On today's date in 1996 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, pianist Marvin Tartak gave the first performance of a new piano sonata, the sixth, of the American composer, Leo Ornstein.
That in itself might not seem so remarkable—unless you consider that the Sonata was written when the composer was about 90. In fact, very little about the life and music of Leo Ornstein was "unremarkable."
Ornstein was born in the 19th century and lived into the 21st. He was born in the Ukraine around 1893 (the exact date has never been determined), and, after the failed Russian revolution of 1905, came with his family to New York's Lower East Side. He made his New York debut as a pianist in 1911, and rapidly established himself as a composer as well, performing daring and dissonant avant-garde piano works with titles like "Wild Men's Dance" and "Suicide in an Airplane." He also composed more lyrical, atmospheric pieces and at least 8 piano sonatas, the last written as he neared 100 years of age.
This music is from a Naxos CD of Ornstein's Sonata No. 7, written in 1988, when the composer was in his spry mid-90s.
After a decade of world tours as a fiery piano virtuoso and four decades of dedicated teaching, Ornstein retired to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he continued to compose and where he died on February 24, 2002.