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Harry Reser

In this episode, Archivist Maureen Nevins and Canada's History Editor-in-Chief Mark Reid listen to two recordings that both feature displays of virtuosic talent on two very different stringed instruments: the banjo and the violin. "A Banjo Song" also includes a remarkable vocal performance, while "The Last Rose of Summer" from 1916 is the earliest recording to be featured on the podcast so far.




Mark: Can you tell us about the author and lyrics of this song?
 
Maureen: A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Maria Howard Weeden was born in 1846. The youngest child of Dr. William Donaldson Weeden, a physician and cotton planter, and Jane Eliza Books Urquhart, she was afforded the luxury of plantation life.  Miss Weeden would receive a fine education and show an early interest in art.  Her artistic ability would play a critical role in her family’s well-being when the Civil War left them in financial ruin. Maria Howard Weeden, who signed her works “Howard Weeden” started out as an illustrator of other writers’ works but gradually began to illustrate her own poems. Before her death in 1905, she would publish four volumes of poetry and illustrations: Shadows on the Wall (1898), Bandanna Ballads (1899), Songs of the Old South (1901), and Old Voices (1904).  Her watercolours and poems depicted life among freed slaves in the Reconstruction-era South. The poem A Banjo Song, the twelfth in her first book Shadows on the Wall reads:
 
I plays de banjo now
Dan him dat taught me do,
Because he plays for all de worl’,
An’ I jes’ plays for you.
 
He learns his chunes― I jes’ lets down
A banjo-string or two
Into de deepest of my heart,
An’ draws up chunes for you.
 
Slowly dey comes swingin’ up,
A-quiv’rin through an’ through.
Till wid a rush of tinglin’ notes
Dey reaches light ―an’ you.
 
I never knows if dey will shine
Wet wid tears or dew;
I only knows dat, dew or tears,
Dey shine because of you.
 
Mark: What about Sidney Homer, the composer who set the poem to music?
 
Maureen: Sidney Homer was a prolific composer, having created 103 songs which were extremely popular during his lifetime and included on many American singers’ programs. Almost all were published by G. Schirmer, a New York-based music publishing firm. Perhaps naturally, Homer turned to song writing after marrying the great American contralto Louise Beatty in 1895. He was in the unique position of having his songs performed by his own wife and by other great artists of the time. But although his songs were at one time well-regarded and often performed, today they are all but forgotten. It was a friend who suggested that he set some of Howard Weeden’s poems to music, and these poems inspired some of Homer’s most unusual creations. The five songs were published in 1910 both as a set and individually and a few of them became immensely popular, including A Banjo Song

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Music: A Banjo Song, music by Sidney Homer, lyrics by Howard Weeden, performed by Florence Easton (soprano), Harry Reser (banjo) with orchestra
Recorded: 24 October 1925, New York, Brunswick Records
Released: Jauary 1926
 
Mark: The recording we have just heard features soprano Florence Easton and Harry Reser on the banjo. 
 
Maureen: Florence Easton was a singer of exceptional versatility, with an extraordinary gift for music coupled with musical intelligence that placed her above many other singers. She was scrupulous with her interpretations and always superbly prepared, and few sopranos of any period have sung a wider repertory than Florence Easton. Born in England, she grew up in Canada and, after marrying American tenor Francis Maclennan, became a U.S. citizen. Her recordings enshrine the virtues of great singing.  Immaculate tone, clean attack, seamless legato, smooth dynamic control, clear diction—can be heard in almost every record she made. Her recordings document the achievement of a soprano who set a standard for the highest level of musicianship and polished artistry. They form the musical legacy of one of the great singers of the 20th century.
 
Harry Reser was an American banjo player and bandleader, and is recognized as one of the best banjoists of all time. At the outset of his career, he played in dance bands in his hometown of Piqua, Ohio but moved to New York City in 1921, where he quickly became a sought-after recording session musician. Reser’s numerous 1920s recordings proved that the banjo, thought of strictly as a rhythm instrument, was in fact a solo instrument in its own right.
 
Mark: And the recording itself?
 
Maureen: This particular recording of A Banjo Song was made by Brunswick Records in New York in October 1925 and released in 1926 on a 78 rpm disc. 

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Kathleen Parlow

Mark: Can you tell us about the author and lyrics of this song?
 
Maureen: The Last Rose of Summer is a poem by Irish poet, singer, songwriter and entertainer Thomas Moore, who is regarded as one of the most important poets of the early 19th century and the Romantic era, alongside such names as Byron and Shelley. It was written in 1805 while Moore was at Jenkinstown Park in County Kilkenny, Ireland. The Last Rose of Summer is typical of his work and is a demonstration of the reasons why he was so successful. It a beautifully simple poem in which a single, surviving flower is used as a metaphor for the sadness of being left to carry on alone after the people we care for have gone.
 
Mark: And who set this set the poem to music?
 
Maureen: Moore’s poem was set to an old Irish folk tune by his collaborator, the Irish musician Sir John Andrew Stevenson (1761-1833). The tune he used was The Young Man’s Dream, also sometimes known as The Groves of Blarney. In fact, Stevenson is perhaps best known for his piano accompaniments for Moore’s lyrics to a series of Irish tunes in the manner of Haydn’s setting of British folksongs. The Irish Melodies were originally published in ten volumes and a supplement between 1804 and 1834. The song was an instant success and remains popular today, with new versions being recorded by major artists regularly.

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Music: The Last Rose of Summer Irish Melody, lyrics by Thomas Moore, performed by Katheen Parlow (solo violin) with orchestra
Recorded: ca 6 Apr 1916, New York, Columbia Phonograph Company
Released: between Jun and Jan 1916
 
Mark: Now, the recording we have just heard is purely instrumental; rather than words with piano accompaniment, it is an arrangement for violin solo with orchestral accompaniment. Can you explain? 
 
Maureen: There are a number of beautiful arrangements for violin of The Last Rose of Summer. This particular recording features Kathleen Parlow who in her day, was considered to be one the best violinists in the world and was among a mere handful of musicians who attained prominence and who represented Canada internationally on the concert stage.  Born in Calgary in 1890, Parlow completed her studies with Leopold Auer at the St Petersburg [Leningrad] Conservatory, made her professional debut in Berlin in 1907, and then toured world-wide. Returning permanently to Canada in 1941, she taught at the Toronto Conservatory and founded The Canadian Trio and the Parlow String Quartet.
 
Mark: And the recording itself?
 
Maureen: This recording by Kathleen Parlow of The Last Rose of Summer was recorded and released in 1916 by the Columbia Graphophone Company in New York on a 78 rpm disc. 
 

 

Posted: 22/11/2016 11:03:57 AM by ANDREW WORKMAN | with 0 comments
George Wade and his Corn Huskers

George Wade and his Corn Huskers in the CFRB studio circa 1930 (Wade is second from right)
Source: Canadian Antique Phonograph Society

In this episode, Archivist Joseph Trivers and Canada's History Editor-in-Chief Mark Reid discuss the meaning of the word "vamp" and the role it played in a naughty jazz age song. Then, they treat us to a rollicking reel that got its name from a popular pub game of the time.

You can listen to the podcast below, or find us on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Don't forget to subscribe so you won't miss any future episodes!




Episode Transcript


Mark: Well, today you might say we’ve got a real darb of a song we’re going to explore in this podcast.

Joseph: Yes. Some of the folks listening to this might even think that it’s jake or the bee’s knees.
 
Mark: As you might guess from some of the slang and phrases we’re using, the song “I like to do it” was written and recorded in the Jazz Age – the roaring 20s. 

Joseph: That’s right, and some of that same slang also finds its way into the lyrics of this song.
 
Mark: I was wondering about that, but could you first tell me, is it my imagination or could the phrase used in the title of the song “I like to do it” have the same connotations as we know it today? 

Joseph: I’d say it does, and a closer look at the lyrics suggests that this is definitely the case, or at least, that the singer likes to engage in the act of flirting and seduction that will lead to sex. Aside from the phrase “I like to do it” the most repeated word in the entire song is vamp. The word vamp can have a couple of different meanings depending on its context. The first meaning is either a woman who seduces men or is an aggressive flirt. In the second meaning, the word vamp could also mean to seduce or flirt. In the lyrics of the present song, the latter meaning is the most pronounced, with additional sexual overtones. In the chorus, you have the words, “you stamp and paw the air, while you vamp, vamp, vamp some lady there.” The singer also sings of how he likes to do that “salty vamp”. Finally, you hear the repeated phrase “vamp a little lady” which seems to suggest both of the meanings we mentioned earlier. The singer also expresses that this flirting makes him “want to sing, make love and everything.” It’s pretty overt, but also rather playful and deliberately naughty.  
 
Mark: Was this kind of overtness typical of some of the music of the day or even the songs written by Byron Gay, who wrote both the lyrics and music of this song? 

Joseph: I think it taps into some of the social and artistic dynamism and shifting sexual mores of the time. Certainly, Byron Gay’s career benefited from this time period and his contribution of songs in musicals by L. Frank Baum and his writing for Broadway and vaudeville. Gay had moved from Los Angeles to New York with his wife in 1917 to help further his song writing career. In the year 1919 he wrote one of his biggest hits called The Vamp which appeared as a dance number in vaudeville houses in the Greenwich Village Follies of 1919. For our purposes, this song The Vamp is pretty interesting because it uses the same line “vamp a little lady” almost identically as it is used in the song I like to do it. The rhythm is the same, but the melody changes somewhat. There is also an extant recording of The Vamp on Victor Records from 1919 that featured the vocals of Billy Murray on it.
 
Mark: Billy Murray – is this the same singer on our present recording of I Like to do it?

Joseph: Yes it is, and it could be argued that Billy Murray was also critical to some of Gay’s early success. Murray had recorded a version of Gay’s song The Little Ford Rambled Right Along and helped make it an early hit for him. 
 
Mark: Was Billy Murray that popular a singer?

Joseph: He was indeed. Murray was nicknamed the Denver Nightingale and recorded for all of the major phonograph records of the time such as Edison, Victor, Columbia, Zonophone, Leeds and Caitlin, American and the International Record Company. He was particularly famous for his comedy songs and also appeared in vaudeville productions. Murray was a specialist in humorous matrimonial and ethnic dialect songs. He had developed his singing style in order to be recorded in acoustic records, a process he himself called a “hammering style” which had him almost yelling into an acoustic recording horn. 
 
This helped his voice stand out and be hear in acoustic recording sessions. Acoustic recording was the mode of recording prior to 1925 and had singers and instrumentalists performing in front of a flared metal horn which gathered and funneled sound waves toward a thin diaphragm at the small end of the horn. The sound waves caused the diaphragm to vibrate, and the vibration made a stylus etch sound waves onto a blank wax rotating cylinder or disc. A performer required a great deal of ingenuity to create a successful acoustically recorded sound.  Murray didn’t enjoy as successful a recording career after 1925 a combination of various factors including the advent of the electric microphone and shifting musical tastes. Murray’s singing style didn’t work as well with the electric microphone and he would be forced to adapt his technique to sing with it.
 
Murray possessed a clear tenor, singing voice, and sang with excellent diction and enunciation often couple with a more conversational delivery. In some of his comic, songs, he even sang deliberately flat to help heighten the sense of comedy.
 
Murray had been in contract with Victor and Edison until 1919, after which he would freelance with the major labels. He would later re-sign with Victor in July, 1920. This freelance work allowed Murray to record with Berliner records in Montreal and is what makes the present record special to LAC’s collection. The present recording was of a series of records he made that were only released in Canada. It was made in 1920 and shows Murray employing all of the tricks and techniques that ensured his success as an entertaining performer and acoustical recording artists. In the present song we hear every word clearly and deliberately. We hear him approach the words conversationally, as well as interject other vocal effects to increase the comedic effects of the lines. 
 
Mark: Is there anything else to which we should pay attention while we listen to the song?

Joseph: I think the song has a really funny structure from a lyrical standpoint. Murray starts out singing, “This is the first verse / the second verse is worse / The next thing before is the chorus” and that’s it for the first verse. It lasts only two lines before launching into a chorus that lasts almost a full minute! There is also a brief bridge toward the end of the song. All in all, I think that it’s best to sit back and enjoy what Billy Murray does for effects, such as lingering on certain vowels and words to heighten the comedy.

I Like To Do It Label

Music: I Like to Do It by Byron Gay, performed by Billy Murray
Recorded: ca 1920, Montreal, QC, Berliner Gramophone
Released: May 1920

Mark: The title of this song tells us that it’s a reel. Could you tell us a bit about what a reel is?

Joseph: The word reel comes from Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic words meaning to whirl. It’s an indigenous and old Scottish dance, and historically was qualified by terms like threesome, foursome, sixsome and eightsome to indicate the number of dancers. One of the earliest references to the term actually appears in 1590 in a report of the trial of the witches at North Berwick. How fitting that we’re now talking about a tune called the Devil’s Dream!
 
For our purposes, the term reel both refers to the folk dance type in either Scottish country dancing or Irish dance, and to the accompanying dance tune type.  The reel was introduced to Ireland from Scotland in the late 18th century, and was probably introduced to North America through Irish and Scottish settlers. According to the Grove Dictionary of Music, the reel is the “staple musical fare for square-dances, though in the central and southern USA it is often known by the name breakdown or hoedown.” 
 
Musically speaking, the reel is notated in either 2/2 or 4/4, meaning it’s either two beats or four beats per measure and follows a pretty standard structure. There are usually two parts to the tune, A and B, and in most cases each part is repeated. This means you’d have a structure like AABB. Each part is typically 8 bars long, so with an AABB pattern, the basic structure would normally accumulate to 32 bars in length. Normally, this pattern is repeated three or four times before a new reel, a new tune is introduced.
 
 
Mark: Does this reel, The Devil’s Dream as performed by George Wade follow this same structure?

Joseph: Yes it does follow this same structure the first time the band plays through the two sections. In this recording, the reel begins and follows the pattern we just talked about: AABB. But then the pattern changes. Instead of going back to A again after hearing the B section, the band repeats the B section another two times before returning to the A section again. This is where things get a bit more interesting musically speaking in the fiddle line, as the fiddler Jean Carignan begins to add subtle variations to the melodic line like skips, slight changes in directions and trills. These add to the excitement of the music. Throughout the piece, the rest of the band, composed of banjo, piano and bass, maintains a steady and consistent rhythmic and harmonic background to which the fiddler can weave his melody and variations. 
 
 
Mark: This reel seems to have two different titles, The Devil’s Dream or The De’il Among the Tailors. Could you elaborate on that?

Joseph: According to the resources I checked such as the Fiddler’s Companion, or books like A Companion to the Reticule in 1830 or Dance Music of Scotland in 1852, the same tune has been known as The Devil’s Dream, De’il Among the Tailors or even Satan’s Nightmare. Sources indicate that the tune was written in the late 18th century and may have been notated as early as 1800. It is a tune that has enjoyed enduring popularity in Scotland, Ireland and North America ever since it was written.
 
I’d like to draw particular attention to the title “The De’il among the Tailors” because it refers to the name of a pub game which is a form of table skittles.  Skittles is an old European lawn game and a variety of bowling from which ten-pin and five-pin bowling are descended. The purpose of the game is to use a ball to knock down the skittles. These are similar in shape to bowling pins. The game of which we’re speaking, Devil among the Tailors, refers to a table-top version of skittles in which one spins a wooden ball hanging from a vertical post in order to knock down nine small skittles arranged in a 3 x 3 square. I think this is a great image to help us picture the reel itself. Instead of dancers whirling around, we can have a ball whirling in a circle around its vertical post. The music of our reel certainly inspires images of a whirling nature.   
 
Mark: We’ve heard about the music, but could you also comment about George Wade and his Cornhuskers, the performers on this recording?
 
Joseph: Certainly. According to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, George Wade and His Cornhuskers was the most popular Canadian country band of its day. They were based out of Toronto, and performed at dances in Ontario and Quebec from the mind-1920s to the 1940s. They enjoyed a long performing career and performed on radio broadcasts on CFRB, a Toronto radio station still in operation, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, precursor to the CBC, and finally on the CBC itself. The band also toured in Western and Atlantic Canada. George Wade and his Cornhuskers also recorded several 78s for RCA Victor, recording 13 in 1933 alone. The personnel on the recordings ranged from 4-15 musicians playing on instruments such as fiddles, banjos, guitars, piano, bass, the harmonica and Jews’ harp. It’s important to note that Mr. Wade was the caller in this ensemble, meaning that his job was to call or prompt new dance figures and tunes during the course of the dance. Wade himself didn’t play the fiddle, but did on occasion play the harmonica.
 
Mark: Any concluding remarks?
 
Joseph: Perhaps a personal reflection of sorts. I was in high school when the first recordings of Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie McMaster were being released and ushered in a new wave of interest in traditional Celtic and fiddle music. I can also remember the Tommy Hunter Show on TV when I was younger. Looking back at historical recordings by George Wade and His Cornhuskers reflects the continuity of certain musical traditions throughout our recorded legacy in Canada. I like the fact that we’re able to trace Canadian involvement in a musical tradition stretching back almost 100 years in our recording heritage, but also back centuries in a musical and dance tradition.

The Devil's Dream Label

Music: The Devil's Dream performed by George Wade and His Corn Huskers
Recorded: 1925, Montreal, QC, Victor Talking Machine Co. of Canada
Released: 1925
 
Posted: 15/09/2016 11:24:47 AM by ANDREW WORKMAN | with 0 comments


Oh, Boy! That's the Girl! The Salvation Army Lassie—Keep Her on the Job, 
George M. Richards, 1918
Source: Portland Art Museum, 20.59.73

In our debut episode, Archivist Rachelle Chiasson-Taylor and Canada's History Editor-in-Chief Mark Reid guide us through the fascinating histories of two very different music recordings: A popular love song from the First World War that centres around a romantic encounter involving doughnuts; and an excerpt from a classic recording of a baroque masterpiece that had originally been released for the phonograph as a monstrous 36-disc set.

You can listen to the podcast below, or find us on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Don't forget to subscribe so you won't miss any future episodes!



Episode Transcript


Mark: Tell us about the context for this song, and its content.

Rachelle: During World War I, the Salvation Army workers served coffee and doughnuts to soldiers in the trenches. Rations were poor so the doughnut idea was conceived as a means of bringing the soldiers cheer. These doughnuts were actually called doughboy donuts. As for the content, it’s the story of a chance encounter between a Salvation Army doughnut cook, Jill, who encounters a soldier, Jack, on the French front. It’s love at first sight for Jill and Jack; their love is so strong that everyone around them comments in the refrain: “Doughnut Jill loves Doughboy Jack /and just as soon as they get back/they’ll steal away on their wedding day/ to the little house that Jack has built for Jill/I say they will. So it’s a humorous love song from WWI that combines Salvation Army doughnut cooking with the nursery rhymes Jack and Jill and, as you can tell from the lyrics of the refrain, the cumulative English nursery rhyme This is the House that Jack Built. Quite a tour de force! Interestingly, the couplets are sung by O’Hara’s tenor voice to words that are obviously those of a woman, Jill.

Mark: Can you give us some information about the author of this popular humorous WWI song?

Rachelle: The song’s author is a fascinating character: Nova-Scotia born and Montreal-educated Gitz Rice. As a youth, he earned the nickname "Gitz" due to his limping gait, but this didn’t prevent him from enlisting in the army on the exact day Britain declared war on Germany in 1914. He began writing songs during training, mostly poking fun at the training procedures. He also organized the first World War I concert party for servicemen in France! Rice joined Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Comedy Company as a piano player, and survived the war to become a prominent vaudeville musician.  One of his clearest war memories was the time when he saved a piano from destruction, and this surely deserves to be recounted here:  "I shall never forget, in one town, stealing a piano out of an old house that was being shelled. The piano would have been destroyed anyhow. We got a wagon, put the piano on the wagon, and drove down a road where thousands of infantry boys were lined along the sides. I couldn't keep my fingers from the keys, and started to play as we went along. There were shouts, cheers, and singing, and one English soldier came up to me in all seriousness and said: 'What is the idea of the celebration? Has peace been declared?' Of course, I had to answer the negative."

  Gitz Rice
 
Lt. Gitz Rice and Canadian troops in France
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Music Collection © Public Domain nlc-4465

Mark: How about the performers, tenor Geoffrey O’Hara and pianist Willie Eckstein?

Rachelle: Both were extremely popular, gifted performers, and also extremely successful. O’Hara hailed from Chatham, Ontario and enjoyed a long and academically successful career in the United States as a songwriter, composer, singer, teacher, lecturer, army singing instructor, ethnomusicologist, pianist and guild organizer. Montreal-born Willie Eckstein, also known as “The Boy Paderewsky” or simply “Mr. Fingers” was, to quote the Library and Archives Canada’s Virtual Gramophone website, so slight in stature that he could not serve in the army, but stood as a giant among Montréal's popular-music pianists from the very earliest days of ragtime and jazz in Canada (from VG site). He was refused the opportunity to serve in the armed forces because of his height, which was under five feet (around 150 centimeters). Music became Eckstein's contribution to the war effort; he composed songs such as "Goodbye Soldier Boy" (1917), and performed at war rallies.
 
Mark: Tell us a bit more about the recording itself.

Rachelle: Here, in short, we have a trio of supremely talented Canadian musicians whose work served the dual purpose of encouraging Canadian troops in the war effort, and enriching the early recording industry with their imaginative and highly popular contributions. For O’Hara and Eckstein this activity continued after the two world wars. The song Doughboy Jack and Doughnut Jill was recorded on the Montreal Berliner Gram-O-Phone company label around 1919. It is a 78 rpm, 10 inch monaural sound disc.

Mark: Any concluding remarks?

Rachelle: The First World War was a time of great international conflict but also the source of a great quantity of popular patriotic songs written by Canadians. In the face of hardship, it is often human nature to respond with humour and levity. A prime example of laughter, hope, and imagination in the midst of despair and adversity is the song Doughboy Jack and Doughnut Jill by Gitz Rice, performed by tenor Geoffrey O’Hara and pianist Willie Eckstein. The song also revives and interesting detail of the war effort, the Salvation Army doughnut campaign. It also references two nursery rhymes that must have been highly popular at the time and evidently, still are. This song can thus be taken as a witness of cultural context and wartime practices combined with a humorous narrative of hope and of better days ahead. 

Doughboy Jack and Doughnut Jill Label

[Music: Doughboy Jack and Doughnut Jill by Gitz Rice, performed by Geoffrey O’Hara and Willie Eckstein.]

Mark: This is an interesting example of how a monumental work of the baroque era, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah was issued on 36 separate 78 rpm 12 inch discs, of which this aria is the 11th. Can you tell us more?
 
Rachelle: Yes, well that, and many other things about this recording are very interesting. The concluding section of this number from Handel’s Messiah (written in 1741) is part of a historic performance of the full oratorio by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus conducted by Thomas Beecham. It was made in 1927 – during the period between the two great wars – but has enjoyed an astounding longevity and is still being reissued today. It crops up on everything from formal reissues on established record labels to other supports, such as Spotify or ITunes. Evidently, it was a gigantic hit and the fact that it endures to this day is a tribute to its artistic merits, especially in this day and age of historically-reconstructed performances of baroque music. Of course, today it is available on compact disc and mp3 files and other digital supports, whereas back in the 1920s you probably had to rent a cart and horse to carry the 36 discs home, to listen to Messiah in sections on your gramophone player!  Listening to music could be rather an elaborate thing compared to today.
 
Mark: This excerpt is from a recording made in London, England, performed by a British orchestra and conductor, sung by an Australian baritone, and manufactured by the Columbia Phonograph Company in New York. Is there anything Canadian about it?
 
Rachelle: There are in fact many relationships between this recording and Canada. The first and most obvious relationship is that another soloist on the Messiah recording is the tenor Hubert Eisdell, who settled in Canada and enjoyed a huge success on the concert stage in both England and Canada. Second, one must understand that the classical music scene, and especially the scene involving opera and oratorio singers, was a global phenomenon. At the centre of classical music performance was Sir Thomas Beecham (of the powerful Beecham Pharmaceutical Company family) and Beecham was a great champion of Canadian-born singers, who in turn definitely made their mark on European classical music. Great Canadian singers Kathleen Ferrier, Lois Marshall, Pierrette Alarie, Raoul Jobin, Jon Vickers, and many others owe much to him. It is no wonder that Library and Archives Canada would have acquired this primary source as it must have been purchased by many Canadians who had a taste for this repertoire and the means to buy the set. This was an exceedingly popular performance of a hugely popular work. And Messiah is, of course, still an essential part of Canadians’ classical music experience.
 
Mark: Anything more to add about the performer, Harold Williams?  
 
Rachelle: Like many gifted singers, both classical and popular in this period, Harold Williams’ singing talent was brought to public notice – perhaps paradoxically so –  through the First World War effort.  When Willilams sailed in the Argyllshire in May 1916 as a corporal in the 9th Field ambulance, he also entertained mates with vigorous ballads. He saw action in France and Belgium and along the way was transferred, no doubt because of his talent and charisma, to the Australian army entertainment unit, "Anzac Coves". On leave in England in 1918, Williams sang at a private party at Sheffield and was noticed by a number of musical luminaries who were keen on encouraging him to embark upon a classical music career. He began formal music studies, entered numerous competitions, and made his début recital at Wigmore Hall, London. The rest is history. He lived until 1972.
 
Mark: Tell us a bit more about the recording itself.
 
Rachelle: The excerpt we will hear is take 4, side A of disc 11 in a 78 rpm, 12- set of 36 discs recording the complete Messiah by Handel and totalling 2 hours of play. The set was manufactured in October 1927 by the Columbia Phonograph Company of New York, the recording’s primary label. The master version was made on wax cylinder and recorded on July 1st (another Canadian connection!) 1927 in London, England featuring Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the BBC orchestra and choir, with soprano Dora Labbette, alto Muriel Brunskill, tenor Hubert Eisdell, and baritone Harold Williams. The excerpt is from the bass aria of Part 1, Scene 3, number 11 entitled “The People that Walked in Darkness Have Seen a Great light”, sung by Harold Williams. 
 
Mark: Any concluding remarks?
 
Rachelle: The performance on this excerpt is a fine example of the aesthetic approach to Handel’s masterpiece in the earlier 20th century: the phrasing is seamless, the timbre, smooth and melifluous, the tempo, regular, and the balance between voice and orchestra definitely favouring the voice while showcasing the orchestra in tutti passages. The performance would have been considered as “cutting edge” at the time the recording was released, and given Messiah’s popularity, would have been the subject of much enthusiasm, debate, and interest in many middle to upper class Canadian households during the interwar period. 

The People That Walked in Darkness Label

[Music: excerpt from Handel’s oratorio Messiah, “The people that walked in darkness (conclusion).  Performed by Harold Williams, bass baritone, with the BBC Symphony orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.]

Posted: 07/07/2016 6:00:00 AM by ANDREW WORKMAN | with 0 comments

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