The Story of the Ruth Lomon & Iris Graffman Wenglin Duo
On February 11, 1976, Announcer Ron Della Chiesa hosted a concert given at WGBH by Ruth Lomon and Iris Graffman Wenglin, and asked them how they got started playing music by women composers.
RDC: Last November we had Ruth Lomon and Iris Graffman Wenglin with us on a Performance program… time really goes by.
RL: It’s flown for us, too. We’ve been very busy learning this program.
RDC: Which brings me to the $64,000 question: tonight’s program is a concert of duet music written by women; every one of the composers on the program is a woman. I wonder how you thought of this idea.
IGW: One summer’s day, when we were doing a very traditional two-piano program, I thought how terrific it would be to do some works by women composers, since neither one of us had ever done this before. I wondered what kind of music they had written. The idea just stayed with me until the middle of winter when Ruth went to London.
RL: Iris gave me this little assignment to take with me to London—to look for music written by women. I was able to work in the British Museum Library—it was a windfall. I collected as much women’s music as I could. We got the Musgrave score and a good deal of two-piano music. I also brought back music by Clara Wieck Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Maria Theresa Paradis… a friend of Mozart.
RL: Of all our scores, there are only two properly printed scores.
IWG: One thing we did get from all this was eyestrain, because we’ve been using all manuscripts!
RDC: You’ve certainly done your homework. I wonder if we could talk about the research specifically, because you mentioned that you did a lot of work in libraries.
IGW: Duet music is a very special thing. When you go to any music store, they’ll say “Duet music by women? Oh, we don’t have any.” That was our experience. One day Ruth and I went through every music store in the Boston area, looking in the stacks, and found the music by Shulamit Ran, the Israeli composer, at Briggs and Briggs, for instance. Ruth and I put an ad [for duet music] in the American Music Center bulletin—that’s how we got the Richter score.
RDC: Why has all this work been put aside for so many years and buried? Why did you have to do all this research to find it?
IGW: Well, I think that women composers were a really neglected breed of people until very recently. There were women performers always. But, for instance, some music by women was published under men’s names; some of Mendelssohn’s works may not be by Felix but indeed by his sister, Fanny.
I’ll tell you one experience we had when we did our first woman’s work, a two-piano score by one of Les Six, whom a lot of people think were all men. But one of them, Germaine Tailleferre, was a woman. The piece we did was called Jeux de Plein Air and it was very well received. But afterwards, at the party at this music club, a man said, “I didn’t know that women composed!” That’s when I felt we were really on the right track, that it was a valuable thing for people to know that women do indeed compose, and compose very well.
RDC: Of course a lot of it has to do with exposure, too. If you hear a work performed once, and you like it and you hear it again and again… You know, there’s no reason why these people couldn’t become as popular as the Mozarts and Beethovens. I’d imagine there’s a lot of material buried, still buried.
IGW: Yes, I think that the more women’s music is heard, the more women will compose, because people don’t tend to do something hiding in a closet.
RDC: Ruth, you have one of your own pieces on the program.
RL: Yes, the title is Soundings…. It is dedicated to Iris. It refers to exploring the lower resonances of the keyboard. As I worked on the composition, I was fascinated with the rhythms and sounds of big ocean waves breaking on the rocks—the way the sound dies and trickles away, and then regroups and grows into another breaking sound. And the composition closes with a quotation from my very first effort at composing, which happened to be a little piano duet.
IGW: So we’ve come full circle.
RDC: Well, thank you so much again for putting together such a unique program, and for all the research that you did and all your efforts. I hope they can be rewarded by this program tonight.
Printed with permission from Ron Della Chiesa, Host of the Boston Symphony Broadcasts on WCRB 99.5 (A service of WGBH)
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