Artis Stiffey Wodehouse was born March 1st, 1946. Her primary piano studies to age 18 were with the late Russian and Polish-trained pianist Ludmilla Berkwic (1908-2004). Wodehouse was inspired by Berkwic's performances of Chopin's music and learned from her the necessity for disciplined commitment.
In 1964 Wodehouse won a New York State Regents Scholarship and a full tuition scholarship to Syracuse University School of Music. There she studied piano with the Ives and new music specialist, George Pappastavrou (1930 -) whose wide-ranging musical interests and unorthodox approach set a model for action. In 1966 she transferred to the Manhattan School of Music where she completed her Bachelor of Music in 1969. Her piano studies there were under the Debussy specialist, Ernest Ulmer (1920-). Following Ulmer's lead, Wodehouse throughout the 1970s and 1980s studied and frequently performed most of Debussy's piano works.
From 1969 to 1971 Wodehouse Studied at the Yale School of Music. She was awarded the prestigious Lockwood Scholarship for highest grade in piano performance for 1970. The social/political climate of the time set in motion a period of unprecedented educational experimentation at the Yale School of Music, a unique situation of which Wodehouse took full advantage. Her studies included analysis of Dufay masses, performances and premieres of new music by Yale composers (Yehudi Wyner, Lewis Spratlan, Daria Semegen, Alvin Singleton, David Noon and others), performance practice seminars lead by visiting professor, the late Robert Donington and participation in a pilot study group lead by visiting Hungarian professor, Laszlo Dobszay, the purpose of which was to codify American Appalachian folk songs in similar fashion to the method developed by Kodaly and Bartok. Wodehouse spent the summer of 1970 on full scholarship at the Yale Summer School of Music at Norfolk Connecticut, where she studied and performed chamber music. She studied piano at Yale with the late Ward Davenny (1916-2002) and received her Master of Music in 1971.
In the early 1970s, Stanford University's music department was the only one in the United States to offer a doctoral degree in performance practice. Therefore Wodehouse moved to California and entered the Stanford doctoral program specifically to pursue her interest in historic performance practice. At Stanford she studied baroque dance with Meredith Little and the late baroque dancer, Wendy Hilton (1931-2002). Wodehouse played for Hilton's special summer dance classes that attracted baroque dancers and scholars from around the world. Subsequent to the completion of her doctorate she collaborated with baroque dancer, Beth Rebman, and together they presented several workshops throughout California on baroque dance and its application to the performance of music by J. S. Bach. While at Stanford Wodehouse also continued her commitment to new music and premiered and performed new music by Stanford composers, most notably Martin Bresnick who was then on the Stanford faculty. At Stanford Wodehouse performed as a trio member with Susan Freier, violinist and Timothy Bach, cellist.
The seed of her pioneering doctoral work was planted at a seminar in Romantic performance practice lead at Stanford by the late pianist, Nathan Schwartz with whom Wodehouse also studied piano performance. Schwartz brought a recording of pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) to the class, and the class vehemently polarized over the legitimacy of Cortot's characteristic performance practice of breaking of the hands, i.e., where the right and left hand are deliberately not struck simultaneously. The strong controversy stimulated Wodehouse toward the idea of studying historic recordings of pianists to determine if breaking of the hands could be understood not as a performance flaw, but rather as an expressive device. Moreover, Wodehouse also hoped to discover whether this device might have also been standard during the pre-recorded era.
To pursue this line of inquiry, Wodehouse turned to performance treatises written during the 19th Century to glean information on standard interpretive approaches employed by pianists active before the invention of recording. These books provided surprisingly detailed information with regard to dynamics, tempo modification and accentuation practiced during the earlier period.
Wodehouse targeted a single piece frequently recorded by pianists born before 1900, Chopin's Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15 No. 2 for the purpose of close, direct comparison. While Op. 15 No. 2 was not as frequently recorded as Chopin's Minute Waltz, by way of contrast the F-sharp Nocturne has richly contrasting content that challenges on several levels and potentially reveals much about an interpreter. Wodehouse then devised a notation system for her aural analysis of the sound recordings that would express -- beat for beat in visual form -- dynamics, tempo modification, breaking of the hands and accentuation. In like fashion, Wodehouse extrapolated performance instructions described in the treatises as they applied to the Nocturne. Thus, each recorded performance could be directly compared not only to another, but also to a theoretical performance derived from performance approaches described in each of the treatises.
When Wodehouse in 1976 began to collect sound recordings of the Op. 15 No. 2 Nocturne, the only major institutional collection to have been catalogued was Historical Sound Recordings at Yale University. But HSR did not have all the recordings known to have been made. Therefore she turned to private collections, most notably, to the collection of the late Harry L. Anderson to fill in the gaps. Wodehouse's dissertation, "Evidence Of 19th Century Performance Practice Found In 24 Recordings Of Chopin's Nocturne Opus 15 No. 2 Played By Pianists Born Before 1900" was completed in 1977, and she received a Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance Practice from Stanford University in that year. Her dissertation advisor was Leonard Ratner.
After her graduation from Stanford, Wodehouse continued to be active in research involving historic sound recordings. She gave a series of lectures at Stanford on historic singers, conductors and violinists and lectured on Bel Canto and Verissimo singers at the De Bellis Collection at San Francisco State University (1981-82). She was a guest scholar at Santa Barbara's Bel Canto Symposium in 1980. Wodehouse was awarded a research grant from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections for her study of the recordings of the French pianist and notated pedagogue, Marguerite Long (1874-1966) who worked with Debussy, Ravel and Faure and also wrote on the Debussy/Mary Garden recordings. Both of the French research projects were an extension of her then frequent performances of Debussy's piano music.
During the 1970s and 1980s Wodehouse was very active in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California both in solo work and chamber music performance. In the late 1980s Wodehouse co-directed her own chamber group, The Bay Chamber Players. For three years she was accompanist to the nationally known Peninsula Women's Chorus under the direction of the late Patricia Hennings (1951-2002). Wodehouse also made her New York debut in 1984. An early performer of John Adams' Phrygian Gates (1977), Wodehouse's most notable Bay Area performance was as pianist in Michael McNabb's (1952-) electro-acoustic work, Invisible Cities (1984). McNabb was one of the first important composers to emerge from John Chowning's Center for Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford. Wodehouse had closely followed the extraordinary developments in this new type of music occurring while she was a doctoral student, and having the opportunity to participate was a watershed. Invisible Cities (recorded 1987 on the Wergo label with Wodehouse as pianist) began life as a National Endowment for the Arts commission by the Oberlin Dance Collective of San Francisco. Based on the novella by Italo Calvino, the initial presentation featured dancers and a robotic arm that had been programmed to dance with the human dancers. The piece was performed several times in the San Francisco Bay Area and was seen and heard by thousands.
By the late 1970s the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound under curator Barbara Eick Sawka had become a functioning collection, and there in 1982 Wodehouse ran across George Gershwin's 1924 recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the Whiteman Band. She was intrigued because Gershwin's up-tempo, raggy performance was so unlike the romanticized performances now the norm. This lead to her extended study of Gershwin's performance style, and gradually to transcribing the composer's phonograph solo piano recordings of his unnotated performances of ten of his popular songs. She began transcribing them in 1983 and by 1987, eight of her transcriptions were published by Warner Bros. Publications. The high degree of interest in her published Gershwin Improvisations lead Wodehouse to continue with her Gershwin research, and she applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities independent scholar grant to study Gershwin's some 140 piano rolls. She was awarded a grant for 1989-90.
Wodehouse's Gershwin piano roll research fortuitously coincided with the reappraisal of Gershwin's standing in the history of American music and the astonishing developments in computer technology occurring during the 1990s. To facilitate her research and, fortified with the National Endowment grant money, Wodehouse forged an alliance between roll collector Michael Montgomery (who then owned most of the Gershwin piano rolls) and various rising computer companies (Micro-W, Coda Music Software, Custom Music Rolls) to convert Gershwin's original paper rolls to MIDI data and publishable scores. This was the first time that piano rolls had been so converted. Yamaha Corporation of America grasped that this pioneering translation of old (paper piano rolls) to new (computer data) could be a useful way to highlight the company's then new-to-the-market computerized piano, the Yamaha Disklavier. The Yamaha Disklavier is essentially an updated version of the player piano, an acoustic piano fitted with a computer than can cause the piano to play in ghostly fashion, the keys moving up and down triggered by computer data instead of a paper piano rolls. However, going beyond the capability of the early piano roll technology, the Disklavier can also record a pianist in real time in such as way that the performer's dynamics and idiosyncratic note timing are captured in the Disklavier's computer. Yamaha called a press conference in February 1990 to highlight this "new" Gershwin music transformed by modern computer technology that could be played by the Disklavier. As a result of this single press conference, worldwide media interest was aroused in Wodehouse's project. In short order, Wodehouse accepted Robert Hurwitz's (Nonesuch) offer to make a definitive recording of the Gershwin piano rolls She worked on the Gershwin recording project full time for two years. The first volume, Gershwin Plays Gershwin was released late 1993, and to date has sold nearly a half million copies. The second volume was released in 1995. The phenomenal commercial success of Gershwin Plays Gershwin gave Wodehouse financial freedom for a period of 10 years. She used this situation to complete several related projects.
The first of these was a series of CD releases of piano roll music. All the piano rolls for these projects were performed on the Yamaha Disklavier, but recorded in the conventional manner, i.e., with a microphone placed strategically in front of the Disklavier grand piano. Each CD represented a new stage in her approach. For the Gershwin rolls, Wodehouse used a 1911 Pianola push-up harnessed to a Disklavier to perform the non-expression Gershwin rolls (rolls originally manufactured for the player piano that lacked interpretive nuance), in the process adding her own informed expression. For the Morton roll project (Nonesuch, 1997), Wodehouse did away with the Pianola, transferring expression to Morton's rolls using Morton's own unique performance style that she extracted from his 1920s phonograph recordings of the same tune titles. This approach was made possible by certain developments in computer technology that had occurred in the 1990s. Finally, for the Zez Confrey Piano Rolls and Scores CD (Warner Classics, 2003), Wodehouse freely added expression into Confrey's rolls that had previously been converted to computerized format. To round out the Confrey CD she also recorded into the Disklavier her own hand-played performances for which Confrey had published scores, but made no roll recordings. Wodehouse then sequenced the roll and hand-played performances one after the other on the finished CD. Her goal was to make a recording that represented the best of Confrey's piano music in so seamless and interpretively refined a fashion that the listener would not be aware of any difference between the roll and the human performance.
From 1995 through 1998 Wodehouse produced a 7-CD series of historic reissues on the Pearl label featuring the inventive and virtuosic performance of Gershwin's composer/pianist contemporaries. The series, called Keyboard Wizards of the Gershwin Era drew upon the personal collections of dozens of 78 phonograph disc collectors from across the United States. For each of the CDs she invited the most knowledgeable scholar to write the liner notes in order to provide the fullest documentation to date regarding the beautiful music created by these nearly forgotten composer/ performers.
Finally, Wodehouse completed two additional folios of sheet music; her edited and arranged edition of Gershwin's Piano Rolls (Warner, 1995) and her transcription of Jelly Roll Morton's Piano Rolls (Hal Leonard, 1999).
In 1998, Wodehouse began to play the organ and commenced formal studies with John Lettieri, who prepared her for the American Guild of Organists certification that she obtained in 2000. In the course of these studies, Wodehouse in 2000 serendipitously ran across a little 4-octave Mason & Hamlin foot-pump reed organ in a dumpster. Her acquisition and subsequent restoration of this instrument lead her to learn about and purchase several other foot-pump reed organs: an Estey Artist Model Z from 1916, a Mason & Hamlin Style 86K with pedal point of 1918, a single-manual Mason & Hamlin Liszt Organ from 1888 and two Yamaha reed organs from the 1950s. In the autumn of 2006 she acquired a two-manual European harmonium made by Trayser in order to round out her ability to perform the plentiful but little-heard music written for this instrument. Highlights of her performances on these instruments to date include Arthur Bird's 10 Pieces Op. 24 for the American Harmonium at Merkin Hall in New York City, Liszt's Via Crucis at Montclair State University New Jersey sponsored by the American Liszt Society, and the First Book of Vierne's Pieces in Free Style Op. 24 at Yamaha Concert Artists recital hall in New York City. In July, 2008 she joined the Mostly Mozart Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center in Schoenberg's chamber music version of Mahler's Das Lied Von Der Erde under Louis Langree.