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Ben Weber

William Jennings Bryan "Ben" Weber was born on 23 July 1916 in St. Louis (Missouri, USA). He became no music prodigy and there is no history of music in his family, but Ben Weber nevertheless showed early interest in music. He was forced to study medicine and did so for a year at the University of Illinois. Then he quit and started to study singing, piano and music theory at the De Paul University in Chicago. Ben Weber didn't take composition at university and so is considered as a self-taught composer nowadays.

 

In the 1930s during his time in Chicago Ben Weber attended a concert with compositions by Austrian composer Ernst Krenek. In the program note Ben Weber read about the twelce-tone technique and was fascinated. He started to compose in this technique and in 1940 his "Five Bagatelles for piano" was the first published composition in twelve-tone technique by an US composer.

 

In 1945 Ben Weber moved to New York where he focussed on composing and earned a living with the work as a music copyist. He also received Guggenheim fellowships in 1950, 1951 and 1953. From 1959 to 1961 Ben Weber was the president of the American Composers' Alliance and in 1966 he taught at the New York College of Music. But beside these short exceptions Ben Weber did not teach music nor lead any kind of institution during his lifetime and only had a handful private composition students, among them were Jackson MacLow, Michael Colgrass and Roger Trefousse.

In a biographical text on Ben Weber by his former student Roger Trefousse he is described as a gentle and light person with a "fairly eccentric life". Ben Weber rarely went outside to events and preferably stayed at his home. But he loved to cook and invite friends like Milton Babbitt or Ned Rorem for dinner parties.

Despite his eccentric life Ben Weber was a highly distinguished and influencial composer. Among his admirers are such notable composers like John Cage, Elliott Carter or Aaron Copland. Musicologists consider him one of the most important composers of his generation. His compositions were premiered by such renowned performers like Leopold Stokowski or Leonard Bernstein.

Ben Weber won a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1960), two Fromm Foundation commissions, and the Thorne Music Award in 1965.

 

Ben Weber died on 16 June 1979 in New York (USA) at the age of 62 as a result of a heart attack.

 

Among the compositions of Ben Weber are orchestral works like the Symphony in four movements on poems of William Blake, several works for solo violin and orchestra (Violin concerto op.41, Chamber fantasy op.51, Dramatic piece op.61), a Piano concerto, a Rapsodie concertante for viola and small orchestra, a Sinfonia for cello and orchestra, the Concert aria after Solomon for soprano and small orchestra or the Prelude & Passacaglia for orchestra.

His chamber music includes the famous Five Bagatelles for piano, 3 string quartets, a String trio, Violin and Cello sonatas, the Fantasia (Variations) for piano, piano suites and much more.

Ben Weber also composed dozens of songs.

 

Many of his compositions are published by the American Composer's Alliance, please check this website for a complete list.

In my possession is a small Ben Weber archive that came from the estate of Bernard Blumberg, a friend of Ben Weber during his time in Chicago and the dedicatee of the String trio op.19 from 1944.

 

My archive includes the following items:

 

1) String trio op.19

The archive contains the autograph full score of the working manuscript. The work was written on "Carl Fischer No.23 - 20 lines" paper and consists of 8 pages. It is dated at the end "January 30, 1944". The title page also bears the dedication to "Bernard Blumberg". This autograph manuscript seems to be the only existing documents of the String trio, because the New York Public Library only holds an autograph sketch book by Ben Weber with an incomplete score and the American Composers Alliance (who still publishes the work) only has copies of the Ben Weber manuscripts in their archive.

In addition to the autograph manuscript there are also several copies. One copy of the full score, made from the fair copy written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.8 - 10 staves" paper, reproduced and bound by "Independent Music Publishers". At the end the date "January 30, 1944" is repeated together with the note "Chicago, Ill."

Other copies include the parts for violin, viola and cello. The copies were again made from the fair copy written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves". These copies contain performance markings.

 

2) Piano piece (op.23 No.3)

I hold a copy of the fair manuscript of a work called "Piano piece". It is written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.8 - 10 staves" paper. The work is dedicated to Robert Benson. At the end the work is dated "Chicago, Sept. 14, 1943". My personal copy has also a handwritten dedication "For Bernard - Ben - 1943".

I found out that this piece became later the third piece of the "Three piano pieces op.23".

 

3) Five Bagatelles for piano op.2

Part of my archive is the published score of the "Five Bagatelles". The work was published in "New Music - A Quarterly of Modern Compositions" in July 1940. The work is dedicated to Harriet Parker and dated at the end "April, 1939". My personal copy also has a handwritten dedication "For Bernard, Ben Weber".

The dedicatee Harriet Parker was born 1911 in Chicago. She was a professional pianist and student of Isidor Philipp in Paris. Until 1941 she lived in Chicago and was a close friend of Ben Weber during his Chicago times. She then moved to New York and in 1949 to Weston (Ct). There she taught piano privately and at the Weston Music Center. Harriet Parker also toured with violinists Louis Gabowitz and Beverly Somach and was one of the founders of Performers of Connecticut, now known as Connecticut Alliance for Music. Harriet Parker died in 2001 in Weston.

 

4) Songs op.6

The copies in my hand are bound together privately with the "Five songs op.15". The three songs of op.6 are all written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves" and contain:

  • Pour me this libation (dated at the end: June 9, 1940, Chicago, Ill.), on a text by Ben Weber
  • Thou my sacred solitude (dated at the end: May 8, 1940, Chicago, Ill.), on a text my Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Do you know (dated at the end: July 4, 1940, San Diego, Calif.), on a text by Ben Weber

My copy also has the handwritten dedication "For Bernard from Ben, Dec. 1943".

The dedicatee Laura Slobe was born 1909 and was a painter, scultor and cartoonist. She grew up in Chicago and was a close friend of Ben Weber around 1940. She married composer George Perle - another close friend of Ben Weber - in 1940. Like Ben Weber the couple moved to New York in 1945, but was divorced in 1952. Laura Slobe - also known under her pseudonym Laura Gray - died in 1958 as a consequence of pneumonia.

 

5) Five Songs op.15

The copies in my hand are bound together privately with the "Songs op.6". The five songs are written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves". The song cycle is dedicated to Laura Slobe and all songs are on words by Adelaide Crapsey. The five songs are:

  • November Night (dated at the end: December 2, 1941)
  • Susanna and the Elders
  • Triad
  • Niagara (dated at the end: December 7, 1941)
  • The Warning (dated at the end: December 10, 1941, Chicago, Illinois)

My copy also has the handwritten dedication "For Bernard from Ben, Dec. 1943".

 

6) Three songs op.1

The copies for this composition are a bit different to the final version of the "Three songs op.1". In my hand is a privately bound copy of four songs. But the first song has the title "Two songs". All four compositions are written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves". The songs in this book are:

  • You'll love me yet (titled "Two songs"; dated at the end: 1936), on words by Robert Browning
  • To me this hour (dated at the end: 1940), on words by Edward Short
  • These fleeting hours, on words by Edward Short
  • To a golden-haired girl, on words by Nicholas Vachel Lindsay and dedicated to "Suzanne"

Finally the first three songs made up the "Three songs op.1". The last song "To a golden-haired girl" was not included and even more does not exist in neither the New York Library Archive nor the American Composers' Alliance archive nowadays. It seems that the autograph score got lost and now my copy is the last remaining score of the work.

My copy of the four songs has also the handwritten dedication "To Bernard from Ben, 1943".

 

Due to the fact that my copy of the song "To a golden-haired girl" seems to be the only existing score of the composition I worked on a permission to make this song available. I could not find the copyright holder for this song and it seems the work is an "orphan". The American Composer's Alliance then kindly licensed the song at BMI and even more kindly granted me the permission of publication. So below you can find the typeset score of the work:

Weber_GoldenHairedGirl.pdf
PDF-Dokument [100.7 KB]

7) Ballade for solo oboe and orchestra

Copy of the fair manuscript of the piano reduction of a work called "Piece for solo oboe and orchestra". Written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves" and consisting of 13 pages. The composition is dated at the end "June 20, 1943, Chicago, Ill." This composition later became known under the title "Ballade for solo oboe and orchestra". My privately bound copy also has a handwritten dedication "For my friend Bernard from Ben".

 

8) Variations for piano, violin, clarinet and cello op.11a

Copy of the fair manuscript of the full score of the Variations op.11a. The work was written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves" and consists of 16 pages. The Variations op.11a are dedicated to the composer George Perle, a close friend of Ben Weber. The work is dated at the end "April 9, 1941, Chicago, Ill." My personal copy has a handwritten dedication "For Bernard from Ben, Dec. 1943".

 

9) Sonata for violin and piano op.16

Copy of the full score, made from the fair copy written on "The Kayser Music Binding Co. No.1 - 12 staves" paper, reproduced and bound by "Independent Music Publishers", consisting of 19 pages. The composition is dedicated to composer Juan Carlos Paz and dated at the end "Sept. 1940 - Dec. 1942 (revised Feb. 1943), Chicago, Ill."

Due to the little information about the early works by Ben Weber, especially from the time before 1945 when he was in Chicago, I would like to provide a list of Ben Weber's early compositions. Below is a surview of the compositions up to opus 25. The works in my archive are written in bold. If I found dates in the scores I added them at the end of each line:

 

op.1 : Three songs for contralto and piano

            (texts by Browning/Short) (1936/40)

oop. : To a golden-haired girl, for voice and piano

            (text by Vachel Lindsay)

o. op. : Autumn

o. op. : Legende for violin and piano

o. op. : The Last Eve of Spring

op.2 : Five Bagatelles for piano (4/1939)

o. op. : Two pieces for clarinet and piano

op.3 : Pastorale and Scherzino for woodwinds

op.4 : Fantasie for violin and piano

op.5 : Violin sonata No.1

op.6 : Three songs for soprano and piano

            (texts by Ben Weber and Rilke) (5-7/1940)

op.7 : Lyric piece for string quartet

op.8 : Suite for piano

op.9 : Pastorale for violin and piano

op.10: Lied des Idioten, for soprano and orchestra (text by Rilke)

op.11a: Variations for piano, violin, clarinet and cello (4/1941)

op.11b: Concertino for violin, clarinet and cello

op.12: String quartet No.1

op.13: Five pieces for cello and piano

op.14: Divertimento for 2 solo celli

op.15: Five songs for voice and piano (texts by Crapsey) (12/1941)

op.16: Violin sonata No.2 (9/1940 to 12/1942, rev. 2/1943)

op.17: Cello sonata No.1

o. op. : Piece (later called: Ballade) for oboe and orchestra (6/1943)

op.18: Chorale and Variations for cello and piano

o. op. : Ballade for cello and piano

o. op. : Intermezzo for clarinet and piano

op.19: String trio (1/1944)

op.20: Wie kann ich bleich, for voice and piano (German text by Ben Weber)

op.21: Sinfonia for cello and orchestra

op.22: Variations for oboe and string quartet

op.23: Three piano pieces

op.24: String trio

op.25: Fantasia (Variations) for piano

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