Music In Performance
A Brief History of “Music in Performance”
“In 1939 the University of Wisconsin hired distinguished Danish pianist Gunnar Johansen as artist-in-residence, a position which included performance, teaching, and eventually the establishment of a course designed to initiate undergraduate students with little or no musical background into the world of classical musical by providing live performances by himself, faculty colleagues, and guests each week. One year later when the Pro Arte Quartet became resident artists at UW, the ensemble became regular performers and collaborators with Gunnar in the Music in Performance class. During Gunnar’s tenure (1939-1976) the course became much more than “clap for credit” (as many of the students tabbed it). Gunnar would often get into hotly debated issues with members of the quartet (particularly first violinist Rudolf Kolisch) ranging from world peace to the form of a Beethoven sonata and the debates and performances were lively and entertaining (as was the music).
“I was honored to perform in Gunnar Johansen’s final class in 1976 (he was forced to retire because of the mandatory retirement rules). He asked me to perform a piece he had written for a soprano titled “Vocalises,” a piece that went into the stratosphere range for the soprano (and the oboe). Apparently, the oboe version was the only one ever performed, as the soprano said it was impossible to sing. Gunnar loved the piece, and was so appreciative that I would play it. The piece was typical Gunnar: Romantic style, glorious, sweeping melodies, spacious, and perhaps in the style of his musical idol, Ferruccio Busoni.
“The class has continued to the present (Fridays, 1:20 in Mills Hall), with slight changes since its origin. There are more performances by a wide variety of artists (many faculty like to “try out” their recital performances for the class in advance of the more public performances), and a section for senior auditors was opened so that retirees have the opportunity to hear live music on campus during a regular daytime class. The course regularly enrolls 700 students (including 100 senior auditors) each semester and fills the concert hall every Friday afternoon for performances ranging from early music, to contemporary works, traditional chamber music, solo performances, jazz, and opera. The list of faculty who have taught the course since Gunnar Johansen includes Norman Paulu, Karlos Moser, Alan Campbell, James Doherty, and Marc Fink. By conservative estimates, at least 75,000 students have taken this course since its inception, and many students have not only been introduced to classical music but have gone on to become avid concertgoers and patrons, much more than what they had expected when they signed up to ‘clap for credit.'”
–Marc Fink, emeritus professor of oboe and former MIP instructor