REVIEW POTPOURRI – Conductor: Charles Munch

Charles Munch

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Charles Munch

Not too long before his death in 1962, Boston Globe music critic Cyrus W. Durgin wrote the fascinating liner notes on the RCA Victor LP recording session for the Schumann Spring Symphony and Manfred Overture featuring Charles Munch(1891-1968) conducting the Boston Symphony.

Mr. Durgin is describing the chaotic details of musicians practicing, of cables and trunks of recording equipment strewn everywhere and of most of the 2,613 seats in Symphony Hall removed prior to this October morning as RCA’s recording team of Richard Mohr, Lewis Layton and audio administrator Al Pulley keep scurrying back and forth between the main floor and upstairs recording booth:

“Ten o’clock precisely. The seeming chaos of tuning stopped abruptly. Charles Munch, score and baton in hand, dressed not in his usual rehearsal jacket but in a beautifully tailored light gray suit, mounted the stand. Over the loudspeaker came the voice of Mr. Mohr. ‘Quiet, please….Stand by. ‘Then the code numbers of the first ‘take. ‘Dead, dead silence. A tiny red light, on a pedestal down at Dr. Munch’s right, winked on.

“From the horns and trumpets burst the first half of the opening theme of Schumann’s B-Flat Symphony. A large, commanding gesture from Munch brought in the whole orchestra in a tutti of richness, power and majesty. The second half of the theme, and so on through the introduction, exposition, free fantasy, recapitulation and coda which constitute the formal structure of the movement. ”

In the last paragraph, Mr. Durgin quotes from a couple of letters Schumann himself wrote on this Symphony:

“I wrote this Symphony towards the end of the winter of 1841, and, if I may say so, in the vernal passion that sways men until they are very old, and surprises them again with each year…”

To a conductor who was preparing the Spring Symphony for performance – “Could you infuse into your orchestra…a sort of longing for the Spring, which I had chiefly in mind when I wrote it?”

I own four copies of this recording – the mono and stereo LPs, a cassette and the CD set of Munch conducting 19th century German repertoire. With respect to the CD transfer which I initially thought superior to the LPs and cassette, I have now changed my mind and am quite thrilled by the stereo LP sound.

Schumann’s Manfred Overture was composed in 1848 and has a grim mood of tragedy pervading it but it is a very exciting piece into which Munch and the Boston Symphony musicians threw themselves with brilliant abandon.

Charles Munch wrote a book on conducting in which he stated that every individual standing in front of 100 or more players should feel “still struck to the heart by fear and panic…a formidable transport of anguish ” before a concert or recording session. Only then is a conductor truly making progress and advancing in understanding.

In rehearsals, Munch was meticulous about going over every note but when the recording session or concert occurred, he could really let loose and no two concerts were exactly alike.

A favorite piece of Munch was the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique and, when on tour with the Boston Symphony, he conducted it ten times; according to one player, each performance was different and special, as though the piece was being heard for the first time.

Charles Munch replaced Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951) as music director of the Boston Symphony in 1949 and was replaced by Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993) in 1962. But he continued to guest conduct and record in the United States and Europe.

In 1967, France created the Orchestre de Paris and appointed Munch as music director. A year later, he was touring with that orchestra in this country, led a November 6 concert in Richmond, Virginia, and later that evening died of a heart attack at his hotel room. He was 77.


Pierre Monteux

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Pierre Monteux

Beethoven’s 4th Symphony has exerted charm for me for more than 50 years since I obtained a powerful recording by Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) and the London Symphony, from when he was 86 years old, had just been appointed the Orchestra’s music director with a 25-year contract and still worked with the energy of men half his age until a fall in the bathtub which led to his death during the summer of 1964 (Some Mainers with long memories would still recall Monteux’s Domaine School, Downeast, in Hancock, where he spent summers teaching conducting for over 20 years. It is also still opened).

Having already developed an interest in duplicates, I did not let the high quality of Monteux’s conducting distract me, even with limited funds, from acquiring other recordings of a Symphony that was one of Beethoven’s most serene masterpieces; even the rhythmically exciting 1st, 3rd and 4th movements sustain the composer’s serene mood in composing it at a time when financial pressures, not to mention the occupation of Vienna by Napoleon’s troops and his own growing deafness, would have destroyed lesser men.

I have among my own pile of duplicates, Monteux’s early 1950s San Francisco recording and a CD of his Israel Philharmonic broadcast and distinguished ones of Toscanini, Szell, Solti, Jochum, Krips, Ormandy, Weingartner, Walter, Steinberg, Cluytens, Maazel, Dorati, Bohm, Sanderling, Karajan, Konvitschny, Kubelik, Moralt, Leinsdorf, Zweden, Leibowitz etcs.

One that stands out in a recent hearing is an ancient late ‘40s Victor Red Seal LP featuring Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) conducting the London Philharmonic in a 1945 recording. More than any other conductor, Beecham enjoyed making records even more than doing concerts, took his time making them and achieved many fine ones that are well worth hearing and owning.

He conducted a Beethoven 4th that communicated its joyous spirit , delectable beauties and perky rhythms. The London Philharmonic was an orchestra that he founded in 1932 for recording purposes and hand-picked the finest musicians in London.
When war broke out between England and Germany in 1940, Beecham departed for Australia and then the United States where he led the Seattle Symphony from 1941 to 1944, guest-conducted at the Metropolitan Opera and did engagements with at least 18 other orchestras.

Beecham had very strong opinions about most subjects and could express them quite wittily and at times abrasively, alienating a number of fellow Maestros. Sir Adrian Boult considered Beecham repulsive, Sir John Barbirolli, untrustworthy. But he and Monteux were friendly.

A couple of Beecham quotes:

“A musicologist is a man who can read music but can’t hear it.”

“Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is a bunch of yaks jumping about.”

Beecham was married three times and his last wife was 53 years younger.

The Beecham Beethoven 4th can be heard on Youtube.


James K. Polk

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

James K. Polk

A Jacksonian Democrat, the 11th President James Knox Polk (1795-1849) promised to be a one-term leader and to do what needed to be done in that self-allotted time span. His style was secretive, in working quietly behind the scenes.

But he accomplished what he set out to do.

Among his achievements was the westward expansion of the United States into California and Oregon at the cost of a war with Mexico and some diplomatic hostilities with Great Britain over the expansion of Canada below British Columbia.

President Polk also put into effect the Walker Tariff of 1846 which greatly reduced the taxes on foreign goods which the Whig Tariff of 1842 had implemented, much to the anger of northern industrialists, who didn’t believe in the free market as Polk and his fellow Democrats did.

Finally, although Polk was a slave owner, he avoided the topic as much as possible in his speeches and policy decisions, much to the annoyance of certain southerners.

In the end, by holding to a mostly secretive below-the-radar management style, he managed to antagonize the radical Whigs and radical Democrats, both accusing him of mendacity in his secrecy.

Sarah Polk

First Lady Sarah Childress Polk (1803-1891) was born into a very wealthy family in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and sent away to the Moravian Institute, in Salem, North Carolina, then considered one of the finest private schools in the country.

The couple got married on New Year’s Day in 1824 and she was the totally supportive help mate whose advice her husband sought more often than from fellow politicians.

However, like a number of other First Ladies, she avoided political discussions like the plague at social gatherings. And, as a result, she got on well with visitors who were among themselves the bitterest enemies.

In her ever-fascinating, at times gossipy book, America’s First Ladies, Christine Sadler writes very captivatingly of Mrs. Polk, skillfully pinpointing how this presidential couple was truly joined at the hip:

“Rugged old Sam Houston once said in exasperation, and perhaps after he had imbibed a dram too much that the only fault with James Knox Polk, the president who literally worked himself to death, was that he was ‘addicted to the drinking of plain water. ‘ Some felt much the same way about Polk’s handsome wife, Sarah. Her disciplined goodness was apt to bore and then to irritate lesser mortals.

“She was vivid to look at-a real Spanish-beauty type with the air of a high-born Donna, and her dresses were of magnificent fabrics in gorgeous colors – but in personality she was determined to be colorless. She was gracious, democratic, affable, and pulled no conversational bloopers. She was well-educated and some have said that in some respects she was a better politician than her husband, but ladies of her day did not discuss politics – not if they were real ladies. Sarah Polk, with her belief in the non-controversial, would not have discussed it anyway. Her conversation, at which she was considered quite good, ran to exclamatory sentences such as, “Sir, I’ve never known it otherwise!’ and to little come-ons as, “How so, Sir?”

Sarah’s firmly Biblical Presbyterianism meant no booze, cards and dancing at the Polk White House and, to avoid further unnecessary expenses, no refreshments at all.
After one particular reception, the hungry and thirsty guests were able to adjourn to the home of a newly-found family friend Dolly Madison, who satisfied their appetites.

By the time the Polks left the White House in March 1849, his workaholic habits had destroyed his health. He died three months later at the age of 54; Sarah outlived him by 42 years and died in 1891 at 88.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Pianist: Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Sviatoslav Richter

Ukrainian-born pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) was largely self-taught until, at the age of 23, he began studying with German-born pianist Heinrich Neuhaus at the Moscow Conservatory. Neuhaus saw Richter as the genius he had been waiting his entire life for and later claimed that he basically had nothing to teach him.

Richter’s keyboard artistry was a mix of super human virtuosity, a keen, vibrantly alive musicality and a humongous yet carefully chosen repertoire that ranged from Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven to the major Russians Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and the Englishman Benjamin Britten.

Interestingly he loved Haydn but cared very little for Mozart, only performing the younger composer’s 20th Piano Concerto and two or three others.

I have a CD of Czech radio broadcasts (Monopole MONO005) from the mid-1950s featuring Richter performing the Beethoven 1st and 3rd Piano Concertos, the only ones of the five of which the pianist left recordings. His playing was vigorous, delicate when called for, and keenly responsive to the beauties in every note, bar and chord.

The conductor Bretislav Bakala (1897-1958) conducted the Brno State Philharmonic in both works and did the kind of conducting that captured one’s attention in a manner that was exceptional, giving the impression that he and Richter were on the same wavelength page. The sound was of radio broadcast quality but serviceable enough.

Richter did later stereo recordings of both works, the first in 1961 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Charles Munch, the third, twice – the first time in 1963 with Kurt Sanderling and the Vienna Symphony and a second one with Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra in England during the mid 1970s.

There are also broadcasts of Richter doing both concertos with other conductors and orchestras circulating on cd and accessible on Youtube.

I mention this only because Richter is so extraordinary that anybody with the least interest in great classical pianists just might get captivated by him enough to want to collect or at least hear every single piece he ever recorded live in concert and in the studio.

Richter was not a man to let journalists near him except on rare occasions but, during his last few years, made himself available for a series of interviews that resulted in a three-hour documentary about his life which can be seen on youtube and divided in two parts.

A choice list of other Richter recordings would be the Beethoven Cello Sonatas with Mstislav Rostropovich, the Brahms and Franck Violin Sonatas with David Oistrakh, the Brahms 2nd, Bartok 2nd and Prokofiev 4th Piano Concertos with Lorin Maazel conducting the Orchestra de Paris, Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto with either Kurt Sanderling or Stanislaw Wislocki, the Tchaikovsky 1st with Herbert von Karajan and Schubert Lieder with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. A special favorite record is the 1969 Beethoven Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano, in which he collaborated with Oistrakh, Rostropovich and with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

In 1945, he fell in love with singer Nina Dorliak, whom he had accompanied in recital, and they lived together as husband and wife for the rest of his life but never legalized that relationship.

He and Nina would entertain guests with dinner parties and record listening marathons of one or more complete Wagner operas often extending far into the night.

Finally, much to his annoyance, Richter remembered the name of everybody he ever met even briefly in his adult life, going back decades to elevator operators and cab drivers.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: 10th former President John Tyler

John Tyler

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

John Tyler

The 10th former President John Tyler (1790-1862) did forge important treaties with Great Britain and China and brought about the admission of Texas as a state. But he had a stubborn streak in his independence and refusal to compromise on his own principles, which quickly led to the resignations of every member of his cabinet, except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster.

The easy going William Henry Harrison had reluctantly accepted Tyler as a running mate , the vice-president had thought that he could spend most of his time on his Virginia plantation while showing up a few months a year to preside over the Senate and both gentlemen could stay out of each other’s hair. Fate intervened with Harrison dying of pneumonia one month after taking office.

Congress was so alienated by Tyler’s incorrigible personality that they fought him on just about every piece of domestic legislation, even refusing to allocate funds for much-needed renovations in the White House.

Letitia Tyler

Tyler was married twice. His first wife Letitia Christian Tyler (1790-1842) bore him eight children and, three years before her husband assumed the presidency, had suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair.

Her daughter-in-law Priscilla described her as follows:

“She must have been very beautiful in her youth, for she is beautiful now in her declining years and wretched health. Her skin is as smooth and soft as a baby’s; she has sweet, loving black eyes, and her features are delicately moulded; besides this, her feet and hands are perfect; and she is gentle and graceful in her movements, with a most peculiar air of native refinement about everything she says and does. She is the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine…”

Letitia died on September 10, 1842. Daughter-in-law Priscilla assumed White House hostess duties for most of Tyler’s term and the parties were a smashing success, the guest lists guided by a very generous open door policy that included Tyler’s political enemies.

One such occasion proved to be a personal embarrassment for the hostess when Secretary of State Daniel Webster was in attendance, as described in a letter to her sisters:

“…at the moment the ices were being put on the table, everybody in good humor, and all going ‘merry as a marriage bell,’ what should I do but grow deathly pale, and, for the first time in my life, fall back in a fainting fit! Mr. Web­ster… pick­ed me up…and Mr. Tyler (Priscilla’s husband Robert), with his usual impetuosity, deluged us both with ice-water, ruining my lovely new dress, and, I am afraid, producing a decided coolness between himself and the Secretary of State….”

A frequent guest, former First Lady Dolley Madison, happily made herself available at Priscilla’s request for consultation on details.

On February 28,1844, President Tyler and approximately 350 guests were upon the propeller-driven steam frigate Princeton for a cruise up the Potomac where a specially mounted gun, the Peacemaker, had been fired for demonstration purposes during these festivities. One final shot had been requested, the weapon exploded and eight men were killed .

Julia Tyler

Among those casualties were Daniel Webster’s replacement as Secretary of State Abel P. Upchurch (after three years of loyalty to Tyler, Webster resigned because of the controversy around the annexation of Texas which then allowed slavery, an issue on which he and President Tyler disagreed. However, both men had a high regard for each other, despite their differences on this issue and others); Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Gilmer; and Tyler’s good friend David Gardiner, whose 24-year-old daughter Julia was engaged to the president .

The president was below deck with Julia when the explosion occurred, who fainted in his arms when the tragedy occurred.

They were married the following June, the gaiety of White House social occasions was sustained during the remainder of Tyler’s administration and, for Julia, her husband could do no wrong.

She gave her husband seven more children and, when James Knox Polk became the chief executive, the couple retired to Sherwood Forest, a spacious plantation Tyler purchased for his wife that was located on the James River, in Virginia, and equipped with all the creature comforts then existing.

The magnificent parties continued with winter balls, infinite numbers of teas and lavish dinners.

In 1861, Tyler attended a Peace Conference in D.C. in a futile attempt to allay North/South tensions; he then returned to Virginia, sided with the Confederacy, was elected to the Confederate Congress and was ready to serve when he died in January 1862; his death was unnoticed in Washington and he remains the only former president not laid to rest under an American flag.

His widow outlived him by 27 years and died, at age 69, in 1889.

Tyler is also the earliest former president to have a grandchild still living, a 94-year-old gentleman unfortunately suffering from dementia and in an assisted living institution, also in Virginia.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Leonard Bernstein

The musical genius Leonard Bernstein was born August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He would achieve fame as the composer of West Side Story, as the first native-born conductor of the New York Philharmonic, as a teacher with his televised Young People’s Concerts and as a pianist with immense sight reading ability.

My earliest memory of him is the megahit 1959 Columbia LP of him conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, from the piano, and An American in Paris. Bernstein became inspired by Gershwin as a teenager but had certain reservations as revealed in the following comment:

“He has left music none of which is dull, much of which is mediocre and some of which is imaginative, skillful and beautiful. There is rightly much controversy as to its lasting value.”

Bernstein’s father and mother were Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine, Samuel Bernstein becoming successful as a manufacturer of beauty supplies (He expected his son to follow him into it; when the young man refused, Sam at first refused to pay for his music lessons, but seeing his son’s talent and persistence, finally relented.).

In 1939, Bernstein was one of a tiny handful of students admitted to Fritz Reiner’s conducting class at the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia. Reiner’s conducting, particularly via the Chicago Symphony recordings he made between 1953 and 1962 when he was its music director, has thrilled me for decades with its searing clarity and beauty but the Hungarian-born Maestro had a renowned reputation for being a holy terror with orchestra players and students in his classroom.

When the Maestro auditioned a potential student, he would fling open a musical score on the piano and direct the student to play it. Bernstein passed the audition with flying colors and was the only student to get an A from Reiner.

Bernstein later commented that Reiner hammered home the importance of knowing every note in a composition more than all the players combined.

However, both conductors had radically different bodily movements in front of an orchestra. Reiner made very tiny movements with his baton, avoided perspiration and cued with his eyes. Bernstein jumped all over the podium, throwing his entire body and soul into the music and once fell off the podium during the climax of Tchaikovsky’s very exciting Francesca da Rimini.

It is reported that Reiner was once watching Bernstein grate on TV with a friend and commented, “He didn’t learn that from me.”

Composer/critic Virgil Thomson wrote, “He shagged, he shimmied and, believe it or not, he bumped.”

In 1940, Bernstein met the legendary Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky who mentored him like a father.

Other milestones during the 1940s:

In 1943, New York Philharmonic conductor Artur Rodzinski appointed Bernstein his assistant. That same year guest conductor Bruno Walter took ill before a concert and the 25 year old Bernstein substituted and achieved a smashing success with musicians, critics and the audiences at Carnegie Hall and those listening to the radio broadcast.

In 1944, Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony and musical On the Town had their acclaimed premieres.

In 1945, Bernstein replaced Leopold Stokowski as Music Director of the government funded New York City Symphony which gave very inexpensive concerts and his 3 years were renowned for their adventurous programming and musical quality.

Bernstein’s many recordings with the New York Philharmonic during his tenure from 1958 to 1969 and in later years with such orchestras as the Israel and Vienna Philharmonic number in the hundreds and, whatever faults, they all have an emotional intensity and individuality.

Most can be accessed via YouTube and are on cd.

Five particularly outstanding recordings for beginners are his first LP coupling of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and a very powerful Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet just after becoming music director of the New York Philharmonic; his Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony from the early ‘60s; the Beethoven Emperor Concerto with pianist Rudolf Serkin and 5th Symphony from the same years (I have never heard a better Beethoven 5th) and the 1980s live Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony with its very slow tempos that only contribute to greater eloquence.

On October 14, 1990, Leonard Bernstein died from a combination of heart attack, emphysema and other ailments at his apartment in Manhattan. He was 72 and, because of his constant cigarette smoking, had been suffering from emphysema since he was 29.

Highly recommended are the biographies by David Ewen and Joan Peyser.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: William Henry Harrison

William H. Harrison

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

William Henry Harrison

Former President #9, William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) achieved renown as an army captain in command at Fort Washington, Ohio, when he was in his 20s; as a governor in the Indiana Territory during the early 1800s; and being promoted to Major General after defeating the Indians in a battle at Tippecanoe which was a Wabash River settlement in Indiana (Hence his nickname: 1840 presidential campaign slogan with vice-presidential running mate John Tyler – “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.”) – and his success in a number of other War of 1812 battles, including the defeat of the formidable Indian Chief Tecumseh.

After resigning from the military in 1814, Harrison served in the Ohio state senate, as Congressional representative from the Buckeye state and finally U.S. Senator.

Anna Harrison

Harrison’s wife Anna Symmes Harrison (1775-1864) was born in New Jersey; her father was then serving in the American army. When her mother died, her father returned home, disguised himself as a Brtish officer and took his year-old daughter through enemy lines to live with her maternal grandparents on Long Island for the duration of the Revolutionary War.

After the war ended, her father had become a judge on the New Jersey Supreme Court, and then moved to Ohio where he accumulated 100,000 acres of land while Anna attended private schools on Long Island and in New York City.

Judge Symmes came east to remarry and took Anna, her stepmother and other settlers back to Ohio to live on his acreage. Shortly after arriving, Anna met her future husband who in­stantly fell in love with her but Papa considered Captain Harrison a poor prospect due to his low salary and refused his consent.

Anna was undeterred and, when her father was away, the couple married on November 22, 1795, exactly 168 years before tragedy struck a later president, in Dallas, Texas. By 1804, the couple was living in the Indiana Territory in a spacious log house which she and her husband built themselves, not long after he became governor.

The couple gave hospitality to many passing through, especially preachers, and spearheaded the building of schools, churches and libraries throughout the Territory.

When her husband won the White House, other family members traveled east with him but she was too ill at that point. D.C. was quite chilly while the inaugural festivities were going on, the president participating fully and throwing all caution aside. His March 4 inauguration speech clocked in at 75 minutes as he delivered it without any winter coat and hat.

The following day, already developing a cold, the president went shopping for groceries at an outdoor market and the cold worsened into pneumonia within a couple of days. He died a month later at the age of 68 and, on his deathbed, reciting one of the Psalms from memory.

Meanwhile Anna had recovered from her own illness back home in Ohio and had finished packing for the move when she received word of her husband’s death.

Congress gave her a $25,000 pension, which was the equivalent of the presidential annual salary and which would be granted to future presidential widows for several years.

She outlived her husband by 23 years, and nine of their ten children. Three of her grandsons, including the 22nd president Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901, who served from 1889 to 1893), fought on the Union side during the Civil War, a commitment she took much pride in even though she abhorred war as a general principle.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Vivid memories of our first TV

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Vivid memories of our first TV

I have vivid 1950s memories of some very engaging shows that were syndicated to the five channels that came in on the television sets in East Vassalboro (I should add that we were the last family in the village to get a TV set – a bulky used Philco which my grandmother Annabelle Ingraham Cates purchased for $30 from our local repairman, Richard Dowe, who was based in South China, and it arrived in early November 1959. For myself, it was the equivalent of the Second Coming, heaven on earth.).

Upon arrival, the usual sibling spat; I wanted us to watch the Three Stooges, then part of the nightly Mighty 90 show, hosted by Maine country and western singer Ken McKenzie, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., on the Portland CBS affiliate WGAN, channel 13 Mondays through Fridays. The others were screaming for Popeye on the Portland NBC affiliate WCSH, channel 6. For some very mysterious reason, I got my way and the other siblings, previously unacquainted with the Three Stooges, were roaring with laughter and forgot all about Popeye.

In addition to the Three Stooges’ 20 minute episodes, the show would feature other 1930s-40s Columbia Screen Gems shorts starring such comedians as Hugh Herbert, Leon Errol, Andy Clyde. etc., each evening, interspersed with Cowboy Ken chatting with the children gathered in the studio.

Around Christmas, Santa Claus would answer letters from kids around the state; I wrote one and heard my name mentioned on the air, which led to feeling on cloud nine for at least a week.

One of the sponsors of the show was our own Farrington’s Clothing Outlet right here in South China and a very busy store during those years.

The last half hour was given over to an action show, one of five such series rotating weekly. They included the following: The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, starring British actor William Russell. The Adventures of Casey Jones, with Alan Hale Jr., later better known as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island.

The Rough Riders, with Kent Taylor, Jan Merlin and Peter Whitney, itself a very gripping western dealing with three men who rode throughout the post-Civil War West dispensing justice to outlaws. I remember one episode in which Highway Patrol star Broderick Crawford did a guest appearance as a very evil murderer. Ivanhoe, starring Roger Moore, later, of course, 007 (James Bond) after Sean Connery.

The Buccaneers with Robert Shaw, who would later achieve even greater fame during the early ‘70s in the film classics, The Sting and Jaws.

Some more memories in the following weeks.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – U.S. President: Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Martin Van Buren

When I was in third grade, an aunt gave me a calendar with paintings and photos of all the presidents from George Washington to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I remember being fascinated by these names and faces: Washington’s implacable dignity, John Adams’ cherubic candor, Jefferson’s humane inscrutability, etc.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) with his bald head and wavy hair similar to that of the Three Stooges Larry Fine, had a good-natured congeniality and aura of approachability.

Reading up on his career in New York state politics and his subsequent rise to national clout, I now see how the term used to describe him, “sly fox”, was an apt one.

A few examples:

Van Buren was sympathetic to the farmers but also allied himself with the insidious Tammany Hall party machine which would influence so much of what went on in New York.

He supported state Governor Dewitt Clinton’s spearheading of the building of the Erie Canal but then threw his weight behind Clinton’s opponent in a re-election campaign.

He believed in the expansion of voting rights but opposed universal suffrage.

He opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state but was otherwise silent, seeing the abolition of slavery as a threat to national unity (in 1848, he would speak out against slavery as the chosen candidate for the short-lived Free Soil party, a coalition of anti-slavery Democrats, Whigs and abolitionists.).

His skills as a mediator and good listener were highly conducive to building some bridges between political foes, as was his occasional support of policies anathema to his allies.

Van Buren’s wife Hannah died at 35 of tuberculosis in 1819. In 1838, their son Abraham married Angelica Singleton (1818-1877), a second cousin of former First Lady Dolly Madison who finagled the match. During the remaining two years of Van Buren’s presidency, she served as her father-in-law’s hostess with consummate elegance.

Van Buren outlived presidents Harrison, Tyler, Polk and Taylor and witnessed the election of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Being born to Dutch-speaking parents, Van Buren learned English as a second language.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Sir Malcolm Sargent

Jacqueline Du Pré

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Sir Malcolm Sargent

Sir Malcolm Sargent

Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) conducted a huge number of fine recordings from the 1930s to not long before he died in 1967.

Ones that particularly stand out are a 78 set of a Vieuxtemps 5th Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz from the early 1930s and their stereo remake in 1961 coupled with one very beautiful performance of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, itself highly recommended as a piece for newcomers to classical music.

Sargent also conducted violinist Ruggiero Ricci in two different and very distinguished recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, one in 1951 and a stereo remake ten years later.

He collaborated with violinist Albert Sammons in a wonderful 1940s 78 set of Frederick Delius’s evocative Violin Concerto and, during the 1960s, with the renowned Jacqueline Du Pré (1945-1987) in the same composer’s Cello Concerto.

Sargent recorded the complete Handel’s Messiah 4 times – in 1946 for Columbia, in 1955 and 1959 for Angel and in 1965 for Reader’s Digest. He conducted live performances annually for decades. In addition to the four different sets, I have his 1932 Victor 78 of two choruses from the oratorio .

Sargent was gifted as a conductor of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as HMS Pinafore and the Mikado. His 1930s set of all five Beethoven Piano Concertos with Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) was the first complete one with that pianist’s interpretive wizardry as a performance standard difficult to equal.

Sir Malcolm became popular as the conductor of the annual London Proms concerts, replacing Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944) in 1947 until his own death in 1967, when he was suéceeded by Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013).

Sir Thomas Beecham

Sargent and his good friend, the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), would often meet for lunch and ex­changed gossip about their romantic escapades; because of Sargent’s taste for expensive clothes, Beecham referred to him as Flash Harry.

Although singers and soloists enjoyed working with him, orchestral players had issues with Sargent’s arrogance and general disregard for their well-being, especially with tenure. Several friends considered him a “cad” and “bounder ” while his own son was estranged from him for years.

Because of the earlier-mentioned philandering, one woman warned her friends never to take a cab with the Maestro.

Sargent’s health declined during his last years due to pancreatic cancer but he did a successful guest concert with the Chicago Symphony a few months before his death.

Many of Sargent’s recordings and broadcasts can be heard via YouTube.