Wednesday, January 20, 2016

An Operatic record and a guide to early studio pianists

Yesterday evening, not long after I put up the last post, a good collector friend of mine posted a fantastic and unusual record on his channel. It didn't appear of much interest to me at first, but I clicked on it anyway. How I was surprised! It was extraordinary! Anyhow, before I get into details, here's "Je Veux Vivire(Romeo and Juliet)" by Suzanne Adams, recorded in 1903.

Now it took a few listens to fully understand what this was really, and it's amazing truly. The singer is great, and the announcement is by Harry Spencer, and the piano is by Charles Prince. I thought at first it was Hylands, but that would not really be realistic, for a multitude of reasons. So since I just realised that Charles Prince was, other than being the famous bandleader of the 1910's, but he was Columbia's Operatic pianist. Prince was the Operatic accompanist, whereas Hylands was the "everything else" pianist. Hylands was the one who played all of the "lower-class" music that wasn't opera. 
That makes so much sense, I think I'm starting to get who the three Columbia pianists were between 1896 and 1905, just like that at Edison. Here's a list, with all dates, and all known pianists listed:

Edison: Edward Issler(primary pianist, 1889-1896)Frank P. Banta(primary pianist 1896-1903), Albert Benzler(secondary c. 1898-1905/primary 1904-1908), Fred Bachmann(operatic/sub pianist, c.late-1890's-?)

Victor/Berliner: Fred Gaisberg(primary pianist, 1894-1898)Frank P. Banta(primary Pianist, 1899-1903), Fred Hylands(sub pianist, 1900-1903/primary 1905) Christopher H. Booth(operatic/sub pianist, c.1900-1911)Fred Bachmann(operatic/sub pianist c. 1901-1917)

Zon-O-Phone: Fred Hylands(primary pianist, 1899-1903), Frank P. Banta(secondary pianist 1900-1903) more than these two? I don't know.

Columbia: Artists play or Edward Issler(1889-c. after 1900)Fred Gaisberg(Primary pianist 1891-c.1896) George Schweinfest(primary pianist 1896-mid 1897/ sub pianist 1897-1903) Fred Hylands(primary pianist, c.mid 1897-October or November of 1905) 

Leeds/American: Fred Hylands(primary pianist, 1903-c.1905) Anyone else, I don't know.

Many small/ independent companies: Fred Hylands(primary c.1899-1902) Banta was rarely on independent labels, and if you find a record made by an obscure or independent company between 1899 and 1903, it will more likely be Hylands than Banta, or anyone else. Pirate labels also count in this category. 

Now here's a guide to the most common piano accompaniment styles of the early pianists(note! not all of them are listed, because it's hard to know on some of these "in-between" records):

Frank P. Banta, studio pianist from c.1896-1903
Distinct style characteristics: If you hear lots of fifths between octaves on records in the piano, a style that can get ahead of the singer on Victors, broken octaves in the right hand only, very fast chromatic sections, slightly "dotted" or unsyncopated Ragged patterns, quick tremolos on Edison cylinders, rarely played in the upper register, and a somewhat frantic Rag-Time style. Also, on things that aren't Rag-Time, the rhythm is unsteady(usually rushy), but has a very deep sense of "soul" to it, and isn't straight as an arrow. 

Albert Benzler, studio pianist from c.1898-1909
Distinct style characteristics:  plays lots of sweeping trills all over the treble notes, plays in the higher register of the piano, had the ability to play notes very very fast like in much of the romantic era music, very unsteady and broken sense of time, not very keen on the whole "Rag-Time" style. He may be able to be heard playing "Black and White Rag" in 1911, but it's nothing like how you'd think it would be. 

Edward Issler, Studio pianist from 1889-c.1896
Distinct style characteristics: If you have a very early brown wax cylinder, you're more than likely to hear Issler, North American cylinders had Issler on them almost always, and since that is not too hard of a distinction to make, his style is of not much use for identification. He played loudly, powerfully, lots of octaves in the left hand, played exaggeratedly sometimes(such as exaggerating the waltz time, or dotted rhythms), played "pre-Ragtime" pretty well, and was always playing the most popular music. His sense of rhythm was fantastic for being a (probably) classically trained pianist, better than Banta's time. 

Here are some examples:
behind Edward M. Favor in 1893
with his parlor orchestra(announced by young Len Spencer!) playing "Wang Gavotte" from 1892-93
with David Dana in 1891

Fred Gaisberg, house pianist(in the U.S.) from 1893-1898
Distinct style characteristics: lots of quick notes, very unsteady sense of rhythm, very dynamic style, light and airy, but also could be loud as needed. His Rag-Time style was very unsyncopated and much like "negro dances" of the early 1890's, or early cakewalks(pre-1895). Put lots of energy into his accompaniments, and showed off what he could do very much. Very well-trained, and well rounded as a pianist, and it's very evident in his playing. Any Berliner record from pre-1897 is pretty much Gaisberg always.

Here are some examples: 
with John Yorke Atlee in 1893.
sort of playing some Rag-Time behind George Gaskin in 1896(on a Berliner)
behind Atlee again in 1893
behind Dan W. Quinn singing "The Band Played On" on a Berliner from 1895

Fred. Hylands, house pianist from c.1897-1905
Distinct style characteristics: If you have a Columbia cylinder from 1898-1901, it's most likely that Hylands is on the piano, if the song is at all Rag-Time related and recorded on a Columbia from 1898 to 1904, Hylands is there on piano. His style was rough, strong, jumpy, rhythmically superior, very Ragged, and just sounded like a style that all the record managers craved. It was more reasonable to work with rhythmically than all of the other styles that Columbia had before 1897. He played broken walking octaves in the left hand, lots and lots of notes, weird chord configurations, lots of tenths and twelfths everywhere, had a style that lingered sometimes(as his mind was always in a different place), he drank prominently in the studios, and of course when he did that, his time got more broken and unsteady. Sometimes he sounded frantic, nervous, or anxious. Other times he sounded slow, careless, and vain. He was a true saloon pianist, but he was a little more "classy" than the stereotype somehow.

Here are some examples: 
an 1899 take and 1903 take of "Turkey in the Straw" with Billy Golden
Behind Joe Belmont in 1903
behind George Schweinfest in 1903
behind Arthur Collins in earlier-1905.
behind Charles P. Lowe in 1901

I hope you enjoyed this! 

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I think Prince was often an erratic accompanist both on piano and as a conductor - really an erratic musician at times. Even in the 1903 Columbia Grand Opera discs there are places where he almost falls apart (the Schubert record with Ernestine Schumann-Heink is astoundingly disjointed). Later on, Columbia gave most operatic accompanying duties to Romano Romani or Giorgio Polacco, both of whom were opera house conductors to begin with. However, the rag records with the Columbia bands he conducted are often better than you give them credit for, especially between 1904 and 1908, if you don't mind a slight dissenting opinion; some of them use percussion throughout, which give them some extra zip. Lots of interesting things here; thank you.