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Monday, April 11, 2022

Johanna Beyer, Music for Woodwinds


Of the composers of the 20th century, there are many, of course. Every so often I come across one who has not ordinarily been a part of my listening rounds in the past, but turns out to be worthy and important. Such a figure is the German-American woman composer Johanna Beyer (188-1944). There is a recent collection of her Music for Woodwinds (New World 8-826). I cannot say I've heard these before, and the music is substantial so it is a treat to listen to them. They are angular, They are Modern pre-Ultramodern in that they have an advanced harmonic-melodic chromatic bent and a definite character and personal edge to them. Some are somewhat more classically tonal but everything retains a Beyer touch and sonarity. Sometimes too there is a subtle suggestion of the Beethovinian Impressionism of the Moonlight Sonata and that is welcome, too. The performances are exemplary.

She spent some time in the States  in 1911-14 but it was her second and permanent migration to New York in 1923 that was critical, in time studying with Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford, Charles Seeger and Henry Cowell. All of them had some significant impact on her style so it seems, and they steered her in the New Music creative direction, something for which she had a definite affinity.

The works span a period from 1933-41, clearly a productive time for her compositionally. The works are instrumented in a variety of ways, all with fine results. So we hear music for clarinet and piano, for oboe and bassoon, oboe and piano, clarinet and bassoon, bass clarinet and piano, woodwind quintet, and woodwind trio. 

It all hangs together convincingly and indeed has a kind of originality and currency that is a pleasure to hear. I am glad to have this and look forward to hearing more of her work. She is the real thing! 


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