Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Composer Who Has Gone Into Unjustified Eclipse [Anthony McCarthy]

Ben Weber is a rare name in American music that should be better known today. In his book, American Music since 1910, Virgil Thomson said that he wrote “Music of great sincerity and emotional depth couched in a modified serialism easily acceptable”. I first became aware of him through “New Music for the Piano,” an important collection of pieces which was issued as a set of LPs played by the composer-pianist Robert Helps, in the 1960s and in a printed collection found langishing on may a university library shelf. The Humoreske Op. 49 is a quirky, engaging piece of music. I also played his Bagatelles, his very easy and tenderly melancholic Lyric Piece

I studied, though never played his wonderful Sonata da Camera for violin and piano*. I’ve always been at a loss to understand why he isn’t more often played and much better known. The passacaglia in the second movement would make an excellent stand alone piece.

There are two fascinating YouTubes of Weber's music posted by Leland Pitts**

The Rapsodie Concertante for Viola & Small Orchestra

Part I

Part II

The notes say that the piece was a commission by the great violist Walter Trampler and M-G-M Records, as they point out, it’s hard to imagine a major recording company doing something like that these days. Trampler was also the violist in the recording released of Weber’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 35, re-released on CRI-New World, Gay American Compsers Vol 2.

The second YouTube is of his

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra

i. Deciso, non tanto allegro

ii. Andante con rubato

iii. Allegro

There is a decent discography of Ben Weber’s music which is, I believe, available through The American Music Center library, though most of it isn’t performed. It’s such engaging and interesting music that I don’t understand why that’s true. Perhaps that’s not a situation that will continue. One of Weber’s students, the composer Roger Trefousse has worked to honor his teacher and to promote the playing of his music.

You can a recording of his piece, mentioned in the review, ''Fantasia on the Name of Ben Weber, at his website.

* There was a recording of the Sonata made in the 1950s by no less than Alexander Schneider, violin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. It’s obvious that performers of that rank believed his music was worth playing. The commitment required to learn pieces this challenging by musicians of that quality is usually a pretty good indication of substance. I looked and haven’t found that performance has be re-released.

** Leland Pitts' YouTube channel, posting mostly unavailable performances of fine but little known music (with some fascinating period art work) is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever seen on the web. I am very grateful for it.