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The Midwest Experience: Ormandy in Minnesota
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By the early 1930s, most record companies had stopped recording orchestras because the discs sold poorly. Victor had contracts with several classical artists that also were not selling well, and the executives of RCA, Victor's parent company, had concluded that the future of classical music lay in broadcasting, not recorded sound.

Charles O'Connell, the music director of Victor, was not ready to give up on recordings. He was convinced that a shrewd selection of artists and repertory would turn a profit for the company. He took his ideas to Arthur Judson, the man who had played a key part in securing the Minneapolis job for Ormandy. Through Judson, O'Connell learned that the Minneapolis Symphony's labor contract specified a certain number of service hours each week, and those hours could be spent however management pleased. Orchestra members were paid at the same rate for a recording session that would earn the orchestra tens of thousands of dollars as they were for a pops concert rehearsal.

In January 1934, O'Connell took a recording crew to Minneapolis and over the course of eleven days recorded the orchestra performing repertory of his choosing - a mix of popular warhorses and new repertory. Through the careful selection of repertory and the strength of the performances, the recordings proved a success for Victor and brought the work of Ormandy and the orchestra international acclaim. While the performers did not profit from the recordings, the strong sales did secure the orchestra's financial health for years to come.

Recordings made by Victor in January 1934
Ormandy came to the project with experience in the studio - as a violinist playing light classical pieces, as a conductor of his own salon orchestra, and as a soloist with the Dorsey Brothers Concert Orchestra. Ormandy later said, "We gave them every single day, including Sundays, six hours of recording and anything they chose. This we did for two years, and we made hundreds of records through those four weeks of recordings, because I record very fast. I always did."
List of recordings made in 1934

Interior of Northrop Auditorium during Victor recording sessions
Reproduced from Minnesota Orchestra at 100 (2002)
Minnesota Orchestra Collection, University of Minnesota Performing Arts Archives

The Victor engineers recorded the sessions using two microphones, seen here suspended behind Ormandy's head. The staff did what they could to improve the acoustics of the auditorium by placing sound-absorbing fabric around the stage. In a history of the orchestra's music directors, Roy Close writes, "Years later, on a rare return visit to Minnesota, [Ormandy] was asked by a reporter if he had any suggestion for improving Northrop Auditorium's acoustics. 'Dynamite,' he replied."

"Symphony Will Make 25 Phonograph Recordings"
Minneapolis Star, 13 January 1934

Compton Pakenham
"Newly Recorded Music"

New York Times, 13 May 1934
Percy Grainger and Ormandy
Among the works recorded in 1934 were four pieces by Percy Grainger, who wrote Ormandy in April 1935 praising the recordings and exclaiming that they were "a new milestone in my life as a composer." In the letter, Grainger proposes that they record some of his compositions for piano and orchestra. That was not to happen, since O'Connell was in complete control of the selection of repertory, but the correspondence did lead to guest appearances by Grainger with the Minneapolis Symphony in 1936.
Percy Grainger
Autograph letter signed, to Eugene Ormandy

White Plains, New York, 11 April 1935
Eugene Ormandy Papers, University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Collection
On the second page of the letter, Grainger writes, "Yesterday (before hearing your recordings) I was a composer without a perfect orchestra record of my compositions. Today (after hearing your records) I know the privilege of seeing that I too can be perfectly interpreted, when a genius & a master band starts to record me."

"Grainger Visits Ormandy"
Minneapolis Journal, 15 March 1936

Grainger's correspondence with Ormandy led to a trip to Minnesota and a guest appearance with the Minneapolis Symphony. Three Grainger works were on the program: two for piano and orchestra and one for harmonium and orchestra, with Grainger at the keyboard for all three.
"Polka and Fugue" from Schwanda the Bagpiper
Ormandy often programmed the "Polka and Fugue" from Schwanda the Bagpiper as an encore, and it became his signature piece early in his directorship of the Minneapolis Symphony.

Jaromír Weinberger
Schwanda - Polka and Fugue

Eugene Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
Victrola 7958 (1934). 78 rpm recording
Reproduced from Minnesota Orchestra at 100 (2002)

Jaromír Weinberger
Polka & Fuga z opery "Švanda dudák" [Polka and Fugue from the opera Schwanda the Bagpiper]

Vienna, 1930
Eugene Ormandy Collection of Scores, University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Collection

   
   
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