Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Merry Shellacmas! John McCormack, Trinity Choir, Collins H. Driggs, International Novelty Orch., Ottar Agree's Quintette (1910-1950)


54 minutes of 78 rpm goodies, all Santa-approved (you'll have to take my word).  Two of our selections are Pt. 1/Pt. II combinations in a single file (12-inchers, no less): Al Goodman's excellent Christmas Fantasy (1950, arr. by Goodman), and the Trinity Choir's 8/26/1926 Christmas Hymns and Carols, (I love it when that distinction is made) from a period when the "standard" hymns and carols had almost been codified.  Exception: Christians, Awake, Salute the Happy Morn, which should be a standard carol-sing title, but nobody asked me.  But evidently, it had its day in the snow--er, sun.  Sorry for the surface hiss--some early Victor electrics host a lot of same. 

John McCormack is magnificent in both acoustical and electrical form, and we get his classic 1914 Ave Maria (with Fritz Kreisler, and in the Bach-Gounod setting I prefer) and a wonderful Oh Come, All Ye Faithful from 1926 (with the Trinity Choir sounding stronger and brighter than ever).  But maybe the highlight of this sleighlist is the 1913 Prince's Orchestra Children's Symphony, aka Kindersinfonieand and Toy Symphony, which for a long time was falsely credited to "Haydn"--i.e., Joseph or Michael--but actually came from the pen of Benedictine monk Father Edmund Angerer (1740-1794). The chief challenge, performance-wise, is locating the original toys (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) for the sound effects.  And we already know that Spike Jones was hardly the first person to expertly employ musical racket, but this circa-1770 piece really pushes the date back.

Plus, Nathaniel (aka, Nat) Shilkret directs the International Novelty Orchestra, with Sigmund Krumgold on pipe organ, in the all-time version of Leon Jessel's 1897 holiday masterpiece, Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.  Recording date: 1/25/1928 (a month late!).  But not before Collin H. Drigg's 1940 Novachord recording, very possibly arranged by Ferde Grofe. Says Wikipedia, the Novachord is "often considered the world's first commercial polyphonic synthesizer." I'll buy that. Er, I would, if I could afford one.  (Or had a place to put it.)

1926 was a busy year for holiday recordings, if this sleighlist is any indication: and... 1926's Santa Claus Polka is a lively number given three alternate titles on this Columbia label, including "Vianoce-Polka." And Vianoce is the Slovakian word for the Christmas season (this particular relase was intended for that market). Ottar Agree's real name was Ottar Edvardsen Akre, or Ottar Agre. He was a Norwegian accordionist and composer. Anyway, proof that toe-tapping polka music was happening in 1926. And there was nothing new about holiday polka music--at the Library of Congress, there's sheet music for a "Merry Christmas Polka." Year: 1881.

As for 1910's The Star Of Bethlehem, my ears can make out 50 percent of the lyrics, and right up to the halfway point.  I can decipher, "And childhood came again to me with all its dreams divine" (upon sighting the Star of Bethlehem).  The singer is led "up to God," though I was expecting maybe the manger.  The folk concept of an eternally repeating Nativity was part of the holiday tradition for many hundreds of years, but we don't get a replay thereof in this number.  Music by Stephen Adams, who wrote the far more memorable tune for The Holy City (1892).  Though Star sounds (to me, at least) like a follow-up to the more famous number, it actually preceded it by two years, publication-wise at least.

Lillian Currie's Children's Toy March (Pince's Band, 1912) was presented at a faster clip in 1911 as part of the descriptive piece On a Christmas Morning.  I see that I posted same at my Shellac City YouTube page in its Harmony label edition.  Anyway, this more mellow rendition of the march has its charms...

Oh, and I always feel the need to note that "Adeste Fideles" is not "Fidelis," though we see that typo pretty often.  Oh, and when I posted my YouTube upload of the Driggs 78 at Facebook, a number of synthesizer enthusiasts were more than slightly impressed.  Synths have a longer history than we imagine.

DOWNLOAD: Merry Shellacmas!  (1910-1950)

Adeste Fideles (Oh Come, All Ye Faithful)--John McCormack, Trinity Choir, 1926

Gloria from "Twelfth Mass" (Mozart)--Trinity Choir; pipe organ: Mark Andrews, 1926

Messiah--Hallelujah Chorus (Guess who?)--Same

Christmas Hymns and Carols, Pts. I and II--Trinity Choir, Dir. Rosario Bourdon, 1926

Christmas Fantasy (A: Al Goodman)--Al Goodman and His Orchestra, 1950

Ave Maria (Bach-Gounod)--John McCormack, Fritz Kreisler, 1914

The Star of Bethlehem--Evan Williams, Tenor, 1910

Parade of the Wooden Soliders (Jessel)--Collins H. Driggs, Novachord solo, 1940

Santa Claus Polka--Ottar Agree's Quintette, 1926

Parade of the Wooden Soliders (Jessel)--International Concert Orch. Dir. Shilkret; pipe organ: Sigmund Krumgold, 1928

Children's Symphony (Father Edmund Angerer)--Prince's Orch., 1913

Children's Toy March (Lillian Currie)--Prince's Band, 1912



Ernie said...

This is great stuff, Lee, thanks! Your sleigh-lists get better every year!

Buster said...

Hi, Lee - and merry Christmas to you!

The novachord may have been a pioneer, but it also wasn't a particularly good sounding instrument. I have an album of early Vera Lynn records where she is backed on almost every number by the contraption. It sort of sounds like an electronic harpsichord, and begins to grate after a while.

John McCormack recorded four different settings of Ave Maria - Schubert and Bach-Gounod, but also Mascagni and Peter Cornelius. I'll probably post all of them at some point this year, along with some other things he did.

Thanks for everything - just getting around to your posts!

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Thanks! And I suppose I should hyphenate "sleight-list" as you have, but since it's a take on "playlist" and not a real word, punctuation isn't a worry. Besides, punctuation is gradually ceasing to be a thing these days! (Smile icon)


I look forward to hearing the other "Ave Maria" McCormacks, though I've heard his Schubert recording. And I may even have it (but I can't be sure...). And the Novachord, at least on Driggs' recordings, sounds like the pinched "piano" voices on my old Korg Poly-800 (in fact, I recall creating a piano-sounding voice, complete with "sustain" by tweaking the parameters of another patch). BUT... I have heard with my own ears a Grofe composition recorded with a Novachord almost perfectly mimicking the sound of a female chorus. A very spooky composition whose name I don't recall. But evidently the instrument had a pretty broad range, or so I've been told. Which raises the question of why, if so, it wasn't better exploited.

Buster said...

Lee - I wasn't aware of the Novachord's range. I posted a David Allyn session a while back in which Paul Smith arranged an ensemble that included the instrument - it sounded much like the Vera Lynn records.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


I was assured that the women's chorus (which I initially concluded was live) was indeed the sound of a Novachord. But I can't personally confirm as much!

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Here's a YouTube video which demonstrates a decent range of patches, complete with sustained tones and reverb...