Johan Halvorsen's Lost Violin Concerto Rediscovered by University of Toronto

By Steve Nagel on Jan 14, 2016 08:31 AM EST

After many years buried deep in the stacks of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music Library, an important piece of musical heritage has just been rediscovered. The lost violin concerto of Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) -- thought to be either lost or destroyed for over a century -- was reported to have turned up in storage at the Faculty of Music Library with its original dedication to world-famous Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow (1890-1963) inscribed on the cover. Johan Halvorsen had written the concerto in 1909 and dedicated it to Kathleen Parlow for three performances: one in Holland, and two in Norway. The piece has not been performed, nor any copy of it seen since. 

The University of Toronto's re-discovery of Johan Halvorsen's lost violin concerto was announced last week by Acting Head Librarian Suzanne Meyers Sawa. Once the Faculty of Music Library could confirm the piece's validity, Sawa announced: “we are delighted that the Halvorsen violin concerto has been found.” The actual discovery was made by library employee James Mason, who explained to CBC News the details of how the piece managed to disappear, and then suddenly reappear. He spoke of a legend that tells how Johan Halvorsen, who was known for destroying his own work when it displeased him, may have reacted rashly to the negative reviews of Kathleen Parlow's 1909 performances by destroying all copies of the score. It was not known, however, that Miss Parlow had been given a personal copy of the score, a copy that remained in her possession for many years until she had settled in the Toronto area, donating it (along with other materials) to the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music Library.

Mason then went on to explain how Johan Halvorsen's lost violin concerto had avoided proper archiving. Regarding its handling, he said, “When we have a lot of work to do and we don't see some immediate value to [a particular donation] we'll put it on a shelf to be dealt with later ... When those scores were looked through, they weren't being looked through for archival value. We just assumed these were scores that we got from a publisher.”  Mason was apparently "spot-checking for anomalies" when he stumbled across the concerto and, luckily, recognized its significance.

Although the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music Library staff are eager to show off their unique find, it was decided that the score's contents would remain secret while the restoration process is complete and until a formal concert has been arranged. Owing to the Norwegian heritage of its composer, the lost violin concerto is planned to be performed for the first time in more than a hundred years in July 2016 in Stavanger, Norway by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud as part of the International Musicological Society’s annual conference.

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TagsHalvorsen, Toronto, Lost, Norwegian, Violin Concerto

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