by Steve Lancaster 10/12/17
Gustav Mahler, 1860-1911, was the last of traditional composers of the 19th century. His First symphony, composed in 1887/88 is a capstone to the late romantic period of classical music with numerous themes, some of which also appear in Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth). Like many composers in Europe Mahler traveled to America. With his death in 1911 what was left of traditional classical music also died. Although, the style continued for a while in the USSR with Sergei Prokofiev. What happened to all the musicians, composers and conductors post WWI?
Quite simply, they went west, far west, following Dvorak, and Mahler in the mid 30s Erich Wolfgang Korngold moved to Hollywood. In 1935, he composed and directed the score of Captain Blood, followed by The Adventures of Robin Hood, Anthony Adverse, The Sea Hawk, and Kings Row. In the classical tradition Korngold and others, Miklos Roza, Dimitri Tomkin followed suit.
On Broadway 100 years ago, music was mostly minstrels with catchy songs. Then Asa Yoelson discovered in New Orleans, jazz; and as he said, “you ain’t heard nothing yet”. Alongside the patriotic songs of George M. Cohan, Over There, Grand ol Flag, and Yankee Doddle Dandy. There was Jolson in the first talking motion picture (1929), singing jazz often in blackface. Breaking ground for other artists, and composers and lyric writers, like Rogers and Hammerstein. Some of the most notable, Oklahoma, South Pacific and of course, The Sound of Music. For Rogers, the sound track to Victory at Sea. This was a brief time when ABC, NBC, and even CBS maintained full symphony orchestras.
The ability, in the 20th century, for an individual to listen to music of his own choice in his own home created one of the great intellectual freedoms of the 20th century. By the 30s it was common to listen to the best performers of the day on either the radio or Victrola. The class exclusion of the formal concert was broken forever. John Q. everyman could listen to the greatest orchestras performing the greatest music of the West, Bach, Beethoven, and all the rest. And, with the introduction of jazz, a truly American music form, popular music transitioned from June/Swoon to Cat Scratch Fever in less than 75 years.
The easy availability today to download for only a few dollars the best of the art, even recordings made 100 years ago, digitally cleaned of flaws and enhanced to a more pristine listening form has revolutionized the experience. It should not be a wonder to any of us that our children and grandchildren have the earplugs in and are not listening to us. We can and should try to insist that they have more discretion. Music in all its forms, except perhaps some of the most offensive hip, hop/rap/gangster forms holds memories for all of us.
I recall my parents listening to Glen Miller, the Dorsey’s and of course, ol blue eyes Sinatra. The era they lived is long gone, depression, unemployment and war, but also swing, hot jazz and the beginning of rock can all be relived with a simple download. Our dreams and or memories are tied irrevocably to music.
Some of my best memories are of the late 70s and the mother of my oldest son. We never married, but in small ways with some of the music we shared we are still together almost 50 years later. My taste is more traditional and hers more contemporary. One of her favorites was a 1968 hit by, of all people, Richard Harris; MacArthur Park. One stanza she said was a favorite:
There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it
I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me looking at the sun
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life
You’ll still be the one
In 1979, she moved with our son and my blessings, to Israel. She never married, and was murdered by a Palestinian just outside of Jerusalem in 96, she was only 36 years old. Our Son is now a Colonel in the IDF and we have three grandchildren in Tel Aviv. Diane lives in my memories daily and as I age many faces grow dim, but when I hear the music they loved; the sights, smells, and pleasures of the moment return. I would not trade it for anything.