Elise Hall has been one of the most important personalities in the overview of sax history. She has been an American patron and her contribution to the enrichment of the sax repertoire has been enormous. Her activity took place at a time when that instrument embarked on the worldwide musical scene, so it did not have its own original literature.
Elizabeth Boyer Sweet Coolidge was born in Paris on 15 April 1853,from American parents. She grew up in a cultural and elegant atmosphere, playing the piano and violin. Her life will be characterized by a willing and tenacious nature, but also by her prosperity. All these elements will be useful to pursue the aim of her life.
At the age of 26 years Elise Boyer got married to Dr. Richard Hall, a very famous doctor. In 1895 Mrs Hall began suffering from a hearing loss. Her husband advised her to play a wind instrument in order to work on her internal sick ear and make it stronger. Elizabeth chose the sax: she heard playing that new instrument on the street by a poor musician and she was moved by its sound. From this moment Elizabeth Hall will love this instrument beyond its therapeutic functions.
In 1897 Dr. Hall died of typhoid fever. Widow, Elise Hall came back to Boston with her two children, close to her family. Fortunately, her husband leaved to her a substantial inheritance, that gave to her the possibility of giving vent to her passion for arts. Her idea is to offer to the musicians and amateurs of Boston an musical experience of high quality, and at the same time to promote the French contemporary music: that’s the reason why she founded the Orchestral Club. At the beginning, the Club was composed just from family friend and non-professional musicians (included Mrs Hall, who played saxophone). But quickly the group felt the need of a conductor: in 1898 Georges Longy, first oboe of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was proposed for this rule and he accepted immediately. At once, he began working with the musicians and their technical difficulties. Furthermore, with the support of Mrs Hall, he tried to spread a different musical culture in Boston, based on the European production, specially French. Really, it is the Orchestral Club that for the first time in the USA performed the Prélude à “L’après midi d’un faune” by Debussy.
The following summer, Longy came back to France, so Elise Hall bought a house close to him in order to attend his lessons. In this way Mrs Hall began to be familiar to the cultural and music environment of Paris. Longy was a friend of a lot of important musicians, so he helped Elise Hall to commission to them some pieces. Charles Loeffler, Jules Mouquet, Georges Spork, Léon Moreau, Paul Dupin, Gabriel Grovlez, François Combelle, Claude Debussy, Henry Woollett, Florent Schmitt: they were some of the leading figures Mrs Hall had got professional relationship. Many of the works she commissioned to them will be played by herself, many other are nowadays unknown, others simply never played. In less than twenty years, Elise Hall contributed to create a repertoire of twenty-two pieces for saxophone. Just some of these works are nowadays recorded. But the efforts of Mrs Hall had different directions: in fact, in twenty years of existence, the Orchestral Club of Boston managed to organize several concerts, and twenty-five of these ones included a piece for saxophone.
The Orchestral Club debuted with its inaugural concert at Copley Hall, Boston, February 2, 1900, under the direction of Georges Longy. For the occasion, the orchestra consisted of forty musicians with the addition of the first parts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Elise Hall performed in the Suite of the Arlésienne (Georges Bizet ) and in Danze Spagnole (Emile Pessard).
In 1904, in concert earlier this year, Elise Hall brought to the scene a piece that is a milestone in the history of classical saxophone: Choral Varié by Vincent d’Indy, a fundamental work, which today has been recorded at least six times. Elise Hall will play on two other occasions this piece, which she preferred compared to many others. This also helps us to understand what her artistic tastes, inclined to the music of a certain thickness and a sharp taste “classic.”
Another very significant piece for Elise Hall is Élégie-Impression d’Automne for alto saxophone, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, cello, harp and organ by André Caplet. She presented it April 17, 1906 and also resurfaced at the last concert of the Orchestral Club, in January 1920. André Caplet, Prix de Rome in 1901 (the same year he won the prize even Ravel), was a composer and conductor, very bright and very loved in his environment. Linked by close friendship with Claude Debussy, he’ll promote Pelléas et Mélisande in Boston.
The activity of the Orchestral Club became intense and expensive. After a series of pressure from her family that was in financial difficulties, Elise Hall was forced to cease her generous donations. As we mentioned above, the last concert of the Orchestral Club held January 28, 1920. After her last performance, Elise Hall retired in Massachusetts. She will die in a psychiatric hospital at the Westwood November 27, 1924, at the age of seventy-one years.
During her musical career the saxophonist performed thirteen of the twenty-two works she commissioned. Unfortunately at the time of their discovery by Londeix, some of these works appeared abandoned in their folders, and presumably never played in public by anyone.
That’s the case for example of Fantaisie mauresque by François Combelle (1920), never played either from the Hall because of her technical difficulties but not as a matter of musical taste. Combelle was the soloist saxophone of the Musique de la Garde Républicaine. He wrote pieces of popular music especially appreciated in café concerto or in popular locations. This Fantaisie mauresque perhaps seemed inappropriate to the music that Elizabeth Hall was looking for. However, the piece is not without importance: it is part of a musical context that winked to sound reflections vaguely Andalusian or Moorish. They are placed in this perspective also Bizet with Carmen, Emile Pessard with Andalouse op. 20 and Bolero op. 28 n°2I, Rimsky-Korsakov with Capriccio Spagnolo, Ravel with Bolero and Pièce en forme de Habanera, Charles Loeffler with Divertissement Espagnol.
One of the major works inspired by Elise Hall is definitely Légende op.66 for saxophone and orchestra, composed by Florent Schmitt . Previous few years to the work of Schmitt is the Rapsodie pour saxophone et orchestre by Claude Debussy, written between 1901 and 1903. The manuscript of the work was received from Mrs Hall in 1908 and published in 1919. This means that Debussy didn’t attach to this work too much importance (in several letters to friends and family using words of scorn for the sax), but at the same time is a sign of his distress in orchestrating this piece: Debussy was giving voice to an instrument he knew little, but which undoubtedly he was intrigued about. In essence, we can say that the Rapsodie pour saxophone et orchestre today is one of the greatest masterpieces written for this instrument.
Elise Hall would certainly have been happy to play it.