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Anthony Devroye, professor of viola at the NIU School of Music, and guest pianist Daniel Schlosberg, from the University of Notre Dame, present a recital titled “Viola Century,” Tuesday, September 24, at 8 p.m. in the NIU Recital Hall.  The program features three sonatas from the 1919 Berkshire Music Festival Competition, which prompted the creation of dozens of new works for viola and piano and helped launch the often-neglected viola as a solo instrument.

Anthony Devroye

Anthony Devroye, professor of viola, Northern Illinois University

The 1919 competition came at a time of fascinating intersection between different threads of social and cultural transformation, with the end of the Great War overseas and the push for women’s suffrage at home.  The contest, open to composers from Allied and neutral countries with musical scores submitted anonymously, came to a head when the six-man jury deadlocked between two final entrants.  Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the patron of the competition (though not an official juror) was called on to cast a tie-breaking vote, and went in favor of a Suite for Viola and Piano, which was revealed to be the work of noted Swiss composer Ernest Bloch.  So impressed were the jury by the other finalist (from among 72 entries) that they demanded to know the composer’s identity, and were floored to learn that the Sonata that had captivated them was the work of an English woman, Rebecca Clarke.  Both works received their world premiere performances at the Berkshire Festival (now known as Tanglewood, and still a musical Mecca) over the weekend of September 25, 1919.

In addition to performing the two works above (both still repertoire favorites for the instrument), Devroye and Schlosberg will open the program with a little-known Sonata by Belgian composer Joseph Ryelandt, also presumed to have been an entrant in the 1919 competition.  Written in an appealingly conservative (for the time) late-Romantic style, Ryelandt’s Sonata fills a void in the viola repertoire (which has so few recital works from before the 20th century), though it did not capture the jury’s imagination as the more forward-looking Bloch and Clarke works did.

Devroye and Schlosberg will repeat this program in October at the University of Notre Dame, and in December on a live radio broadcast on WFMT-Chicago.

More background about the 1919 Berkshire Competition and the music on this program.

Anthony Devroye (viola) and Daniel Schlosberg (piano)
“Viola Century”

Tues., Sept. 24, 8 p.m.
NIU Recital Hall, NIU Music Building
Tickets: $5 adults, $3 students