Music During The Depression And Orchestras Of The WPA – 1940 – Past Daily Weekend Gramophone
Alois Reiser conducts the WPA/Los Angeles Symphony – Broadcast #49 – Music Of The WPA Series – 1940 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Perhaps the dim-distant past, but in the years during the depression of the 1930s one of the most popular and vital programs brought about by The National Recovery Act and The New Deal was the WPA, or Works Progress Administration – putting people to work in the fields they were most familiars with and trained for. One of those fields hardest hit (not entirely the fault of the Depression but certainly aided and abetted by the new technology of the time) was that of musicians whose jobs included everything from performing in a pit orchestra (for Musical stage productions and vaudeville as well as silent films) to playing upscale restaurants and hotel lounges. With the coming of Sound in film and network radio, the role of the musician in normally traditional settings was dwindling, as was employment. Come the depression and the closing of countless upscale restaurants and venues that normally held steady work for musicians and you had an industry almost singlehandedly destroyed, save for the lucky few who had secured studio employment or were members of solidly established symphony orchestras of the day.
Like so many offshoots of the WPA, music was a high priority and getting musicians back to work was of vital importance, not only to the cause of music as a morale boost, it also helped communities all over the country.
And so these WPA Performing groups sprang up all over the country – Civic orchestras, vocal groups, chamber ensembles – it ran the gamut. Musicians who were out of work were hired by these newly formed WPA orchestras, put together by many notable figures in the field of serious music. Nikolai Sokoloff, who at the time was Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, headed up the program.
In this broadcast, number 49 in the 1940 series, The WPA Symphony Of Los Angeles was under the baton of Alois Reiser, who migrated to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia in 1905 and established himself as a violinist and a composer of some merit (he would go on to win second place in the 1936 Music Guild Awards for his String Quartet Opus 18).
Many broadcasts introduced new music by way of the WPA Composers series, but this broadcast doesn’t include any. Rather, it sticks to the tried and true with music of Dvorak and Brahms.
Alois Reiser would stay in Hollywood for a while, composing scores for feature films. He would eventually head east where he enjoyed a long career conducting pit orchestras on Broadway.
A bit of history this Sunday.
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