Germaine Tailleferre

History Hunt: Germaine Tailleferre

This week, we’re heading across the Atlantic Ocean to meet a composer who never stopped learning and trying new things throughout her very long life!

Germaine Tailleferre (born Germaine Taillefasse) was born on April 19, 1892 in Saint-Maur-des-Faussés, France. Like many of the composers and musicians we’ve met in this series, Tailleferre was interested in music from an early age and her interest was encouraged by her mother.

Unfortunately, as has also been the case far too often in History Hunt, Tailleferre’s father didn’t believe that becoming a composer was a “proper” thing for his daughter to do. It was up to Tailleferre’s mother to teach her how to play the piano and to encourage her daughter when she first began composing.

Tailleferre was only twelve when she went to study at the Paris Conservatory, without her father’s blessing or support. Two years later, when she won a prize for skill in solfège, her father started to think that maybe he had been wrong. But by then, Tailleferre had learned she could depend on herself just fine. Later, she changed her name from Taillefasse to Tailleferre, and continued with her studies.

By the time she was twenty, Tailleferre joined the active musical community in Paris and began studying orchestration. She spent the next three years winning first place in various competitions at the Paris Conservatory, for harmony and counterpoint, composition, and either accompaniment or keyboard harmony (sources disagree).

Between 1917 and 1918, Tailleferre’s circle of artist and musical friends expanded greatly. She was invited to participate in the first concert of the group “Les nouveaux jeunes” (“The New Young People”) after her piece for two pianos “Jeux de plein air” (“Outdoor Games,” or “Games in the Open Air”) was heard by one of the group members. Two years later, when Les nouveaux jeunes became “Les Six” (“The Six”), she was the only female member.

Les Six were considered some of the most important composers in France at the time. Although they didn’t actually compose much music together, they were leaders in composition and great friends, to the point where their children apparently still get together sometimes.

When Tailleferre was thirty-three, she married an American cartoonist known for his caricatures and moved to New York. Unfortunately, her new husband was of a similar mindset to Tailleferre’s father; he even went so far as to order her not to compose music for the movies of their friend, famous actor Charlie Chaplin.

Fortunately, Tailleferre had the opportunity to work on movie music after her divorce, working between the years 1931 and 1933. She also wrote an opera in 1931, although only the overture still survives. Even though she once again married a man who disliked the idea of women being professional composers in 1932, this time, Tailleferre didn’t let his disapproval slow her down. She kept on composing all throughout the 1930s and met with great success.

When World War 2 broke out, Tailleferre stayed in France for as long as she could, but as was the case with many composers during this time, she, her family, and her sister were forced to leave their home. They travelled first to Spain, then to Portugal, before finally arriving in the United States. With a growing daughter, Tailleferre didn’t have much time to compose, though when she went home to France a year after the war ended, she was able to work on her music more often. She worked in both film and radio music, as well as writing music on her own.

During the 1950s, Tailleferre briefly joined other composers who were experimenting with new musical techniques to break away from the traditions of Western Classical art music. In the end, though, she decided she preferred other sounds. She continued to write film music and opera, later worked as an accompanist to a dance studio, and, when she was 84 years old, she started teaching!

Throughout her long life, Tailleferre never stopped composing or reworking her old compositions. She proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re never too old to stop learning.

Listen below to “Romance,” a beautiful piano piece Tailleferre wrote when she was only twenty-one!

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (Sources):
Germaine Tailleferre on Classical Music Now (English, French. Please note the English translation is somewhat flawed and occasionally inaccurate.)
Tailleferre Germaine on Musicologie.org (French)
Germaine Tailleferre on Sinfini Music
GERMAINE TAILLEFERRE, WROTE MUSIC AS MEMBER OF LES SIX at The New York Times
Germaine Tailleferre on AllMusic.com
Germaine Tailleferre on Naxos.com
Germaine Tailleferre on Wikipedia.org (English, French)

Site Update and Music With a Sense of Humour

Just a quick announcement concerning my studio site: I’ve added a new song to the Library section–a recorder version of “Jingle Bells,” as per student request! Current students can log into my site and download it for free. More downloads to come!

And now something for everyone! Recently, I discovered a very interesting piece by composer György Ligeti. While he’s best known from his work being used in movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, he wrote a great deal of music that broke away from Western Classical art music traditions.

One particularly unusual example of his work can be found below.

What do you think, everyone? Should I pick up the sheet music and perform this at my next student recital?

Angela Morley

History Hunt: Angela Morley

This week, we’re moving forward in the 20th century to meet a composer who not only wrote for numerous popular TV shows, but collaborated with some of the biggest names of the 20th and 21st centuries!

Angela Morley was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England on March 10, 1924. Her parents were both amateur musicians: her mother sang (her favourite song being “Big Lady Moon” by previously featured composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor) and her father played the banjo ukulele.

Morley loved music from the very beginning of her life. Before she could read, she learned to change the records on the family gramophone by recognising the colour of the label, and her earliest musical memory was sitting on the floor, surrounded by records.

When she was eight years old, her father bought a piano and her mother arranged for Morley to take piano lessons. However, after only three months, Morley had to stop her lessons when her father died suddenly and she and her mother moved away to live with Morley’s grandparents.

Over the next while, Morley tried out several different instruments. She spent a month learning to play the violin, but her grandfather disliked the instrument, and after he buttered her bow as a practical joke, Morley stopped playing. When she was eleven, she took accordion lessons and even won a few competitions with her performance. Unfortunately, a judge for one of these competitions told her mother there was “no future” in a career as an accordionist. (Morley)

Though the remark was both poorly chosen and untrue, Morley gave up the accordion and began clarinet lessons on a cheap clarinet that only partly worked. In spite of not being able to afford a better instrument, she was able to join the school orchestra. While in the orchestra, the mother of one of Morley’s fellow students bought her an alto sax–and that was where things changed.

Morley started playing with a semi-professional dance band; by the time she was fifteen, she had quit school and was earning her living playing the alto sax. It wasn’t much money, but at least she was doing what she loved.

Soon after, World War II began, and that turned out to be a blessing in a very large disguise for Morley. During this time, many musicians were being drafted to fight in the war. Morley, however, was too young for the draft and by this time was skilled enough to easily replace any holes in a band’s lineup. She played all over England until, when she was seventeen, she joined the extremely successful Oscar Rabin Band as their lead alto saxophonist. She also began earning money by arranging music.

Three years later, Morley went from one highly popular band to another: The Geraldo Band. It was here that Morley’s arranging skills blossomed. The Geraldo Band played in all sorts of styles for BBC Radio, which forced Morley to stretch herself to accommodate the demands of radio.

With such high expectations of her, Morley began studying composition with Mátyás Seiber, a Hungarian composer. She also studied conducting with Walter Goehr. After all, since she was working with live musicians, it made sense for her to learn to conduct them.

By the time she was twenty-six, Morley had decided to stop performing so she could better concentrate on her composing and arrangements. Unlike many new composers, Morley had work right from the start. Within two years, she started ghost-writing film music; a year after that she became the music director of Phillips Records’ new UK branch. She began writing film music under her own name, and worked on not one, but two of the most popular shows of the 1950s: The Goon Show and Hancock’s Half Hour! When she was ask to compose Hancock’s Half Hour‘s theme, she made it match the personality of the host–without ever having met him! She also worked with many of the great artists of the 50s, including Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Bassey, Mel Tormé, and Dusty Springfield.

In 1960, Morley had decided against working any more with film music. While recording technology had advanced tremendously during this time, film music in England, at least, had yet to take advantage of it. The sound quality of the music produced was so bad that Morley couldn’t stand working with it!

She changed her mind later in the decade and did her best to break back into the film industry. It took her until 1969, but in the end, she succeeded, writing scores for classics such as The Little Prince and Watership Down, the first of which earned her an Academy Award nomination!

1972 was a very important year for Morley. When she was born, her parents had assumed she was a boy and had given her a male name. However, they had made a mistake. Now, with the support of her wife, Christine, Morley was able to correct this mistake with gender confirmation surgery–sometimes incorrectly called “sex change surgery.”

While life these days can be very difficult for trans people, in the 1970s, there was even more prejudice among the general public. When Morley returned to the music community after a hiatus, she received a wide variety of reactions. Some were positive: when she went to retire from her current conducting position because she assumed she would no longer be welcome, one of her fellow musicians, Johnny Franz, convinced her to stay. Morley’s wife also remained married to her for the rest of their lives.

Some reactions, however, were negative. Many people were extremely rude and prejudiced against Morley and chose to be cruel. But Morley outlasted their ignorance and resumed her career. She continued to compose and, after moving to California, went on to collaborate with other composers–such as John Williams on Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back!

For the rest of her life, Morley continued to compose for important TV shows and movies, conducted, and collaborated with other composers. She worked on E.T., Dallas, Wonder Woman, and Home Alone, to name a few of her credits. She also wrote arrangements for famous musicians such as Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman and gave lectures on writing music for movies at the University of Southern California. And, thankfully, shereceived recognition for her work: she was nominated for six Emmys for her compositions and two Academy Awards overall, and won three Emmys for her arrangements.

Below is Morley’s “Rotten Row,” named after the location in Hyde Park where people historically went horse-riding. It sounds like the perfect song to listen to while on horseback!

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (Sources):
*Important note: Most of the sources discussing Morley involve misgendering, transphobia, or both. Exceptions are “A Profile of Angela Morley” and the autobiography on Morley’s site. Please tread carefully.

Angela Morley: Career Autobiography on Angela Morley’s official site
A Profile of Angela Morley, excerpt from a longer BBC programme on light music
Angela Morley at The Guardian
Angela Morley at The Telegraph
Angela Morley: Composer and arranger who worked with Scott Walker and scored ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Dallas’ at The Independent
Angela Morley at AllMusic.com
Angela Morley at Wikipedia.org

Making Friends With Music

Here on this blog, we’ve been exploring the ways music brings not only people together, but people and animals. We’ve seen a girl play violin for her bird, and a violinist warming up with a pair of elephants. Today, it’s a friendly bassoonist’s turn:

What a cute way to interact! I wonder if those two became friends….

Esther Louise Georgette Deer

History Hunt: Esther Deer

This week’s History Hunt post is unfortunately going to be lighter on details than many of the ones I’ve written lately. While up until now I’ve been fortunate to find a number of information sources for the majority of my History Hunt features, this week was a challenge. There’s very little information out there, and most of what there was needed to be pieced together by researchers–still more proof that celebrating our musicians and composers is extremely important.

Esther Louise Georgette Deer was born around 1891, give or take some months, at Akwesasne (also known as St. Regis Mohawk Reservation) in New York State. Her family was originally from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Québec, Canada.

When Deer was eleven, she joined The Famous Deer Brothers, Champion Indian Trick Riders of the World as a singer and dancer. This group was a travelling theatrical act founded by her father and uncle. She took the stage name Princess White Deer, and with her family, began performing in “Wild West” shows all over the United States. These shows presented a romantic version of the American west from the point of view of the white colonisers and were very popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Why would Deer and her family participate in shows that portrayed them as the “bad guys”? It’s a difficult question to answer. During this period in history, there were even more harmful stereotypes about First Nations people than there are today. It’s been suggested that both Deer’s family, and later Deer in her solo career, picked and chose which stereotypes to follow based on which would be most useful and, often, least harmful. By giving white audiences what they wanted, they were able to have a career and make a living, an option that would have only been achieved against tremendous odds if they had tried to break free completely from these stereotypes. It’s also been suggested that Deer may have found humour in her performances and laughed inside at her ignorant audiences!

That said, as historians, none of us have access to the thoughts of Deer and her family, and so these are only guesses made by looking back from a century later. Deer may have had other ideas in mind, and if so, they’re lost to history.

Regardless of their thoughts on their audiences, Deer and her family kept performing their acts. Some of the shows Deer participated in were Colonel Cummins Wild West Show at the Pan-American Exposition (a world’s fair that was part amusement park, part showcase of new technology) in 1901 when she was twenty, and the Texas Jack Wild West Show three years later.

The Deer Family must have been very popular and excellent performers, because in 1904 or 1905, they went on a world tour. They travelled throughout Europe and to South Africa, renaming their act to “The Deer Family Wild West Show.”

After five or six years of travelling with her family, when she was twenty-nine, Deer decided to part ways with them and start a solo career. She continued to travel all across Europe, and it’s rumoured that when she was in Russia in late 1913 or early 1914, a Russian prince fell in love with her and they were married. It’s hard to know if this is completely true, given how little information we have about Deer’s life, but it’s still possible!

When World War I started in 1914, Deer returned home to the United States. There, she used her music and dance talents to support the war effort by performing at war bonds rallies. At that time, the United States government was encouraging its citizens to invest their money in the government so they could afford to go to war, and Deer was one of many performers to help with this fundraising.

Deer also performed in vaudeville, or variety show, acts throughout the 1920s. She was considered “the most successful Mohawk entertainer of her generation” and “one of the most beautiful women in the world” (Galperin), and she gave her shows alongside a large number of famous entertainers of her era–including Harry Houdini!

It seems she had some difficulties in March 1921: I discovered a newspaper clip from the New York Times where Deer applied to have a restraining order against The Pictorial Review for using an image of “an Indian Princess,” possibly without her permission. I wasn’t able to turn up anything else about the story, including whether Deer was successful with her restraining order, but I hope she was.

As an artist in the 1920s, Deer performed a mix of stereotypical First Nations and “modern” (often white) acts, once more balancing what audiences demanded with the success of her career. For example, she created and performed in a production called From Wigwam to White Lights in 1925, and, like her family had done when she was young, she tended to mix clothing from different First Nations to be more appealing to her audiences. They weren’t coming to her shows expecting authenticity, after all. In the process, she used her lively performances to break down the stereotype of the “stoic” First Nations person.

Throughout her life, Deer used her fame to support various First Nations charities, such as the American Indian Defense Association. She even met President Roosevelt in 1937, to invite him and a Canadian delegation to a meeting of the Grand Council of Chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois. She dedicated the community of Lake Mohawk to the Mohawk nation; in thanks, White Deer Plaza in that community was named after her and bears her name to this day.

Deer retired sometime before the start of World War II in 1939, but for the rest of her long life, she continued to work as an activist. I hope to have a chance to read more about Deer and her life someday. If I do, I’ll be sure to share it with all of you!

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (Sources):
Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity, ed. Lynda Lee Jessup
Native Performers in Wild West Shows: From Buffalo Bill to Euro Disney, by Linda Scarangella McNenly
The Modern Girl: Feminine Modernities, the Body, and Commodities in the 1920s, by Jane Nicholas
In Search of Princess White Deer: The Biography of Esther Deer summary on Amazon.com, by Patricia O. Galperin
Cultural Appropriation: More Than Meets the Eye, by Celeste Pedri (Note: mild language in the link.)
Chris Pappan Creates an Edgier, Sexier Ledger Art, by Alex Jacobs (Note: strong language and images that may not be safe for work in the link)
Princess White Deer on Cool Chicks From History
Princess White Deer Gets Court Order. on The New York Times
Esther Louise Georgette Deer at Wikipedia.org
St. Regis Mohawk Reservation on Wikipedia.org
Lake Mohawk, New Jersey on Wikipedia.org
History at The Lake Mohawk Country Club
Pan-American Exposition of 1901 at the University of Buffalo Library
Wild West Shows at Wikipedia.org
Princess White Deer (Esther Louise Georgette Deer) at the National Portrait Gallery (Image Source)

Ruth Crawford Seeger

History Hunt: Ruth Crawford Seeger

This week, we’re meeting another pianist from the first half of the 20th century! However, she’s someone who composed music in a very different style from last week’s featured musician, Florence Price.

Ruth Crawford Seeger (born Ruth Porter Crawford) was born on July 31, 1901 in East Liverpool, Ohio. Because her father was a travelling minister, she spent her childhood moving from place to place. Her mother, Clara, however, made sure she had the opportunity to learn to play the piano, starting when Seeger was six. Clara herself was a pianist whose parents hadn’t been at all supportive of her love of music, and so she wanted to be sure her daughter got the chances she didn’t. She became one of Seeger’s piano teachers as well while Seeger was young.

Seeger also sang with her family and composed on her own, but it seems that, at first, music wasn’t her greatest passion. In fact, when she was a teenager, like some of our previous History Hunt musicians, she wanted to be something other than a composer or performer when she grew up. In Seeger’s case, she wanted to be a writer!

When she graduated from high school, she took a job at Foster’s School of Musical Art in Jacksonville, Florida. Bertha Foster, who ran the school, had been Seeger’s piano teacher for years; when money had grown too tight for Seeger’s family to pay for lessons any longer, Foster had kept teaching her for free.

However, soon Foster moved her school to Miami, and Seeger left Florida to study at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Illinois. Her plan had been to stay in Chicago for one year–just long enough to get her teacher’s certificate for piano. But Seeger fell in love with composing, and her one-year stay became eight full years of learning.

During this time, Western art music was undergoing serious changes. Composers wanted to completely break away from the musical traditions of the past and experiment with new ways of composing, using new sounds and new forms. Seeger was one of those musicians. She wrote music that sounded very strange to many people’s ears–but those who understood the new way of writing music also understood her brilliance.

While she was still studying in Chicago, she was one of six featured younger composers in a concert put on by the League of Composers, whose current goal is “to engage audiences by presenting performances of new music of the highest caliber written by emerging and established living composers in the context of 20th and 21st-century masterpieces.” It was an honour indeed, though certainly not the last she would receive.

A year after she graduated from the American Conservatory of Music, in 1930, she became the first woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, a prize that let her travel to Europe for a year to compose. While there, she wrote her most famous composition, String Quartet 1931, which the Encyclopædia Britannica calls “astonishing.” Small wonder she’s often called “the most significant American female composer of the twentieth century” (American Folklife Centre).

After she returned to the United States, another phase in Seeger’s life began. With her new husband, she turned to recording American folk songs for the Library of Congress, to preserve this unique music for future listeners. She also wrote arrangements of this music and put together a short series of songbooks for children, which are still in use today.

Toward the end of her life, Seeger returned to composing–it’s never too late to return to something you love, after all. Though she still isn’t nearly as famous as she deserves to be, through her website and in interviews her daughter, Peggy, is making sure that her mother isn’t forgotten.

Below is an example of the new music of the 20th century that Seeger was so fond of, the Prelude No. 2 that she wrote while studying at the American Conservatory of Music. If you’d like to hear more of her works, Youtube has a number of examples, including her String Quartet 1931.

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (Sources):
Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music by Judith Tick
Ruth Crawford Seeger Biography by David Lewis
Ruth Crawford Seeger Children’s Books & CDs on Peggy Seeger’s official website
Ruth Crawford (Seeger) on Naxos.com
Ruth Crawford Seeger on Encyclopædia Britannica
About the Seeger Family at the American Folklife Centre
Review of Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music by Larry Starr
Ruth Crawford Seeger – Andante for Strings by Phillip Huscher
Ruth Crawford Seeger on Wikipedia.org
Ruth Crawford Seeger Press Kit (Image Source)