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Vinyl record album for "Dionysus and Proserpina" by Anonymous of Greenwich. Album cover features sepia-tone image depicting the gods Dionysys and Proserpina lounging in nature, looking at one another adoringly.
Vinyl album for Dionysus and Proserpina by Anonymous of Greenwich (pen name of Charles Wuorinen), Charles Wuorinen Papers. Recorded Sound Research Center, Library of Congress.

Fakes and Fibs in the Music Division

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The following is a guest post written by Archives Processing Technician Emily Baumgart.

While processing the papers of contemporary American composer Charles Wuorinen (1938-2020), I made a strange discovery. Among the composer’s collection of CDs, DATs, and other audio-visual materials was a 33 1/3-rpm sound recording of a piece titled “Dionysus and Proserpina,” attributed to a composer identified only as “Anonymous of Greenwich.” The liner notes for the recording include some information about the piece, the autograph score for which “was discovered wedged with the bung in a cider barrel excavated during the restoration of a townhouse in Greenwich Village, New York.” The explanation continues that Captain William Kidd, a friend of the proprietor of the “Black Gold Taverne” where the cider barrel originated, included references to a performance of “Dionysus and Proserpina” in his diary. He describes it thusly:

“There was some new fangled musick, an epithalamium by some mouldey minion of Master Purcell, which gave me the Headache.” (Charles Wuorinen Papers, Box 238/Folder 13)

Despite the less than laudatory reaction to its contemporary performance, the piece was “lately discovered” and resurrected for a New York wedding in 1973, presumably the first time it had been performed since the late 1600s. The music, a vocal duet with keyboard accompaniment, is relatively simple: tonal and stepwise. My searches across multiple databases turned up nothing about the piece or its anonymous composer, nor why a recording of this performance would have been in Wuorinen’s papers. That is because, in truth, Anonymous of Greenwich never existed. Or rather, he did, but we know his name: Charles Wuorinen.

Wuorinen was a prolific composer known for writing in serialist style; he was also a pianist and conductor. The Music Division acquired his papers in 2021, and his audio-visual materials, including the “Dionysus and Proserpina” recording, were transferred to our colleagues at the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

It is unclear exactly why Wuorinen hid his identity as composer of this piece, but given the tongue-in-cheek liner notes, likely written by him or by a close friend, I got the feeling I was looking at an old inside joke. Music like that in “Dionysus and Proserpina” might be unexpected for a composer who usually wrote in the twelve-tone system, but this was not the first time Wuorinen wrote in an earlier style. He often engaged with works and styles from previous eras, ranging from incorporating parts of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” into his ballet “Delight of the Muses” to “Josquiniana,” a recomposition of several of Josquin’s works for string quartet. Still, in each of these examples, Wuorinen wrote as himself. Nailing down the true identity of Anonymous of Greenwich took a bit of sleuthing and was only possible because of the presence of Wuorinen’s manuscript score for the work in the collection.

Music manuscript for "Dionysys and Proserpina" in Charles Wuorninen's hand featuring two staves of recitative for Dionysys.
Charles Wuorinen. Dionysus and Proserpina, November 1973. Music manuscript, Charles Wuroinen Papers (Box 25/Folder 2). Music Division, Library of Congress.

Wuorinen was certainly not the only musician to write under a pen name or to ascribe a supposed musical discovery to a composer of a previous era. One of the most famous examples of this was violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962). The Library holds the Fritz Kreisler Collection of scores, letters, writings, and other materials, as well as his Guarneri violin. Kreisler passed off many of his own compositions (written in earlier styles) as the work of composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, Louis Couperin and other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century figures. For three decades, the musical world believed that Kreisler had discovered old manuscripts in libraries and transcribed them for violin and piano. He was able to accomplish this feat largely because he had created similar transcriptions of works actually composed by these and other composers; he hid his own works among these real transcriptions.

By the time of the reveal, Kreisler’s fame was such that the news made the front page of the New York Times on February 8, 1935. Kreisler confessed that “in fact the entire series labelled ‘classical manuscripts’ are in every detail my original compositions” (New York Times). Kreisler went on to explain that when he was beginning his concert career, he did not want to list himself as the composer for so many works on his programs, and hence he composed these works “in the style of” various other composers. The compositions were popular with audiences, as well as with fellow musicians, who also began to program them.

Kreisler had in fact been planning to admit to being the composer of these works prior to the article in the Times, as he had asked his publisher to list them as his own compositions in their 1935 catalog (Downes). However, before the change was finalized, music critic and scholar Olin Downes was doing his own research. The Library of Congress also played a part in the discovery, as Downes contacted then chief of the Music Division, Harold Spivacke, to attempt to find a copy of the original score of one of the fakes, the “Praeludium and Allegro” supposedly by Gaetano Pugnani. Spivacke searched the Library’s holdings for the piece in question, coming up empty. While he mentioned that he had harbored doubts about the authenticity of some of Kreisler’s transcriptions in the past, he also admitted that Kreisler was “one of those rare violinists . . . who looks inside of libraries, so . . . he might have gotten this almost anywhere.” (Harold Spivacke Collection, Box 7/Folder12)

When Downes asked Kreisler about the compositions prior to the Times article’s release, Kreisler freely admitted that he had composed them himself (Downes). There was initially some public outcry, with some camps being deeply offended by this musical artifice and others claiming they had known all along. Eventually, the furor died down, and many of the pieces remain in the violin repertoire today.

In the midst of it all, Downes defended Kreisler and his compositions, expressing the view that no one was really wronged in any way by the deception. After puzzling over the identity of “Anonymous of Greenwich” only to be trolled by a fifty-year-old musical joke, I can agree with Downes. I leave you with his words: “Let us admit that Mr. Kreisler has hoaxed us rather handsomely. Has not the principal harm, if any, been done to the feelings of the hoaxed?” (Downes).

Music manuscript for "Praeludium and Allegro," attributed to G. Pugnani in the upper right corner. Pencil manuscript is written in the hand of Fritz Kreisler for violin and organ.
G. Pugnani (Fritz Kreisler). Praeludiam and Allegro. Music manuscript, Fritz Kreisler Collection (Box 1/Folder 1). Music Division, Library of Congress.

Sources Cited

“Kreisler Reveals ‘Classics’ as Own; Fooled Music Critics for 30 Years,” New York Times February 8, 1935.

Olin Downes, “Kreisler’s ‘Classics’: Story of Their Authorship: Some Rumors and Interpretations of His Course,” New York Times March 3, 1935.

 

 

Comments (2)

  1. I think it odd that this blog entry starts out “Posted by Cait Miller”. Since it was apparently written by Emily Baumgart, shouldn’t her name be featured most prominently?

    • Hi, Paul – thanks for reading (and your sharp eye!). Certain Music Division staff have blog editor status, though any staff member is able to contribute as a guest author. That’s the situation here – Emily contributed a guest post, and I published it on their behalf.

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