Leslie Hurwitz – Works for Violin and Piano

(b.May 29th 1928)

Sonatine Prudent, Pratique (1983)
Enigma (2000)
Para Blazenka (2009)


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 the spring of 1983. Having a work written specially for me (17 years old at the time) was particularly thrilling, and it signalled the beginning of my close cooperation with composers, an activity that I count among the most precious experiences of my musical life. In December of 1982 another composer from Arlington (Pasquale Tassone, who conducted the high school orchestra) had written a solo violin piece for me. Hurwitz’s Sonatine followed a couple of months later. It was particularly exciting to work on the piece with the composer at the piano. The music was unlike anything else I had encountered and the originality of its language continues to amaze me to this day. I had to stretch my technique in order to deal with several less than comfortable passages involving double stops. As I was, at the time, working on Prokofieff’s first sonata (whose first movement contains a notoriously awkward double-stop sequence that is supposed to sound exquisitely seamless), I took it on my stride, assuming that dealing with unwieldy polyphonic passages was part and parcel of playing Twentieth Century violin music.
I have many memories of rehearsing the Sonatine with Hurwitz. Such sessions usually took place at the music room, or on stage at the assembly room, in the High School. Already then he was happy to let me interpret the music as I saw fit. This generous trust in my musical intuition has been a leitmotif in our working relationship through three and a half decades. Working with Hurwitz was always a gratifying experience. I remember him as always positive, an encouraging smile never far from his face as he negotiated the highly virtuosic passages he had written for himself with a flare and a pianism that somehow had the scent of a bygone era. One particular memory sticks out among the others: in one rehearsal he became really happy when I (out of pure luck, no doubt) apparently managed to play the scales on measures 66 and 67 of the third movement so in tune that, according to Hurwitz, each scale stood out as having its own particular colour. This stands as the first instance in my musical life where I was made aware of the practical significance of intonation. I have performed this work several times in Scandinavia and it remains very close to my heart.
Hurwitz and I performed the piece at my graduation recital at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, where I had studied that year under the guidance of the venerable Roman Totenberg.

Sonatine Prudent, Pratique (1983)
It is difficult for me to be objective about this piece, since I have lived with it for thirty-six years and it represents a powerful blueprint in a life spent in search of unusual music, or music out of the beaten path.
This is the work of a man who has thoroughly understood, assimilated and digested the mores of the classical tradition through several centuries. It resembles everything and nothing at all. Hurwitz’s declaration of intention as far as his compositional work has always been to bring the diatonic (NB. not the chromatic) system to its final frontier, as it were. He does this in a thoroughly original way, by juxtaposing tonal centres in unpredictable ways. The music is obviously tonal but almost never in any discernible key.
Regarding this particular work, Hurwitz has told me in a recent email (February 16th 2019) that

I chose the words ‘prudent’ and ‘pratique’ simply because at that time I could not possibly have known what your reactions would be to anything serious I might write for you, as I really had no idea what reactions I might create that could destroy anything that was putting together our chemistry as a student/teacher Reality; therefore I decided to ‘go easy’ stylistically the first time around

Prudent and practical it may be, but in this work Hurwitz displays an exuberance (particularly in the piano writing) that is in direct contrast to the sobriety of Enigma (see below). Some of that pensive mood is also to be found in the Sonatine’s second movement, but in a less reserved manner.
Where musical references are concerned, they are as rare as they are fleeting. I always felt the main theme (the melody, not the harmony) in the first movement has an air of Richard Strauss. I once showed the score to my teacher Zvi Zeitlin who said “it looks like the Franck sonata” (no doubt referring to the piano figurations in parts of the outer movements - it almost goes without saying, though, that the music does not resemble Cesar Franck at all). Measure 20 in the second movement may bring to mind the third movement of Debussy’s violin sonata. The sinister piano part beginning on bar 26 briefly conjures up the spirit of Shostakovich. And of course, the end of the first movement is a friendly wink (this time thoroughly conscious) to J.S. Bach. These remarks are only me attempting, retrospectively, to put this work in a historical context, based on the music I already knew as a 17 year-old. For, otherwise, it is defiantly itself. I cannot imagine any other composer ever coming up with the exquisitely ambiguous sequence between measures 42 and 49 in the second movement, or the dignified demeanour of measures 35-44 in the third movement.
The first movement opens with introductory cadenzas by the piano and the violin in turn. After the boisterous main section (mm. 12-39), the two instruments take a few moments to catch their breath, again on their own, but in reverse order (mm. 40-49). The energy of the main section returns abruptly, finally winding up in a short stretto and a self-assured unison passage that closes the movement.
The second movement opens with 18 measures of solo piano followed by 7 measures of solo violin. The piano introduction presents what can be regarded as the movement’s only proper theme in two versions, the second one more elaborate. In measures 27-30, the violin (with a lugubrious piano for background) takes a sideway glance at the theme before leaving the music to unfold in free fantasy form until measure 55, when the theme, in its full form (but in yet a new guise) is restated once. A coda comprising 8 measures closes the movement in a wistful mood, leaving the music hanging in the air like a question mark.
The contrast that the almost juvenile opening of the third movement provides could not be greater: twice in a row almost the entire range of the piano is covered by rapid upward scales in the course of four measures. The movement is marked “stridulo; veloce” (shrill; quick) and, when the piano finally lays down a groove for the violin to expose the movement’s central theme (m. 7), it is marked “strepitoso” (noisy). The next 28 measures sweep everything before them like a storm. It is all too easy, when studying the score, to find fault with the overtly square phrasing (seven times four measures). Hurwitz, however, played this section with such abandon and forward motion that one heard the music as a relentless stream that, remarkably, erased all sense of cyclic repetition creating, instead, an irresistible excitement. The meno; piú legato section beginning at m. 35 has a noble, almost philosophical air about it. After the brief phrase in mm. 43-44 (probably my favourite spot in the piece) a short piano passage (in true Toccata style) opens for a rather extended violin cadenza, no doubt written in deference to the talented youngster Hurwitz perceived me as being. The feeling of anticipation and excitement created by that passage as I awaited my final, demanding solo in the piece is such that (to quote a classic Incredible String Band song) “every cell of my body has it all writ down”. The violin cadenza contains some complex two-part counterpoint and Baroque-like figurations and ends in proper virtuoso fashion. The piece finishes with what can be regarded as a shared joke between the two instruments: the piano reiterates its 7-octave scale, followed by one octave in the violin and, finally, three upward chromatic notes in the low register of the piano. This shrinking of the sonic picture brings to mind a later piano work by Hurwitz titled “From Iceberg to Ice Cube”. Although Hurwitz writes “glissando” on the final violin scale, I have always played it as a ricochet stroke, which pleased Hurwitz, thus giving me no reason to change it. This is for your information only. I have left the text in the score (and in the violin part) the way Hurwitz wrote it.
I was very fortunate indeed to receive a musical gift such as this Sonatine at such a tender age. A recording of the work can be heard on the CD “Postcards from Arlington” (ARCD 1101)

Enigma (2000)
In a letter dated June 27th 2000, attached to the original score of Enigma and addressed to Einar Røttingen and myself, Hurwitz wrote:

[...] - as you can see, I’m leaving it up to your sense, musically and spiritually, as to how to deal with the text. I’ll simply extend a general picture of what I had in mind as I wrote it. [...] My sense is that of “lugubre”, with a tempo of a quarter equalling about ‘60’, in a rather almost Gregorian intonation at the beginning.
Let me hasten to divulge to you that the physical vertical textures of the music, at least in my mind, dictate the emotional substance of the text; that is, in the more ascetic aspects of the sound production, it may portray for you a more peaceful, if not introspective view of the interpretive line, as opposed to the more flowing and thicker aspects, especially when the sixteenths emerge, a more emotionally charged viewpoint may be your reactions in the performance. And, to encapsulate, when the violin takes the intonational passage over for the final time (starting in measure two of page 7 [m. 61]), the true sense of finality is available.

The title of the piece, for me, represents the view of a kind of ‘question’, which in and of itself is either rhetorical or on the other hand holds its own answer - I am not sure as to which part of the equation holds the assertation. Perhaps you can inform me!

I particularly like what I did with this piece, primarily by way of an improved sense of voice leading which drives the music. I pray that you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I never wrote a “free-form” piece before for the two instruments, and I find it to be a very personal expression.
The score of Enigma easily qualifies as one of the most austere in modern times. The one single indication from the composer, aside from the pitches and durations of the notes, is a “subito piano” on measure 46. The interpretive input from the performers is both expected and inevitable.
The music of this work does justice to its title. The way in which melody and harmony traverse time creates an almost hypnotic atmosphere. There is a sense of constant, albeit slow motion throughout, even when the evolving harmony rests on a pedal point, as is the case of the piano introduction. The unaccompanied violin melody in measures 9 to 16 creates a sense of askesis that permeates much of the piece. The piano textures are typical of Hurwitz: the right hand alternates between contrapuntal lines and colourful block chords; the left hand features characteristic sixteenth-note embroiderings (as in measures 25-37 and 54-55). Elsewhere the frequent presence of left hand octaves seems to suggest the sound of the organ, an instrument Hurwitz studied in his youth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the short piano solo in measures 46-49 where, after the relative bustle built up by the previous section, the music, again resting on a pedal point, suddenly reaches an almost total standstill.
This is an endlessly fascinating work, by dint of its openness which, paradoxically, goes hand in hand with the arcane manner in which it avoids revealing its true essence. I agree with Hurwitz in that Enigma stands as a question in musical form. I’m not sure it has a definite answer, whether contained in the enquiry or not. And I am not sure I would wish to find it, if it were to be found. I much prefer to continue performing the piece, and to keep wondering what it means. Any other approach would burst the bubble, and the enigma would evaporate.
When Einar Røttingen and I played a recital on May 2nd 2005 to mark the twentieth anniversary of our working as a duo, we devoted the first half of the concert to music written by two Norwegian and two American composer friends. I chose Enigma as one of the works in the programme. That performance can be watched on YouTube. We subsequently recorded the work on “Postcards From Arlington”

Para Blazenka (2009)
This is a short, sweet and heartfelt greeting to my wife, whom Hurwitz had the occasion to meet in February 2009, when we spent ten days in Arlington. In a very short time and with very few notes, he manages to invoke a wistful atmosphere, coloured by his inimitably ambiguous sense of harmony. Several tonal centres are hinted at, but this miniature is (in spite of the four flats on its key signature) not in any particular key. The final chord hangs, characteristically (see Enigma and the second movement of the Sonatine), in the air like an open question.
Although I have, as yet, not performed this piece in public, I recorded it on the aforementioned CD “Postcards From Arlington”.

About this edition
In the edited violin part 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.
All of the provided down- and up-bows are, without exception, mine, as are all indications that appear in parentheses.
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 parentheses: (-) or (.) - or a bowing indication.
Also in the violin part, I have chosen to tie grace notes to the main note they precede, although Hurwitz does not adhere to that practice.
The sign [ ] is used to indicate that the given note (usually, but not always, in the lower voice) is (for technical reasons) to be dropped for the span of time covered by the brackets.
The piano score is as faithful a representation of the original manuscript as has been possible.
A companion edition to the present one contains all of Hurwitz’s works for unaccompanied violin (SKU: 4061)

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 (March 2019) 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, March 7th 2019