Odds and Ends

1. A few years ago, Gloria Coates completed her 13th symphony, and in so doing became the most prolific female symphonist in history, one up on the obscure African-American Julia Perry (1924-79) of Kentucky. Yesterday, Gloria told me she has completed her Symphony No. 15, which ties her with Shostakovich. It will be available on Naxos in a few months. Gloria characteristically does a lot with long, slow string glissandos, often overlaid with tonal passages for a bizarre but gripping effect. I particularly recommend her Symphony No. 4, “Chiaroscuro.”

2. Really odd offerings continue to appear on the International Music Score Library Project. A pianist in Kansas has posted Sonatas Nos. 7 and 8 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. It is enshrined in the literature that Hummel wrote only six piano sonatas, very important and impressive works: the fifth, in F-sharp minor, was considered the most difficult piano work ever written, and Beethoven is supposed to have written his Hammerklavier Sonata in competition with it. Grove Dictionary still lists only six Hummel sonatas, but apparently there are three earlier ones, werke ohne opus, which have been numbered 7, 8, and 9 as coming after his recognized ones – much as the three Bonn sonatas that Beethoven published when he was 12 are enigmatically listed as Nos. 33, 34, and 35 in certain complete editions of the Beethoven sonatas. Very curious. One of my favorite assigments in my “Evolution of the Sonata” class is to give students the first eight measures of Beethoven’s first Bonn sonata (without divulging the author) and have them write the remainder of an exposition, to see whether they can do as well as the prepubescent Beethoven did. Perhaps Hummel’s early sonatas will work as well.

IMSLP also offers some chamber music scores of the short-lived Hermann Goetz (1840-76), whom Bernard Shaw raved about as one of the greatest of 19th-century composers. I don’t quite agree, but I have found Goetz’s music as compelling, overall, as, say, Mendelssohn’s. And I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to look through the two piano concerti (in four movements, like the Brahms No. 2) of the Swedish patriarch Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927). They’re not very good. Stenhammar went through a tremendous style change later in life, and, studying Beethoven and Haydn in detail, became a neoclassicist. I am fond of his admittedly extremely conservative String Quartets Nos. 4 through 6, and I hope those will appear in due course. In any case, IMSLP offers an opportunity to study a much richer and more varied 19th century than one learns about in school.

3. I bought a scanner today, and can now upload as PDFs my scores that only exist in the old obsolete Encore notation program. Accordingly, my Desert Sonata is now available on my web site, where it will soon be joined by my early Disklavier studies, as well as Custer and Sitting Bull. I’m inspired to do this partly by IMSLP. My early scores are available from Frog Peak Music, but I love having 13,000 mp3s on my external hard drive, and I’m enjoying having PDF scores there as well. There’s something about being able to check out a PDF score online before going to the trouble of obtaining it, and I like giving people a chance to do that with my own music.

4. On a completely unrelated political note: There was a wonderfully telling moment in Sara Taylor’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention. She started out saying that, as a deputy assistant to the president, she “took an oath. And I take that oath to the president very seriously.” Senator Leahy was forced to point out to her that the oath she took was not to the president, but to the Constitution. She conceded her error. Doesn’t that just about sum up everything that’s been wrong with the Justice Department?


  1. David Cavlovic says

    Are the other fourteen symphonies by Gloria Coates available on CD?
    If so, that would also be a first.
    IMHO, Fanny Mendelssohn was a more innovative composer than her brother. There is a theory out there (and some say it is truly “out there”) that she in fact wrote most of the Lieder ohne Worte, but both she and her brother felt that they would never be published under her name.
    I also love Clara Schuman’s chamber music.
    As for pre-Beethoven: the second of those Bonn Sonata’s bears a striking similarity to the Pathetique Sonata. I truth, there are six Bonn Sonatas, always called Sonatinas, and the bane (unfortunately) of piano students. But they are great music. It’s time somebody reissued the Jorg Demus (or was it Badura-Skoda? eek. I forgot!) recordings of these works. Even Wilhelm Kempff played the more-substantial ones.
    KG replies: Gloria’s symphonies nos. 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, and 14 are already recorded on Naxos, New World, and CPO – an impressive record (so to speak). How many Americans have seven symphonies available on disc? Of course, saying so elevates the symphony itself, perhaps, to a rather specious supremacy of genre.

  2. says

    Kyle, I agree about the Stenhammar First Concerto. I actually sat through a live performance of the piece at the New Jersey Symphony under Neeme Järvi’s direction, and, although it held my attention, I can’t join Järvi in acclaiming it as a neglected masterpiece. However, I think the Second Concerto is rather fabulous. Give it a second chance!
    KG replies: They do hold the attention, but they’re so formally awkward. What’s sad is that there are no Berwald scores yet at IMSLP, but that’s one ill someone else will have to remedy.

  3. says

    I’ve enjoyed Beethoven’s Sonatina for Mandolin, WoO 43, which I found on IMSLP. Simple harmony, and the themes have a pleasing lyrical sweetness. As a bonus, it has the rhyming title of Sonatine fur die Mandoline.

  4. says

    Agreed about Stenhammer’s Second (the first is a bore). I included the scherzo of the second in one of my compilation cassettes, and people would ask “What *is* that?!”

  5. mclaren says

    Your comment about the Encore musical notation program having gone obsolete raises some uncomfortable questions.
    Right now we’ve got tons of composers banging away at Sibelius and Finale to produce their scores… What happens when these two programs also go obsolete? Suppose you’ve only got a digital score file of your score but you can’t run the notation program any longer — how do you print it out?
    Everyone likes to believe that computer programs are graved in stone, but truth to tell, the rate of change in computer technology exponentiates apace. Larry Polansky over at Frog Peak has remarked on this at length. His solution is to sell xeroxes of the original scores, but what happens when the original score wears out or gets torn and you can’t print another one because the program and OS that created it has become obsolete?
    Windows won’t be around forver. A lot of us are in the process of moving to Ubuntu linux and Lilypond from Windows/Max OS X/Sibelius/Finale. At some point all Windows programs will have to be run by an emulator. And I don’t have to talk about the Apple operating systems. I’m still running system 6.03 on a Mac Plus so I can run a 1987 version of Professional Composer from Mark of the Unicorn because some of my (very early) microtonal polyrhythmic pieces were done in that notation program. I have six Macs (Plus, SE30, Mac II, two Quadra 650s and a Beige Power Mac Tower G3 266) but none of ’em can run Mac OS X. Apple seems to love leaving its users high and dry every 4 or 5 years.
    Is there any sign of a universal notational format? Something similar to the Standard MIDI File format?
    I know we have DARMS, but very few notational programs read or write DARMS, AFAIK. The people who are developed Lilypond on linux are talking about turning it into a universal score format reader and I know there’s a semi-standard format to save Finale scores in, but we need something better than an ad-hoc translator. We need a universal standard here, of the same kind we got with the Standard MIDI File format and Carter Scholz’s standard tuning format. (We still desperately need a multitrack uncompressed audio file format standard, but that’s another story.)
    Is anyone planning to do anything about this mess? Or will entire scores just get lost when the programs which created them no longer run on future operating systems?
    KG replies: Good points. I just assume paper is the only quasi-permanent storage medium.

  6. Richard Kessler says

    Great to see you writing about Gloria Coates. I always loved her work and have remained puzzled over how few people in the US know of her.