It’s been quite a while since I’ve written about my work as a musician on my blog, and as I am currently working on (what I think is) a very exciting project, I thought today would be the perfect time to share it with you! Sometimes I find being a musician somehow limiting, in a sense, because musicians really tend to stay within their own circles. We meet, work and socialise with other musicians, we play concerts for people who love our music anyway and it’s not so often that we really get the chance to share our music with people who have absolutely no connection with it or have never heard it before. Being able to share my musical life here is probably my favourite aspect of writing a blog because I feel like it gives me a platform to reach out further across the globe and share this INCREDIBLE music that I am so passionate about with absolutely anyone who stumbles across my blog – everybody has access to it. Similarly, this is also something I love about reading other blogs – that I can read about lives and ideas that I have no idea about or ever thought about! I know that when I read a blog post that has been written with such joy and love, perhaps about a blogger’s particular hobby or lifestyle that I have never heard of, I feel inspired to try it out myself, and I hope that is how you will feel when reading my musical blog posts.
A while ago I discovered a composer called Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté (I know, I had never heard of her before either). At the time I was in the middle of creating a new concert programme just for solo violin, which is a pretty unusual concept. There is a lot of music for solo violin, like the Bach sonatas and partitas, Ysaye sonatas, Paganini caprices etc. But I wanted to get away from the familiar stuff and play something new that nobody would have heard before. I loved the idea of one solo violinist, alone on stage, producing so many different sounds and different styles of music – I thought it could be a really effective performance!
Eckhardt-Gramatté (born in 1899) is counted as a Canadian composer, although she was born in Moscow and lived and studied all across Europe: in Paris, London, Berlin, Geneva and Barcelona. She married the German Expressionist painter, Walter Gramatté in 1920, but after he died tragically in 1929 she remarried a German Art Critic named Ferdinand Eckhardt, hence her double surname. They lived together in Vienna, where she established herself in post-war musical life, co-founding the International Society of Contemporary Music there. When her husband was appointed Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1953, they both relocated to Canada, where she lived out the rest of her life until her accidental death in 1974. She was an extremely gifted pianist and violinist, as well as a wonderful composer, and she never stopped giving concerts, performing with musicians like Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Casals.
I came across ten solo caprices that she wrote for violin across a span of ten years, from 1924 to 1934. Actually, the music was very difficult to get hold of because, as far as I know, only one copy of the caprices exists and it is kept at the Canadian National Library in Montreal. When I phoned the library they could not find it and told me to call the library in Ottawa instead, which I did, to no avail. After a phone exchange back and forth between the many Canadian libraries, however, I evidently finally managed to get the music on loan and I am so happy that I did – this music is simply AMAZING!
Each caprice is very short, only about 5 minutes long, and each one has a different title in a different language, encompassing a totally unique personality and, with that, commanding completely different techniques and sounds from the violin. It is said that she wrote each caprice almost by accident – they each tell the story of a sudden or poignant moment in her life, which inspired her to write some music down on a page. Because of this they all have a wonderfully improvised and spontaneous feeling, reflecting these moments in her life, not at all like any carefully composed music but more like a little fresh breath of air.
I wanted to mention three of my personal favourites from these caprices. Caprice 1, ‘Die Kranke und die Uhr’ or ‘The sick and the clock’, was written as Sophie sat by the deathly bedside of a dear friend, the clock ticking ominously in the background. I have recorded this caprice and you can hear it here if you like! Caprice 3, ‘Chant triste-chant gai’, or ‘Sad melody-gay melody’ is an absolutely beautiful piece of music and gives us such a window into her mind and mood at this specific time. Caprice 7, ‘El pajarito’ or ‘The little bird’ is probably my absolutely favourite. It portrays a little bird locked in his cage, trying to break free, and I must try to make violin sound like a bird – so fun to play!
What I really want to do is to put all ten caprices together in one programme and to record them all. As I am also a European-Canadian, having lived in Ireland, UK, Austria, Germany and Holland, and also having Canadian roots, I feel something of a connection with this composer and I think that would be so cool to make a themed concert out of. I would love to showcase each of these gorgeous and special pieces of music in a meaningful way, and hopefully introduce them to people who might never have heard of them.