Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Madame Margaret Matzenauer


Carnegie Hall sits on the corner of 57th Street and 7th Avenue in New York City.  Built in 1891 the hall continues to be a center piece of the city’s musical life to this day.  There are a myriad of great classical musicians’ spirits hovering around that venerable stage where they once performed.  

 Only classical musicians?  NO!  Carnegie Hall has hosted fund raisers for orphans, peace concerts, Broadway shows done in concert format, jazz concerts, international peace and political action lectures. 


On April 5, 1918 the outer lobby of this revered space was decked out with banners and a poster of Uncle Sam.  Over the stage hung posters for the national war savings campaign and a picture of large guns and fighting men which stated, “These boys are giving their lives will you lend your quarters?” Another poster encouraged women of America to save their country.  What was the occasion?  The world famous contralto,Margaret Matzenauer, was giving a recital.  Why all the war advertising during her recital?  World War I had been raging for nearly four years and the call for citizen’s patriotism was at its height.  


Madame Matzenauer presented songs in English, French, Italian, Russian and Norwegian.  Not to leave out American composers, she sang songs by Marion Bauer, John Carpenter, Gena Branscombe and her pianist/composer Frank La Forge.  Half way through her recital, Matzenauer paused her program to sing the war song “Dear Lad o’Mine” followed by our Star Spangled Banner.  I am sure her audience was moved by her commitment to the American war effort.

“Had such a nice surprise Friday when Madame Matzenauer sang “Dear Lad” for an encore at the Carnegie Hall recital.  It’s a joy to hear a voice like that, do one’s things”  (Gena Branscombe’s letter to Arthur P. Schmidt, April 7, 1918 held at the Library of Congress).  Whether Gena Branscombe was at that Carnegie Hall recital is not known, yet, she knew Margaret Matzenauer performed her World War I song with poetry by Katherine Hale. 


Madame Matzenauer went on to perform “Dear Lad o’Mine” on a concert tour which included performances in Brooklyn and Denver. 


Collaborating with Canadian poet Katherine Hale, the two artists tell the dramatic story of a mother fearing for her young son at war.  All profits from the sale of this song were donated to the Canadian Red Cross World War I effort. 


Katherine Hale’s poem:

War gods have descended:

The world burns up, in fine.

Warm your hands by the trenches fire,

Dear lad o’mine.

Sometimes bullets cease at night,

Only songs are heard.

When you feel a phantom step,

Was my heart that stirred.

 If you see a dreamy light,

 ‘Tis the Christ Child’s eyes;

I believe he watches us,

Wonderful and wise.

Let me come to say good night;

Through the campfires shine;

Warm your hands at the trenches fire,

They still hold mine.

Dear lad,

Dear lad o’mine. 


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Festival March/Festival Prelude


Festival March/Festival Prelude

 Should the title be “Festival Prelude” or “Festival March” or “March Prelude” or simply “March,” should it be called “Festival Overture” or maybe just “Prelude?”  Is the work to be scored for full orchestra, smaller orchestra or arranged for organ, piano and violin?  These are the unnerving tasks of assigning a title and deciding what instrumentation works best for the music you are hearing in your mind.   

Eventually Gena Branscombe used the titles “Festival Prelude” and “Festival March” interchangeably.  Writing to her publisher, Arthur Schmidt, on August 11, 1913, she reveals that she is busy orchestrating her “Festival March” and wonders, “How can one ever write well for orchestra - if one never can hear what one has written?”  Nearly a month later she tells Mr. Schmidt that her “Festival March” for orchestra was completed. 

As a self-promoter, Miss Branscombe dined with a Mr. Reinald Werrenrath who was connected with the MacDowell Colony. Dinner conversation included asking if a performance of her “Festival March” at the MacDowell Festival in Peterborough, New Hampshire would be a possibility.  And, indeed, in 1914 she arranged the orchestral score to fit the smaller group of instruments the Festival employed.  The work was performed in Peterborough with conductor Arthur Bergh leading the musicians. 

In her October 27, 1914 letter to Mr. Schmidt, Gena expressed her joy of hearing her “March” in live rehearsal and performance.

“I should like to tell you about Peterborough.  I feel that it was one of the biggest events of my life insomuch as it opened an entirely new world to me – The listening to the men rehearse at close range was most instructive.  I went over the score most minutely with Mr. Bergh, who was kindness itself.”

“I had never heard the “March” of course – and if you can imagine my nervousness before the first rehearsal!  Was afraid there would be so many mistakes in the score - and that I wouldn’t be able to tell what instrument was playing wrong notes - and that I might tangle up in some way and I wouldn’t know how to straighten things.”

“Well – it went like clockwork – and I was certainly happy.”

 “The day of the performance it simply poured rain.  The tympani had to be covered – and little snare drum used – and of course some important effects were lost.  On the whole however it went very well – and I think the people liked it.  It was unpretentious but I didn’t feel at all ashamed of it.”

“It went exceedingly well when Arthur Bergh did it in Central Park in September much better than at Peterborough.”

For several years Gena went on to correct, change and arrange her “Festival Prelude.”  She met with Russian conductor Modest Altschuler who promised to perform the piece in Pittsburgh.  She had the score sent to Mr. Polacco, a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Civic Opera.  She indicates people in California were to perform it as well. 

And, Miss Branscombe made an arrangement of the “Festival Prelude” for piano, organ and violin.  With only a ten minute rehearsal and trusting they would end together, the work was performed on February 13, 1917. 

Why all this information about the “Festival March”/”Festival Prelude”?  The Gena Branscombe Project was contacted by Dominick Ferrara, Professor of Music at Berklee College of Music and his conducting student Damali Willingham.  They were interested in transcribing the “Festival Prelude” for wind ensemble.  With a quick trip to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts where the only known original manuscript is held, a scan of the score, unfortunately with missing pages, and, the organ, piano and violin arrangement were sent to Damali.  The new arrangement is being created as I type. 

Miss Branscombe transcribed and arranged her music for whatever voices, instruments and ensembles that would perform her music. She would be overjoyed to hear her “Festival Prelude”/"Festival March” performed by wind ensemble.

This Spring a 21st century performance of “Festival Prelude” will take place at the Berklee College of Music.  The Branscombe family and we at The Gena Branscombe Project are thrilled. 

Gena and her colleagues at the MacDowell Festival in Peterborough, NH - 1914

Damali Willingham photo by Kelly Davidson


Friday, December 3, 2021


The Gena Branscombe Project proudly announces their 2021 scholarships winners.

Congratulations are given to Michaela (Micah) Gleason, Conductor; Cameron Smith, Composer; Melissa Yanchak, Arts Administrator.  In addition, Jane Kozhevnikova was the recipient of our Art Song Commission award.  

These scholarship recipients will carry forth Miss Branscombe’s values throughout their careers.  They demonstrate the best of musical creativity which embraces humanity’s diversity and a resolve to hold high the tenets of artistic expression.  


Thursday, December 2, 2021



German born Arthur Schmidt (1846-1921) was a trailblazer for American composers and in particular American women composers.  In my mind and opinion he broke down barriers, sought out potential that could be developed into the brightest and best.  He proved that the word composer had no gender bias to it….a composer is a composer whether man or woman!”  This quote is from my January 2011 blog posting.


The “Elusive Mr. Schmidt” blog posting in April 2013 explained that in all of his business papers at the Library of Congress there was not one picture of him.  Schmidt’s great granddaughter contacted me and sent me her great grandfather’s picture.  He was no longer elusive. 


This will be my third blog I have written about Mr. Schmidt.  He was a publisher extraordinaire who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries promoted and published American composers.   That era was about publishing German and Italian romantic music.  


Was his company profitable?  By publishing the newest and talented American composers, was he a renegade in the music business?  Was he a good PR person?  How did he treat his composers and business associates?  Some of those questions will go unanswered for now. 


There were frequent letters between Gena Branscombe and her publisher.  Sometimes there were two letters a day.  They covered such topics as what songs Gena was sending him, books they were reading, royalty checks, who was performing her songs, vacations, music publications, other composers and family news.  Theirs was more than a business contract, they were friends as well. 


Recently I transcribed a March 9, 1918 letter from Gena Branscombe to Arthur Schmidt.  In the final paragraph of the letter, Miss Branscombe expresses her candid beliefs and admiration for her publisher.  Read on……..


“There has been something on my mind for some time – and I hope you won’t think me a very – meddlesome – sort of person – to be thinking about it even.  But it’s this – you published American compositions long before other people.  You’ve published more big things – with no hope of financial return – you’ve published more American women’s things than anyone else - and all this in the days when it wasn’t fashionable and patriotic – and all that to boost American music!  I feel that that thing should be recognized and known and advertised in a strong way.  You’ll probably just think I’m – very fresh – but I know I’m right.  I think it would be most interesting to know – to have a complete record – of all the American compositions of your catalogue published long before the tide began to turn in favor of giving the American composer a chance.  Forgive me if I rush in.”


For over 20 years of working on the life and music of Gena Branscombe, I have read a great deal about Mr. Schmidt and came to my own conclusion that he was indeed a renegade, a business man with a passionate mission for our American composers and their music.  Then, reading Gena’s letter, she clearly expressed the high esteem in which she held her publisher.



Here is an incomplete list of American composers the Arthur P. Schmidt Company of Boston published:


Florence Newell Barbour (1866-1946), Marion Bauer (1887-1955),
Mabel Daniels (1878-1971), Helen Hopekirk (1856-1945), Lucinda Jewell (1874-?), Margaret Ruthven Lang (1867-1972), Frances McCollin (1892-1960), Edna Rosalind Park, Olga von Radecki (fl. 1882), Anna Priscilla Risher (1875-1946), Clara Kathleen Rogers (1844-1931), Mildred Weston, Floy Little Bartlett, Mrs. C. F. Chickering, Mary Bradford Crowninshield, and Mary Turner Salter.


Mr. Schmidt sought out and published the music of Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, James Rogers, Carl Bohm and Horatio Parker along with others.


He was a true publisher, patron, business man and promoter of American music. Thank you Mr. Schmidt.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


November 4, 2021 marked what would have been Gena Branscombe’s 140th birthday.  Well, it was her 140th birthday.  This landmark was posted on my Facebook page along with a picture of Gena smiling into the camera.  Friends and colleagues responded with encouraging remarks which touched me deeply.

 That same day the BBC Philharmonic, on their Facebook page, posted a short bio and beautiful sketch of Miss Branscombe acknowledging her birthday and her career.  What a surprise and honor for her and her family.


 Composer, pianist and educator Gena Branscombe was #BornOnThisDay in 1881.

 During her lifetime, the talented composer had 74 of her choral compositions published by 22 different music companies, along with 150 art songs, 13 piano pieces and 8 instrumental works

 She followed composer Amy Beach to be elected President of the Society of American Women Composers in the late 1920s

 At age 40, she began conducting lessons. She was the much loved director of her own chorus, the Branscombe Choral which, from 1934-54 was a huge part of New York's musical landscape 

Two postings on Instagram gave tribute to Miss Branscombe’s birthday as well.  Recognizing this spirited, prolific composer 44 years after her death proves the esteem with which she is held.

🎈 Happy Birthday to Canadian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, Gena Branscombe, born #onthisday in 1881.

Branscombe worked predominantly in the US after studying at Chicago Musical College, where she also worked on the faculty after graduation. She composed more than 150 art songs, piano and chamber music, orchestral works, and music for chorus. She also started writing an opera, called The Bells of Circumstance, which she never finished.

The Gena Branscombe Project began with performing two of her art songs on a recital then morphing into a CD recording and a one-woman show, which then became the non-profit The Gena Branscombe Project that awards scholarships and promotes performances of her music.  The future holds republishing her music and especially her thrilling dramatic oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny. 

#BringingBackBranscombe is happening each and every day for this remarkable woman who richly deserves to be known once again in the music world at large.


In the blink of an eye, twenty years of work has taught me about a woman composer whose life and career inspires me daily to keep moving forward with my passion.  Hard work does pay off.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Katey J. Halbert and Pacific Sketches


The Gena Branscombe postings on my blog have centered on her vocal music, singers who performed her songs as well as her life and career.  Little has been written about the instrumental music she composed.  That’s my fault. 

 Gena’s instrumental works were not published as her songs and piano pieces were.  Her orchestral and instrumental compositions are in manuscript held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

  Several weeks ago I was searching YouTube for Gena Branscombe recordings that may have been posted.  What a wonderful surprise to come upon Katey J. Halbert’s recordings of Miss Branscombe’s Pacific Sketches for French horn and piano. 


A trip to Hawaii in 1955 was the inspiration for these works.  Flying to San Francisco from New York, then boarding an ocean liner, on board Gena attended Hawaiian cultural lectures and took hula lessons.  She was 74 years old!  Way to go, Gena!


The sound of bells playing gospel hymns intrigued her.  She included that musical memory into her piece “Kona Beach” which is a movement in Pacific Sketches.  Later she composed “Homeport” and “Night in the Islands” to round out the work. 

 The pieces were played live on WNYC in February 1956 for the Annual American Music Festival and again in April 1956 at the New York Federation of Music Clubs Biennial Convention.  Katey Halbert’s recordings are the first in 65 years! 

 Katey Halbert’s recording came about as part of her doctoral project.  Searching for French horn pieces composed by women, she found Miss Branscombe’s “Pacific Sketches.” Thanks to Katey’s beautiful playing and to her great pianist, Casey Dierlam Tse, for bringing these pieces alive in the 21st century.

More of Miss Branscombe’s instrumental music will be uncovered in the near future 

Enjoy listening to Pacific Sketches and Gena’s scenic musical descriptions. 


#Katey J Halbert

#Casey Dierlam Tse

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Nevada Van der Veer - Contralto


“Am enclosing a programme of Nevada Van der Veer’s concert” …. ““Happiness” was well received in spite of the fact that the accompanist composed as she went along.”  (from a letter to Arthur P. Schmidt, publisher, dated February 11, 1916)


Today as I was transcribing a few of Gena Branscombe’s letters to her publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, I came across this quote and it made me laugh out loud.  There is no mention of where the concert was held or the accompanist’s name, which is good.  We all have bad performance days.


Nevada Van der Veer (1884-1958) was a New York City born contralto.  Her first name was derived from the admired American opera singer Emma Nevada (1859-1940).  


Miss Van der Veer was a contralto soloist at several New York City churches including Fifth Avenue Presbyterian.  Her singing voice was said to be powerful, even and velvety.  Known for her recital work, she toured frequently.  She recorded with the Victor Light Opera Company and recorded duets with her husband, Reed Miller.  During a meeting given by the National Woman’s Party, she sang at the grave of Susan B. Anthony.  In later years, Nevada became Head of the Voice Department at Cleveland Institute of Music from 1934-1949.


Gena Branscombe gave no indication if she personally knew Nevada Van der Veer or how the singer came to perform her song “Happiness”.  As an accomplished pianist, Miss Branscombe’s accompaniments are difficult and require a great deal of personal preparation and rehearsals with the singer.  Still….the quote made me laugh.