Music of Marion Bauer & Ruth Crawford Seeger

Virginia Eskin, piano

Arnold Steinhardt, viola

Charleston String Quartet

Marion Bauer

From the New Hampshire Woods, Op. 12

Sonata for Viola & Piano, Op. 22

Four Piano Pieces, Op. 21

Ruth Crawford Seeger

Kaleideoscopic Changes

Selections from 19 American Folk Songs for Piano

Suite No. 2 for Four Strings & Piano


Marion Bauer (1882-1955) and Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953) began their life-long friendship in the summer of 1929, when both enjoyed privileged living at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire a haven for American artists since 1907. Nothing to do but take care of your self and your work: lunch baskets dropped off at the door of your studio, dinners with writers, painters, and fellow musicians, walks through pine woods.

At a time when women in music had to face down Victorian stereotypes of dilletantism and sentimentality, the MacDowell Colony provided a "a room of one's own." A Peterborough regular, Bauer came for her first visit in 1917. Within two days of arriving for what would be her only stay there, Crawford wrote how it was "glorious to be working again...I never knew the moon and stars could come inside me so."

Considering their historical reputations, few people would suspect the meeting points between these two composers Bauer, representing what Carol Oja in her forthcoming book calls the "forgotten vanguard," and Crawford, known today as a pivotal figure in the radical "ultra-modern" movement. But back then, both believed strongly in the manifest destiny of a similar kind of modernism: both spent the 1920s exploring frontiers of harmony; both greatly admired Scriabin, taking his mystical impressionism as their starting point; and both were influenced by transcendentalist aesthetics. After hearing some of Bauer's piano preludes, Crawford recorded her impressions in her diary: "I am bewildered by the strangeness of the experience, [by our] affinities. Our manner of building, our feeling very strongly the spirit of our work, our strengths and weaknesses in all these, tho we are individuals, yet we are very close. Tho we have only just met, yet our spirits have been friends for years."

Born in Walla Walla, Washington of French parentage, Bauer received her musical training in New York, Paris, and Berlin. In 1908 she was the first of many Americans to study with Nadia Boulanger and returned to Paris again in 1923 to study with Andre Gedalge the teacher of Ravel and Milhaud. As a founding member of the American Music Guild in 1922, an active member of the League of Composers, a professor at NYU, and a writer, Bauer prosletyzed for contemporary music. (Many years later a grateful Milton Babbitt, recalled how "anyone who was interested in contemporary music saw Bauer's book, Twentieth Century Music (1933) and rushed to Washington Square to be with someone who cared about this music.")

In Twentieth Century Music Bauer's description of her generation's understanding of modern harmony sheds light on her own music. She stressed the richness of harmonic opportunities, the committment to dissonance, and the prevailing ideal of continuous movement which "implies a fluidic or dynamic state." The passion in Bauer's music comes from just this kind of vivid harmonically focused animation.

In From the New Hampshire Woods, Op. 12 (1922-23), each of the three pieces is preceded by a short poem setting the mood. In "White Birches," "ghostly birches glimmer" under a D-flat moon, in rippling arpeggiated chromatic chords and constant cross rhythms. The melodic line shifts from outer to inner voices; a middle section decorates a chromatic scale. Bauer herself wrote the poem for the second piece in the set, the G-major "Indian Pipes" (Op. 12, no. 2, dedicated to Marion MacDowell), describing the indigenous New England wood-fern, as "ghostly," "Mysterious! Transcendent!!!" "Pine Trees" (Op. 12, no. 3, has the textural consistency of a Bach prelude, each line pointed with hard-edged dissonant intervals.

Just one year later, Bauer pushed her ideal of "fluidic or dynamic state" beyond the key signature into atonality in a virtuoso work, "Turbulence" (Op. 17 no. 2, 1924). Here a variety of rhythmically challenging figures propel the restless rush of chromatic chords to a passionate climax.

Bauer used her next set, Four Piano Pieces, Op. 21 (1930), recorded here for the first time, as compositional studies for exploring new harmonic idioms, such as bitonality, chromatic saturation, and what she called "arbitrary" or synthetic chords. The best of the set, "Chromaticon," interrupts passages of dense chromatic writing (eleven pitches are used in the first measure alone) with polytonal chord passages, pitting chords built on fifths against one another. "Ostinato" explores the idea of consecutive ostinato patterns in a heterogeneous texture that evokes Ives. The ending of Toccata, which was dedicated to Ruth Crawford, is cited by Bauer in Twentieth Century Music as an "example of how old material may be renovated to sound like new" where arbitrary chords function as substitutes for the old language of movement and repose. "Syncope" finds Bauer playing with percussive rhythms and jazz-like harmonies.

In addition to piano music, Bauer composed a symphony, a concerto, other shorter works for orchestra and many chamber works. One her her better-known pieces, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 22 (1935), represented her oeuvre on two important occasions, the first an all-Bauer tribute concert at Town Hall in New York in 1951, and finally, at a memorial concert for her in 1956. The piece has three movements written in traditional forms; the first in sonata form, the second, a lyrical slow movement interrupted by a fully developed scherzo, and the third, a rondo. Bauer's harmonic fingerprints are there in the vigorous themes "harmonized" by open fifths and tritones and the lively rhythmic language that occasioanlly evokes American popular music.

Ruth Crawford Seeger had two distinct careers in music, the first as a composer and the second as a leading figure in the urban folk song revival. Both sides are represented here, with two premiere recordings, the first, an early student work and the second, excerpts from a set of folksong arrangements from

the late 1930s.

Born in East Liverpool, Ohio, Crawford had no substantive musical training until she was thirteen, studying piano at Bertha Foster's School of Musical Art in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1921 she left a provincial world for the "advanced" city of Chicago, enrolling in the American Conservatory of Music for a one-year certificate program for piano teachers. As she received her first serious training in theory, composition replaced performance in her ambitions. In June 1924 Crawford received her Bachelor's Degree in Music, playing the premiere of Kaleidoscopic Changes on an Original Theme Ending with a Fugue at a program of new student works on May 31, 1924.

Although the work was well-received, Crawford did not include it among the list of her mature works. Today we appreciate it as an intriguing glimpse at her early personality. Kaleidoscopic Changes, Crawford's last work with a formal key signature, opens with augmented triads in a four-bar vamp, followed by a languorous tune Duke Ellington would have liked. The first variation in A major reimagines the tune as a scherzo. The second variation treats the theme contrapuntally in the right hand, its exposed tritones an acerbic contrast to the lush bluesy chords that follow. The lurching fugue subject carries the piece into a more austere atonal world. No other known performance of the piece exists after Crawford's 1924 recital until the 1980s, when a few pianists among them Virginia Eskin resurrected the work.

Kaleidoscopic Changes had its share of stylistic influences Chopin, perhaps even Gershwin; and its moments of originality in its striking dissonance, harmonic boldness and quixotic shifts in mood and figure. Where would this path lead? "Ruth was a little ahead of herself," a fellow student remembered disapprovingly. Crawford's composition teacher, Adolf Weidig offered little explicit guidance.

In 1925 Crawford's development took a new turn when her piano teacher, Djane Lavoie Herz, a Scriabin devotee, introduced her to new ideas and new people. The new ideas mixed Scriabin's mystical aesthetics with the philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lao-Tse and Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy an esoteric religion so very popular among intellectuals in the 1920s. The new people included composers Dane Rudhyar and Henry Cowell, both profoundly committed to dissonance as the path for new music. Crawford found a way to synthesize all of this into her brand of spiritually vibrant transcendental modernism.

In 1929 Crawford left Chicago for New York, spurred on by Henry Cowell and by Mrs. MacDowell. She later wrote, "when an offer of a summer scholarship at the MacDowell Colony came along simultaneously with an offer of a year's stay in the home of a New York patron of modern music, I gambled for there was no capital anywhere, and came East." Crawford composed the Suite no. 2 for Four Strings and Piano that summer and finished it in New York that fall. The Suite, which received its premiere on March 9, 1930 at a Pro Musica concert but was published only in 1993 (A-R Editions) shows several sides of her personality, alternately spiritual and lugubrious, lyrical and energetic and intensely volatile. The first movement begins in the low registers she often used to symbolize Rudhyar's primal earth-tones; a soft chromatic ostinato in the piano and low strings supports five, brief disjointed thematic gestures in the two violins. This fragmentary material behaves like a ritornello, reappearing at the end of the second movement and at the end of the entire piece. The first two movements, the Lento-Cantando and the Leggiero, though varied in character, are concentrated and brief, lasting together about five minutes, while the third, Allegro Energico, lasts as long as the first two put together. The final movement is a bold fantasia, with many changes of mood and tempo.

The finely constructed part writing of the Suite foreshadowed the direction Crawford would follow in New York, studying with Charles Seeger, the exponent of an experimental "discipline" of dissonant counterpoint he had taught to Henry Cowell and others many years earlier. (That experience led to Crawford's most celebrated work, the String Quartet 1931.) Crawford married Seeger in 1932; their musical partnership forged in the 1920s avant garde would prove strong enough to carry them across a philosophical divide into traditional music. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, Crawford Seeger's sense of mission shifted away from her own work towards American traditional music, as she along with her husband and her step-son Pete discovered and advocated for the artistic recognition of American vernacular song. A move to Washington in 1936, so that Charles could become a music supervisor in the New Deal's Resettlement Administration, proved decisive in this respect.

Within two years Crawford Seeger arranged "Twenty-two American Folk Tunes" as piano compositions intended for beginners, of which nineteen survive (published in 1995 by G. Schirmer). Her preface explained the goals of acquainting the piano student "with at least a small part of the traditional (i.e. "folk") music of his own country." This mini-manifesto rings with the fervor of the convert: "It is the belief of this composer that, just as the child becomes acquainted with his own home environment before experiencing the more varied contacts of school and community, so should the music student be given the rich musical heritage of his own country as a basis upon which to build his experience of the folk and art music of other countries." Yet even here the composer mentions traditional music as a foundation for a broader Western experience, avoiding the idea of false competition between two kinds of musical expression. Had not Haydn and Beethoven been steeped in the vernacular musics around them?

Crawford Seeger had a larger vision about the affinities between the very old and very new. Inspired by George Pullen Jackson's White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands (1933), she noted how that music "revels in these characteristics of "modern music": its "bareness rather than a richness of style" and "a freer use of the fifth, fourth, seventh, and second intervals so abundantly used in most contemporary music." Thus her folk tune arrangements use "an idiom savoring as much as possible of the contemporary." In "Sweet Betsy from Pike," a "yaller dog" lands on a tritone with a forte thud. "Three Old Crows" sit on a tree of double parallel fifths. "The Babes in the Woods" sing their tune in D major, are accompanied by a pattern in B minor, and refuse to resolve the dilemma by ending on G major. This theme of rapprochement between modernist idioms and oral tradition (typical of Bartók as well) became a centerpiece of revival doctrine for this composer, recurring in her work throughout the 1930s and 40s.

Judith Tick author of Ruth Crawford Seeger.

A Composer's Search for American Music

Virginia Eskin

Virginia Eskin, piano, has appeared as piano soloist throughout the U.S., Europe, and Israel, with recent concerto, recital, and chamber music performances, plus numerous radio and television interviews and appearances. Long a devoted and effective advocate of women composers, she has also been intent on introducing the listening public to neglected music of such American composers as John Knowles Paine, Arthur William Foote, and George Whitefield Chadwick. Her solo piano compact disc of works by Foote and Amy Beach is one of more than a dozen of her releases on the Northeastern, Koch, Leonarda, Genesis, and Musical Heritage labels, including "American Beauties: The Rags of Joseph Lamb" and "Mrs. H.H.A. Beach." She recorded "Chamber Music from Theresienstadt," "Music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor," and "Silenced Voices" at various times with the Hawthorne Quartet. Her 1993 solo release of ragtime composed by women, "Fluffy-Ruffle girls," was featured in Time Magazine and on the CBS-TV "This Morning" show, and other noteworthy recognition of her recordings has included the New York Times' "The Year's Best List;" Stereo Review's "Recording of Special Merit" and "An American Original;" and the Boston Globe's "Top Ten." She teaches undergraduate courses at Northeastern University and has an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Keene State College. Ms. Eskin has been named Host for the NPR program A NOTE TO YOU, which is sponsored by Northeastern University and WGBH.

Arnold Steinhardt

Born in Los Angeles, Arnold Steinhardt received his early training from Karl Moldrem, Peter Meremblum and Toscha Seidel. He made his solo debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at age 14. He continued his studies with Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute of Music and with Joseph Szigeti in Switzerland in 1962 under the sponsorship of George Szell. Winner of the Philadelphia Youth Competition in 1957, the 1958 Leventritt Award, and Bronze Medalist in the Queen Elizabeth International Violin Competition in 1963, Steinhardt has appeared throughout America and Europe as a recitalist and soloist with various orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra where he was assistant Concertmaster under George Szell.

Arnold Steinhardt is first violinist and founding member (1964) of the internationally acclaimed Guarneri String Quartet with which he has made innumerable tours on many continents and recorded dozens of albums for RCA Victor, Philips and currently for Arabesque. He is Professor of Violin at the University of Maryland, Rutgers University, and The Curtis Institute of Music where he has conducted the Curtis Orchestra in several concerts including an appearance on French television. Recipient of Honorary Degrees from the University of South Florida and S.U.N.Y., Binghamton, Mr. Steinhardt has also received an award for distinguished cultural services from the City of New York, presented by Mayor Koch. He is the author of articles which have appeared in Chamber Music America, Musical America, and Keynote. He is currently writing a book about string quartet playing.

Mr. Steinhardt's recordings include "Romantic Music for Violin and Piano" for the audiophile Sheffield Lab label, an album of music for violin and piano by women composers with pianist Virginia Eskin for Northeastern Records, a Town Hall label recording of unaccompanied Bach works, an all Robert Fuchs recording on Biddulph Records, featuring him on both violin and viola with his brother Victor Steinhardt at the piano.

Charleston String Quartet

The Charleston String Quartet is Quartet-in-Residence at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. In addition to their dozens of concerts each year at home in southeastern New England, the Quartet maintains an active touring schedule that has taken them from Blue Hill, Maine, to Aspen, Colorado, and from New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to Copenhagen, Paris, and Stockholm. Since the group was founded in 1983 as the first Quartet-in-Residence with the West Virginia Symphony, they have performed over 700 concerts together, and have been heard on American Public Radio, Boston's WGBH, West Virginia Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Radio Stockholm, and on other radio and television stations.

Their recent concert in Copenhagen was described as "something completely extraordinary all the expressive force which can be rightfully expected from musicians of international standing." The Washington Post wrote: "Violinists Charles Sherba and Lois Finkel, violist Consuelo Sherba, and cellist Daniel Harp played superbly."

Cover Photo: Firth Studio & Field - The MacDowell Colony · © 1992, Joanna Eldredge Morrissey, photographer, Cold Comfort Farm, 510 Windy Row, Peterborough, NH 03458

Special thanks to J.D. Steinfield.

From New Hampshire Woods and Turbulence were originally issued on Northeastern Records LPNR204, 1981. Sonata for Viola and Piano was originally issued on Northeastern Records LPNR222, 1985. Copyright P Northestern Records 1981 and 1985. Used by permission.

Music of Marion Bauer and Ruth Crawford Seeger

Marion Bauer

From the New Hampshire Woods, Op. 12

White Birches (2:21)

Indian Pipes (2:16)

Pine Trees (2:17)

Turbulence, Op. 17, no. 2 (1:24)

Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 22

Allegretto (5:44)

Andante Expressivo (4:22)

Allegro (4:25)

Four Piano Pieces, Op. 21

Chromaticon (2:12)

Ostinato (2:33)

Toccata (1:47)

Syncope (2:32)

Ruth Crawford Seeger

Kaleidoscopic Changes on an Original Theme

Ending with a Fugue (10:38)

Selections from

Nineteen American Folk Songs for Piano

Darby's Ram (:52)

Boll Weevil (:35)

What'll We Do with the Baby? (:55)

Cindy (:54)

Turtle Dove (:41)

The Babes in the Woods (:45)

Ground Hog (:35)

Sweet Betsy from Pike (L34)

The Three Ravens (1:07)

Mammy Loves (:40)

I Ride an Old Paint (:49)

Frog Went A-Courtin (:56)

Suite No. 2 for Four Strings and Piano

Lento (2:41)

Leggiero (1:58)

Allegro energico (5:38)

Total Time = 67:30

Virginia Eskin, piano

Arnold Steinhardt, viola

Charleston String Quartet