This week, a score composed 200 years ago by a Prague pharmacist is finally being played for an audience — and the pharmacist’s descendants, local musicians, made it happen.
The year was 1826.
Beethoven was completing his Opus 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor; Schubert composed his last symphony, No. 9 (the “Great”); Carl Maria von Weber premiered his opera “Oberon.”
And Alois Bohuslav Storch, the great-great-grandfather of Seattle oboist and teacher Laila Storch, was in Prague, composing a Missa Solemnis (Mass) in C major for chorus and orchestra that will finally be premiered in Seattle on May 1, following its world premiere on Orcas Island last weekend.
The Orcas Choral Society: Missa Solemnis (Mass) in C Major
By Alois Bohuslav Storch, with Roger Sherman conducting, 2 p.m. May 1, St. Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E., Seattle; by donation (360-376-2281 or orcaschoralsociety.org).
The manuscript’s journey from early-19th-century Prague to 21st-century Washington was a circuitous one. The composer’s son Jaroslav Storch — the great-grandfather of Laila Storch — came to America shortly after the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, probably carrying Alois’ musical scores with him. The music ended up in the attic of Jaroslav’s daughter-in-law Thekla, Laila’s great-aunt.
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“When Aunt Thekla realized I was serious about music, back in the 1940s,” Laila Storch explains, “she gave me the scores, which she had carefully wrapped in newspapers in her attic in Oakland. She was quite a woman — and also, by the way, an incredible cake baker.”
The scores, which included several piano pieces and three masses, were stored in a large wooden box. Laila’s son-in-law Jon Kimura Parker — an internationally renowned concert pianist — played through some of the piano pieces, but the family was not in a position to present the larger works: getting the parts legibly written out, as well as hiring a chorus and orchestra and soloists. (Parker is married to Laila’s daughter Aloysia Friedmann, a violinist/violist who is founder and director of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival.)
Thanks to Adam Stern — a conductor, pianist, composer and lecturer — and the advent of electronic notation, however, the family was able to hear the Mass for the first time, and realized it was indeed performable.
Stern had painstakingly reconstructed the score in electronic form and was able to play it via Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).
The unveiling of Storch’s Mass is a testament to the deep musical roots that tie Laila Storch and her family to the music community of our region.
Storch, who toured and recorded internationally with the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet, taught at the University of Washington for many years and is the author of a major biography of oboist Marcel Tabuteau; her husband, violinist Martin Friedmann, was a longtime member of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
“Last summer, Martin played the MIDI file for me in his car,” says Roger Sherman, an organist/conductor and sound engineer whose “Organ Loft” show airs on Classical KING FM 98.1, and who has led the Orcas Choral Society for the past six years.
“I thought it sounded great. Martin wanted the Orcas Choral Society to perform it. They are a completely volunteer, non-auditioned chorus of about 50 members of all ages — including high school — and they’re very willing,” Sherman says. “They have a history of taking on new projects from their previous director, Catherine Pederson, who commissioned several new works.”
The orchestra for the Storch Missa Solemnis is also made up of Orcas musicians, plus some from the Seattle area. It has the usual complement of strings, along with two oboes; two bassoons; one flute; and two each of trumpets, horns and trombones. The work lasts approximately 25 minutes; it is paired on this program with Schubert’s Mass in G, a work of about the same duration.
The vocal parts for the Storch work are challenging because they are unusually high; there are no arias or solo-only movements, but several vocal solos. Seattle-based tenor Stephen Rumpf will be one soloist; other soloists include sopranos Sharon Abreu and Naomi Aldort, altos Catherine Ellis and Ginni Keith, and basses John Heath and Mac Langford.
Some tantalizing questions remain: How did Alois Storch, a pharmacist by profession, have the musical training and savvy to write lengthy and complex musical works? Was the Storch Missa Solemnis ever performed back in Prague? Was it ever submitted for the competition advertised in a yellowed newspaper clipping, stored in the same box of scores, that invited composers of “Bohemian” descent to submit works in this genre? Friedmann suspects Storch submitted the work, but there is no proof.
Meanwhile, Friedmann, who announced 11 years ago that resurrecting the Storch scores would be his retirement goal, keeps exploring the contents of that big box. One of the masses, he explains, is “more chromatic and even more interesting” than the Missa Solemnis in C.
Stern, who spent about 30 hours a week for two-and-a-half months transcribing the Missa Solemnis into a computer, has become a definite fan of Alois Storch.
“This is very, very fine music,” Stern says, “a major piece. It is very much of its time — Mozart, Weber, Schubert — and then there are some harmonic twists that nobody else does.”
There will be a sequel of sorts: Stern is now transcribing a second Storch work, the Requiem Mass in D major, for a future premiere.
That wooden box has more treasures to reveal.
The Orcas Choral Society: Missa Solemnis (Mass) in C Major
By Alois Bohuslav Storch, with Roger Sherman conducting, 2 p.m. May 1, St. Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E., Seattle; by donation (360-376-2281 ororcaschoralsociety.org).