In 2010/2011, the Foundation recorded and released the following Victor Herbert CD’s: Music for Piano and Cello (New World 80721-2); 102 Collected Songs not found in his operettas (New World 80726-2); and the restoration of his magnificent 1917 operetta, Eileen (New World 80733-2).
We recorded Rodgers and Hart’s Dearest Enemy in 2012 (released in 2013 New World 80749-2); and we completed a full restoration, reconstruction and recording of Jerome Kern’s Roberta in 2013/2014 (New World Recording 80760-2).
As explained in the liner notes that accompanied the recordings, the Music for Piano and Cello CD set was released to show the serious, classical compositional heritage that Herbert had developed prior to writing for the Broadway stage. His writing had yet to translate beyond the symphony orchestra or chamber music setting.
We undertook the 4-CD set of 102 Collected Songs in order to show the transition that Herbert made from the Lieder music of Robert Schumann to the popular music of Irving Berlin. It is important to show that serious composers can live in both worlds and that their more popular compositions should not be dismissed as trivial.
The next composer who had a foot in both musical genres was George Gershwin; and, again, his talents in the classical genre were not recognized as anything special at the time of his premieres of 135th Street (1922), Rhapsody in Blue (1924), Concerto in F (1925), An American in Paris (1928), Cuban Overture (1932) or Porgy and Bess (1935). He was dismissed as just another Tin Pan Alley songwriter, even after he had produced a significant number of scores for the stage and screen. Walter Damrosch used his influence during Gershwin’s life, as conductor of the New York Symphonic Orchestra, to bring proper recognition to Gershwin’s genius (1928 premiere of An American in Paris at Carnegie Hall); and Arturo Toscanini started to broadcast Gershwin’s works posthumously over the NBC network with the NBC Symphony Orchestra (Rhapsody in Blue in 1942; An American in Paris in 1943; Concerto in F in 1944) in order to obtain proper recognition of Gershwin’s talents.
From 1945 to 1954, in a survey by Musical America, among the foremost symphony orchestras of America Gershwin was consistently being performed more often than Stravinsky, Bartok, Milhaud, Vaughn Williams, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Britten, or Honegger. “In six of those years, Gershwin was performed more often than any other American composer; one year, he was tied for first place; and in two other years he held second place.”
The other major composer to stretch beyond Broadway was Richard Rodgers, who composed the magnificent Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet for the musical On Your Toes (1936), choreographed by the incomparable George Balanchine for Ray Bolger. While Balanchine was at the New York City Ballet, he restaged Slaughter on Tenth Avenue for his company to be performed during the 1968/1969 season at the State Theatre in New York City, by Arthur Mitchell under Balanchine’s supervision. The combination of music and dance was stunning, equal to if not superior to the same season’s “Prodigal Son,” performed by Edward Villella and Suzanne Farrell.
Rodgers went on to write a very good ballet for Oklahoma!, choreographed by Agnes De Mille, and the magnificent opening ballet for Carousel. Anyone who doubts his ability to write serious music should listen to the score for Victory at Sea, an incredible body of music co-written by Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett.
Thus, if we are to explain the New World Record’s Foundations of American Musical Theater, the focal concept behind the recordings, it is incumbent on us to show how Herbert’s breadth provided an example to those composers who followed him.
The next question that we are typically asked is why did we choose to record Herbert’s Eileen? For some of us who are aware of the body of his work, this show is atypical, in that it has, by far, the greatest number of Irish airs in the work. We go into great detail in the liner notes to explain Herbert’s patriotic attachment to Ireland, the land of his birth, even though he never actually returned to Ireland after he left as a two-year old child. He became an American citizen, but his heart and soul were Irish. He railed against the English actions to suppress the Easter Rising in 1916, and there is some evidence that Eileen was intended to be a form of “artistic protest” against England.
However we may view his political intentions, the music is uniformly beautiful. “It captures the romantic soul of Herbert and epitomizes the romantic American operetta in its transition from Victor Herbert to Jerome Kern.” According to composer, Gustav Klemm, Herbert’s close friend and colleague, “Eileen was Herbert’s favorite work, closer to his heart than anything else.”
Thus, with Herbert, whose major works lurk in relative obscurity, we have taken the listener from the beginning, through his various compositional periods, to what Klemm called “the last truly characteristic genuine effort of his long and brilliant career.”
Because of factors outside our control, Dearest Enemy was recorded out of order and should have followed, not preceded, Kern’s Roberta. Our intent was to demonstrate the status of Herbert as “the first towering master of our musical stage” (musical theatre historian Gerald Bordman) through an examination of his music.
By following Herbert with Kern, we had an opportunity to demonstrate the proper order of master and pupil, with the ultimate transition from pupil to master. The composer of Show Boat was a worthy successor to Herbert through both words and sounds. Again, in our liner notes for Kern, we start with Herbert’s own statement that, upon hearing Kern’s contributions to The Girl from Utah (1914) in the offices of Max Dreyfus, Kern’s publisher, Herbert reportedly said “This man will inherit my mantle.”
We also emphasize the coincidence of both composers working on Broadway at the same time. Kern ascended in his role as a lead composer while Herbert was still alive. Herbert’s last, great score was for Eileen in 1917; in that same year, Kern wrote three exquisite, although intimate, scores working with P.G. Wodehouse (lyrics) and Guy Bolton (book). As Kern emerged from these colloquial American shows at the smaller Princess Theater, he started working on shows for larger theaters in the 1920’s that required a broader appeal. He also started working with Oscar Hammerstein, with whom he would collaborate on Show Boat in 1927.
We said in the notes to Roberta that, with Show Boat, Kern entered into the third and final phase of his career on the Broadway stage. We chose to record Roberta for a number of reasons. EMI’s restoration of the 1927 version of Show Boat (in the 1980’s) established an excellent format for restoration efforts and did not need to be repeated. The Princess Theater shows occurred too early in Kern’s career to show his craftsmanship at its finest, even though the scores are enchanting, in and of themselves. The ENCORES! excellent recording of Music in the Air eliminated that score from consideration.
The liner notes included in the recording of Roberta provided us with an opportunity to showcase Kern’s willingness to stretch the confines of musical theatre.
“Gowns by Roberta (its original title) was intended to follow a similar structure [to that established in The Cat and the Fiddle and Music in the Air]: a chic, sophisticated tapestry of song, dance, and dialogue weaving in and out of each other.” It also attempted to “present a comedic clash between Old World Europe and brash New World America.”
In many ways, the “clash” is far more refined than the one presented by George M. Cohan almost 30 years earlier in Little Johnny Jones (1904).
However much we admire Kern’s work, we also study his work to understand how even his earliest works influenced the composers who followed. Gershwin heard two of Kern’s songs from The Girl from Utah (“You’re Here and I’m Here” and “They Didn’t Believe Me”) at his Aunt’s wedding, prompting him to inquire about the author:
“Kern was the first composer who made me conscious that most popular music was of inferior quality, and that musical-comedy music was made of better material. I followed Kern’s work and studied each song that he composed.”
And at the age of 14, Richard Rodgers saw Very Good Eddie, at the Princess Theater and never forgot the moment:
“The sound of a Jerome Kern tune was not ragtime; nor did it have any of the Middle European inflections of Victor Herbert. It was all his own–the first truly American theater music–and it pointed the way I wanted to be led.”
Having established why Kern was a worthy successor to Herbert and why he was a great mentor to Gershwin and Rodgers, we have one last question to answer. As you will see from the reviews of Rodgers and Hart’s Dearest Enemy, there have been questions raised as to why we chose to record it, rather than one of their more famous shows. The explanation is rather simple; the public has heard, through other recordings, the better-known scores of A Connecticut Yankee, Jumbo, On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse, Pal Joey and By Jupiter.
You see, we already know what Rodgers eventually would write with both Hart and Hammerstein; what we don’t know much about is the nature of his first major hit. It is important to note that the music in Dearest Enemy is not typical Rodgers and Hart material; it strays more into the neighborhood of Gilbert and Sullivan. Taking a critical look at the score for Dearest Enemy, which is written in 1925, it sounds nothing like “Thou Swell” or “My Heart Stood Still,” written just two years later for use in A Connecticut Yankee, two songs that are clearly in the style of the Rodgers and Hart standards.
Thus, giving the public access to the early Rodgers “sound” was a conscious decision to provide an historical artifact rather than another popular recording.