Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The Columbia Symphony Orchestra: An Exploration of the Recording History of a Phantom Orchestra

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The Columbia Symphony Orchestra: An Exploration of the Recording History of a Phantom Orchestra

Article excerpt

The idea of compiling a discography of an orchestra that doesn't exist--an invention of attorneys and marketing executives--seems ridiculous, yet the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (hereafter CoSO, to distinguish it from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) was such a widespread phenomenon that it cannot be ignored. It is, however, a multi-headed Hydra, such a slippery beast that we must abandon the word discography. As we will see, it is not always possible to define what is a CoSO recording and what is not. Let's call this merely an investigation: a thorough study, we hope, but not necessarily an exhaustive one. We should explain: When studying the recording history of a major performing arts group, say, the New York Philharmonic, there is a folder in Sony Music Archives containing "artist cards," for either Victor or Columbia. These concern contracts and payments, but they also take note of recording sessions, about which they contain varying amounts of information. It's a start, and one pursues other historical papers and the physical discs to fill out the details. Perhaps 90 to 95% of the organization's recording sessions might be listed in its folder; to complete such a study, one must look also at artist cards of instrumental as well as vocal soloists--based primarily but not exclusively on who performed in concert with the orchestra. The folder for the CoSO, however, contains but a single page: The Witch of Endor, a "ballet for orchestra" by William Schuman which was withdrawn before publication, was recorded by Robert Irving and the CoSO at Columbia's 30th Street studios on 28 September and 1 October 1965 but was never issued. So, one must imagine which conductors, which soloists, which singers might have recorded with the CoSO. Our starting point was the full roster of Columbia artists from 1939 to 1980, when Columbia Records' classical division became CBS Masterworks, but we had to decide which of the 1799 names to investigate. We tried to think of everyone who might have recorded with the CoSO, from Barbra Streisand (yes) to Pierre Boulez (no). Nevertheless, it is possible that someone has escaped our dragnet.

Please note a few of our space-saving conventions. The better known a recording, the less information we report. Only little-known composers and performers are given first names, and compositions are often identified in a shortened form. Recording dates are written in the briefest possible manner: YY/M/D. Only stereo record numbers are shown for recordings first issued on both mono (ML-5000) and stereo (MS-6000) LPs.

There have been recorded groups labeled Columbia Chamber Orchestra, Columbia Chamber Ensemble, Columbia Concert Orchestra, Columbia String Orchestra, Columbia Opera Orchestra, Columbia Percussion Ensemble, Columbia Jazz Ensemble, Columbia Jazz Band, Columbia Military Band, Columbia Salon Orchestra, Columbia Baroque Ensemble, Columbia Contemporary Music Group--ad infinitum (The Columbia Master Book Discography, Volume 4 lists 24 such titles). Most of those were contracted for a particular session. Where to draw the line? With a few exceptions, we shall ignore them all and concentrate on the symphony orchestra, and on the American company reconstituted as Columbia Records in New York in 1939.

Origins of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra

A Columbia Orchestra goes back to a 1900 Columbia Phonograph Company wax cylinder, The Battle of Manila, and to Columbia's earliest flat discs, ca 1901, which had such intriguing titles as Virginia Skedaddle, Dancing on the Housetops, The Bugler's Dream, and Epler's Whiskers comic march. The first recording listed in The Columbia Master Book Discography, Volume 1 is In a Clock Store, matrix number 1, record number 1, but Columbia Orchestra still meant only a few instruments. On 2 February 1913, a larger ensemble dubbed Columbia Symphony Orchestra first appeared, recording Invitation to the Dance and Isolde's Liebestod under Felix Weingartner. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.