Gaston Borch (1871-1926)

(No portrait yet found.)

Article submitted to the Massenet Newsletter, published by the American Jules Massenet Society, Jan 1, 1982, by F. Gerald Borch

FAMOUS PUPILS OF MASSENET

Gaston Borch

The appellation "famous" may not be entirely appropriate for me to use, since I am writing about my own family, but since the previous profiles have carried this title, I will continue the precedent and ask the reader to make the determination as to the propriety of the usage .

My grandfather was born in Bologne s/Mer (France) in March 1871 of a Norwegian father and a French mother . Most of his boyhood was spent in Sweden with academic studies at the French School and musical s.tudies at the Royal Musical Academy in Stockholm. As the eldest son of a prosperous father who was extensively in- , volved in the mining business, it was naturally expected that he would eventually step into and run the family business.

However, at the age of twenty-two, following the completition of his commercial and academic studies, he decided to make music his profession and promptly set off for Paris . This turn of events was probably not too shocking to ~very indulgent family because although his father was an astute and successful business man, Gaston belonged to a family significantly involved in Norwegian politics and the arts. Gaston's uncle, Christopher Borch was a prominent Norwegian sculptor (his large granite lions gracing the entrance to the parliament buildings in Oslo). Emma Louise Hennequin, his mother, had been a student at the Paris Conservatory, together with her brother . She was a very accomplished singer, and a talented artist as well. It was she who came to know Massenet intimately, having been engaged to him prior to his being awarded the Prix de Roma in 1864. It no doubt was her influence and close friendship with Jules Massenet (which they continued until her death in 1899) that was the impetus for my grandfather becoming a private pupil of the great master ...... outside of the conservatory classroom. He studied composition for three years with Massenet and while there he continued his cello studies with Barraine and Joseph Hollmann . He achieved a considerable technical proficiency on the cello which allwed him to concertize to some degree and this ability provided him with employment in American symphony orchestras.

Although the Borchs considered their brother quite a Bohemian, still he must have been very busy during those Parisian years. In addition to his concentrated study with Massenet, and diligently pursuing his cello studies, he was studying conducting with Charles Lamoureux as well . Following these three years, before his return to Scandinavia, he stopped in Copenhagen for further piano work with Arthur DeGree (actually in Brussels) and conducting with Johan Svendsen. Upon returning to Norway, he was engaged by the Oslo (Christiana) Philharmonic Society and conducted there from about 1897 to 1899. It was during this period of time that his one act opera ''Silvio" (a sequal to Mascagni' s "Cavalleria Rusticana") was performed at the Eldorado Theatre in Oslo, and successfully acclaimed.

During this Norwegian period, he also managed to regularly conduct the Bergen Musikforengingen and to direct the activities of the Bergen Conservatory of Music. And in Bergen he continued his studies in composition with Grieg. In 1897 Grieg wrote of him, recommending him as "one of the best chefs d'orchestra, and most promising composers of our time."

We commence his American period when in 1899 he went to the United States where his uncle Dr. Alfred Hennequin, a playwrightwas living in Boston. Gaston was engaged by the Chicago Symphony as a cellist. He served there about one year and at that time, Victor Herbert was conducting . It may have been Herbert who encouraged him to leave Chicago for Pittsburgh because from 1903 to 1906, he was with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the conductors at that time being Victor Herbert and Emil Paur. A compatibility with Herbert existed because of their common interest in the cello, and apparently my grandfather's abilities were admired and recognized. In this connection, there is a long adhered to family story telling that my father, who could not have been more than four years old ...... . conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony in the "Star Spangled Banner'; while being held in ·the arms i:)f Victor Herbert.

It was while my grandfather was with the Pittsburgh,that Emil Paur arranged for the premier U.S. performance in 1906 of his overture,"Genevieve de Paris" which had been written in 1904, had been performed in Europe, and had been dedicated to Massenet. The Master had predicted a brilliant future for Gaston to his friend Emma Hennequin Borch and assured her that he was headed for the top as a composer and conductor. Massenet was known for being excessively eff~sive and flattering, and possibly he was guilty of these things in his estimation of my grandfather's future prospects.

During the orchestral off seasons, Gaston Borch toured France, Belgium, Holland, c.onsistently conducting and performing his own compositions. He consistently conducted the Lausanne Symphony and had guest appearances with the Amsterdam Concertgebow, Opera of Brusse] Societe Symphonique of Lille (France), Harmonie Royal of Antwerp, Gewerbehaus Orchestra (Dresden) and many others. As a result of these invitations, he became far better known abroad as a conductor and composer than was the case in the United States. There were however, performances of his works in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and by the Minneapolis, Montreal and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras. In 1907 he conducted in New York at Carnegie Hall, the Grieg Jubilee Concert. Gaston Borch became very prolific as a composer having nearly 200 songs for voice, choral and instrumental works published. He turned to arranging as well and was well-known for his orchestral arrangements and transcriptions for cello. There were and are many of his works still carried in the G. Schirmer, Carl Fischer and Boston Music Company catalogues. In 1918 his "Practical Manual of . Instrumentation" was published by the Boston Music Company.

He became exceptionally well-known in the U.S. and abroad for compositions done especially for the s ~lent film industry. This occupied his final six or seven years of his life (he died in 1926) . The Museum of Modern Art in New York issued a recording a few years ago called "Mood Music for the Silent Film" on which they included three of his compositions, all of which were very recognizable to the individual who sat through the silent film era. His greatest achievement in this area was probably the score which(w~itten in 1924, after his return to Sweden in about 1921 and his great involvement. with the film industry there) was his orchestral score done for the Greta Garbo movie "Gtlsta BjBrlings Saga". He conducted an orchestra of 26 when the movie had its premie7eand ran during that time at the Skandia Theatre in' Stockholm. In the 1950s, the movie had a revival and the musical score was again used.

Gaston Borch produced a number of tone poems, a fairy opera "Ostenfor Sol" and "Frithiof", the latter based on a well-known Scandinavia saga, a piano concerto, at least one symphony and a very succesful work "Quo Vadis" which was performed for the · first time in Philadelphia in 1909. In 1964, his tone poem "Vita et Mors" was again performed by the Gothenburg Radio (Sweden) having been earlier performed by the Stockholm Symphony and the Montreal Symphony in 1920. There are at least two compositions "for violin and piano, the more important being "Romanza" and "Elegy".

F. Gerald Borch
Charlotte, North Carolina

Gaston Louis Christopher Borch was born on 8 March 1871 in Guînes, France, to a French woman (Emma Louise Sophie Hennequin) and a Norwegian father (Christopher Wolner Borch). Mlle Hennequin was an excellent pianist and soprano, and reportedly was once engaged to be married to the composer Jules Massenet. It is known that she performed a concert in collaboration with Massenet in 1860, and corresponded with him until her death.

Gaston Borch played the cello, and studied composition with Jules Massenet in France, Bruno Liljefors at the Valands School of Fine Arts in Sweden, and with Svendsen in Copenhagen. From 1893 to 1899 he conducted various orchestras in Norway. In 1898, his opera Silvio was presented at Christiana. At this point, he may have had private lessons with Grieg, who recommended him as "one of the best chefs d'orchestra, and most promising composers of our time." (from Massenet Newsletter, Vol. 1 No. 4).

In an attempt to keep up with Gaston's complicated life, I've entered a bunch of data below in roughly chronological order.

1983-1899 conductor of the Christiana Orchestral Society - Norway and the Musikforeningen - Norway [stokowski.org]. This date may be a year too long.

1894-1896 visiting conductor in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany [The art of Music]

1898 Emigrate to US

1899-1900 playing cello and conducting Theodor Thomas' orchestra in Chicago (which was renowned for playing new and challenging music).

On 24 June 1900, a newspaper says that Gaston has been just lately married to Gyda Hennig, who is presented as a Norwegian pianist.

On 1 July 1900 the St Paul Globe announced an upcoming concert on 19 July. Both Gaston Borch and Mrs. Gaston Borch, Rose Alice Gluckauf performed. It's revealed that Rose performed under the stage name Miss Gyda Henning (sic). She had studied piano and voice in Europe. Mr. Borch has made his home in Chicago this winter and has become famous as a conductor and cello soloist. He also conducts the symphony orchestra that is giving weekly concerts at the Auditorium.

On 5 July 1900, he married Rose Alice Gluckauf in St. Paul Minnesota. (Rose's last name gets butchered in various historical documents, as Genuk, Gluckauf, Glickauf, Glickhauf).

There are several concerts through the weekend July 6-8, 1900, as a Scandinavian music festival. Both Mr. and Mrs. Gaston Borch performed. St Paul Globe: "Professor Gaston Borch of Chicago contributed a cello solo in his usual artistic manner."

On 22 April 1901, Borch submitted a patent application for a piano attachment. At that time, he lived in 924 1/2 East Second Street, Duluth, Minnesota. This was announced, as the Sonorite Piano Attachment, d on 13 October 1901 in a St Paul paper.

On 10 October 1901, he performed in Syracuse New York. The paper says he arrived after living in Duluth for two years.

26 March 1902 Gaston and Rose had a son, Frederick Louis Borch. Born in Chicago. Mother's maiden name on the birth certificate is, as expected, Rose Alice Glueckauf. But the Certificate of Attending Physician or Midwife are is filled out, perplexingly, as "Rose Alice Robbins, formerly Rose Alice Borch." Is this also Rose Alice Gluckauf? Why the three different names?

16 May and 18 October 1902 show Gaston Borch as professor of cello at Syracuse University.

From 1903-1906 he played cello in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Victor Herbert (along with another future photoplay music composer, J.S. Zamecnik). The site Stokowski.com has him as principal cello.

He then returned to Europe as a conductor in Lausanne, Switzerland; and served as a guest conductor throughout Europe.

On 30 October 1905, the New York Passenger Arrival Lists have Gaston arriving from France, but his name is crossed out, and "Not on board" is written in the margin. He actually returns 24 October 1906.

23 January 1906, "Genoveva," a concert overture by Gaston Borch, was performed by the Pittsburgh Orchestra at a reception of the Art Society in Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh. The composer conducted. [Boston Symphony Orchestra, Volume 37].

1906 Conductor of the Lausanne Symphony Orchestra, Switzerland [The Art of Music biography]

24 October 1906, Gaston returns from Europe to New York, according to Ellis Island records.

1907? Marries Eleanor M.S. Borch.

27 April 1907 Conductor of the Grieg Jubilee Concerts, New York [Chicago Symphony archives]

10 January 1908. Gaston plays at a concert in New York City.

1910 Census. Rose Borch and Frederick Borch are living in Chicago without Gaston, but with Rose's mother and her step-father.

1910 Census. Gaston Borch is in Philadelphia, living with Eleanor M.S. Borch, age 30. They have been married three years, one daughter Emma D. Borch, age 1 year 5 months. A note from grandson Michael Christopher Borch indicates that his father, Ragnvald Christopher Borch, was born in 1910, presumably after the census, and that there were two sisters.

1910 a member of the faculty of the Pennsylvania College of Music, Philadelphia [Baltzell's dictionary of musicians, 1910]

1917 According to Michael Christopher Borch, Eleanor discovered that Gaston had another wife, and throws him out. He goes to Boston.

1920 Census. Rose Borch, daughter, age 40, widowed, and son , age 18, b. IL, parents b. Germany, living in Decatur.

1920 Census. Gaston Borch, age 43, lodging at 261 West Newton Street, Boston; along with Elsie Borch, age 22.

1921. According to Massenet newsletter, GB returns to Sweden (possibly to avoid bigamy charges according to MCB?) where he becomes involved in the film industry. Composes score for film The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924), and conducts it at the Skandia Theater in Stockholm. The score was revived for a screening in 1950, so it may still survive.

22 January 1922, Decatur Review (Illinois) reports Mrs. Rose Borch presenting evidence of bigamy in a divorce case.

1925 "Returned to Sweden where he is said to have made the first orchestral radio broadcast in January, 1925 with the Skandia Cinema Orchestra" [stowkowski.com]

1926 Feb 14th, Gaston Borch dies in Stockholm Sweden. [bardon-music.com]

1950 Nov. 2, Elsie Borch renews copyright to "Amour Deçu," acting as widow.

His guide book, Practical Manual of Instrumentation (1918) is an interesting window into the orchestras and orchestration techniques of the era, comparing the instrumentation of American and European theater orchestras, and describing methods of "cross-cueing" pieces so that the same arrangement can be used by groups ranging from piano trios up to large orchestras.

Borch was a prolific composer of photoplay music from about 1916 until his death, and also wrote standard classical works including at least one opera (Silvio, produced in Oslo in 1897 and Christiania in 1898). Some of his photoplay music pieces appear to be adapted from larger works -- perhaps other operas or ballets -- though I have been unable to substantiate this. His style ranges widely, from the achingly beautiful melodies of his Dramatic Tensions and Pathetic Andantes, through the Grieg-like folk qualities of his Mountain Music Suite and "Norwegian Folk Song," and the bizarre orientalism of his Indian and Oriental music, so crucial to our compiled score for the film Destiny. Borch's music can often be distinguished by his use of polyphony and counterpoint, as he is one of the only composers to regularly work fugual and contrapuntal techniques into this genre.

I am not aware of any complete film scores written by Borch, although one internet site mentions him in regard to the Swedish film Gosta Berling's Saga, giving credits as "Original music score arranged by Rudolf Sahlberg and Gaston Borch." This score would be fascinating to discover and perform if it still exists.

 

Norwegian Folk-song (1916, Schirmer). mp3 file from Mont Alto's score to The Marriage Circle.

Andante Patetico e Doloroso (Schirmer's Photoplay Series Vol 3, 1918). An excerpt, from Mont Alto's score to Fritz Lang's film Destiny.

(MIDI FILE) Andante Patetico e Doloroso (Schirmer's Photoplay Series Vol 3, 1918). The entire piece in its piano-only version, recorded for footage of Valentino's funeral, included as an extra on the Kino Blood and Sand DVD.

Mountain Music III (Mountain Song). From Mont Alto's score to Fritz Lang's film Destiny.

The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra Web Site

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