born violinist, conductor and outspoken feminist who published a monthly newsletter Women in Music (1935–1940), where, in its pages, the achievements of women musicians, past and present were publicized and celebrated. Over three-quarters of a century later there is no question that career opportunities for women in music have greatly expanded. Although many more articles, books and scholarly publications exist on women’s contributions to music, it is still very difficult to find reliable or complete biographic information on many pioneering women pianists. In this fifth anthology, we profile 22 women pianists, some of whose biographies are sketchy at best. We hope that our efforts will trigger further research and documentation, and that their legacies will receive the attention that they deserve.

Johana Harris was born Beula Duffey in Ottawa, Canada on 31 December 1912. A child prodigy, she played in her first concert at the age of eight, performing concert repertoire and her own compositions. Her early studies were at Ottawa’s Canadian Conservatory of Music with Bertha Laverde Worden and Henry Puddicombe. After turning down a scholarship offered by the Hambourg Conservatory in Toronto, at eleven she travelled to New York to study privately with Ernest Hutcheson. In 1927 she won piano and composition scholarships at The Juilliard School of Music. She studied composition with Rubin Goldmark and became Hutcheson’s teaching assistant and was often heard with him on radio broadcasts on WABC. In 1933 she graduated from Juilliard with distinction. In 1936 she married American composer Roy Harris (1898–1979). Following his recommendation, Beula renamed herself Johana, after JS Bach. During her career Johana Harris made over one hundred recordings, collaborated with Josef Gingold, Yehudi Menuhin, William Primrose and Tommy Dorsey, and the Juilliard School, Walden and Blair Quartets. Composer Alberto Ginastera dedicated his Piano Sonata to her. In 1937 she made the first recording of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, which in 1939 was selected by RCA Victor for New York’s World’s Fair. In the 1950s, Harris’s weekly television broadcast, Master Keys, aired in the United States and Europe. She later performed for Hollywood film and television scores. She taught piano at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) 1969–93. Johana and Roy Harris were a tour de force in American music. Their collaboration has been compared to that of Robert and Clara Schumann. The Harrises organized concerts, adjudicated at festivals, and in 1959 founded the International String Congress. They also promoted American folk-song by including folk-songs in their concerts and broadcasts. Johana Harris died in Los Angeles on 5 June 1995. A frequent radio broadcast pianist, she performed a repertoire that ranged from early music to works of the twentieth century. Harris recorded this Frescobaldi Fugue in G minor [1] in Los Angeles for a transcription service in 1945.

Emma Contestabile was born in 1928 in Bologna, Italy. She studied at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome with Alfredo Casella and Carlo Zecchi, and in Salzburg with Edwin Fischer. She performed widely throughout the world and held a number of teaching posts in Italy, including professor of piano at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. The Chigiana Academy in Siena awards Scholarships funded by Emma Contestabile’s bequest to the Accademia Chigiana, to be allocated in order to launch the best students in their profession. Among the winners of this prestigious prize have been Oscar-winning composer Luis Bacalov, guitarist Oscar Ghiglia, conductor Otto Tausk, composer/producer Gary Marlowe, and harpsichordist Christophe Rousset. Well-known for her insightful interpretations of Haydn’s works, Contestabile also often included early Italian keyboard works as part of her concert programmes. The Galuppi Larghetto e Allegro in C minor (from Sonata in C minor (Pizzi 2; Benvenuti 18)) [2] was recorded in Italy on 3 July 1953.

Denise Lassimonne was born in 1903 in Camberley, Surrey, England, of French parentage. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and also with Tobias Matthay. In 1921, on the death of her father, after already having been a favourite Matthay pupil for some four years, Denise Lassimonne was adopted into the Matthay family. In 1923 she won the Sterndale Bennett Prize. She taught at the Tobias Matthay Pianoforte School and later was Professor of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music where, in 1957, she was made Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music. She sponsored and edited Myra Hess by her friends, a book of affectionate memorial tributes in 1965. In addition to writing several other books, Lassimone also composed. She died on 2 January 1994. Her performance of Mozart’s Fantasia and Fugue in C major K. 394 [3][4] was recorded in London, 13 June 1941.

Dorothea Mendelssohn was born into a family of pianists and music critics in Erlangen, Germany on 22 May 1912. She studied in Berlin with Edwin Fischer. In 1933 musicians with Jewish names were banned from publicly performing in Germany. Dorothea at this time hyphenated her name, using her mother’s and grandmother’s name—Winand. She also married lawyer Dr Otto Schollwoeck. During the war years her performance options were non-existent, despite name changes and her husband’s protection. She taught the piano privately. Among her students were the two brothers, Klaus and Christoph von Dohnányi, both of whom lost their father when he was arrested by the Nazis in April 1943. Reassembling her career after the war, Dorothea Schollwoeck-Winand-Mendelssohn began again concertizing. She appeared with the SWR and HR orchestras conducted by Hans Rosbaud and Otto Matzerath in performances of both of Felix Mendelssohn’s concertos. She also recorded for Deutsche Grammophon (in England her recordings were released on the Decca label). Despite a wide and eclectic repertoire that spanned from Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms to Bartók, it was Mendelssohn’s music Dorothea remained most closely associated with. She died in Frankfurt on 15 January 1997. She recorded Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso in E major, Op 14 [5] in Hanover at the Beethoven-Saal on 16 May 1951.

Tatiana Nikolayeva was born in Bezhitsa, in the Bryansk Oblast of Russia, on 4 May 1924. She began playing at the age of three, taking piano lessons from local teachers. She entered the Moscow Conservatory and studied piano with Alexander Goldenweiser, graduating in 1947. Continuing her composition studies with Evgeny Golubev, she received her post-graduate degree in 1950. In 1950 Nikolayeva gained international prominence by winning the Bach Leipzig Piano competition, part of the bicentennial marking Bach’s death. More importantly, she met Dmitry Shostakovich at the competition, leading to a lifelong friendship and inspiring Shostakovich to compose his 24 Preludes and Fugues (which she recorded three times in her career). In 1959 Nikolayeva became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, later becoming professor in 1965. She made over fifty recordings during her career, notably keyboard works by Bach, including his Art of Fugue, and by Beethoven, but only became widely known in the West late in life. With the fall of Communism, she found herself in demand internationally, making several concert tours to Europe and America. On 13 November 1993, while playing in San Francisco, Nikolayeva was stricken by a cerebral haemorrhage and was unable to complete her performance. She died nine days later, on 22 November. As a composer she wrote expertly for her own instrument, including two piano concertos, a sonata (1949), a set of variations in memory of Myaskovsky (1951), Polyphonic Triad (1949), 24 concert etudes (1953), a symphony (1955), several cantatas, works for chamber ensembles and songs. Although she is regarded as a pre-eminent interpreter of Bach’s and Shostakovich’s piano works, Nikolayeva’s repertoire was large and eclectic (one musicologist went so far as to say “she plays everything!”). Her repertoire included all of Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos, Medtner’s First Piano Concerto, Stravinsky’s Capriccio, and countless works of Prokofiev, Schumann (she received the International Schumann Prize in 1971), Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Popov, Golubev, and, of course, Chopin. Her performance of Chopin’s Introduction and Variations in B flat major, on “Je vends des scapulaires” from Hérold’s Ludovic (1833), Op 12 [6] was recorded in Moscow in 1953.

Etelka Freund was born in 1879. Her brother, Robert Freund (1852–1936) was a student of Moscheles and Liszt, and an important piano teacher at the Conservatory of Zürich (1876–1912). Her talent was recognized at an early age, and from the ages of eleven to fifteen she studied in Budapest with Stefan Thoman, a Liszt pupil who also taught Bartók. When she was sixteen she went to Vienna, where she was to study with Theodor Leschetizky. Perhaps on Brahms’s advice she instead chose to work with Ignaz Brüll and took theory lessons from Eusebius Mandyczewski. During her year in Vienna she spent many hours with Johannes Brahms. Brahms coached her and prevailed on the exclusive Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna that she be elected as a member, despite being a student. After that extraordinary year in Vienna, Freund joined her brother in Zürich for a year of lessons. He suggested she work with Busoni and in 1898, Busoni admitted her to his masterclasses in Weimar and Berlin. She also studied counterpoint and composition with Béla Bartók (1902–03). She was a lifelong friend of his and an inspired interpreter of his music. Freund’s début took place in 1901 with Busoni conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, with Beethoven’s C minor Concerto, and Brahms’s D minor Concerto, soon leading to European tours. In 1910 Freund married and interrupted her concert career to raise two sons. When her husband was forced to retire in 1936, Freund returned to the concert stage, performing in Holland, London and Hungary. Freund emigrated to the United States in 1946 and made her début at Washington’s National Gallery in 1947. Despite critical acclaim, managers and concert venues were unwilling to engage a 68-year-old unknown pianist, and few concert engagements occurred for her in the United States. She performed on radio (some of those recordings have been preserved and reissued) and she remained in top musical form for many more years. She died in Zürich on 27 May 1977. Her insight into Brahms’s music is revealed in her recording made in Mastertone Studios in New York in 1952 of Brahms’s Intermezzo in B flat minor, Op 117, No 2 [7].

Felicitas Karrer was born in Vienna on 26 August 1924. Her father was an enterprising engineer who designed and constructed parking garages in Vienna, including the very first five-storey garage with space for 400 cars. His successes and business acumen allowed his family to live in relative comfort. Karrer began piano studies at the age of five. From 1941 to 1945 she studied with Friedrich Wührer (1900–1975). She participated in various music competitions: Vienna (1948), Paris (1949, Concours Marguerite Long), Geneva (1951), Munich (1952), and Siena (Accademia Chigiana). During her concert career Karrer performed with many distinguished conductors, including Hans Swarowsky, Robert Heger, Paul van Kempen, and Edouard van Remoortel. She appeared in concerts in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Belgium and England. When Remington Records began recording in Vienna, Karrer was asked to join the artist roster in 1950. She recorded the Grieg, Rachmaninov Second and Beethoven’s Emperor Concertos for the label, as well as an entire disc of the solo piano works of Richard Wagner (which received their first commercial recordings). From that recording she performs Wagner’s Albumblatt in E flat major (1875) [8], which she recorded at the Telefunken Dornbach Studio, 12 June 1950.

Eva Wollman was born in Vienna in 1902. She began musical studies at the age of seven with her mother, who was a pianist and teacher herself. Later on she was a pupil of Hedwig Rosenthal-Kanner, who left Vienna for New York in 1938. Wollman continued her studies at the Academy of Music in Vienna, graduating with honours. Her teachers after the Academy studies were Bruno Seidlhofer (Academy Vienna) and Carlo Zecchi, the Italian pianist and conductor (Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome) and Edward Steuermann (Juilliard School, New York). She performed at contemporary musical festivals in Vienna and also with conductors Moralt, Ackermann, Swarowsky, Zecchi, Ettore Gracis, Charles Adler and others. She recorded Tchaikovsky’s June Barcarolle, from “The Seasons”, Op 37, No 6 [9] at the Konzerthaus, Vienna, in 1954.

Little documentation exists on the life and career of our next pianist Denise Herbrecht. What we do know is that she attended the Paris Conservatoire and studied both harp and piano. She received first prize at the Conservatoire in 1924. She left a legacy of 78rpm recordings mostly as accompanying pianist for other musicians (such as cellists Madeleine Marcelli-Herson and Victor Pascal). She also recorded on the harp a variety of pieces, including Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro with a chamber ensemble conducted by Piero Coppola. This is indeed a rare occurrence—an artist who is accomplished on two different instruments and leaves a recorded professional legacy on both instruments. Since there is no recording of Denise Herbrecht playing solo works on the piano, she is presented in this anthology in partnership with her male duo-piano colleague, Lucien Petitjean. He too is somewhat of a mystery. Trained at the Paris Conservatory, where, we surmise, he met Herbrecht, the two of them collaborated in the late 1920s and 1930s in duo piano recitals and also recorded Saint-Saëns’s Wedding Cake Caprice Waltz and Symphony No3 conducted by Piero Coppola, joining organist Alexandre Cellier. The vivacious performance of two of the rarely heard dances, from Nouvelles Danses Espagnoles, Op 65 by Moritz Moszkowski [10][11], which they recorded in Paris in 1930, show them to have been a formidable duo piano team.

Jean Melville was born Eadith Sullivan (distantly related to Arthur Sullivan) in Sydney, Australia in 1899. She began piano studies early and showed enormous talent. She and her family travelled to England where she continued her studies in London with Oscar Beringer at the Royal Academy of Music. Showing a gift for improvisation and a natural feel for performing stylish novelty piano works, Jean Melville embarked on a long and successful career on radio and early film. In the 1930s Jean Melville was on the staff of the BBC as Variety Accompanist. With Herman Darewski and Will Hay she gave one of the earliest broadcasts from Marconi House, but it was not until 1927 that her songs and piano solos were heard on the air. Today, a sampling of her early British Pathé films may be viewed on YouTube. Dance music enthusiasts will recall several of her compositions, such as Moonshine is Better than Sunshine, Just What I Want, and Smile and Whistle a Love Song. Jean Melville died in London in January 1988. She recorded in the 1920s for Edison Bell works by Liszt and the, then popular, now rarely heard, Valse Arabesque, Op 82 by Theodore Lack [12].

Carmen-Marie-Lucie Guilbert was born in Levallois-Perret (a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris), France on 20 May 1906. She attended the Paris Conservatoire, studying first with Joseph Morpain (1873–1961), an important teacher, whose other students included Clara Haskil and Madeleine de Valmalète. He later became the director of the École Normale de Musique. She then continued her studies with Marguerite Long (1874–1966). She was the first pianist to record Gabriel Fauré’s masterpiece Theme and Variations, Op 73. She also recorded works by Debussy and Ravel. Gifted with technique to burn, Guilbert was also comfortable in the jazz and novelty piano world. In 1931 she recorded on a Grotrian-Steinweg concert grand, two “syncopated impressions” (Marigold and Robots) [13][14] by the British composer Billy Mayerl (1902–1959).

Madeleine Grovlez-Fourgeaud was born in Poitiers (a city on the Clain river in west central France) on 2 July 1889. She studied with Isidor Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire, where she received her first medal at the age of eleven and three years later first prize. She married Gabriel Grovlez (1879–1944), composer and conductor of the Paris Opéra (1914–1933). They lived in Paris up on Montmartre way which was described by a New York Times interviewer on 3 September 1922 as follows: “The walls of the music room are gray, with here and there an etching, a brocade; the hangings and carpet are a deep purple, against which two grand pianos make the only outline of furniture. ‘What fun we have had planning it all,’ Mme. Grovlez said. From the windows of the Grovlez apartment may be seen those Oriental domes of Sacré Coeur that mirror the fickle humour of the Parisian sky and seem so naturally to relate themselves to a Celtic race. There, too, are the gray roofs and mushroom growth of slender chimneys. ‘Here I live in an atmosphere completely musical,’ she added. ‘Our friends are musicians and here my husband and I work together; he aids me unspeakably, you know, in my work.’” Madeleine Grovlez appeared in concerts around the world, including three different solo appearances at the Concertgebouw in 1923 and a tour of the United States in 1931–32. She also collaborated in chamber music concerts with Françoise and Madeleine Monnier. With violinist Yvonne Astruc she gave the première of Lennox Berkeley’s First Violin Sonata in 1932. Although it is not clear when she met Alberto Williams (1862–1952), perhaps on one of her tours of South America, he admired her playing and dedicated several piano works to her. Her performances of two Milongas by Alberto Williams: Luciérnagas en laredecilla de mi china, Op 72, No 7 [15] and La milonga del tropero, Op 64, No 8 [16] were recorded on a Grotrian-Steinweg concert grand in Paris in 1929.

Ida-Marie-Louise Périn was born in Meires on 25 September 1906. She studied with Isidor Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire, receiving a first prize at the age of sixteen in 1923. In 1925 she participated in the Saint-Saëns Festival in Paris (the Orchestre Lamoureux was conducted by Paul Paray) playing the Concerto No 2, Op 22. French critic Paul Le Flem wrote: “Ida Périn a joué avec une surprenante autorité le concerto op. 22.” Her first significant solo concert took place on 24 February 1926 at the Salle Erard which received a review by Louis Vuillemin in Paris-Soir: “Ida Périn, l’une des meilleures disciples du Maître Isidore Philipp, joue superbement du piano. Elle a la force et le charme, la claire et exacte comprehension musicale.” Périn also played Saint-Saëns’s C minor Concerto (the fourth) extensively, as well as music by Gabriel Pierné (she participated in the 1930 Pierné festival in Paris). Her 1930 Paris concert elicited the headline in Le Figaro: “Ida Périn: Un nom à retenir (A name to remember).” In 1932 she formed a trio with cellist Fernand Pollain and violinist André Meilhan. In 1933 she won Third Prize at the Liszt International Piano competition, in Budapest. That year’s jury was most impressive: Backhaus, Bartók, Lamond, Cortot, Casella, Fischer, Friedman, Levitzki, Petri, Philipp, Rachmaninov, Rosenthal, Rummel, Sauer, Dohnányi, Pauer, and Tovey. In 1929 she recorded for Pathé on an Erard concert grand two études, from Opus 56 by her teacher Isidor Philipp: Étude de Concert No 2 in D flat major (à Marcelle Herrenschmidt) [17] and Étude de Concert No 1 in F major (à Guiomar Novaés) [18].

Cornelia Rider-Possart was born in Dubuque, Iowa on 14 December 1865. Little information exists on her music studies and early years, although it is clear that she was a very gifted pianist with a flair for adventurous repertoire. She resided in Berlin from 1896–1912. In 1902 she married Hermann Possart, the son of the celebrated German actor and theatre director Ernst von Possart (1841–1921) for whom Richard Strauss composed Enoch Arden. Dr Hermann Possart from 1901–1910 was a respected theatre censor with the Berlin police. In February 1909 Cornelia Rider-Possart performed with the Berlin Philharmonic (conducted by Oscar Fried) the Schumann Concerto and Rubinstein’s Fourth Concerto. In addition to her two concerto performances, Ernst von Possart was the speaker in Max von Schilling’s Kassandra Ballade. When Hermann Possart died in Vevey, Switzerland in 1912, Cornelia returned to the United States, and settled in Los Angeles. She continued an active concert career in Europe after the war, touring in the 1920s Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, Belgium and Italy. Her sister Viola R. Burden lived in Iowa, and Cornelia Rider-Possart maintained a close relationship with the Burden family, often visiting them and attending family events, such as the marriage of her niece, Winifred. Cornelia Rider-Possart died in 1963. The extremely rare recording of Alexander Scriabin’s Étude in F sharp major, Op 42, No 3 (1903) [19] was recorded for the German record label VOX, in Berlin on 19 March 1926. The single sided disc is marked “Unerkäufliche Musterplatte” [sample disc, not for sale] and has a handwritten label. The only other recording of the work on 78s was by Samuel Feinberg on Polydor from 1929. So, Cornelia Rider-Possart’s performance of this Scriabin piece is the very first recording of the work and it does not appear in any discographic reference sources.

Grete Scherzer was born in Wolfsberg, Austria in 1933, and started to play the piano at the age of three. When she was six she gave her first public recital, then took up her studies at the Klagenfurt Conservatoire. At the age of nine she played a Mozart concerto with the Klagenfurt Symphony orchestra and gave broadcasts from Graz. She won a scholarship from Der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, which took her to the State Music Academy, Vienna. When she was fourteen she made her first appearance as soloist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and gave broadcasts from Vienna, Salzburg and Linz. In 1949, at the age of sixteen, she won first prize at the International Schubert Competition, Geneva, being the youngest competitor by far ever to achieve such distinction in an open International competition. In the following year she won the first prize at the Vienna Music Critics’ Competition and made her London début. Later, she was invited to play at The Royal Festival Hall, during the Festival of Britain. In 1957 she married architect and anthroposophist Rex Raab (1914–2004). In the 1950s she made a variety of recordings in London for Parlophone. Her performance of Josef Marx’s Prelude in E flat minor, from Six Piano Pieces (1916) [20] was recorded on 14 March 1951.

Annette Haas-Hamburger was a French concert pianist. Her husband was Professor Jean Hamburger (1909–1992), Member of the Académie Française, and her son was the singer-songwriter Michel Berger (1947–1992), who was married to singer France Gall. Annette Haas-Hamburger was the daughter of a Geneva-based Jewish jeweller who composed and played the violin. Her mother was an accomplished pianist. In her youth, Annette Haas-Hamburger lived upstairs from Poulenc in the same Paris apartment block, and as they were both accomplished pianists, they regularly played together. This connection to Poulenc eventually led to her performing many of his solo piano works and recording his Piano Concerto. She studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Marguerite Long. She was also a soloist at the Concerts Colonne and Concerts Pasdeloup. She frequently appeared in concert with singers Mady Mesplé and Jane Rhodes. At the beginning of the 1950s she founded l’Aurora, an organization for the promotion and discovery of young talents. In 1971 she was one of the founders of Conservatoire Européen de Musique de Paris. She recorded Francis Poulenc’s Humoresque (1934) [21] in France in 1952.

Lenore Caroline Engdahl was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 8 April 1918. Her parents were Swedish immigrants Walfred and Augusta EJ Engdahl. Her first music lessons were with her mother. She then studied at the MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis with Elsie Wolf-Campbell. After two years of serious study she won the Countess Helena Morsztyn Scholarship. A group of far-sighted Twin City music-lovers heard the young pianist and raised a fund that would enable her to continue her studies abroad with the Countess. World War II cut short the trip but not the years of extensive study. She made her New York début on 30 March 1942 at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall. After a much-praised Town Hall début on 22 October 1944 (that featured works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, Kirby, Richter and Pizzetti) she embarked on a series of annual recital tours and appearances with American orchestras. She has known, worked and travelled with such artists as Emery Darcy and Marisa Morel, Maria Carreras, Sigismund Stojowski, Hans Barth, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Bronisław Huberman. Her private “good luck” piece is a dainty handkerchief Paderewski gave his sister, who in turn presented it to Ms Engdahl as a token of her personal esteem and friendship. She resided in Minneapolis (where she taught at the MacPhail School of Music), and divided her time between the piano, concertizing, and raising her three children. She taught at the Boston University School of Music (1972–1983) and privately until 2010. She now resides in Arlington, Massachusetts. During the 1950s she recorded for the MGM label. Engdahl was always interested in unusual repertoire and her recorded legacy includes music by Kabalevsky, Dukas, Franck, Milhaud, Villa-Lobos and Griffes. The Charles Tomlinson Griffes Scherzo, from Fantasy Pieces, Op 6, No 3 [22] was recorded in New York in 1955. The Griffes album was chosen by the New York Times as one of “ten best” piano recordings of 1955.


Marina A. Ledin and Victor Ledin


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