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JAVS Online Summer 2008 - Genesis IVS

The Genesis of the Internationale-Viola-Forschungsgesellschaft and the Early American Viola Society: Factual and Anecdotal

By Myron Rosenblum

It is hard to believe that we are at the 40th Anniversary juncture of both the International Viola Society and not long after, the American Viola Society, but here we are! For me, it really began in college when I discovered the beauties and allure of the viola. I made the changeover from violin and had the good fortune to study with some viola luminaries: Lillian Fuchs, Walter Trampler, and William Primrose.  

 HOW IT ALL STARTED: After my army service, where I was violist in the 7th US Army Symphony in Stuttgart, Germany, I was browsing one day in the 1960s in Patelson’s Music House, that fine music shop in back of Carnegie Hall. I came upon a book titled Literatur für Viola, published in 1963 and authored by Franz Zeyringer, an Austrian violist and school teacher. I was amazed at its contents and the apparent wealth of music for viola in many settings, most unknown to me. Inside the book was a card by the author inviting the reader to contact him and submit data on any viola music not included in the book. I wrote to Mr. Zeyringer, praised his book, and started sending him information on viola works that I either owned or knew of that were not in his book. Much of it was viola works by American composers that he knew nothing about. He sent a quick response of thanks and appreciation, and so began a close collegial friendship. 

MEETING FRANZ ZEYRINGER: During my Fulbright year in Vienna (1964-65) I contacted Franz, and he subsequently arranged a concert in his hometown of Pöllau. My wife and I traveled to Pöllau where we had the pleasure of meeting Franz and his family. I was also invited to perform the Christoph Graupner Concerto in D Major for Viola d’amore and Viola soli with strings with the local orchestra and with Franz as the violist. Franz showed me his viola research and I was greatly impressed at his efforts to catalogue as much viola music—original and transcriptions—as he could locate or knew about. From my base in Vienna that year, I was able to go through the catalogues of both the Nationalbibliothek and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (both of which contained a fair amount of viola music) and send him substantial data on viola solo and viola chamber works that I could look at in these fine libraries. During my visit to Pöllau, Franz started speaking casually of forming an international viola society, something that piqued my interest. I told him that when I returned to the USA, I would explore the possibility of forming an American chapter, or “sector” as Zeyringer called it, something that pleased him very much.

THE VIOLA SOCIETY: There were earlier attempts to form such a viola society. In 1927, Paul Hindemith and the great Russian violist and teacher Vadim Borissovsky made an effort to form a society which they called The Violists’ World Union. That never materialized. Two years later, a journal titled Die Bratsche appeared. Edited by the well-known German historian, librarian, and critic Wilhelm Altmann, it was devoted to articles on both viola and viola d’amore. Altmann proposed a viola organization which he called Bratschen-Bundes (Viola Union). However, there appeared to be a minimal response and enthusiasm for this idea of a journal (ah, these laid-back viola players!), and so it was short-lived. Undoubtedly, the decaying political situation in Germany and in Europe at that time and the eventual outbreak of World War II contributed to the lack of interest in such viola matters and to the demise of these well-intentioned plans for a viola society and viola publications. In 1937, Altmann and Borissovsky did manage to collaborate and publish their Literaturverzeichnis für Bratsche und Viola d’amore, the first serious attempt to catalogue known music for both viola and viola d’amore providing library sources for the manuscripts and publishers for printed music.

With another teacher, Deitrich Bauer, Zeyringer conceived of the formation of a viola organization in 1968 and called it Viola-Forschungsgellschaft (VFG), translated as Viola Research Society. Its base was in Kassel, Germany, where Bauer lived, with the first Viola Archive set up in Kassel. Later, in 1975, this Archive would move to the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. Franz had a handful of devoted and passionate colleagues for the administration of the new society. The president of the VFG was at first Emil Seiler, the well-known violist (Seiler and Walter Trampler were stand partners in an orchestra in Munich as young men), and soon after was Dr. Wolfgang Sawodny, a professional chemist and lover of the viola. Bauer was the first secretary. The archive of viola music in Salzburg looked promising. The VFG’s executive officers changed over time. Franz Zeyringer was always there in some capacity and served as its president around 1976. Others who served in various roles over time were the scholar Walter Lebermann, editor of Classical-period viola concertos, and the Austrian composer Alfred Uhl, known to violists as the composer of some fine viola etudes and the Kleines Konzert for clarinet, viola, and piano.

 THE AMERICAN CHAPTER: When I returned to New York City during the summer of 1965 and resumed my activities there, I set upon forming an American chapter to be known as the Viola Research Society (VRS). My initial challenge was how to make violists all over America and Canada aware of this newly-formed viola society. I wrote short pieces for both the International Musician and Allegro, the publications of the American Federation of Musicians and Local 802 of the A.F. of M in New York City (which had a large and prominent viola family). I wrote “Violists Unite” for the International Musician and “Viola Power” for Allegro in 1972. Also in 1972, a similar piece of mine appeared in The Strad and we had some responses from British violists anxious to join our society. Chapters were eventually set up in Canada, with Baird Knechtel as its head, and in England, led by John White with assistance by Nannie Jamieson.

“Violists Unite,” from the July 1972 issue of The International Musician.
Image used with permission of the American Federation of Musicians,

The response to these articles was quick and enthusiastic. Violists and viola teachers wrote to me expressing great interest to join and support an American chapter. Dues were set at the huge sum of $3.50. Not long after, when the dues were increased, half of the dues would go to the parent organization, the VFG. It took a while to put things in place. At the onset I had no helpers to do all this, so I had multiple tasks. These included collecting dues and depositing them into a newly-setup bank account; a great deal of correspondence; and writing, typing, reproducing, and sending out the newsletters after stuffing them into envelopes and putting on stamps. It was time-consuming but I didn’t really mind as, for me, it was a labor of love. I had always liked viola players and as a group found them decent and humble people and superior musicians. But, primarily, I loved the viola and the aim to further its image and repertory seemed like an important venture.
THE FIRST NEWSLETTERS: The VFG started publishing its initial newsletters (Mitteilungen), and I followed suit by sending them to our membership. Since they were exclusively in German, which most Americans in the society did not understand, I asked Dr. Sawodny, who had an excellent command of the English language, to make a summary in English for our English-speaking members. Later newsletters were translated into English by one of the VRS’s members, Walter Wels, an enthusiastic, German-speaking amateur violist who lived in Flushing, New York.

The earliest VFG Newsletter I have is from 1971 (Mitteilungen Januar 1971), a two-page affair. In addition to reporting on general developments of the parent organization, it included the names of new members, many of them American violists. To the May, 1972 newsletter, I stapled a brief note that read: 
“Dear Member of the Viola Research Society (Viola Forschunsgesellschaft): The enclosed NEWSLETTER for 1972 will bring you up to date on viola developments during the past year. Subsequent Newsletters will be made available to you in English and will include a section on viola-related affairs in the U.S.A. and Canada.”

 I think with some amusement how these early VRS Newsletters were created—before the comforts and conveniences of computers—with my old L.C. Smith typewriter, sitting on my kitchen table in my Greenwich Village apartment, while I typed away. They were either run off on a mimeograph machine or photocopied, basic and not very elegant.

With the assistance of many of our talented members in both the VFG and the VRS, the content of the newsletters was at a relatively high level and remained so with intriguing content. For example, in the Newsletter 8 (February 1975) were Walter Lebermann’s “Authentic or Not? Viola Concertos of the 18th Century Evaluated as Possible Forgeries”; Jeffrey Wollock’s “A Note on Alkan, Casimir-Ney, and the Viola”; and this writer’s tribute to the Italian violist and teacher Renzo Sabatini on his death. The Newsletter 7 from 1974 had a fine piece by Walter Lebermann: “The Viola Concerti of the Stamitz Family,” as well as a report on the death of Vadim Borissovsky, the Russian violist and teacher who died in 1972.

The Newsletters gradually increased in scope and improved in quality of content and their look.  Newsletter 12 (April 1977) had Marna Street’s “Tosca Berger Kramer”; Veronica Jacobs’s “Rebecca Clarke”; and Shirley Fleming’s “The Cinderella of Instruments Finds a Prince Charming” a wonderful, lengthy piece on violist Walter Trampler reprinted from a New York Times article (February 20, 1977).

After Professor Borissovsky died in 1972, I had some correspondence with his widow.  I sent her a packet of some of our newsletters and the program of the 3rd International Viola Congress in Ypsilanti. Here was her reply:

Dearest Mr. Rosenblum.

I have no words to express my gratitude for your kindness towards me in sending the most valuable material about the Viola Congress [1975]. All the Moscow violists are getting acquainted with it with a keen interest. What a great event for the violists of all the world!  What a striking demonstration of the violists’ solidarity and acknowledgement of the importance of the viola in music!
How happy would be my late husband! All his life was devoted to the popularization of the viola considered by him as he most beautiful and noble of all existing instruments. 1

The VFG held its initial two viola congresses in those early years in Germany. It was my understanding that the attendance was not large, but there was much enthusiasm. Membership grew slowly over those early years and it is intriguing to note the numbers from the VFG. In 1974, the VFG listed members from Austria, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Denmark, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Norway, Holland, Portugal, Romania, the USA, and South Africa.  In the majority of these countries the membership was miniscule—typically 1, 2, or 3 members.  The largest membership was in Italy (5), Austria (8), Germany (43) and the USA (120). The sole member in Japan was William Primrose, who had settled there with his third wife. In 1975, membership was up considerably in spite of the single-digit numbers from many European countries. Germany was up to 51 and the USA had 292 members. New countries came on board, including Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

Dues went up to $5.00 and in 1975 were raised to $6.00. In 1978 dues went up to $8.00 and I have a letter that year to Heinz Kraschl, the VFG secretary, where I note sending the VFG a check for $972.00 as our contribution to the parent organization. It became apparent to me that the monetary support of the American chapter to the VFG was crucial to its very existence, or at least that it made possible the gifts sent to members in the early years and helped support the early congresses.

We changed the name of the society from Viola Research Society (which might have kept some violists away) to American Viola Society in 1978. That same year the American Viola Society published its first membership directory. It was an impressive list of well-known viola players, teachers, viola students, scholars, composers, dealers, luthiers, publishers, and even some violinists! Here is a sampling of those in the AVS that year (and for those I omit, my apologies, the limitations of space prevail):

Toby Appel, Sally Banks, Henry Barrett, Lyman Bodman, Frank Brieff, Robert Coleman, Robert Courte, David Dalton, Don Ehrlich, Margaret Farish, Rebecca Friskin (Rebecca Clarke), Maurice Gardner, Jacob Glick, Rosemary Glyde, Herbert Goodkind, Nathan Gordon, John Graham, Carleen Hutchins, Louis Kievman, Harold Klatz, Jerzy Kosmala, William Lincer, Donald McInnes, William Magers, Guillermo Perich, Joseph Pietropaolo, William Preucil, Dwight Pounds, Samuel Rhodes,  Maurice Riley, William Schoen,  Yizhak Schotten, David Schwartz, Robert Slaughter, Mrs. Ludwig Stein (Lillian Fuchs), Marcus Thompson, Walter Trampler, Francis Tursi, Karen Tuttle, Emanuel Vardi, Ernst Wallfisch, Ann Woodward, Bernard Zaslav,  Rivka Golani, Otto Erdesz,  William Berman, Sonia Monosoff,  Franco Sciannameo.

THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE AVS:  After the 3rd International Viola Congress at Eastern Michigan University it was time to seriously think of having more input from others and to create a Board of Directors. The first Board was created in 1976 and included William Primrose (Honorary Chairman), Paul Doktor, Lillian Fuchs, Donald McInnes, Maurice Riley, Robert Slaughter, Walter Trampler,  Francis Tursi, Karen Tuttle, Jacob Glick, and Ann Woodward. Since its members were widely dispersed, I sent out periodic communications with questions and issues raised by different violists and board members with all responses returned to me and decisions made by consensus of the board. It wasn’t ideal at this juncture but it was suitable at that time until additional official meetings could be held at the congresses in America.

THE VIOLA ARCHIVE:  When Franz Zeyringer set up his VFG he also initiated the first viola archive. His well-laid plans for such a central library of viola music did not last long. The library in Salzburg was greatly mismanaged, and the administration of it quickly deteriorated, so Franz wrote me one day asking if the American chapter could locate a good home in a reputable library or institution in the USA for the existing viola library and one that would grow over time. I enlisted the help of Maurice Riley. Both of us started making contact with universities, conservatories, and music schools that would have the resources and funding to do this. We spent considerable time making contact with those whom we thought might have suitable sites for such an archive. Those who expressed the keenest interest were The University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, the University of Connecticut, and lastly, Brigham Young University. With a land mass as immense as America is, it was our hope to have the library housed in a more central location to service as many members as possible. Then one day, I received a letter from Franz saying that he had decided to send the entire viola archive to Brigham Young University in Provo. It was obvious that David Dalton have convinced Franz that BYU would be the best place for this music. Maurice and I were quite stunned and put off by this unilateral and sudden decision without any prior knowledge, discussion, or consultation with us. Franz knew we were working diligently on this and things were moving along. But it was a fait accompli! So, this music was shipped from Salzburg to Provo and formed part of the basis of what is now the Primrose International Viola Archive. I am sure that Franz was greatly relieved to know that BYU would take care of this collection and that it would continue to grow, which it has.

THE EARLY AMERICAN CONGRESSES:  What put the American chapter on the map were, without question, its first two International Viola Congresses in 1975 and 1977 in the USA, at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, and the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, respectively.  As I have already reported in some detail about these two auspicious events in two recent AVS Journals, rather than repeat myself, I will just allude to some of the events and personalities leading up to the 3rd congress in Ypsilanti.

Maurice Riley, who would become the second AVS president and author of The History of the Viola, was among our earliest members and enthusiastic about the new viola society. He proposed having the next International Viola Congress at his university, Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I didn’t know Maurice and had never heard of his university, but one day, I believe in 1973, I met Maurice and his wife, Leila in their small motel room on the west side of mid-town Manhattan, where we spent a few hours going over a potential program, content, and artists for such a viola congress at EMU. This congress was an amazing success with almost four hundred attendees who came from all over America and Canada to hear an outstanding roster of viola soloists, teachers, and musicologists offer terrific concerts and lectures. There was also an exhibit and competition of viola makers overseen by the Violin Society of America with a competition for viola-making. Viola-making was of a very high level as this event proved.

Without question, the highlight of the Ypsilanti congress was the presence of one of the greatest violists and musicians of the twentieth century, William Primrose. Riley, a most hospitable man, invited many of the officers of the VFG and VRS to stay at his home during the congress. Sawodny, Bauer, and I as well as Maurice’s children and their spouses all were in the Riley home during those days and they were indeed a most intense and busy time for all. Primrose was also extended an invitation to stay but he respectfully declined, saying that he “was a terrible house guest.” Primrose’s appearance at the congress was magnetic. His two-hour talk about viola matters, practical and pedagogical, was inspirational, with much wisdom and wit.2

Maurice and I fretted over whom to invite as guest artists at this congress. Some key violists had other commitments and could not come, and we, naively, did not invite certain viola soloists, believing that the personalities of some might clash and cause problems. One of those not invited was Paul Doktor. Doktor called Maurice and complained bitterly, asking why he, as one of the important violists of the day, had not been invited to the congress. Maurice tried as best he could to ameliorate him by saying that Doktor had recently given a master class in Michigan and there were some important Michigan-based violists and teachers who had to be featured. We realized the hurt we had unintentionally caused Doktor and felt bad about it. A mistake had indeed been made and our fears unfounded. Doktor, however, was one of the featured violists in the Eastman congress two years later and proved easily that he was indeed one of the great violists of his day.
For me, it has been a privilege and a joy to witness the growth of the American Viola Society and the higher-than-ever level of viola playing that prevails today. The society is unique among instrumental organizations and can be proud of its congresses of superlative content, a journal of high quality, and a membership that is proud of its role in the world of music, and above all, proud to be part of that special viola brotherhood and sisterhood.

Franz Zeyringer, Paul Doktor, and Myron Rosenblum at
Paul Doktor’s home, June 1977



1 During the late 1960s and up to Borissovsky’s death, we had an extensive correspondence. Borissovsky would write to me in French, and I to him in English. Though I never met him, his letters revealed a most cultured man with an ongoing passion for both viola and viola d’amore.  Over those years he sent me many of his editions of viola and viola d’amore music. The viola works were mostly his arrangements made for his own performance and for his students. But he sent some original music for viola as well: the Handoshkin viola concerto, a sonata for viola and piano by F.W. Rust, and others. After he died, his widow sent me a photograph of his grave. On his tombstone is a large engraved viola. Madame Borissovsky eventually went blind, and one day I stopped receiving her lovely letters.

2 This writer has an audio tape of the Primrose lecture that he gave at the 1977 congress at Eastman. The talk ran for almost an hour and was followed by a question and answer period. We were asked to submit written questions to which Primrose answered with much perception and humor. I also have in my library other audio tapes of many of the concerts and recitals given there by Walter Trampler, Paul Doktor, Francis Tursi, an orchestral concert that featured Harold Coletta, Robert Coleman, Robert Slaughter and Myron Rosenblum performing concerti, and a concert by The Cleveland Quartet playing with Francis Tursi as guest violist in a Mozart quintet (Martha Strongin Katz was the violist in the Cleveland Quartet). It is my understanding that the Eastman School does not have the master tapes of these wonderful events, so it is my intention to do something with these audio tapes so that these important events will not be lost. Barring any copyright restrictions, perhaps CDs could be made and they might be made available to the AVS membership.