One of the first things I always do when I open a published score of violin music that has been edited, fingered and bowed by someone, is to ignore all of the bowings and fingerings and develop my own, in accordance to my conception of the piece at hand.
It thus may seem a bit of a paradox that I now present an edition of virtually unknown violin works teeming with fingerings and bowings of my own.
All of the works in this collection have been written for me over a period of twenty one years by one single composer: Leslie Hurwitz.
I first met Leslie Hurwitz in August 1982. I was an exchange student from Spain in the academic year ‘82-’83, when I completed my final year of high school in Arlington (Massachusetts). Hurwitz taught a theory course at college level there, and I was one of his students. That year he wrote the fist of many pieces he has produced for me over the years, Sonatine Prudent, Pratique for violin and piano, which I performed twice with him in 1983. That piece, along with two others with piano, appears in a companion edition to this one. The present one is devoted to music for unaccompanied violin.
I remain the only violinist to have performed these works so far (the Sonatine was performed once in 1984 by Dr. Paul Roby, of the Longy School of Music, but I believe that was an isolated event).
Hurwitz has always given me free rein to do as I please with the musical texts he has provided. He generally gives very little information where it concerns dynamics, articulation or even character or tempo. The few suggestions he does offer in his scores are usually accompanied by a question mark. The visual austerity of these scores may remind us of J.S. Bach, who managed very well indeed with the mere use of slurs, f and p, and the occasional pianissimo, (written in full). Bach had a circle of musicians around him who understood his intentions, and thus he did not need to write more information into his scores. In the case of my long friendship and musical partnership with Hurwitz, I have been fortunate to be granted his explicit trust in my musical decisions, to the extent that he sees the works he has written for me as both his and mine. I would personally dispute that point of view, but am happy to be trusted in choosing whichever prism I may see fit to use in order to interpret his musical vision.
A few words about the edition
The bowings and, particularly, the fingerings are chosen in order to facilitate the natural flow of the music and to bring out the richness of the voice-leading to the highest possible degree.
On a purely technical level, I have tried my best to find (and provide) fingerings that avoid extra noises and “ghost notes” (both of which I find abhorrent) in between double stops. Thus I often prefer to jump around positions rather than staying in the same one, if it will result in a smoother and cleaner sound picture.
A fingering preceded by a dash (for instance, “- 2”) designates a note produced by sliding the finger from one note to the next in small intervals or an expressive slide in larger intervals. It goes without saying that discretion and good taste are implied in the performance of these finger shifts and slides.
When a finger substitution is called for within the same note, I notate the two numbers joined by a straight line. For instance “2-3”.
All of the provided down- and up-bows are, without exception, mine, as are all indications that appear in parentheses.
I am grateful to Vladimíra Ščigulinská for providing the bowings and fingerings for the second violin part of Suite for two Unaccompanied Violins.
When a legato slur seems appropriate but is not in the original, I write it in dotted (discontinuous) fashion. If such a slur is meant to be tied to a note that appears to require a detached articulation, I use a tenuto or staccato mark in parenthesis: (-) or (.)
Much of this music is downright awkward to play on the violin, as it is conceived as pure music, away from any instrument (although the pianist’s hand can be detected here and there). This is part of the fascination the music holds for me. The fact that it is not idiomatic for the violin has made me stretch my imagination in order to find technical solutions that will allow the music to flow seamlessly.
As is often the case in Bach’s music for solo violin, it is not always possible to hold the written note values in passages where two or more voices are used in counterpoint. In the present edition the sign [ ] is used to indicate that the given note (usually, but not always, in the lower voice) is to be dropped for the span of time covered by the brackets. In several instances it may be possible to hold the written values, but only at the expense of flow. A long note held under a higher number of tones is to be understood, first and foremost, as a rhythmical event, a single “attack” followed by different degrees of sustain, depending on the technical considerations at hand. One of many pertinent examples of this can be found on measures 5 and 6 of the fourth movement of Suite Baroque. It is conceivable to hold those bass notes for the written duration, but it would only spoil the graceful flow of the melody. Once the bass has been struck, with the appropriate emphasis and length, it remains in the ear of the listener until the next bass note appears. This continuous game of “hide and seek” played by the voices, is the very environment in which Bach’s solo violin music unfolds. Although the tonal language is very different, the very same is the case with Hurwitz’s music.
I love all of this music for the richness of its melodic and contrapuntal invention. The voice-leading is consistently exquisite, as is the tonal language. The latter is, to my mind, unique and germane to this composer alone. Hurwitz has his very own, personal approach to musical composition. He has several times expressed to me his deep-rooted intention of wringing out the last drops of the diatonic system. His music is overtly tonal, but it is never in any discernible key. A person with an academic bent will rapidly label this procedure as “free tonality” and it is that, in a sense. However, Hurwitz’s “free tonality” is not of the chromatic variant; it achieves its “freedom” by constantly shifting tonal centres. This results in some unusual musical spellings that are, however, always consistent with the inner logic of the shifting diatonic discourse. In our present time when whole throngs of “data” composers seem impervious to the contextual difference between a B flat and an A sharp, it is a delight to study Hurwitz’s scores: they are akin to the delightfully literate writing of a great author, who cares about proper grammar and punctuation (which incidentally Hurwitz also takes very seriously).
I invite you to discover this fascinating music and to ignore my bowings and fingerings. I am bound to change them over time anyway, but I do hope they will be of some assistance in learning the pieces.
By providing the facsimile of all the works, you are given the possibility of doing what I have done for many years with the Sonatas and Partitas by Bach: practice them from the original manuscript.
Hurwitz was entertaining the idea of this piece as far back as 1988, but nine years were to elapse until the work materialized. The final impetus for the composition was probably my visit to the composer in March 1997, the first time I had seen him in ten years.
In a letter dated January 5th 1998, Hurwitz wrote to me: “...I consider [Suite Baroque] a transliteration from the High Baroque to the present day, with the overriding priority being the ongoing importance given to the nature of Melody, in a time period which can represent musical thought by way of affect rather than melody”.
In an undated letter from the end of 1997 he explained that Suite Baroque is “...cast in the Baroque Partita form, and has a baroque-like sense to it, both melodically and architecturally.”
He goes on to describe the movements as he perceives them: “I - The first measure is literally based upon one of Bach’s ‘cello works, and moves, perhaps, in moderate tempo - this section seems to be expressive and plastic in nature, at least to me!
II - This section is exuberant and positive in nature, and has typical “Bachian” characteristics, especially in melodic directions.
III - We have here, it seems to me, a section that is more introspective than the preceding; a kind of thoughtful interlude which gives you a chance to ruminate about the music in general.
IV - This has a similarity to Bach’s great Arioso, which he loved so much that he used it several times in his music throughout his life - it has slightly more general movement, both in style and in general goal-seeking than the preceding section.
V - This section has a prancing, rather more jovial nature than any of the preceding sections, and I feel that it can be somewhere between Allegretto and Allegro (if you agree!)
VI - I have written here a more internal expression; a true Canto, it seems to me. It reminds me of Bach’s Sicilienne forms.
VII - The rhythm in the first measure is taken from the last movement of the Italian Concerto; therefore, it has much drive and virtuosity. It seems to me closer to the kinds of Allegros Bach utilized in many of his unaccompanied violin pieces. Hopefully you’ll have fun with this section!
VIII - A more probing, rather more expressive statement; a kind of psychic relaxation between the preceding section and the Finale.
IX - Here you’ll note that I repeat the beginning from section one, and then go off in a new and final direction.”
He continues:“If some of the intervals are too tough and/or impossible in actual musical context, then simply leave them out and stick to the melodic line”.
There is only one place where this procedure seemed advisable: measures 14 and 15 of movement VIII (page 9). I could here (as I have done in similar situations in some of the other pieces) simply have moved the bottom voice up an octave. This solution, however, appeared artificial to me, so I excised the bass notes A-G#-G-G#-A and left the top C# stand on its own which, to my mind, creates a sense of rest before the rather dramatic arch described by the next two measures, followed by the deep repose of the two final bars. The performer may choose to imagine the absent notes (as in Schumann’s famous “Sphinxes” from his Carnival)
I premiered the piece on March 14th 1999 in Troldsalen, the concert hall adjacent to Edvard Grieg’s home in the outskirts of Bergen.
A recording of the piece can be heard on the CD “Postcards From Arlington” (ARCD1101), which can be ordered from Amethyst Records: http://www.amethyst-records.com/shop.html
Be warned, however, that on the second and eleventh bars of the eighth movement of Suite Baroque, the last note in the top voice is meant to be an F sharp (as it appears in this edition and, indeed, the manuscript), not an F natural, as played on the CD.
In a letter dated February 11th 2002, Hurwitz jocularly writes: “If you do not care for this little gum-drop (thought that you might like to use this as an encore), then I’m sure that you have windows to wash periodically, and you now have the proper catalyst for the final wiping”
It is, indeed, a short and very virtuosic piece. The opening immediately reminds us of Chopin’s etude op. 10 no. 4, while the figures in bars 5-7 are reminiscent of the same composer’s Fantasia Impromptu, albeit in a thoroughly different language.
I first performed the piece on April 23rd 2008 in Gunnar Sævigsalen (Bergen)
The manuscript has been lovingly preserved and only used for study and performance.
A recording of the piece can be heard on the aforementioned CD “Postcards From Arlington”.
A charming miniature, full of bonhomie and elegance, the first public performance of which I gave in Arlington Town Hall, as part of the Menotomy Concert Series, on February 11th 2011.
This piece also appears on the CD “Postcards From Arlington”.
My beloved violin teacher from Madrid Francisco Comesaña died in April 2011 after a protracted illness. I told Hurwitz about it shortly afterwards. My description of my teacher prompted him to write a piece in his memory. Since he had never met him, he had the novel idea of writing the work based on his memories of a teacher who had meant a lot to him as a young man: Jerome Diamond. He then asked me to transliterate the musical text so that the music would encapsulate my memories of my teacher. Therefore the “triunity” title. Strictly speaking, there are two triangles represented: Hurwitz-my teacher-myself and Hurwitz-his teacher-myself, with Hurwitz and myself as common vertices.
I premiered Triunity in Jyväskylä (Finland) on March 13th 2012. The video of that performance is on YouTube.
Hurwitz was so pleased with the result of our Triunity experiment that, two years later, he wrote a new piece based on the same principle. Only, this time he chose to write his autobiography in music and asked me to make the piece into my autobiography.
Triunity and Autobiography can thus be seen as companion works. I am particularly pleased with the fact that both compositions contain eleven movements, which gives a total of twenty-two: three times 7 plus 1 (three full octaves!). This unites the two works into a hermetic whole.
In an email dated July 10 th 2013 he wrote. “If you accept it, it is to be done as with ‘Triunity’, with you as the second composer, by way of your decisions as to what to do with the notes regarding tempi, phrasing etc.
It’s increasingly exciting for me to realize, upon continued research on my part, that seemingly, no composer, either great or otherwise, has ever exactly done what you and I have done in the ‘Triunity’ or ‘Autobiography’ (this new piece).”
A few days later, on July 15th, he wrote: “As for the either impossible intervals, or less than intelligent use of some double stops, always be reminded that composition is the lowest item on my totem pole of priorities, and the reality is that my compositional technique has been long in wanting, simply because you are the only living soul I write for”.
I decided to change the final bar of the last movement (“Synopsis”) from a minor to a major third, as I liked to hope (as I still do) that the summation of my biography will amount to something positive. Hurwitz approved of this change, since granting me the role as the piece’s “other composer” was an intrinsic part of the agreement.
Incidentally, the tremolos in this final movement were also my idea.
I gave the first performance of Autobiography in the rehearsal hall of the Grieg Academy in Bergen on May 8th 2014. This can be seen on YouTube.
Suite For Two Unaccompanied Violins
Two years after Autobiography, Hurwitz surprised me with this work for two violins, a medium of which I am particularly fond. Hurwitz’s unique sense of harmony, which is often but implied in the solo works, comes into full bloom in this seven-movement work. The second movement contains, incidentally, the only pizzicatos Hurwitz has ever written for me. I jokingly commented on his having “cruelly deprived me of pizzicati” in his violin music, after I had decided to put one at the end of the fourth movement of Autobiography (he had, after all, invited me to do as I pleased with the text).
I first performed this work in Gunnar Sævigsalen on May 16th 2017, together with Vladimíra Ščigulinská. A video of a later performance (by the same players) can be accessed on YouTube.
Encomium To Us
In an email dated March 26th 2018 the composer wrote to me:“I thought that, as I approached my 90th time around, I felt really quite sure that my experience of writing music for you had ended; certainly, my sense that it was time for me to say, “enough is enough.”
Well, I am in error - the other day, I felt that an expression to you through music felt logical once again, and out came a little statement that was completed in less than half an hour. [...]
The experience of Triunity and Autobiography prompts me to ask you ‘re-compose’ the music, simply by taking the notes, which you will see stand by themselves, with no tempo, dynamics, phrasing, etc., and imagining it through your eyes - something that, once again, will be a composition that we both wrote - something that remains to my knowledge quite unprecedented.”
I premiered this work at the foyer of Grieghallen in Bergen on May 27th 2018, two days before the composer’s 90th birthday. That performance can be watched on YouTube.
Leslie Hurwitz was born on May 29th 1928. In his teens he attended the preparatory program at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and was more than sufficiently gifted to contemplate a successful concert career. He, however, opted for a normal life devoted primarily to teaching. He considers himself first and foremost a teacher, with piano performance as his second priority and composition as his third. He also has a deep love for and knowledge of History. He long ago made a conscious decision to learn something new every day and his knowledge and understanding of music and the arts are profound.
When asked to provide biographical details he is rather laconic, preferring instead to give a list of names of teachers who have meant the most to him and his development:
- Jerome Diamond (Eastman School) - whom he considers his most important piano teacher
- George MacNabb (Eastman) - piano pedagogy
- Howard Hanson (erstwhile Director of the Eastman School) - a brief period of composition
- John E. Hasson (who joined the faculty at Boston University) - musicology
- Miklos Schwalb (New England Conservatory) -16th century counterpoint
- Isidor Philipp (Paris) - A study of his exercises-for-the-student lexicon
- Helmut Walcha (Frankfurt) - organ work at the Three Kings’ Church
- A three year period with a historian, Dr. Charles Arthur, who “ultimately has a greater influence on how I was put together, than any of the wonderful musicians [above]” (email to Ricardo Odriozola, April 16th 2018)
Hurwitz also obtained two degrees in Europe in his twenties, one of them a Master’s, but he claims they “do not, in any manner, have very much to do with who and what I am or represent” (from the same email).
Among awards and distinctions received are the following:
- National education award for a series directed to educators
- Elected 1998 to Who’s Who Among American Teachers
His wide-encompassing pedagogical activity has included:
- Introduction of a music linguistics program for 3rd and 4th graders
- Exclusively college-level programs at high school level; for instance, a four year program in
harmony and counterpoint, using Piston and Hindemith texts.
- An interdisciplinary course at high school level dealing with a synthesis between music and
other subjects taught at high school level
- 27 years at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. (piano, theory, composition, arts history) along with piano for high school level students.
At the time of this writing (June 2018) Hurwitz is serving as “the world’s oldest known disc jockey” (his words) by way of a radio program broadcasted from Tufts University, while continuing his teaching schedule with a handful of students, many of whom have stayed with him for several decades.
Ricardo Odriozola, June 13th 2018