Minuetta Kessler (1914-2002) is one of my favorite finds. A child prodigy on the piano, Mrs. Kessler devoted herself to writing creative and whimsical pedagogical material as well as more serious compositions. Most of the works were for piano (many of them still available today), but she also wrote for violin, voice, flute, clarinet, cello, and chamber ensembles. Several chamber pieces were recorded in 1978 with prominent Boston musicians, including "Sonata Concertante" for violin and piano, featuring violinist Marylou Speaker and the composer on piano. Her most famous composition, a piano concerto from 1947 nicknamed the "Alberta" Concerto in honor of her adopted country, can be heard here. Worldcat lists over 200 scores by Mrs. Kessler. Most were published by Musical Resources, which appears to have been her private publishing company. After her death, Musical Resources disappeared.
When I saw The Peanut Butter and Jelly Waltz, I knew I had to have it in the anthology. Unfortunately, the only lead I had was the publisher, Musical Resources, of which there was no trace. What to do? A friend suggested that I look for Kessler's obituary and see if any leads might turn up for heirs. Sure enough, her two children were listed. An internet search for her son turned up some very interesting information! Ronald Kessler is a best-selling author with a number of books on Washington institutions such as the FBI and the Secret Service. Kessler was instrumental in breaking the story about the Secret Service's involvement with prostitutes in Cartegena. The first information Google presented me with were clips of interviews with John Stewart on The Daily Show-- intriguing, to say the least. Contacting him through his website, he was most cooperative and happy to have some of his mother's music made available to the public.
What I really liked about this piece was the humor and sense of the unexpected. While it was clearly written for a young student in mind, Mrs. Kessler used intriguing harmonies for an astringent sound-- a contrast sorely needed with the more sugary accompaniments of many works for children! There is great opportunity for creating a dialogue with the piano, not always where you'd think it would be. Dynamic changes are sometimes sudden, and dots, accents and tenuto marks ask young players to pay attention to what they're doing. I love the two grand pauses at the end-- yes, students, you have to count! Using the metronome might even be in order.
It is still difficult to gain access to Mrs. Kessler's violin music, even with interlibrary loan. The other two student violin pieces I have seen are The March of the Woo-Woos and Hora with Variations. The march is a duet with optional piano part, and is #2 in her opus 114 (PBJ Waltz being #1). Like the waltz, the harmonic language is on the dissonant side, featuring tritones, seconds, and sevenths. The second violin does the trudging in quarter notes, while the first gets the melody. I'm not sure what a "woo-woo" is, but judging from the hand-drawn picture on the cover, they are from outer space (or a nightmare). The hora, from 1983, plays with open intervals fifths and octaves in the theme's piano bass line, and throughout the variations. The violin part is mainly playable in first and third position (with one leap to sixth position and one to seventh), but spices things up with double stops and chromatic lines. Tempo markings indicate a variety of characters: the theme is "Robust," followed by a Lullaby in variation 1. Variation 2 is to be played "playfully," and variation 3 is "mystical." The last variation is a vivace with chromatic sixteenth notes at quarter note=126. I'm going to have to explore this one further!
If you are a pianist, I would encourage you to explore Minuetta Kessler's pedagogical pieces. You can find some of them here, and a great many more here.