Salon Orchestra Favourites, Vol. 2 (Georg Huber/ Schwanen Salon Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.555344)
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Salon Orchestra Favourites, Vol. 2
Immortal, yet almost forgotten
Composers of light music have a hard time of it. For years they charm the world with their magic melodies, yet this kind of immortality brings them little more than oblivion. Who knows, after all, where these well-loved tunes come from? Meanwhile it is the performers who hold the foreground; it is the singer, not the song. In earlier times it was not very different. It was certainly not the particular interpretation that put all others in the shade, but this was almost in spite of any reference to the composer. Instead of this there was rather discussion as to whether the rhythm should be more strongly stressed or the melody, whether the brass should come out more or the strings. It was over questions of this kind that regular ideological conflicts took place in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Salonorchester Schwanen holds a clear position: no trumpets, no jazz saxophone phrases in the place of two clarinets, a flute and a string group. From the wide range of light music of the early twentieth century it has therefore chosen not the music drawing inspiration from jazz, but, as a focal point, music of the same period influenced by the tango. In short, it is a matter of the dream of the south, where, south of the Alps, there are always blue skies and we can be entranced by the Blue Tango from Dark Eyes. It actually has almost come to the point where we let ourselves be carried away by associations and no longer ask about the composers. Yet their lives were often colourful enough.
One of the most dazzling composers of light music between the wars was Georges Boulanger (1893-1958), born in Romania, the son of a Bulgarian mother and a Greek father. As a child he wanted to be a tram conductor, but then he learned to play the violin and soon became one of the leading virtuosi of his time. While Jascha Heifetz, who, like Boulanger, was taught by Leopold Auer, is today still celebrated, Boulangers fame has faded. Yet at least his serenade Avant de mourir is still heard.
Often it is very difficult to discover details about a composition or a composer. Funiculi, funicula was written by 1880 and was in its time so popular that Richard Strauss, in error, took it for a Neapolitan folk-song and used it in his symphonic fantasy Aus Italien. Information about the composer Luigi Denza (1846-1922) can only be found in the bulkiest music dictionaries, where reference is made, since he was primarily a serious composer, to his long-forgotten opera Wallenstein.
Similarly the waltz Mondnacht auf der Alster (Moonlight on the Alster) comes from the late nineteenth century. It was above all this catchy tune that earned the conductor and composer Oscar Fétras (1854-1931) the title of Hamburg Waltz King. In spite of his exotic name, Oscar Fétras was a genuine Hamburg man, with the very common name of Otto Faster.
While Edgardo Donatos tango A media luz (1925) has almost become an anonymous folk-song, the tango-song Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (I kiss your hand, Madame) is closely associated with the name of the lyric tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948).
The composer Ralph Erwin (1896-1943), whose original name was Erwin Vogl, emigrated to France in 1933 and is at least as forgotten as Ernst Fischer (1900-1975), who stayed in Germany and wrote the 1936 Südlich der Alpen (South of the Alps), an orchestral suite with four movements, In einer Hafenstadt (In a seaport), Terrasse am Meer (Terrace by the sea), Blumen-Corso (Flower Procession) and Tarantella. The unemployed organist for silent films would have significantly increased his income by the royalties from this work, which quickly became popular.
Worlds separated him, it seems, from his near contemporary Gerhard Winkler (1906-1977), who was, after his Neapolitanische Ständchen (Neapolitan Serenade) of 1936, simply one of the most successful composers of the 1930s. He continued in the 1940s with his Capri-Fischer, a hit that in one year alone, between May 1945 and June 1946, had more than twelve thousand live performances. Hermann Krome, the arranger of Winklers melodies, was able to make from them his grand concert potpourri. This was written in 1951, the same year in which the Harvard graduate Leroy Anderson (1908-1975), an American of Swedish origin, wrote his two greatest successes, Belle of the Ball and Blue Tango.
Anderson and Winkler were successful and celebrated in interested circles. But beyond that? The cloud of oblivion has fallen on Josef Rixner, whose dates (1902-1973) alone are known, and on Erdélyi, whose first name Mihaly at least is remembered, and on Ferraris, on whom even his publishers have not the slightest information.
Nevertheless the works that the Salonorchester Schwanen has sought out for its new release are still living; the composers do not deserve to be completely forgotten.
English version by Keith Anderson