June 9, 2007 at 5:09 AMHi, everyone!
I’m frequently asked to name my favorite violinist. It’s virtually impossible — each of us has strengths and weaknesses. I admire certain performances and certain aspects of many players, and I draw inspiration from many violinists past and present. However, the violinist I most admire is definitely Maud Powell.
Despite being an avid researcher of violin music and history, I had never heard of Maud Powell until Karen Shaffer sent me a copy of Maud’s biography in 1995. I was fascinated to read about her remarkable and inspirational life. Reading on planes and in hotel rooms, I learned how she became the greatest American violinist in the late 1800s and early 1900s while also breaking so many social stereotypes: choosing to dedicate her life to her career; leading a string quartet of men; championing music by contemporary composers, American composers, women composers, and Black composers; and introducing classical music to numerous new listeners. She is often in the back of my mind today as I perform works by contemporary, women, and Black composers; as I perform rock and classical music in non-traditional venues; and as I give benefit concerts, support young string players, and strive for improvement and greater understanding in all of my interpretations.
Why is Maud Powell not better known today? I believe there are several contributing factors. Unlike Leopold Auer, she didn’t leave a pedagogical legacy. While Maud was committed to music education and encouraged every young violinist who came to her for advice, her touring schedule was too intense to maintain a teaching studio. Unlike Heifetz, she didn’t live into the electric recording era. And, unlike Wieniawski or Kreisler, she never wrote any original compositions.
After finishing her biography, I began learning some of her repertoire — works that she premiered, arranged, or recorded, and works written for her. Many of these gems have become staples of my recital programs. At the end of my recent performance in Washington, DC, Leonard Slatkin commented, “This music is wonderful! Maud Powell really was the female Fritz Kreisler.” Had I thought more quickly, I should have responded, “Actually, Kreisler was the male Maud Powell.” After all, Maud came first and was admired by Kreisler and all of his generation.
This album represents a slice of late Nineteenth–early Twentieth Century repertoire rarely heard these days. Miniature jewels like Humoreske, May Night, or Minute Waltz have an individual character that must be defined and demand a significant investment of the performer’s personality. Slower melodic works, such as those by Venth, Huss, and Johnson, call for indulgence in expressive shifts and creative rubato. The tone-painting of Burleigh and Bauer still sounds fresh a century later, and the Sousa Airs and Caprice on Dixie are brilliant American alternatives to the usual Carmen Fantasies and Paganini Caprices.
I hope this recording will open your ears to some masterful compositions, beautiful arrangements, and the art of one of the greatest violinists ever. I also hope that through this CD, the forthcoming printed collection of Maud’s music, the second edition of her biography, the reissues of her own recordings, and information posted on http://www.maudpowell.org, Maud Powell will finally receive the recognition she deserves as an artist and role model.
My 12th CD is now available!
"American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell" with pianist Matthew Hagle on Cedille Records
Click here to purchase it for $15.
Click here to listen to sound clips.
Click here to read the complete liner notes and the booklet essay by Karen Shaffer.
Click here to read the press release.
To read all of my blog entries from 2000-2007, please visit http://www.rachelbartonpine.com/blog.php
I wonder how Powell's career compares with that of her contemporary (whose instrument you perform on), Maria Soldat. Soldat lived far longer (1863-1955 vs. 1867-1920). If she enjoyed Brahms' and Joachim's approval, she must have been very good indeed, but appears (in my ignorance, anyway) to be even less known today.
Please post here the Nigerian Violinists story from your latest newsletter. Very moving, and I think that this is just the crowd that would run with it. I have some comments about it that involve a project our church is doing in Africa.
Also, everyone would realize that they should sign up for your newsletter. :-)
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