JAVS Fall 2023

Score Review

Review: Women’s Compositions for Two Violas, Comp. and Arr. By Deborah Greenblatt by Kevin Nordstrom

Like many readers of this journal—exemplary, wise, untroubled, and richly toned musicians that you are, surely—I am very fond of viola ensembles and eager to discover new music configured so: viola duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets (assuming that that many players can be found!). I track with great interest and enthusiasm, with houndlike devotion really as they are highest on my list of things to find and claim. But compositions for other sorts of viola groups––here appreciated in the same way as their proposed component members would be––of whatever size are welcome and sought after too for inclusion in the collection. So, I was very pleased to find a new publication titled Women’s Compositions for Two Violas, which has been compiled and arranged by Deborah Greenblatt. 1 The collection is described as consisting of “… 18 lively pieces … from the 17th century to the early 20th century … from England, France, Germany, Hawaii, Scotland, and the United States. Well known women composers are included (Amy Beach, Fanny Hensel, Maud Powell), as well as some surprises (Euphemia Allen, Ethel Smyth, Queen Lili’uokalani).” Other composers in the collection include Florence Price, Clara Schumann, and Josephine Trott, among others. In terms of difficulty, the works in this collection range from easy to moderately challenging, suitable for the beginner and intermediate playing levels. While most of the pieces in the collection are stand-alone character pieces, there are two multi-movement works: Children’s Carnival by Amy Beach (6), and Album Des Enfants by Cecile Chaminade (12). Nevertheless, these two larger works consist of character pieces which can, from the looks of them, be performed independently or as a whole.

In the second viola part of the Beach and Chaminade, there is double-stopping of moderate difficulty, making these suitable for intermediate players needing experience playing longer ensemble works of some challenge, or for a teacher wanting to perform a duo with a student. This later purpose makes the arrangement of these pieces as duos quite useful pedagogically as it is a simple matter for a teacher to play any of them with one of their students. This is how Bartok’s 44 Duos for Two Violins (or Violas…) are often used, for example. At least, that is how I use them! There is much rewarding music in this collection, but for me, I absolutely love that some pieces by Maud Powell (1867-1920) have been included. I find her to be a fascinating, wholly remarkable person, and might be forgiven for taking an opportunity to describe and paise her to the reader. A virtuoso violinist reared in the late 19th century and its style, mentored by the likes of Joseph Joachim, whom she finished her studies with and under who’s baton she made her European concerto debut, Powell was an incredibly gifted musician and in possession of a fierce pioneering spirit. In that respect, and in her association with Joachim, Powell was a match for her contemporary, a woman surely known to her: Austrian violinist Marie Soldat (1863-1955), who was one of the first interpreters of Brahms’ violin concerto (an interpretation he deeply admired, so much so that he promoted her career with zeal) and as such, a force to be reckoned with. Powell championed new music by established European composers of her day, making many violin concertos and other pieces popular with American audiences— including that by Sibelius—advocated strongly for new

Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall 2023


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