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Composer born today: September 8. Antonin Dvořák

Antonin Dvořák

He played the viola and he studied with Brahms. Two reasons why he is one of my all time favorite composers.

In 1857 he went to the capital or Czechoslovakia, Prague, to study at the Organ School, where he studied composition, the playing of chorales and improvising, while attending also the secondary school. He played viola in the music society orchestra. In 1859, as a viola player, he joined a dance band that played in restaurants and for balls, remaining there for some years. In 1862 he was principal violist with a Czech opera house theatre orchestraWhile Dvorak was studying composition, he went through a sort of “practical training” about instrumental music, playing viola in orchestra from the age of 16 to the age of 30,  learning first hand how to write for the viola. He believed that “no instrument should be playing a part that is merely filling in, every instrument speaks a language of its own.” His first first official opus was a quintet with two violas.

Born September 8, 1841, in Nelahozeves, Bohemia (now Czech Republic); (died May 1, 1904, in Prague); son of Frantisek (a butcher and innkeeper) and Anna Zdenek Dvorak; married Anna Cermakova, November, 1873; children: Otakar, Otilie Suk, Aloisie, Anna, Antonin, Magda. Education: Prague Organ School, 1857-59.

Considered the greatest composer that the Czech nation ever produced, Antonin Dvorak wrote a career’s worth of classical works for orchestra, symphony, and choir that survive as some of the most majestic and acclaimed works of nineteenth-century Romantic music.

Dvorak entered the Austrian State Stipendium competition. Brahms sat on its jury, and was greatly impressed by the young Czech and his ability to integrate Bohemian folk melodies into a serious classical opus. Dvorak was awarded a respectable prize that year, and Brahms helped him find a publisher for his music.

Read more: Antonin Dvorak Biography http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608002312/antonin-dvorak.html#ixzz0ysgyoNVT

Calling all violists. William Primrose was born today – August 23 – in 1903.

William Primrose  CBE (23 August 1904 – 1 May 1982) was a Scottish violist and teacher.

Primrose was born in Glasgow and studied violin initially. In 1919 he moved to study at the then Guildhall School of Music in London.[1] From there he moved to Belgium to study under Eugène Ysaÿe who encouraged him to take up the viola instead. In 1930, he joined Warwick Evans, John Pennington, and Thomas Petre as the violist in the London String Quartet. The group dissolved in 1935. In 1937, he began playing in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. When it was rumored that Toscanini would leave the Symphony in 1941, Primrose resigned. His career as a soloist took off when he started touring with Richard Crooks. He later signed with Arthur Judson, an influential concert manager. In 1946, he was the soloist in the first recording of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy.

Later in his life, Primrose became a noted teacher, writing several books on viola playing and teaching widely in Japan, Australia (where Richard Tognetti was one of his students)[3] and the USA, occasionally at the University of Southern California (with Jascha Heifetz), the Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and the Curtis Institute of Music. One of his notable students was Canadian violinist Albert Pratz. In 1972, he published his memoirs, A Walk on the North Side.

The Primrose International Viola Competition, created in 1979 in honor of William Primrose, was the first international music competition for viola players.

ViolaMania! @ SFCO’s Classical at the Freight : San Francisco Classical Voice:

ViolaMania!@ SFCO’s Classical at the Freight : San Francisco Classical Voice:

Composer born July 24. Ernest Bloch (Yes I know, I’m late. )

Ernest Bloch (July 24, 1880 – July 15, 1959) was a Swiss-born American composer.

He wrote some hauntingly beautiful pieces for the viola.

Back in a past life when I was halfway a decent violist,  I played a couple of them.  The piece featured here more Hebraic and less almost avant-garde than the Suite, but both just reach in and grab the longing and yearning in my hear

From Wikipedia ….

Bloch was born in Geneva and began playing the violin at age 9. He began composing soon afterwards. He studied music at the conservatory in Brussels, where his teachers included the celebrated Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. He then travelled around Europe, moving to Germany (where he studied composition from 1900-1901 with Iwan Knorr at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt), on to Paris in 1903 and back to Geneva before settling in the United States in 1916, taking American citizenship in 1924. He held several teaching appointments in the U.S., with George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions among his pupils. In December 1920 he was appointed the first Musical Director of the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, a post he held until 1925. Following this he was director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music until 930.

In 1941 Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon and lived there the rest of his life. He died in 1959 in Portland, Oregon, of cancer at the age of 78. The Bloch Memorial has been moved from near his house in Agate Beach to a more prominent location at the Newport Performing Arts Center in Newport, Oregon[2].

Don Ehrlich, S.F. violist (via GretchensPianos)

This guy actually owns one of the “Salvador Dali” violas. 🙂

Guest post by Don Ehrlich, S.F. violist Since ergonomics has been an ongoing interest as well as a recurring topic in my blog, I asked Don Ehrlich to write about his ergonomic viola.  I remember reading The New York Times article about him with great interest. Thanks so much, Don!  Your first-person account adds so much to people’s knowledge on this subject. Following is Don’s contribution: ———— I am a viola player. Until I retired in December 2006, I was the Assistant Principa … Read More

via GretchensPianos

Salvador Dali does violas

No, it’s not a nightmare nor a viola (pronounced “vee-o-la”) on drugs. Michael Tilson Thomas said he thought he was hallucinating when he first saw it, dubbing it a Salvador Dali viola.

The Pellegrina viola is an innovative ergonomic design by David Rivinus, an instrument maker in Vermont.

Like pulled taffy heated and then stretched from the top left and bottom right-hand sides, the surrealistic-appearing instrument has caused comments from [Isaac Stern] ”You shouldn’t have left it in the sun so long to [Edo de Waart] ”I thought it was my jet lag.” Rivinus himself has heard it called ‘The Hunchback,” ”The Beast, ” and ”The Gumby Viola” and even claims that someone in the orchestra screamed when they saw it for the first time.

The violin maker began working to the model in response to friends with injuries from playing conventional violas. He has been quoted as saying “I am most reluctant revolutionary you can imagine.” He says he was merely trying to put logical design –  something that worked – ahead of adherence to conventional design and the result was the Pelligrina.

Most violas are shaped like a violin, only larger. The increased size and subsequent weight makes a viola much more challenging physically than a lightweight violin. The shape works well ergonomically for the smaller violin sizes, but the viola’s expanded width and especially the extra length, present problems for even the strongest player. The weight pulls on the neck muscles. The need to extend the arm to the end of the fingerboard places the arm in an unnatural position and pulls on muscles from the shoulder all the way to the hand. If you didn’t have posture problems before playing viola you will after.

Size usually makes a difference with the viola—the larger the body, the deeper and richer the sound is the usual rule. But it is this very characteristic that causes the wear and tear on the violist. Acoustically perfect proportions would result in an instrument too large for anyone to handle in the normal violin position. My own viola is a little too big for me, but I have seen very few smaller ones that can equal its depth of sound and certainly not for anywhere the money I was lucky enough to acquire mine for. (There are some small Italian violas with a wonderful sound but the last I checked they were at least $175,000.00. No thanks.)

I am kind of old-fashioned, I like the tried and true, but since I smashed up my shoulder last year and haven’t been able to handle my sweet-sounding, but very heavy viola, I have been on the lookout for alternatives. There are all kinds of experimentations in the viola world and not a few viola jokes about the difficulties of wielding this large axe, but this model looks like it might have more possibilities than most.

David Rivinus’ viola purports to have solve some of these problems by providing a playing position that is less of a strain on the violist by shortening and lightening the instrument without sacrificing a deep rich tone. A slanted fingerboard and tapered sides are supposed to ease the effort required to play and the weight is reduced by the substitution of carbon fiber for the ebony fingerboard and balsa for the internal construction. Other elements are artistic designs to go along with the overall image.

Sounds like it might be a good idea. I have never played one of his instruments myself though, so I don’t know for sure. With a price tag of 12,800, I am not likely to either. 😦  Although that is a whole lot better than 175K!  I hear there are a couple of them in the Bay Area (San Francisco Symphony – where Tilson Thomas made his famous remark), so perhaps I will have to opportunity to at least see one someday.

See Pellegrina information,  picture gallery and animated rotation at


http://www.rivinus-instruments.com/DesignConcepts.htm shows the design layouts.