Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Metropolis - A Fantasy in Blue

 Metropolis - a Ferde Grofé experiment in modern music celebrates its  85th birthday
A Tribute
Hans Koert

On the 12th of March 1928, eighty-five years ago, the enlarged 26 men Paul Whiteman Orchestra, his so-called Concert Orchestra, recorded the first and second part of Metropolis, a suite in four parts, that had a total playing time of ca. 17 minutes. The 3rd part was recorded a day later and the fourth part was played on the 17th of March. This lenghtly tune was released on two 30cm 78rpm gramophones for Victor.

  • This is a re-post of a previous blog entitled Metropolis, posted due to its 80th (!) birthday - five years ago!
Ferde Grofé (1937)

The tune, which got the work title Fantasia in E-flat, was composed by Ferde Grofé and later got its final name Metropolis - a Fantay in Blue, named after the succesfull 1926 film Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Mind that Ferde's tune has nothing to do with the film - it only gives you an impression of the sounds and noises of a big city, a so-called Metropolis.

 Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra (1928)

Ferde Grofé was born in New York City March 1892 as Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé. His ancestors came from Germany. Both his parents played classical music and when his father passed away he returned to Germany with his mother where he got violin and piano lessons. Some years later they returned to New York and when he left school he found a job as a musician. After some gigs at bars and bordellos, he started to perform in the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. In 1915 he played in the band of Art Hickman where he wrote arrangements for dance orchestra. In the late 1910s he became interested in jazz and one of his collegues in the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, Paul Whiteman, became fascinated by Ferde's arrangements. In 1920 when Paul Whiteman needed a new piano player in his band he asked Ferde and so they  cooperated, which was a start to some great recordings of Ferde Grofé compositions, like the Mississippi Suite and the Grand Canyon Suite and, of course, this Metropolis.

 Metropolis by the Willem Breuker Kollektief (BVHaast CD 8903)

I have some two great contemporary recordings from this suite. Mind that this Metropolis suite was performed in public only once on  stage at Carnegie Hall in October 1928 and since that time no orchestra ever played this piece complete in public again until January 1989 when the Dutch Willem Breuker Kollektief played it for their BVHaast CD Metropolis (CD 8903). Enjoy a fragment of the first part of Metropolis, as played by the Willem Breuker Kollektief

For me it was the first time that I heard it on record and I was impressed by this Experiment in Modern Music, as this piece was subtitled. Both Ferde Grofé as Paul Whiteman wanted to make Modern American Music, that should be of an equal quality as the great European classical composers. If you have seen Paul Witeman's film The King of Jazz you can imagine how it sounded.

 The Modern American Music of Ferde Grofé - The Beau Hunks ( Basta 30-9083)

Fifteen years ago the Beau Hunks, the orchestra known for its Laurel & Hardy music, played it using the original arrangements and this performance is to be found at their album The Modern American Music of Ferde Grofé. You will find more compositions of Ferde Grofé on its album like his Broadway at Night (1924), Mississippi Suite (1925) and the Three Shades of Blue (1926). This music isn't jazz nor dance music - It's symphonic music, more in the tradition of European classical music then in jazz. This week is a great opportunity to tribute this great Metropolis Suite and to let it sound ..... complete!

  • Love to share with you a fragment of  the version of this 85 years old American suite Metropolis  as played by the Dutch Beau Hunk Orchestra, directed by Jan Stulen. ( October 1997)

And for those die-hards who also love to here the "originals", as played by Paul Whiteman in 1928, you can find both parts here at You Tube:   part one - part two.

Hans Koert
Follow the Keep (it) Swinging blog at Facebook or ask its free newsletter.

Ferde Grofé is one of those great American composers from the 20th Century, now almost forgotten, that should be spotlighted.  His Metropolis - a Fantasy in Blue is one of those great compositions that should be played more often ..... Originally performed by the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (1928) this composition is honoured today due to its 85th birthday ......

Keep Swinging (old) Oscar Aleman Choro Music Flexible Records Hit of the Week-Durium Friends of the Keep Swinging blog Keep Swinging Contributions

No comments:

Post a Comment