Everyone's a little Irish: Crowther's Gweedore Brae and Auer's Last Rose of Summer

March 14, 2017, 11:35 PM · St Patrick’s Day is coming up and I wanted to do some recording of pieces that I have known for a number of years. I thought it would be nice to record two pieces like two sides of an old 78. It is a mystery why short pieces are out of favor with some musicians. Whereas I will most likely not be asked to perform the great concerti on a regular basis, I can certainly find a place to squeeze one of these miniatures onto a program!

Unlike my last project (Heifetz’s White Christmas) there was no reconstruction just some detective work. One of my jobs when I worked in music retail was to find music that people wanted to order. I had always loved research and a library with musty books was a treasure trove for me. So it was that I REALLY did like my job and have continued to look for music wherever I might be. That means that if I am at a conference at some university I always make it a point to visit their music library. If I’m in a foreign country I am DEFINITELY in the local music shop.

In his Decca recordings, Jascha Heifetz recorded some lovely pieces, among them was one called Gweedore Brae. On the CD, Gweedore Brae is listed as a traditional melody that is arranged by John Crowther. The sheet music has long been out of print but is still available from Carl Fischer’s Archival Service. The very nice people there will first look for it and then send you a quote for what it would cost to copy it. I know a lot of people spend their time photocopying music but this was just easier than asking everyone under the sun if they had it. They send you the music in a clean clear photocopy and away you go. I ordered it and found that the following at the bottom of the page: “Gweedore is a village in North Donegal, Ireland. This composition, inspired by the Brae (Slope) of Gweedore, although saturated with folksong feeling, is actually an original work.” I do think that this is perhaps the greatest non-traditional/traditional Irish song that there is. The pity is that it seems that Crowther is a one hit wonder. I didn’t see any other works in my not too completely extensive search.

A cellist has recorded it:

Interestingly, Keith Harvey is a British cellist whose long and distinguished career included a sojourn to sunny Southern California where he worked with Gregor Piatigorsky. In an interview he mentioned how Piatigorsky held his class in Heifetz’s room. “ We had been sitting in there for ten minutes when the phone rang. ‘Whatever you do, don't anyone answer that phone,’ Grisha cried. "It's Jascha checking to see that his room is still empty."

And more interestingly a harmonica player from China has also put it into his repertoire (yes truly everyone is a little Irish):

Personally, I still like it better on the violin. Somehow the violin suits the Irish aesthetic better. I might be a little prejudiced.

As a student I had studied Ernst’s Last Rose of Summer. It is a wonderful and fiendishly difficult piece that I enjoyed and though I do still perform it from time to time, I wished for a quieter arrangement that would pair nicely with Gweedore Brae. I found a version by Vieuxtemps but finally settled on a rarely heard version by Leopold Auer. In his arrangements, Auer often would insert little cadenzas. Here he eschews this and keeps true to the traditional melody and supplements it with a delicate piano part that evokes different moods. Auer dedicated the arrangement to one of his students. It was a name that I was not familiar with: Thelma Given. She was a child prodigy who came from a well to do family. She went to Russia to study with Prof Auer and she was considered his best female student. She seemed to transition into adulthood but for whatever reason she did not make a major long term career for herself. But it is a sign of his respect for her that Prof Auer dedicated this arrangement to her. There is a recording of this arrangement by Mischa Elman with the pianist Arthur Loesser. If the name Loesser is familiar to you it should be. He was the half brother of Frank Loesser whose credits included Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Arthur jokingly described Frank as "the evil of two Loessers"

I came upon this at the Pequot Library book sale in Southport CT. Like I said, you never know where you are going to find a real little treasure.

This is a true Irish melody and some pretty famous composers have used it….you know people like Beethoven and Mendelssohn. But in some ways my favorite is the simplest.

In closing, I know we all say that St. Patrick’s Day is the day when we are all just a little bit Irish….but I truly feel that these two melodies cut to the core of the human spirit and for that I am glad to be Irish even if just for a day.

(Special thanks to Barbara Mayer for recording these lovely pieces with me!)

Replies

March 17, 2017 at 11:21 AM · Thank you. Great information and beautifully played. Michael Davis who recently retired as concertmaster of the Louisville (KY) Orchestra recorded Gweedore Brae on a lovely album of beautiful tunes.

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March 17, 2017 at 02:29 PM · I very much enjoyed both of your renditions -- thank you. Irish is one of my half-dozen or so European lineages. I'm writing this on St. Patrick's Day. Today's celebration will consist of working out early this afternoon -- then some fiddling later.

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