1 October 1997
On paying tribute to Walter Trampler, perhaps I should remain silent. It was not my good fortune either to study with Trampler or even to know the man. Insights into his performance skills, teaching techniques and personality will have to come from Myron Rosenblum, Marcus Thompson, and the many others who knew and worked with him over a period of years. My path and that of the great violist crossed twice, however, at the Rochester and Boston International Viola Congresses, in 1977 and 1985 respectively, and he left an indelible impression upon me each time.
At Rochester Trampler was one of the featured soloists, performing with orchestra the Amon "Concerto in G Major, Op. 10" and the Rolla "Rondo in F Major." He also gave the very first performance at a viola congress of the Shostakovich "Sonata for Viola and Piano, op. 147" which in 1977 was a relatively new composition and a hot item for discussion, i.e. tempi, dynamics, overall interpretation. It occurred in one of those rare, aesthetically near-perfect moments in music where the majority of the audience, many of them congress delegates, were hearing the work for the first time--and masterfully done. The effect was absolutely spellbinding. He was a convincing vocal advocate for the work as well. I shall never forget the morning William Primrose began his address to the congress with this admittedly paraphrased statement: "Following an intriguing discussion of the Shostakovich with Mr. Trampler over dinner yesterday evening, I am happy to announce that the Trampler interpretation of this marvelous work is now the Primrose interpretation." Trampler obviously had persuaded even the great Primrose to accept his insights into the composition.
Walter Trampler was also featured at the Boston Congress in 1985, where he performed the Simon Bainbridge "Viola Concerto (1976)" with orchestra and the Hindemith Op. 25/4 with piano. In a feature called "Meet the Composers" unique to the Boston congress, Trampler performed excerpts from an unfinished composition by New England Conservatory composer William Thomas McKinley, "Sonata for Viola and Piano (1985)," giving the many delegates an ultrasound exposure to a composition not yet completely formulated in the composer's mind. Trampler and his accompanist stood at the right center of the stage while McKinley paced back and forth behind the soloist, interrupting, commenting to the audience and to Trampler from time to time, and muttering to himself as he was completely entrapped by the creative process and engrossed in this incomplete work, trying to reconcile Trampler's interpretation with his own tonal imagery of the sonata. It was a fascinating scene and a rare glimpse at a momentary melding of minds between artist and composer. Special permission for this performance had to be obtained from McKinley's reluctant publisher, who demanded that the completed movements not be played in their entirety, that no recordings be made, and that the sonata not be listed in the program as a premiere.
In recent months Walter Trampler was featured by Eugenia Zuckerman on CBS SUNDAY MORNING as one of many artists who had enriched American music as refugees from Nazi domination in Europe, many of them Jewish, although Trampler himself was not. Seeing him on this program, my mind returned for the moment to our last encounter in Boston in 1985, where it had been my pleasure to combine my love for the viola with the second passion in my life, photography. Many great violists, teachers, and scholars had been in attendance, among them Rosemary Glyde, Marcus Thompson, Burton Fine, David Dalton, Franz Zeyringer, Maurice Riley, and numerous others, and stood before my camera, but a coveted close-up of Walter Trampler eluded me. Our schedules did not match and the opportunity to photograph him did not return.
How I would love to have captured on film Trampler's silver hair, craggy face and probing eyes--all so filled with expression and so much the stuff of photographer's dreams. Since that picture was never made, perhaps it is fitting for people whose primary medium is audible rather than visual, that these words are the only portrait of Walter Trampler, violist, I can offer--and these, only a glimpse.