About this Recording
8.559253 - BAUER: Orchestral and Chamber Works
English  German 

Marion Bauer (1882-1955)
A Lament on an African Theme, Op. 20a • Concertino for Oboe, Clarinet and
Strings, Op 32b • Trio Sonata No 1, Op. 40 • Symphonic Suite, Op. 33
Duo for Oboe and Clarinet, Op. 25 • American Youth Concerto, Op. 36

Marion Bauer was something of a Renaissance woman. Her important contributions to American musical life were as a composer, teacher, writer and critic; she was also a great supporter of her contemporaries, and wrote and lectured about their music. She must have been indefatigable.

Bauer was born on the West Coast of America, in Walla Walla, Washington, and studied in New York, Paris and Berlin. She was the first in a long and distinguished line of American composers to learn with Nadia Boulanger; the arrangement was a trade of harmony lessons for English ones. In 1911 she received a seven-year contract from the New York publisher Arthur Schmidt. At that time she wrote songs, piano pieces and chamber music, including Up the Ocklawaha (1913) for the well-known violinist, Maude Powell. Her piano suite From the New Hampshire Woods (1923) was inspired by the beautiful surroundings at the MacDowell Colony, where she spent much time composing and writing.

Bauer’s sister Emilie had been the New York music critic for The Musical Leader, and Marion took this over when Emilie died in 1926. She worked as a reviewer all her life, wrote for journals such as Musical Quarterly, and was the author of several books about music. Her Twentieth Century Music was particularly popular. She joined the faculty of the Music Department at New York University in 1926, and she worked there for 25 years, until 1951. She also taught at the Juilliard School of Music and at several summer schools. An avid supporter of American music, she was a founder member of the American Musical Guild in 1921, and she joined the executive board of the League of Composers in 1926. When Aaron Copland founded the American Composers Alliance in 1937, he invited Bauer to join its Executive Board. In all these positions she was the first or only woman.

Bauer’s parents had French origins and in her studies she was absorbed in French music. This gave her compositions a noticeably impressionistic flavour. Working, however, at a time when composers were searching around for new idioms, she was endlessly experimenting with her style. The result is music in a great range of idioms and moods; sincere and eloquent slow movements are her particular strength.

Bauer sometimes used elements of music from other cultures in works such as Indian Pipes and in A Lament on an African Theme, Op. 20a, of 1927. It originated as the second movement of her String Quartet, Op. 20 (1925). On the manuscript she says in parenthesis “Based on an African Negro Lament”. Martin Bernstein, her colleague at New York University, orchestrated the work (c1935) and gave it its current title. It is a descriptive piece, often with a primitive, elemental atmosphere. The earthy beginning uses modal harmonies to suggest the mist over the African plains. It travels through mysterious, and then agitated sections, leading to a violent climax (marked brutale), and finally sinks back to rest in the earth.

Bauer’s Concertino for oboe, clarinet and strings, Op. 32b, was commissioned by the League of Composers. The music is in a rich late romantic language, with intense harmonies. The opening Allegretto expresses a gentle yearning, and Bauer creates an engaging flexibility from the expressive use of changing bar lengths. A mournful viola solo starts the slow movement; unusual intervals and rhythms create an unsettled, brooding effect. In the Finale a demonic gigue conjures up a goblin dance. Finally, after wind cadenzas, all come together in a declamatory C minor conclusion.

The Trio Sonata No. 1, Op. 40, is the first of two trio sonatas by Bauer; she uses the Baroque title to indicate conversational chamber music. She was probably writing for particular performers. Each movement is highly individual, the first creating a beautiful impressionistic atmosphere, the heartfelt mood of the second deeply moving, while the last romps home with gleeful fun.

Bauer’s family were Jewish. Some of them had moved from Europe to the United States in the nineteenth century, while others stayed in Alsace, and were then slaughtered by the Nazis. The tragic mood of the first movement of her Symphonic Suite of 1940 seems to express her deep sense of loss. An atmosphere of angst is established through unsettling chromatic intervals; the syncopated bass drags its feet in grief. The richly resonant string sonority, the satisfying structure, and the eloquent release at the end make it a very convincing movement. The complex textures of the second movement create a claustrophobic atmosphere, particularly in the troubled, syncopated middle section. The fugue Finale has a Bach-like vigour and rigour, using twentieth-century language. Bauer revels in the discipline of the form, using various techniques such as inversion and augmentation.

Although their names are not known, it is likely that Bauer wrote her Duo for oboe and clarinet, Op. 25, for the same performers as the Concertino. Writing for the spare texture of two single-line instruments is a bold move, and Bauer succeeds impressively, with the music never suggesting the lack of a bass line. Bauer creates continual interest from the dialogue between the oboe and clarinet, within the tradition of French wind writing. The jaunty discussion of the Prelude is contrasted, in the second movement, with each instrument speaking in turn. The third movement has a warm country air, and the final Dance is like a pas de deux, as the two instruments tango together.

The American Youth Concerto, Op. 36, written in 1943, illustrates Bauer’s enthusiasm for musical education, and was written for the High School of Music and Art in New York. The music is unashamedly popular, including a variety of American musical styles. It appeals to teenage taste and is crafted for a talented youth orchestra. Although the language is familiar, Bauer avoids being corny by incorporating quirky turns and unusual harmonies, perhaps like a favourite dish with a dash of lime. The majestic opening unison and grandiose piano arpeggios have Rachmaninov-like qualities; this is cleverly contrasted with an Allegretto march. The luscious Andante has a mixture of impressionistic and bluesy harmonies. As a kind of parade of Americana, the Finale showcases several popular American styles to great effect - a Cakewalk, a Blues and a Hoe-down (with Bauer creating her own unusual take on each), while also including highly effective instrumental writing.

Diana Ambache

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