Saturday, May 28, 2016

Character Studies--George Schwienfest (c.1862-1949)

in c.1898
in 1894

This Issler "dropout" as I call Issler's orchestra performers who literally dropped out of that group for the Columbia orchestra, began working under the obliging of Edward Issler in 1889 for Edison's phonograph company, then in only a few months, he and the rest of the group were all working for North American, then later Columbia, and so forth. One of the first prominent things that Schweinfest ever did in ways of recording was making a handful of piano solos and duets with Issler in 1889. It's strange to think that they had so much trust and friendship in each other, but the fact that they specifically chose to make these duets shows an element of trust in them. 

To begin with Schweinfest, it is unknown where or what his origins were, but one thing is for sure, he had the same origins that Issler did, as they probably met around 1886, or many a few years before that. It must have been the ideas of Schweinfest and Issler that began their orchestra in 1888. Issler was a first generation American in his family, as both his parents were born in Germany, and he was the first to be born in the U.S., with this, Schweinfest probably had the same situation within his family. Schweinfest was a fantastic musician, with the ability to play at least five instruments; piccolo, flute, violin, piano, clarinet, and maybe more. It is not known what he began playing on first, though violin is a likely possibility. He must have been a very good man as far as the early recording stars go, very musically focused, cooperative, and patient. As from these traits, it earned him a long life, and many music directors wanting him. He was well-liked among the record staff, and Issler used him as an important tool of his, as on the many recordings by Issler's orchestra, you can hear Schweinfest playing different instruments, possibly changing in the middle of a take. With this cooperative nature, all the studio pianists liked him, but they all had to respect him, since he was one of their subs, and back-up pianist if one of them was out for a day, to a few days, to a week, or even if the inevitable happened--one of them died. He knew all the studio pianists, from Gaisberg to Bachmann, even if they didn't work at the same company, he still would have known them, and built kind relations with them, as he was no Fred Hylands. His times in the studio were always a breeze, save for the times when he apologized for his piccolo being horridly out of tune, as at Columbia it would be Hylands complaining about that of course. When he worked for Victor, his records were well made always, save for some times when the pianist was not playing the correct chords or just right notes. That, as we know was not Schweinfest's fault, that was Banta, Hylands or Bachmann's problem. He never missed a note, all of the notes he ever played on those solos were right, nothing was missed, ever. If you go through any multitude of his recordings, the conclusion might be made that he never missed any note anywhere. With that being said, it can amplify any mistakes the pianist makes behind him. Once Issler dropped his orchestra from Columbia's catalog, all his musicians weren't exactly sure of what he was going to be doing, so he told them that they were part of the Columbia orchestra from there onward. With this change, we get recordings like this one here:
"The Jealous Blackbird" by Schweinfest and the Columbia orchestra(1897)
As we know, Issler didn't disappear from there, though he wasn't leading his orchestra at Columbia anymore. 
That left Schweinfest, Tuson, and Dana under the rule of Thomas Clark, who was a different man than Issler. First of all, he wasn't German, and that immediately rid of many traditionally Germanic ideals and ways of musicality. Secondly, Clark wasn't a pianist primarily, so that also created differing viewpoints. Schweinfest was perfectly fine with this transition, as he quickly came to befriend the new director and pianist. Clark was fond of Schweinfest, as he was not only a great soloist, but also a fantastic player in a group, and  had that great sense of rhythm that must have come from working with Issler for so long. Hylands was a different tale. Schweinfest was on of the pianists that was replaced by Hylands, which created something there. He wasn't angered over this, as he was one who understood why Master Easton and Vic Emerson chose a low-life Rag-Time pianist to be their main pianist at that point in time. Despite all of this agreeing, he did have to get used to Hylands being there, with all his "baggage", and social issues. Being a member of the Columbia orchestra meant that Schweinfest had to attend things like this:
This is that section I use from The Phonoscope with the ridiculous amount of spelling mistakes. 
Anyhow, the Columbia orchestra is listed, Tom Clark is specifically listed as the orchestra director(of the few times he was!), and Fred Hylands is listed(love it!). As I have explained before, Master Easton held two of these gatherings, one in 1898 and the other in 1899, and considering the circumstances, they must have been very expensive to host, but at least the performers got to perform for their boss at the most expensive hotel in New York City at the time, and probably got some of the most exquisite courses of food they got for a while. Schweinfest had to go to both of these, as he is listed in both of them, not just inevitably part of the Columbia orchestra, but also as a soloist. Schweinfest remained making records as a soloist and with the Columbia orchestra after 1900, though his work outside of the studio remains a mystery to this date. He probably remained working with Issler after 1900, as there's not a doubt in my mind that the two remained friends until Issler died in 1942. He worked with Hylands primarily after 1900, as all of his solo records have Hylands still on piano behind him which probably was not an issue with him. Hylands was still Hylands, even if it wasn't 1898 anymore. It is not known what happened to Schweinfest after he ended recording solos, though he may have remained in some studio orchestra a few years after that. Which studio orchestra? I don't know, but I hope that it was Hager's orchestra! 
Whatever Schweinfest decided to do after he ended recording, it surely did him well, as he lived to be 87, and that's pretty much outliving everyone he knew in the earliest days of recording. He didn't out live Clark though, Clark was 89 when he died, and that makes him the oldest of the all the earliest studio stars, though Schweinfest lived the longest into the 20th century. 

It's amazing to think that Schweinfest outlived pretty much everyone in the Columbia orchestra(from Hylands to David Dana), and everyone in Issler's original ensemble. He also outlived most of the regular studio singers, Len Spencer, Edward Favor, Myers, Dan Quinn, Steve Porter, Russell Hunting, Edward Easton, Vic Emerson, and even Frank Dorian(who lived from 1869 to 1940). 

He even outlived all his managers and bosses. Heh, that's great. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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