Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection

The first Saturday of each month, 5 to 6 pm

In Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, we uncover the unknown, rediscover the little-known, and take a fresh look at some of the remarkable treasures housed in the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world.

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday Nov. 1st, 2014, 5-6 pm... Let’s face it, the harpsichord is an acquired taste. In popular culture, never helpful for appreciating the fine or unusual, the harpsichord is shorthand for—at best—stuffy, rich, out-of-touch, let-them-eat-cake. That’s at best. At worst, it’s sinister. And that doesn’t even count Lurch on The Addams Family.

The harpsichord is a beautiful instrument that has often been misapplied. It has a delicate, refined sound, yet can help to keep the players onstage together. Indeed, before we stood conductors on their feet in front of everyone, they were often in the middle of the orchestra, seated at and playing the harpsichord.

But placing that plucked keyboard in a large hall with many instruments will bury the sound. We are left to wonder: If we can’t hear it, why is it there? The answer, of course, is that it shouldn’t be. Even large harpsichords need smallish rooms and a modicum of company. Then we can really hear its capacity for nuance and, yes, power.

Johann Sebastian Bach understood this, as he did so many things, and basically invented the harpsichord concerto, mostly for concerts at the local coffee house, Zimmermann’s. But calling them concerts doesn’t quite catch the flavor. Bach ran (along with the music in four churches, a school, and much else in Leipzig) the Collegium Musicum, a student musical group. Bach’s Coffee Cantata, the closest thing to an opera he ever wrote, was probably written for performance here.

Zimmermann’s had two rooms, the largest, about 26’ x 32’, the size of a very ample living room. This is where the harpsichord concertos of Bach were premiered. Newer recordings of Bach take this to heart. We can hear the tang of the strings, the colors of the instruments, the roar of crescendos as cataracts of notes tumble up and down the keyboard.

Since the harpsichord has no sustain pedal like the piano, and since the inner mechanism plucks the strings with the same force regardless of how hard one hits the keys, the only way to make it louder is literally to play more notes at the same time. Listen for this in Bach’s writing, and in these wonderful performances.

Bach cobbled together most of his harpsichord concertos from other works, rewriting other solo concertos into this format. Because some of his sons were still living at home and were excellent keyboardists, they may have played on some of these. The triple concerto (solo harpsichord, flute, and violin with string accompaniment) features the keyboard the most. The two-harpsichord concerto may be the only one that began life as an actual harpsichord piece. For the concerto of a quartet of harpsichords, Bach went not to his own music, but to Vivaldi’s, which he loved and from which he learned so much. It’s a Baroque battle of the bands, with the players trading arpeggios back and forth.

It’s easy to imagine the sheer fun Bach had writing and playing these at Zimmermann’s, alongside students, his sons, and a willing audience of coffee drinkers eager to hear the latest from the Leipzig Kantor. Now there’s a taste we’re happy to acquire.

Bach Old and New

Oct 2, 2014

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, Oct. 4th, 5 to 6 pm. Every generation comes up with new ways to perform Johann Sebastian Bach. This tells us two things. One: Performance practice is as vital and relevant as ever. Rather than imagining forgotten professors paging through dusty tomes, we might envision performers kicking up dust with brilliant concerts of so-old-it’s-new repertoire.

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday September 6th, 5-6 pm...We continue to admire the scope of the Fleisher Collection, with a look at four more works premiered in Philadelphia by the Symphony Club, founded in 1909 by Edwin A. Fleisher. He had traveled throughout Europe to collect all the orchestral scores and parts possible to obtain for his collection, now housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia. A trip for us through three countries provides a good taste.

Anatol Lyadov from Russia and Ernest Chausson from France were both born in 1855 and the works we’ll hear today were composed within a year of each other. In the Ballade (From Olden Times), which Lyadov composed originally for solo piano, he addressed what many other composers were addressing in Russia: music that was specifically, undeniably Russian. Nationalism can have a negative connotation, but the impulse is innocence itself, being the search for your own origin. In music this translates into the search for a folk language unsullied by commercialism and unaffected by outside influences. This going back to go forward, this building of a musical personality on a foundation in your own soil, is musical nationalism, and is heard to warm effect in Lyadov. He orchestrated the Ballade in 1906.

There’s no denying the Frenchness of Chausson, yet he turned for inspiration to that most English of authors—and ironically, the most international—Shakespeare. We’ve looked at The Bard in the Fleisher Collection through Hamlet, Falstaff, Macbeth, and others; this time it’s Chausson’s incidental music Two Dances from The Tempest.

Staying in France but turning to Gabriel Pierné, we find an unexpected connection. There is not a lot of Pierné orchestral music, so this is a good opportunity to meet him through Ramuntcho, also composed for a play. It is filled with the exotic sounds of the Basque region as the smuggler Ramuntcho, in between forays into Spain, loves, and loses, Gracieuse. The play was a success in large part because of Pierné’s music.

He was also a widely regarded organist, being César Franck’s student and successor at the Saint Clotilde Basilica in Paris. As a conductor he led the premiere of Stravinsky’s groundbreaking Firebird ballet. So what is the surprise? Stravinsky's composing job had earlier been offered to, and turned down by, Anatol Lyadov.

We’ll end this journey with our own excursion into Spain, and Joaquín Turina’s Danzas Fantasticas. As Lyadov and many other composers have done, Turina wrote this work first for piano, and orchestrated it later. He lived in Paris himself for a while, studying with Vincent d’Indy and getting to know Debussy and Ravel. Back in Spain, he composed among other works these dances, operas, and music for guitarist Andrés Segovia.

The sound of Spain is as marked in Turina as is France’s and Russia’s in our other composers today. Edwin Fleisher reveled in collecting as much orchestral music from as many countries as he could, and it would be at his Symphony Club concerts that these works were first heard in Philadelphia.

in the digital collection of the Fleisher Collection, the Free Library of Philadelphia

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday August 2nd, 5-6 pm... The gentleman from Philadelphia was heir to a textile business but his passion was music. An amateur violinist and violist, he founded a club for young people to play music at a time—1909—when there was no instrumental music instruction in the Philadelphia schools. He obtained a building, hired a conductor, and brought the students in to play orchestral literature, as much as he could buy. He called it the Symphony Club.

Edwin A. Fleisher (1877-1959) quickly realized, however, that he would need to go to the source of orchestral music. Music publishers did not have the international reach, through agents and distributors, that they would later have. So Fleisher traveled to Europe, purchased music, signed agreements, and shipped scores and parts back to the United States.

He was building what would become the largest library of orchestral performance material in the world. It was the library of the Symphony Club, and is now called the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. It is housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Symphony Club held readings/rehearsals every week, for younger and older students, for strings only and for full orchestra. They learned chamber music and theory, and even had a choir. Occasionally they’d give public concerts. Boys and girls, blacks and whites, rich and poor all took part, with Edwin Fleisher footing the bill, paying for salaries, music, and later, the hand-copying of instrumental parts where none existed.

The library grew to include American and Latin American music, but in the beginning the music was European through and through, the spine of orchestral literature, music popular at that time and music that had been popular in previous decades.

Because of Fleisher’s access to European publishers, the Symphony Club often premiered works in Philadelphia that would later become staples of orchestral programs. That’s the case for the two Czech composers on Discoveries today. Josef Suk’s Serenade for string orchestra and Vitezslav Novák’s Slovak Suite, which show up on programs all over the world, had their very first Philadelphia hearings on Symphony Club concerts.

Suk and Novák, born within a year of each other, were colleagues and friends, and in the vanguard of the new generation of composers reaching beyond folk influences to a more international sound. They could not escape—nor did they really wish to—the teaching and influence of Dvořak. Suk, in fact, had married the master’s daughter. But the future of Czech music continued bright and world-renowned in large part to their own legacies.

So it was, that when Edwin A. Fleisher toured Europe in the early years of the 20th century, prodding publishers for the latest in orchestral music, he returned with works by Josef Suk and Vitezslav Novák (as well as by Dvořak). Philadelphia first heard these works because of the Symphony Club, because of its library, and because of the gentleman from Philadelphia who founded them both.

In America, small-town New England holds our attention. Whoever we are, it’s our town. The paper’s delivered, there’s gossip at the kitchen table, children are born, children go to school, a choir sings, there’s marriage, there’s death. It’s just life—or perhaps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the perfect description of this American scene, for American it is, and Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play, captures it perfectly.

Our Town hit Broadway in 1938 and was an immediate success. Wilder won a second Pulitzer for it (his 1927 novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey was his first), and Universal Pictures made it into a film two years later. They signed the red-hot classical composer Aaron Copland to write the score. His biggest triumphs were yet to come—Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, A Lincoln Portrait—but Billy the Kid and El Salón México had already put him on the map. We often don’t think of Copland as a film composer, but with The Red Pony to go along with Our Town and others, he’s one of the best.

Copland fills the poignancy and the matter-of-factness of Wilder’s play. Life-affirming yet without triumphing, the music sings lightly but is warmed by coals that glow from deep emotions. Aaron Copland, born and raised in Brooklyn and trained in Paris, could nevertheless deliver a western prairie, eastern mountains, or a New England town. He has defined “American composer” in the popular imagination better than anyone else.

Though Charles Ives celebrated his native New England over and over in his music, much of it never found the light of day, let alone the ears of a concert-going public, until decades after its creation. The very title of today’s work is a conundrum. Is it Holidays, Holiday Symphony, Holidays Symphony, Four New England Holidays, or A Symphony: New England Holidays? His disinterest in a composer’s career often left the details to others.

From the squared phrases of marching bands to flying shrieks of disharmony, from church hymns to layered and crashing sonic sculptures, the music of Ives is like a boy at a parade. He knew the sound of two bands playing on intersecting streets just as vividly as he had felt the giddiness of holding an ice cream cone on a summer afternoon or the elation of fireworks at night. All we have to be is that boy, and we’ll get Ives in a flash.

The holidays in this work are in chronological order: Washington’s Birthday, Decoration (now Memorial) Day, The Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. The last one he composed first, starting in 1887, as organ music for a Thanksgiving service. He revised and completed it by 1904. Washington’s Birthday he began in 1909, finishing it in 1913, the same year he finished The Fourth of July. Decoration Day is from 1912 (unpublished until 1989).

To picture New England at the very time Ives was composing the Holidays Symphony, picture Our Town. It takes place in fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire between 1901 and 1913. Maybe Wilder’s play and Copland’s music are the grown-up, considered look at the small American town, with no illusions but with all love. Ives’s Symphony is the boy’s look, wide-eyed. With that love and with those eyes, wherever we’re from, this is our town.

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday May 3rd, 5-6 pm... In addition to being one of Hungary’s great 20th-century composers, Leó Weiner taught generations of world-famous musicians, including cellist János Starker and conductors Georg Solti, Antal Doráti, and a certain Jenö Blau, who went on to be known as Eugene Ormandy.

The unmistakable Eastern European flavor of Weiner’s music charms today as it ever did. Its beauty is of a different kind from Béla Bartók’s and Zoltán Kodály’s, two other Hungarians we’ve already met on Discoveries. Bartók and Kodály collected and transcribed folk music, and that source material came to affect their own original music. From the harmonies and rhythms of this hidden edge of Europe, Bartók, especially, created a musical language so personal that it stands apart from traditionalists and atonalists alike.

Weiner, however, was a romantic. He uses Hungarian tunes the way Brahms uses Hungarian tunes: They are exotic yet grounded in a thoroughly Germanic soundscape. But what a soundscape! He was being noticed and was winning prizes for works in which he included very un-classical folk instruments such as the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer. By 1914, when Fritz Reiner conducted the premiere of Weiner’s early Prince Csongor and the Kobolde, based on a Hungarian fairy tale, his career was already taking off.

He started teaching at the main conservatory in Budapest, and remained there the rest of his life. In addition to composition, he accompanied and coached opera singers, and began teaching in the area where he would have the most international influence, chamber music.

The musicians who came through his chamber music classes learned to develop a full-blooded yet highly accurate approach to sound. Many would become conductors, yet whether in playing or in directing the playing of others, the combination of boundless passion with razor-sharp technique ironically catapulted American orchestras (Ormandy’s Philadelphia and Solti’s Chicago, for instance), into the vanguard of European classical performance.

The 1930s saw the composing of his Divertimento and the Opus 18 Suite of Hungarian dances. America was the first to hear the Suite, now perhaps his most-played work. It was Reiner, again, with the Rochester Philharmonic in 1933. Weiner dedicated it to composer László Lajtha, who had introduced him to many of these Hungarian tunes. Where did Lajtha learn them? Why, from working alongside Bartók and Kodály.

Through his rigorous teaching and his brilliant music, Léo Weiner is rightly considered one of the leading lights of Hungarian music in the 20th century.

Shakespeare's 450th

Apr 5, 2014

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, 5 to 6 pm, we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616, and well-apparell’d April (Romeo and Juliet, act 1, scene 2) being the very month he was born, approves our dip into Fleisher’s Shakespeare list once more.

The Free Library of Philadelphia is celebrating the Bard’s birth (find all the events here)—our whole city is much bound to him (Romeo and Juliet, 4, 2)—so we’re happy to join in the great coil (Much Ado About Nothing, 3, 3) with more of the many Fleisher works inspired by Shakespeare. To discover all such titles in the Fleisher Collection, only send an email to, and the list will fly swiftly to you with swallow’s wings (Richard III, 5, 2).

One year, 1861, saw the completion of two of the works on the program today. One is the Overture to King Lear by the Russian Mily Balakirev. That a composer known for energizing the Russian nationalist school of music would write a work connected with an English playwright is interesting. But Balakirev’s horizons were broader than the mere use of folksong.

Tellingly, he also supported the career of Tchaikovsky (when other Russian nationalists were grumbling about the European—meaning non-Russian, meaning German—sound of his music). Tchaikovsky, of course, loved Shakespeare. Balakirev’s early Overture to King Lear shows that the composer, although largely self-taught, knew the “European” orchestral style well. Even though he finished the work in 1861, he revised it 40 years later, after a long withdrawal from the music world.

It could hardly be more appropriate than to have music about the Danish Hamlet by the Danish Niels Gade, the most important musician in his country at the time. Nationalism was also in the air in Denmark, and early in his life Gade studied Danish folk traditions. But he went to Germany, taught and conducted there, and when he came back to Copenhagen his style was more international: this, in 1861, is the sound of Gade’s Hamlet.

Carried with more speed before the wind (The Comedy of Errors, 1, 1), we fly a century later to music from the 1964 film Hamlet by another Russian, Dmitri Shostakovich. He wrote prodigiously for the concert stage, but went back to film music often during his career. One reason for this was his on-again, off-again relationship with the Soviet regime. Many of his artist colleagues were imprisoned because of putative sins against the government, some were killed, and for most of his life Shostakovich was haunted by the fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night.

But film music was an approved outlet. Shostakovich’s sometimes-violent voice seems tamer on film, but hearing the music removed from the visual is a bright reminder of his genius. That Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, could release this for us, approves celebration of this day with shows (King Henry VIII, 4,1).

Any Friend of Brahms...

Mar 1, 2014

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday March 1st at 5 pm... It would be disconcerting enough to be at a party with Johannes Brahms. The famous composer was famously grumpy; some of classical music’s great one-liners come from him. When told after the premiere of his first symphony that it sounded like Beethoven, he snapped, “Any ass can see that.” He told a young composer, showing him a new work inspired, he said, by Beethoven, “It’s a good thing Beethoven was not inspired by you.” And then there’s Brahms leaving a gathering: “If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.”

But imagine not only being at a party with Brahms, but being the host, being a composer yourself, and sitting next to him, playing a new Brahms work at the piano. If you can picture that, then you can picture being Ignaz Brüll.

Brüll lived in Vienna, the musical capital of Europe, almost his entire life. Although his father was a successful businessman, both he and Brüll’s mother were musicians, and encouraged their son’s musical gifts. He became a wonderful pianist, concertized, composed, married, and threw parties at his house, which became a meeting-place for his good friend Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Carl Goldmark, the critic Eduard Hanslick, and many other powerful musicians and music-lovers. Whenever Brahms (a good but not great pianist) wanted to air out—piano four-hands—a new piece, he called on Ignaz Brüll to sit next to him.

His biggest success was an opera, The Golden Cross, and he wrote a number of well-received works (Anton Rubinstein was a fan), including much piano music, three Serenades, and a Violin Concerto written for Johann Lauterbach (who has a “Lauterbach” Stradivarius named after him). The second Serenade was recorded using the score and parts in the Fleisher Collection. Fleisher also provided materials for the Violin Concerto project, but the story’s a bit more complicated.

Michael Laus, the conductor on this recording, found the full score in the Fleisher Collection. No parts existed. He also had access to the composer’s manuscript, and the violin/piano version (a piano-with-solo edition of a concerto is often published so that the soloist may study or even perform the work without an orchestra).

The challenge for Laus, though, was that the three sources sometimes disagreed. So he compared them, corrected obvious mistakes, and used the full and piano scores to illuminate confusing smudges in the manuscript. To make it even more interesting, Brüll had rewritten some of the solo for the piano version publication, so that was different. When all this was wrangled, Laus made a set of parts, and went to the recording studio.

Why has the music languished up to now? Partly it’s because that, even though Brahms himself called Brüll “an exceptional melodist,” and though The Golden Cross enjoyed multiple performances into the 1920s, his other works never struck fire. And partly it’s because he suffered the fate of other Jewish composers under the Nazis. He died in 1907 but his music was banned in the 1930s.

His fortunes, however, are changing now. These works and others are being recorded, thanks to Fleisher and the resourcefulness of dedicated musicians. Let’s imagine being at a party in Brüll’s house, with Brahms and all his other friends, enjoying each others’ company and music.

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday Feb. 1st at 5 pm... The Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music is not only the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance materials, but because of the foresight of founder Edwin Fleisher, Curator Arthur Cohn, and the adventurousness of the globe-trotting Nicolas Slonimsky, it also contains hundreds and hundreds of Latin American orchestral scores and parts.

As we’ve recounted on Discoveries before, Fleisher commissioned conductor and author Slonimsky in 1941 to travel throughout Central and South America for the purpose of adding music from these countries to the vast European and growing American repertoire already on the shelves of the Collection. Scores were shipped to the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the huge task of reproducing them began. Some of the scores were given outright as gifts; others, after photographic reproduction, were returned. Dozens of music copyists then began extracting the individual parts needed so that the works could be performed.

This would have been familiar work for Candelaria Huizar, the composer, violist, hornist, and in the 1920s, music copyist in the library of the National Conservatory in Mexico City. He had already studied music as a child with the director of the Jérez Municipal Band. At nine the band took him on as a saxhorn player. He joined other brass bands, and when one of them traveled to Mexico City, he stayed there the rest of his life. He became a music copyist at the Conservatory, then librarian, and later, Huizar was professor of composition, harmony, and orchestration there. His Imágenes (Images) is a delightful look back at his hometown.

Joining him at the Conservatory was his countryman José Rolón. He studied music in Paris from 1904 to 1907, then came back to Mexico, and founded a music school in Guadalajara. In 1927 he returned to Paris to study with composer Paul Dukas and one of the great composition teachers of the 20th century, Nadia Boulanger. Rolón came back to Mexico again, taught at the National Conservatory, wrote music criticism and a harmony textbook, and composed the Piano Concerto we’ll hear today. This brand-new recording was made from materials housed in the Fleisher Collection.

Born in Paris to a Cuban mother and Spanish father, Amadeo Roldán, after music study in Madrid, moved to Cuba at age 19. He was concertmaster of the Havana Philharmonic, founded the Havana String Quartet, and became one of Cuba’s leading composers. Roldán broke new ground with perhaps the very first percussion-only works for the concert stage, and injected new life into Western classical music with the sounds and rhythms of Afrocubanismo. His 1928 ballet La Rebambaramba, the Suite of which we’ll listen to, is a riot of percussion, soaring melody, and audacious orchestral sound.

When Mr. Cohn suggested to Mr. Fleisher that his Collection needed to look beyond the standard repertoire and acquire symphonic works from other cultures, this is what he was talking about.

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday Jan. 4th at 5 pm... In 1914, if you were in the market for the stuff that makes big things move—rope, sails, block and tackle gear, every kind of ship, railroad, or mill supply—you would’ve known George B. Carpenter & Co. of Chicago. Its predecessors went back to 1840. After burning down in the 1871 Great Fire it was rebuilt in a year. George Carpenter, who had been helping run the company, bought it outright in 1882.

His son John had music on his mind, not a manufacturing and wholesale business, and the family supported his evident gifts. John went to Harvard, was President of its Glee Club, and composed for Hasty Pudding larks. More seriously, he studied with John Knowles Paine, and then traveled to England and Rome, where he studied with Edward Elgar. He came back to Chicago in 1909 and composed, but also took on the day job he’d hold until his 1936 retirement, Vice President of George B. Carpenter & Co.

Perhaps machinery was in his blood after all, because in 1914 his creative breakthrough was an evocation of the baby carriage. Adventures in a Perambulator is a symphonia domestica relating a child’s point of view all the way from Envoiture! (All aboard!) to Dreams, the two sections we’ll hear (in between are a policeman, a hurdy-gurdy, a lake, and dogs). Carpenter’s skill was not lost on audiences and critics, who were charmed by his humor and light touch with a large orchestra. His precise program notes narrate the child’s inner voice, ending with: “It is pleasant to lie quite still and close my eyes, and listen to the wheels of my perambulator. How very large the world is. How many things there are!"

Across the ocean in 1914, England saw the premiere of a symphony by a composer who was already well regarded, Ralph Vaughan Williams. His 1909 Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and 1910 A Sea Symphony moved him beyond his successes editing folk music, Henry Purcell, and The English Hymnal. A London Symphony remains, out of his nine symphonies, the most popular.

After its premiere, he sent the score to Germany, to the conductor Fritz Busch, but it was lost in the turmoil of the World War. The composer then rewrote it from the orchestral parts, changing it greatly, for a 1920 performance under Albert Coates, who provided program notes to which the composer grudgingly agreed. Vaughan Williams insisted he did not have a story in mind when composing it, although he said one might perhaps call it Symphony by a Londoner.

That he composed a “symphony” at all is due to his good friend, the composer George Butterworth, who insisted he ought to. So he took sketches for a symphonic poem about London, worked them into four movements, and dedicated the music to Butterworth, who would die in that same World War, in 1916.

After the 1920 revision, Vaughan Williams reworked it again in the 1930s, and the version heard most often today is two-thirds the length of the original. The ending, Vaughan Williams suggested just before he died, was inspired by “Night and the Open Sea,” the last chapter of the 1909 novel of H. G. Wells, Tono-Bungay, where the machinery of empires and schemes, small and large, sink into dreams.