Representation Remixes: Skipping Rope, by Yelena Fabianovna Gnesina

Over the past half of a year, I’ve been making a real effort to expand my music collection to reflect the composers I’ve featured in my History Hunt series (and hope to continue to feature when time and health permit!). It’s been a real challenge, though, especially with my flute music collection. There are real gaps–so much so that I recently had to apologise to one of my students for only giving her music by white men to play so far when neither of us fit that bill.

So I’ve started to do some very simple arrangements to fill in the gap a little. Normally, I keep my arrangements as a perk for members of my studio, but addressing the incredible imbalance in core flute repertoire is something I feel very strongly about. So, I’d like to make these arrangements generally available.

The first one I’ve completed is “Skipping Rope,” by Yelena Fabianovna Gnesina. It’s found in the Grade 5 Royal Conservatory of Music repertoire book; the arrangement should be suitable for flute students playing at a Grade 1/2 RCM level.

flute-Gnesina-Skipping Rope (Flute and Piano parts)
flute-Gnesina-Skipping Rope-flute part (Flute part alone)

I hope you all enjoy, and please feel free to send me feedback! I don’t arrange music as often as I should, and so I could do with some constructive criticism.

A Pleasant Surprise

As I was preparing for a lesson this afternoon, I noted in some surprise that not only was the study I was going to be teaching by a female composer, but by a female composer I’d not heard of.

RCM Grade 5 Study #15, “Skipping Rope,” is by (Y)elena Fabianovna Gnesina. She doesn’t have her own Wikipedia page in English (yet!), but here’s what The Free Dictionary has to say about her:

Born May 18 (30), 1874, in Rostov-on-Don; died June 4, 1967, in Moscow. Soviet pianist and teacher. Honored Art Worker of the RSFSR (1935).

Gnesina graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1893 as a piano student of V. I. Safonov and devoted herself to teaching. She was a founder and director of Gnesin’s School of Music (from 1895) and Gnesin’s Music Pedagogic Institute (from 1944), where she worked as artistic supervisor and professor. As a teacher Gnesina developed the finest traditions of the Russian school of piano. Her students included the pianist L. N. Oborin and the composer A. I. Khachaturian. She was awarded two Orders of Lenin, two other orders, and various medals.

V. I. ZARUBIN

It looks as though I have some research to do!

Discovered: Music by Canadian Women

While doing errands on Monday, I noticed I was walking past Granata Music. With my goal in mind of expanding the number of underrepresented composers in my collection, I decided to stop by.

Jackpot!

Not only did I discover two piano music collections heavily featuring Canadian composers Jean Coulthard, Joan Hansen, and Barbara Pentland, but both collections were on sale! I do so love a good sale.

New Works:

Music of Our Time I, by Jean Coulthard, David Gordon Duke, and Joan Hansen. Published by Waterlook Music. [Easy-Early Intermediate Piano]
Studies in Line, by Barbara Pentland. Published by Berandol Music Ltd. [Intermediate Piano]

Previous posts in this series discovering music by underrepresented composers: (1)

Music, Math, and Art

People often talk about the connections between music and math, and I occasionally give my older students an unpleasant surprise by suddenly diving into fractions to show how the beat in their pieces ought to be divided. But Marshall Lefferts of Cosmometry is taking a slightly different tack, by exploring the mathematical connections of such musical fundamentals as the scale, the Circle of Fifths, and tritones.

circle-of-fifths-tritones-cosmometry-net

A visual representation of tritones in relation to the twelve tones of the most common Western scale.

Even if you aren’t mathematically minded, the matrices are certainly pretty to look at! Lefferts’ diagrams become even more artistic in his followup piece, Tri-Tone Duality of Music.

music-triads-dualtorus-cosmometry-net

Triads and how they relate to one another.

Music is beautiful even when represented with mathematical diagrams! Is anyone surprised?

Back to School, Back to Blogging

Well, now, here we are again. Most students in my area started their first day of school on Tuesday, the leaves on the maple tree outside my window are starting to turn red, and fall will soon be here (even if the current 33C feels-like temperature doesn’t suggest as much). And so now is a good time to get back to this blog, and hopefully make updates a regular feature once again.

Over the summer, I was able to go on a music-buying spree for my studio. It was a lot of fun, but it also brought to mind one of the difficulties of making sure the music my students are exposed to comes from a variety of sources.

Finding music by non-male composers and minority composers is a constant struggle. In my side work as a music reviewer for the Canadian Music Teacher, on more than one occasion I’ve been sent collections of music where the composers featured were exclusively men. And for all its benefits, the Royal Conservatory of Music itself does little better in its pre-20th century music.

However, I was lucky enough in my most recent spree to find two flute works by female composers to add to my collection: Canadian Nancy Telfer’s Star-Gazing, and American Amy Beach’s Sonata in a minor, Op. 34, which was transcribed for flute. (Amy Beach was previously featured on this blog’s History Hunt series, as one of the most famous and popular composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.) I was also able to find an intermediate piano collection of Chinese folk songs, which I’m looking forward to incorporating into my students’ repertoire–once I do some research, of course–and Fiona Wilkinson’s book of technique, The Physical Flute.

Frustratingly, Telfer and Beach’s works together cost more than a typical collection of multiple works by all-male composers. This isn’t unusual. When it comes to teaching with representation, music teachers have to be willing to shoulder a financial burden. That can be a real hardship, since many teachers are of lower income than is typically assumed. Add in the time and patience needed to track down representative works in the first place, and our challenge is clear.

To lessen this challenge for others, I’m planning to document each work I come across as I slowly shift my personal collection into something more balanced. I’m hoping that, in doing so, I’ll be able to make teaching with representation just a little more feasible.

Works featured:

Star-Gazing, by Nancy Telfer. Published by the Canadian Music Centre. (Français) [Easy Flute]
Sonata in a minor, Op. 34, by Amy Beach. Transcribed for Flute and Piano by Alexa Still. Published by International Opus. [Advanced Flute]
Chinese Folk Songs Collection, arranged by Joseph Johnson in consultation with Wen Guo Yao, Shen Wen, Jerry Huang, the Deng family, and Jennifer Linn. Published by Hal Leonard. [Early Intermediate Piano]
The Physical Flute, by Fiona Wilkinson. Published by Waterloo Music Company Ltd. [Intermediate to Advanced Flute]

Portrait of Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar.

History Hunt: Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar

Hello, all! Apologies for the delay between History Hunt posts. My studio continues to grow, which is great news for me, but makes it hard for me to find time to do the research for these posts. I’ll keep trying to make them as regularly as I can, though, because the History Hunt series is very important to me.

So, this week, we’re going to be meeting our second musical Anna Amalia–our first was Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, who I featured last summer. Unfortunately, up-to-date information about this Anna Amalia is sparse at best and inaccessible at worst, and so I’ll have to rely on old sources. This means that, though I’m doing my utmost to ensure this post is accurate as always, not having access to newer scholarship means some of my information may be outdated.

Also, please note that child neglect and misogyny are discussed in this post.

Anna Amalia of Saxe-Weimar was born a princess on October 24, 1739 in Wolfenbüttel, in what’s now Germany. She was her parents’ ninth child, but sadly, rather than being excited to welcome another member of their family, her parents were disappointed that she was a girl. They neglected her terribly in favour of her older siblings, which left Anna deeply unhappy.

Even her teachers treated her poorly, something she didn’t at all deserve. Eventually, with no one to turn to, she devoted herself to learning in order to bring herself happiness. Luckily, there were a great many musicians and artists at the court of her father, Duke Charles I (also known by his German name of Karl I). She took music lessons from a professor at Collegium Carolinum, a university her father founded.

When she was sixteen, she married Duke Constantine of Weimar in an arranged marriage. However, in spite of what’s usually thought about arranged marriages, this was a great relief for Anna. She saw it as a way out of her unhappy home, and so she gladly married the eighteen-year-old Duke and moved to Weimar to become its new Duchess.

Life in Anna’s new home was hard at first, as Weimar was much poorer than the household in which Anna grew up. The arts weren’t valued nearly as much in Weimar as they were in her old home. Still, she kept her chin up and persevered.

Sadly, when Anna was eighteen, her husband died of illness. Because their son was still an infant, this left her ruling Weimar in his stead, first with a fellow guardian, and then, once she was twenty-one, alone.

Anna had a long road ahead of her: Weimar was in tough shape and had little money. However, that didn’t discourage her. She was used to studying, and so she started learning about how to run a duchy as soon as possible. Though it took years, she brought Weimar back to its former riches. She also encouraged artists, musicians, writers, and actors to come to her court. Some of the most famous artists of her day soon arrived, putting Weimar on the map as an important cultural centre.

It wasn’t only other people who made music around Anna, though. She was a composer herself, and though only a few of her pieces survive, one of them is the opera Erwin und Elmire, which she composed when she was about thirty-six. When writing this opera, she united two different opera styles with the traditional music of the area to create what’s been called “an important artistic milestone in the development of German Opera by a major historical figure in her own right.” (Tregear)

Nowadays, Anna is best known for the Duchess Anna Amalia Library, which she established personally, starting it off with around two thousand books. Even after a terrible fire in 2004, it still houses over a million volumes–including the published manuscript of her own opera. Though she’s no longer a well-known composer, her influence can still be felt to this day.

Here’s a sample of Anna’s music in the form of a trailer for her opera, Erwin und Elmire. More of the opera can be found by searching its title on Youtube.

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):
A Grand Duchess: the Life of Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and the Classical circle of Weimar by Frances Gerard
Abstract of Anna Amalia (1739–1807) Erwin und Elmire (1776) Full Score with Critical Essays by Peter Tregear
Weimar, Germany on the Encyclopædia Britannica website
Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel on Wikipedia.org
Duchess Portrait Missing Since WWII Returns to Her Heirs on Bloomberg.com (Image Source)