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Help Needed With Music In FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933)


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I'm hoping that there are folks on this board who are familiar with early movie musicals, especially Warner Bros. musicals from the '30s.

 

Specifically, in one of the early scenes from the 1933 film Footlight Parade, with James Cagney and Joan Blondell, a couple of musical/comedy stage producers named Frazer and Gould take Kent (Cagney) to a movie theater where an "oriental" prologue number follows the feature film.

 

Can anyone tell me what the music that accompanies this prologue is called? I've been all over the web, and everywhere I look people know all about the Warren-Dubin and Fain-Kahal numbers in the picture, but I can't find one reference to this tune.

 

In addition to Footlight Parade, it has also been featured in a number of WB cartoons over the years, almost always in a scene that takes place in a Middle Eastern/Arabian setting.

 

Can anyone out there help?

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OK -

This is an educated guess and a stab in the dark at the same time.

 

I pulled Footlight Parade off the shelf and know exactly which piece of music to which you are referring in your question. And the cartoon usage also has my interest piqued.

 

As the music has a very pastiche / homage quality to it, I am beginning to think it is a early tin pan alley novelty melody and one that may be in the Warner Brothers publishing catalogue. (Though it could be a public domain "title" also.) Carl Stalling of Warners Cartoon composition fame "quoted" often from songs in the company's publishing catalogue. Something tells me that it was a popular tin pan alley melody with the title "The Sheik Of Araby" which was often quoted in Warners Cartoons and may be the tune in Footlight Parade.

 

from wikipedia -

"The Sheik of Araby" is a song that was written by Harry Smith, Francis Wheeler and music by Ted Snyder in 1921. It was composed in response to the popularity of the Rudolph Valentino film The Sheik.

 

It was a Tin Pan Alley hit, and was also adopted by early jazz bands, especially in New Orleans, Louisiana, making it a jazz standard.

 

That this song was written in 1921 makes it a perfectly timed piece to include in both cartoons and Footlight Parade. It has lyrics that fit the melody that is heard in Footlight Parade (I am the Sheik Of Araby. You're love be - longs to me) and it was popular enough as a hit in its own right that people know and understand the melody as an homage to 'harems" or "snake charmers" (a common reference in cartoons) with out the need for the lyrics.

 

That is my educated "stab in the dark". There are recordings available of "The Sheik Of Araby" to test my theory. You are on your own with verifying my hunch.

 

I hope this is the title you are looking for. I do have two collections of Carl Stalling soundtrack recordings for the Warner Brothers cartoons and will read the liner notes to see if I can find a reference to the 'arabian" melody but a quick scan didn't yield anything encouraging.

 

I also want to check the background of a gentleman named Raymond Scott that Carl Stalling often quoted.

 

I'll keep you posted

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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lzcutter -

No. It's not "Shanghai Lil".

Close your eyes and imagine any cartoon scene with a arabian character sitting in front of a basket holding an oboe-like instrument and is about to play a melody to charm the snake out of the basket. THAT is the melody that we are searching for!

In Footlight Parade it is used as the music to a "prologue" of a group of harem girls dancing on stage.

 

Help Me!

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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OK lzcutter -

Forget what I wrote below. That isn't it at all. See this link and then try to forget you heard it -

http://www.shira.net/streets-of-cairo.htm

That is the typical snake charmer melody.

 

Now I am struggling to keep the melody I am looking for fresh in my mind. ( I feel like a character in The Lady Vanishes! )

 

But this melody was often used as background in a Middle Eastern Bazaar or such to set the mood. If you have Footlight Parade handy, pull it out. The scene happens in the first five minutes.

 

kjk

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Before I give up for a while, I have this bit of info to offer up for someone else to try and research.

 

Search online for a recording of the song "At An Arabian House Party" preferably by the aforementioned Raymond Scott.

 

Raymond Scott was an avant-garde / absurdist composer who wrote many strange melodies for his quintet. They were all purchased by Warner Brothers in the early thirties and became staples in the scores Carl Stalling wrote for the Warners cartoons. (It goes to reason that the entire music dept at Warners would use them too.)

There is a recording of his 'songs' -

The Music of Raymond Scott: Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights -

 

http://shop.vh1.com/The-Music-of-Raymond-Scott--Reckless-Nights---Turkish-Twilights-Cartoon-Music_stcVVproductId392312VVcatId424163VVviewprod.htm

 

http://www.amazon.com/Reckless-Nights-Turkish-Twilights-Raymond/dp/B00001R3H7/ref=pd_sim_m_4/102-3106266-2741703

 

and one of the numbers is titled "At An Arabian House Party".

 

At this point, this may be my last, best hope for finding the theme MickeyFender is looking for. If it isn't "The ShiekOf Araby" or Raymond Scott's "At An Arabian House Party", I dont think we'll ever find out for sure.

 

With my fingers crossed someone else can verify one of these titles is the theme in Footlight Parade...

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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Kyle,

 

The Raymond Scott song is similar in nature but the piece from Footlight Parade is slightly different. The Scott song features horns and such and the piece in question is much lower and uses drums.

 

The piece in question reminds me of some of the incidental music from Casablanca.

 

Running out to my special dinner, will try to do more sleuthing when I return!

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Kyle and lzcutter,

 

Thanks for getting on that so quickly. Kyle, I went to allmusic.com and checked out Shiek of Araby, but unfortunately that wasn't it. I get the distinct feeling that it's either a classical piece or, as you suggested, a piece of WB stock music, of the kind that was often mined by Carl Stalling (and evidently others) for use in just these kinds of situations.

 

A composer who was well-known for this kind of music -- well, as well-known as one can get, I guess -- was a guy named J.S. Zamecnik. He actually wrote stock music for silent films, for all kinds of situations, from plaintive scenes, death scenes, chases, storms, stereotypical ethnic mood-setting scenes, you name it. Hundreds of them.

 

Zamecnik's listed on warnerchappell.com as one of their songwriters, and ascap.com shows all his stuff being published by WB as well. And I know of one of Zamecnik's "western" tunes (In the Stirrups) that was used over and over by Carl Stalling.

 

So I was thinking that perhaps the tune's one of his, or from someone like him. But that's as far as I've gotten. After that, I'm just guessing.

 

But I want to say that I appreciate your efforts. If anything comes up, let me know, and I'll let you know if I hit on anything else.

 

Michael

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lzcutter -

I assume you went to the Amazon page. If it isn't the "Arabian Party" melody, maybe it is one of the other "oriental"-ish titled numbers -

- Twilight In Turkey

- The Quintet Plays Carmen

 

Aw, heck. Give a listen to them all. If a melodic number can be called "DInner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals". it could be just about anything.

 

Thanks for lending a hand, Lynn.

 

kjk

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I felt so helpless, reading this thread at work and being unable to access my copy of Footlight Parade and my Raymond Scott discs (though I have some Scott numbers on my IPod at work).

 

Now, home at last, I've listened to the Footlight Parade snippet; only a short phrase that's repeated, before being relegated to underscoring behind Jimmy Cagney... Since I hadn't listened to Mr. K's links [until now], I expected it to be the "Hootchy-Kootchy" number which you've already ascertained it is not.

 

Often these passages are references to earlier "classical" numbers that trigger an association for the audience. Something from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scherazade, for instance, would have been appropriate here. But no... I checked "Yasmini" and "Rajah"; both were themes that were used in The Little Rascals series (along with the aforementioned "Hootchy-Kootchy" or "Snake Charmer's Song") in similar situations. Alak...

 

I'm really wondering if it was just a theme quickly jotted down for this scene using the Hungarian Minor scale, to lend an air of exoticism. I also wonder if the original poster was thinking of the very-similar-yet-quite-different "Hootchy-Kootchy" number when he entered his query.

 

Ah, sweet torture!

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Of course JackBurley has Raymond Scott discs!

 

I appreciate your help and your expressed frustration. I hate being "stuck" all alone. I really thought I coud dig this one out - somehow.

 

I am at a loss to guess where to even begin searching from this point forward. If Raymond Scott is off the table, I will likely be of little help. But I did learn alot about Raymond Scott this afternoon. And I am listening to my Stalling Collections tonight for the first time in years. Interesting accompaniament to Metropolis, that's for sure.

 

I don't think MikeyFender/Michael is confused about the theme he is looking for.

 

If you have an ideas to share, JB, please do. I am tapped out.

 

And what prompted you to own a set of Raymond Scott recordings? I am so impressed.

 

kjk

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Kyle,

 

It should really not surprise us (though it always does) that JB had the Raymond Scott discs. It's one reason I want JB to visit us down here in the Southland as I think we would have a wonderful day of exploring old Hollywood and sharing stories.

 

Anyways, back to the song.

 

I have Footlight Parade tivo'd and cued up to that particular scene. The beginning of the piece in question is very similar to "The Whirling Dervish" (from our fave Garden of the Moon) it then seques (cross fades) into a more oriental sounding piece. But the beginning is sounds like every movie that takes place in Morroco, the Foreign Legion, etc.

 

Do you or JB know when "Whirling Dervish" was written or first recorded?

 

By the way the John Wayne early oater that Cagney and the Producers are watching, looks like an actual work print copy with the fade marks drawn in grease pencil. You can see the fade marks as the curtain is going down but the scene is not actually fading down.

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lzcutter -

 

I just listened to both the numbers and am trying to figure out if the melody of the "prologue" matches the song "Girlfriend Of The Whirling Dervish". I am intrigued because the "Egyptian" start of the instrumental does resemble the chord structure of the opening lines of the song and when the prologue changes to a bit of a more rhythmic section before returning to the "Egyptian" theme, it reminded me of the change in rhythm in "Whirling Dervish" that occurs with the following lines -

 

But ev'ry night, in the mellow moonlight,

When he's out dervishing with all his might,

She gives him the run-around.

 

Here's the hiccup -

Footlight Parade came out in 1933. Garden Of The Moon came out in 1938. That's not to say that melodies couldn't have been floating around for use before they had lyrics or before they were put in a film later. But I don't know.

 

Perhaps the melody and "The Whirling Dervish" are based on the same classical theme. I am not Classical Music literate so I really can't follow that path.

 

 

MickeyFender / Michael -

I have a suggestion. The curator of the site http://www.harrywarren.org/ was by here last week and posted about Harry in a different thread. But I haven't seen him here since. He is a scholar on Harry Warren and a rather knowledgable fellow on music in general. He may be the best person to approach with your question. He seems like a really nice man so I wouldn't be hesitant to contact him for help on your quest. (Maybe you already have. You seem to have devoted a lot of time on this before you brought it here for help.) Let us know if you do and what you hear back. There is a contact link for him at the above website.

 

lzcutter -

Leave it to you to take notice of John Wayne in the short film clip. (And the editing marks on top of it.) It is a clip from an actual movie of the era. I found out the following when researching Footlight Parade last week. (from the tcmdatabase - http://www.tcmdb.com/title/title.jsp?stid=3122 )

 

from the AFI Notes on the page -

- The movie that is playing at the theater visited by Cagney's character early in the story is the 1933 Warner Bros. film The Telegraph Trail , starring John Wayne, Marceline Day and Frank McHugh.

 

And I bet you have seen it, haven't you?

 

kjk

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MickeyFender -

I strongly suggest you listen to "The Girlfriend Of The Whirling Dervish". I am no musician but there are some real similarities worht checking out. If you are a musician, you will be able to deconstruct the chords and bars in a way that may make more sense to you than to lzcutter or me. (Of course, that is dependent on being able to find a recording of the song to hear in the first place. The film in which it is featured is pretty rare.)

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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"And what prompted you to own a set of Raymond Scott recordings? I am so impressed."

 

To really understand this, you must first realize that I'm a "freak". My collection of recordings is rather large and very electic. Though I often seem to forget that I'm a freak, I'm often reminded as people often ask, "how [or worse -- "why"] do you have that recording?!" upon realizing that I'm listening to "Mary Schneider Yodels the Classics" or "Marcel Marceau Speaks!". My first thought is always, "Doesn't everyone have this?" And then I realize that no, most people might not have a section of their cd collection devoted to the theremin... More's the pity.

 

My home answering machine greets callers with recordings, and it changes every day depending on what's going on in my life. "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" was on last Thursday, in honor of TCM's screening of Garden of the Moon; if you called today, you'd hear Martin Luther King telling us about his dream. It's been pointed out to me that just having it change everyday is unusual enough, but callers often seem to be surprised by what they hear. Certainly tomorrow no one will be surprised to hear Jane Powell singing, "Goin' Courtin'" when they realize that it's my first day of jury duty?

 

So Raymond Scott? Doesn't everyone have a Raymond Scott section? His famous work, "Powerhouse" never grows tiresome; and "The Toy Trumpet" brings fond memories of Shirley Temple dancing with Jack Haley and Alice Faye. I was pleased to see that Mr. K also has the Carl Stalling disks. Aren't they delightful?

 

Oh Ms. Cutter, "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" was written for the movie Garden of the Moon. Oh! And thanks for bringing up the John Wayne movie. I wondered if anyone would know what this clip was from... Thanks to Mr. K for sharing the answer.

 

I know that a recording of "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" does exist, because I own it (I assumed everyone had it! "Sheesh, what a freak."). It came out in a three-lp set of Warner Brothers Studio soundtracks. And actually there were two three-lp sets: Fifty Years in Film and Fifty Years in Film Music; one featuring music from non-musicals, the other obviously from musicals.

 

And I repeat, one can write any melody using the Hungarian Minor Scale (or a similar mode) and create a piece similar to the theme we've been searching for. It was also known as the "Gypsy Minor Scale" [but I can't imagine musicologists still use this term). It's a form of the harmonic minor scale that contains two intervals of a step-and-a-half rather than the usual one. Tchaikovsky's March Slav used this device, if you want another example...

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I know that a recording of "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" does exist, because I own it (I assumed everyone had it! "Sheesh, what a freak."). It came out in a three-lp set of Warner Brothers Studio soundtracks. And actually there were two three-lp sets: Fifty Years in Film and Fifty Years in Film Music; one featuring music from non-musicals, the other obviously from musicals.>>

 

Jack,

 

When they first came out, I bought the 50 Years in Film and the separate Fifty Years in Film Music. I lost my copy of the 50 Years in Film but thanks to Ebay was able to replace it in vinyl.

 

Come to the Southland, I will keep Footlight Parade tivo'd and you and me and Kyle and filmlover can debate this piece of music back and forth throughout our tour of Old Hollywood.

 

My dream would be that we meet up with Larry who joins us on our journey of Old Hollywood and keeps us in stitches with his stories.

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JackBurley wrote -

"I know that a recording of "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" does exist, because I own it (I assumed everyone had it! "Sheesh, what a freak.")"

 

lzcutter -

Do you want to tell him or should I?

 

JackBurley,

How many folks call your home just to hear the new outgoing message each day? I know I would.

 

I wasn't quite sure of the significance of your first "Hungarian Minor Scale" citation. I thought it must mean something to a trained music person but to a lay person, such as myself, for all I knew it was a reference to a SAG contract for Teenage Film Extras in Budapest. That's due to my ignorance and not your explanation., "ya freak". (I am still impressed. Maybe even more so.) But it makes more sense to me now. Thank You.

 

I think you will get a kickout of this story. I often have the TV tuned to sporadic broadcasts of a satellite channel called "Classic Arts Showcase". (Video clips from a wide variety of arts programming beamed to any non-commercial channel that may want to rebroadcast them.) I was typing away and looking at this monitor when I suddenly heard the theme from The Third Man. I turned and actually saw the composer Anton Karas performing the piece on his zither. What a treat! And I learned that the zither is a very uniquely constructed instrument. One gets the idea that it is some kind of mandolin from the opening title sequence of the movie but it really isn't. I can only describe it by saying it is like a mandolin broken in two with the neck segment layed along side the body part with a separate section of strings for each part - the "neck" and the 'body" - which are played simulateously. I was fascinated. I felt so odd after seeing it as I didn't know anyone who would have enjoyed this rare film. But I think you are someone who would have been equally thrilled to catch this rare clip too. Comrade!

 

And did you see my recommendations for celebrating your first TCM anniversary?

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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"How many folks call your home just to hear the new outgoing message each day?

 

My answering machine has developed somewhat of a following... before the days of caller ID, I often wondered who was calling and hanging up all the time. I felt like Barbara Stanwyck, except that my bed jackets wasn't as elaborate. Once I got caller ID I realized they weren't wrong numbers, but friends just checking the machine. One summer I had a "serial": each day there'd be a new 30 second installment of the brilliant Ruth Draper monologue The Italian Lesson. It took about three months to get through the entire monologue.

 

I love Classic Arts Showcase! If weren't watching TCM I'd be watching CAS. Wouldn't it be a dreamy position to curate for that PBS feature? And of course you're right; I would have been thrilled to see the Anton Karas piece. I have the soundtrack on cd (doesn't everyone?). Listening to it evokes images from the movie with great clarity.

 

And yes, I'm suffering -- in advance -- from the morning after your celebration concept!

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I felt like Barbara Stanwyck, except that my bed jacket wasn't as elaborate.

 

Ahh...Now there's an idea for an anniversary present!

 

"My first thought is always, "Doesn't everyone have this?"

Well. we may not be "everyone", but Lynn and I a couple of 'someones" with the WB sets.

 

Happy (if that is the right phrase) Jury Duty.

 

kjk

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"Marcel Marceau Speaks!".

 

I just KNEW somebody else had the other copy of this LP! Found it a few months back (no, I didn't buy it new back when, not this one). A "real" Lp, with jacket notes, etc., recorded on both sides, much more heavily at the end of each side, so I knew already what to expect.

 

You guessed it: 18 minutes (I think) of, basically, silence; followed by vociferous applause!!!!!!!!!!!! On each side!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

As I said, at least two copies were apparently sold and not recalled.

 

Also, I have probably 20 or so of Scott's 78s, maybe one LP, and I was fairly certain I had bought the Columbia/Legacy CD, but I don't find it in the collection so far.

Good luck (whichever way you want it!) on jury duty.

Bill

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... an "oriental" prologue number follows the feature film. Can anyone tell me what the music that accompanies this prologue is called?

 

Well, I've been reading and thinking about this all along; finally found my copy of "Footlight Serenade," and .....

 

Well, it's none of the things that have been brought up so far. It sounds like Scott, but it's certainly not the two things that have been mentioned. It sounds a little like Saint-Sa?ns, but not anything I've found yet. It sounds most, to me, like Ket?lbey, but if it is, I haven't found it. (You know, the "In a Persian Market" fellow. Just in case you're thinking, ah, "Mystic Land of Egypt," nope - not that, either.)

 

While we're on the subject (maddening tunes we can't figure out) - anybody ever notice that the beginning of the main title melody to "FS" is exactly the same (for a measure or so) as the beginning of the song, "Swanee": to the words, "I've been away from you a long time...."? [if you read this a while ago, I got mixed up and was thinking it was the intro to "San Francisco"; not the first time I've misfired on that particular segment - guess it's ingrained in me by now! Sorry for any earlier confusion.]

 

I wouldn't have thought so, but Carl Stalling was "in films" by then, and scored "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" for 1934 release, so it IS possible (though that was an Iwerks film, not specifically WB), that he wrote our melody/arrangement.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006298/

 

Raymond Scott's earliest credit is 1937 ("Ali Baba Goes to Town," no less!) - "Twilight in Turkey." If it's not that number (and I can't get to that part of my 78s right now), then....

 

Bill

 

Message was edited by: me, because I make the same stupid mistake every couple of years!

Bill_McCrary

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Hi Bill McCrary -

Thanks for jumping in on this thread. Hopefully you can bring something new to the search. You certainly seem to be able to do so, so far.

 

I am still laboring under the idea that "Whirling Dervish" has a "bridge" that is too similar in chords, intervals and structure to be ignored. I hope MickeyFender does try to reach the Warren expert (and '30s historian) at Harrywarren.org . Maybe he'll be able to figure it out. Hopefully he understands the Hungarian Minor Scale that JackBurley is so knowledgable of.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if any of the ideas put forth so far do lead to the solution - or that all of these ideas are way off base.

 

Grasping at straws, Guy Kibbee states in the sequence that the featured film running after the prologue is titled "Slaves Of The Desert." In that vein, could this be a theme from "Aida" ("Aida" is about a slave girl, right?) Are there other classical pieces that inlude "slave markets"?

 

Remember Bill, Raymond Scott's compositions were bought by WB in the early/mid - thirties but I think they were all composed earlier. So while he wasn't getting credit before 1937, he did write the themes earlier. I am bowing to JackBurley's expertise on Raymond Scott on this one.He has a library of Scott albums for reference.

 

If you can help figure this out, even I will be thankful.

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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Aida was an Ethiopian princess who'd been captured and enslaved to work as the maid to the Egyptian king's daughter [Amneris]. But alas, this ain't Aida -- not Verdi's anyway. Maybe it forshadows Elton John... ;)

 

Raymond Scott was born Harry Warnow. His older brother, Mark, was conductor of the CBS Radio Orchestra, and brought Harry in as piano player. Mark began promoting his brother's compositions, but didn't want it to look like nepotism, so they chose the name -- Raymond Scott -- out of the Manhattan telephone directory. He started the Raymond Scott Quintette in 1936. By the way, there were six people in the "Quintette"! He said that "quintette" had a "crisp" sound to it and "'sextette' might get your mind off music"... Some of the recordings that I have are dated as early as 1934 and 1935. Warners licensed Scott's tunes in 1941.

 

By the way, check out the prologue (yes again)... doesn't "Whistler's Mother" look like a very young Dorothy Lamour? Is that possible?

 

Oh, and Mr. McCrary has something in the similarity between the theme song (which is actually a snippet of "Shanghai Lil") and the intro to "San Francisco". Though the melody is an inversion of the other, it has the same melodic rhythm. They're quite similar.

 

And has anyone mentioned that there's a later scene in Footlight Parade where Prologue Mata Hari and Evil Seductress, Claire Dodd lures Cagney away from Joan Blondell with the inspiration for a piece about African slave girls. Hepped up Cagney rushes to the piano and starts playing the Snake Charmer's song...

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JackBurley wrote -

"And then I realize that no, most people might not have a section of their cd collection devoted to the theremin... More's the pity."

 

JB (my "Theremaniac" friend) -

No need to pity anyone from now on. Unless they let this chance pass them by.

 

From the NYTimes 21Jan2007-

 

From the Archives, Just for Theremaniacs

By DANIEL J. WAKIN

 

IN 1927 The New York Times reported from Berlin about an astounding recent invention: a box with a brass rod and ring that, when the inventor moved his hands around them, produced a violinlike sound of “extraordinary beauty and fullness of tone.”

 

“He created music out of nothing but motions in the air,” the article said.

 

The inventor was Leon Theremin (born Lev Termen), a young Russian scientist whose fascinating life would later include spying for Soviet intelligence, serving time in a Siberian labor camp and inventing a host of things, including electronic bugs, an early television and an electronic security system at the Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y. But his legacy lives on principally in the device named after him: the theremin, which introduced the age of electronic music.

 

Though it bombed as an instrument for the masses, partly because it is so difficult to play, Hollywood embraced it. The theremin, with its otherworldly, sliding woo-woo sound, was prominent in science fiction movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and in other films, notably Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and Billy Wilder’s “Lost Weekend.”

 

It captivated Robert Moog, who began building theremins before inventing his pioneering synthesizer in 1954. A well-received 1994 documentary, “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey,” revived interest, and the theremin has since had renewed popularity in pop and rock bands.

 

But early on, the theremin also had a life in concert halls, thanks mostly to the woman considered its greatest virtuoso, Clara Rockmore, who died in 1998 at 88. Ms. Rockmore, a former violin prodigy, created a whole technique of playing. She performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, played Town Hall, had works written for her, toured with Paul Robeson and gave recitals — many with her sister, the noted pianist and teacher Nadia Reisenberg.

 

Mr. Moog persuaded Ms. Rockmore to put her artistry on record. A recording session in 1975 led to her first album, “The Art of the Theremin,” released on LP in 1977 and containing 12 numbers. Three decades later 13 previously unheard cuts from that session are available in a new release on the Bridge label, “Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album.”

 

The original theremin, first sold by the RCA Corporation, looks like a small wooden lectern with a vertical antenna on one side and a horizontal loop antenna on the left. Hand movements cause changes in the electromagnetic field around the antennae. The right hand moving near the vertical antenna controls pitch; the closer it moves, the higher the tone. The left hand, next to the horizontal loop, controls volume; the closer it moves, the softer the sound. (About half of the original 500 RCA theremins are believed to have survived, according to the Web site thereminworld.com, which has a registry of instruments and fascinating stories about their survival.)

 

With nothing but air to touch, there is no independent guide for where pitches lie. The body must remain still to avoid disrupting the tones. “You have to play with butterfly wings,” Ms. Rockmore is quoted as saying in the booklet notes. “Playing the theremin is like being a trapeze artist without a net underneath.”

 

The new CD will captivate theremaniacs (there are plenty out there) and anyone open to a cool musical sound. But it will also appeal to classical-music lovers. Ms. Rockmore’s playing is deeply musical, and she performs with all the expressiveness of a violinist trained in the Romantic school of Mischa Elman and Jascha Heifetz, as she was.

 

Ms. Rockmore, admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia at 5, was a student of the great violin teacher Leopold Auer, who also taught those future virtuosos. Muscle and joint problems forced her to give up the violin in the mid-1920s. Around then she met Leon Theremin in the United States, studied with him and became his friend and dancing partner. Theremin even proposed, unsuccessfully. In the 1930s Theremin made a special extrasensitive instrument for her, which she plays here. The sound is less electronic than on other theremin recordings, and the human presence is clear.

 

In Bach’s “Air on the G String,” here called “Celebrated Air,” the portamento, or carrying of tone, is lush but tasteful. At the end of the long first note Ms. Rockmore makes a caressing diminuendo. In Villa-Lobos’s “Bachiana Brasileira” No. 5 the theremin takes the soprano part and sounds hauntingly human. (The eight cellos are overlaid in a remix.) In Dvorak’s “Humoreske” you can almost hear the lilt of a bow. She begins Schubert’s “Ave Maria” with great delicacy, and each note afterward is carefully placed.

 

The theremin has a number of soloists now, including Pamelia Kurstin, Barbara Buchholz and Lydia Kavina, a relative of the inventor, who recently released a theremin album called “Music From the Ether” on Mode Records.

 

But Ms. Rockmore towers above them all.

 

“She converted her musicality, all of her strong Russian background as a musician, into this incredible technique on this new space-age instrument,” Albert Glinsky, Theremin’s biographer, said recently. “It also didn’t hurt that the inventor was in love with her.”

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