Two incredibly rare US 78rpm recordings featuring music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Piston and more
unthinkably esoteric material from Pristine; this time from mid-1940s
USA - Pristine and their collaborators have delivered a virile and
vivacious result" - MusicWeb International
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.
Recorded 11 December 1945, narration recorded circa June 1946.
Transfers from Artst Records set JS 10, 1101-1110
Narrator Edward Arnold
Chorus director Hugo Strelitzer
Janssen Symphony of Los Angeles Werner Janssen
1. Creation (Nathaniel Shilkret) (9:36)
2. Adam and Eve (Alexandre Tansman) (10:06)
3. Cain and Abel (Darius Milhaud) (5:10)
4. Noah's Ark (Mario Castenuovo-Tedesco) (9:42) [NB. See Below]
5. The Covenant (Ernst Toch) (5:12)
6. Babel (Igor Stravinsky) (5:23)
7. Postlude (Arnold Schoenberg) (5:44)
Recorded live, Symphony Hall Boston, 8 April 1944
Transfers from Office of War Information vinyl 78s "Contemporary American Series No. 34"
Disc numbers 1009-1 - 1009-4
Boston Symphony Orchestra
G. Wallace Woodworth conductor
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, September 2011
Front cover artwork detail from Artist Records 78rpm cover (uncredited)
Pristine Audio is grateful to Al Schlachtmeyer for the generous donation of these discs
Total duration: 75:32
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."
MusicWeb International Review
Pristine and their collaborators have delivered a virile and vivacious result
More unthinkably esoteric material from Pristine; this time from mid-1940s USA.
The highly-coloured Genesis Suite was the product of music entrepreneur and composer-conductor Nathaniel Shilkret. It’s a luxury composite - a series of choral and orchestral musical panels. The Hollywood golden age East Coast complacent narration weaves in and out of the music. This high-flown Heston-style staginess works well and it’s very agreeable. You need to leave your cynicism at the hat-check.
The movements and their composers are:-
1. Creation (Nathaniel Shilkret) [9:36]
2. Adam and Eve (Alexandre Tansman) [10:06]
3. Cain and Abel (Darius Milhaud) [5:10]
4. Noah's Ark (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco) [10:20]
5. The Covenant (Ernst Toch) [5:12]
6. Babel (Igor Stravinsky) [5:23]
7. Postlude (Arnold Schoenberg) [5:44]
The Shilkret Creation is glowingly and glaringly scored in the film industry’s most extravagant style. Tansman - entrusted with the story of Adam and Eve - is largely in the same region with writing that touches on Ravel at his most Daphne verdant. Cain and Abel is a shorter movement from Milhaud - silver screen dusted but rustically reminiscent of his orchestral suites. Noah's Ark is the work of Castelnuovo-Tedesco whose concert idiom was a mete choice for this suite - he suited Shilkret’s project like a gold lamé glove. His Violin Concerto No. 2 recorded by Heifetz and Perlman is entitled The Prophets. The contented Covenant panel is by Toch and is as short a movement as that by Milhaud. In this land there are as yet none of the troublous thoughts encountered by Job. It ends in a magnificence of fanfares. Babel is by Stravinsky. Not only can you hear the whole suite on the Naxos/Gerard Schwarz reconstruction of the Genesis Suite. It is also included in the major box of Sony’s complete works with the narrator there being John Colicos. Unsurprisingly there is more tension, punchiness and angularity in this writing. There’s more of that to come in Schoenberg’s concluding Postlude. Shilkret clearly knew no fear when choosing such uncompromising figures for the commission.
The original discs are in a distressed state but Pristine and their collaborators have delivered a virile and vivacious result though not without fragility and some spalling still in evidence. The scoring is cinematically opulent but can be heard in modern sound on a Naxos Milken Archive disc.
Walter Piston's Second Symphony was written in 1943 and was premiered on 5 March 1944 by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Kindler. The reading presented here for the first time on CD is its second performance recorded under the auspices of the US Office of War Information. The Piston Second is one of his most endearing and moving works. The style is temperate and full of the noble life of the great outdoors. Its euphoric confidence I link with that also found in another American Second Symphony - the one by Randall Thompson (Sony - Bernstein; Koch - Schenck). The dynamic winged flight of Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra sometimes also comes to mind. In the big soulful second movement we might also think of Barber’s Adagio. The finale is explosive, adrenaline-fuelled and foot-tappingly kinetic. I have loved this work since hearing the version - again played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1970 - conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (DG: LP 2530 103; CD: 429 860-2). I am not sure that MTT has been topped not even by Gerard Schwarz (Delos DE3074 and then Naxos). The sound, rescued from a battered set of vinyl 78s, is a bit crumbly but enthusiasts will want to hear this rare and rewarding item.