Carl Engel, in the grand tradition of many talented (and accomplished) eccentrics, demanded that much of his legacy--correspondence, personal papers and manuscripts--be consigned to flames. A true cosmopolitan, he was one of the purest "gentleman and scholar" archetypes.
Engel held many demanding positions until his death in 1944 at the age of 61, including chief of the music division of the Library of Congress, magazine editor and opinionated taste-maker with renowned music publisher G. Schirmer Inc.
He practiced what he preached; he had an affinity for spoken languages and musical expression, coloring both with shadings of nuance, meter, rhythm. On the 100th anniversary of his birth last night, musicologist and lecturer Carleton Sprague Smith, soprano Linda Mabbs, violinist Jody Gatwood, pianists Michael Cordovana and Edward Newman and a restless audience gathered in the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress to celebrate a legacy that ultimately refused destruction.
If true poetry is written by musicians, and not poets, the four works by Engel on the program bear out this argument. Two selections from Paul Marie'ton's "Trois Epigrammes," three poems by Amy Lowell scored by Engel, and Viginia Woods Mackall's "The Never-Lonely Child" were gracefully and eloquently performed by Mabbs and Cordovana.
Lowell's "Opal" especially was a joy, Mabb's throaty, soaring voice caressing the taut, intense imagery with masterly control. Gatwood and Newman, performing Engel's "Triptych" for Violin and Piano, demonstrated that Engel was not innovative, but rather indulgent and calculating in his impressionistic scoring.