These are things you’ve probably wanted to know all along…
The Link: Schumann & Brahms > Béla Bartók > Violet Archer
Both Schumann and Brahms had a huge influence on Béla Bartók (b. 1881 d. 1945), one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Prior to studying at Yale, Violet Archer (b. 1913 d. 2000) spent the summer of 1942 studying with Bartók in New York. Both Schumann and Brahms had a huge influence on Béla Bartók (b. 1881 d. 1945), one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Prior to studying at Yale, Violet Archer (b. 1913 d. 2000) spent the summer of 1942 studying with Bartók in New York.
The Passacaglia: A musical form
Said Michael Newnham about the passacaglia in Archer’s work, “It’s a musical form which composers had been using since well before the time of Bach. It’s a set of variations over a repeated bass pattern, in a fairly slow tempo. Both Brahms and Schumann were also masters of the variation form.”
Those gorgeous Italian musical terms
Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major follows the standard concerto form, with three movements in the pattern quick–slow–quick:
- Allegro non troppo Allegro: play fast, quickly, bright; non troppo: not so fast
- Adagio: at a slow tempo
- Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace Poco più presto Allegro: play fast; giocoso: happy, playful; ma: but; non: not; troppo: too much; Poco più: a little faster; presto: very, very fast.
Jonathan Crow wants superpowers!
Given the chance to possess a superpower, Jonathan would choose the ability to fly – or teleport. Anything to avoid having to take his violin on planes where finding a free overhead bin gets “tedious” very quickly.
Setting the norm
Clara Schumann was one of the first concert pianists to play from memory. She felt that it “gave her wings power to soar.” Playing from memory in public is a fairly recent fashion. Before the late 19th century, playing without the score was often considered a sign of casualness, even of arrogance. The custom of playing from memory developed along with the growth of a body of classics that everyone agreed were worth preserving exactly as their composers had intended. Teachers encouraged students to memorize them. Many young players memorize easily, but it gets harder as time goes on. As the pianist Charles Rosen put it: “With advancing age, memory becomes doubly uncertain; above all, what begins to fail is confidence in one’s memory, the assurance that the next note will follow with no conscious effort.”
Violet Archer’s tenacity
Violet Archer was born Violet Balestreri in 1913 and in 1940, her family chose to anglicize their name to Archer from Balestreri which is the Italian word for Archer. Her first career was as a percussionist with the Montreal Women’s Symphony under the direction of Ethel Stark, and she also held the position of deputy organist for several Montreal churches. Upon her graduation from Yale School of Music in 1949 at the age of 36, Violet used her savings to finance a musical tour of post-war Europe. In the summer of 1961, Violet Archer began studies toward a doctorate at the University of Toronto, but was forced to put this aside in order to nurse her seriously ill mother. Throughout her life, her output was prodigious: her 335 works also include compositions for choir, organ, and solo piano; two operas; over 90 children’s works; the film scores to two Canadian documentaries; and an electronic piece called Episodes. Violet’s last commissioned composition, completed in 1999 when she was 86 was a work for classical accordion and orchestra.
The Canadian indie rock band The Violet Archers is named after our composer. Band founder Tim Vesely gave the band its name after hearing one of Canadian composer Violet Archer’s compositions played on CBC Radio.