Antonio Soler and the Mournful Valley

Not long ago, WQXR played some keyboard sonatas by Padre Antonio Soler, a favorite composer of mine since my student days at MIT but one not especially widely known. That tweaked bittersweet memories of those days in Cambridge MA, especially powerful at this time of the year, in what I’ve come to think of the Mournful Valley of Mid-Winter, in between January 17th, the anniversary of Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s death (this year, the 30th anniversary) and January 22nd, my man Jacques Transue’s birthday (this year, the 73rd; Jacques died in 2003) — and with celebrations of love, for Valentines Day, very much in the air.

This wil be about Ann — another posting of many about her and her family — who shared an appreciation of Soler with me.

The brief word on Soler, from Wikipedia:

Antonio Francisco Javier José Soler Ramos, usually known as Padre (‘Father’, in the religious sense) Antonio Soler … (baptized 3 December 1729, died 20 December 1783) was a Spanish composer whose works span the late Baroque and early Classical music eras. He is best known for his keyboard sonatas, an important contribution to the harpsichord, fortepiano and organ repertoire.

… Padre Soler’s most celebrated works are his keyboard sonatas, which are comparable to those composed by Domenico Scarlatti (with whom he may have studied). However, Soler’s works are more varied in form than those of Scarlatti, with some pieces in three or four movements; Scarlatti’s pieces are in one or two movements. Soler’s sonatas were catalogued in the early twentieth century by Fr. Samuel Rubio and so all have ‘R’ numbers assigned.

Soler also composed concertos, quintets for organ and strings, motets, masses and pieces for solo organ. He also wrote a treatise, Llave de la modulación (“The Key to Modulation”, 1762).

Soler’s Six Concertos for Two Organs are still very much in the repertoire and have been often recorded. A fandango once attributed to Soler, and probably more often performed than any other work of his, is now thought by some to be of doubtful authorship.

I’ve played some of the keybord sonatas on the piano, and very much admire Scott Ross’s harpsichord performances of them. But Ann and especially loved the two-organ concertos, full of playful joy and wild enthusiasm. You can listen to No. 3 in G minor, performed by Ton Koopman and Tini Mathot, on YouTube here.

With very hesitant memory, I recall a performance by E. Power Biggs and Daniel Pinkham of some of these works at Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, with Biggs playing the Flentrop pipe organ he was instrumental in bringing to Harvard. From Wikipedia:

Founded in 1903 as the Germanic Museum, the Busch–Reisinger Museum is the only museum in North America dedicated to the study of art from the German-speaking countries of Central and Northern Europe in all media and in all periods.

… From 1921-1991, the Busch-Reisinger was located in Adolphus Busch Hall at 29 Kirkland Street. The hall continues to house the Busch-Reisinger’s founding collection of medieval plaster casts and an exhibition on the history of the Busch–Reisinger Museum; it also hosts concerts on its Flentrop pipe organ.

(The Museum will soon move again, to a new building designed by Renzo Piano.)

I say “with hesitant memory”, since I can’t any recall details of the performance, so I can’t swear that Ann and I actually were in attendance. But we certainly had the recording by Biggs and Pinkham in our Cambridge apartment, where we played it nearly to death; hardly anyone had heard of Soler. (That was a vinyl recording, now long gone from my music collection; it seems not to have been released on CD, so now I have several alternative performances on my iTunes.) Memory is a fragile thing.

In any case, since Saturday, which was Ann’s death day, I’ve been reflecting on loving partnerships, recalling Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, about the sudden loss of her husband and how much such a death seems like a loss of part of yourself; over time, you parcel out responsibilities and competences, and then when your partner dies, a piece of you vanishes. Meanwhile, in a close relationship, each of you changes the other, so that over time you’ve both become new people. Both things true for Ann and me, and also for Jacques and me.

Meanwhile, Ann’s long-time best female friend, Benita Bendon Campbell (from their junior year abroad in France), who’s been my friend as well since 1960, in Princeton, has become a Facebook friend. Indeed, a Facebook Friend, since she’s a Quaker.

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