Pearl Gildersleeve Curran
The youngest of four daughters, Pearl Gildersleeve was born in Denver in 1875. She received instruction on the violin and piano and later attended Denver University. Her compositions, which are mostly for voice and piano, show a sense of narrative arc and dramatic expression. Here, the opening of "To The Sun" (published in 1920, Oliver Ditson Company) features an oscillating vocal line describing early dawn, set over a sparse, flowing piano part. The ending of the same song has a piano part that uses a much thicker texture of repeated chords and daring changes of register, depicting the triumphant glory of the rising sun.
In 1894, Gildersleeve married Hugh Grosvenor Curran, who would go on to become the manager of the Emporium Millinery Company/Berlin Cloak Company in Denver. While living in Denver, they had two children whom they also named Pearl (b. 1895) and Hugh (b. 1896). The Currans were active in the socialite circles of Denver and Arapahoe, attending and hosting dance parties and card games. However, Hugh, who was originally from Brooklyn NY, returned to New York in early 1899. Pearl, their two children, and Pearl's mother Elizabeth Heath Gildersleeve (who had been a widow for fifteen years by this time) joined him in late spring that year. Hugh filed for bankruptcy later in the year, but developed a successful career in manufacturing. Pearl did not begin publishing her compositions until after 1910.
Pearl Curran's songs, like Mary Salter's, were often featured in vocal recitals as an element of American music that balanced the standard European repertoire. It was not uncommon to find Curran's music on recital programs alongside those of other American women composers. "Dawn" was dedicated to and premiered by the famous American soprano Anna Case in 1917, on a program that also featured works by Harriet Ware. Like "To The Sun," the ending of "Dawn" (published in 1918, G. Schirmer) uses a wide range in the piano part, creating a dramatic effect under long notes in the vocal part, which would emphasize and display a strong singer's vocal ability and timbre.
Besides Case, Curran's work was championed by other American singers, including the baritone John Charles Thomas. As the dedicatee of her song "Nocturne," Thomas premiered it in 1922 and subsequently included it on many of his recitals in New York.
Curran also composed works that were less serious and more in the vein of parlor songs, that is, meant primarily for private entertainment at home. One example, "Sonny Boy" (published in 1919, Oliver Ditson Company), is modelled on a lullaby and is thus more domestic in tone than the elevated poetry that she set as art songs.
Click here to hear "Sonny Boy" performed by Olive Kline in 1923.
Other such pieces contain simpler vocal and piano writing that would presumably target a wider audience of amateur musicians, and lighter subject material that would be more accessible, like the playful exchange and whimsical tone of "Flirtation" (published in 1920, Oliver Ditson Company).
Perhaps one of her most renowned songs, "Life" (published in 1919, G. Schirmer) features the sweeping ascents and descents that mark Curran's serious works. Not only does Curran's composition call for a confident singer with excellent breath control, but it requires a pianist who is comfortable with full chordal textures as well as exposed arpeggios. In other words, Curran's works for the stage are dramatic in affect and designed to showcase the performers' virtuosity. Songs like this were especially popular among professional opera singers for recitals, as they were able to display their vocal prowess and powerful technique in recitals, showing the skills that had earned them operatic roles without actually requiring the staging of an entire opera.
Additionally, Curran's American identity and choice of English texts were likely factors that especially influenced foreign artists to program her music in art song recitals, as a nod to the American opportunities that they had.
Click here to hear Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli singing "Life" in 1955.
Pearl Curran passed away in 1941 after a brief illness. Even though she and her family had lived in New York for over forty years, they were always considered Coloradans. The Denver Post ran a brief obituary describing her as a "nationally known composer" and a "native of Denver."
Click here to view all the scores of Pearl Gildersleeve Curran's compositions available in the AMRC's Digital Sheet Music Collection.