Selected Historical & Rare Recordings
String Quartet No. 1 (1957)
Schuller’s String Quartet No. 1 was commissioned by the University of Illinois School of Music and The Fromm Music Foundation for the 1957 Festival of Contemporary Music, held on the campus of University of Illinois during March of that year.
The Walden Quartet (Homer Schmitt, Bernard Goodman, violins; John Garvey, viola and cellist Robert Swenson) premiered the work during the festival on March 29, 1957 and subsequently released a live version of that performance on a rare 3-LP set (consisting of various selected commissioned works from the festival). Schuller’s string quartet received its European premiere later that year by the Ortleb Quartet (members of the Berlin Philharmonic) at the famous (or possibly infamous) Darmstadt Festival.
Twenty years later, The Composers String Quartet (Matthew Raimondi, Anahid Ajemian, violins; Jean Dane, viola and cellist Michael Rudiakov), while in residence at the New England Conservatory of Music, recorded the same piece for the Golden Crest label (NEC series) along with works by Cowell, Stravinsky, Swift and Carter. It is presented here in three movements without interruption.
Woodwind Quintet (1958)
Schuller’s Woodwind Quintet (composed in 1958) was premiered by the New York Woodwind Quintet in Cologne, Germany for the Westdeutsch Rundfunk. It got its first NYC performance in March 1959 (see program below) and was probably recorded for the Concert-Disc label around 1961 or 62. Members of the New York Woodwind Quintet at that time included Samuel Baron, flute; Ronald Roseman, oboe; David Glazer, clarinet; John Barrows, horn; and Arthur Weisberg, bassoon.
Lines and Contrasts (1960)
Schuller’s Lines and Contrasts for 16 Horns (completed in 1960) was premiered by the Horn Club of Los Angeles on Oct 23, 1960. However, only the first movement was performed due to the late arrival of the second movement parts and lack of adequate rehearsal time. The complete work was recorded a decade later for Angel Records. Schuller conducted his own piece as well as Alec Wilder’s Nonet for Brass (which was included on the Angel LP release). The Horn Club is made up of members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and other professional orchestras and studio musicians based in Southern California.
Note that the piece is divided into two parts: 1) Lines 2) Contrasts.
Night Music (1961)
Densities 1 (1962)
Eric Dolphy was an important contributor to several of Schuller’s Third Stream concerts during the early 60s. His versatility alone as a multi-instrumentalist coupled with a sizable palette of improvisational and reading skills was truly unmatched even amongst some of the major jazz practitioners of his day. He was indeed a triple threat and a restless investigator of both jazz and classical concepts and beyond. Tragically cut short due to an undiagnosed illness by the early summer of 1964, his legend was immediate and forever lasting.
Schuller wrote Night Music and Densities I in 1962...the former written specifically for Dolphy to showcase his prowess on the bass clarinet. It was premiered on March 10, 1962 by a hybrid ensemble of jazz and classical musicians sponsored by The Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music under the direction of legendary violinist Louis Krasner. The program included works of Mozart, Ives, Gabrieli, and Stravinsky followed by several of Schuller’s Third Stream compositions (see program below). The concert was recorded and Night Music was later released on GM Recordings under the title Vintage Dolphy. Schuller also arranged Night Music for big band to be performed by none other than The Benny Goodman Orchestra for their six-week state department tour of the Soviet Union later that spring of 1962. It’s unknown if the work was ever performed or even attempted in rehearsal. It took another 26 years for the big band version to be dusted off, formally recorded by an augmented Orange Then Blue (normally a 12-piece ensemble) and subsequently released on GM Recordings under the title Jumpin’ in the Future.
Densities I was to be the first of a series of proposed small ensemble examinations dealing with certain types of musical densities and textures, but Schuller perhaps got caught up with other commitments before he could return to his original intended proposal. Written in 1962 for a quartet of clarinet, vibraphone, harp and bass, it was premiered with Dolphy on March 14, 1963 during one of Schuller’s Twentieth Century Innovations concerts held at Carnegie Hall (also released on Vintage Dolphy).
Recorded in the first half of 1965, Dedicated to Dolphy was one of the first album tributes to Eric released the following year for the Cambridge Record label (based in Framingham, MA). However due to its low visibility on a label known more for its classical and baroque leanings, it hardly got noticed. It was conductor and percussionist Harold Farberman’s idea to bring together many of NYC’s finest studio and working musicians (including those that performed in John Lewis’ Orchestra USA) to record original works to reflect Dolphy’s recent impact on the contemporary jazz and classical scene. With contributions by Lewis, Farberman and William O. Smith (aka Bill Smith who also had the inevitable task of channeling Dolphy as the lone clarinetist and bass clarinetist on three of the tracks), only Schuller’s works were previously composed with Dolphy in mind while he was still alive.
Besides Smith on bass clarinet, Night Music features guitarist Jim Hall, both bassists Richard Davis and George Duvivier along with drummer Mel Lewis. For Densities I, vibist Harold Farberman joins harpist Gloria Agostini and Davis with Smith on clarinet.
Arnold Schoenberg – Suite, Op. 29 (1925)
Schoenberg Suite Op. 29 (composed in 1925) was written for a septet of clarinets, strings and piano recorded in 1954 for the Period Record label which produced mostly classical and operetta in its varied catalog, but also featured jazz and popular music during the 1950s. This version of the Suite may have been the first American recording issued even though a Los Angeles ensemble led by Robert Craft had apparently recorded their own a year before for Columbia, but not released until 1956.
Directed by Gunther Schuller, the personnel for the Period session included Jack Kreiselman, Eb clarinet; Irving Neidich, clarinet; Sidney Keil, bass clarinet; Victor Aitay, violin; Godfrey Layefsky, viola; Tony Sophos, cello; and Russell Sherman, piano. This might have been Schuller’s first commercial recording as conductor, and the first time Russell Sherman and Schuller recorded together.
Note: The origins of this recording and how it came about are sketchy at best, but indications point to a connection (according to Schuller) to Peter Bartok, Bela’s son, who ran a studio on 57th St (NYC) during those years and mastered recordings with the initials PB stamped in runouts (as is stamped on this particular Period LP).
Arnold Schoenberg – Quintet, Op. 26 (1924)
Recorded by The Metropolitan Wind Quintet (after many years and countless hours of rehearsing) on Feb 17 & April 6, 1951 at WOR Studios, this was the first recording of Schoenberg’s Quintet Op. 26 (composed in 1924) for Dial Records, an independent label owned by Ross Russell that primarily featured the current trends in jazz of the mid to late 40s (most of which were the first recordings of bebop legend Charlie Parker). Russell was also interested in what was largely, at the time, an undocumented void of contemporary classical repertoire. With Gunther’s advice and perhaps first-hand production assistance during some of those initial sessions, by 1950 Russell began to focus less on new jazz and more on the compositions of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Cage, etc., while mainly working with leading practitioners of 12-tone music like Rudolph Kolisch and Eduard Steuermann, among others.
The members of the MWQ (sometimes referred to as the Manhattan Wind Quintet) included James Politis, flute; William Arrowsmith, oboe; Luigi Cancellieri, clarinet; Gunther Schuller, horn; and Stephen Maxym, bassoon. Live performance data is a bit sketchy, but Gunther wrote in his memoir that there were successful attempts to perform the Scherzo movement (only) in public as they worked out the other three movements in private. There’s some indication that home recordings might exist of rehearsals of the Schoenberg Quintet and other 19th and 20th century woodwind repertoire, yet the Dial session may have been the only studio recording of the MWQ’s entire existence.
Furthermore, a live complete performance of the Schoenberg Quintet was scheduled on June 5, 1951 with the MWQ for a concert sponsored by the ISCM (International Society of Contemporary Music, Columbia University, NYC). However, a note on the back of the program states that the performance was instead to be played by tape (from the Dial session yet to be released) due to the “indisposition” of one of the members of the quintet. (see program below)