- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - Music can’t play itself.

The pristine condition of Johann Schneider’s 1877 composition of sacred liturgy betrayed a sad fact: No finger smudges or coffee rings meant no one had handled the big sheets of paper since the Viennese musician wrote it sometime around his 20th birthday.

As she approached her 70th birthday, Schneider’s great-granddaughter, Sally Daer, decided its time had finally come.

On Jan. 16, Daer gathered a dozen fellow classical musicians under the baton of conductor Dean Peterson to hear what Schneider had composed. The circle of performers confirmed the judgment of former Missoula Symphony Orchestra music director Joseph Henry: This is a significant piece of music.

Suspended somewhere between Mozart’s classical masses and Beethoven’s more Romantic style, Schneider’s “Offertorium” and “Ave Maria” make one wish to hear the whole church service. But it appears he never wrote the rest, and he may have never heard those pieces played anywhere other than in his own imagination.

Indeed, it was only because of Daer’s determination that the music got this far.

Schneider became a professional violinist in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s national orchestra in the 1880s and ‘90s. In 1897, he uprooted his family and emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on the Fourth of July.

“But once he got here, just surviving was tough,” Daer said. “It was always ‘Johann’s piece.’ We didn’t know if he ever did any others. It was a huge family mystery.”

Schneider died in 1936, and Daer’s grandmother, Anita Schneider Berg, took possession. She passed it to her son, Lloyd Berg, Daer’s father. Berg went on to become the longest-serving professor at Montana State University and holder of more than 250 patents for chemical processes. But he was no musician.

“He gave it to me, and said, ‘Do something with this,’ ” Daer recalled. “But it sat on the shelf. Once a year I’d be cleaning the house and there it was, and I’d say, ‘What on earth am I going to do with this darn thing?’ “

Daer has played violin with the Missoula Symphony Orchestra for nearly two decades. She took the manuscript to Joseph Henry, the symphony’s longtime conductor and artistic director, for advice. This was as Henry was retiring in 2006.

“He (Henry) said, ‘This is a significant piece of music,’ ” Daer said. “He said the first thing we needed to do was turn it into a score. He was going to Europe for a month, and he said when he got back, he would like to do this. But as he got off the plane back in Missoula, he had a devastating stroke and never recovered.”

Symphony executive director John Driscoll returned the papers to Daer, and the two got to talking. The challenge, they agreed, was turning the composer’s handwritten ideas into the crisp, standardized notation musicians read on the stand.

Joan Chesebro plays cello in a quartet with Daer, and volunteered to take on the project. That involved a mix of computer programming and detective work. She found it packed with oddities. For example, Schneider wrote parts for “B-flat oboe.” No such instrument exists.

“So we wrote them for clarinets, which do come in B-flat,” Chesebro said. “The manuscript says there’s a part for organ, but we’ve never found it.”

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