WRTI Spotlight
12:58 pm
Wed June 11, 2008

<em>Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection</em> on Saturday, June 14: Latin American Music - Acquisitions During the WPA Years

Join Discoveries Host Kile Smith from 5 to 6 pm for a program showcasing music by Latin American composers, many of whose works were acquired by Fleisher during the WPA years of 1935 to 1943. Guest will be Gary Galv?n, a classical guitarist, musicologist, and an expert in the history of the WPA music projects. Music by Carlos L?pez Buchardo, Silvestre Revueltas, Alejandro Garc?a Caturla, and Mozart Camargo Guarnieri.

While it may not be as dramatic as the Vulcan proverb averring "Only Nixon could go to China," still, in the border-land between the incredible and the obvious stands the startling fact that, while the world flailed in a war that would at any moment engulf the U.S., a Soviet-?migr?-turned-American-citizen traveled from Boston to Latin America solely for the purpose of collecting orchestral scores for the Philadelphia collection of a Russian-American philanthropist. How on earth did this happen?

In January 1941, Fleisher Collection Curator Arthur Cohn heard Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995; yes, those dates are correct) lecture on contemporary music at the Curtis Institute. This was just after Edwin Fleisher had mentioned to Cohn that he'd like to collect "some Mexican music" to fill a gap in what was already the world's largest collection of orchestral music. After hearing the lecture and being impressed by the man, Cohn discussed Fleisher's wish with Slonimsky, who asked, "Why don't you get all of Latin American music?" This bold request Cohn referred to Fleisher, who saw at once the opportunity to be grasped, and the man to do the grasping.

So Fleisher bankrolled the entire trip of Slonimsky, a conductor who would become famous as a musical lexicographer, to the countries of Central and South America in the fall of 1941, just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the U.S. into World War II. Its two results were a small mountain of scores mined and freighted to the Free Library of Philadelphia, and one book, Music of Latin America, penned by Slonimsky.

Gary Galv?n, an expert on the history of the WPA music project (1935-1943) in Philadelphia, joins us in the studio to convey the importance of that trip and the entire music project. Staff microfilmed or copied by photostat all of the Latin American scores, then returned the originals to their owners. A team of copyists extracted parts for about half of them before the project was disbanded at the height of the war.

We listen to four fascinating pieces out of the hundreds collected on this trip. Dr. Galv?n walks us around the music and composers, giving us a peek into the thousands of letters he's sifted and catalogued at Fleisher. And we acquire a renewed appreciation for the giants behind and in front of the scenes--Fleisher, Cohn, Slonimsky--who energized culture in a time of war, at the same time crossing border-lands to make friends in distant countries. Even a Vulcan, perhaps, would be tempted to smile.

Listen to Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on *Saturday, June 14 from 5 to 6 pm.
Listen online on Wednesday, June 18 from 7 to 8 pm on WRTI's classical stream or on air on WRTI-HD2. *Special date.

More Information:

Kile Smith's Website