Christopher Meineke: Railroad March – James M. Deems – Telegraph Quick-Step – NBC Symphony – Dr. Frank Black – February 4, 1943 -Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Names most people don’t know anymore – one; Dr. Frank Black, was something of a multi-tasker. He was Music Director for NBC Radio – head of Classical A&R for RCA-Victor Records – was Music Director and orchestra leader for many popular Variety radio shows at the time and was closely associated with the formation and running of the NBC Symphony Orchestra for Arturo Toscanini. Black was also someone who championed music that fell out of popularity, was seldom heard, or needed a champion – he performed many world premiers of American works and he brought to light many works that became neglected and forgotten, like the two for this weekend’s post.
The second; Christopher Meineke, a German-born composer and pianist who settled in Baltimore, composed much original music (both sacred and secular), and was for many years the organist of St. Paul’s Church. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the first passenger railroad in the United States, and on July 4, 1828 a huge celebration was held for the groundbreaking of the line, at the site of the present Camden Yards baseball park in Baltimore. Meineke composed the Railroad March to commemorate the event. Meineki was probably a son of the organist and composer Karl Meineke of Oldenburg, with whom he is sometimes confused. In 1800 he moved to Baltimore, where he was organist and choirmaster at St Paul’s Episcopal Church. He became active in the Handel Society in 1803, the Harmonists in 1820 and later in the Anacreontic Society (founded 1822). He was in Vienna from 1817 to 1819, where he met Beethoven and heard him improvise; Beethoven is said to have praised a concerto by Meineke.
Meineke wrote a great quantity of songs and piano pieces, a few of which were published by 1810, though most date from the 1820s after his return from Vienna. His piano music exhibits imagination and flair, and is often demanding for the performer.
And the third; James Monroe Deems was a musician, composer, teacher and native of Baltimore, Maryland. He studied cello under Dotzauer in Dresden, taught and played in Baltimore, and was music instructor at the University of Virginia (1849-1858). He served in the Civil War (becoming a brigadier general), then resumed his musical work in Baltimore. He wrote and opera, a comic operetta, and the oratorio “Nebuchadnezzar”, which was the first American oratorio. His Capt. Watros Quickstep appears in the Manchester Cornet Band (4th NH Vol Infantry) Books, Set 1.
His most important legacy was his 1850 book, Vocal Music Simplified, which was one of the earliest public-school music texts in the U.S.
Needless to say, there had yet to be a truly “American identity” in Classical music on this side of the Atlantic. The Capitals of Europe were still the hotbeds of trend and thought, and just about every composer who was active in America at the time spent formative years and studies in the conservatories of Vienna, Paris and Berlin.
Here is a reminder – two short pieces, but very much what it was all about in the 1800’s.
Here is Meineke’s Railroad March and Deems’ Telegraph Quickstep with the NBC Studio Orchestra (identified as The NBC Symphony, but I doubt it) for the radio series Music Of The New World, broadcast on February 4, 1943.