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Tristan Foison: Violin concerto

Normally my research aims to promote compositions and performances and so is a positive, forward-looking, supporting work. In case of the Violin concerto by Tristan Foison I had to be the very reverse.

I wrote a complete book about the rise and fall of Tristan Foison which is now completed!

When you are going to create something like a „Violin Gathering Point“, a center where all information and documents of compositions for violin concertante in the 20th century meet, you have to rummage deeply in libraries, internet and history. I cannot remember the place where and when I first heard the name Tristan Foison, but I read in a short biography about the composer and that he wrote a violin concerto. I then started some research to get more information. When you do the same you will notice that such a research will bring up solely details about the "Foison-Desenclos-Requiem-incident". The whole story already show a nasty side on Tristan Foison, because he pretended to have written a Requiem, which he actually just copied note by note from the French composer Alfred Desenclos (1912-1971).


I have to admit that at first I was mostly interested in the violin concerto by Tristan Foison because of this "incident" (viciousness is very attractive). But I had to find out that it was virtually impossible to get information about the violin concerto. Tristan Foison disappeared completely after the "Desenclos-incident" in 1999 and I was not able to locate him. I also tried to contact the performers of the world premiere performance. Unfortunately I never received an answer from conductor John Morrison and the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra told me that they do not hold a single document related to this concerto! And by far the worst the soloist and dedicatee of the work, Beth Newdome, deceased in 2010, some time before I was aware of the concerto.


So it took me over two years to get recordings and (at least parts of the) score of the violin concerto. When I finally listened to the recording I was pleasantly surprised! Not only that the violin concerto was not the one by Desenclos (I have a recording of the Desenclos violin concerto too and compared them), but also this was a very fine piece of music! It was first performed in Atlanta in 1996 (just the 2nd and 3rd movement, see picture below). A second performance took place on 10.10.1997 with the Rome Symphony Orchestra (in Rome, Georgia, USA) under the baton of Tristan Foison himself and concertmaster Marie Griffith. The complete work received its world premiere in 1998 by again Beth Newdome (violin), the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra under John Morrison.


The reviewer at the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper wrote shortly after the premiere about the second movement:

After a mournful horn solo, the solo violin enters in its low register over the impressionistic orchestra, gradually rising higher and higher, like a soul being lifted to heaven. Throughout this eloquent, searching movement, the violin continues to rhapsodize, remaining calm even as the orchestra grows increasingly agitated. [..] Foison's writing shows a tremendous command of orchestration, with shimmering, coruscating colors and startling clarity even in densely scored passages.


Beth Newdome herself has praised the work and is cited again in the Atlanta Journal Constitution just after the premiere:

It's a very French work, very colorful. It gives the violin so many chances to do so many different things. The slow movement, which was inspired by the death of Tristan's grandmother, is reflective and a little eerie: It's scary how beautiful the writing for the violin is.


At that point I was still alternating between belief and disbelief if the violin concerto was really composed by Tristan Foison. His reputation was devastating, but I had no proof that the work was stolen and in dubio pro reo. Although a quote by conductor John Morrison from the Atlanta Journal Consitution from 2001 already cast a damning light on the violin concerto:

We paid him four grand for that piece. [..] The funny thing is that it was like he didn't write it for us -- there was too much music for us to learn in our rehearsal time. And he wouldn't make any changes to accommodate us. We were in over our heads. I recall that at the end he even asked for the score back.


I tried a lot to get more information, documents, scores and whatever I could find on Tristan Foison to become more certain about the nature of the violin concerto. But finally the conclusion came by accident: For my „Violin Gathering Project“ I ordered an old score of a violin concerto from an antique book shop. While checking the score I listened at the same time to the music I was reading. After the first few bars I was stunned: That was the Foison concerto! I looked on the score and saw: Raymond Gallois-Montbrun: Symphonie concertante for violin and orchestra!

So the work performed in 1996 and 1998 under the name of Tristan Foison is the violin concerto by French composer Raymond Gallois-Montbrun (1918-1994) and dates from 1949. The work was published by Alphonse Leduc in 1953. I don't know the date and performers of the world premiere, but I have a recording of the piece with Gerard Poulet (violin), the Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF under Gaston Poulet that dates from much earlier than 1996. It is pretty unlikely that a performance of the concerto took place in the US before, so the performance by Beth Newdome was the American premiere of the violin concerto by Raymond Gallois-Montbrun!


It is an interesting fact about the self-concept of Tristan Foison and his confidence that the fraud will never be discovered, that in 1997 - just after the premiere of the concerto - the work was submitted to the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award - one of the best-known and one of the highest endowed composition prices in the world!


Like in the „Desenclos-incident“ in this case again Tristan Foison copied the composition note by note! And now the quote by John Morrison makes sense: Tristan Foison „composed“ a concerto that did not fit to the circumstances of the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra and he did not want to make corrections or revision, because he just had a complete work and had to push it through. Of course he wanted to have the scores back in the end. So it took 20 years to unravel the mystery!


Of course I informed the publishing house Alphonse Leduc about the copyright infringement of the Gallois-Montbrun violin concerto and the three performances of the work under wrong name. They kindly said thank you for the information, but I never heard anything from them again or noticed any kind of action regarding the Foison copyright infringement.

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