Posts Tagged ‘Weber’

Weber Rondo for Children

I've written previously about the three earliest recordings of Carl Maria von Weber's Andante and Hungarian Rondo — two featuring German-American bassoonist William Gruner (1920 and 1926), and one with French bassoonist Fernand Oubradous (1938). As a number of people pointed out, I left out another early recording by Eli Carmen from the late 40s. I didn't have a copy at the time, but I've managed to get my hands on one now. This one's a bit of an oddball: it's only the Rondo, it was recorded for a children's record label, and it was released on a vinyl 78rpm disc. As far as I can tell, this recording has never been rereleased, but you can listen to it below.

Eli Carmen Weber Labels

Both labels of my disc - a later Children's Record Guild release, originally recorded for Young People's Records.
Click for a larger version.

Eli Carmen

Eli Carmen

Elias Carmen was born in New York in 1912 to Russian immigrant parents. His father was a tailor.1 He started on the French system, but switched to the German bassoon when he began studies with Simon Kovar. Carmen and Sol Schoenbach were the first two German bassoon students at Juilliard.2 Carmen played with many orchestras during his carer, most notably the Minneapolis Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the NBC Symphony, and the New York City Ballet. He taught at both the Manhattan School of Music and Yale. Carmen died following an auto accident on December 21, 1973.3

Carmen appeared on a great number of orchestral recordings with the NBC Symphony, as well as recordings of chamber music by Beethoven, Ludwig Spohr, Arthur Berger, and Mel Powell. He also recorded Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor, "La Notte" with flutist Julius Baker on Odyssey.4 But this partial Weber is his only truly solo recording.

YPR 1009 Cover

YPR 1009 Cover

Young People's Records was established in the late 1940s, and sold records on a subscription model. Existing children's records were meant to be played for children by their parents or teachers. But YPR wanted kids (ages 2 to 11) to actually use the records themselves. To this end, YPR was one of the first companies to exclusively use the then-new flexible vinylite for their discs, rather than the older and much more fragile shellac. A large quantity of the recorded material was written specifically for YPR — mainly songs in various styles, but also instrumental works and even mini-operas. YPR's editorial board, which included eminent American composers and teachers Howard Hanson and Douglas Moore, no doubt encouraged the prevalence of new commissions. Recordings of Classical or Romantic composers, such as Weber, comprised a relatively small portion of YPR's catalog.5

Records of YPR's recording session dates evidently haven't survived, but Eli Carmen's Rondo was released in November 1949. Max Goberman conducted this and YPR's other classical selections, and what's billed here as the "YPR Symphony Orchestra" was assembled largely from Goberman's own New York Sinfonietta. YPR emphasized music's educational and developmental benefits in both its advertising and its packaging. The text on this record's sleeve give a kid-friendly explanation of Rondo form:

Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra
by Carl Maria Von Weber (pronounced Fon Vaber) 1786 — 1826

When you tell an idea in words, it is called a story. When you tell an idea in music, it is called a melody. Just as you can tell a story in many different ways, so you can tell a melody in many different ways — and one of those ways is a rondo. (Other ways are marches, different kinds of dances, sonatas, sets of variations. None of these ways of telling a melody have words or stories attached to them.)

The rondo way of telling musical ideas is to keep coming back to the first idea, or melody. In this rondo — its full name is Hungarian Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra — we hear a melody, then a new melody, then the first melody, then another new melody, then the first melody again. Sometimes these melodies are played by the bassoon alone, sometimes by the orchestra alone and sometimes by bassoon and orchestra.

And a further note "To Parents" explains why this particular work was chosen for the series:

…Young People's Records believes the rondo to be a good form for children's listening because it is readily apparent and acceptable. The recurrence of a basic melody is something the child can easily follow without becoming lost in intricate problems of design and form. We have chosen this particular rondo for children because of the appeal of the bassoon as an instrument.…

Hear Eli Carmen's Rondo here:

Listen to Eli Carmen - Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra (1949)

For more about Young People's Records and the Children's Record Guild, see David Bonner's 2008 book Revolutionizing Children's Records and his web site: yprcrg.blogspot.com. The Shellackophile has also digitized and posted a number of YPR titles, which you can download (thanks to him for the image of the cover above, as it's missing from my disc).


  1. 1920 United States Federal Census, Brooklyn Assembly District 2, Kings, New York (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication T625, roll T625_1146, page 6A). 

  2. Sol Schoenbach, "Remembrances of Eli," To The World's Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/TWBassoonist/TWB.V4.1/remembrances.html

  3. Mrs. Ivan Kempner, "Elias Carmen - Farewell," To The World's Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/TWBassoonist/TWB.V4.1/carmen.html

  4. Donald MacCourt, "Elias Carmen on Recordings," To The World's Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/TWBassoonist/TWB.V4.1/elias.html

  5. David Bonner, Revolutionizing Children's Records: The Young People's Records and Children's Record Guild Series, 1946—1977 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008). 

Three Early Weber Recordings

Most of the early recordings that feature the bassoon did so in a comical fashion. A handful of artists recorded Quentin Ashlyn's song "The Bassoon" in the first decades of the 20th century, and I have in my collection a couple of very strange (at least to modern ears) "laughing records" from the same era that include the bassoon. In 1911, Carl Borgwald recorded Julius Fučík's classic "Der Alte Brummbär" in 1911 (released as "Polka Fantastique" in the U.S.). And in 1918, Edison released two somewhat silly piccolo/bassoon duets: "The Elephant and The Fly" and "The Nightingale and the Frog", both featuring Benjamin Kohon, who would later become principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic. The earliest "serious" bassoon piece on disc (the earliest that I've been able to locate, anyway) was not the Mozart Concerto, as one might guess. Rather, it was Carl Maria von Weber's Andante e Rondo Ongarese. In fact, this Romantic showpiece was recorded three separate times between 1920 and 1938.

Aside from being historical curiosities, these recordings give us a glimpse of early twentieth century bassoon playing. And as far as I can tell, none of these recordings have ever been re-released. Below you will find copies of all three, digitized from discs in my collection. I've applied a bit of noise reduction and removed the worst of the pops and clicks, but these are far from professional-quality transfers. I'd recommend listening to these on headphones or real speakers, as they may be a bit difficult to hear on laptop, tablet, or phone speakers.

Weber Recordings

The three discs in chronological order. Click for a larger version.

The first two of these were in fact made by the same man: William Gruner, who played bassoon in the Philadelphia Orchestra 1906-1917 and 1929-1951. Gruner was born in Berlin on January 12, 1883 and arrived in the United States aboard the S.S. Deutschland in April 1906. He became a U.S. citizen in 1914, and lived near Philadelphia until his death in February 1971. In the period between his two stints with the Philadelphia Orchestra (1917-1929), Gruner worked for the Victor Talking Machine Company, making numerous recordings with the Victor Orchestra and numerous smaller groups.1

William Gruner

William Gruner, from his 1923
U.S. Passport Application

Gruner and the Victor Orchestra first recorded Andante e Rondo Ongarese in June 1920. They recorded ten takes over the space of three recording sessions in Victor's Camden, New Jersey studios. The last of these, recorded on June 24th, was issued as "Hungarian Fantasie" on the B side of Victor 18684, a ten-inch 78rpm disc. The piece was severely cut down to fit this format: it lasts a mere three minutes and thirteen seconds. (For comparison, complete recordings I have by Milan Turkovic, Nadina Mackie Jackson, and Masahito Tanaka clock in at 9:53, 9:02, and 9:20, respectively.) After the initial 16 measures of the Andante, a two bar orchestral transition launches us right into the Rondo. The Rondo is a bit more substantial, but is missing huge chunks (including most of that dreaded last page of 16th-note triplets). The end of the piece has been rewritten, too. Hear it for yourself:

Listen to William Gruner - Andante e Rondo (1920)

When Gruner made this recording in 1920, the technology involved was quite similar to that invented by Thomas Edison 43 years earlier: the performers played into a large horn that transmitted sound waves to a flexible diaphragm connected to a stylus that cut the sound directly onto a wax disc. This method produced recordings with limited frequency and dynamic range and required performers to crowd around a single horn to be heard. But in 1925 Victor (and many of their competitors) adopted a new electrical recording process that used microphones, vacuum tube amplifiers, and an electromagnetic recording head. This system allowed for much greater dynamic and frequency response, and produced a generally much better sounding recording.

Gruner and the Victor Orchestra returned to the studio on October 19, 1926, and recorded an additional five takes of the Weber with the new electrical recording system. They used the same pared-down arrangement - electrical recording did nothing to mitigate the format's time constraints. This new recording was released in June 1927 as the B side of Victor 20525, another ten-inch 78rpm disc. Although Victor didn't set about re-recording their entire catalog after switching to electrical recording, this is in instance in which they clearly wanted to re-create an earlier disc. The A sides of the two discs are recordings of Tourbillon (Whirlwind), a piece for flute and piano by Adolph Krantz, albeit featuring different performers.2

If you made it all the way through Gruner's 1920 recording, you probably don't need to listen to all of this one. His interpretation doesn't change appreciably, although it is interesting to hear the differences between the two recording processes.

Listen to William Gruner - Andante e Rondo (1926)
Fernand Oubradous

Fernand Oubradous

The French bassoonist Fernand Oubradous recorded Andante e Rondo Ongarese in Paris in 1938, accompanied by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under the direction of Roger Désormière. Oubradous was born in Paris on February 12, 1903. He won his Premiere prix from the Paris Conservatoire in 1923 - after only a single year of bassoon study. He played with the Paris Opéra, the Orchestre Lamoureux, the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, and the Trio d'Anches de Paris. In addition to Weber's Andante e Rondo Ongarese, Oubradous recorded concerti by Mozart, Weber, and Boismortier and a great deal of chamber music. But his first job after graduating from the Conservatoire was as music director of the Théâtre de l’Atelier, and he received much acclaim as a conductor throughout his career. Oubradous died in Paris in January 1986.3 For more on Oubradous, see these two sites (both in French): fernand.oubradous.free.fr and Fernand Oubradous - Site de l'association Fou de Basson.

Oubradous's recording of the piece is nearly complete, thanks to it being issued on both sides of a twelve-inch 78rpm disc (L'Oiseau-Lyre O.L. 14). This is likely attributable to the fact that Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre has always had a more specialist and scholarly focus than more mass-market companies like Victor. Side A is the Andante, which is just over four minutes long. The Rondo (on side B) is slightly longer at four minutes and sixteen seconds. The Rondo had to be cut down a bit to fit; forty-two measures have been excised. This is mostly mostly repeated themes and sections of orchestral interludes, but the entire last statement of the rondo theme has been removed as well. There's one other interesting change: the four measures of quarter-note trills in the middle of the last flashy section have been taken out of the solo part and given to one of the orchestral bassoonists!

Listen to Fernand Oubradous - Andante et Rondo Hongrois (1938)

It's clear that recording technology and disc manufacture had improved quite a bit in the 12 years since Gruner's second recording. The bassoon is clearer and more present (the fact that he was playing a French bassoon helps, too), and the orchestra's sound has far more depth and definition. Frankly, the quality of the bassoon playing is much higher, as well. Although this particular recording hasn't been rereleased, you can occasionally find Oubradous's Mozart Concerto on CD on Amazon, or as mp3s here.


  1. John Ardoin, The Philadelphia Orchestra: A Century of Music (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999); William Gruner, Petition for Naturalization, March 20, 1913, Naturalization Petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1795-1930 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm series M1522, roll 93), 335; William Gruner, 165-03-6373, Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011); William Gruner, Draft Registration Card, September 12, 1918, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm series M1509, roll PA83), 278. 

  2. The earlier disc (Victor 18684) features flutist Arthur Brooke of the Boston Symphony, while the performance on the later disc (Victor 20525) is by Clement Barone, a member of the Victor Orchestra and formerly principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

  3. Jean-Pierre Seguin, "Fernand Oubradous: A Half-Century of Woodwind History," trans. Philip Gottling, The Journal of the
    International Double Reed Society
    , no. 14 (1986),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/Journal/JNL14/JNL14.Seg.html