Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Delman and boys


Parlophone PMAJ 1023 sleeve front

Michael Haydn Missa Sancti Aloysii in Bb MH 257
J.S. Bach Weichet nur betrübte Schatten BWV 202
Jacqueline Delman, Emerentia Scheepers (sopranos)
Kathleen Joyce (contralto)
Hampstead Parish Church Boys’ Choir
Martindale Sidwell (chorus master, organ)
London Baroque Orchestra
Karl Haas (conductor)
Recorded 14 & 15 December 1953, issued late 1954
Parlophone PMA 1023

I’m happy to announce that since my last post I’ve uploaded four more LP transfers to my Internet Archive account, starting with the above four months ago (sorry). It’s a lovely record, which I originally transferred for the sakes of Bach’s beautiful ‘Wedding Cantata’, and of Karl Haas, whom I admire. The Bach side was in good condition and didn’t need too much work but the other, with Michael Haydn’s Mass, had endless little plops and scuffs and took ages. Still, as I restored it I came to enjoy both music and performance more and more, so that’s a win!

And it’s another black mark for EMI and its ‘successors’, who for the last half-century have sat on almost all of the many pioneering and enjoyable recordings of Karl Haas and his excellent London Baroque Ensemble, stuffed with top-flight British players of the 1950s and 1960s. Only the Phoenixa CD reissue series, short-lived as it was (and clearly unloved by EMI), and Testament have allowed us to hear how good these recordings are when remastered from master tapes and not from house clearance castoffs.

Talking of Testament, everyone who cares about historical recordings of classical music, as well as about intelligent A&R and marketing, will have mourned the recent and all too premature death of Testament’s founder and head, Stewart Brown. I knew Stewart a little and he was always friendly, helpful, positive, unpretentious and deeply savvy, with a winning touch of Trotter about him (which it seems you need, if you’re to succeed in that line of business). His label was and remains a leader in the field, with remastering from the best available sources (for commercial LPs, usually master tapes, doggedly licensed) and exemplary presentation. Long may it flourish.

So, if it’s not too impertinent from one unfit to unlatch his sandals, I dedicate this post to Stewart’s memory, in the hope that his taste, entrepreneurship, dedication to music, and knowledge of catalogues and his customers’ wants, will continue to show up the dog-in-the-mangerishness of multinational catalogue-hoarders.

Talking of dogs in mangers… watch out for another post on that subject!

For now, just a quick reminder that my Internet Archive account is here, and that the other new LP transfers now up are of Fela Sowande’s lilting African Suite for strings and harp, in Trevor Harvey’s 1951-ish Decca recording; four Handel trio sonatas, recorded around the same time for Urania by the husband-and-wife team of Mr. and Mrs. Willy Schweyda; and another Urania LP from a couple of years later, of quartets by Boccherini, de Giardini and Puccini, played by the Quartetto della Scala of Milan.

Friday, 31 December 2021

Glut glums

Alessandro Stradella (1643-1682)    
6 sinfonie for stringed instruments and basso continuo
Arranged by Nunzio Montanari (1915-1993) as     
‘Six Trio Sonatas’ for piano trio (piano, violin, cello)
Trio di Bolzano:
Nunzio Montanari (piano)
Giannino Carpi (violin)
Antonio Valisi (’cello)
recorded 1953(?), Italy; issued 1954
Vox PL 8380

Just dashing this off at the last minute, so that I’ll have posted at least once this year. Like many, I suspect, I have slight post-Christmas surfeit blues – not that I’ve put away anything like as much as I used to be able to. Time was, marzipan and meringues, lebkuchen and stollen, pandoro, panettone and panforte, mince pies and Christmas puddings were wolfed down with no ill effect. Now, teeth, gut and the system in general can’t cope, so that even moderate gluttony leaves me heavy and listless.

Nothing like as heavy and listless as being old, but that’s another story!

The real glut, of course, is recordings. More CDs, more 78s and LPs, more downloads, more transfers, more, more, more! Sometimes it’s exciting and stimulating, sometimes, as now, rather overwhelming, befuddling and deadening to the taste buds. Still, let’s never forget we live in the very best of times for us collectors and all the compulsively curious.

Talking of the curious, recently a dear friend asked if I have the above record. I was ashamed to find that not only do I have it, I’d made a transfer of it in April 2010 which I’ve never finished or shared! A quick listen confirmed it’s well worth it, so I spent quite a bit of time tidying it up and then working out what these pieces actually are. (They’re all from unpublished MSS; the originals can be found on IMSLP.)

Slightly annoyed to find that the Bibliothèque nationale de France beat me to it, which I should have thought of: its commercial ‘BnF Collection’ series offers a transfer of the French Boîte à Musique issue (samples here), available dirt cheap from Qobuz and other sites. I’ve had a listen and it’s pretty good. Still, I flatter myself mine is slightly better – or, rather, the original copy I transferred was probably in better condition, and unlike the BnF I can afford to ‘hand valet’ it.

The music itself is varied, if a little less so than if it had been left in its original scorings. But perhaps because Montanari, the pianist, made these arrangements (not, I don’t think, published), the Trio really owns them and plays with lovely, old-world expression. The LP gives only the country of recording; as it came out in early 1954, I’ve hazarded 1953, but it might even be 1952, as Valisi left the Trio the following year, according to this useful Italian Wikipedia entry.

This post also marks a new departure for the Cave: rather than upload the sound files (mono FLACs, as usual) and images to a storage site, I’ve decided to go with what for me is quickly becoming the first port of call for historical audio: the Internet Archive. Also, I could never get the embedded player gizmo to work here, whereas on the Internet Archive you can relish the art work’s ‘glorious Schmecknicolor’ while listening to the music, without having to download either. Though, actually, I haven’t worked out how to get the front cover to be shown by default, or how to make all images accessible in the neat, scrollable ‘Liner Notes’ thingy other Internet Archive pages have. If anyone knows how to do that, please say!

Anyway, enough of all that: the page you need is here.


No, hang on, I nearly forgot: this summer we spent part of a walking holiday in a lovely valley just above Bolzano, in the Italian Südtirol. It’s an absolutely fascinating and beautiful part of the world, rich in food, wine, wild flowers, architecture, history, industry and wild rivers. Montanari worked in Bolzano for decades and there’s still a thriving musical culture there and all around. And did I mention the wine?

Happy New Year!

Oh, and expect more in 2022!

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Der Alte ja vergangen ist

‘Festival in Haiti’ 

Déclaration Paysanne (Meringue)
Pétro-Quita (Drum Rhythms)
Shango (Invocation)
Pennywhistle Fantasie
Solé Oh!
Macaya Gimbo (Work Song)
Dié, Dié, Dié
 Mascaron-Pignitte (Carnival Rhythms)
 Ayanman Ibo (Ibo Rhythm)

Jean Léon Destiné (vocals), Alphone Cimber (drums),
Ti-Roro (drums), Herblee (pennywhistle), ensemble
recorded c.1954, New York?
Elektra EKL-30, p.1955

Drat – I didn’t mean to let 2019 pass without a single post. Well, there you have it – yet more proof of terminal decline etc., blah, blah… Worse, I started this post in April 2018 (same transfer but a completely different subject, which I don’t have the energy or time to write up now, sadly). That ground to a halt, as did pretty much all my ‘projects’ last year.

Now, though, I have a good excuse: I’m employed! My first full-time office job in 21½ years started in late October 2019. It’s only for a year but it comes with full benefits, including a pension. My boss is adorable, my colleagues are kind and helpful, the work is fascinating and right up my street, and our office is calm and civilized. It’s strange to be commuting again, squished up against a lot of young things, some probably yet unborn when I last rode the Tube like this… and no one was glued to a phone, either! (Still don’t own a smart phone.) (Do own other digital gizmos, though.) And this year I get my OAP’s free pass!

Anyway, to show I’m still alive and sentient (just), here’s a quick and dirty post to usher out 2019, in which the old me was suddenly and unexpectedly rejuvenated, and to usher in 2020, when I resolve to do all sorts of things to stave off the big D… like start dancing! Highly apposite to this post, as it happens: this lovely 10” LP isn’t your humble grump’s usual cerebral, sedentary fare, but celebrates the work of a famous Haitian dance artist. I confess I’d never heard of Jean-Léon Destiné (1918-2013) when I found this disc amongst my late father’s LPs a couple of years ago and gave it a spin. I was instantly impressed by the music, economical to the point of austerity in places but curiously gripping; the performances, full of authority, verve and conviction; the intimate, involving recording (which has come up nicely in this transfer, though I say so meself); and the proper grown-up presentation.

Don’t worry if you can’t read that sleeve note – there’s a bigger version of the scan in both Zip archives below, plus a PDF of the 12-page illustrated insert I found inside the sleeve. Of course, it’s now more than 60 years out of date but, again, worry not: there are several articles about and tributes to Destiné on the Web, such as this one, which looks very interesting.

So, take your pick: there are 10 lossless audio files, in FLAC or ALAC (Mac) formats, plus scans, in each Zip, which you can download from here (FLAC) or here (ALAC).

Happy New Year and enjoy!

(P.S. Not sure when I’ll get round to writing another post this year… but I’ll try my best!)

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Une poignée de Pougnet

HMV CLP 1765 sleeve front
Beethoven String Trio in E flat Op.3
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1964 UK issue on HMV CLP 1765

HMV CLP 1775 sleeve front
Beethoven String Trios in G Op.9 No.1 & D Op.9 No.2
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1964 UK issue on HMV CLP 1775

Westminster XWN 18412 sleeve front
Beethoven String Trios in c minor Op.9 No.3
& in D Op.8 ‘Serenade’
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1964 UK issue on HMV CLP 1785

While I was at it, I thought I should share these other recordings by Pougnet, Riddle and Pini. I really enjoy these works, in which Beethoven is clearly flexing his muscles as a composer of weighty but playful and varied chamber music for strings – before tackling the biggie… And I love these recordings, as I do this group’s Divertimento K.563 of Mozart, which I shared in my last post, and which must have been a stimulus for Beethoven’s Op.3 and the model for Op.8.

Not much more to say, except to say that I feel Westminster’s excellent 1952 recordings (complete with… Viennese tram rumble?) have again come up well in these transfers from 1964 HMV issues. I wonder why EMI licensed them that latet?) They were only available for a very short time – deleted by the end of 1966 – so they’re not that common. I don’t think the first two LPs come from my late father’s collection – I must have got them second-hand. The third, I borrowed from a library, but I couldn’t then scan or photograph the sleeve; I’ve since acquired one of the Westminster issues, so I’ve included images of its sleeve and labels:
Westminster XWN 18412 S2 label

I didn’t photograph the HMV labels, as the inner sleeves have opaque paper liners (good choice!), and I don’t have a clean horizontal surface to photograph disc labels on (you do know the Cave is more of a tip than ever, don’t you? I’m losing my grip – no, make that: I’ve  lost it…).

So, to download these LPs, as fully tagged mono FLACs plus images, in Zip files, follow these links:

There’s plenty of information about the works on the interwebs and in the sleeve notes which I’ve also included in the Zip files, such as this wonkily glued one:
HMV CLP 1775 sleeve back

A quick look at previous recordings of these still somewhat overlooked works:

no version on 78s
first recorded c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro

first recorded 1934, Szymon Goldberg, Paul Hindemith & Emanuel Feuermann, Columbia UK, also issued in US & elsewhere
1936, Pasquier Trio, Pathé; issued in US and UK on Columbia
1950, Joseph & Lillian Fuchs, Leonard Rose, US Decca LP
1951, Erich Röhn, Reinhard Wolf, Arthur Troester, DGG, variable micrograde 78 + LP
c.1951(?), Trio à cordes de la Garde Républicaine, Saturne picture-disc 78
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.9 No.1)

Op.9 No.1:
first recorded 1938, Pasquier Trio, Pathé; issued in US and UK on Columbia
c.1939?, Mara Sebriansky, Edward & George Neikrug, Musicraft
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.8)
18 September 1952, Bel Arte Trio, US Decca LP (with Op.9 No.2)

Op.9 No.2:
first recorded 1949, Pasquier Trio, L’Anthologie Sonore 78 + LP
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.9 No.3)
18 September 1952, Bel Arte Trio, US Decca LP (with Op.9 No.1)

Op.9 No.3:
first recorded March 1934, Trio de Bruxelles, Columbia France; also issued in UK
April 1934, Pasquier Trio, Pathé; issued in US and UK on Columbia
1950, Joseph, Lillian & Harry Fuchs, Decca US LP (with Joseph & Lillian Fuchs, Julius Baker, Serenade in D Op.25)
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.9 No.2)

Let me know if I’ve missed any!

Monday, 5 March 2018

Pini Aroma

HMV CLP 1861 front [small]
Mozart Divertimento in E flat K.563
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1965 UK issue on HMV CLP 1861   

Sorry about the dreadful pun – but LPs, and old electronics, do give off distinctive whiffs. Whenever I open the turntable on which I transferred this LP, I get a pleasing rubbery smell, which I think comes from the thick platter mat, trapped under the lid. It does a Proust, taking me back to my late father’s hi-fi and record cabinets (not to mention long, boring childhood journeys in hot cars with plastic upholstery), though I can’t honestly claim to remember the exact aroma of his various setups. Nor does this LP, from his shelves, smell of much: for one thing, HMV used translucent paper to line the inner sleeve, not the later polythene which has all too often degraded and left gunk on precious grooves.

No, this disc was and is in excellent condition, and hardly needed cleaning up. I imagine few surviving copies of the original Westminster issues (on WL 5191 and XWN 18551), not to mention the first UK issue of late 1954 (on Nixa WLP 5191), would sound better – those pressings were never too good. Maybe the French Véga issue was better (sample a commercial transfer here, or even buy it here). The recording is close (which I like) and vivid, and I just love this performance. Love the work, too, which always seems to bring out the best in players, and I never tire of hearing new versions, but I’m esepecially fond of this one. I hope you enjoy it too!

I haven’t got the time and energy to do a full bio-/discographical job on the musicians – and I don’t need to, as all three are well known. What may not be so well known is that Jean Pougnet (1907-68) made his first documented recordings in early 1926 for the National Gramophonic Society – playing second viola alongside André Mangeot’s Music Society String Quartet in Purcell’s Fantasia ‘upon one note’ and Vaughan Williams’ Phantasy String Quintet. Transfers of both may be downloaded from the CHARM website: the Purcell consists of just one sound file, plus label, while the Vaughan Williams is on four sides – 1, 2, 3, 4 – plus label 1, etc. (The Vaughan Williams is also the worst-sounding recording issued by the N.G.S.)

HMV CLP 1861 sleeve back

Frederick Riddle (1912-95) was the only one of these three musicians born in England: Pougnet was born in Mauritius, and Anthony Pini (1902-89) in Argentina, as Carlos Antonio. All became stalwarts of Britain’s orchestral, chamber music and teaching worlds. I’m indebted to Tully Potter, the leading historian of string players and chamber music, whose obituary of Riddle (The Strad, May 1995) relates that, before the war, Pougnet and Pini played and broadcast together with William Primrose as the London String Trio. After the war, Riddle replaced Primrose, although the name was taken up by a different trio of players. Our three had also played together in the Philharmonia String Quartet, which Walter Legge formed from his Philharmonia Orchestra, and, before that, in the BBC Salon Orchestra.

Tully also told me that the ad hoc trio made its first batch of recordings for Westminster in Vienna, in one week – this Mozart, and string trios by Beethoven, Lennox Berkeley, Haydn, and Charles Henry Wilton. This explains why Michael Gray’s discography site gives a range of dates – it also names the Konzerthaus as venue for some of the week’s work (I’m guessing it was used for all). The second batch, recorded in autumn 1954, consisted of trios by Dohnányi, Françaix and Hindemith. I believe none of this legacy has been reissued on CD (from tape – the Beethoven, Dohnányi & Françaix and Wilton trios have been transferred from discs by Forgotten Records), a grievous omission, though not surprising. I do have more dubs, which I may share if they’re good enough, and if I have time…

Meanwhile, you can download this transfer of K.563, as six fully-tagged mono FLACs plus sleeve scans, in a Zip file, from here.

As for the work, I reckon this was its fifth complete recording. The Pasquier Trio of France made the first, in June 1935, for Pathé (transferred to CD by Green Door of Japan); also issued in Britain and the USA on Columbia (transferred by The Shellackophile). They re-recorded it after the war for Les Discophiles Français (again transferred from disc by Green Door); issued in the US initially on Vox, and then by the Haydn Society (the latter remastered from tape by Music and Arts). Meanwhile, Heifetz, Primrose and Feuermann had recorded it for Victor in September 1941; a well-known set, transferred by Biddulph, Opus Kura and probably others.
Less well known are one of the Menuetti (but which?), recorded by members of the Budapest Quartet for American Columbia in February 1945, but not issued until 1950 as a filler for the (obsolescent) 78 rpm set of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet with Mieczysław Horszowski and Georges Moleux; and a complete recording, made in April and May 1951 by the Bel Arte Trio (Ruth Posselt, Joseph dePasquale and Samuel Mayes) for US Decca, issued in the UK on Brunswick, and never, to my knowledge, reissued (as if…) or transferred.

The biggest rarity and oddity, though, must be a Tilophan ‘Spiel mit’ set of extracts, seemingly one or both Menuetti, with the violin, viola and cello parts not played (by unnamed players) on successive sides. This was available by January 1938, when it was listed in a French magazine. If anyone owns or has ever seen any of these, do let me know!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Dragon’s head, snake’s tail

Polydor 66425 [B 29114] label

Béla Bartók String Quartet No.2 Op.17 (Sz.67)
Amar Quartet (Licco Amar, Walter Caspar,
Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith)
rec. 1926, Berlin
commissioned and first issued privately by
[Dainippon Meikyoku Rekōdo Seisaku Hanpu Kwai
Great-Japan Society for Producing and Distributing
Records of Musical Masterpieces
label photo by Grumpy, transfer by
from commercial issue on Polydor 66425-87

Over the last year and more, I’ve been investigating and documenting the activities and publications of three small organizations of the 1920s and 1930s which modelled themselves on Britain’s National Gramophonic Society (the subject of my PhD research). Although based in the USA and Japan, the founders of these societies learned of the N.G.S. from articles, notices and advertisements published in its mouthpiece, The Gramophone. Emulating the N.G.S., they aimed to supplement the output of commercial gramophone companies, by arranging for uncommercial music to be recorded and pressed in limited editions for their members.

I hope to share online soon a detailed study of one of these societies. In the meantime, here’s a preliminary sketch of another. It’s the least known – yet its second issue was one of the milestones of the ‘78 rpm’ era: the premiere recording of any of Bartók’s string quartets. The set would not be ‘duplicated’ for a decade: Bartók No.2 was next recorded in April 1936, by the Budapest Quartet for H.M.V. The Amar Quartet’s pioneering version was soon made generally available, so it’s not particularly rare, unlike the original Japanese society issue, though it’s rightly prized by collectors. True, you sometimes read that it was commissioned by a group of Japanese enthusiasts, but no more than that.

The main reason is finding and reading original sources. I first learned of the Japanese society ten years ago, combing The Gramophone (by hand, from hard copies) for information about the National Gramophonic Society. In April 1926, the magazine’s more or less regular column of N.G.S. ‘Notes’ carried this item:

Tokio Meikyoku Records Seisaku Hampu Kai
‘The Western N.G.S. has now a sister in the East. Its name is as above and means “Tokio Good Record Recording and Distributing Society,” address, c/o M. Anan & Co., No.4, Awajicho 2-chome, Kanda, Tokio, Japan. It was established in 1925 and has 385 members.
‘The first issue was Scriabine’s IX. and X. Piano Sonatas, played by Alexander Sienkiewicz, on three 12in. records at 5 Y.’s each (presumably Yens).
‘Further information can, no doubt, be obtained from the secretary. We received a letter and two circulars, but the latter were printed entirely in Japanese characters.’

Someone in Tokyo took pity, and in August 1926 The Gramophone printed an English translation of one of the circulars, sent in by the Japanese society’s secretary. It was headed ‘Declamation’, exemplifying the language barrier which then divided music-lovers and record-buyers East and West, and still does. I don’t know of a comprehensive English-language study of Japan’s early record culture. The standard Japanese-language history of recording has apparently not been translated, so I haven’t been able to consult that or any primary Japanese sources. (I’m hoping to convince a kindly speaker or scholar of Japanese to translate or at least précis the bits I need.) Everything in this post I’ve gleaned from English-language sources, and from invaluable information kindly provided by a contact in Japan.

Luckily, the circular published by The Gramophone was very detailed, setting out the Society’s constitution, terms and conditions and projected recording programme. These were very like those of its acknowledged model, the N.G.S. – whose issues the Society regretted were too expensive to import (although some Japanese joined the N.G.S. on their own account, and had the discs posted to them). One not insignificant omission in the circular is a blank next to the entry ‘4. Advisers and Managers’ (I wonder if it was the Japanese or The Gramophone who hid the names?). I’m guessing that one of the Society’s prime movers and/or founders was Nomura Osakazu (1882-1963), better known under his pen names of Araebisu (as a music and record critic) and Nomura Kodō (as a novelist). Araebisu wrote extensively about records; I gather his verdicts on recorded interpretations were followed almost religiously. None of his gramophone criticism has been translated into English.

Again like the N.G.S., the Society needed a manufacturing partner. In Britain and the USA, record companies and dealers supported gramophone and phonograph societies by throwing open their premises to meetings, lending equipment and donating discs (or, originally, cylinders). Most such societies were gatherings of hobbyists who met to hear lectures, listen to music convivially, and compare and share technical tips about playback, record storage and so on. Only a tiny handful issued records for their members – for which, in the days of wax and shellac, they needed a record manufacturer (the N.G.S. used three at different times: Columbia, Vocalion and Parlophone).

For the Japanese Society, access to a manufacturer was provided by Anan & Co. Based in Kanda, Tokyo’s bookselling district, Anan & Co. was a leading importer of foreign records, notably Polydor, the export label of Germany’s Deutsche Grammophon. All the Society’s known issues were recorded in Germany by Grammophon and, initially, pressed there, until the Japanese government imposed a swingeing tariff on imported luxury goods, to aid domestic production and reconstruction after the devastating earthquake of 1923. In 1927, some two years after the Society was formed, like several other local firms, Anan formed a joint venture with its German partner and formed Nippon Polydor; the Society’s later issues may have been pressed in Japan but I’m not sure about that.

At the moment, I know nothing about Anan’s ownership or staff, but it clearly catered to a highly discerning clientele: the Society’s first two issues were extraordinarily adventurous for the mid-1920s. The first consisted of three twelve-inch discs containing the two last piano sonatas of Alexander Scriabin: No.9 Op.68 and No.10 Op.70, each on three sides. These were recorded electrically in 1926, in the studios of Grammophon, by Aleksander Sienkiewicz (1903-1982), a Polish pianist then based in Berlin (Sienkiewicz later emigrated to Brazil and became a respected teacher there). The discs were pressed in limited numbers and are now extremely rare, but remarkably they have been transferred by the Japanese label DiwClassics, in the second of its two surveys of historical recordings of Scriabin, both still commercially available.

DiwClassics DCL-1002 booklet front   obi

DiwClassics DCL-1002 (CD)
Hounds of Ecstasy: Historical Recordings of Scriabin Vol.2

Once again, as with the N.G.S., the Japanese Society’s recording programme was apparently proposed by a committee and voted on by the members. It’s fascinating that this should have resulted in an inaugural issue as adventurous as Scriabin’s last two sonatas – as N.G.S. committee member and Gramophone critic W.R. Anderson wrote of a set which was sent to the magazine,

‘The choice of music seems bold. These later Scriabin works are not altogether easy hearing, in some ways. In him a fresh wind blew through music. Our Japanese friends are taking a pretty big breath of this wind, and we hope they will enjoy the records.’

Sonata No.9 would not be recorded again for some 15 years, next appearing on Paraclete Music in a performance by Samuel Yaffe (1929-1980). No.10 was re-recorded at almost exactly the same time for another of the ‘society’ labels I’m studying, The Friends Of Recorded Music; the pianist was ‘the high priestess of Scriabin in America’, Katherine Ruth Heyman (1872-1944), about whom I now know quite a lot, and will write about soon if I can just get on top of the avalanche of information I’m finding on these fascinating figures.

The Society’s second issue was the Bartók Quartet, also recorded electrically in Berlin. The Scriabin set was never made available outside Japan, although my Japanese contact has unconfirmed information that it was later reissued on Nippon Polydor. The Bartók, on the other hand, was soon issued commercially both in Germany, on Grammophon, and, for export, on Polydor, and I imagine it must have stayed in the catalogues for quite some time. As far as I know, the Japanese issue has never been transferred; it probably survives in very few copies. I’ve never seen one, but I knew the discs were branded ‘Polydor’ and numbered 4 to 7 (the Scriabin discs were numbered 1 to 3). Now, thanks to the kindness of two eminent collectors, I also know what the labels looked like. The more common Western issue has previously been transferred by Arbiter:

Arbiter 139 (CD and download)
‘Hindemith as Interpreter:
The Amar Hindemith String Quartet’

For information on the Amar Quartet itself, see the characteristically excellent note by Tully Potter, which Arbiter has laudably posted on the above page in its online catalogue. I see the only member of this line-up for whom no one seems to have dates is the second violin, Walter Caspar, so I’m going to stick my neck out and say he was born in Breslau (now Wrocław) in 1881, was concertmaster of the South West German Radio orchestra in Frankfurt for many years, and died in 1953. Corrections gratefully received.

In 1927, a Japanese gramophone enthusiast named Hajime Fukaya wrote one of many letters to western record magazines (he was the first Japanese to be published in The Gramophone, in March 1925, and in 1926 wrote to the Manager of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra expressing his admiration for the Orchestra, its conductor Henri Verbrugghen, and their recordings, and requesting a photograph of the Orchestra). Addressed to the Boston-based Phonograph Monthly Review, his letter was published in its April 1927 issue:

No society movement in Japan
’I think the society movement very necessary at present situation, for to hear the novelty records each other, to know the new records, to held the gramophone concert for who could not buy the good record, and to appreciate the best music of the best performer. [...] Alas! I have heard “Good record distributing Society” of Tokyo, surely they have issued two kinds of records as you mentioned, but the Scriabin’s sonatas are not good from the point of the player, (unknown Polish pianist) and better Bartok’s String Quartet records now easily obtain from Polydor dealer, so the society’s peculiarity is very feeble, it is far below to the National Gramophonic Society of England, I am afraid the vanish of this Japanese Society in future, as our proverb says “Dragon’s head, snake’s tail.”’

Mr. Fukaya was possibly right to be afraid: with no further issue for almost three years, the Society did seem to fizzle out into a snake’s tail, as had the contemporary Chicago Gramophone Society, for instance. According to my Japanese contact, the Society was in fact merged with Nippon Polydor on the latter’s foundation in April 1927. But in April 1929 the Review relayed some good news from Mr. Fukaya:

‘Here is wonderful phenomenon that the Polydor version of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis will sell in near future as the subscription records to the members of the private recording society, but the set is not so privileged one like their first distributed two Scriabin’s sonatas, for we can possess the set easily from your record importers or many other foreign shops earlier than before our home distribution of it, moreover this monopolized policy shall meet keen competition when our Victor releases their Spanish recorded version of the same set in future.’

It is unclear from Mr. Fukaya’s letter whether the Society was responsible for commissioning Polydor’s recording of the Missa solemnis or simply secured it for its members. But an online listing of a Japanese CD transfer states, in machine translation, ‘This recording was a recording of a Japanese project realized with the plan of “Dainippon Nominated Song Record Distribution Committee”.’ So it seems we do have the Society to thank for the second complete recording of the Missa solemnis, made in Berlin in 1928 by the Bruno Kittel Choir and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Kittel. (The ‘keen competition’ was from the first complete recording, made live in June 1927 by the Spanish branch of the Gramophone Co., with the Orfeó Català choir conducted by Lluis Millet; in October 1928, the Gramophone Co. recorded two twelve-inch discs of excerpts in Leeds, for domestic issue on its H.M.V. plum ‘C’ label.)

Polydor 95155 (face B 25154, matrix 1213 bm I)
Beethoven Missa solemnis in D Op.123 –
Agnus Dei, part II (side 19 of 21)
soloists, Bruno Kittel Choir,
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Kittel

This long work, requiring twenty-one twelve-inch sides, took Grammophon some time to record, and it was apparently not possible to engage the same quartet of soloists for all the sessions. The final line-up was:

  • Lotte Leonard and Emmy Land, sopranos
  • Eleanor Schlosshauer-Reynolds, alto
  • Anton Maria Topitz and Eugen Transky, tenors
  • Wilhelm Guttmann and Hermann Schey, basses
  • Wilfried Hanke [concertmaster], violin (Sanctus)

I haven’t yet investigated this set in great discographical detail but I’ve seen no evidence that it was issued in a special pressing for the Japanese Society; possibly members received the standard commercial pressing. The filler was a choral version of Beethoven’s setting of Gellert, Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur Op.48 No.4, performed by the choir of St. Hedwig’s Basilica in Berlin, conducted by Pius Kalt. There have been various transfers of the set, most recently on CD by Saint-Laurent Studio of Canada, and by Universal Music Japan (the latter omits the filler), and as a download (gratis) by Dutch blogger Satyr (see above).

Universal Music [Japan] UCCG-90308 (2 SHM-CDs)Beethoven Missa solemnis in D Op.123
soloists, Bruno Kittel Choir,
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Kittel

After Hajime Fukaya’s letter, quoted above, I have found no further notice of the Society’s activities in the Western press. Yet my Japanese contact informed me that it was disbanded only in June 1935, so there may have been other issues which I know nothing about. By then Fukaya had co-founded a Japanese record magazine, The Gramophile, whose first issue appeared in February 1930, and which numbered Araebisu among its contributors. How long it stayed in print, I don’t yet know either.

So, to the Bartók quartet. My copy of the Polydor issue was transferred and remastered by Jolyon, to whom very many thanks. There are still occasional bursts of distortion, from damage to the grooves caused by playing the discs with steel needles instead of fibre, but they’re few and don’t detract from Jolyon’s fine work. You can download his transfer in an archive file containing three fully tagged digital files, one for each movement, in either FLAC or AAC lossless formats, via these links:

FLAC (for Windows)

AAC (for Mac)


4 October 2017:

I am extremely grateful to the collectors Peter Adamson and Raymond Glaspole for this scan of the handsome label on the first disc from the Japanese Society edition of this set. I’m interested to see that it carries no face number, unlike all Grammophon and Polydor issues of this period.

Polydor 4-A [415 bg] label [Glaspole ed Adamson]

Polydor 4-A (matrix 415 bg) label
[Photo: Raymond Glaspole / Peter Adamson]

The Gramophone (subscription required)

Phonograph Monthly Review (open access)

Mitsui, Toru ‘Interactions of Imported and Indigenous Musics in Japan: A Historical Overview of the Music Industry’, in Ewbank, Alison J. & Papageorgiou, Fouli T. [eds.] Whose Master’s Voice? The Development of Popular Music in Thirteen Cultures, Westport, CT / London: Greenwood Press, 1997, pp.152-74

Peter Adamson, Scotland
Raymond Glaspole, Oxford
Shuichiro Kawai, Japan
Akiko Kimura, British Library, London
Dr. Margaret Mehl, Denmark
Hisao Natsume, Japan
Jonathan Summers, British Library, London

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Merry Moonlighting

Pathé PAT 36 [CPTX 165] label

Pathé PAT 36
Pierre Danican Philidor (1681-1731)
Suite for treble instrument & continuo in e Op.1 No.5

Pathé PAT 37
(also issued in Japan on Columbia J 8584)
George Frideric Handel
Sonata for flute & continuo in b Op.1 No.9 HWV 367b
[NB penultimate Andante omitted]
Jean/Jan Merry (flute)
Pauline Aubert (harpsichord)
rec. 13 June 1935
(date: A Classical Discography)

And I thought this was going to be ‘easy’. Spurred on by bloggers like Jolyon, not to mention eminent historians of concert culture such as Dr. Christina Bashford, I now feel my posts should include more information about artists, especially obscure ones. In the immortal phrase of one Jezza, ‘How difficult can it be?’ Little did I know that it would take me well over a year just to find Jean Merry’s dates…

Naturally, I started with Susan Nelson. Her great discography The Flute on Record: The 78 rpm Era gives Merry’s birth date, but no place of birth or date of death. Then followed months of sporadic online searches, visits to libraries, e-mails to flautists, historians and conservatoires: nothing. Until, a few weeks ago, searching digital repositories at the British Library, I came across a thesis entitled A Performance Edition of Charles Kœchlin’s Les Chants de Nectaire, Opus 198, which put me out of my misery:


Many thanks to the author, Dr. Francesca Arnone, flautist and teacher, who has also sent very friendly answers to my e-mails. In her thesis, submitted in 2000 to the University of Miami, Dr. Arnone warned that ‘much information about Merry cannot be recovered’. There’s now far more about him out there – though still not his dates, let alone an obituary. Still, from Gallica, Ancestry.com, academic and other sources, including Dr. Arnone’s thesis, I’ve been able to piece together a fair picture of Merry’s life and work. I’ll concentrate on the ’20s to the ’40s, the decades most relevant to these discs and also the best documented in accessible sources. It has taken me so long, I’m jolly well going to give you the lot! Sorry if it’s tedious, but that’s who I’ve become: not just a grump but a bore.

(And apologies if I appear to neglect Pauline Aubert (1884-1979); she also deserves study – as far as I know, there’s no website or page devoted to her, let alone a printed biography – but she’s better known than Merry, and she recorded much more.)

First, the flautist’s name: on the label of PAT 36, he is billed as Jean Merry, and on that of PAT 36 as Jan Merry. He seems to have used the latter as a stage name. As Nelson states, he was in fact born Jean Merry-Cohu; Cohu is a Normand name, and Nelson adds that Merry studied at the Conservatoire of Caen – where, I’m guessing, he was born. The Conservatoire was one of several institutions and people I contacted about Merry, in May 2016, and it had the grace to answer: no documentation survives from before Wold War II. Caen, the archivist reminded me, suffered very badly from Allied bombing raids in 1945.

In 1923, the newspaper L’Ouest-Éclair, listing forthcoming ‘musical masses’ at the cathedral of Saint Malo in Brittany, named one performer as ‘Merry Cohu, 1er prix du Conservatoire de Caen’, a distinction I haven’t seen documented elsewhere. In 1999, Dr. Arnone was able to interview a member of his family for her thesis:

At the age of ten, Jan Merry was offered free lessons in Normandie by the flute professor at the conservatory who considered the boy to have natural talent. Since his widowed mother could not afford an instrument, he was given the school’s flute to use.

Who that kind teacher was, I don’t yet know (ten years after Merry attended the Caen Conservatoire, its flute professor was one Monsieur Brun; I don’t have the start date of his tenure). Merry’s mother, meanwhile, was named as his next-of-kin on the passenger list of the S.S. De Grasse, sailing for the USA from Le Havre on 23 September 1924:

COHU Merry 26 M[ale] S[ingle] [Occupation:] Civil Engineer [Nearest relative:] Mrs. Cohu 3, Rue du Pont St-Jacques CAEN (Calvados) [Final Destination:] Ohio Cleveland

‘Civil Engineer’? I’ll come back to that. Did Merry go to Cleveland for professional reasons? I don’t know, but he apparently played with the Cleveland Insitute of Music orchestra; back in France, he was once billed as ‘soliste de l’orchestre du Conservatoire de Cleveland’. The CIM did not respond to an e-mail enquiring about him, and I’ve found no mentions of him in US newspapers. Once more, Dr. Arnone to the rescue:

Merry began his professional musical career by concertizing in the United States with his first wife, an American pianist. After living in New England for a time, they returned to Paris […]

Merry’s first wife was Eleanor Stewart Foster (1897-1986), sister-in-law of the composer Roger Sessions. According to Andrea Olmstead’s biography of the composer, they were married in 1927, in Paris:

Sessions gave the bride away. He also gave Merry a solo flute piece, Pastorale, perhaps a wedding present; the piece is now lost.

In France, Merry continued his musical partnership with his wife, usually styled ‘Elen Merry’ in the French press, less commonly ‘Ellen Merry’. In February 1928, they gave a concert in Paris, performing duos by Loeillet, probably Jean-Baptiste (1680-1730), Bach, Albert Roussel and Philippe Gaubert; she also played solos by Brahms, Darius Milhaud, Emmanuel Chabrier and Chopin, and he played Debussy’s Syrinx. Another Paris concert, in January 1929, included duos by Louis Couperin, Benedetto Marcello and Handel, Pierre Hermant (1869-1928), Joseph Jongen, Quincy Porter, and Lili Boulanger. The same month, Jan Merry took part in a concert entirely devoted to works by Georges Hüe (1858-1948), and in July he played in a ‘Festival Albert Roussel’, with the composer at the piano for his Joueurs de flûte Op.27. In December, the Merrys joined forces for a programme juxtaposing old French organ music with works by Georges Migot (1891-1976); they would collaborate with Migot again.

About this time, the couple also formed a trio, Ars Nova, with the French violinist Colette Franz (1903-2004), later a well-known teacher and founder of the first conservatoire in the French West Indies. Ars Nova made its debut on 17 December 1929, at a concert promoted by the Société Internationale des Amis de la Musique Française; the repertoire, which included vocal and piano solos, ranged from Jacques-Christophe Naudot, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Rameau and Couperin (probably François), to Fauré, Debussy, Roussel, Maurice Emmanuel (1862-1938), Pierre de Bréville (1861-1949), Lili Boulanger and Joseph Canteloube. The Trio received an ecstatic review from Georges Migot:

Il est excessivement rare d’entendre un ensemble de tels artistes. Chacun est virtuose et musicien, chacun peut établir seul, sa notoriété, chacun est digne de toute notre attention. Mais ces trois interprètes de race aiment assez la musique pour la servir en unissant leur triple personnalité. […] Quant à Jan Merry, je crois que, rarement, il a été donné de réaliser une telle alliance de la technique et des lèvres, car sa sonorité est à la fois distinguée et chaude, pure et variée sans cesse. […] On pressent un musicien cultivé, qui sait analyser la morphologie d’une œuvre, et mettre chaque détail bien en place. Nous le répétons; la sonorité de Jan Merry ne peut s’oublier après audition. Elle est rare. Et nous osons dire qu’elle est une des plus belles parmi celles que nous connaissons en Europe.

[‘It is exceedingly rare to hear an ensemble of such artists. Each is a virtuoso and a musician, each could win fame alone, each deserves our full attention. But these three thorough-bred performers love music enough to serve her by uniting their threefold individuality. […] As for Jan Merry, rarely, I feel, has it been possible for such a marriage of technique and embouchure to be achieved; his sound is at once elegant and warm, pure and ever varied. […] One is aware of an educated musician, able to analyse a work’s structure and place each element perfectly. Let me say again: once heard, Jan Merry’s sound cannot be forgotten. It is a rare thing. And we make so bold as to claim it as one of the most beautiful we know of in Europe.’]

Ars Nova did not last. A month later, on 21 January 1930, a second concert followed, with works by Bach, Handel, Boismortier, Couperin, Roussel and Petros Petridis (1892-1977), as well as the premiere of Migot’s Livre des danceries for flute, violin and piano (later orchestrated), and some of his Petits préludes for two flutes (or, as here, flute and violin). Besides a brace of broadcasts, Ars Nova gave two more concerts: on 14 November 1930, of works by Purcell, Couperin, Naudot, Boismortier, Ladislas Rohozinski (1886-1938), Carl Reinecke, Georges Enesco and Alexander Tcherepnin; and on 21 March 1931, devoted entirely to music by Migot. Although billed, Frantz was apparently not available that evening and was replaced by the Swiss violinist Magda Lavanchy (1901-76).

I suspect marital problems. After that last concert, I can find no more listings or mentions of Elen/Ellen Merry on Gallica. By March 1932, she reappears as Elen (or Helen) Foster; many years later, she related that, after divorcing Merry, she was obliged to revert to her maiden name. Still, the two continued to appear together in concert – of which, more below.

Also on the bill of that March 1931 Migot concert was the harpist Françoise Kempf (1901-1996). A few days earlier, on 16 March, Kempf and Merry had given the first of what would be many concerts and broadcasts together, as a duo and with other artists. I’ve found at least ten collaborations, from early 1931 until mid-1941, well after Kempf had reportedly undergone her mystical religious conversion in 1937.

Meanwhile, on 22 January 1932, Merry’s other important musical partnership was apparently inaugurated, in his first documented concert with Pauline Aubert. They played works by Frescobaldi, Couperin, Rulman (not identified), Duval (presumably François) and Rameau. After a gap, they appeared together in October or November 1934 (listings vary), in the salon d’Hercule of the palace of Versailles. Dressed in period costume, they were joined by string players in one of François Couperin’s Concerts royaux; the Russian emigré Sacha Votichenko (1888-1971) played an original tympanon, a type of hammered dulcimer popular in Marie Antoinette’s heyday; and Antoinette Bécheau La Fonta (1898-1971) sang ariettes galantes of the ancien régime. It was Mme La Fonta who organized this and other historical concerts in ‘authentic’ (my word) settings. In December 1932, she put on a second concert at Versailles, at which Merry and colleagues played Mozart’s Flute Quartet in A K.298, and works by Jean-Marie Leclair, Couperin, Giovanni Battista Somis and (Pierre de?) Chauvigny (?-?).

Pauline Aubert was not only a concert artist but also an editor and composer. She unearthed forgotten works, such as a cantata entitled Jupiter et Europe and attributed to one A. Pasquier (not identified). She and Merry performed it in late 1934, at a concert of the women’s orchestra conducted by Jane Evrard (1893-1984), alongside a flute concerto by Michel Blavet. In March 1935, Parisian concert-goers heard Aubert’s Poèmes persans, for voice and flute, performed by Merry and the soprano Madeleine Chardon. In April, Aubert and Merry gave a broadcast talk, with music, on ‘Les Couperins [sic] interprètes de l’amour’. In the summer of 1936, Merry and Aubert returned to Versailles, giving concerts in the palace’s Salon de la paix, and in the Salon des jardins in the Grand Trianon. In December, they played together in an upmarket Paris showroom or gallery.

Thereafter, I’ve found nothing until April 1939, when Merry and Aubert were in The Hague, playing works by Blavet, Louis de Caix d’Hervelois, Jean-François Dandrieu, Louis Hotteterre (one of several musicians of this name), Rameau and Charles de Lusse. This was only the second trip I have traced which took Merry outside France before the War; the patchiness of periodical digitization and access means I’ve probably missed others.

Meanwhile, Merry had not abandoned the moderns. On 12 December 1935, he took part in the inaugural concert promoted by La Spirale, playing the Six petits préludes for flute and violin by Georges Migot, the group’s president. This served one of la Spirale’s aims, which was to privilege repeat performances over premieres, in its wider mission to promote contemporary music, French and foreign, in concert. On 5 March 1936, La Spirale put on an American programme, for which Merry and his former wife Elen Foster, alongside other Spirale members such as Olivier Messiaen, played works by Harrison Kerr, Roger Sessions, John Alden Carpenter, Wallingford Riegger, Isadore Freed, Charles Ives and Quincy Porter. Merry played Riegger’s Suite for flute alone, and revisited Porter’s Suite in E for flute, violin and viola, which he had premiered with Porter himself almost exactly five years before.

On 16 March 1937, Merry took part in the second concert promoted by another new group, La Jeune France. Founded the previous year, it’s now remembered mainly for its most famous member today, Messiaen, but it numbered another composer more important to Merry: André Jolivet (1905-1974), also a member of La Spirale. In 1936, Jolivet had composed Cinq Incantations for solo flute, and on 14 January 1937 Merry premiered some of them at La Sorbonne, reportedly because his peers were too conservative for such music. Later that month, he gave a second, private performance of some or all of the Incantations; and at the March concert of La Jeune France, Merry played three. Jolivet dedicated the cycle to Merry, whether before the premiere or in recognition of his advocacy I don’t know. Soon after composing the five Incantations, Jolivet wrote a free-standing Incantation pour que l’image devienne symbole, originally scored for solo violin (G string) or ondes Martenot, but premiered by Merry in 1937 on the flute (I have not identified the occasion); the violin premiere was not given until 1967.

In May 1938, at a salon concert organized by La Jeune France, Merry again presented three of the Incantations, as well as two pieces by another member of the group, Yves Baudrier (1906-1988), for which the flautist was joined by Elen Foster at the piano. The programme also included works by the British composers Alan Bush (1900-1995) and Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971). Merry and Foster repeated the Baudrier items at another concert of La Jeune France later the same month. Intriguingly, in March 1939, at a concert held by La Jeune France in the salon of the duchess Edmée de la Rochefoucauld, Merry played the second of the Cinq Incantations while Foster executed a dance of her own devising.

The previous July, Merry and Foster had given the public premiere of a chamber cantata by Georges Migot, Vini vinoque amor (setting the composer’s own text), having premiered in private for the dedicatee. A year later, the partnership’s future must have seemed in doubt. At the outbreak of war, Merry and Foster travelled to his native Normandy, he to Cherbourg, to join an artillery regiment providing coastal defences, she to Caen to stay with Merry’s mother. It took Foster a year to escape. As the Burlington Free Press and Times of Burlington, Vermont, related in July 1941:

Mrs. Eleanor Foster Cohu of Claremont, N.H., a resident of France for 14 years before the invasion, was the guest speaker before the members of the Montpelier Rotary club Monday afternoon. Mrs. Cohu is an American girl and left Lisbon, Portugal, last Oct. 5 for the United States. She told of the first bombing on June 3, when the planes came down about noon, two bombs falling where she was staying, and two women being killed because they had wished to remain in their dining room, rather than seek shelter. She told of their laborious travel south […] to Pau, where they kept in hiding for six months. Mrs. Cohu spoke of the good work the American Friends society is doing in France, in Marseilles alone feeding between 30,000 and 40,000 school children each day. Everything this Quaker society collects, goes to France, she said.

After the Armistice, Jan Merry was presumably discharged and returned to occupied Paris. In February 1941, he played two of Jolivet’s Incantations at an public lecture by the composer. Later that year, Merry gave his first performance under the aegis of Le Triptyque, a concert series founded in 1934: on 5 July 1941, for a programme of Bach, Handel, Michel Corrette and others, Merry appeared with the tenor Paul Derenne (1907-1988) and the organist Marthe Bracquemond (1898-1973), who would later write a Sonatine for solo flute – whether for Merry, I don’t know (she had already written a work for him and Françoise Kempf to perform). In July 1942, he took part in a Triptyque concert of music by Arthur Honegger, with the soprano Noémie Pérugia (1903-1992).

Most important of all, on 7 May 1943, Le Triptyque devoted an entire concert to Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) with, again, Pérugia, a pianist and three wind soloists. Merry premiered two of the composer’s three Sonatines Op.184 for solo flute; he was also joined by his younger colleague Roger Bourdin (1923-1976), probably in the Sonata Op.75 for two flutes, and by the clarinettist Jacques Lancelot (1920-2009), possibly in the Divertissement Op.91. The concert marked the beginning of an important association, which would culminate in one of the monuments of solo flute music, and the subject of Dr. Arnone’s thesis: the ninety-six Chants de Nectaire, composed from April to August 1944 and named after a character in a novel by Anatole France. Merry premiered several of the Chants, some of which were dedicated to him by Koechlin (as is one of the Sonatines Op.184), and he continued to champion the Chants until the end of his career.

Which career, though? On that 1924 passenger list, Merry’s occupation was not given as musician – and he never became a professional flautist. For his entire working life, he was an electrical engineer, specialising in the lighting of halls, tunnels, streets and other public spaces. In this capacity, he was always known as Merry Cohu, which probably explains his slightly but distinctively different stage name (I wonder if he first used Jan in the US, to avoid any possible confusion with the female name Jean?). He seems to have qualified as an engineer in 1923, and he obtained a doctorate from the University of Caen with a thesis entitled Étude de quelques propriétés photométriques caractéristiques de certains verres diffusants à faces parallèles... [‘Study of some photometric properties characteristic of certain types of diffusing glass with parallel surfaces…’], published in 1932.

By 1935, Merry Cohu was Chief Engineer of the Research Group of France’s Society for the Improvement of Lighting, and by 1938 President of the lighting and heating chapter of the French Electrical Association. By 1959 he was General Secretary of France’s Committee for Lighting, and a consulting engineer to the leading Dutch electrical firm Philips. He spoke at conferences and symposia, and published extensively, from a 1924 article about light in a popular science magazine, to Récepteurs photoélectriques (École supérieure d'électricité / Malakoff, 1969). He translated at least one publication by a well-known physicist of gases, Frans Michel Penning (from Dutch, if you please).

Talking of publications, I’ve forgotten to mention that Merry edited four volumes of flute scales, studies and exercises by Giuseppe Gariboldi (1833-1905), and published his own transcription for flute and piano of Debussy’s Le petit nègre. There may be more. I don’t know if Merry ever had a teaching position – it seems unlikely, with his ‘day job’ – but he certainly had pupils, and he had a method. In fact, he was a formative influence on one of the most famous French flautists of the later twentieth century. As Dr. Arnone relates, remembering his kind schoolteacher in Normandy, Merry always

hoped to repay his “musical debt” to a talented and deserving pupil someday. That student would turn out to be his good friend’s son, Michel Debost.

Debost himself told a pupil of his,

In 1943, a friend of my father’s, Jan Merry, started me on the flute. He loved to play. His teaching was based on reading — first the original Altès Method, then duets of the Baroque, and many Mozart duets. I still think this reading skill is essential, because many technical hurdles in repertoire are just bad reading.

So, we’ve sort of reached the end of the War, when the paper trails I’ve been following run out. There are basically no hits on Gallica for Merry after the War – I don’t know why. Presumably Merry’s work as a consultant engineer took off, with so much infrastructure needing to be repaired, rebuilt and lit. But he was certainly still playing – according to Dr. Arnone, not just in France but also in Britain and Germany, and on one occasion he played one of Koechlin’s Chants de Nectaire

at an airport’s baggage claim in order to prove that his gold flute was indeed his property.

In December 1951, at a concert in Paris devoted to Koechlin’s works, the composer’s disciple Pierre Renaudin read the passage from Anatole France’s La révolte des anges which had inspired the Chants de Nectaire, after which Merry performed his own selection of five Chants. In her thesis, Dr. Arnone reproduces the programme of a concert given as late as August 1978, at which Merry played two Chants and one of Jolivet’s Incantations. Still, I would like to know more about Merry’s later life, including his work as an engineer. And it’s particularly irksome that I can’t find a notice of Merry’s second marriage, to a singer whose name I don’t know – possibly Magdeleine Camberlein. Their names are linked on a French genealogical site, but everything about his wife is hidden. One of the few details about Merry, rather sweetly, is his family nickname: ‘Tonton La Flûte’.

Anyway, it’s time we got down to hearing Merry’s records. I imagine Merry Cohu the engineer was less than impressed by Pathé’s slapdash production: not only is he billed differently on the two discs, the sides of the Handel sonata are mixed up. This label is stuck on what is actually the first side:

Pathé PAT 37 [CPTX 163] label

This Pathé session was not, in fact, Merry’s debut on disc. He had been among the first artists to record for L’anthologie sonore (in September 1934, according to Michael Gray), the historical label master-minded by Curt Sachs (1881-1959), the musicologist and organologist, in exile from Nazi Germany. Blink, and you might miss his only known contribution: Merry is credited for just half of one side of L’anthologie sonore 3, playing in a 4-part lied by Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517) sung by the Swiss tenor Max Meili (1899-1970); the other item on the side didn’t require Merry. You can hear a good transfer by the Bibliothèque nationale de France on its Gallica site (note that the page mistakenly illustrates the label of the other side):

L’Anthologie sonore 3A
Isaac Zwischen Berg und Tal, Dufay Pourrai-je avoir     
Max Meili (tenor), Jan Merry (flute),     
Franz Siedersbeck (vielle), André Lafosse (trombone)     
recorded September 1934     
(date: A Classical Discography)

It’s possible that Merry performed in other L’Anthologie sonore recordings; not all instrumentalists were credited on labels. I doubt it, though: already on L’Anthologie sonore 9, a flute sonata by Blavet, a composer in Merry’s repertoire, was assigned to Marcel Moyse (1889-1984) – what’s more, with Pauline Aubert, who made many records for the series. Of course, Moyse was a great flautist and would have lent wider appeal to what perhaps seemed a label for specialists. But perhaps Merry’s sound was another issue: in that Isaac lied, notice how quick and almost febrile his vibrato is, more so than on the Pathé discs (but does the BnF transfer reproduce the recorded pitch?). His playing of these baroque items was not to the taste of the gramophone critic of the Paris paper L’Homme libre, one Nicolas Motais:

Une « Sonate » de Haendel (Pat. 37) et une « Suite » de Philidor (Pat. 36) sont jouées sans poésie et souvent sans justesse par le flûtiste Jan Merry.

[‘A Sonata by Handel (Pat. 37) and a Suite by Philidor (Pat. 36) are played without poetry, and often inaccurately, by the flautist Jan Merry.’]

I feel that’s harsh. Most reviews I’ve found of Merry’s Pathé discs are complimentary, though about the music rather than the performances (which was usual at the time, in reviews of records containing rare repertoire). Still, I must admit, what with the moments of off tuning and occasional scrambles, I don’t find Merry makes a particularly beautiful sound or lasting impression here.

But what in fact was Merry’s sound? That’s another reason this post has taken me so long. I’ve been itching to get blogging again, and especially to transfer some of my growing collection of 78s. Again, Jolyon and others have brought home to me the importance of transferring at correct pitch; but I don’t have a fully working varispeed turntable – only three which need attention… I chose these two Pathé discs, partly because I thought they’d be ‘easy’ to transfer, and partly because I wanted to listen to them to answer some discographical questions.

Oh dear – once again, little did I suspect… My copies are in goodish condition, and they responded well to light digital restoration. But when I played my transfers to a friend with perfect pitch, he wasn’t happy. So another friend kindly shifted the pitch, which didn’t entail a change large enough to cause artifacts, luckily. Now, my first friend was happy, but a flute historian I sent the shifted versions to, and whose opinion I very much respect, wasn’t. This all happened a year ago, and came on top of a sorry saga of me attempting to buy a varispeed turntable on ebay and being messed around by an ethically, socially and orthographically challenged seller, plus buying a second copy of one of Merry’s discs only to find I already had it.

So I’ve decided to stop messing about and upload the shifted transfers. Each disc has been transferred as a single sound file, in FLAC and Apple Lossless formats (feel the ecumenicity). Both discs are bundled together in one Zip file, which can be downloaded from here:

FLAC format

ALAC format

A few final things. There is one, just one, tantalising rerefence online to a commercial recording by Jan Merry of Koechlin’s Chants de Nectaire, supposedly issued on 5 LPs by the little-known French label Encyclopédie Sonore Hachette. That would be extraordinary, if true, because I’ve seen no mention of this possibly complete recording in any printed or online sources I have consulted (including an entire website devoted to the Chants). The only confirmation I can find is a listing of another Encyclopédie Sonore issue, containing a recording of Racine’s Phèdre, performed by a cast including Emmanuèle Riva, directed by the label’s founder, Georges Hacquard, and with ‘Flute music written by Charles Koechlin, performed by Jan Merry.’ Very much in a French tradition of incidental music for solo flute which goes back to Debussy’s Syrinx, Hacquard’s production, I would guess, draws on the above recording of the Chants. Having Merry’s recordings of Koechlin’s Chants would radically change our aural image of him: for all their interest, these Pathé discs are really Aubert’s affair, with Merry playing a slightly secondary role.

After the War, Eleanor Foster returned to Paris. For a time, she resumed her musical partnership with Merry. On 27 January 1947, they premiered Migot’s Sonate en cinq parties, dedicated to them. Migot also dedicated several pieces to Foster alone, from Le verseau [Aquarius], the first piece of his piano cycle Le Zodiaque, to two piano preludes, written as late as 1969-70. Meanwhile, Foster continued to reinvent herself. According to a 1975 newspaper interview quoted by Andrea Olmstead, ‘For 18 years she was the musical organiser and scriptwriter for a Masterworks of French Music radio program, heard on 300 American radio stations.’ So she was responsible for all those Masterworks of French Music LPs we see advertised for sale on the internet! (An example.) Foster also pursued another calling which she’d already explored before the war with Merry (see above):

A love of dancing and an investigation into a method of improving “centered coordination” led to a series of exercises she evolved that strengthened a belt of muscles in the solar plexus region. She wrote a book in French on the subject, The Solar Center of the Body: Source of Energy and Equilibrium. The interviewer noted that Eleanor was her own best advertisement: “At 78 she moves like 40; her enthusiasm glows like 20.”

Foster, Ellé Le centre solaire du corps, ÉPI, 1977, cover

Le centre solaire du corps was published in 1973. Above, the cover of a 1977 edition; it was reprinted well into the 1980s. I love Foster’s new moniker; finding it led me to her other publications:

  • Herzen, Monod; Forget, Maud; Foster, Ellé; Toupotte, Roland, et al. Médecine, parapsychologie et spiritualité, Éditions Martinsart, 1976
  • Foster, Ellé Mère la terre m’invite à danser: méthode d’éducation corporelle pour les enfants, Épi, 1979

It comes as something of a shock to read further in Olmstead: ‘The hearsay [...] is that Eleanor may have committed suicide.’

A bitter-sweet final note. In an e-mail to Dr. Arnone, quoted in her thesis, Michel Debost wrote:

Jan Merry was a prominent electrical engineer, but his only passion was for the flute. He had always wanted to be a professional flute player and regretted it to his dying day…

It’s a pity that his passion is so meagrely documented, but Dr. Arnone made a start in her thesis, and we’ve added a bit more detail.


20 September 2017:

I’ve just come across the Netherlands’ superb digital portal Delpher, thanks to which I have details of some of Merry’s appearances in Holland.

The earliest currently documented in Delpher’s newspaper archive is an introduction to 18th century French music, given on 18 April 1939 to students of the Amsterdam Conservatoire, in the old building’s Bachzaal. It was presented by Pauline Aubert, who took the lion’s share of the programme, Merry joining her in pieces by Michel de la Barre and, possibly, Philidor. The following day, at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, the duo gave a longer public concert, again drawing on French baroque repertoire, which Aubert played on a harpsichord from the museum’s collection. No fewer than four Dutch papers reviewed the concert, not entirely favourably. Tempering the mostly positive verdicts on Merry’s playing were criticisms of his sound, intonation, and choice of apparently weak solo items by Hotteterre and Blavet.

Not until 1961 does Merry reappear in these digitized Dutch newspapers, again performing at The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum on 16 November; no details of the programme or other artists were reported. In February 1964, Merry gave his last concert documented in these sources, at Amsterdam’s Institut Français, also known as the Maison Descartes (recently sold). With the pianist Nicole Aubert (her relation to Pauline is unknown), Merry performed French music by the baroque composers Blavet, Leclair and Caix d’Hervelois, and, from his own time, Migot, Koechlin, Francis Poulenc and Jehan Alain. The only review I’ve located was damning, pronouncing the baroque first half ‘a disappointment’, and finding little more to commend in the ‘moderately modern’ pieces; only Poulenc’s Sonata won favour, as a piece and a performance.


Ancestry.com (genealogical, travel and other documents; subscription required)

Arnone, Francesca A Performance Edition of Kœchlin’s Chants de Nectaire Op.198 [DMA thesis], University of Miami, 2000

Clough, F.F. & Cuming, G.J. The World’s Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music, London: Sidgwick & Jackson & Decca Record Company, 1952, 1953, 1957

Councell-Vargas, Martha ‘Michel Debost: Teaching Artistry’, The Flutist Quarterly, Vol.XXXVII No.3, Spring 2012, pp.26-29

Delpher (Dutch newspapers, periodicals, books and other sources; open access)

Duchesneau, Michel L’avant-garde musicale et ses sociétés à Paris de 1871 à 1939, Mardaga, 1997

Gallica (French newspapers, periodicals and other sources, audio and image files; open access)

Gray, Michael A Classical Discography (open access)

Honegger, Marc [ed.] Catalogue des oeuvres musicales de Georges Migot, Les Amis de l’Œuvre et de la Pensée de Georges Migot / Association des Publications près les Universités de Strasbourg, 3e Série, Initiations et Méthodes, No.13, 1977

Jansson, Anders booklet note for Sforzando SFZ2001, 2000

Kayas, Lucie André Jolivet, Fayard, 2005

Meunier, Jean-Pierre La naissance de Malavoi [blog post], 1 August 2006

Nelson, Susan The Flute on Record: The 78 rpm Era, Scarecrow Press, 2006

Newspapers.com (mainly US newspapers; subscription required)

Orledge, Robert Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) His Life and Works, Harwood Academic Press, 1989

Powell, Ardal The Flute, Yale, 2003

Simeone, Nigel ‘La Spirale and La Jeune France: Group Identities’, Musical Times, Vol.143, No.1880 (Autumn 2002), pp.10-36

Wikipedia (open access)

Worldcat (bibliographical and discographical data; open access)

Dr. Heidi Álvarez
Dr. Francesca Arnone
Dominique Beaufils, Conservatoire de Caen
Martha Councell-Vargas
Dr. Abigail Dolan
Frans Hupjé, Philips Museum
Nigel Simeone
Jonathan Summers