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Marion Bauer

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Marion Eugénie Bauer (15 August 1882 – 9 August 1955) was an American composer, teacher, writer, and music critic. She played an active role in shaping American musical identity in the early half of the twentieth century.
As a composer, Bauer wrote for piano, chamber ensembles, symphonic orchestra, solo voice, and vocal ensembles. She gained prominence as a teacher, serving on the faculty of New York University (then Washington Square College) where she taught music history and composition from 1926–1951. In addition to her position at NYU, Bauer was affiliated with Juilliard as a guest lecturer from 1940 until her death in 1955. Bauer also wrote extensively about music: she was the editor for the Chicago-based Musical Leader and additionally authored and co-authored several books including her 1933 text Twentieth Century Music.
Throughout her life, Bauer promoted not only her own work but new music in general. Bauer helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center, and the American Composer's Alliance, serving as a board member of the latter. Bauer additionally held leadership roles in both the League of Composers and the Society for the Publication of American Music as a board member and secretary, respectively. Very often, she was the only woman in a leadership position in these organizations.
Bauer's music includes dissonance and extended tertian, quartal, and quintal harmonies, though it rarely goes outside the bounds of extended tonality, save for her brief experimentation with serialism in the 1940s. During her lifetime, she enjoyed many performances of her works, most notably the New York Philharmonic premiere of Sun Splendor in 1947 under the baton of Leopold Stokowski and a 1951 New York Town Hall concert devoted solely to her music.
Marion Bauer was born in Walla Walla, Washington, on August 15, 1882. Her parents—both of French-Jewish background—had immigrated to the United States, where her father Jacques Bauer worked as a shopkeeper and her mother Julie Bauer worked as a teacher of modern languages. Bauer was the youngest of seven children, with an age difference of 17 years between herself and her oldest sister Emilie. In one anecdote, as an infant, Bauer was placed in a basket atop the family's piano as Emilie Bauer went about practicing and teaching.
Later in Bauer's childhood, Jacques Bauer, an amateur musician himself, recognized his youngest daughter's musical aptitude, and Bauer began studying piano with Emilie. When Jacques Bauer died in 1890, the Bauers moved to Portland, Oregon, where Bauer graduated from St. Helen's Hall in 1898. Upon completion of secondary school, Bauer joined her sister Emilie in New York City in order to begin focusing on a career in composition.
Once in New York, Bauer commenced studies with Henry Holden Huss and Eugene Heffley, in addition to her sister Emilie. In 1905, her studies brought her into contact with French violinist and pianist Raoul Pugno, who was using New York as a base on an extended concert tour of the United States. By virtue of her upbringing in a home headed by French immigrants, Bauer was fluent in both French and English, and was thus able to teach Pugno and his family English. As a result of this favor, Pugno invited Bauer to study with him in Paris in 1906, and it was during this time that Bauer also became the first American to study with Nadia Boulanger, an associate of Pugno's in the Paris music scene. (Ultimately, Boulanger would teach such notable figures as Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Roy Harris and Gail Kubik.) As she had done with Pugno, in exchange for composition lessons from Boulanger, Bauer taught her English.
When she returned to New York in 1907, Bauer continued her studies with Heffley and Walter Henry Rothwell, additionally teaching piano and music theory on her own. After another year of study in Europe from 1910–11, this time focusing on form and counterpoint with Paul Ertel in Berlin, Bauer began to establish herself as a serious composer; it was after this period of study in 1912 that “[Bauer] signed a seven-year contract with [music publisher] Arthur P. Schmidt.”
Although active as a composer and private instructor in the years following 1912, Bauer ultimately undertook two more periods of study in Europe, partially facilitated by financial inheritances upon the deaths her mother and older brother. In 1914, she once again returned to Berlin to study with Ertel, but her time there was curtailed by the outbreak of World War I. Almost ten years later, Bauer decided once again to undertake an extended period of study in Europe, this time at the Paris Conservatory with André Gedalge, who had also taught composers such as Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, and Arthur Honegger. At the time, she was 40 years old and offered the following reason for continuing her studies comparatively late in life: “As a member of the American Music Guild, I had the opportunity to measure my powers and my limitations with those of my colleagues....The result was a period of study in Europe. This time I decided in Paris I would find the kind of work and musical environment for which I was seeking.” Bauer's studies at the Paris Conservatory, however, were cut short in 1926 when she received the news that her sister Emilie had been hit by a car. Bauer returned to New York, but Emilie's injuries ultimately proved fatal.
Although Bauer had never earned a college degree (despite her years of study), in September 1926, she was hired as an instructor for New York University's music department, becoming their first female music faculty. Among her early colleagues were Albert Stoessel, Gustave Reese, and Percy Grainger. During her tenure at NYU from 1926–1951, Bauer taught classes in composition, form and analysis, aesthetics and criticism, and music history and appreciation, earning the rank of associate professor in 1930. Bauer taught using her own book, the readings from which would then be followed by class discussions. She also advocated strongly for new music and would play “the few pertinent records and piano rolls available,” or have students play unavailable works. Some of her most famous students from her years at NYU included Milton Babbitt, Julia Frances Smith, Miriam Gideon, and conductor Maurice Peress.
In addition to teaching at NYU, Bauer lectured at Juilliard and Columbia University. She also lectured annually at the Chatauqua Summer Music Institute in Chautauqua, New York, putting on lecture-recitals of twentieth-century music with pianist Harrison Potter throughout her career. Potter performed Bauer's piano music in other settings as well, including concerts put on by the League of Composers, the WPA Federal Music Project, the MacDowell Club, and Phi Beta National Fraternity of Music and Speech. During the Great Depression years, Bauer also spent summers teaching at Mills College, the Carnegie Institute, and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music as well as Juilliard.
Even with her teaching and lecturing responsibilities, Bauer remained active as a composer. Between 1919 and 1944, Bauer spent a total of twelve summers in residence at the MacDowell Colony, where she met composers such as Ruth Crawford Seeger and Amy Beach and focused on composition. Bauer also helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center, and the American Composer's Alliance, serving on the board of the latter. In 1937, Aaron Copland founded the League of Composers, and asked Bauer to serve on the executive board of that organization as well. Bauer additionally served as secretary for the Society for the Publication of American Music, and helped co-found the Society of American Women Composers in 1925 along with Amy Beach and eighteen others.
As a writer and music critic, Bauer was respected for “her intellectual approach to new music,” yet she also maintained a level of accessibility in her writings. For instance, she was published in various journals, was editor of the highly regarded, Chicago-based Musical Leader, and most famously published her book Twentieth Century Music, all of which garnered her respect in the music world. At the same time, though, Bauer made new music accessible to newcomers with her books such as How Music Grew: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Bauer also had a highly inclusive view of what constituted "serious" music, as demonstrated in the content of Twentieth Century Music. Besides being one of the first textbooks to discuss serialism, Twentieth Century Music also mentioned numerous women composers in contrast to other contemporary music textbooks such as Paul Rosenfeld's Musical Portraits, An Hour with American Music and John Tasker Howard's Our Contemporary Composers, which only briefly mentioned women composers, if they were mentioned at all. Bauer's book also discussed modernist works by African American composers and included jazz in its discussion of twentieth-century music.
In the spring of 1951, Bauer retired from her position at NYU, although she continued to lecture at Juilliard. Bauer also attended a gathering of MacDowell Colony composers on August 6, 1955. Three days later, while vacationing at the home of Harrison Potter and his wife in South Hadley, Massachusetts afterward, Bauer died of a heart attack on August 9, 1955, just shy of her 73rd birthday. She is buried with her sisters Emilie and Minnie in the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
Although very much an advocate of contemporary music, Bauer herself was considered relatively conservative as a composer; her works from the 1910s-1920s mostly contain a pitch center, and she only turned to serialism briefly in the 1940s with works such as Patterns. Her music is generally melodically driven, using “extended tonality [and] emphasizing colouristic harmony and diatonic dissonance.” Both impressionistic and romantic influences feature in her works, but Bauer's studies with Gédalge particularly marked a change in her style from conventionally tonal to a more impressionistic, post-tonal idiom as demonstrated in her 1924 works Quietude and Turbulence. For the remainder of her career, though, Bauer continued to integrate both the romanticism advocated by her German teachers with the impressionism she encountered in Paris and in the music of her close friend Charles Tomlinson Griffes. The influence of the latter is particularly evident in comparing Bauer's 1917 work Three Impressions for piano to Griffes's Roman Sketches published a year earlier: each is an impressionistic-style suite with a poem preceding each movement.
The discrepancy between the relative conservatism of Bauer's work versus the more experimental works she advocated in her writings such as Twentieth Century Music is partially explained by her publisher Arthur P. Schmidt's hesitation to support her early modernist inclinations in composition. Schmidt and Bauer, although maintaining a close relationship, notably disagreed on style. It is inferred that when Bauer's seven-year contract was about to expire, Schmidt requested that Bauer simplify her compositional style, as indicated by Bauer's response to his correspondence: “It is not stubbornness on my part not to write simple things. I can only write what I feel–and someday (soon I hope) I shall learn to do the big simple thing. I must do my work in steps–evolutionary, not revolutionary. I have so little time to write that naturally change of style is slow.” It is also possible that the experience of having her Violin Sonata (later published under the title Fantasia Quasi Una Sonata) demoted from first to second place in the 1928 Society for the Publication of American Music competition expressly for its "modernist tendencies" led Bauer to adopt a comparatively conservative style of composition.
Bauer did, however, play a significant role in the development of non-tertian harmony in American music. Along with Ernest Bloch, Bauer was one of the first American composers to experiment with quintal harmony, or harmony based on stacked fifths, as demonstrated in her 1926 solo piano version of Sun Splendor and her writings about it. The development of this harmonic technique in turn influenced the music of Aaron Copland.
During her lifetime, Bauer's music was well received by performers, critics, and the public alike. Virtuoso violinist Maud Powell commissioned “Up the Ocklawaha” in 1912, an impressionistic work for violin and piano that programmatically reflected Powell's own excursion on the Ocklawaha River in north central Florida. Up the Ocklawaha was subject of much praise upon its premiere. In 1915 and 1916, respected opera singers May Dearborn-Schwab, Mary Jordan, and Elsa Alves were featured on two all-Bauer programs presented in New York, accompanied by Bauer herself. The 1916 performance featured twenty of Bauer's songs, and received a favorable review in The Musical Leader.
By virtue of her activities in various composition circles, particularly the League of Composers and the New York Composer's Forum, Bauer was well-situated to have even her larger-scale, more resource-intensive works performed. Notably, Bauer was the second woman to have her work performed by the New York Philharmonic–Leopold Stokowski conducted the premiere of Bauer's Sun Splendor at Carnegie Hall in 1947. Despite its premiere with the New York Philharmonic, though, Sun Splendor was never published in any of its forms–as a piano solo, duet, or orchestral piece–and the only recording currently available is that of the original performance, housed in the New York Philharmonic Archives.
An event Bauer herself considered one of the highlights of her entire career was the May 8, 1951 New York Town Hall concert devoted exclusively to her music. Sponsored by the Phi Beta fraternity at the time of Bauer's retirement from NYU, the works performed that day spanned her entire career and included two previously unperformed works: the Dance Sonata, Op. 24 (1932) for dancer and piano (later expanded and revised as Moods for solo piano) and Trio Sonata II for flute, cello, and piano. The concert was reviewed by Olin Downes of the New York Times, who wrote positively of the event : “The music is prevailingly contrapuntal and dissonance is not absent. Yet the fundamental concept is melodic, the thinking clear and logical, the sentiment sincere and direct.”
Some music critics during Bauer's lifetime promoted a divide between “masculine” and “feminine” music, even with the increase of women in the composition field around the turn of the century. Reviews of Bauer's larger, more intellectual pieces exemplify this phenomenon; the pieces were well-received, albeit in terms of being "masculine." For instance, in his review of the 1928 premiere of Bauer's String Quartet, William J. Henderson wrote:
“Those who like to descant upon the differences between the intellect of woman and that of man must have found themselves in difficulties while listening to Miss Bauer’s quartet. It is anything but a ladylike composition. This does not mean that it is rude, impolite or vulgar, but merely that it has a masculine stride and the sort of confidence which is associated in one’s mind with the adventurous youth in trousers.”
One of the most pointed criticisms leveled at Bauer's work pertains to her books. As musicologist Susan Pickett points out regarding How Music Grew: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day, “[T]oday’s reader would take offense with several vulgar racial stereotypes. 'African' and 'savage' were used interchangeably. Arabs were 'barbarians.' Chinese and Japanese were 'yellow races,' and so forth.” Indeed, in 1975, Ruth Zinar published an article surveying racial stereotypes in music books recommended for children, and reserved her most stinging criticism for Bauer's work: “Of all the books studied, Marion Bauer's and Ethel Peyser's How Music Grew from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day must be considered to be the most overtly offensive, in addition to be replete with inaccuracies.” Later editions were, however, edited to be more sensitive to issues of race.
By the recollections of friends, colleagues, and students, Bauer was a kindhearted, good-humored person, who treated others with warmth, compassion, and generosity. Milton Babbitt also recalls in his introduction to the 1978 edition of Twentieth Century Music how he and his classmates referred to Bauer “not derisively but affectionately” as “'Aunt Marion' for her matronly manner and appearance, and even for her classes, which were conducted so as to be suitable for occurrence at teatime in a genteel parlor.” He too describes Bauer as generous and sensitive, particularly in terms of guiding her students' careers, but also in terms of her writing due to the fact that she mentions so many composers and organizations.
Despite her birth to Jewish immigrants, Bauer appears not to have been an observant Jew in adulthood. Although Bauer's memorial service was conducted by a rabbi, she was cremated thereafter, which is forbidden by official Jewish law. Additionally, both Maurice Peress, a former student, and Frederic Stoessel claimed that Bauer practiced Christian Science, a claim further supported by a letter Bauer wrote in 1923 expressing “a desire to publish a song appropriate for a Christian Science service.” No official confirmation of Bauer's religious affiliation has been found yet, however.
Bauer never married, and much of her personal life remains a mystery. She lived with and was supported by her sister Emilie until Emilie's death in 1926. At that point, Bauer went to live with her other sister Flora who also lived in New York City, a living arrangement that lasted until Flora's death in the early 1950s.
Although unconfirmed, Ruth Crawford Seeger's writings, when considered along with remarks by Martin Bernstein (former chair of NYU music dept.) and Milton Babbitt, imply that Bauer may have been a lesbian. Crawford and Bauer met at the MacDowell Colony in 1929, where Bauer quickly became a mentor and close friend to the much younger Crawford. Although Crawford preferred to characterize their relationship as one of “sisterly-motherly love,” she also acknowledged that at one time, their relationship had bordered becoming sexual, particularly on Bauer's part when she reserved a single hotel room for the two of them at the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Liège in September 1930, which made Crawford “uncomfortable.” Along with Crawford's perceptions of her relationship with Bauer, Martin Bernstein, a longtime friend of Bauer's and a former chair of the NYU music department, stated: “[A]s a female, [Bauer] had very little interest in men (emphasis in original)...At least if she had any romantic liaisons with men, we don't know about it.” Babbitt further substantiated Bernstein's thoughts during an interview about Bauer when he remarked, “And she was very much a...let's simply say unmarried. But she was an absolute dear.” Conclusive evidence as to Bauer's sexual orientation has not yet been established.
Bauer's legacy can be measured not only by her output of at least 160 compositions along with her five books, but also by the impact she had on the careers of both Ruth Crawford Seeger and Milton Babbitt, who went on to become well-known American composers of the twentieth century. After they met at the MacDowell Colony in 1929, Bauer encouraged Crawford's efforts in composition and “contributed greatly to Crawford's musical growth and her professional visibility.” For Crawford, Bauer represented a powerful connection into the musical establishment. With her position at the Musical Leader, Bauer was able to publish “a glowing review of a private concert of Crawford's music”; additionally, Bauer introduced Crawford to Gustave Reese, an editor at the G. Schirmer publishing company at the time.
Bauer also played a significant role in Babbitt's career development. Babbitt decided to study with her at NYU in February 1934 after reading her 1933 edition of Twentieth Century Music. In the introduction to the later edition, Babbitt recollected his thoughts upon reading the work for the first time: “[H]ere was a book...which concerned itself interestedly, admiringly, enthusiastically, even affectionately with works of music which, in most academic environments, were unmentionables, untouchables, and unspeakables, and anywhere else were unknowns.” Babbitt specifically mentions his appreciation for her discussion of the serialist composers with accompanying musical examples; during the Depression years, scores (especially of new music) were prohibitively expensive to own personally, and only a few libraries had copies. Babbitt greatly respected Bauer, saying in 1983 that Bauer was “a wonderful lady...whose name I'm going to do everything in the world to immortalize.”
(From the list of Bauer's works in New Grove unless otherwise indicated)
Orchestral Works:
Chamber works:
Keyboard works (for piano unless otherwise noted):
Choral works:
Other vocal works:
(From the list of Bauer's works in New Grove)