We ended the weekend of The Gena Branscombe Project’s concert attending a performance of Alexandra Bellhaven’s song cycle, “Diary of a Payphone” at 54 Below in New York City. Ally is The Gena Branscombe Project’s 2022 Composer Scholarship winner. Honored to have been at this performance with Gena’s great niece, Allison, and Dr. Laurine Elkins Marlow.
Music Meets Drama
Thursday, June 1, 2023
Bringing Back Branscombe to the Upper West Side - Part 2
Bringing Back Branscombe to the Upper West Side Concert - May 6, 2023
The Gena Branscombe Project's May 6th concert
at the New York Society for Ethical Culture
Bringing Back Branscombe to the Upper West Side
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Christian Sinding, Kirsten Flagstad, Gena Branscombe
“Composing is nothing, but writing letters is tedious business. When you compose music your intentions are mostly understood, but when you write you are never sure how your meaning will be construed.” (Christian Sinding, composer. Musical America, March 25, 1910)
In that same March 1910 Musical America article with Sinding’s quote was a review of a salon concert presented by Gena Branscombe at the American Women’s Club of Berlin. This was a well-reviewed concert of her songs performed by Belle Forbes and A.C. Jackson.
Christian August Sinding (1856-1941) is not well-known in today’s music world. Born in Norway, he eventually studied and lived in Germany coming under the influence of Wagner and Liszt. In his era, he was internationally acclaimed much like his fellow country man Edvard Grieg. His compositions included lyrical piano and chamber music works, symphonies, violin concerti, songs and choral works.
Branscombe and Sinding were residing in Berlin in March 1910. Did they know each other or met one another in the small music circle of Berlin? Maybe Sinding was in the audience for Gena’s concert. Both composers would be leaving Berlin within a few months – Sinding traveling to experience, once again, Norway’s beautiful Spring and Gena to return to the United States.
Twenty eight years later Gena wrote of Sinding in her November 11, 1938 letter to her publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt Company of Boston:
“Last Sunday evening, (which was November 6, 1938), on the
Ford Hour, Mme. Flagstad sang my arrangement for solo and chorus of Sinding’s
“Sylvelin” and made a great hit with it.
People who didn’t know it was mine, said they had enjoyed that number –
particularly.” (Arthur P. Schmidt Collection held at the Library of
This Ford Hour performance of her arrangement came as a surprise to Gena, then, to have Madame Kirsten Flagstad, the great Wagnerian soprano, perform it was quite the honor. Though not given credit in the program, Gena knew it was her arrangement!
The Ford Sunday Evening Hour was a radio program sponsored by Ford. From 1934-1942 and from 1945-1946 audiences heard the Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Ford Symphony Orchestra perform with guest stars and singers. The show was broadcast live nation-wide on CBS.
How small the music world is. Gena Branscombe knew Edwin McArthur, Madame Flagstad’s accompanist. Gena understood Sinding’s musical intention for his song “Sylvelin” and created an arrangement. Maybe Gena showed the piece to McArthur who then brought the arrangement to Flagstad’s attention who suggested it to the conductor, Jose Iturbi! All of this is surmising, yet, Madame Flagstad performed Gena’s arrangement of Sinding’s “Sylvelin” on the Ford Hour!
With thanks to the Ford Archives for a copy of the November 6, 1938 program.
Saturday, April 8, 2023
Bringing Back Branscombe to the Upper West Side - a concert of Gena Branscombe's Music
The Gena Branscombe Project is proud to announce the "Bringing Back Branscombe to the Upper West Side" concert on Saturday, May 6th, 5 PM at the New York Society for Ethical Culture - 2 West 64 Street.
We hope you will join us for a concert of French Horn pieces, a violin sonata, piano works, song and choral pieces all representing Miss Branscombe's ties to the Upper West Side. Below is the Eventbrite link for purchasing tickets. See you May 6th.
Thursday, April 6, 2023
……”Mr. Lawrence Tibbett sang “Hail Ye Tyme (of Holiedayes)” last Tuesday and they say it went gloriously. I missed it. I hope you can use the publicity. It would seem worth using.
(December 26, 1935 letter from Gena Branscombe to Mr. Austin at Arthur P. Schmidt Company, Boston, MA. – AP Schmidt Publishing Company collection at the Library of Congress)
Yes, the famous Metropolitan Opera baritone, Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) performed Gena Branscombe’s Christmas song, “Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes” in December 1935. Whether on radio or concert is not known. Tibbett an operatic baritone was also a star of movies and sang on the radio. He has a Hollywood Star of Fame. And, he was the first singer of his era who was wholly American trained!
In her letter Gena asks Mr. Schmidt if he can use this information for publicity knowing it would be worth using. To have someone as famous as Lawrence Tibbett perform one of your songs and have that advertised could raise curiosity and sales of all of her songs and that means royalties paid to the composer.
Frank La Forge was one of Tibbett’s teachers. La Forge was a well-known New York City teacher, accompanist and coach. In 1917 Gena instructed her publisher, Mr. Schmidt, to send multiple copies of her songs to La Forge. No doubt that is how Mr. Tibbett came to know Gena’s songs.
The music world is a small world. What is assumed to be only six degrees of separation in life - in the music world the degrees of separation are three or less.
Sunday, March 26, 2023
A Crumpled Poem
Recently Gena Branscombe’s grandson, Roger, sent me a copy of a poem he had found in the family files. Over many years the crumpled piece of paper held the words to a poem titled, “Farewell to THE OLD TIMER” To the right of the title is typed, “American Folksy Song of 1942 (With apologies to all concerned.”)
With great humor the poem writers, who were Branscombe Choral members, describe in great detail the demise of Miss Branscombe’s “rack.” Gena raised her wand to beat the time and the rack went down! The “rack” is obviously her conductor’s stand that with much assistance could not be revived. The Choral members found the “dough” to gift their beloved conductor a new rack hoping she doesn’t want the old one back! What wonderful humor and one does wonder what the “American Folksy Song of 1942” was.
This poem/song must have been performed by Choral members at their annual Spring luncheon.
In 1942 with World War II raging in Europe and the South Pacific, America’s armed forces were fighting to preserve our country’s freedom. The women of the Branscombe Choral collected money to replace her conductor’s music stand and kept their humor about the entire happening. Their loved ones may have been abroad fighting in the war. The Choral members were making music and memories with their conductor, Gena Branscombe.
No matter our country’s hard times, no matter our personal stories whether happy or sad, music doth soothe the soul….as does humor.
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Dr. Regan Russell - The Arts Songs of Gena Branscombe
Work on doctoral dissertations is arduous with specific guidelines for research and writing form. For over 3 years Regan Russell researched Gena Branscombe’s life through publications from over 100 years ago and interviews. She sought out scores of 150 arts songs many of which were out-of-print, some not available because Miss Branscombe lost or destroyed them and the original manuscripts of some were in libraries where copies had to be made. Persistence….that describes Regan and her dedication to Gena Branscombe’s songs!
On November 17, 2022 at Boston University, Regan presented her doctoral dissertation “Love in a Life: The Art Songs of Gena Branscombe.” Her presentation included a lecture on Branscombe’s life, song development and a performance of five songs beautifully sung by baritone Gray Leiper with Regan accompanying him. Regan’s work was scholarly, passionate about the subject matter and her musicianship exceptional.
Her dissertation includes a complete list of Branscombe’s songs, listings of songs for specific voice ranges, suggestions for groupings of songs with program notes explaining how the group works. With explanations of the poets and their poetry, how the songs fit together and more, her understanding of Branscombe’s songs will be an informative aid for teachers and singers alike. Gena Branscombe’s songs – all 150 – of them are now alive in the 21st century! Thank you, Dr. Regan.
There was a live stream of Regan’s presentation. At the Q&A after she finished, the surprise came when Dr. Morgan Scott Phenix, Gena Branscombe’s grandson, congratulated Regan on all of her work and added his family’s thanks.
Congratulations, Dr. Regan Russell – “you were chosen.” It was an honor and privilege to be part of your doctoral degree journey.
Below is a link to Regan’s dissertation. Enjoy reading it.
Read her dissertation on OpenBU here.