Charles Martin Loeffler was born of German parents in Alsace in 1861, but most of his adult life was spent in the United States. He moved there in 1881 and became an American citizen in 1887. Although he travelled widely, is justly considered to have been cosmopolitan, and drew inspiration for his compositions from many countries and their musical styles, his was an American career and for a time he was one of America's best known composers.
He began violin lessons as a young boy in Berlin, studying with the distinguished violinist Josef Joachim among others. He later pursued his musical studies in Paris, and before he was 20 he was performing with French orchestras. But it was with his trip to the United States in 1881 that his creative musical life really took off. Within a year he was playing with Leopold Damrosch's orchestra in New York, and a year later he became second concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). He held that post for 21 years, and during that time he frequently performed as a soloist with BSO and had the distinction of playing American premieres of such composers as Bruch, Lalo, and Saint Saens.
Loeffler had studied composition as well as the violin, and his first orchestral work had its premiere in 1891 with the BSO. He would develop a reputation as a skilled (and self-critical) composer. Highly individualistic in his approach to composition, Loeffler never sought to adopt an American style and certainly belongs to no school. French composers probably had the most influence on his style, and French symbolist poets such as Verlaine inspired some of his best known work, e.g., La Mort de Tintagile. The poetry of the symbolists was often referred to as macabre or sinister, and Loeffler employed unusual harmonies and a rich tonal color palette to capture those moods. He is noted for his use of the viola d'amore, and (in the Liner Notes for New World Records 80332) he is quoted as calling it "the only instrument capable of expressing the spirit and mood of the doomed."
But Loeffler's sources reach far beyond the symbolists to include Gregorian Chant (see Music for Four Stringed Instruments), Virgil (see A Pagan Poem), and Russian, Spanish, and Irish national music (see, respectively, Les veilles de l'Ukraine, Divrtissement espagnol, and Five Irish Fantasies). He is also known for his compositions using unusual combinations of instruments, eg, Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola, and Piano.
Loeffler was not only a highly regarded musical figure, especially in Boston. He was an intellectual who numbered among his friends many artists, fellow composers, and prominent members of the Bostom aristocracy. An oil painting by his friend John Singer Sargent hangs in the museum that was once the home of another close friend, Isbella Stewart Gardner. Prior to his death in 1935, he had received an honorary doctorate from Yale, been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and named a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur.
- Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola, and Piano