Raiders of the lost sonata
Classical music doesn't normally conjure up thoughts of Indiana Jones.
But when University of Utah associate professor Hasse Borup thinks about Vincent Persichetti's so-called Lost Sonata, his mind flashes back to the closing scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
As the movie credits roll, the Ark is sealed in a wooden crate labeled "top secret" and is taken to a giant government warehouse filled with similar crates destined to be lost forever.
In the case of Borup and Persichetti, the late American composer's Lost Sonata has been rescued from the dustbin of history and will finally be performed for the first time in public seven decades after it was written.
"It is a really unique piece of music that deserves to be heard," said Borup, head of string and chamber music studies in the U.'s music school.
Tonight, Borup and U. faculty pianist Heather Conner will make a rare world premiere of the lost sonata. They also will record a CD of Persichetti's sonatas for piano and violin this week for the Naxos classical-music label.
Though Sonata No. 1 was composed in 1941, it never was premiered, for reasons that likely will never be learned.
Borup discovered the sonata in the storage archives of The New York Public Library, and his groundbreaking research led to the recovery of a composition that has only been played once inside Persichetti's head.
"[Experts'] best estimate is that he got busy with something else and never got around to publishing it," said Borup, who began researching Persichetti three years ago.
Persichetti's name is not as immediately recognizable as Beethoven or Bach, but he is now regarded as one of the most prolific and important American composers of the 20th century. Born in Philadelphia in 1915, he was a pianist, composer and teacher. As the head of composition at Juilliard, he trained many famed composers, including Philip Glass. Persichetti also wrote one of the definitive books on modern music theory, Twentieth Century Harmony : Creative Aspects and Practice. He died in 1987.
"To find an unpublished [composition] is quite unusual for a 20th-century composer," Conner said.
Tonight's premiere is the culmination of years of work that had nearly as many twists and turns as "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Here is a brief encapsulation:
• With the purpose of recording a CD of Persichetti's sonatas, Borup began comparing lists from Persichetti's publisher and the New York Public Library of Performing Arts, which holds the musical estate of the composer.
• He found a discrepancy, and with some old-fashioned detective work, Borup realized that there was a work in the library's catalog that didn't appear elsewhere.
• Borup had to get permission from Persichetti's daughter to sort through works stored at the library and elsewhere. After months of looking, the manuscript was finally found inside a largely abandoned library storage archive in New Jersey.
• The manuscript was handwritten, with indecipherable notes and scribbles, and was unusable in its state. "It was a very interesting jigsaw puzzle," Conner said.
• Borup asked U. of U. graduate student Dexter Drysdale to use music composition and notation software as well as his own knowledge of music to create a playable score. After months of work and vetting from other musicians and professors, the piece was ready to play.
"We don't know whether he wanted the music to be performed," Conner said.
"[Persichetti's] students feel it is a fully complete piece," Borup said. "For him, it was an experiment, but a successful experiment."
Lost and found
University of Utah faculty violinist Hasse Borup and pianist Heather Conner perform Vincent Persichetti's Sonata No. 1.
When • Sunday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Admission • Free
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