About this Recording
8.557932-33 - FUCHS, L.: Complete Music for Unaccompanied Viola
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Lillian Fuchs (1902-1995)
Complete Music for Unaccompanied Viola

 

Born on 18 November 1902, Lillian Fuchs began her musical life as a pianist. Her parents, Kate and Philip Fuchs, were music-lovers and it seems that her father, a self-taught amateur violinist, taught local children the violin. Inspired by their example, her elder brother, Harry, took up the cello, to become a long-time member of the Cleveland Orchestra, and her brother Joseph turned to the violin, becoming a well-known violinist and a teacher at the Juilliard School. Lillian, who served as accompanist to her brother Joseph, wanted to learn the violin and studied with Louis Svecenski and Franz Kneisel at the New York Institute of Musical Art, now the Juilliard School, taking composition lessons with Percy Goetschius and graduating with awards in composition and in the violin.

Lillian Fuchs made her début in 1926 as a violinist, but soon afterwards began playing the viola, becoming a member of the Perolé String Quartet from 1925 to the mid-1940s. She toured as a soloist in Europe and the United States and performed chamber music, often with her brothers. In the 1940s Joseph Fuchs founded the Musicians Guild in New York City, of which he, Lillian, Leo Schmitt, Leonard Rose, Frank Sheridan and the Kito Quartet were members. They performed extensively at New York Town Hall and held an important place in the musical life of New York for many seasons.

In 1953 Lillian Fuchs appeared as a soloist at the Casals Festival at Prades, and over the years appeared as a soloist and taught at the summer festivals of Aspen, Colorado, Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, and at Banff, in Canada. Teaching was always important to her and she taught at some of the leading conservatories in America, including the Manhattan School of Music, the Juilliard School and the Mannes College of Music.

Less familiar are the compositions of Lillian Fuchs. An important element in the technical training of violists is found in three sets of works for unaccompanied viola, Twelve Caprices (1950), Sixteen Fantasy Etudes (1959) and Fifteen Characteristic Studies (1965). In 1956 she wrote her Sonata Pastorale for unaccompanied viola. Other published works include Jota and Caprice Fantastique for violin and piano. She also wrote for her brother Joseph piano accompaniments to the Paganini Caprices.

In addition to her own compositions Lillian Fuchs also inspired works from other composers. Bohuslav Martinů was so impressed by her performance with Joseph Fuchs of Mozart's Duos for violin and viola that he wrote for them his Madrigals for the same instruments. In 1955 he also wrote a Sonata for viola and piano, and in the same year Jacques de Menasce also wrote a Viola Sonata for her. In 1957 Quincy Porter wrote a Duo for viola and harp and in 1962 a Duo for violin and viola, and in 1973 Vittorio Rieti wrote a Triple Concerto for violin, viola, piano and orchestra. All these works were written for Lillian Fuchs or her brother. Their recordings include Mozart's Duos and Sinfonia Concertante, and on her own, a viola version of Bach's Suites for unaccompanied cello. On these and other recordings her Gasparo da Salò viola may be heard, an instrument that had once belonged to her teacher Louis Svecenski, the violist of the Kneisel Quartet, and that is played by her granddaughter, Jeanne Mallow, on the present recording.

Lillian Fuchs's Twelve Caprices for Viola was published in 1950. Conceived as a means of tackling technical difficulties that she encountered as a player, she later explained the purpose behind the caprices, the first focusing attention on various technical points of use to the player. Much praised by critics and teachers, the caprices combine technical study with musical content. She followed this first set of studies with two further sets of études, Sixteen Fantasy Etudes tackling moderate difficulties and the last set, Fifteen Characteristic Studies, the easiest of the three. In all these she set out to offer music of practical use for a viola-player, dealing with problems peculiar to the instrument, rather than following the common practice of adapting violin studies for the viola.

The Sonata Pastorale had its première in 1953. It is the only work that she wrote specifically for concert use and provides an interesting musical pendant to the three books of studies. The title given the sonata, Pastorale, refers specifically to the second of the three movements. The first has the title Fantasia and the third Energico, indicating the scope of the work, which forms an interesting element in solo viola repertoire.

Jeanne Mallow

 

The above note is based on biographical information from the violist Sandra Robbins, former pupil of Lillian Fuchs. The writer is also indebted to Lillian Fuchs, first lady of the viola by Amédée Daryl Williams (Edwin Mellen Press, 1994), to which the reader is referred for a much fuller account of her life and work.

 


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