Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, May 17

Debussy and the persistence of Ms. Elisa Hall

Synopsis

Today, a tip of the hat to the persistence of one Ms. Elisa Hall, who lived in Boston from 1853-1924.

Ms. Hall was at the heart of that city's musical life for many years. She was a Francophile, and championed the best and the latest in French music. Sadly, Elisa Hall suffered from a hearing ailment, which would eventually result in complete deafness. At the advice of her doctor, who thought it might stimulate her ears, Hall took up the saxophone — and with typical enthusiasm soon began commissioning the leading French composers of the day for new pieces for her instrument. In all, she commissioned no less than 22 works, the most famous being by Claude Debussy. Debussy was at first reluctant to respond to Ms. Hall's persistence, pleading that the saxophone was (quote) “a reed animal with whose habits he was poorly acquainted.”

Debussy was paid in advance, but it was years before he finally set to work on a short saxophone rhapsody in a vaguely Moorish style. In fact, it wasn't until May of 1919, one year after Debussy's death, that the orchestration of the piece was completed by Debussy's friend, Jean Roger-Ducasse, and premiered in Paris.

Ms. Hall apparently never performed it herself. Maybe she was exasperated by the long delay or perhaps, by 1919, her own hearing had deteriorated to the point where she could simply no longer could.

Music Played in Today's Program

Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918) Rhapsody for Saxophone and Orchestra Kenneth Radnofsky, alto saxophone; New York Philharmonic; Kurt Masur, cond. Teldec 13133

Additional Information

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