Please feel free to share. “The Little Drummer Boy Project”
Both as a listener and as a performer, I enjoy digging up obscure pieces that I think deserve to be heard more often. I'm also fortunate to live in a city where the classical radio station likes to go off the beaten path too, so I've had the chance to hear plenty of obscure pieces.
For the last year and a half, I've been making a weekly post on Facebook and on my personal blog featuring a lesser-known masterpiece each week, mostly by lesser-known composers. I thought it'd be a good idea to share some of that music here, especially pieces featuring strings.
My most recent post was the Ricardo Castro cello concerto.
Castro was probably Mexico's leading late Romantic composer, but was neglected after his death because of a whole generation of notable nationalist and modernist composers who immediately followed. His cello concerto, composed in 1895, was the first cello concerto composed in Latin America and the second in the Americas; he also composed the earliest Latin American piano concerto. The Castro cello concerto was completed the month before Dvorak's, when cello solo repertoire was still rather sparse. It was performed once during Castro's life, in Paris in 1903, but was not heard again until Carlos Prieto performed it in Mexico City in 1981.
I find the opening of the concerto especially interesting. It seems to have a bit in common with Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto, in that the soloist starts in a prominent role but an accompanying one. Here, the solo cello plays heavy quadruple-stop chords with the timpani to punctuate a woodwind theme, before taking up the theme itself.
Here's another forgotten piece, this one lost shortly after its premiere and rediscovered more than 70 years later: the Violin Concerto by Guirne Creith.
Guirne Creith (1907-1996) was both highly eccentric and notoriously careless about her music. Even though a number of her major works were performed by leading musicians and orchestras, some getting multiple performances and glowing reviews, and even though she lived entirely in the recorded music era, virtually all her music has been lost to posterity. She was born Gladys Mary Cohen, had five different legal names during her life and had a few pieces published under a sixth name. She quit playing piano and composing in 1952 after an accidental hand injury, retrained as a singer and made a living as a voice teacher under a new name, and then abruptly ceased all music activity a decade later to become a food writer and wine critic. Even her two sons had no idea she had ever been a composer until her violin concerto was rediscovered. Guirne Creith was the name under which she composed almost her entire output.
Creith insisted that scores and parts be returned to her after each performance, and never made any effort to have her music published. Although she was persistent in seeking performances of her music in the UK, she declined all offers of foreign performances except for a single performance of her early symphonic poem Rapunzel in the United States. None of her music was recorded during her lifetime. Unfortunately, she was also rather disorganized and had a tendency to physically misplace her own scores even while she was actively composing. At her death in 1996, everything she had ever composed was missing, with the exception of the three songs published in 1956 and two additional songs published earlier.
Creith's violin concerto was composed in 1935 and first performed in 1936. It was performed by a leading soloist of the era with a major orchestra, namely Albert Sammons with the BBC Symphony Orchestra -- and then it vanished, the score and parts disappearing before a second performance could be arranged. The concerto was rediscovered in 2007 in a piano shop that was going out of business, in a box marked "all contents 2 pounds." The first modern performance and the first recording both took place in 2009.
This is very much a late Romantic violin concerto. In contrast to Creith's contemporaries of the English pastoral school, her concerto tends toward dense, chromatic harmonies, shimmering textures, and long, flowing lines, somewhat reminiscent of Richard Strauss or late Elgar but very much in its own style. A tempestuous first movement runs without interruption into a haunting, questioning slow movement, and finally into a colorful rondo with hints of Scottish fiddle in its rhythms and modal language.