B.P.R.D. – Benjamin Lees, Margot Wright, Paul Hindemith, Ned Rorem

This week, both sides of a 1973 Desto Records LP I found buried in a nearby record shop, plus a couple of short extras.

First, side one: Benjamin Lees’ Sonata #2 for Violin and Piano, which hits that perfect sweet spot between non-serialist avant and traditional classical. Lees died in 2010 but his official site has lots of interesting info.

Second up is the final movement of the Piano Quintet by British “light music” composer Margot Wright, from this collection of works spanning her long 20th century career. The liner notes aren’t exact but the quintet appears to be from the early 1930s; the finale is delicious. Performed by the all-female Camilli Quartet with Frank Mol on piano.

Next, the 3rd movement from Paul Hindemith’s 1939 Sonata for Horn, written when Hindemith was in Swiss exile just after he’d been condemned by Nazi officials for his “degenerate” music.

Finally, side two of the Desto LP: Ned Rorem’s 1972 composition for violin and piano, Night Music, performed by the married team of Earl Carlyss and Ann Scheinn in an auditorium at the Library of Congress in 1973. Written as a complement to Day Music from a few months earlier, it’s divided into 8 sections with titles like “Mosquitoes and Earthworms,” “Epeira Sclopetaria” and “Gnats.”

Interesting side note: I’d never heard of Desto Records, so nosed around online. Turns out it was an indie label in existence from the mid-60s to mid-70s, releasing over 150 records focused mainly on non-mainstream classical recordings. A 1970 Billboard article, “Desto to Releases Boxes of Music by Black Composers”, and another from a few years later, “Desto in High Via Low Overhead”, are neat snapshots into the label’s history (…proving that a small classical manufacturer can survive and prosper among the biggies if it is carefully managed and takes full advantage of opportunities), and into the fundraising and commissioning practices of the time.

Digging a bit deeper we find that Desto was started by Horace Grennell, who also happens to be the person behind Young People’s Records and the Children’s Record Guild in the late 1940s, “the first commercially significant record clubs in the world,” with over 100,000 members in the immediate post-WWII era. That’s according to the book Revolutionizing Children’s Records: The Young People’s Records and Children’s Record Guild Series, 1946-1977, which I’m happy to note just arrived via inter-library loan. The book’s official site explains, “these two labels intersected important developments in the histories of mass marketing, recording technology, educational philosophy, folk music, contemporary composition, and Cold War politics,” with blog posts noting connections to the Folkways label, Groucho Marx and more. Looks great, can’t wait to dive in.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this week’s music, and hope you find some of the links interesting.