By Ted AYALA
“It is a fact,” the Danish composer Carl Nielsen once wrote, “that he who brandishes the hardest fist will be remembered longest.” Naming off a list of artists – including J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Michelangelo and Henrik Ibsen – Nielsen praised these men as fighters who left their imprint on history by remaining true to their convictions, even while they were dismissed by their contemporaries.
“[They] have all given their times a black eye,” he continued. Yet Nielsen himself, though revered in Denmark, has had a tougher time of brandishing that fist in the wider musical world. Despite the unmistakable originality of his music and the audacious use (for its time) of his material, in the consciousness of the general musical public, he has yet to equal the renown of his more famous contemporary Jean Sibelius – to say nothing of Beethoven.
Even with his willingness to fight for his artistic cause, to speak powerfully and eloquently on its behalf, composers like Nielsen, through no fault of their own, have sometimes been overlooked in musical history. And if composers like that can be neglected, then the fate suffered by others uninterested in giving their epoch a “black eye,” who were content with composing excellent and beautiful music, has often been total oblivion.
One man in Los Angeles, however, is doing his part to make sure that the best of these composers are spared from the scrapheap of musical history.
“What concerns me most is whether the music touches my heart, ” said François Chouchan, founder and artistic director of Le Salon de Musiques. “When it does, I want to share that experience with others.”
Chouchan, a French native who studied in the Paris Conservatory of Music and counted Yvonne Loriod among his teachers, was early on fascinated by the paths less traveled in musical history.
“Before the Internet,” he explained, “research meant reading lots of books. I would read biographies of famous French composers and come across the names of their teachers. When I would investigate those teachers further, I realized that they often were great composers themselves, even though their music was forgotten.”
With Le Salon de Musiques, Chouchan has been able to find an outlet to share his passion for little heard composers. Now in its third season, Le Salon de Musiques has been earning notice for its pioneering work in bringing to light music that had been gathering dust in the dusky corners of musical history, unperformed. Among the pieces programmed this season were five U.S. premieres, notable given that those works were composed nearly a century ago on average.
For Chouchan, the process of finding this music can be a difficult task.
“Many of these pieces we choose to program have not been recorded,” he explained. “Sometimes the scores have been out-of-print for decades. A few haven’t ever been published. So obtaining the scores for us to perform can be a challenge.”
Finding the score for Camillo Schumann’s “Cello Sonata No. 2,” which forms part of this Sunday’s program, proved to be especially tough.
Chouchan’s quest to arrange a public performance of Schumann’s music began when he happened across the composer’s name while researching Robert and Clara Schumann, both of them unrelated to Camillo.
“I had never heard anything about him before,” he said. “But his name caught my attention because it struck me as an odd one. ‘Camillo’ – it sounds like an Italian name, not a German one. I thought that, perhaps, it was a mistake. But then I began to research him. Not only was his name real, but I found out that he died relatively recently: in 1946.”
Soon after, Chouchan came across YouTube clips of Schumann’s music, which he found to be “gorgeous.”
“Then I discovered that Schumann had composed three cello sonatas,” Chouchan said. “Immediately I wanted to have these pieces performed. They are truly major works for the cello, all of them very rich and beautiful.”
“I got in touch with a Swiss company that had recorded this piece,” he continued. “But they didn’t have a score. So I contacted the German Consulate of Los Angeles. We worked together with them for eight months trying to find the score. Eventually they tracked down a small publishing house in Düsseldorf who would print the score for us. The score had been out-of-print for a very long time and there were no extant copies of it available. So after discussion, the publisher kindly agreed to republish the score.
“This score we have is now the only Camillo Schumann score available in the world,” added Chouchan.
Schumann, who is unrelated to the famous composer Robert, was born in 1872 and raised in a musical family that produced another obscure composer, Camillo’s older brother Georg. Aside from composing music, he also enjoyed a busy career as a church organist and for a time was the music director for the Saxon court.
Though Schumann’s career took place mostly in the 20th century, his music basks in the Romantic glow of the 19th century, a trait that likely contributed to its neglect.
“What surprises me about this music is how deep it is, how incredibly beautiful it is,” said Chouchan. “Music that is so moving like this needs to be shared. That’s the most important thing.”
Le Salon de Musiques will perform the music of Camillo Schumann together with works by Frederick Delius and Frédéric Chopin on Sunday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. General admission tickets are $65; $45 for students. The concert begins at 4 p.m. To purchase tickets and obtain more information, visit http://www.lesalondemusiques.com or call (310) 498-0257. You can also email them at email@example.com.