By D. J. McAdam
I think that, by now - we've had this website going since 1997, early indeed by internet standards - everyone who visits the site is aware of my passion for books, and book collecting. Fewer readers may be aware of my interest in classical music; partly because (unlike my bibliophilic tendencies) my interest in classical music is inconstant, and partly because my writings about classical music, such as they are, appear on a different website (www.danielmcadam.com).
A reason for keeping these two passions separate is that they, of course, are not necessarily related. One may be a book collector without enjoying classical music, and vice versa. If, however - and this is entirely up to you, dear reader - one chooses to indulge both interests, then a great deal of satisfaction may be found in the natural outcome of such a combination, which is to collect books related to classical music.
This is not an essay upon that subject. I should write one, and hope to one day.
This is, instead, an essay about things found in books and, more particularly, things recently found in one particular book, which happened to be about music.
Back in the dark pre-internet days, when one had to get what little information one could about book collecting from (believe it or not) books, and magazines, I recall reading an article by an antiquarian bookseller upon the subject of things found in books. He - if I remember correctly - once found a one hundred dollar bill in an old book.
This has never happened to me.
I have, on occasion, found old postage stamps; interesting, but neither rare nor valuable. More often, I have come across pressed flowers, or leaves, or other things which have excited my allergies more than they have excited any intellectual curiosity. Most books do not have things stuck inside them, and this is really as it should be, hundred dollar bills notwithstanding.
Last night, at any event, I opened a recently-purchased copy of John Comfort Fillmore's Pianoforte Music: Its History, With Biographical Sketches and Critical Estimates of Its Greatest Masters. It's a very nice copy, a third edition, published in 1887. The author, a piano teacher in Milwaukee, was a lively writer, and did a fine job with his subject.
Who owned this particular copy before me I cannot say; at least, I cannot say with certainty, as no name appears in the book. But let us play detective, since the enclosures found in this particular book virtually invite us into that sort of activity.
We have, to start, the age of the book, which as already stated dates from 1887. We also have a publisher's label on the title page. It reads: "For sale by J FISCHER & BRO. Music Publishers, No. 7, Bible House, NEW YORK."
We also have a small pile of yellowed newspaper clippings that were tucked inside the book. One is from the Kansas City Times, and is dated December 11, 1917. That's very helpful, in terms of both location and date.
There is a single page, that looks as if it were torn from a program of some sort, advertising a performance with the violinist Eddy Brown at the Shubert Theatre. As a former New Yorker, I know the Shubert Theatre exists in New York City, on Broadway.
There is a folded sheetlet, advertising, "Classes in Interpretation for Pianists by John Thompson," the Director of the Piano Department, Kansas City Conservatory of Music, 1515 Linwood Boulevard.
Let's start hypothesizing about the person who assembled these clippings, and placed them in this book. We know the person is interested in music in general, and piano music in particular. Is the person a student of the piano? The book, and the advertisement of classes, would make us believe so. We can guess, too, that the person lives in or near Kansas City. It is likely that the person has traveled to New York at least once to attend a performance; the book was, in all probability, purchased there.
We do not know his or her age. Students tend to be young, though of course they need not be. Let us guess just for the sake of guessing that, in 1917, our student is eighteen years of age. That would mean that he, or she, was born around 1899.
There are more clippings. One, on the reverse, has an interesting advertisement for "BOB WHITE, The National Standard - the BIG VALUE Roll of TOILET PAPER, Sold everywhere." Ah, for simpler times, when one did not have to put up with needless euphemisms like, "bathroom tissue." But we digress. The clipping was not saved for the toilet paper advertisement, but for a notice on the obverse side stating that the French violinist Raoul Vidas - "the boy, for he is no more" - recently won over an audience at the Shubert. This confirms an interest in violinists who perform at the Shubert Theatre, but nothing more.
There is a clipping entitled, "Why FEW WOMEN Have Been Able to Compose Great Music!" This isn't really a news story, and so the question is not answered; the headline is merely followed by a listing of composers - Bach, Scarlatti, Liszt, etc. - who are male.
The first clipping mentioned, the only one with a date and name of a newspaper, is on a similar subject. The headline reads, "Woman's Share in Writing World's Music a Big One," and discusses prejudice in this area, pointing out that Chaminade signed her compositions with her initials, and that Augusta Holmes used a man's name.
We then have an obituary for Lisa Lehmann, stating that she was, "the first woman composer to achieve international fame."
There is a theme here, that is specific enough to help us. This lover of music and probable student of the piano had a significant interest in composers of the fairer sex. It is no great leap to assume that our person's gender was female.
Another clipping bears this out. It is entitled, "Why Leginska Bobs Her Hair," and discusses the hairstyle of a female pianist.
There is an article discussing Ignace Paderewski as a potential head of the new Polish Republic. Significant? There is also a very brief article saying that Americans "Shun German Music."
There is a clipping about Oscar Seagle, the baritone, coming to Kansas City on January 26th, and appearing at the Shubert Theatre with violinist Eddy Brown. Wait! What fools we were! This is the same performance discussed in the program page. The Shubert Theatre in question was not located in New York, but in Kansas City! Our young, female piano student has no connection with New York, but only with Kansas City.
There is a notice of a marriage ceremony (performed in Manhattan, but let's not get into that) joining the Russian pianist Leo Ornstein and Miss Pauline C. Mallet-Prevost in holy matrimony. This must have been of more than passing interest to our student, as she has written, in pencil, the date "Dec 14 / 1918" on the clipping.
Our search is nearing an end, but is not yet over. There is one tiny scrap of paper left, but it may be of great significance. It reads: "For the recital by Mr. Barney Reilley in Drexel Hall tonight the following young women will act as ushers: Mrs. C. M. Burr, Miss Vertina Powers, Miss Lillian Adams, Miss Marjorie Ward, Miss Dorothy Martin, Miss Mildred Zaman."
Would you save a scrap of paper like that? You would, if you were one of the six "young women." That is my contention. Which of the six, I cannot say without more research. Did any of the six become famous female composers?
Let me just observe that I would rather live a life with too many dreams - fulfilled or otherwise - than too few.
Postscript: I have purposely not done any internet research on the above, leaving the reader free to pursue the mystery for himself. I have also refrained from drawing attention to events of the day, such as World War I. If you have information to share about this story, please feel free to drop me a note at email@example.com
Update, September 2006
Many thanks to both Ivan Hild and Peter Mintun, who have both provided what could be a significant clue (if not a solution - it's difficult to be conclusive with older mysteries) to the puzzle above. Both gentlemen felt that the book and its clippings may have been connected in some way to Dana Suesse, a fascinating American musician and composer of whom I had been previously unaware. The information that follows is from Messrs. Hild and Mintun, and we are indebted to them:
Ivan Hild: [Using written information from an article by Peter C. Mintun, Suesse's literary executor] "I would guess that the individual in question was a little girl at the time who was indeed a child prodigy in music in Kansas City of the day, Nadine Dana Suesse (pronounced Sweese). Born into a lively era in music and entertainment in Kansas City, Missouri on December 3, 1909, when she grew too tall for ballet, piano lessons were begun with Kansas City teacher Gertrude Concannon. Her first concert was in Drexel Hall, Kansas City on June 29, 1919 although from the very start Dana Suesse had shown vast natural talents at the piano, and particularly at piano composition. She studied the organ with Hans Feil, who presented Dana in an organ recital on December 17, 1922. Dana had an affinity with the southern side of her family (as a child she visited them regularly), and frequently volunteered Shreveport, Louisiana as her birthplace (she told one interviewer it was Alabama). Furthermore, while she declared she detested the life of a child prodigy, all through her early career she subtracted a couple of years from her real age. In 1926 Dana and her mother traveled to New York to advance her studies with the great pedagogue Alexander Siloti (at that time one of the four surviving pupils of Franz Liszt), and Rubin Goldmark, a former teacher of George Gershwin. In New York, Dana began experimenting with the jazz idiom. Her composition Syncopated Love Song bridged this gap between "serious" and "jazz" forms. Written in 1928, it wasn't popularized until Nathaniel Shilkret recorded it in 1929. Leo Robin created a lyric, and it soon became the hit song "Have You Forgotten." She was teamed with lyricist Edward Heyman, and wrote two more hits, "Ho Hum" and "My Silent Love." Paul Whiteman, the most famous orchestra leader in the world was planning another "Experiment In Modern Music," and wanted to introduce modern works, as he had done in 1924 when he introduced Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. Whiteman and his arranger, Ferde Grofé, accepted Suesse's Concerto in Three Rhythms without criticism, and Suesse performed it at Carnegie Hall on November 4, 1932. Beginning with Billy Rose's first Broadway show, Sweet And Low (1930) Dana contributed to all of Rose's spectacular revues, including Casa Manana, the Aquacade and the Diamond Horseshoe revues. "The Night Is Young And You're So Beautiful" (written with Rose) won fifth place on Your Hit Parade on the broadcast of February 6, 1937, and stayed on the program for six weeks. (In our entire lives will we ever forget that haunting song?) Suesse also contributed songs to the Ziegfeld Follies (1934), Earl Carroll Vanities (1935), The Red Cat (1934) and the score to the film, Sweet Surrender (Universal, 1935). Her song "You Oughta Be In Pictures" (lyrics by Edward Heyman) came from a long-forgotten film short called New York Town (Columbia, 1934). Incidental music was also written for numerous plays, including The Seven Year Itch (1952), produced by her first husband, H. Courtney Burr. Suesse's concertos and other works were featured in Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Metropolitan Opera House. Conductors such as Frank J. Black, Robert Russell Bennett, Frederick Fennell, Arthur Fiedler, Eugene Goossens, Ferde Grofé, Nathaniel Shilkret, Alexander Smallens, Alfred Wallenstein and Meredith Willson performed her works in concert halls and on radio. She was the only American composer other than George Gershwin to be invited to perform on the now legendary General Motors Symphony concert series of nationwide broadcasts. Suesse aspired to be a lyricist as well as playwright, but her attempts at play writing never achieved success. One comedy, It Takes Two (written with Virginia Faulkner) ran a short time to miserable reviews in New York (February, 1947), but that did not prevent Dana from enjoying half of the fifty-thousand dollars paid for film rights. She took the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream, to study composition with a master. She moved to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger for three years, composing canons, string quartets, rondos, analyzing Beethoven sonatas and re-learning orchestration. After her return to the States, Dana was fascinated with the new progressive jazz sounds created by such pianists as Cy Coleman, Marian McPartland and Billy Taylor. Frederick Fennell, conductor of the Eastman School of Music, heard about her Concerto in Rhythm (later called Jazz Concerto In D Major for Combo and Orchestra), and requested she play it for him on the piano, after which he insisted he be the first to conduct it. Before a cordial audience of two thousand, Suesse played the solo part as Fennell conducted the Rochester Civic Orchestra on Saturday night, March 31, 1956. The Rochester Times-Union said: "This is melodic music, full of surging pulse and vitality, fashioned as a work of art and possessing some thrilling climaxes." Despite her success in music, Dana still aspired to be more than a composer, and wrote scripts for many plays, with and without music. After Dana's mother and stepfather had passed away, she became disenchanted with Manhattan and the post-War music business. In April 1970, she moved to New London, Connecticut, where she met her next husband, C. Edwin Delinks. In 1974, after three years of marriage, they decided to invest their own money in an all-Suesse symphony concert at Carnegie Hall. Dana engaged the services of conductor Frederick Fennell and attended to a million details. The concert was given on December 11, 1974, with Cy Coleman as soloist with the American Symphony Orchestra. The New York Times reported, "...The highlight of the evening came when Miss Suesse herself joined the Orchestra to play 'The Blues,' which is the second movement of the Concerto she played with Paul Whiteman at her début forty-two years ago." A year later the prestigious Newport Music Festival (Rhode Island) presented four of her works in a concert series devoted to women. In 1975 Dana and Ed Delinks moved to Frederiksted, St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands. She returned to Manhattan in 1982 and rented two adjoining apartments at the Gramercy Park Hotel. A revival of interest in American music made her popular again for interviews and songwriters' concerts. Just before Suesse's death from a stroke she was busily writing a new musical, putting the finishing touches on Mr. Sycamore, which had been optioned for off- Broadway, and was looking for a New York home for a straight play, Nemesis.
Peter Mintun: "Ivan Hild kindly forwarded your message and link to your web site. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story about the clippings found in the lesson book.
(Mr. Mintun also provided the photograph.)
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