Lauritz Melchior – Eva Le Gallienne – RCA Magic Key – 1938 – Past Daily Weekend Gramophone
Even though you could consider it a one-hour commercial for RCA Victor records, phonographs and everything else RCA was involved in at the time, it was still a stellar showcase featuring some of the most remarkable talent and names in early 20th century history. The Magic Key was a futuristic thinking program in retrospect. Radio and its latest advances in technology made it possible to carry on two-way conversations between New York and Bermuda. In other episodes, interviews with prominent figures in the arts and sciences were broadcast from their originating points via Shortwave and performances from London, Rome or Berlin were commonplace and part of the appeal to the audience who marveled at how close the world had now become.
The program lasted until just before the outbreak of the war in Europe; late 1939. It began in the early 1930s and wasn’t only an entertainment program, it dealt with serious political issues of the day, such as reports from Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, or Munich during the crisis of 1938. All with musical portions spotlighting artists who were signed to Victor Records.
This episode, for example, features the Metropolitan Opera star Lauritz Melchior in scenes from Wagner’s operas with the NBC (studio) orchestra conducted by Frank Black who was, himself head of A&R for RCA-Victor around this time.
The program also features scenes from Shakespearean plays with the legendary Eva Le Gallienne in the starring roles. They coincide with birthday celebrations for Shakespeare going on that month in 1938.
As was demonstrated the other week when I ran another Magic Key episode, the music wasn’t exclusively relegated to Classical, but was also featuring some of the legendary names in Jazz and Popular Music at the time.
The Melchior portions of the program are wonderful, but the Le Gallienne scenes from Shakespeare are revelatory. This was the nature of the promise that Radio held in those early days – to stimulate and educate and to promote curiosity of the world around you.
For an hour you are transported to another world – take advantage of it and dive in.