Two incredibly rare US 78rpm recordings finally available
Featuring music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Piston and more
Original Sleevenotes (Artist Records 78s)
The massive concept of setting to music the first chapter of the Bible occurred to Nathaniel Shilkret, Composer and Conductor, after a survey of public opinion made while he was manager of the Victor Recording Co. He decided that so tremendous a project should be shared by leading contemporary creators and carefully selected and commissioned composers he considered best fitted to expound the various subjects.
"My colleagues," Shilkret declared, "have approached their task in a spirit of the most profound reverence. Their devotion is apparent in the music they have created."
The separate movements have been composed in complete independence, the composers each proceeding with their individual portion without reference to or knowledge of each other's work. The sole connecting link is the narrator, Edward Arnold, who delivers the Biblical story.
A detailed analysis of the individual movements is impossible because of space restrictions, since elucidation of their intricacies would involve a wealth of detail. Each is partly descriptive, partly psychological, yet each illustrates its portion of the spoken narrative, and is therefore easy to follow.
1. Creation • Nathaniel Shilkret
(Born New York City, January 1, 1895)
This episode is divided into two distinct parts, the first treating of the initial aspects of the Bible story, the second beginning with the words, "Let there be light."
2. Adam and Eve • Alexandre Tansman
(Born Lodz, Poland,June 12, 1897)
The tale of the Garden of Eden is expounded. The approach of the composer to the conception of this chapter of the Genesis is rather atmospheric than descriptive. He tried to express the mood of each particular part of the text through lyrical means of expression and by solely musical work. The work could be formally considered as a Suite with a series of fast and slow movements, framed by a slow Introduction and a robust Coda.
3. Cain and Abel • Darius Milhaud
(Born Aix-en-Provence, France, September 4, 1892)
The story of discord andviolence is deftly underlined in music.
4. Noah's Ark • Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
(Born Florence, Italy, April 3, 1895)
The first of this episode's two portions illustrates events leading to the Flood; the second portion tells of the Flood and its subsidence.
5. The Covanent • Ernst Toch
(Born Vienna, Austria, December 7, 1887)
The story of Noah's debarking, and of the covenant that no further flood should occur.
6. Babel • Igor Stravinsky
(Born Oranienbaum, Russia,June 5,1882)
The concluding movement of the work tells of the confusion brought about by various languages. The music is in cantata form, with a "Greek chorus" supporting narrator and orchestra.
7. Postlude • Arnold Schoenberg
(Born Vienna, Austria, September 13, 1874)
This deals instrumentally with the opening words of the Bible, impressively establishing a devotional mood.
About My Babel Cantata
By Igor Stravinsky, Hollywood, California, November 5, 1945
"For those who are not very familiar with my compositions, knowing my name only by the reputation of my earlier works such as the Firebird, Petrouchka or the Rite of Spring, my Babel-a Cantata for Chorus with Orchestra and a Narrator—will present itself probably as a casual, an isolated work which has little to do with my previous compositions, with my actual features as a composer. This feature presents itself in an entirely different aspect to those who know my musical mind and my symphonic work, especially such as the Symphony of Psalms, the Melodrama Persephone or the Opera-Oratorio Oedipus-Rex, to mention only these capital compositions of my catalogue, compositions never played in Los Angeles. Yet the acquaintance with but these compositions could easily explain my bent toward musical forms cultivated by the best musical brains of all times. Therefore the approaching performance of my Cantata among other compositions of the Bible collected of Mr. Nathaniel Shilkret by the brilliant company of Werner Janssen Symphony seems to me most opportune and I welcome it."
For more background to the suite, see below under "additional notes"
Notes on the recordings:
The two works presented here were both conceived and written at around the same time in the USA. Walter Piston's Second Symphony was written in 1943 and received its first performance on 5th March 1944. The present recording is the symphony's second performance, which took place about a month later and was preserved by the US Office of War Information for distribution to its Overseas Branch on vinyl 78rpm discs, which would have been broadcast to forces serving during World War II. Vinyl was still in its infancy, quality-wise, but was preferred for its lightness and unbreakability by comparison to shellac 78s. The discs themselves were "to be destroyed at the termination of the emergency", yet a rare set survives from which I have taken the present transcription. A great deal of work has been necessary to overcome surface noise and distortion, so although the tone is full and the performance enjoyable, the listener will have to allow at times for the shortcomings of the original media. That said, given the sound heard on the discs themselves during initial transfer, it is astonishing what modern restoration technology has permitted me to achieve.
The Genesis Suite was conceived in 1943 and written by its various composers between 1943 and 1945. It is known to have received two live performances, and the present recording was made shortly after the première. The project was overseen by its creator, composer Nathaniel Shilkret, who had planned to sell the completed recording to one of the major record companies. Unfortunately these companies failed to show interest in the project, and Shilkret went into partnership with some businessmen associates to create "Artist Records", who pressed and issued the recording.
Its success was limited, to say the least, and financial irregularities and a falling out caused Artist Records to be wound up, sales halted and remaining stock to be destroyed, leaving the very few existing sets of this release as among the rarest commercially issued 78rpm album sets in the USA. Thereafter the orchestral recording, which had been recorded separately from the narration, was issued with a new narrator on a Capitol LP, copies of which are also rare enough to fetch three-figure sums today. By all accounts the new narrator was no Edward Arnold! The Genesis Suite quickly fell into neglect.
A resurrection of the piece took place early in the 21st century with a recording issued by Naxos of a reconstructed version of the piece, following evidence that most of the parts had been destroyed by fire. It now appears that original copies do still exist in the Shilkret archive, as prepared by Shilkret, as is the original score as submitted by Castelnuevo-Tedesco in 1944. The work has also received a further live performance, which took place in 2008.
In its original form, the work opened with Schoenberg's "Prelude" movement, but fearing a hostile response to the music's perceived difficulty and modernity, Shilkret repositioned it on the final disc (alongside the other "difficult" composer, Stravinsky") and retitled it "Postlude" for the Artist Records release. He also apparently felt his own "Creation" movement, which now took first place, was far preferred by audiences (even though at this stage it had only had one performance!) - Shilkret's letters suggest he was not a man overcome by modesty. I have elected to retain the running order and titling as presented on the Artist Records 78s.
The discs themselves are not perhaps the finest pressings in the history of shellac. Many of the openings presented difficulties in replay which may still be heard, together with high initial surface noise, making side joins particularly tricky. Thereafter in general the sides were fine. The aural tone of Edward Arnold's narration changes significantly between works, and this has been retained.. XR remastering has helped to enhance and fill the orchestral tone, which retains a distinctly 1940s Hollywood flavour, especially in some of the more filmic movements.
Notes from Wikipedia
Genesis Suite is a 1945 work for narrator, orchestra, and chorus. A musical interpretation of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis, the suite was a collaborative work by seven composers, some of whom wrote film music in Hollywood. The project was conceived of by Nathaniel Shilkret, a noted conductor and composer of music for recording, radio and film. Shilkret wrote one of the seven pieces and invited the remaining composers to submit contributions as work-for-hire. Two giants of western twentieth century music, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky wrote, respectively, the first and last parts. The Biblical text used in the spoken word narrative is the American King James Version. It was intended to be a crossover from art music to popular music.
|Movement||Title||Composer||Bible text||Timing - Angel||Timing - Naxos|
|I||"Prelude - Earth was without form "||Arnold Schoenberg||5:32||5:53|
|II||"Creation"||Nathaniel Shilkret||Genesis 1:1-12, 14-31, 2:1-3||9:29||11:07|
|III||"Adam and Eve"||Alexandre Tansman||Genesis 2:5-10, 15-25, 3:1-19||9:58||11:32|
|IV||"Cain and Abel"||Darius Milhaud||Genesis 4:1-16||5:03||4:46|
|V||"The Flood" ("Noah's Ark")||Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco||Genesis 6:5-20, 7:1-4, 11, 18-19, 21-24, 8:1-13||9:37||11:03|
|VI||"The Covenant" ("The Rainbow")||Ernst Toch||Genesis 9:1-17||5:07||5:36|
|VII||"Babel"||Igor Stravinsky||Genesis 11:1-9||5:12||5:37|
Shilkret conceived of the Genesis project while traveling with his friend Rex Schepp, perhaps around 1943. A letter from Nathaniel Shilkret to his son dated 9 February 1944 indicates that music for four of the parts had already been written (although not necessarily delivered to Shilkret) and that contractual matters with Stravinsky were holding up the writing of his part. A letter from Shilkret to Béla Bartók and a 24 July 1945 letter from Janssen to Shilkret (see the commons for copies) indicates that Bartok had received a down payment for writing the "Prelude" and, as of July 1945, was preparing the work. According to Shilkret, Bartok did not do his task due to ill health, andManuel de Falla and Richard Strauss had also been approached in connection with the project at some point, but declined. Paul Hindemith is described in the above referenced 9 February 1944 letter from Nathaniel Shilkret to his son as an alternate if Stravinksy declined.
In a personal letter dated 26 November 1945 from Nathaniel Shilkret to his wife (see the commons for a copy), Shilkret gives insight into his purpose in writing the piece and his thoughts on the resulting work:
"However, let me explain the original purpose of the Bible Album. It was never intended to be a work of musical art. If I prepared the Album for musicians I would not have done it with narrative, but like an oratorio---all singing---this would have put me in competition with Haydn's Creation---Bach---Handel etc. I would, even if I were successful musically, have sold about 500 Albums.”
"It would have been silly to have attempted such a work. My idea is strictly one for the masses---I wanted to appeal to all record buyers.”
"I admit that Schoenberg, Strawinksy, Milhaud and maybe Toch did the artistic job away from Hollywood influence, but my number received more applause [at the premiere performance] even from the concert audience. Tansman (not strictly a Hollywood composer), Tedesco (also not too Hollywoodish) and I did a more operatic style of scoring.”
"In fact, so successful was my score at the concert that we [Shilkret and Werner Janssen, who conducted the premiere concert performance and was shortly to conduct the premiere recording] are changing the order of the records. Instead of starting with Schoenberg and scaring the buyer, the album starts with Shilkret--Creation 2 sides... We leave the futuristic music of Strawinsky and Schoenberg for one double faced record and at the last.”
"The critics didn't dare to criticize the 2 giants Strawinsky and Schoenberg because they didn't understand them. Schoenberg's music is so ultramodern and in the 12 tone scale that even you with all your experience will think that the cat is just jumping all over the piano---It is a great piece of music but oh---so new in sound.”
"My appeal is to record buyers---not only music lovers of the ulta modern type but to all buyers and lovers of music and the bible.”
"If you think that Shilkret, Tedesco, Tansman and Toch wrote cheap music, you are mistaken---of course we used some dramatic tricks but you'll find them modern and beautiful---What is wrong in writing music to accentuate the scene or words---Wagner did it all the time. We do it in picture music because it is effective. For ordinary people even our music is strange and modern.”
The premiere performance of the Genesis Suite was by the Janssen Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles, Werner Janssen conducting, on 18 November 1945 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. The program, which includes the complete list of orchestra personnel for this performance, is reproduced in the archival edition of the Shilkret autobiography.
An anecdotal event related to the premiere performance is that the rehearsal the day before the concert is one of only two times that Schoenberg and Stravinsky, whose mutual dislike for each other is well-known, were together. Shilkret gives details of how his plans to keep them separated went awry.
The premiere recording, on 11 December 1945 of the orchestral track was also by Janssen conducting his orchestra, and a separate track was made for the choral part directed by Hugo Strelitzer. A track with narration by character actor Edward Arnold was made circa June 1946. Shilkret and Janssen made these recordings at their own expense, with Janssen expecting that RCA Victor would publish the recordings, but RCA exercised its option to decline. An offer from Capitol Records was turned down. Janssen, together with some businessmen friends, had formed Artist Records record company, and the Genesis recording, with the three tracks merged, was issued under the Artist label as Album JS-10. As Shilkret had indicated in the letter cited above, the Schoenberg piece was renamed "Postlude" and was the last piece in the album.
The "Weekly Feature Concert--New Recordings” program of Los Angeles radio station KFAC played the recording of the Genesis Suite on 7 February 1947. A KFAC flyer with their 5--7 February 1947 programming and a note from Janssen to Shilkret indicating that the suite was played in its entirety are reproduced in the archival edition of the Shilkret autobiography.
The Utah Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Janssen, with narration again by Arnold, performed the Genesis Suite on 9 February 1947 in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Press reviews of the concert and correspondence from Janssen to Shilkret regarding the performance are reproduced in the archival edition of the Shilkret autobiography.
Janssen conducted the Portland Symphony Orchestra and the Portland Symphonic Choir, again with narration by Arnold, circa December 1947. Press reviews and relevant correspondence from Janssen to Shilkret are reproduced in the archival edition of the Shilkret autobiography.
Problems with Artist Record company led Janssen and Shilkret to stop sales by Artist and destroy existing stock in order for Capitol Records to issue the Genesis Suite as Album P8125 and P8125Y-Z. Schoenberg's contribution was restored to its first position and a new narration track was dubbed circa December 1950. A 1951 royalty statement in the Shilkret archives notes “Advances: One-half of $500.00 fee paid to Ted Osborne for narration.” This album was reissued in 2001 in CD format as Angel Records 67729.
A completely new recording of the Genesis Suite was made in December 2000 at Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted byGerard Schwarz and featuring the Ernst Senff Chor. The narration was by acting stars Tovah Feldshuh, Barbara Feldon, David Margulies, Fritz Weaver, and writer Isaiah Sheffer. The recordings were made from recreated scores. The liner notes state that the only copies of five of the scores were destroyed in a fire in Nathaniel Shilkret's home in the 1960s. There was a fire in his son Arthur Shilkret's store at 55 Church Street, Malverne, New York on 26 October 1973 (documented in the 1 November 1973 Malverne Times, a copy of which is reproduced in the archival edition of the Shilkret autobiography). However, full scores prepared by Shilkret of all seven parts are still in the Shilkret archives as well as Castelnuevo-Tedesco's original signed submitted score, dated 11 March 1944.
The Genesis Suite was performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, accompanied by the University of Washington Chorale, with narrative byF. Murray Abraham and Patty Duke on 29 and 31 May 2008.
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_Suite