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Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler

Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler: The Life and Times of a Piano Virtuoso

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler
    Book Description:

    One of the foremost piano virtuosi of her time, Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler reliably filled Carnegie Hall. As a "new woman," she simultaneously embraced family life and forged an independent career built around a repertoire of the German music she tirelessly championed. Yet after her death she faded into obscurity. In this first book-length biography, Beth Abelson Macleod reintroduces a figure long, and unjustly, overlooked by music history. Trained in Vienna, Bloomfield-Zeisler significantly advanced the development of classical music in the United States. Her powerful and sensitive performances, both in recital and with major orchestras, won her followers across the United States and Europe and often provided her American audiences with their first exposure to the pieces she played. The European-style salon in her Chicago home welcomed musicians, scientists, authors, artists, and politicians, while her marriage to attorney Sigmund Zeisler placed her at the center of a historical moment when Sigmund defended the anarchists in the 1886 Haymarket trial. In its re-creation of a musical and social milieu, Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler paints a vivid portrait of a dynamic artistic life.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09739-3
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Every four years Fort Worth, Texas, plays host to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition—a veritable Olympics for aspiring concert pianists. They come from all over the world—the thirty finalists for the 2013 competition had studied in conservatories in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Milan, Moscow, Paris, London, Hanover, Krakow, and Tokyo. Each had already been a winner or finalist in two or more competitions; indeed, one website lists 726 international piano competitions worldwide—340 in the United States alone.¹ Some are prominent, like the Cliburn, the Leeds, and the Chopin; most are less so, taking place in locations...

  6. 1. Beginnings
    (pp. 12-24)

    Fanny Blumenfeld was born in 1863 in Bielitz, a beautifully situated city in the Carpathian Mountains about 250 miles north of Vienna. At the time of her birth, Bielitz was in Austrian Silesia; now it is the incorporated city of Bielsko-Biała in Poland. It was a prosperous city of about 35,000, with manufacturing industries, excellent schools, fine theaters, and many parks; in the center of the town was a large ducal castle.¹

    Jews began to settle in Bielitz during the second half of the seventeenth century, but various restrictions had impeded their advancement. In 1713, Emperor Karol VI issued a...

  7. 2. Study Abroad
    (pp. 25-36)

    Most serious U.S. musicians had to study abroad before they could be respected in the United States. Although many music conservatories were founded during this period—the Oberlin, Peabody, Boston, and Cincinnati Conservatories and the Institute of Musical Art (later the Juilliard School) were all founded between 1865 and 1905—Americans generally viewed Europe as the cultural mecca. Most virtuosos and ensembles who toured the United States in the last half of the nineteenth century were European, as were most professional musicians in U.S. bands and orchestras. Even as the number of native-born U.S. musicians increased, a reverence for European...

  8. 3. Sigmund Zeisler
    (pp. 37-45)

    In 1885, two years after her return from Europe, Fannie Bloomfield would marry Sigmund Zeisler. Late in their married life, he wrote: “There was a time when I had flattered myself with the hope that once we were married, especially if we had a child, and when Fannie would have tasted the hardships and sacrifices of a professional career, she would give it up and be content with the life of a wife and mother. For several years I had done my utmost to persuade her in this direction. But then I discovered the truth that wherever nature plants an...

  9. 4. Establishing a Career
    (pp. 46-66)

    When Fannie Bloomfield returned to the United States in 1883, knowledge and awareness of classical music were still in the early stages of development there. During this period, at least where classical music was concerned, the United States was a virtual colony of Europe; the performance of European masterworks was the barometer of musical progress.¹

    In this context, musicologist Richard Crawford cites an 1815 performance by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society as “a new stage in Americans’ recognition of music as an art.” When the society performed excerpts from Haydn’sCreation,Handel’sIsrael in Egypt, and the chorus fromMessiah,...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5. On Tour before Domestic Audiences
    (pp. 67-92)

    When Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler returned from Europe for the second time, in January 1889, she left Vienna, a city whose rich musical life contrasted starkly with that of Chicago. Theodore Thomas expressed doubts about the musical potential of Chicago as he contemplated a conductorship there in 1890, questioning the receptiveness of Chicagoans for what he termed “music of a higher character.”¹ Thomas was alluding to a shift in the cultural patterns in the country—a shift described by Lawrence Levine in his influential study of nineteenth-century cultural institutions,Highbrow, Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Levine documents the bifurcation...

  12. 6. On Tour before European Audiences
    (pp. 93-101)

    Interspersed with Bloomfield-Zeisler’s U.S. appearances were tours of Europe in 1893–94, 1899, 1902, and 1912. While it was common during this period for American students to study music abroad, it was far less so to tour Europe once they returned to the States. There were a few exceptions, such as pianists William Sherwood and Olga Samaroff and violinist Maud Powell, but these musicians were definitely in the minority.

    For Bloomfield-Zeisler, the idea of a European tour first surfaced during the summer of 1893, when Fannie joined Sigmund on a business trip to Berlin; the experience rekindled a desire to...

  13. 7. Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler and Judaism
    (pp. 102-114)

    It is perhaps startling to realize, given the prominence of Jewish musicians in Western classical music in the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries, that this was not always the case. Music played an important role in both the sacred and secular lives of the ancient Hebrews, and Jews had a rich and varied musical legacy within the synagogue; instrumental ensembles such as klezmer bands played at weddings and other communal celebrations, as well.¹ But these activities did not generally translate into Jewish musical participation in the wider world. Virtually every career in Western classical music before the nineteenth century “depended for...

  14. 8. The Home Front
    (pp. 115-140)

    Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler lived two parallel lives—one on the concert stage and one at home. Her home life was a balance of marriage, children, practicing, and teaching, all set against the backdrop of changing attitudes toward women, work, and motherhood. Over the years she gradually cut back on her concert schedule because of dramatic events in her personal life and evolving developments in the wider world—especially the buildup to and aftermath of World War I, but she continued to perform publicly until two years before her death in 1927.

    Bloomfield-Zeisler came of age during a period in the United...

  15. APPENDIX A. Salon Visitors’ Book
    (pp. 141-154)
  16. APPENDIX B. Concert Dates and Locations, 1875–1908
    (pp. 155-160)
  17. APPENDIX C. Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler’s Repertoire
    (pp. 161-166)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 167-184)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 185-194)
  20. Index
    (pp. 195-198)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-210)