Nobody had ever heard it. Nobody knew it existed. —Hasse Borup, head of string and chamber music studies at the University Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — After decades lost in storage and years of preparation, a forgotten piece of American musical history will be performed this month for the first time at the University of Utah.
In 2010, Hasse Borup, head of string and chamber music studies at the University Utah, discovered "Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano," composed in 1941 and by Vincent Persichetti. As far as Borup has been able to verify, the piece has never been performed publicly.
Until Sept. 30, that is, when Borup himself performs "Sonata No. 1" at the Libby Gardner Concert Hall, roughly 70 years after the piece was written.
"It happens very rarely," he said of the discovery of a lost musical work. "It's kind of a neat thing, and I've never come across it before."
Borup stumbled upon the lost sonata while trying to expand the catalog of recorded American violin pieces. He decided to focus on the work of Persichetti because, at the time, none of the composer's solo violin compositions had been recorded.
While looking through catalogs of Persichetti's publisher and the New York Public Library, which holds the composer's musical estate, Borup found a discrepancy.
"I noticed there was one piece that had divergent titles," he said, "and that got my attention."
Borup said it's common for works in a library catalog to become misnumbered or disordered. But after investigating the discrepancy, he discovered a composition in the library's catalog with a name that didn't appear anywhere else.
Borup began working with archivists and librarians to track down the piece. After more than four months of searching, the composition was located in a library storage archive in New Jersey. With permission from the composer's estate, the piece was extracted, scanned and sent to Borup via email.
Borup described seeing the score for the first time as a "eureka moment" that made him jump in his seat. Until then, he had no way of knowing if the composition would be a finished product or even playable.
"I had no idea what it would be," Borup said. "Up until that point, I was just going on a hunch."
His hunch paid off, and Borup found himself with a completed work that by all indications was a mystery to the musical world.
"Nobody had ever heard it," he said. "Nobody knew it existed."
Since locating the piece in 2010, Borup has been working with various scholars of Persichetti's work and Dexter Drysdale, a University of Utah student, to interpret the handwritten scribbles, corrections and dynamic marks that make the sonata "come alive," he said.
Persichetti's style, which is very structured and organized, helped researchers put the missing pieces together, Borup said. And he's confident the performance Sept. 30 will be 99 percent in line with the composer's intentions.
"Everything that's there is crystal clear," Borup said. "If it was less complete, it would be more difficult, but this is finished."
While the honor of playing "Sonata No. 1" for the first time is exciting, Borup said there is an inherent pressure — in addition to the typical anxiety of performing.
"Anytime you walk on stage there's pressure," he said, "but it is definitely something that makes you focus."3 comments on this story
"Sonata No. 1" was written early in Persichetti's career and is filled with contrasts and signs of experimentation, Borup said. He described the sonata as alternating between energy and reflection, representative of the troubled times facing the word in 1941.
"It has a certain searching feeling to it," Borup said.
The performance is free to the public as part of the university's Sunday faculty concert series. In addition to "Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano," Borup will be performing other selected works by Persichetti.
The piece also will be recorded at the university in October for the classical label Naxos, part of a project to record the complete works of Persichetti and made possible by a University of Utah creative research grant.