Richard Zierdt, Carol Henry, Brenda Brooks, Ellen Lazarus, Michelle Powell, Cecilia Parajon, Anne Spear, and our hosts at the Library of Congress
Bach’s Mass in B minor, published in 1834

What a treat it was to participate in the Music Manuscript Tour on Friday, June 7th! The Music Division of the Library of Congress curated the tour specifically for AMSF. It was so exciting to see manuscripts (mostly original) of venerated composers from the 18th to the 20th centuries with their handwriting, their notes, their edits and their dedications. This was my second time organizing a manuscript tour at the Library of Congress. As thrilling as the first time was, the second time was even more rewarding. Our tour was not only on piano manuscripts; it included violin, orchestra, and band music as well as a kaleidoscope of religious, patriotic, classical, romantic, and jazz music.

Did you know that Bach was not known as a composer during his time? He was Kapellmeister in Germany and so he was known as the church musician. His works were created mostly for Sunday services. They were not published. It took a century after his death for his works to be published, largely through the efforts of his musical children and kin. We had the privilege of seeing a copy of Bach’s Mass in B minor.

Heifetz Cadenza, Brahms’ Violin Concerto

We think of music, particularly classical music, as having to stick to the exact notations of the composer. Yet, music is a creative process, and even in classical music, there is improvisation. Take cadenzas for example. These are often virtuosic sections of a piece. Some pieces have cadenzas written in detail. Others allow the performer to make up their own, some even as they perform! We were shown examples of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77, and the accompanying cadenza improvisation written by Jascha Heifetz, as well as a version with numerous markings by Brahm’s violinist friend Joseph Joachim.

The Library of Congress does not have much on Chopin, but they had a short piece by Chopin that has a note dedicating the piece to a person named Wolf.

We saw John Philip Sousa’s manuscript of Stars and Stripes Forever. Sousa had very neat, tiny, and light handwriting. For me patriotic songs unite the country. They are so heartwarming!

Pleyel Harpsichord with seven pedals

Another patriotic American piece we saw was Aaron Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait. I have heard performances of this patriotic piece memorializing Lincoln’s words. They were narrated by Phylisia Rashad and Jim Leher on separate occasions. Actors, journalists, and politicians have performed this piece, which is considered an honor. It was uplifting to see Copeland’s manuscript, complete with his edits. The version on display had a Spanish translation, a testament that music is meant to cross boundaries. Copland’s handwriting leaned to the left.

Composers often place notes at the end, stating the dates they finished writing the piece. The interesting detail about Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, on display for us to enjoy, is that Rachmaninoff wrote inscriptions on where he was on certain dates as he composed the piece. Since Symphony No. 2 took 14 months to complete, there were notes in several sections of the manuscript, not solely the end.

Opening glissando of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue

2024 is the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Did you know that George Gershwin only had three weeks to write what has turned out to probably be his most famous piece? Gershwin did not even know that he was commissioned to compose a piece before he read about the upcoming performance. He almost refused the invitation! How exciting it was to see the manuscript of Gershwin’s seminal classical-jazz fusion, starting with the famous clarinet glissando!

Many thanks to Melissa Wertheimer and her colleague Stacey for giving us enlightening backgrounds about the Library of Congress and the works displayed for us. Their talk made the experience of seeing these gems sparkle even more.

The Music Manuscript Tour was a memory to last a lifetime! All who attended loved it. To those who missed it, you may have wished you were there!

Examining the manuscripts