1924 in Music

Music reviews I’ve written for music published, premiered or released in 1924.

1. George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (10/10)

I cannot be objective about what is one of my favourite pieces of music of the 20th century.

I don’t think it’s jazz or even remotely close to my idea of jazz. I don’t like it because of that.

Rather I like it because of how embraces ideas from jazz to make orchestral music more interesting and dare I say “better”. The music wails and swoons in ways which “classical” music never did before. Compare this to any European composer’s “jazz-inspired” music and this will always win.

It is a uniquely American piece that is far more compelling and alive than anything Copland did later.

1. Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105 (10/10)

Sibelius struggled with calling this a symphony because it’s not – it ignores traditional symphonic form (and, by doing so, basically created the sub-genre of the one movement symphony).

Though less radical than his contemporaries, Sibelius has done what Debussy did to Opera a few decades earlier here: he has almost created an anti-symphony; not only is it one movement but that movement doesn’t follow the usual pattern and this culminates in an ending unlike any ending of a symphony after – an anti-climax that one would associate with an earlier movement. Just wild.

3. Arthur Honegger: Symphonic Movement No. 1 “Pacific 231” (9/10)

“Pacific 231” (the first symphonic movement) is justly famous due to its ability to conjure images of a train. It is certainly among the more notable short orchestral works of its era, if only because it is so distinctive and so effective at doing what it sets out to do.

4. Fletcher Henderson and His Club Alabam Orchestra: “Tea Pot Dome Blues” (9/10)

“Teapot Dome Blues” is pleasant big band “dixieland” (or “trad” if you prefer) jazz. It lacks any of the awesome energy and power of Armstrong’s contemporaneous music. But this is still pretty early in jazz – Henderson may have had one of the first big bands after all – and it’s cool to hear the emerging style. (Due to limits in recording technology the track is virtually drumless and the percussion is provided by a banjo and the odd cymbal crash, which is typical of all these 1924 recordings.) The solos are all about what you would expect from this vintage.

5. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra: “Copenhagen” (9/10)

Henderson wasn’t the first to do “Copenhagen” but this one has a great Armstrong solo that I’m sure elevates it above the original. The break is nuts too.

6. Leos Janacek: “Mladi” (9/10)

This is a sextet for wind instruments so is right up my alley. This is an underused combination in my mind. Anyway, I like the piece, it’s got a bunch of interesting ideas in it, but I am just a sucker for this kind of music.

7. Paul Hindemith: Kammermusik No. 2, op. 36 no. 1  (8/10)

The third Kammermusik, confusingly known as “No. 2,” is a bouncy piano concerto that doesn’t quite have the same daring as the first two works, but is still really worth a listen. It’s engaging and entertaining, even though it’s also aggressively modernist.

8. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra: “Shanghai Shuffle” (8/10)

“Shanghai Shuffle” is one of those vaguely Eastern things that now sound not at all Eastern. (That’s a clarinet trying to sound like, I don’t know, maybe a piri or something.) Louis is on this one though I can’t tell myself. It has more energy than the first track.

9. Leos Janacek: Rikadla (7/10)

This is a brief song cycle (8 songs in 15 minutes). It’s engaging and interesting and kind of goofy. (It translates to “Nursery Rhymes” or something.) It’s definitely one of his lighter pieces, but it’s pretty endearing for what could be considered “modernist” music, that one might otherwise find too arty.

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