World premiere recording of the works of violinist Amanda Maier-Röntgen, 141 years later
Lately, historians, musicians and music lovers have discovered more about the lives and works of women whose careers flourished along with Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms, but have been excluded from the history books.
Over the past few years, on Violinist.com, we’ve taken a look at the lives of female violinists such as Maud Powell, Wilma Neruda, Leonora Jackson, and more.
Now comes a new recording of works from the brilliant 19C. Swedish violinist Amanda Maier-Röntgen (1853-1894) (called Amanda Maier, Vol. 1). Maier was the first woman to graduate in conducting from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. She composed and created several major pieces and also toured as a violinist before marrying the son of her violin teacher, Julius Röntgen (1855-1932). His concerts stopped after his marriage; she had two children and died at age 41.
The new recording, by Michigan-based Swedish-born violinist Gregory Maytan, features the world premiere recording of his violin concerto, written at the age of 22, for which there is only one movement, the last two movements having been lost. It also includes his unregistered piano quartet and Swedish melodies and dances.
This is the second time that his name has appeared this year. Milwaukee Symphony’s first violin, Frank Almond, also recorded a sonata by Amanda Maier Röntgen in his latest album, A Violin’s Life, Vol. 2.
Maytan, who studied with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss and holds a doctorate from Indiana University, is an associate professor of violin at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. I spoke with Maytan via email about what prompted him to research this music and why it caught his interest.
Laurie: How did you find out about Amanda Maier-Röntgen and her works?
Gregory: I discovered his work at the age of 14. My teacher, who was particularly interested in female composers, gave me Maier’s sonata to learn. Needless to say, I had never heard of Maier before, and soon found out that there was only one recording available of his work!
Many years later, when I recorded my first CD, Scandinavia, I decided to present this sonata. My pianist loved the job, and the reviewers from the Strad, Strings Magazine, the American Record Guide were all very enthusiastic, especially about Maier (the Strad called him ‘the real find’). This positive and somewhat unexpected response prompted me to record more of his works. I discovered an old edition of his six pieces for violin and piano, and recorded them on my second CD, Scandinavia 2.
A few years later, as my sabbatical from college approached and as I began to think about possible projects, I learned that a Maier violin concerto had recently been discovered and published. I ordered the music and a friend in Sweden put me in touch with the director of dB Productions, a Swedish record company specializing in little-known Swedish music. The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra expressed interest in being the first orchestra to record the work, and so the idea for the CD was born. The director also informed me of a piano quartet that had never been recorded, and I mentioned to him that I had learned a series of dances for violin and piano. All this led to the recording of the CD of unpublished works by Maier.
I found that these works had considerable musical merit and deserved to be heard by a wider audience. It is not often that we come across great 19th century music that is completely unknown! In a way, recording this CD is my small contribution to the world of music.
Laurie: Did you have to find his works in a library, or were they published and easy to find? If another violinist wants to play these works, how can he find the music?
Gregory: The piano quartet was found at the Royal Music Library in Stockholm, and the dances, believe it or not, were found on IMSLP! The concerto has just been published by the Royal Swedish Academy a few months before the recording. I also made my own edition of the six pieces for violin and piano. All of the above editions are available on IMSLP and the Royal Swedish Academy website and can be downloaded for free.
Laurie: You mentioned that Amanda Maier had friendships with other famous musicians and composers of her time, can you tell me a bit about it?
Gregory: Absoutely! She was greatly admired by Brahms, Grieg, Joachim and Rubinstein. There are many letters between Maier and Brahms where they express great mutual admiration. We also know that they enjoyed playing chamber music together. Brahms even sent a first version of his third violin sonata to Maier for his advice.
Maier also developed a friendship with Grieg through the Scandinavian Society and was visiting him in Bergen, Norway, when she wrote her piano quartet. Grieg would have been a great admirer of Maier’s talent and person.
Laurie: How does his violin concerto compare to others, where would you place it in terms of genre, and also technical difficulty?
Gregory: You find a lot of direct influence from Beethoven and Mendelssohn in his concerto. Sometimes you may even feel like you are hearing direct quotes. Personally, I would consider it to be of a technical difficulty similar to that of Mendelssohn’s concerto. It is not a virtuoso piece like the concertos of Paganini and Tchaikovsky, but a piece where the violin and the orchestra are equal musical partners in the vein of Beethoven and Brahms.
Laurie: I see this is “Volume 1” – is there more to come?
Gregory: It was the choice of the producers! As far as I know, I have recorded all of Maier’s violin music that we know of. I think the producer is planning a second volume which will contain a work for piano as well as some songs. However, I am not sure!
Laurie: Do you have any advice for musicians looking to rediscover the music of a certain era or a composer, like you did?
Gregory: There is a lot of music that remains virtually unknown from all eras and styles. Part of the joy of being a musician is playing pieces from the great canon of established masterpieces. It is also being able to discover lesser-known works in which we believe and of which we can become a kind of ambassador. Of course, we love to play great composers, and we have to keep doing it. At the same time, I would like to encourage musicians to discover similar hidden musical treasures, such as I believe to be Amanda Maier. I think there is a lot of great music that we have never heard. Just do some research, find something you like, then perform it and save it!
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