When mention is made of the prominent prolific symphonists of the 19th century, the name Emilie Louise Friderica Mayer probably does not come to mind. Yet Mayer (1812-1883) – an almost exact contemporary of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi – composed eight symphonies, a number of violin sonatas, 12 cello sonatas, 6 piano trios, 7 string quartets, 12 sonatas for cello, 7 string quartets, 2 string quintets, a piano concerto, 15 concert overtures and an opera, Die Fischerin, among a number of other works for piano and lieder. Despite a career of composing, performing, and traveling in European musical circles, Mayer and his work fell into obscurity after his death, an obscurity that has only been corrected in the past 20 years or so. The reason is obvious: the sexist prejudices that are at the very heart of 19th century society and the world of professional music.
Mayer was born the third of five children to wealthy pharmacist Johann Mayer, receiving a musical education as was the case with young girls in his economy class. At the age of 28, his father committed suicide, leaving unmarried Mayer a legacy that enabled him to begin composition studies with composer Carl Loewe, apparently very much in love with his obvious talent. She later moved to Berlin to pursue composition studies with other teachers: fugue and counterpoint with Adolph Bernhard Marx and instrumentation with Wilhelm Wieprecht. In 1850, Wieprecht presented a concert of his works at the Royal Theater in Berlin.
It is difficult to place oneself within the framework of the lifestyles and societal taboos of mid-19th century Europe, but we can agree that Mayer’s situation was anything but normal. She lived alone as a single woman and traveled across Europe for performances accompanied by her brothers. Obviously, his musical development depended on such freedom, not to mention his access to professional orchestras for the exhibition. While male music critics of the time may have classified his work as “secondary”, his audiences thought differently. Queen Elisabeth of Prussia has been reported to be a great admirer of Mayer’s works.
Although Mayer’s history and musical production fell into oblivion for more than 100 years after his death, this neglect began to be corrected. First in Germany, now in the musical world, his works are discovered and transcribed for editing, performance and recording. In what will be the first American performance of the work, the University of Tennessee Symphony will perform it Symphony no. 4 in b minor-and for a live UTSO audience for the first time since 2020.
musical director and conductor of UTSO, James fellenbaum, provided some background on the work and its current history.
“It’s really neat work. Previously it was only available in piano reduction, but a German composer / arranger / conductor Stefan Malzew reconstructed the work and recorded it in 2012. So it was not been around for a long time and there has been only one recording of this. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t done on this side of the Atlantic, so that’s a good thing.
The UT Symphony will be back in its usual concert hall, UT’s James R. Cox Auditorium, for the concert this Sunday, September 19, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. As always, the concert is free.