Loeffler, Charles Martin (Tornow)

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Loeffler, Charles Martin (Tornow)

Loeffler, Charles Martin (Tornow), outstanding Alsatian-born American composer; b. Mulhouse, Jan. 30, 1861; d. Medfield, Mass., May 19, 1935. His father was a writer who sometimes used the nom de plume Tornow, which Loeffler later added to his name. When he was a child, the family moved to Russia, where his father was engaged in government work in the Kiev district; later they lived in Debrecen, and in Switzerland. In 1875 Loeffler began taking violin lessons in Berlin with Rappoldi, who prepared him for study with Joachim; he studied theory with Kiel; also took lessons with Bargiel at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik (1874–77). He then went to Paris, where he continued his musical education with Massart (violin) and Guiraud (counterpoint and composition). He was engaged briefly as a violinist in the Pasdeloup Orch.; then was a member of the private orch. of the Russian Baron Paul von Derwies at his sumptuous residences near Lugano and in Nice (1879–81). When Derwies died in 1881, Loeffler went to the U.S., with letters of recommendation from Joachim; he became a naturalized American citizen in 1887. He played in the orch. of Leopold Damrosch in N.Y. in 1881–82. In 1882 he became second concertmaster of the newly organized Boston Sym. Orch., but was able to accept other engagements during late spring and summer months; the summers of 1883 and 1884 he spent in Paris, where he took violin lessons with Hubert Leonard. He resigned from the Boston Sym. Orch. in 1903, and devoted himself to composition and farming in Medfield. He was married to Elise Burnett Fay (1910). After his death, she donated to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., all of his MSS, correspondence, etc.; by his will, he left the material assets of his not inconsiderable estate to the French Academy and the Paris Cons. He was an officer of the French Academy (1906); a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor (1919); a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Mus. Doc. (honoris causa), Yale Univ. (1926).

Loeffler’s position in American music is unique, brought up as he was under many different national influences, Alsatian, French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian. One of his most vivid scores, Memories of My Childhood, written as late as 1924, reflects the modal feeling of Russian and Ukrainian folk songs. But his aesthetic code was entirely French, with definite leanings toward Impressionism; the archaic constructions that he sometimes affected, and the stylized evocations of “ars antiqua,” are also in keeping with the French manner. His most enduring work, A Pagan Poem, is cast in such a neo-archaic vein. He was a master of colorful orchestration; his harmonies are opulent without saturation; his rhapsodic forms are peculiarly suited to the evocative moods of his music. His only excursion into the American idiom was the employment of jazz rhythms in a few of his lesser pieces.


dramatic: Opera: The Passion of Hilarion (1912–13); Les Amants jaloux (1918); The Peony Lantern (c. 1919). incidental music:Ouverture pour le T.C. Minstrel Entertainment (Boston, 1906?); The Countess Cathleen (Concord, Mass., May 8, 1924; not extant); The Reveller (Boston, Dec. 22, 1925). orch.:Les Veillées de l’Ukraine for Violin and Orch. (1888?-91; Boston, Nov. 20, 1891; rev. version, Boston, Nov. 24, 1899); Morceau fantastique: Fantastic Concerto for Cello and Orch. (1893; Boston, Feb. 2, 1894); Divertissement for Violin and Orch. (1894; Boston, Ian. 4,1895); La Mort de Tintagiles for 2 Violas d’Amore and Orch. (1897; Boston, Jan. 7, 1898; rev. for Viola d’Amore and Orch., 1900; Boston, Feb. 15, 1901); Divertissement espagnol for Saxophone and Orch. (1900; Boston, Jan. 29, 1901); Poem (La Bonne Chanson; Avant que tu ne t’en ailles;1901; Boston, April 11,1902; rev. 1915; Boston, Nov. 1, 1918); La Villanelle du diable (1901; Boston, April 11, 1902; revision of his 3rd song in the set Rapsodies, 1898); A Pagan Poem (1904–06; Boston, Oct. 29,1907; revision of Poème païen for 13 Instruments, 1901–02); Memories of My Childhood (Life in a Russian Village) (Evanston, I11., May 30,1924); Intermezzo (Clowns) for Jazz Band (Boston, Feb. 19, 1928). chamber:Danse bizarre for Violin (1881); String Sextet (c. 1885–92; Boston, Feb. 27, 1893); Violin Sonata (1886); String Quartet (1889); Quintet for 3 Violins, Viola, and Cello (1894?; Boston, Feb. 18,1895); Octet for 2 Clarinets, 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, and Harp (1896?; Boston, Feb. 15, 1897); Le passeur d’eau for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Cellos (1900; Boston, Dec. 10, 1909); Deux Rapsodies for Oboe, Viola, and Piano (Boston, Dec. 16, 1901); Poème païen (d’aprés Virgil) for 2 Flutes, Oboe, Clarinet, English Horn, 2 Horns, Viola, Double Bass, Piano, and 3 Trumpets (1901–02; also as Poème antique d’aprés Virgil for 2 Pianos and 3 Trumpets, 1902–03; Boston, April 13, 1903; rev. 1904–06 as A Pagan Poem for Orch.); Ballade carnavalesque for Flute, Oboe, Saxophone, Bassoon, and Piano (1902; Boston, Jan. 25, 1904); Poème (Scène dramatique) for Cello ad Piano (1916; N.Y., Jam 27, 1917); Music for 4 Stringed Instruments for String Quartet (1917; rev. 1918–19; N.Y., Feb. 15,1919; rev. 1920); Historiettes for String Quartet and Harp (1922); pieces for violin and piano; various unfinished works. vocal:L’Archet for Soprano, Women’s Chorus, Viola d’Amore, and Piano (c. 1897–99; Boston, Feb. 4, 1902); the Sermon on the Mount for Women’s Chorus, 2 Violas d’Amore, Viola da Gamba, Harp, and Organ (1901?; unfinished); Psalm 137 (By the Rivers of Babylon) for Women’s Chorus, Organ, Harp, 2 Flutes, and Cello Obbligato (1901?; Boston, Feb. 28,1902); Ave maris stella for Boy’s Voices, Soprano, Strings, Piano, and Organ (c. 1906–12); For One Who Fell in Battle for Chorus (Boston, Dec. 13, 1906; rev. as Ode for One Who Fell in Battle for Chorus, 1911; Boston, March 21, 1912); Poème mystique for Boy’s Chorus, Chorus, 4 Horns, 2 Contrabasses, Harp, and Organ (1907; also for Baritone, Chorus, 4 Horns, and 2 Contrabasses; unfinished); Hora mystica for Men’s Chorus and Orch. (1915; Norfolk, Conn., June 6, 1916); Beat! Beat! Drums! for Men’s Voices and Piano (1917; also 3 other versions, including one for Men’s Voices and Band, 1927–32; Cleveland, Dec. 17, 1932); 5 Irish Fantasies for Voice and Orch. (1920; numbers 2, 3, and 5, Boston, March 10, 1922; numbers 1 and 4, Cleveland, Nov. 7,1929); Canticum fratris solis (Canticle of the Sun) for Voice and Chamber Orch. (Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 1925); Evocation for Women’s Voices and Orch. (1930; for the opening of Severance Hall, Cleveland,Feb. 5, 1931); over 45 songs.


W. Damrosch, C.M. L. (N.Y., 1936); H. Colvin, C. M. L: His Life and Works (diss., Univ. of Rochester, 1959); E. Henry, Impressionism in the Arts and Its Influence on Selected Works of C.M. L. and Charles Tomlinson Griffes (diss., Univ. of Cincinnati, 1976); E. Knight, C.M. L.: A Life Apart in American Music (Urbana, 1993).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire