Hilde Somer, piano – CBS (Radio) Symphony – Bernard Herrmann, conductor – July 14, 1946 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Historic concerts this weekend. This one features a 1946 broadcast from CBS Radio featuring the CBS Symphony conducted by Bernard Herrmann and featuring pianist Hide Somer in music of Mozart, Ravel and Henry Cowell.
The concert begins with Mozart’s Symphony Number 31 (Paris), followed by Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G , with Hilde Somer as soloist and the concert concludes with Henry Cowell’s Old American Country Set.
Hilde Somer was born in Vienna in 1922 and studied with her mother, a talented musician. Her family fled the Nazis in 1938 and, once settled in the United States, Somer continued her musical education with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She also took private lessons from Claudio Arrau. Specializing in modern piano music, Somer succeeded brilliantly with the largely neglected Latin American repertoire. She brought such extraordinary compositions as Juan José Castro’s Sonatina española to the attention of the musical public. She also commissioned a number of piano concertos from contemporary composers, including John Corigliano, Jr. (1968) and Antonio Tauriello (1968), and made several acclaimed recordings of music by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1973). In 1978, always eager to experiment with new concepts in music, she performed a “Spatial Concerto” by Henry Brant. Intrigued by the music of the Russian composer Aleksandr Scriabin, Somer once gave a “light works” recital at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York City that used colored images projected on a screen to create a psychedelic effect, in keeping with the composer’s theories of a new artistic synthesis of sounds and colors.
In 1934, Bernard Herrmann joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as a staff conductor. Within two years he was appointed music director of the Columbia Workshop, an experimental radio drama series for which Herrmann composed or arranged music (one notable program was The Fall of the City). Within nine years, he had become Chief Conductor to the CBS Symphony Orchestra. He was responsible for introducing more new works to US audiences than any other conductor — he was a particular champion of Charles Ives’ music, which was virtually unknown at that time. Herrmann’s radio programs of concert music, which were broadcast under such titles as Invitation to Music and Exploring Music, were planned in an unconventional way and featured rarely heard music, old and new, which was not heard in public concert halls. Examples include broadcasts devoted to music of famous amateurs or of notable royal personages, such as the music of Frederick the Great of Prussia, Henry VIII, Charles I, Louis XIII and so on.
Herrmann’s many US broadcast premieres during the 1940s included Myaskovsky’s 22nd Symphony, Gian Francesco Malipiero’s 3rd Symphony, Richard Arnell’s 1st Symphony, Edmund Rubbra’s 3rd Symphony and Ives’ 3rd Symphony. He performed the works of Hermann Goetz, Alexander Gretchaninov, Niels Gade and Franz Liszt, and received many outstanding American musical awards and grants for his unusual programming and championship of little-known composers. In Dictators of the Baton, David Ewen wrote that Herrmann was “one of the most invigorating influences in the radio music of the past decade.” Also during the 1940s, Herrmann’s own concert music was taken up and played by such celebrated maestri as Leopold Stokowski, Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Thomas Beecham and Eugene Ormandy.
Enjoy the show – discs are a bit muddy in places, owing to Armed Forces Radio rebroadcasts which have been historically dicey, sound-wise. But still, exciting performances.