Emilie Mayer and the Passion for Life

Fire. © Charles Thibo

Wait, wait, wait – what is this commotion about? You can not just hammer away on these keys! What, agitato you say? But… You, you, the violinist, stop that! This not music, you hear me, this is outrageous! Well, outrage may well have been on the composer’s mind. Here comes a fulgurant woman writing fulgurant music. Here comes Emilie Mayer with her Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 19. You havent heard of her? You will hear her story – or parts of it – now and hopefully discover a piece that will bewitch you. It has been recorded by Aleksandra Maslovaric and Anne-Lise Longuemare.

Emilie Mayer (1818-1883) was a German Romantic composer, a prolific albeit quickly forgotten one. She wrote several symphonies, overtures, chamber music and songs. Mayer also was the associate director of the Opera Academy in Berlin. She suffered from psychic problems as a child and the suicide of her father certainly did not help the situation. There is an interesting French expression that I associate with Mayer and with Robert Schumann denoting the irrepressible impulse to live an intense, emotionally challenging life: la rage the vivre. The passion for life? Damned to live? Sadly, while Mayer reached old age, Schumann died young in an asylum.

Knowing nothing, knowing everything

As a matter of fact, Emilie Mayer was not all rage and violence and desperation. She certainly had experienced her share of human pain, but at least in music she overcame this experience. Her sonata in four movements also reflects her gentle, melancholic side, her humour – the second movement is a delight – and most of all her talent. Her teacher Carl Loewe said after her first lesson with him: “You actually know nothing and everything at the same time! I shall be the gardener who helps the talent that is still a bud resting within your chest to unfold and become the most beautiful flower!”

Mayer passed the first half of her life in Friedland, where she was born, and in Stettin (Szczecin today), two towns on the Baltic coast of what used to be Prussia. In 1847 she moved to Berlin where she took counterpoint lessons and entertained an arts circle. The violin sonata was published in 1867. Mayer dedicated it to Wilhelm Wiprecht, a chamber musician and the director of the Berlin ballet ensemble.

The Violin Sonata in E Minor is one of the later and, according to Aleksandra Maslovaric, one of her most accomplished works. Mayer had written and published several symphonic works already, and yes, this piece for chamber music really stands out among her works. I have over the past months discovered quite a number of her compositions and this one was love at first sight. You may expect to meet her again on this blog. The 19th century music researcher Albert Tottmann assessed the sonata as “mature, masterly designed from a formal point of view, with fiercly melodical elements as well as spirited parts, of masculine energy – Tottmann obviously never experienced feminine energy – with a brilliant effect if well performed”. Quite so.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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