Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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A Nocturne for Granville

Photograph of musician Granville Reynolds, taken between 1872 and 1888.

Today I’d like to tell you a little story.

The gentleman you see at the top of the page is a musician named Granville C. Reynolds.

I have been trying to find out more about him for over 20 years.

It all started with that photograph, or rather, the original sepia version of the photograph.  It was probably taken some time between 1872 and 1888.  Granville was born in 1846.

Granville didn’t start out as a musician though.  The son of a shoe manufacturer in Massachusetts, in 1865 he is a shoe fitter; in 1866, a mechanic.  That year, he married, and by the end of the year was a father of a little boy in Connecticut.

But then something happened.  In one record of his marriage, the entry is crossed out.  In 1869, his wife remarries.  In 1876, Granville’s father in his will excludes Granville’s “son by his wife now said to be divorced from him and to be married and living with another man.”  The child is not named.  Did the family not even know his name?  What on earth happened?

Granville maddeningly disappears from the records after 1866, and emerges in 1875 in Rhode Island as a teacher of music.  He is there for only one year, then he disappears again.

He reappears in 1880, living with his parents.  Occupation: musician.  But what instrument?

I came across an intriguing notice in an 1884 periodical.  In the “New Music” column we find

“Golden Days are Coming Dearest: ” Words by George Birdseye; music by Granville C. Reynolds, is unquestionably the sweetest song of the season. Brimming over with melody, cheery and hopeful it will touch an answering chord in every heart. [1]

I cannot find this music. Birdseye’s poem was set a number of times, but I can’t find Granville’s.  I can’t even prove that the Granville C. Reynolds mentioned is our Granville.

But knowing that he was a musician, I can only hope that the “sweetest song of the season” is his.

Granville died of a stroke in 1888.  He was only 42 years old.

Up until a few weeks ago, that was all that I could ever find.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I might never know what instrument he played.

And then—I found the most unusual genealogical clue I have ever encountered.

Searching in a genealogy database, I plugged in Granville’s name, the way I always do, hoping new data might have been uploaded.  And I found this:

October 16th. Mother called for a piano record on the Victrola.  One of the Nocturnes was played, and Roy gave the name of Granville Reynolds.  He was known to mother’s people, when she was a young girl, Reynolds then being a man of about forty years of age.

“He played that, if you remember, at your home that evening when he called….He says he passed through the change not long after. He says it was better for him, for he was worn out.” [2]

What was this?!  It turns out, it was a passage from the book The Second Letters from Roy, by Leon Stevens, published in 1918.  The premise of Letters from Roy and The Second Letters from Roy is that Leon’s brother Roy, deceased, was communicating with his living family from the Great Beyond, in a chatty correspondence about people and events past and present.

While I can’t vouch for the validity of the premise, I do know that the author’s family and the Reynolds family lived in the same place at the same time, so it is likely that they had crossed paths with Granville during his natural life. And the details about Granville fit.

He played a nocturne.  The only piano nocturnes recorded on Victrola records were Chopin’s.

Granville was a pianist.

And so it is only fitting to close with a Chopin nocturne.  The one that, to me, best suited Granville was Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 1, played here by Arthur Rubinstein.

A side note:  I created the colorized picture of Granville at the MyHeritage genealogy website.  Until the end of April you can colorize your own black and white (or sepia) photos for free, as many as you would like, and download them.  Visit myheritage.com/incolor for details.

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  1. The Southern World, Atlanta, GA, March 15, 1884, p 192, via newspaperarchive.com.
  2. The Second Letters from Roy by Leon Herbert Stevens, Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1918 p 125 via hathitrust.org. Originally found on myheritage.com.


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Sorry, Chopin, and Thank You

Frederic Chopin

Hi readers!  I feel the need to revise this post now that I have more information on the piece presented here.  My original post is in plain text.  My amendments are in italics.

I recently saw a Twitter post that included a performance of one of Chopin’s works. Titled Largo, it was a piece I was unfamiliar with. Short, a little sentimental. Beautiful. Undeniably Chopin.*

And now the asterisk, the bane of a baseball player’s record, comes into play here.  While the style may be undeniably Chopin, the Largo that is so beautiful is a piano arrangement of Handel’s Largo.  See the video below.

And had Chopin’s wishes been carried out, we would never have heard it.

Chopin’s final request was that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed. However, his mother and sisters intervened; instead, they had Julian Fontana review the manuscripts and put together a posthumous collection. [1]

This may be why Chopin requested that his manuscripts be destroyed.  He didn’t want his noodling around, riffing on Handel, to be mixed in with his own work, some of which he may have considered unfinished, or unpolished.  Oddly, when I then listened to Handel’s Largo, I remembered it, but didn’t make the connection when I first heard Chopin’s version.  Reminds me of my Chopin+performer post, except here we have Handel+Chopin.

Among the rescued pieces are a collection of Polish songs, and a variety of piano pieces, including wonderful nocturnes and waltzes.

Here is Largo, performed by pianist James Rhodes.  The tweet reads, “Today I discovered a Chopin piece that I had never heard before.  I can’t believe it.  It’s only two minutes long, but I LOVE it.  His ‘Largo, B109.’ I hope you enjoy it.”

And here is a lovely performance of Handel’s Largo

 

So, apologies to Chopin for not carrying out his wishes, but a thank you for adding a little more beauty to the world.  Because Handel in the hands of Chopin is also a wonderful thing.

If you’d like to read about more about works almost lost to time, check out these posts about the rediscovery of pieces by Shostakovich, Vivaldi, Telemann (here too), Stravinsky, Mozart (and here), and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Thanks to weemspiano for kindly pointing out the Handel connection that I missed before posting, prompting this revision.

And thanks to all the readers along with me on this random walk I call Catapulting into Classical.

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* Not an actual footnote.  Just keep reading.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscellaneous_compositions_(Chopin).


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Haiku Wednesday: GOOD MORNING!

music note with laughter emoji inside

It’s early morning.
It’s still dark, I’m on the road.
I need some music.

Without looking, I
Slip a disc into the slot.
DA DA DA DUM! No!

Beethoven attack!
Off. Fumbling, I find a disc.
Well, let’s try again.

Chopin is lovely,
But too lively this morning–
It’s a rude etude.

Who picked this music?!
I’ll put 4’33” on,
Looping, for a while.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5

 

Chopin:  Etude in A Minor, Op 10, No 2

Cage: 4’33”


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Haiku Wednesday: Chopin on Period Pianos

Frederic Chopin
What would Chopin play
If given the choice today:
Fortepiano
By Erard, Pleyel,
A Broadwood, Buchholtz, or Graf?
Or would Chopin choose
A Bösendorfer,
A Steinway D, or maybe
A Fazioli?
We’ll never know, but
We can hear his music on
Antique pianos.

Today’s post was prompted by a livestream of the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments presented by the Chopin Institute.  The institute will hold international competitions using period instruments once every five years.  You can read about the pianos hereYou can see a recording of the first stage, AM session here and you can see the PM session here.  The early stages of the competition will also include pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Videos of the entire competition will be made available on the Chopin Institute’s YouTube channel and its Facebook page, and, if you’re on the go, via a free app for iOs and Android.

Watching people play 19th century instruments on a cell phone.  Surreal.

Performances from previous years’ competitions (on modern pianos) may also be viewed on the institute’s YouTube channel.

It’s an interesting concept, and I am curious to see how competitors may tailor their performances to the different responsiveness of period instruments.  Will they coax from these more delicate instruments a sound similar to what Chopin might have heard as he played?  Will they select a piano with two foot pedals…or with four?  The pianos also vary in the number of keys on the keyboard, varying from 6-1/2 to 7 octaves (a modern piano has just over 7, a Bösendorfer Imperial has 8).

You will certainly enjoy hours of piano music.  The last phase of the competition will feature performances with an orchestra.

Here is a video of a performance of Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu on Chopin’s own piano, an 1848 Pleyel.

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Image attribution:  Drawing of Chopin by Maria Wodzińska (Own work copied by Nihil novi) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChopin%2C_by_Wodzinska.JPG


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Free Concert Webcast: Stravinsky, Chopin, and a World Premiere

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Today, Friday, June 1, 2018 at 10:45 AM EDT (GMT -4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will webcast a free live concert.  Here’s the program:

Jared Miller: Luster (World Premiere)
Frédéric Chopin: Piano Concerto No 1
Igor Stravinsky: Rite of Spring

Robert Spano will conduct, and the Chopin piano concerto will feature pianist Seong-Jin ChoSee the concert at dso.org/live.


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Haiku Wednesday: Autumn Nocturne

Photograph of lake viewed through autumn leaves

The sky is slate gray
Dead leaves crunch beneath my feet
Or skitter away.

Collar turned up, I
Shove my hands in my pockets
Against the cold wind.

I walk along with
Furrowed brow, lost in thought, with
Even measured steps.

Looking up, I see
Autumn’s rich, vibrant colors
Surrounding the lake.

More than the cold, it
Takes my breath away–there is
Beauty everywhere.

Here is Stefan Jackiw performing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor as a violin solo. Exquisite.

Here you can find a haunting piano solo performance of the nocturne by Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story became known worldwide in the movie “The Pianist.”

References

  1. About the nocturne:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_Op._posth._(Chopin)
  2. Sheet music:  http://imslp.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_B.49_(Chopin,_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric)

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Image attribution: Lake view through autumn leaves by http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Looking_through_tree_autumn_leaves_lake_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Chopin at Dusk

Dusk. As the light fades,
Birds sing their last song, and deer
Emerge from the woods.

A crescent moon peeks
Through the trees, gathers courage,
And rises boldly.

An open window.
Notes like fireflies twinkle
In the cool night air.

They dance for a while,
Then fade away, but surely
They’ll last forever.

You might be expecting a nocturne here.  But what inspired this was Chopin’s Andante Spianato.  Below is a performance by Daniil Trifonov.*  I also like the performance of Benjamin Grosvenor on his Dances album.  Both sublime.

Have a pleasant evening.

 

*Email subscribers, please click here to see the video on my webpage.

References

http://daniiltrifonov.com/

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Image attribution: Nightfall image via https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1324389, CC0, public domain.