American Romantics: Premiere Recordings of Turn of the Century Works for String OrchestraReuben Blundell & Gowanus Arts Ensemble

About

“American Romantics” is a project initiated by conductor Reuben Blundell after he discovered several scores for string orchestra through the Fleischer Collection. These scores were all composed by American composers from the the last decades of the 19th century, both native born and recently immigrated. "American Romantics" presents the premiere recordings of these pieces, some of which draw on Native American themes and Americana melodies while others reflect the prevailing Central European compositional style of the day. 

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 55:48
01Omaha Indian Love Song from Four North American Legends
Omaha Indian Love Song from Four North American Legends
6:08
02Pleasant memories (Gais Souvenirs)—Pizzicato Caprice pour Instruments à cordes
Pleasant memories (Gais Souvenirs)—Pizzicato Caprice pour Instruments à cordes
2:06
03Christmas Night’s Dream (Christnachtstraum), Op. 10
Christmas Night’s Dream (Christnachtstraum), Op. 10
4:22
04Lullaby (Wegenlied), Op. 21
Lullaby (Wegenlied), Op. 21
2:21
05Scherzo, for Strings
Scherzo, for Strings
5:15
06Chippewa Lullaby from Four North American Legends
Chippewa Lullaby from Four North American Legends
4:25
07Elegie, Op. 30
Elegie, Op. 30
6:22
08Bees and Bumblebees (Abeilles et Bourdons), Op. 562
Bees and Bumblebees (Abeilles et Bourdons), Op. 562
4:33

Air & Gavotte for Strings

Arthur Foote (1853-1937)
09Air
Air
5:08
10Gavotte
Gavotte
3:23
11Serenade
Serenade
2:57
12Scherzo from Characteristic Suite, Op. 15
Scherzo from Characteristic Suite, Op. 15
4:52
13Scherzo: pour deux violons, alto, et violoncelle
Scherzo: pour deux violons, alto, et violoncelle
3:56

These premiere recordings promote music by immigrant and homegrown American composers, from the rich but underperformed music of the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s striking to hear a European Romantic style alongside a identifiably American aesthetic, whether reflecting the New England styles of Foote, Parker and Converse, or Busch’s incorporation of Native American themes. The composers on this recordings were born in the USA, France, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, and were citizens of, or residents in America during this period.

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Carl Busch (1862–1943)

Omaha Indian Love Song & Chippewa Lullaby, from Four North American Legends; Elegie, Op. 30

Carl Busch attended the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Continuing his musical studies in Brussels and Paris before moving to the United States in 1887, settling in Kansas City, among about 2,000 other Danes. Busch conducted the first Kansas City Symphony, from 1911–18. As well as guest conducting across the USA and Europe, he composed works for orchestra (suites, rhapsodies, symphonic poems), woodwind ensembles, and bands. Many pieces took melodic inspiration from Native American melodies. The four pieces that form the “Indian Tribal Melodies (Four North American Legends),” were drawn from a pamphlet of Native American music, prepared by the US Department of the Interior in 1913. The present recording includes two of these, dedicated to and premiered by Emil Oberhoffer, Music Director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now Minnesota Orchestra). The earlier piece, Elegie, was published in 1899 and dedicated to a Mr. Weber.

Paul Friedrich Theodor Miersch (1868–1956)

Pleasant memories

Born in Dresden, Paul Miersch settled in New York, performing variously with several orchestras , including the Philharmonic, the New York Symphony Orchestra, where he was was principal cellist for five years, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Miersch’s compositions include an Indian Rhapsody for orchestra (based on melodies of the Ute tribe of Colorado/Utah), concertos for violin and for cello, a string quartet, and songs or smaller works for chamber groups. One imagines he composed the cello solo, in the Trio of this piece, for himself.

Ludwig Bonvin (1850–1939)

Christmas Night’s Dream, Op. 10

Born in Sierre, Switzerland (close to a Mount Bonvin), Ludwig Bonvin first studied medicine in Vienna, and finally settled in Buffalo, NY. He conducted the Jesuit Canesius College’s choir, founded their orchestra, and was an active writer. During his 52 years teaching, he produced a number of choral and orchestral works—the Buffalo Philharmonic performed two works in the 1930s. Bonvin’s music sounds late-nineteenth century and Germanic, influenced by Wagnerian harmonies. Christmas Night’s Dream includes the German Christmas carol “Born in Bethlehem”.

Carl Hillmann (1867–1930)

Wegenlied/Lullaby, Op. 21

Born in Frankfurt, at age 26 Hillman became principal second violin of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Theodore Thomas. At the same time, he was publishing a large number of works for chamber ensembles (and some for orchestra) with Johann André (a Frankfurt publishing house) — a final count of at least fifty.

Horatio Parker (1863–1919)

Scherzo for Strings

Originally from Newton, MA, Horatio Parker’s teachers in Boston included fellow Second New England School member, George Chadwick (1854–1931). He joined the nascent Yale School of Music in 1894, serving as Dean from 1904 until his death in 1919. During his career, he occupied a succession of church music director/organist positions (frequently in a different city to his teaching position). Parker was founder of the New Haven Symphony, which he conducted from 1895–1918. Parker’s students included Charles Ives, Quincey Porter, and Roger Sessions.

Eugène Arcade Dédé (1867–1919)

Abeilles et Bourdons (Bees and Bumblebees), op. 562

Eugène Dédé’s father, Edmond, was born in New Orleans in 1827, the son of immigrants from the French West Indies. Edmond left the USA, studying at the Paris Conservatory from 1857, and in France, built a successful career conducting and composing. He married the Frenchwoman Sylve Leflat in 1864, and their son, Eugène Arcade Dédé was born in 1867. Eugène Dédé became a conductor and composer like his father. His output was prolific—the opus number for Bees and Bumblebees alone is 562, and the Bibliotheque National de France collection includes over 200 published compositions, and his oeuvre also includes many orchestral works.

Arthur Foote (1853–1937)

Air and Gavotte

Aged 14, Arthur Foote enrolled in theory class at New England Conservatory (near his home in Salem, MA) entering Harvard three years later. Unlike most of his compatriots, his formal studies were entirely American—his Masters in Music degree (also from Harvard) was the first graduate degree in music granted in the United States. Foote’s music is Romantic in style, melodically and harmonically expressive and occasionally reminiscent of Elgar and Grieg. The Air and Gavotte are performed here in their later revision: they were originally the second and fifth movements of his Serenade for Strings.

Frederick Shepherd Converse (1871–1940)

Serenade

As a Harvard undergraduate, Converse studied with Second New England School composer John Knowles Paine. Converse established himself as a composer and teacher, first privately, then at the New England Conservatory and Harvard. The Serenade is a simple yet moving piece, probably from 1903. Its composition was followed by his the 20-minute Straussian tone-poem after Walt Whitman, The Mystic Trumpeter, and 1905 opera The Pipe of Desire, the first American work performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Henry Schoenefeld (1857–1936)

Scherzo, from Characteristic Suite, Op. 15

Schoenefeld was born into a musical family in Milwaukee, WI, learning violin and piano

from his father and brother. Like many of his pieces, the Characteristic Suite (probably composed in 1891) drew on minstrelsy and African- American idioms, and later works also drew on Native American music. This Scherzo, the Suite’s Finale, is an energetic moto perpetuo, especially for the violins, punctuated by laconic interludes. After 25 years in Chicago, in 1904, Schoenefeld moved to Los Angeles, teaching at the University of California—his students included Roy Harris (1898–1979).

These pieces were provided by the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance material, lending to performing organizations worldwide. Alongside virtually the entire standard repertoire, it houses many rare and out-of-print works, with a current collection of over 22,000 titles and growing.

Recorded at Peter Karl Studios in the Gowanus Arts Building, June 6 & 7, 2014.
Producer/editor: Dag Gabrielsen
Engineer: Peter Karl
Mastering: Zach Herchen
Post-Production Editor: Zach Herchen
Post-Production advisor: Daniel Lippel
Orchestra Manager: Matthew Beaumont
Program notes: Reuben Blundell
Graphic design: Bloomsday Design
Artwork: Robert Seldon Duncanson, “Landscape with Rainbow”


Reviews

Music Web International

These artists and this label can take several bows for their classy excavation of an unfamiliar genre of romantic music. It's a pity about the playing duration because there was more than sufficient space for another 20 minutes worth. I cannot believe that the source of the scores at the Fleisher Collection did not have more of the same accessible. From that point of view this release was premature but that's often the price to be paid for hearing unfamiliar music and it is well done.

This is beguiling music much of it written and delivered with a dragonfly light touch. Its lilac, sepia and aquarelle sentimentality is well worth your trouble and time. The ensemble is ten-strong so the emphasis is on elegance and transparency rather than lushly textural indulgence. If you enjoy Grieg's Holberg Suite, Sibelius's Rakastava, Tchaikovsky's music for string orchestra, Elgar's Serenade and Atterburg's Suite No. 3 you will take to this music like a duck to water. A few names here - Parker, Foote and Converse - are familiar from the grand revival work done by Dutton's International series and the SPAMH reissues released by Bridge.

The Carl Busch Omaha Indian Love Song is the epitome of a genre that mediates charm and melancholy as is his Elegie and Chippewa Lullaby. In fact the Elegie is piercingly poignant. We are assured that he also wrote orchestral suites, rhapsodies and symphonic poems. Presumably he can be counted alongside Arthur Farwell's Indianist school. Paul Miersch's Pleasant memories spins its own variation around pizzicato work but with a strolling cello solo. He also wrote an Indian Rhapsody as well as concertos for violin and for cello and a string quartet. Ludwig Bonvin was Swiss-born but made the name that brought into this company in Buffalo, NY. His Christmas Night’s Dream is a tenderly faltering starry effusion. Carl Hillmann was for some years principal second violin of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Theodore Thomas. His Wiegenlied/Lullaby — not 'Wegenlied' as insisted upon by the liner-note and for all I know by the score — also celebrates pizzicato and matches it up with a smoothly romantic descant. The playing conveys some nicely calculated judgements on dynamic contrast. Horatio Parker was a pupil of George Chadwick. His students at Yale at included Ives, Quincy (not 'Quincey') Porter and Roger Sessions. His Scherzo manages to be both fey and stately with a romantic sigh never far distant. New Orleans man Dédé must have had an extremely hot day in mind for his Bees and Bumblebees are sedate even if the hum is unmistakable. These bees would certainly have been left in the starting blocks by Rimsky's solitary example. Conductor and guiding hand for this project, Reuben Blundell tells us that Foote's Air and Gavotte were originally the second and fifth movements of his Serenade for Strings. TheAir is strongly Bachian; the Gavotte likewise with a dash of Grieg. Converse, a student of John Knowles Paine, is known in some quarters for his tone-poem after Walt Whitman, The Mystic Trumpeter, and 1905 opera The Pipe of Desire which the liner reminds us was the first American work performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His short Serenade is suave, consoling and has a fine honest melody to work with. The Rural Symphony by Henry Schoenefeld was awarded a first prize by Dvorak. Schoenefeld studied with Reinecke in Leipzig and had Roy Harris among his pupils. His Scherzo trips along lightly and ends with a stirring bustle. The disc is carried in a digipack with a separate booklet inserted in the side-pocket. - Rob Barnett, 4.2016

Records International

Odds are you won’t have heard of at least five or six of the nine composers listed above, all of whom either immigrated to the U.S. or worked and/or taught here for significant periods. Needless to say, their origins and studies are Germanic (Busch was a Dane) except for Dédé (whose father’s music got a disc to itself on Naxos back in 2000). The notes tell you much about each composer in a succinct manner and will leave you drooling over the amount of pieces for large orchestra many of them left behind. But here we have a string ensemble of ten players to tease us with some of their smaller-scale creations. Gowanus Arts Ensemble; Reuben Blundell.

American Record Guide

This includes first recordings of underperformed music by immigrant and US composers at the turn of the 20th Century. Many of the composers were born in Europe and were heavily influenced by the European romantic and Pastoral schools. If you like Delius’s diaphanous, pastoral music, you’ll enjoy this recording. The subject matter is American; some of the music is based on New England folk songs or Native American themes. The 12 selections, by almost as many composers, are dreamlike and very pleasant to listen to. The playing by the all-string Gowanus Arts ensemble makes the most of these beautiful short pieces. Most evocative of the pastoral themes are three selections by Carl Busch from his Four North American Legends. The ‘Omaha Indian Love Song’ opens the program, and it is enchanting. There are waves of gorgeous music that sound similar to Delius’s Summer Night on the River. Other music in a similar style includes Paul Miersch’s Pleasant Memories, Carl Hillman’s ‘Lullaby’, and Frederick Converse’s Serenade. Not everything is dreamlike: Horatio Parker’s Scherzo, Eugene Dede’s Bees and Bumblebees, and two selections by Arthur Foote, ‘Air’ and ‘Gavotte’, are more energetic. Foote and Parker are the only composers I was familiar with and these new recordings are an important addition to their discography. I was completely mesmerized by this lovely recording, one of the best I’ve heard in some time. The selections are carefully chosen, they are all interesting, have beautiful melodies, and are expertly performed. The sound is excellent. The booklet has explanations about the composers and selections. - Eliot Fisch, 6.29.16

Lucid Culture/New York Music Daily

A Gorgeous, Historically Rich New Album of Rare American Works for String Orchestra

One of the most richly fascinating and historically important releases of recent months is the Gowanus Arts Ensemble‘s new album American Romantics: Premiere Recordings of Turn of the Century Works for String Orchestra. Reuben Blundell, who has enjoyed a productive association with the Chelsea Symphony, one of New York’s most enterprising, consistently entertaining orchestras, conducts this similarly enterprising group of Brooklyn string players, with meticulous attention to detail. On one hand, this album – streaming at Spotify – has immense value for rescuing these works, all by American composers, from obscurity. It’s every bit as enjoyable as a collection of lush, low-key, often moody Romantic nocturnes.

Eighteenth century Danish immigrant Karl Busch’s Omaha Indian Love Song, from his Four North American Legends suite, opens the album on a soberly waltzing, rather plaintive note. As stark as the music is, its colors are especially vivid, the low strings evoking a horn section. Later on, the ensemble makes precise work of his fascinatingly Asian-tinged Chippewa Lullaby, and finally his achingly understated Elegie. Fans of the Barber Adagio will especially enjoy discovering that one.

Julian Schwarz’ elegant cello takes centerstage along with some playful pizzicato high strings in German-born Paul Friedrich Theodor Miersch’s Pleasant Memories, which is far more dynamic than its blithe title would suggest. Best remembered in the organ demimonde, early 20th century composer Ludwig Bonvin is represented by his gently balmy Christmas Night’s Dream. A lullaby by German-born Karl Hillman, who enjoyed an unusually versatile career as a Chicago Symphony Orchestra multi-string player, takes a striking detour toward the somber before returning with a delicate triumph. Horatio Parker, another composer best known for his works for organ, is remembered with a lively rendition of his uneasily waltzing, Italian baroque-tinged Scherzo for Strings.

The ensemble takes graceful flight on the wings of prolific New Orleans creole composer Eugène Dédé’s picturesque waltz Abeilles et Bourdons (Bees and Bumblebees). Yet another esteemed American organist and composer, Arthur Foote, is immortalized here with his lush, enigmatic, canonic Air & Gavotte for Strings

Boston composer Frederick Shepherd Converse’s Serenade, yet another waltz, contrasts poignancy alongside the most lighthearted piece here, a scherzo by Milwaukee-born Henry Schoenefeld. What a fantastic album, with seamless and lustrous playing from violinists Hiroko Taguchi, Orlando Wells,Yuiko Kamakari, Elizabeth Nielsen and Sarah Zun; violists Entela Barci and Carla Fabiani; cellists Julian Schwarz and Alisa Horn; and bassist Rick Ostrovsky.

- Lucid Culture/New York Music Daily, 9.2016

Limelight Magazine

Reuben Blundell is an Australian-born conductor, whose mother played French horn in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. As a violinist, Blundell gained a place in the New World Symphony in Florida (under Tilson Thomas). He is now Music Director of several ensembles in New York and Philadelphia. One of these is the Gowns Arts Ensemble, a string orchestra, comprising ten musicians on this recording. The programme consists of a dozen short pieces for strings by American or American-based composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a time when Americans wrote in the European style, even if indigenous themes were used, as in the Omaha Indian Love Song and Chippewa Lullaby from Four North American Legends by Carl Busch (1914). It is interesting to hear music by Horatio Parker, who was the composition teacher of Charles Ives – arguably the first true American original – as well as Roger Sessions and Quincy Porter. Parker’s Scherzo for Strings is a brisk minor-key waltz, reminiscent of the work of one of his own teachers, Dvorˇák. Other composers include Arthur Foote (Air and Gavotte), Frederick Converse (Serenade), and Paul Miersch, a German cellist who played in both the New York Symphony and Metropolitan Opera orchestras, and composed concertos for violin and cello. This rare repertoire is lovingly performed, and should appeal to anyone who enjoys Suk’s Serenade for Strings or Elgar’s light music. - Phillip Scott, Limelight, 9.2016

The Absolute Sound

Before Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, it’s not much of an exaggeration to maintain that American classical music was mostly a pale imitation of European models. “America”: composers were either transplanted from the continent (usually Germany) or natives who had studied overseas with such pedagogues as Carl Reinecke, Josef Rheinberger, and, later, Nadia Boulanger. All the music performed on American Romantics, is benignly competent and not infrequently charming. It’s also, variously, derivative (Horatio Parker’s Scherzo), trivial (Pleasant Memories by Paul Miersch), patronizing (Omaha Indian Love Song by Carl Busch), sentimental (Ludwig Bonvin’s Christmas Night’s Dream), or simply generic (Air by Arthur Foote). This isn’t great art, not by a long shot, but perhaps that’s the point. It represents the launching pad for truly American music: students of the composers featured on this CD include, in addition to Ives, Roy Harris, Roger Sessions, Rober Russell Bennett, and Alan Hovhaness. Reuben Blundell and the Gowanus Arts Ensemble, a group fo ten strings, give capable performances that are aptly scaled and sensitively shaped. The string sound is warm and richly textured, with a wide soundstage and good imaging. A must-have program for aficionados of American classical music. — Andrew Quint, The Absolute Sound, November 2016

Gramophone

You may not know the names of most of the composers on ‘American Romantics’ but you’re likely to be captivated by all of their music. The 10-member Gowanus Arts Ensemble, led by Reuben Blundell, performs a dozen string pieces - in first recordings - by nine composers.

The composers were either American-born or immigrants steeped in the Romantic style of the 19th century. A bit of Tchaikovsky here or a pinch of Brahms there don’t detract from the freshness of the writing, which includes homages to Native American tunes and folksong influences. The disc’s most well-known composers are Arthur Foote, whose Bach-like Air and charming Gavotte are highlights, and Horatio Parker, most admired for organ works, who shows his genial side in his Scherzo for strings.

But everything on this disc entrances the ears, from three fine Carl Busch pieces with roots in Native American soil and Frederick Shepherd Converse’s tender Serenade to Eugène Dédé’s gently buzzing Bees and Bumblebees. There’s no shortage of idyllic narratives, including Ludwig Bonvin’s glistening Christmas Night’s Dream.

Blundell shapes this heartfelt and buoyant fare with consummate taste and flexibility, allowing the music to sing and dance as required. He is fortunate to be working with a crackerjack group of string players, who appear to savour every lyrical and whimsical phrase. The music they perform comes from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which likely could keep Blundell and company happily occupied with hundreds (thousands?) more pleasurable pieces.

- Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, 10.2016

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