Charles Martin Loeffler

Charles Martin Loeffler

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Charles Martin Loeffler was born in Berlin in 1861, the family following his father, who was an engineer (and also a writer under the name of Tornow), to Russia, Hungary and Switzerland, arriving in Paris in 1879. In around 1870 in Russia, Charles began to learn violin, and decided at the age of thirteen that he wanted to be a professional violin player. At the Berlin Hochschule he became a pupil of the renowned Joachim, and started to study composition with Woldemar Bargiel, who was Clara Schumann’s half-brother.

In Paris, he studied under the great violinist Lambert Massert, and continued to study composition with Ernest Guiraud (who also taught Debussy, Perne, Mel Bonis and many others). With his father increasingly persecuted for his political opinions under Bismarck’s regime, Loeffler declared himself to be French, born in Mulhouse, anf reinforced his lifelong attachment to the French language and culture.

For some time he was a member of various orchestras (including Pasdeloup), and then sailed for the United States where the situation was much more favourable to musicians, becoming an American citizen in 1887. Initially a member of the Damrosch Orchestra in New York, he moved to Boston in 1882, becoming second violin soloist in the Symphony Orchestra what was one of the best American orchestras, rapidly distinguishing himself amongst his fellow musicians. He stayed there for twenty years, while beginning to compose, and his music was often played in the United States.

He continued to make frequent trips to Europe, where he was also played from time to time.

A close friend of certain French musicians, he also came to the aid of Gabriel Fauré, who found himself in financial hardship after 1920 and the termination of his directorship of the Paris Conservatory. There was a great mutual admiration between the two friends and composers, and Fauré dedicated his second sonata for cello and piano to Loeffler, offering him manuscripts as an expression of his gratitude.

In 1903 Loeffler decided to concentrate exclusively on composing, left the orchestra, and, having spent a year in Paris, moved to Massachusetts where he had a farm and horses, leading an increasingly sedentary existence until his death in 1935. Apart from the composing which was his principal occupation, he participated actively in American musical life. He was on the borad of directors of teh Boston Opera, and involved in the creation of the Julliard school in New York in 1924. His work is impressive through its scope, its variety and its quality. Cosmopolitan through his travels and tastes, he was deeply influenced by French music and literature, of which he was a great connoisseur, but also by Germany, Russia, Hungary, Ireland, Spain and even American folk music.

He had a strong personality that finds expression in different genres : opera, symphonic music, chamber music, choral music, songs, and astonishing instrumental ensembles that call on original combinations

(with for example, a saxophone or a viola d’amore, a harmonica, bells, etc), and often with innovatory harmonies or sonorities. As a final token of his love for France, he bequeathed his wordly possessions to the Paris Conservatory and the Académie Française.

Laurent Martin