This year’s Globe column birthday buddy (following Erskine Hawkins and Justin Holland) is the father of Latvian classical music—and, for much of the 20th century, a bit of a prisoner of historiography.
Because the author has his boneheaded moments, the print version of this article (and, briefly, the online version) erroneously put Latvia on the banks of the Black Sea, rather than the Baltic. As penance (pretty pleasurable penance, actually), here’s an iPhone recording of me playing Vītols’ op. 8 Berceuse.
Ambling through newspaper archives to research this column, I turned up this curiosity: The New York Herald Valse Caprice, composed by Scharwenka and published in that paper on January 25, 1891.
(As it’s a little unwieldy to read—it was printed to cover a full broadsheet page—I threw together a more usable PDF version you can download here.) This seems to be the piece’s only publication; it doesn’t appear in Matthias Schneider-Dominco’s 2003 thematic catalog of the composer’s works; I couldn’t find any evidence of it ever being performed (though, given the prevailing inconsistency in the era’s concert reviews as to listing the performed repertoire, that doesn’t prove much); as best I can tell—hopefully someone more well-versed in Scharwenkiana can help me out—Scharwenka never re-purposed or re-titled the music as part of another work. The Herald Valse Caprice is a miniature, but a polished and charmingly quirky one. A nice surprise!
In addition to newspaper reports, much of the material for the column came from Scharwenka’s memoirs (which have been translated into English, though I did battle with the original German). They’re not always exact—in his description of the concert at The Breakers, for instance, Scharwenka conflates Cornelius Vanderbilt II with the scion’s namesake grandfather, the “Commodore,” who died in 1877—but Scharwenka’s recollections and observations cover a lot of ground. In his few years here, Scharwenka managed to encounter, experience, or otherwise swim in just about every main historical current of the Gilded Age. Some scholar in search of an unorthodox but efficient hook on which to hang a survey of turn-of-the-last-century America could do a lot worse than to follow Scharwenka around the country.