The Accordion Works of William Grant StillRobert Young McMahan Quietly tucked inside the music section's regular "Hemidemisemiquavers" column of the Saturday, April 24, 1960, issue of the "New York Times" is the following modest announcement: "William Grant Still's `Aria for Unaccompanied Accordion,' the eighth work commissioned by the American Accordionists' Association, will have its first performance at Town Hall May 15." (1) The previous seven commissions were by no less significant names in American music.
The first contract is dated March 10, 1957, and was awarded to Paul Creston, whose ebullient Prelude and Dance, Op. 69, was published by Pietro Deiro, a well established accordion publisher, in 1958, and premiered by concert virtuoso Carmen Carrozza in Carnegie Hall, May 18,1958. (2)
Compositions which followed, in order of commissioning, were, in1958, Wallingford Riegger's Cooper Square, Op. 70, and Creston's Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra, Op. 75 (one the instrument's major and most virtuosically challenging works); and, in 1959, Virgil Thomson's Lamentations, Carlos Surinach's Pavana and Rondo, Robert Russell Bennett's Four Nocturnes, and Henry Cowell's Iridescent Rondo. Still's Aria was contracted in 1959 also, on December 1. All of these pieces were published (in the case of Aria, by Sam Fox, in 1960), had successful premieres in New York, Boston, or Chicago, in such places as New York's Town Hall and Carnegie Hall, Boston's Symphony Hall, and the Arts Club of Chicago, and received generally positive reviews, particularly in the New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, and Christian Science Monitor. (3)
The American Accordionists' Association was founded in 1938 by twelve of the truly first accordion virtuosi in history. Significantly representing the first generation of these pioneers was Pietro Deiro (1888-1954), who, like his contemporary and fellow A. A. A. founder, Pietro Frosini, had left Italy for America where he introduced the accordion for the first time on the vaudeville stage. He also collaborated with accordion manufacturers to refine the instrument to concert quality (beyond its numerous primitive nineteenth century ethnic prototypes) and create the familiar piano accordion of today. (4)
Important second generation co-founders were Charles Magnante, often called the Heifitz of the accordion, and his brother-in-law Joseph Biviano. All were successful in radio and recording studio work and had also given frequent recitals and workshops which included transcriptions of past masters' works and original classical compositions, usually in nineteenth century style, which they had written for their instrument. The stated goals of the A. A. A. included engaging "in activities for the advancement of the accordion, without pecuniary profit," to "hold competitions and to promote the study and improvements of the accordion," and, important to this discussion, "to publish literature to be of service to accordionists." (5)
Regarding the last point, however, nothing is specifically said about building an actual original literature for the instrument. A then outsider to the organization was to eventually address that all important issue.
In the mid-1940s a young, newly married college girl from Detroit, Elsie Bennett (nee Blum), arrived with her groom, Mortimer Bennett, to his family's original home, Brooklyn, New York. Elsie had studied the accordion in her youth and was in the midst of pursuing a degree in music theory at Wayne University when they moved to Brooklyn. To finish the degree she elected to take courses in orchestration and composition at Columbia University, with the intention of transferring the credits to her would-be alma mater, from which she finally did graduate in 1945. Her composition teacher at Columbia was Otto Luening, who was eventually to be commissioned by the A. A. A. as well. When she decided to pursue a Master's Degree at the Columbia Teachers' College, she requested that the accordion be accepted as her major instrumental emphasis. This was allowed, and Columbia assigned her the task of finding a good teacher. She approached Charles Magnante, who, not liking to teach, recommended Joseph Biviano. He consented to this arrangement and was consequently appointed the official accordion instructor of that school. (6)
Elsie's required degree recital had to represent all major musical style periods, including the twentieth century. She had no difficulty selecting literature from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods, since by this time, accordionists had published and performed many transcriptions of works by such masters as Bach, Mozart, and Mendelssohn. Deiro's accordion concertos were also firmly representative of Romantic era music, though they were composed during this century. But the twentieth century was virtually devoid of any significant solo works by aclaimed, non-accordionist composers. She discovered a number of ensemble works which included accordion, such as Hindemith's Kammermusik Nr. 1 and Virgil Thomson's curious opera Four Saints in Three Acts, as well as a brief moment in Berg's opera Wozzeck. But for a solo recital, she had very little to go on in 1946. Nevertheless, she was able to give the recital and received her Master of Arts degree in that year.
To combat this dearth of original works for the accordion in the future, Otto Luening eventually suggested to his student that composers needed to be commissioned and paid to write for the accordion if it were ever to gain a prestigious original repertoire. By 1953 Ms. Bennett was deeply involved as an official in the A. A. A. (the result of Biviano's and Deiro's invitation to her to join the organization around the time of her graduation from Columbia). That April she invited Luening to address an open meeting about this very issue. His eloquent and convincing plea for commissioning works resulted in that organization's establishment of the Composers' Commissioning Committee, with Elsie as the chair, a position she continues to energetically hold today, despite her seventy-six years. (7)
Since Still's Aria, forty-two more commissions have been made, two of which were assigned to the writer recently. Names of particular distinction, in addition to those already listed, include Henry Brant, David Diamond, Lukas Foss, Ernst Krenek, George Kleinsinger, Paul Pisk, Elie Siegmeister, Jose Serebrier, Alexander Tcherepnin, and most recently, Pauline Oliveros, who, herself, is an accordionist and holds a bachelor's degree in that instrument from the University of Houston. (8)
(Unfortunately, at least as many composers of this rank turned down A. A. A. commissions over the years as well.) (9) Other similar organizations, such as the Accordion Teachers' Guild and various European groups, in addition to individual performers, have also commissioned or had works voluntarily written for them in all forms over the past half century--solo, concerto, chamber, etc.--so that today, the repertoire stands at well over five-hundred compositions and is constantly growing. (10)
It can be claimed, nevertheless, that Ms. Bennett and the A. A. A. were at the forefront of this effort and that William Grant Still is one of the early and important contributors.
Bennett first wrote to Still for the commission probably early in1959, and sent him some information on the accordion and a copy of Creston's Prelude and Dance. The first surviving letter of the Bennett/Still association is from the composer to the commissioner, dated March 12, 1959, thanking her for the materials and stating that he is very impressed with the accordion's apparent capabilities. Bennet replied in a May 21 letter*GIVE CONTRACT DATE, LETTERS, ETC., RE BEGINNING OF STILL COMMISSION.
In a feature article by Elsie Bennett on Still's commission which appeared in the February 1961 issue of Accordion and Guitar World, she indicates that, since the composer lived on the other side of the continent, in Los Angeles, she asked the famed accordionist Myron Floren, of the immensely popular Lawrence Welk Orchestra and television show, to explain the instrument to Still and help edit the work.
Unfortunately, Floren does not mention his visit with Still in his 1981 autobiography (written with his daughter Randee Floren), Accordion Man. But correspondence between him and Bennett (in the Bennett files) reveal the following: Bennett was advised by Carmen Carrozza to request Floren's assistance, and she wrote to Floren about this, and to ask that Floren arrange to have a publicity photograph made of him and Still, on December 11, 1959. Floren responded in a January 11, 1960, letter that Still had contacted him, they had the photograph taken (see Fig. 1; it appears in the above cited Accordion and Guitar World article), and they had met to work on the already composed Aria. At this meeting, Floren reports the following: "His [Still's] wife [Verna Arvey] played the Aria on the piano first and then we began working from the beginning and I would play each phrase with different switches until he heard the sound that he had had in mind in writing the piece." *MSS
Still was clearly impressed with both the instrument and the artist, as a Christmas Eve, 1959, letter to Bennett which was quoted in the article attests: "My association with Mr. Floren made me realize what the instrument can accomplish in the way of virtuosity and in sustained and flowing melodies. One can no longer speak simply of 'the sound' of an accordion, because of the variety of its tonal effects. After hearing some of the striking and appealing things that can be done on it, I would say that it not only has many resources, but it could very well be used with marked effectiveness in the orchestra. I am interested enough to want to again write for the accordion, and I am sure that as other composers listen to and study the instrument carefully, they, too, will share my enthusiasm for it." Still also revealed that he had worked with Sidney B. Dawson, one of the founding members of the A. A. A. (see n. 4), a few years earlier in arranging a spiritual for accordion and chorus (title unknown), but it was not until later, when he heard a recording of Magnante playing his own transcription of Bach's organ Toccata in D Minor, an item Ms. Bennett gave to all potential commissionees, that he "really began to understand what the instrument [could] do in the hands of a true artist." (11)
Floren confirms this part of Still's Christmas Eve letter in a letter to Bennett: "He had listened to the records you [Bennett] had sent him and was especially impressed with some of the concert work of Magnante."
Still's daughter and strong promoter of her father's music, Judith Still Headlee, has little memory of Floren's visit, as she explains in a recent letter to the writer: "I have no memories of Myron Floren, except that I came downstairs one afternoon and found him (or some gentleman) in the living room, demonstrating the accordion. He was instructing my father in the instrument." (It should be mentioned here that Ms. Headlee would have been about sixteen years old at the time. Floren remembers her appearance that day, however, and that it was one of "many meetings" he had with Still, as recently reported in a letter to the writer.) She continues, explaining that her father was "very private in his composing" and "never discussed a piece unless my mother was writing words for it. Moreover, he stopped writing in his diary in 1959, so there may be no record [of Floren's visit or of his impressions of the accordion] there." Ms. Headlee also offers further explanation for the lack of further comment by her father on this matter: "In the 60s he was tired, discouraged and less optimistic, so that his music had a wistful, lyrical quality, and he was less likely to indulge himself in learning new instruments such as the organ and accordion. . . Just think what he could have done if he had discovered the accordion in 1921, when he began the composition of Levee Land?"
Floren was very pleased with the piece, reporting to Bennett that he "found the Aria to be a beautiful number with many interesting color changes." He apparently feels the same about it three decades later, as can be observed in the letter to the writer cited above: "I think the Aria fitted the accordion very well and was a beautiful piece of music. Very lyrical." Furthermore, his opinion of Still as a human being echoes that of practically everybody who knew and consequently loved him: "I thought he was a very fine gentleman, very quiet and unassuming." (12)
Fulfilling the New York Times announcement, the world premiere of Aria did indeed take place on Sunday afternoon, May 15, 1960, at 2:30, as part of the Sano Accordion Symphony concert at Town Hall. Participating artists were Eugene Ettore, veteran accordionist and the conductor of the accordion orchestra, guest artist Myron Floren, who, as planned, performed Aria as well as Bennett's Four Nocturnes (at Elsie Bennett's request), and Judy Procida, who served as narrator for a musical novelty tribute by Ettore (with words by his student Rosemarie Gerber [now Cavanaugh]) to Floren entitled Hey! Myron. The rest of the program consisted of accordion orchestra transcriptions of such works as Moussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain, Donizetti's overture to Don Pasquale, and the finale of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. Floren requested from Elsie Bennett and was given about one hour of stage time. (13)
In addition to the Still and Bennett pieces, he performed Fughetta, by accordionist John Gart, various transcriptions (Vittorio Monti's Czardas, Claude Debussy's Clair de Lune, Aram Khachaturian's Sabre Dance, Sir Arthur Sullivan's The Lost Chord, and Ferde Grofe's "On the Trail," from the Grand Canyon Suite), and "selected old time dances," (Clarence "Pinetop" Smith's "Original" Boogie Woogie, Les Brown's Sentimental Journey, Thomas Haynes Bayly's Long, Long Ago, and Tolchard Evans's inescapable Lady of Spain). (14)
Despite this motley assortment of selections, Francis D. Perkins, of the New York Herald Tribune, gave a favorable review, saying that the two original works (the Still and Bennett pieces) possessed "melodic appeal and variety of mood," and that they "revealed their composers' understanding of the accordion's requirements and resources." (15)
Over the next few years, Aria was to enjoy further momentous, mainstream exposure. Carmen Carrozza, a brilliant "third generation" virtuoso, who, though a student of Deiro, was younger than such "second generation" artists as the aforementioned Magnante, Ettore, and Biviano, included it in his many recitals and appearances in general contemporary music concerts, particularly in New York. Being apparently more at ease with contemporary music than his older colleagues, he was responsible for playing the premieres of most of the A. A. A. commissions, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.
On February 11, 1961, he gave a recital of all-commissioned works, including Aria and two other pieces by Cowell and Hovhannes similarly commissioned by the Accordion Teachers Guild, at the Arts Club of Chicago. The capacity audience received the new music, played on this new instrument, very enthusiastically, according to Carrozza (there is no review, unfortunately). (16)
About two months later, on April 17, 1961, he participated in the final concert of the season for the National Association of American Composers and Conductors, at Carnegie Recital Hall, playing the earlier mentioned solos by Thomson and Creston, as well as the Still piece. Francis D. Perkins once again had kind words for the commissioned works in his New York Herald Tribune review, saying that all three pieces were "engaging and instrumentally grateful." Eric Salzman, writing for the New York Times, was more specific about each piece, describing Aria as "mild, modal, [and] wandering." (17)
Other noteworthy performances include a May 6, 1962, Town Hall recital of all A. A. A. works, including Aria, performed by Carrozza which got glowing reviews from John Gruen, of the New York Herald Tribune, and from the New York Times; (18) a February 21, 1964, co-operative program of all-commissioned works by Cowell, Kleinsinger, Siegmeister, Bennett, Diamond, Luening, Creston, Brant, and, of course, Still, performed by four young and promising accordionists, Janice Simon, who played Aria, Joseph Soprani, Robert Conti, and Kathy Black, at the Donnell Library, in New York, and which was broadcast over WNYC radio; (19) and another Carrozza recital, again including Aria, presented by the American Festival of Negro Arts at Aronow Hall, City College, New York City, on February 22, 1965. (20)
In addition to these and many other performances, Aria was included with other commissioned pieces in two A. A. A.- sponsored teacher/student workshops in New York on September 22, 1964, and September 27, 1969, and has been selected as the test piece for the A. A. A. national and regional competitions many times, as has his second accordion piece, Lilt, beginning at least as early as 1967. (In fact, the writer recalls the first time he ever played Aria was as the required test piece for one of those contests in that period.) (21)
In addition to these mostly New York performances, the celebrated and, sadly, recently and prematurely late, Danish concert artist, Mogens Ellegard, performed Aria and other A. A. A. works at the University of Miami's third annual Festival of American Music, May 4, 1962, and throughout Europe and Israel (including some radio and television broadcasts) in 1965. (22) Back in the United States there were many other recitals and broadcasts which featured it outside of New York.
The writer knows of at least six occasions first hand between 1975 and today in which he included it, and, in some instances Lilt also, in recitals at St. John's College (in Santa Fe, New Mexico), Johns Hopkins University, the Peabody Institute, Morgan State University (in Baltimore), Trenton State College (in New Jersey and where he presently teaches), and on a Morgan State University radio program on black music hosted by the well-known authority on that subject, Dominique de Lerma. This performance history is probably fairly representative of that of many other concert artists regarding the inclusion of the Still pieces on their programs. (23)
So grateful was the A. A. A. for this delightful little piece that Mr. Still was honored on June 25, 1962, at the Annual A. A. A. Dinner Dance, at the Commodore Hotel in New York. Unable to attend, he sent his good friend, composer Kay Swift (perhaps most acclaimed for her 1930 Broadway hit, Fine and Dandy), to receive a special plaque for him. (24) Later that summer, Ms. Bennett writes in her article about him in the special May 1975 festschrift issue of The Black Perspective in Music, that she visited the Stills in their Victoria Avenue residence in Los Angeles, and they all became close, life-long friends. (25)
In an undated letter from Mr. Still to Ms. Bennett which must have been received sometime during early 1960 the composer describes the form of his piece as a rondo which breaks down into the following eight subdivisions:
1. Theme I / 2. Theme II (extended by development) / 3. Theme I / 4. Here a codetta takes the place of a transition / 5. Theme II (strongly contrasted and extended by development) / 6. Re-transition / 7. Theme I / 8. Coda (26)
Years later, Still gave another description of Aria in a letter to Ms. Bennett. He wrote in the third person so that Ms. Bennett could more fluently include it in a future article about him. As it turned out, the quotation was never used (although an accompanying one about Lilt was; see below).
"The composer's love for opera led him to write a broad, soaring melody reminiscent of operatic music. This appears at the beginning and end of Aria, the sections separated by a Scherzo-like movement demanding nimble fingers and a clear sense of rhythm. The piece employs many of the unique resources typical of the accordion as an instrument." (27)
The piece may be more readily perceived as a large A/B/A1 form, however, because Still's designated items 1 through 4 seem to be all of one fabric, owing to the slow but rather rubato tempo and a fairly faithful adherence to the Aeolian mode in the main double period portion of the principal theme; item 5 (the "Scherzo-like movement" mentioned in the second quotation above) is in a sprightly, faster tempo, and a considerably chromaticized but clear F major key, and presents a strong contrast to what came before despite its disguised derivation from the earlier "Theme II"; and, following the section 6 bluesy, slow retransition, a truncated, but nonetheless lengthy, return of the opening section's main theme and, very importantly, slow tempo and A minor tonality, prior to the dramatic coda. (See analytical diagram, Fig. 1.)
The mood of the entire work is very peaceful and poetically fragile, with characteristically Stillian touches of modal, pentatonic, and quartel writing moderately imposed upon an otherwise frankly tonal and post-romantic style. Though the fingerwork of Aria is easily rivaled by the heavy virtuosic requirements of such other A. A. A. commissions as the Creston Concerto and Krenek Toccata, the writer has played few pieces that make as high a demand on the performer's expressive abilities--and expose performance mistakes so clearly! It nevertheless comes quite close to what Ms. Bennett requested of Still in her first letter of invitation for a commission, some six months before the official contract was sent:
"We would like something ranging from medium to difficult to perform since we would like the number to be featured on concert programs. If the number were suitable it might also be used by contestants in our various accordion contests. This is not a prime consideration, however, we are more interested in getting a good pice of music that has something to say." (28)
In this same letter, Still was offered the usual A. A. A. remittance of $200, to be paid jointly by the A. A. A. and his publisher.
Typical of many of the A. A. A. commissions of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, Aria calls for the traditional piano accordion with the standard, so called "stradella," "120-bass" left-hand manual, consisting of one octave of single notes (extendable to other octaves by means of registral switch changes), and preset major, minor, major-minor seventh, and diminished chord buttons, all of which allow composers to come up with some very inventive polytonal or tone cluster structures, often performed at high speeds, which are difficult or impossible to obtain on other keyboard instruments. Many later A. A. A. works allow the performer to use the more recently invented and added three- to four-octave single-note arrangement of the "free bass" manual, which is available in two different formats, one of which is chromatically arranged and the other following the circle-of-fifths layout of the stradella system (see the left-hand manual diagrams in Fig. 2).
In a feature article on Still in the November 1963 issue of The Music Journal we find him still saying good things about the accordion: ". . . I know this instrument has wonderful possibilities and there are always fine accordionists who would like to see more music composed specifically for their instrument." (29)
Elsie Bennett and the A. A. A. eventually followed up on this notion personally for Mr. Still by asking him to write another accordion solo. The expressed goal of this commission, as stated in a letter from Ms. Bennett to the composer dated February 21, 1965, was "to write a simple piece that could be used for teaching purposes." (30)
The contract was sent to Still the following summer, on July 5, 1966, and the resulting piece, indeed easier technically, but, typically, not expressively, was entitled Lilt. It joins other intermediate level student commissions, such as Jose Serebrier's Danza Ritual, Creston's Embryo Suite, and Tcherepnin's Zigane, all commissioned around the same time. According to A. A. A. contract records, it constitutes that organization's twenty-ninth commission (see n. 3).
An article in the Fall 1968 Accordion Horizons magazine announced the publication of Lilt by Deiro and the fact that it had been chosen as a test piece for both the A. A. A. Eastern Cup and New York State regional competitions that year (see n. 18). In addition, Still is quoted as describing his new piece as a "jaunty, good-humored little tune with an easy, infectious rhythm. The middle section, also melodic, offers a sparkling contrast to the basic theme." (31) (But the rather brief middle section is not as strongly contrasted to the outer A sections, at least regarding tempo, as are the principle segments of Aria to each other.)
Like Aria, Lilt is written for the standard piano/stradella accordion, and is similarly serene and tonal (A minor / A major / A minor, with the usual modal and pentatonic leanings), and follows a similar rondo plan, framed within larger A/B/A sections (see Fig. 3). And, as may be expected for a student level composition, it is melodically, harmonically, and formally simpler and more "popular" in nature than was its lengthier and more serious predecessor.
Curiously, if one is to go by the chronological listing of works in the book William Grant Still and the Fusion of Cultures in American Music, edited by Robert Bartlett Haas, both accordion pieces were written in times of seeming inactivity for the composer. It appears that Lilt was the only work completed in 1966; and Aria, along with the orchestral tone poem Patterns and the "Lyric" string quartet, all purportedly completed near or during 1960, followed the Third Symphony and the opera Minette Fontaine by a year, with nothing showing for the bulk of 1959. The years between 1960 and 1966 are furiously busy, however, with at least sixteen works listed in the chronology, including the opera Highway 1, U. S. A., the orchestral works Los Alnados De Espana, Preludes, and Threnody: In Memory of Jan Sibelius, and the Folk Suites, Nos. 1 through 4, for various chamber ensembles. (32)
What is more remarkable is that, to the best of the writer's knowledge, William Grant Still is the only published African American composer to have written for the accordion to date. A former classmate of the writer's at the Peabody Institute, the late Ronald Roxbury (an African American who grew up in Salisbury, Maryland), wrote an excellent and highly idiomatic set of four atonal Preludes at about the same time Still's Lilt was published. The writer had the pleasure of premiering that composition at Peabody not long after its creation, and is happy to report that the A. A. A. is presently looking into having it published posthumously. (33)
A few years later, Roxbury promised to write two works for New York accordionist William Schimmel, a concerto for accordion and strings and a duet for accordion and guitar, but they never materialized. (34) Finally, Ulysses Kay accepted a contract from the A. A. A., dated November 24, 1961, which he regrettably soon returned to Ms. Bennett, explaining that he had tried but felt that he could not succeed in writing something fitting for the instrument. (35)
Be that as it may, the accordion world feels very privileged to possess these two little gems by Still which show every evidence of having been written from the heart and with the same effort and enthusiasm that he had put into his more celebrated major works. They are, in the writer's opinion, thoroughly good Still, and a delight to perform.
The writer heartily thanks Elsie Bennett and accordionist Stanley Darrow for generously opening their extensive accordion archives to him for hours and days on end and for their invaluable and unrestrained assistance in many other ways.
(1) "Hemidemisemiquavers," New York Times, April 24, 1960, p. 11, col. 6.
(2) "Concert, Recitals Today," New York Times, May 18, 1958, p. 8, col. 3; Accordion and Guitar World 23, n. 3 (June 1958): 19.
(3) American Accordionists' Association contracts in files of Elsie Bennett. A full list of these contracts and some manuscripts or published copies (where contracts cannot be found) follows, chronologically arranged and numbered through the present. The two Still pieces (in bold) are nos. 8 and 29, commissioned in 1960 and 1966 respectively:
1) Paul Creston, Prelude and Dance (see n. 2); 2) Wallingford Riegger, Cooper Square, April 9, 1958; 3) Paul Creston, Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra, July 11, 1958; 4) Virgil Thomson, Lamentations, April 15, 1959; 5) Carlos Surinach, Pavanna and Rondo, June 11, 1959; 6) Robert Russell Bennett, Four Nocturnes: no contract found, but an article by Elsie Bennett in Accordion and Guitar World ("Robert Russell Bennett Joins Ranks of Composers for Accordion," vol. 24, n. 11 [February, 1960]: 9, 36) indicates that he wrote the Four Nocturnes sometime after May 1959 and that it had already been completed and published by Chappell by the time of printing for that issue of the magazine; and a New York Times review (John Briggs, "4 Works for Accordion Played In Premieres to Aid Repertory," November 22, 1959, p. 85, cols. 4-5), announcing its premiere performance by Carmen Carrozza, narrows the period of composition to some five months in the middle of 1959; 7) Henry Cowell, Iridescent Rondo, July 14, 1959; 8) William Grant Still, Aria, December 1, 1959; 9) Henry Cowell, Concerto Brevis, February 4, 1960; 10) Otto Luening, Rondo, June 23, 1960; 11) Paul Pisk, Salute to Juan, October 28, 1960; 12) Alexander Tcherepnin, Partita, November 1, 1960; 13) Henry Brant, Sky Forest, for jazz accordion quartet, November 7, 1960; 14) Elie Siegmeister, Improvisation, Ballade, and Dance, November 10, 1960; 15) David Diamond, Night Music, for accordion and string quartet, December 8, 1960; 16) Louis Gordon, Aria, Scherzo, and Finale, for accordion and orchestra or band, August 5, 1961; 17) Paul Pisk, Adagio and Rondo Concertante, for two accordions and orchestra, November 10, 1961; 18) David Diamond, Sonatina, January 15, 1962; 19) George Kleinsinger, Prelude and Sarabande, January 18, 1962; 20) Ernst Krenek, Toccata, April 2, 1962; 21) Robert Russell Bennett, Quintet ("Psychiatry"), for accordion and string quartet, September 15, 1962; 22) Normand Lockwood, Sonata Fantasy, January 3, 1964; 23) Nicholas Flagello, Introduction and Scherzo, March 20, 1964; 24) Alexander Tcherepnin, Invention, March 24, 1965; 25) Paul Creston, Fantasy, for accordion and orchestra, or accordion solo, July 17, 1964; 26) Carlos Surinach, Prelude of the Sea, March 25, 1965; 27) David Diamond, Introduction and Dance, March 17, 1966; 28) Jose Serebrier, Danza Ritual, March 17, 1966; 29) William Grant Still, Lilt, July 5, 1966; 30?) Jose Serebrier, Passacaglia and Perpetuum Mobile, for accordion, strings, brass, and percussion; no contract found, but MS is dated 1966; 31) Alexander Tcherepnin, Tzigane, February 14, 1967; 32) Paul Creston, Embryo Suite, July 11, 1968; 33) Joel Brickman, Prelude and Caprice, April 11, 1972; 34) William Schimmel, Fables, August 5, 1974; 35) John Franceschina, Scaramouche, June 16, 1975; 36) William Schimmel, Variations in Search of a Theme, June 17, 1976; 37) Timothy Thompson, Growth Cells, July 17, 1976; 38?) Karen Fremar, Introduction and Allegro, for accordion and synthesized tape; no contract was found, but published score (Deffner) is dated 1976; 39) Lukas Foss, Curriculum Vitae, November 12, 1976; 40?) Timothy Thompson, Keyworld; no contract was found, but MS dated 1976-77; 41?) Timothy Thompson, Rossiniland; no contract was found, but MS dated 1977; 42) William Schimmel, The Spring Street Ritual; no contract was found, but the published score (Deffner) indicates it was jointly commissioned by the American Accordionists' Association and the Accordion Teachers' Guild in 1979; 43) John Franceschina, Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra, May 22, 1985; 44) Joseph Biviano, Quintet in G, for accordion and string quartet; 45) William Schimmel, Remembering a Legend; Charles Magnante, April 7, 1987; 46 or 47) Jose Halac, Accordion Shadow, April 30, 1993; 46 or 47) Dave Soldier, Sontag in Sarajevo, April 30, 1993; 48 or 49) Robert Young McMahan, Incantations, for 'cello and accordion, December 28, 1993; 48 or 49) Robert Young McMahan, Apparitions, for flute and accordion, December 28, 1993; 50) Pauline Oliveros, [work in progress], 1995.
Various New York Times and New York Herald Tribune reviews, as well as some from other newspapers and journals, will be cited below. The topic of the Christian Science Monitor was the world premiere of Creston's concerto, given by Carmen Carrozza and the Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler conducting (Harold Rogers, "Carmen Carrozza Soloist in Concerto for Accordion," May 11, 1960, p. 11, cols. 6-8).
(4) John C. Gerstner, "The Passing of Pietro [Deiro]," Accordion World 20, n. 1 (November 1954): 4, 16; "Pietro Deiro Dead; Accordionist Was 66," New York Times, November 4, 1954, p. 31, col. 4. The minutes of the first A. A. A. meeting are reproduced, along with a photograph of nine of the twelve founders, in the American Accordionists' Association Fiftieth Anniversay Souvenir Journal and Program, 1988: 10-11 ("Minutes of the First Meeting [March 9, 1938]"). The full list of founders are (in order of appearance in the photograph) Pietro Frosini, Abe Goldman, Sidney Dawson, Anthony Galla-Rini, Charles Magnante, Pietro Deiro, Sr., Charles Nunzio, Gene von Hallberg, Joseph Biviano, and, not in the photograph, John Gart, Sam Roland, and Byron Streep.
(5) The Credo of the A. A. A. may be read in full in the 1963 Annual of the American Accordionists' Association, 1963: 5. Additional articles of interest in the same publication are Theresa Costello (A. A. A. Secretary), "Our Silver Anniversary, 1938-1963" (p. 1) and Eugen Ettore (A. A. A. President), "An Open Letter from Eugene Ettore, President American Accordionists' Association" (p. 3).
(6) The material in this and the next paragraph is from an interview with Elsie Bennett at her Brookln, New York, home and music studio, February 26, 1995.
(7) Luening's talk is extensively described and quoted in "Otto Luening Addresses A. A. A. at Open Meeting," American Accordionists' Association News 4, n. 2 (April 1953): 3, 6.
(8) See n. 3 for a full chronological list of composers and their commissions.
(9)Composers who Ms. Bennett's files reveal turned down commissions by either saying no at personal interviews or by not returning signed contracts include Marc Blitzstein, William Schuman, Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chavez , Douglas Moore, Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Samuel Barber, Vittorio Giannini, Vincent Persichetti, Gian-Carlo Menotti, Luigi Dallpiccola, and others. Sometimes other obstacles hampered the increase of A. A. A. commissioned repertiore. For example, when Ms. Bennett approached Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft shielded him from her, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco signed a contract but unfortunately died before he could get around to writing the piece (interview with Elsie Bennett; [Elsie Bennett:] "Intervi ews or In Person Talks," TS in Bennett files [n. d.]).
(10) For a full international list of original works for or including accordion as of 1980, see Joseph Macerollo (accordion instructor, Royal Conservatory, Toronto), Accordion Resource Manual (Canada [no city given]: Avondale Press, 1980). It is hoped that this valuable resource will be updated eventually. . Johann Sebastian Bach, Toccata in D Minor (for organ), arranged for accordion by Charles Magnante (New York: Pagani, 1941).
(11) Elsie Bennett, "William Grant Still Writes for Unaccompanied Accordion: Aria for Accordion," Accordion and Guitar World 25, n. 11 (February 1961): 21. The letter from Still to Bennett is dated on Christmas Eve, 1959. Unfortunately, Floren does not mention his visit with Still in his autobiography (written with his daughter Randee Floren), Accordion Man (Brattleboro, Vermont: Stephen Greene Press, 1981). But correspondence between him and Bennett (in the Bennett files) reveal the following: Bennett was advised by Carrozza to request Floren's assistance, and she wrote to Floren about this, and to ask that Floren arrange to have a publicity photograph made of him and Still, on December 11, 1959. Floren responded in a January 11, 1960, letter that Still had contacted him, they had the photograph taken (it appears in the above cited Accordion and Guitar World article), and they had met to work on the already composed Aria. At this meeting, Floren reports the following: "His wife [Verna Arvey] played the Aria on the piano first and then we began working from the beginning and I would play each phrase with different switches until he heard the sound that he had had in mind in writing the piece." Floren also confirms part of Still's Christmas Eve letter: "He had listened to the records you had sent him and was especially impressed with some of the concert work of Magnante."
Still's daughter, Judith Still Headlee, has little memory of Floren's visit, as she explains in a letter to the writer (April 14, 1995): "I have no memories of Myron Floren, except that I came downstairs one afternoon and found him (or some gentleman) in the living room, demonstrating the accordion. He was instructing my father in the instrument." (It should be mentioned here that Ms. Headlee would have been about sixteen years old at the time. Floren remembers her appearance that day, however. [Letter from Myron Floren, May 9, 1995.]) She continues, explaining that he was "very private in his composing" and "never discussed a piece unless my mother was writing words for it. Morevoer, he stopped writing in his diary in 1959, so there may be no record [of Floren's visit or of his impressions of the accordion] there." Ms. Headlee also offers further explanation for the lack of further comment by her father on this matter: "In the 60s he was tired, discouraged and less optimistic, so that his music had a wistful, lyrical quality, and he was less likely to indulge himself in learning new instruments such as the organ and accordion. . . Just think what he could have done if he had discovered the accordion in 1921, when he began the composition of Levee Land?"
(12) Letters from Myron Floren to Elsie Bennett, January 11, 1960 (Bennett files), and the writer, May 9, 1995.
(13) Letter from Myron Floren to Elsie Bennett, March 30, 1960 (Bennett files).
(14) These selections are listed in a letter from Floren to Bennett, April 27, 1960 (Bennett files).
(15) Francis D. Perkins, "Sano Accordion Symphony Plays At Town Hall," New York Herald Tribune, May 16, 1960, p. 12, col. 4. This review and the earlier cited Christian Science Monitor one (see n. 3) were reprinted in a thematic catalogue of A. A. A. works published in June, 1961.
(16) [Elsie Bennett], "First Concert of All-Commissioned Works Presented by Carmen Carrozza at Arts Club of Chicago," A. A. A. press release TS, May 1961; in Bennett files. The writer is indebted to Diane Haskell, librarian at the Newberry Library, in Chicago, for the precise date of the concert, a copy of the program, and acknowledgement of there being no reviews. The Accordion Teachers' Guild commissioned works on the recital were Hovhannes's Suite and Cowell's Perpetual Motion. The remaining A. A. A. compositions were Cowell's Iridescent Rondo, Bennett's Four Nocturnes, Riegger's Cooper Square, Thomson's Lamentations, and Surinach's Pavanne and Rondo.
(17) Francis D. Perkins, "Conductor-Composer Unit In Season's Final Concert," New York Herald Tribune, April 18, 1961, p. 19, cols. 1-2; Eric Salzman, "Brass Music Played by Composers Group," New York Times, April 18, 1961, p. 42, cols. 3-4. Both this and the above cited Chicago concert were also acknowledged in Pan Pipes of Sigma Alpha Iota 54, n. 2 (January 1962): 72. Regrettably, such major Afro-American newspapers and serials as the Chicago Defender, New York Amsterdam News, Jet, Ebony, and Black Digest, made no mention of any of the Still accordion performances.
(18) John Gruen, in "Week-End Events," New York Herald Tribune, May 7, 1962, p. 12, cols. 6-7; H. K., "Carrozza Presents Accordion Recital," New York Times, May 7, 1962, p. 39, col. 4. Unfortunately, neither review makes any mention of Aria, due partly to space given to the world premiere of Luening's Rondo in the same recital.
The full program is given, however, in "Carmen Carrozza," Accordion and Guitar World 30, n. 3 (December 1965/January 1966): 8.
(19) [Elsie Bennett], "American Music Festival Features Accordion Works," A. A. A. press release TS, March 5, 1964; in Bennett files.
(20) Announced in "Music Notes," New York Times, February 22, 1965, p. 14, col. 2, and recalled in "Composers Commissioning," by Elsie Bennett, Accordion Horizons 2, n. 4 (Summer 1966): 13.
(21) For example, a September 14, 1968 letter from Bennett to Still indicates that both Aria and Lilt will be used as test pieces in different age groups for the Fall 1968 A. A. A. Eastern Cup Competition. Another letter, dated June 26, 1968, reports that Lilt was used as a required test piece in the sixteen-year-old division of the Fall 1967 A. A. A. Eastern Cup Competitons, and that the New York State Regional Competition also used it on May 5, 1968. Finally, Bennett states to Still in a letter of November 25, 1971, that "Aria is used at practically every contest that our [state] organizations have and I am thrilled when I see it has been picked. Also Lilt has been used." She goes on to write that Lilt was used in the November 1969 Eastern Cup Competition.
The workshops are reported in "A. A. A. Seminar--Workshops Successful," by Elsie Bennett, Accordion Horizons: 1965 Convention Issue 1, n. 4: 12, and "Robert Dumm to Analyze Sept. 27 Seminar," Accordion and Guitar World 29, n. 4 (August/September 1969): 4.
(22) Review of Miami concert: Doris Reno, "Artist Turns Accordion Into a Concert Triumph," Miami Herald, May 5, 1962, p. 4-B, cols. 1-3 (the writer is indebted to Lynn Downing, at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, for this information). Ellegard doubtlessly played this work in many other programs in the United States and elsewhere, as did certainly numerous other artists not recorded here. News of the European and Israeli tour is relayed by Bennett to Still in a letter of February 21, 1965. Bennett had, in turn, heard about the tour in a letter received from Ellegard (Bennett files).
(23) Dates and locations of the McMahan performances: Garret Room of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, April 25, 1975; Leakin Hall, Peabody Institute, May 11, 1975; Collegium Musicum program, St. John's College (Santa Fe, New Mexico), July 20, 1975; Murphy Auditorium, Morgan State University (Baltimore), November 3, 1977; Bray Recital Hall, Trenton State College (New Jersey), February 6, 1993; and "Melodies, Lyrics, and Notes," Dominique-Rene de Lerma, host, WEAA-FM broadcast (Morgan State University radio station), November 1977. None of these performances received reviews although some concerts were mentioned in Accordion Arts Bulletin ("Performances" [Summer/Fall 1975]: 6), Accordion Arts Magazine ("Performances," vol. 1, n. 2 [Winter 1978]: 12), and a feature article on the writer in the Baltimore Evening Sun (Carl Schoettler, "Low Instrument Esteem Irks Accordion Virtuoso," April 17, 1975, p. B-1, cols. 1-6; port.). De Lerma sent a cassette recording of the radio program to the Stills (with a letter, dated October 25, 1977; copy in possession of the writer) which would have joined earlier tapes they had received from Bennett of Ellegard and another unnamed artist (probably Carrozza) playing Aria (as mentioned in an August 21, 1962, letter from Still to Bennett; Bennett files).
(24) Letter of invitation from Bennett to Still, June 11, 1962 (Bennett files); also mentioned in "William Grant Still and the Accordion," by Elsie Bennett, The Black Perspective in Music 3, n. 2 (May 1975): 193-95.
(25) Bennett, "William Grant Still and the Accordion," 95.
(26) [William Grant Still]: TS (n. d.); Bennett files.
(27) Letter from Still to Bennett, June 23, 1968 (Bennett files). In her letter to Still (June 20, 1968; Bennett files) preceding this reply Bennett asked for his descriptions of both Lilt, which he had recently completed, and Aria for her upcoming article announcing the completion and publication of the former (see n. 28).
(28) Letter from Bennett to Still, May 27, 1959 (Bennett files).
(29) Joyce Lippy, Walden E. Muns, "William Grant Still," Music Journal 21, n.8 (November 1963): 34, 70.
(30) In Bennett files.
(31) This is Still's description, which accompanied his description of Aria in the earlier mentioned letter to Bennett (June 23, 1968; see n. 24). It appears in Bennett's unsigned article "William Grant Still Writes Second Work for Accordion," Accordion Horizons 4, n. 4 (Fall 1968): 11.
(32) "William Grant Still--Catalogue of His Works," in William Grant Still and the Fusion of Cultures in American Music, Robert Bartlett Haas, ed. (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1972), 144-45, 153-55, 158-62, 164-65. Partially supporting this statement, Still's wife, Verna Arvey, wrote in her book about "Billy" and herself that the Serenade for Orchestra and "two subsequent commissions by the American Accordionists' Association were the only [works] completed during this period" (Verna Arvey, In One Lifetime [Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 1984], 174). Ms. Arvey's account, which gives no exact parameter of years, is considerably inaccurate, however, though Haas indicates that the Serenade was completed in 1957 and merely premiered in May, 1958 (p. 153), and Aria was completed by early 1960. Lilt, as has been shown above, was not commissioned and composed for another six years.
(33) Ronald Roxbury, Four Preludes for Accordion (1968). The original MS of this work is in the possession of accordionist William Schimmel; but the writer sent a photocopy of the photocopy of the MS which the composer had given him for the premiere to the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where it is included in the Ronald Roxbury Papers, housed in the Peabody Music Library Archives. The Preludes were among the works on Roxbury's Bachelor of Music degree composition recital, which took place in the Peabody Concert Hall, on Tuesday, March 26, 1968 (program copies in the Peabody Archives and in possession of the writer). They were originally written for Roxbury's and the writer's classmate, the late Raymond Bitzel, an oboe and music education major at Peabody as well as an active accordionist who had studied with Baltimore accordionist and "second generation" accordion pioneer Frederick Tedesco. Bitzel was unable to perform the Preludes at the time; so Roxbury asked the writer to do them instead.
(34) These works were announced in Accordion Art: International Bulletin of the Accordion Arts Society 1, Issue 2 (second half, 1975): 12. Schimmel recently informed the writer that the works were never completed (or even possibly begun; no known sketches survive). He had once been a member of Eric Salzman's avant-garde group QUOG, and Roxbury joined this venture through his acquaintance with the accordionist. Schimmel was also instrumental in introducing Roxbury into the Philip Glass Ensemble. He is listed among the singers in the CBS recording of Einstein on the Beach, and is partially visible in the one of the photographs in the accompanying thirty-three-page booklet and libretto (Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass Ensemble, CBS M4K38875 ). Telephone interview with William Schimmel, April 1995.
(35) Bennett files
About the Author
Born in Washington, D. C., in 1944, Robert McMahan earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Robert Hall Lewis, Jean Eichelberger Ivey, and Stefan Grove'. He also holds a master's degree in the Great Books program at St. John's College. His accordion studies were with Louis F. Coppola (three-time AAA national winner), and he won many first place awards in the Senior and Virtuoso divisions of the AAA competitions during the 1960s and early 1970s. Throughout his entire career Dr. McMahan has unswervingly promoted the accordion's great potential as a serious instrument (particularly in mixed ensembles) through performance on many fronts, his compositions, and unofficial commissioning of other composers (including his former mentor, Robert Hall Lewis, who included it in two of his symphonic works).
From 1964 to 1991 he lived in the Baltimore area and served on many theory and composition faculties there, including Towson State University, Morgan State University, College of Notre Dame, University of Maryland Baltimore County (where he taught accordion and graduated Baltimore's first accordion major), Essex Community College, and the Peabody Preparatory School (of the Peabody Institute), where, in addition to being head of theory, he also established an accordion major. Now a New Jersey resident, he is assistant professor and head of theory, composition, ear training, and electronic music studies at The College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State College).
Honors in composition include awards from the Annapolis Fine Arts Composers' Competition, the Contemporary Recording Society, and Peabody Institute. Dr. McMahan is also a recognized authority on the American composer Carl Ruggles, and has published articles in American Music, Sonneck Society Bulletin, and the New Grove Dictionary of Opera. He is presently working on a book on the life and works of Ruggles, commissioned by Scarecrow Press. Prior to these literary ventures, he was commissioned by the Library of Congress in the 1980s to write and record two accordion courses for the blind.
Besides his writings, he has been featured in articles by others in Keyboard Magazine, High Fidelity, The Baltimore Sun, Accordion Arts Magazine, Contemporary American Composers, and Who's Who in American Composers: Classical.
Dr. McMahan has given many full or partial recitals of new music for or including accordion in the mid-Atlantic area and was for many years the regular accordionist for the Baltimore Symphony and other respected local ensembles. He has also performed in many shows at Center Stage (Baltimore), the Kennedy Center, and Arena Stage (Washington), and has worked with such popular artists as Sting, Maureen McGovern, Georgia Brown, Bobby Rydel, and Theodore Bikel. He has also performed under the batons of Gunther Schuller, Sarah Caldwell, Julius Rudel, Frederik Prausnitz, Murry Sidlin, Sergiu Comissiona, Rob Fisher, Peter Schickele, and Les Elgart. In the 1970s he recorded Ernst Krenek's Toccata on the Orion label (at the composer's request).
As a composer, Dr. McMahan is more interested in combining the accordion with other instruments than in producing solo literature. To date, he has written several large chamber works and a symphony including the accordion and, more recently, Sonata da Chiesa, for oboe and accordion, which he and renowned oboist James Ostryniec recorded on the CRS label. In 1994 he was commissioned by the American Accordionists' Association to compose two works, soon to be published, Incantations, for 'cello and accordion, and Apparitions, for flute and accordion.
Dr. McMahan lives in Titusville, New Jersey, with his wife Anne, a middle school music teacher, and their two children, Anna Beth, a student at Bryn Mawr College, and younger son, Benjamin.