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The Midwest Experience: Ormandy in Minnesota
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The 1934 Victor recordings were a commercial and critical success, and the Minneapolis Symphony and Ormandy became respected names in classical music. O'Connell eagerly returned with his Victor crew in January 1935 for another concentrated period of recording.

The Victor sessions of 1934 and 1935, spread across twenty days - nine the first year, and eleven the second - committed 54 works to disc (including premiere recordings of VerklC$rte Nacht and the Háry János Suite) and spanned 169 disc sides. In his 1948 autobiography, O'Connell claimed that the Minneapolis recording project was "the most important and effective contribution to the resuscitation of recorded music" in the mid-1930s. Selected recordings from the Victor sessions have been reissued on compact disc on The Art of Eugene Ormandy (1999) and The Minnesota Orchestra at One Hundred (2003).

Nothing did more to advance the reputation of Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony than this series of recordings. According to Ormandy, "it was wonderful for the Orchestra. . . . I was told within two or three years they had a million dollars revenue. Of course, I got nothing out of it, neither did the orchestra. It was in my contract. So it wasn't a financial matter for me; it was an artistic and, of course, reputation-wise, it helped the orchestra tremendously." The recordings not only sold well, they were also broadcast widely in the United States and Europe. Through the recordings, Ormandy forged his international reputation, and his successful recording sessions in Northrop Hall made him an attractive prospect for the appointment in Philadelphia.

When Ormandy left for Philadelphia in 1936, the musicians' union in Minneapolis insisted on changes to the orchestra contract to bring it in line with the major orchestras of the east. Although the orchestra had become a successful brand name for Victor, O'Connell was not allowed to return to Minneapolis for further sessions because of the increased expense resulting from the new contract. The success of the Minneapolis recordings, however, allowed him to proceed with recording sessions in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Rochester, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.

Recordings made in January 1935
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 1935
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Ormandy

Compton Pakenham
"Newly Recorded Music"
New York Times, 19 January 1936

Mahler's Second

The one recording that secured Ormandy's legacy in Minneapolis was the first American recording of Mahler's Symphony no. 2, issued on eleven two-sided 78-rpm discs. One month after a December 1934 concert performance of the work, the 350 singers and augmented orchestra reassembled for a second performance for the Victor engineers before a "pop" concert audience. The symphony was recorded over two days, 6-7 January, at the beginning of the eleven days of recording in 1935. (The recording was reissued by Biddulph on compact disc in 1997.)

Gustav Mahler
Symphony no. 2, in C Minor
Eugene Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
Victor 11753 (1935). 78 rpm recording
Eugene Ormandy Commercial Sound Recordings, University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Collection

Mahler's symphony requires an offstage ensemble of brass and percussion, and the configuration of Northrop Auditorium made it impossible for the offstage performers to have a clear view of the conductor. The stage crew devised a system of lights activated by a button placed under the foot of the second concertmaster. As he tapped the button in sync with Ormandy's beat, nine lights blinked on and off backstage to guide the players.
Percussionists Emil Weflen and Samuel W. Segal striking bells during the last movement of Mahler's Symphony no. 2
Northrop Hall, University of Minnesota, 1935
Minneapolis Star and Tribune, 1935. Reproduced from John K. Sherman, Music and Maestros (1952)
In the last movement of the symphony, Mahler calls for three "deep unpitched" bells. The orchestra management located five bells from the old St. Paul courthouse in a storage garage and had three transferred to Northrop Auditorium. The percussionists struck the bells with sledgehammers.
Bruckner's Seventh
The Minneapolis Symphony also made the first American recording of Bruckner's Symphony no. 7. In recognition of the recording, the Bruckner Society of America presented Ormandy with its medal of honor in 1936.
Medal of Honor
Bruckner Society of America, 1936
Eugene Ormandy Papers, University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Collection

Eugene Ormandy receiving the American Bruckner Society's Medal of Honor
New York Times, 2 February 1936

   
   
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