Photo Louis Gesensway

Louis Gesensway
Composer and Violinist; Philadelphia
"The greatest thing you can do for life or culture is to develop a sense of appreciation."
Louis Gesensway

Philosophy between violin and composition lessons.

Louis Gesensway of  Phildelphia, Pa. was  Born: February 19, 1906 in Dvinsk, Latvia.  Died: March 13, 1976 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) Louis Gesensway was born in Dvinsk, Latvia, and grew up in Toronto, Ontario. He played in the Academy String Quartet and he studied violin at the Toronto Conservatory, Now the Royal Conservatory of Music, (where he was instrumental in organizing the present Toronto Symphony) and the Curtis Institute of music in Philadelphia, he joined the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of nineteen in 1926. an association which was to last 45 years.

 Following studies in Budapest with  the eminent Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly, Mr. Gesensway began a period of intensive research into the color properties of existing tonalities, and evolved a system of composition he called "Color Harmony." The term "color" is used to denote pitch variants, and by employing the old diatonic, or 8 tone, scale. Color Harmony are actually the projection of a forty-tone scale. Concomitants of Color Harmon are new development in form and counterpoint.

 Louis Gesensway received the C. Hartman Kuhn Award for outstanding achievement from the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1945;  a member of ASCAP since 1956, and was recorded by Columbia Records. His chamber works have been performed world-wide. His Orchestral works have been performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Helsinki Symphony, Orchestra Society of Philadelphia and many others. He has taught composition, harmony and counterpoint and has written a book on Violin Technique and a book on Harmony.  

To encourage increased individual participation in our musical culture, Mr. Gesensway has written many works which combine woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments in small ensembles with string instruments. He original works and arrangements provide challenges and opportunities for student, amateur and professional musicians.

Major Works:
Opera: The Great Boffo and his Talking Dog (1953) A one act comic opera for children

Orchestral: **
Five Russian Pieces - full orchestra (1936)
Three Movements for Stings and Percussion (1939)
Concerto for 13 Brass Instruments (1942)
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (1944)
Suite on Jewish Themes - full orchestra (1944)
Eight Miniatures for Solo Flute, Percussion and Tympani (1949)
Four Squares of Philadelphia, a Symphonic Tone Pome(1951)
Double Portrait (1952)
Tone Poem for Orchestra, "Let the Night be Dark for
All of Me" (1953)
All of Me: (1953)Second Symphonic Poem,
"Ode to Peace" (1959)
March (1963)
Revery for String Orchestra (1964)
Commemoration Symphony (1968)
Two Silhouettes for Flute, Harp, Tympani & String Chamber Orchestra (1971)
A Pennsylvania Overture (1972)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1974)
** Fleisher Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

Chamber Works (Contact Horowitz Music; 626 Spruce St. Philadelphia, Pa. 19106)
Sonata for Piano (1937)
String Quartet #1 in G (1938)
Five Russian Pieces for String Quartet; Piano Solo; Flute, Violin & Viola;
Two Violins & Piano; Violoncello & Piano (1939)
Fantasy for Organ (1941)
Duo for Violin & Viola (1941, Rev 1967)
Quartet for English Horn, Flute, Violin and Violoncello (1942)
Suite on Jewish Themes for String Quartet; Piano, Clarinet & Bassoon Trio;
Piano Horn and Violin Trio; Piano Violin And Violoncello Trio; Violin, Violoncello and Piano for the left hand only Trio; Violin, Viola and Piano Trio; Two Bassoons & Piano Trio; Oboe, Bassoon & Piano Trio; Horn, Viola & Piano Trio; Flute, 2 Violins & Viola (1948)
Eight Miniatures for Solo Flute, Percussion and Timpani (1949)
Sonata for Solo Bassoon (c. 1950)
"Aria" for Cello & Piano (1950)
Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Viola & Violoncello (c. 1951)
Duo for Clarinet and Flute (1952)
Three Cadenzas for the Mozart Flute Concerto in D (1952)
Duo for Violin & Flute (1953)
All of Me" (1953)
String Quartet # 2 in F# (1954)
Twelve Rounds for Four Percussion Instruments (1955)
Quartet for Oboe, Bassoon, Violin & Viola (1956)
Quartet for Tympani, Violin, Viola & Violoncello (1957)
Duo for Violin & Guitar (1959)
Duo for Violin & Bassoon (1960)
Interlude for Harmonium (1961)
Revery for String Quartet (1964)
Wedding March for Harmonium or Organ (1968)
Suite of Dance Music for Solo Harp (1968)
Divertimento for Flute, Two Violins and Viola (1969)
Divertimento for Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Clarinet & Bassoon (1969)
Duo for Violin & Violoncello (1970)
Duo for 2 Violincelli (1970)
Two Silhouettes for Flute & Piano: Flute, Harp, and timpani and Chamber String Orchestra (1971)

Mozart Theme and Variations. A Major, arranged for String Bass and Orchestra (1940)
Mozart Fantasia in C Minor arranged for Orchestra (1946)
Zipoli Suite arranged for String Orchestra (1943)
J.S. Bach Chaconne Transcribed for Large Orchestra (1956)
JS Bach Violin Solo Sonatas (4) arranged for Violin, Flute & Cello; Flute, Violin & Viola;
Violin, Viola & Cello
P. Rode Caprices arranged for Violin, Flute & Cello; Flute, Violin & Viola;
Violin, Viola & Cello (1955-7)
String Quartet Arrangements of (ca. 1956-7)  (Reductions of the following Orchestra Accompaniments:
Boccherini Cello Concerto
Mozart Piano Concerto in d
Duo Concertante for Violin and Viola
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
Offenbach - Orpheus Overture arranged for Flute, 2 Violins & Viola; Violin, Viola & Cello
Rossini Semiramidi Overture arranged for Flute, 2 Violins & Viola (1968)

Notes on the Commemoration Symphony
From Louis Gessensway's Memorial service.
The Drawings are from the cover,
Louis Gesensway Memorial Program Front
the front, with I believe Louis at the piano, by Ben May 30, 1946. and the hand at peace from the back
Louis Gesensway Momorial Cover back
by Judy (Louis's daughter)  March 13, 1976.

  The “Commemoration Symphony”, composed in the
years 1964-1966, was first performed on February 25th,
1971 by the Philadelphia Orchestra in an abridged form.
A hearing of this work, written at the height of his musical
powers and embodying his philosophy of life, seems a fitting
tribute to the man and the musician.

     Although the symphony is constructed in the classical symphonic style, the harmony is new and the rhythms unusual. The system of “Colour Harmony”, first introduced in a concert of chamber music on March 13th, 1944, is here represented in its mature fulfilment. The composer put all of his art into it and, fully cognizant of the difficulties it would pose for his audience on first hearing, realized that it would win him no immediate popularity. As much as he would have enjoyed the accolades of success, he held no illusions about the fact that for all artists of merit only future generations have the perspective to judge and appreciate.
     But first and foremost he wrote for you, his friends, pupils and associates, and he asked only that you listen and be thoughtful and realize that he was speaking from his heart in the idiom he knew best.
     For Louis Gesensway the foundation of music was rhythm and counterpoint, and he tried to perfect his technical skill so as to give his works meaning and permanence. As with poetry, painting and crafts, to which he often referred, music was for him a means of expressing emotional, physical and intellectual experiences.
     The “Commemoration Symphony” is scored for large symphonic orchestra including piano, celesta and a large complement of percussion. Although the work was written in four movements, at the premiere, the second movement was not played and the first movement was shortened to meet the requirements of the conductor. You will be hearing a recording of this performance

     Of his “Commemoration Symphony”, Louis Gesensway wrote:

     “The underlying theme is life and death. We come into this world with a cataclysmic force. We are thereby set into motion until we leave abruptly and sometimes violently. The mode of our existence depends entirely on the way we develop through all of our experiences. These are the resuits of a continuous struggle with the forces of nature, the emotions within ourselves, and the conflicts within society. The struggle, however, is not always intense. The mood changes within each movement suggest man’s frequent frustrations and his occasional realization of attainment. The close of the symphony, representing death, comes with a crescendo in the percussion and with a timpani roll which dies away to the end.”

      First Movement (Allegro, Molto Agitato) opens with a crash in the percussion and short, rhythmic pulses. It is in the basic sonata form.

     [Second Movement (Vivace, Molto Ritmico) is written in a lighter mood, with rapid and unusual rhythmic dance motifs. A feeling of jazz prevails.]

     Third Movement (Sostenuto, Andante Lugubrioso) is slow, expressing feelings of tenderness and sadness. Prominent oboe solos occur in the opening and closing sections. The movement ends very quietly with a timpani solo.

     Final Movement (Allegro Giusto) is constructed on three principal themes, playful in spirit, which are developed and then recapitulated with varied orchestrations. The third theme is broken off suddenly; a drum roll and crash slowly die away to the end.


  This Information was given to me personally by Louis Gesensway
& his family during my time that I studied Violin and Composition with him, while living in the Philadelphia, New Jersey area. Louis was a wonderful  man full of Philosophy and cheer I believe I was one of his last students. I visited his home and to my surprise he visited mine. He treated me as a friend, He had faith in me he let me tune his 2 pianos. They were my first public tunings. He told me "This is wonderful you can do this thing, because you can do this you will never have to put up with mediocrity, if you have knowledge you will never be bankrupt."  I will always miss  him. He left a great impression on me about music but more about life.
This is my way of saying;
"Thank you".  Paul J. Campise

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