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Composers in Love: Dedications from Strauss to Rouse

Boosey & Hawkes honors February as the month of romantic love with a look at works which were written for–or dedicated to–'the beloved.’

In memorium

Aurora Natola-Ginastera, internationally renowned cellist and wife of the late Alberto Ginastera (1916 - 1983), passed away January 25 in Geneva at the age of 85. It was for her that Ginastera wrote his Cello Concerto No. 2 op. 50, which she premiered in 1980. An ardent advocate of her husband’s music, she went on to record several of his pieces including both of his cello concertos. The Pierian label re-released her recording of his cello concertos in 2008, only months before her death.

After the passing of his wife of 51 years, Dominick Argento believed his career as a composer to be over. But Washington Cathedral Choral Society director J. Reilly Lewis gently persuaded him to write a choral piece in honor of Carolyn Bailey Argento, a soprano who loved her husband’s choral works most.  Argento picked up his pen and the resultant work, Evensong: Of Love and Angels, received its world premiere last April.

In his program notes Argento reflects, “I have never counted the angels in our home, but they certainly number in the hundreds. They were my wife’s favorite icon. She collected them wherever we traveled, and any occasion became an excuse to give them as gifts. Throughout her illness, I kept remembering that angel and hoping for a miracle. When I felt I was ready to write Evensong, I wanted it to be, as the title says, Of Love and Angels.”

In Impermanence (2004), Meredith Monk created a joyful and poignant collection of meditations inspired by the unexpected death of her partner, Mieke van Hoek, in 2002. After van Hoek’s passing, Monk found a tape of her improvising and used those themes in the new piece.

Meredith Monk Impermanence (ECM Records 2008)

In wrapping

For years Ned Rorem made musical gift-giving a regular practice in his household, composing little pieces for his partner, Jim Holmes, until his passing in 1999.  Rorem writes “I would compose little pieces for him on special occasions. Each piece fit onto one page which I decorated in bright colors, and framed.”

Several of these pieces are now available as part of Rorem’s Piano Album, with heart-breaking dedications such as Forever dear Jim: THIS SERPENTINE ETUDE is unrevised. But then, so is my feeling for you, which has merely augmented since first we met, 23 years ago this month. and For the only Jim in the world without whom I could never write this or any music.

Ned Rorem Piano Album (print item)

Piano pieces seem to be popular gifts from Boosey & Hawkes composers. Leonard Bernstein wrote the first of his Four Anniversaries (1948) for Felicia Montealegre. David Del Tredici, whose output is rich with expressions of love and lust, dedicated his Gymnopedie No. 2 (My Re) to Ray Warman. The piece will be included in Del Tredici’s upcoming Piano Album II. Igor Stravinsky's Serenade in A (1925), which both Charles Rosen and Joseph Horowitz consider to be the loveliest of Stravinsky’s solo piano works, reads For my wife on the title page.

Leonard Bernstein Four Anniversaries (print item)
Igor Stravinsky Serenade in A (print item)

These gifts are certainly not limited to piano, however. In 1989 Paquito D’Rivera wrote To Brenda with Love (complete with Bach coda) after dreaming that J.S Bach was in love with a beautiful Puerto Rican soprano.
Recommended recording: A Night In Englewood (Pimienta Records 2005)

Andrzej Panufnik's Love Song (1976) also involves a soprano. The piece, written for mezzo-soprano and harp, is based on the texts of Sir Philip Sydney and is dedicated to Panufnik’s wife, Camilla. 

Still, apart from Jim Holmes, the late Helen Carter may be the beloved most showered with musical offerings. Elliott Carter dedicated six pieces to his sculptor wife, including “Anniversary” from Three Occasions for Orchestra (1989), Birthday Flourish (1988), and Boston Concerto (2002).

On stage

Aurora Natola-Ginastera is not the only performer to capture a composer’s heart. Benjamin Britten wrote Canticle I “My Beloved is Mine” op. 40 (1947) for the tenor voice of his adored Peter Pears. According to the Britten-Pears Library program notes, “Britten clearly meant the work also to be interpreted as a declaration of the personal and professional relationship that now existed between himself and Pears.” The sensuous and spiritual piece sets a poem by the 17th century metaphysical poet Francis Quarles, derived from verses from the Song of Solomon, and is available in print.

Benjamin Britten Canticle I "My Beloved is Mine" (print item)

In letter and in word

When Richard Strauss was on tour, he learned that his marriage to the tempestuous Pauline Strauss de Ahna was on the verge of collapse. Upon finding a misdirected letter from a lady seeking theatre tickets, Pauline began divorce proceedings and refused to read Strauss’s frantic telegrams and professions of fidelity. His response was a gift to her in the form of an opera: Intermezzo (1919-23).  A comedy in two acts, Intermezzo exposed the couple’s domestic drama in a way that Pauline found too close for comfort at the premiere. Considered one of Strauss’s best operas, it has been recorded and performed around the world since its 1924 premiere.

Recommended recording: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Lucia Popp, Philipp Brammer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gabriele Fuchs

Christopher Rouse's forthcoming premiere with the New York Philharmonic is, in his words, “a satisfying musical experience that functions both as the public portrayal of an extraordinary life as well as a private love letter.” Zhizn (2008), which means “a life” in Russian, is dedicated to his beloved Natasha Miller, and will premiere next February under the baton of Alan Gilbert (February 10-12, 16; 2010).

Wynton Marsalis combines spoken word and music to address the eternally mystifying relationship between a man and a woman in his forthcoming recording, He and She. Based on his own poetry, He and She is tempered with flashes of humor and sweet ruminations.

Wynton Marsalis He and She (Blue Note Records March, 24, 2009)

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