Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Partita for Wilhelm Gertz

A few days ago I uploaded one of my biggest piano works to SoundCloud — A Partita for Wilhelm Gertz. Gertz was, for about a decade, Wesleyan's eccentric piano tuner/technician. He had a piano business in New Haven, and had rebuilt the Wesleyan Dowd harpsichord back in the day. When the opportunity arose, we hired him to work on the pianos as well as the Dowd. His work was controversial. Some of us thought he kept the pianos in fine shape, and the harpsichord in superb shape. He brokered the deal with the Godowsky family that got Wesleyan Leopold Godowsky's Bechstein piano. He also helped us with the gift of two other pianos, and sold us the August Foerster piano that is now in Wesleyan Memorial Chapel (one of our best instruments).

When I get to that point in my memoirs I will write more about Wilhelm. He was a complex man, and he rubbed some of my colleagues the wrong way. Not all of them, of course. Some of them really liked him. He was a crusty old German, and very opinionated. His work was not consistent, and that created problems sometimes. But he did a lot of work for us at a minimal price, he got us some of our best pianos, and his tunings were gorgeous. Actually, I cannot remember any more beautiful tunings, especially when he tuned the harpsichord. He used a quasi-Pythagorean tuning that would last for about three months. In my experience, this was unique. Harpsichords are notorious for going out of tune, and tunings that last for three months are virtually unheard of.

Over the years we became good friends. When he died I was very distressed. I had written the Fugue first, when he was still alive, and began to compose the rest of the Partita shortly after his passing. When I played the premiere in the fall of 2013 I took the occasion to make some serious edits and even a few significant changes.

If you would like to get a feel for his personality, and a few nuggets of information about his colorful life, check out this little interview:

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