My KPFA - A Historical Footnote

Bringing Home the Bacon

 

Wee have also Sound-Houses, where we practise and demonstrate all Sounds and their Generation. Wee have Harmonics which you have not, of Quarter-Sounds, and lesser Slides of Sounds. Diverse Instruments of Musick have; together with Bells and Rings that are dainty and sweet. Wee represent small sounds as Great and Deepe; likewise Great Sounds, Extenuate and sharp; Wee make diverse tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their Originall are Entire. Wee represent and imitate all Articulate Sounds and Letters, and the Voices and Notes of Beasts and Birds. Wee have certaine Helps, which sett to the Eare doe further the Hearing greatly. Wee have also diverse Strange and Artificial Eccho's, Reflecting the voice many times, and as it were tossing it; And some that give back the voice Louder then it came, some Shriller, and some Deeper; Yea some rendering the Voice, Differing in the Letters or Articulate Sound, from that they receyve. Wee have also meanes to convey sounds in Trunks and Pipes, in strange Lines, and Distances.

- Sir Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis, 1624

From it's beginning, KPFA was prominently associated with the musical avant-garde, but with the advent of the commercial LP and the lengthening of the station's broadcast schedule from the early 1950s, the greater part of its programming came to consist of conventional classical music—not because its founders regarded this as its raison d'etre, but because this required much less advance preparation than producing a live or specially recorded program that might well take ten hours’ work for an hour’s air time. Nevertheless, a lot of thought went into putting together musical sequences that were mutually illuminating. Optimistic Music Directors often programmed as though their audiences were giving as much careful attention to the morning concert as to the six o’clock news.

 

The station devoted as much time and money as it could to music by contemporary composers. Over the years, KPFA accumulated an enormous archive of historic performances which bore no relationship to the predominantly folk/pop outlet that the station had gradually become, so that when it moved to new quarters, these irreplaceable treasures were in danger of being carted away for landfill. Fortunately Charles Amirkhanian, now heading Other Minds, a global New Music community based in San Francisco, was able to acquire the tapes, give them storage space and begin the Sysiphean task of putting them into digital format and making them available for listening over the internet on radiOM. It was this exciting project that inspired me to attempt something similar on a much smaller scale. This page includes a few music programs from the 60s which I helped to produce and which are too good to die.


FOUR SAINTS IN THREE ACTS, the legendary operatic collaboration between Virgil Thompson and Gertrude Stein. This recording of the CBS broadcast of 1947 was transferred from a set of 78s in the UC Berkeley Music Library archives. It’s the only surviving copy of which I’ve been able to find any public record.

 

HONKY-TONK AT THE SEA WALL The program of mechanical music instruments that I recorded in 1964 is unfortunately lost, so I’m taking the liberty of including an even more gloriously varied program that Charles Amirkhanian produced a few years later. These are the program notes from the Folio: 

A visit to the Oakland Museum’s Mechanical Musical Instrument exhibit that ran December 16, 1972 through February 4, 1973. Organized over a two year period by the museum’s curator, Gretchen Schneider, the exhibit held around eighty varieties of mechanical instruments from the turn of the (19th) century. Charles Amirkhanian visits the museum to interview Schneider and demonstrates a variety of the tunes played by the musical machines.


Instruments on display range from the largest band organ to the smallest bird box, including the Lyon & Healy Empress Electric Orchestrion, Wurlitzer Model 165 Band Organ, Mira Music Box. Originally broadcast on January 25, 1973 for KPFA and KPFB. 

 

 

ALAN RICH  "The dean of American classical-music criticism" (Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise) has died, aged eighty-five.

PIERRE BOULEZ AT 32  In 1994, former KPFA Music Director Alan Rich told me:

In 1957 I became friendly with a man in San Francisco who was putting up a lot of money for contemporary music concerts by the name of Hans Popper. He invited me over one night to a dinner party that he was throwing for a recently arrived friend of his by the name of Pierre Boulez. Boulez played music that I had never heard and never heard of, including his own Le marteau sans maître and Stockhausen's Song of the Holy Children.  

I said, “We’ve got to have this on KPFA,” so I talked Boulez into coming over the next morning or the morning after and submitting to a panel discussion. I got on the phone and feverishly rounded up Bob, Andrew Imbrie, Arnold Elston and Jack Holloway. We had a lively forty-five minutes in the studio, with Imbrie attacking Boulez on almost any front. This interview was typical of KPFA leading the taste of San Francisco toward an awareness of what was going on in the contemporary world.  

CHRISTMAS MUSIC 1958 When I joined the staff of the UC Berkeley Music Library in 1958, I was asked to put together a selection of appropriate music for the University Library’s Christmas party. For a couple of delightful weeks I spent my spare time going through various record collections, including my own, and making a selection of Christmas music, ancient and modern, that avoided the usual war-horses. (Bing Crosby’s lugubrious rendition of Silent Night was conspicuous by its absence.) Four years later when I went to work for KPFA, I made a banded copy with individual timings and put them up as miscellany to fill the odd gaps in the broadcast schedule during the Christmas season. And now they are here to share with the world.

 

THE UNANSWERED QUESTION: A Study of Richard Strauss' Capriccio. Includes interviews with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Hermann Prey, Sona Cervena and  Thomas Stewart. Conceived and presented by Dale Harris. A professor of history at Stanford, Dale pursued his amateur interest in opera with such avidity that he ended up writing program notes for the Met. This project took me backstage at the SF Opera House, where I was able to determine that in person, the great Madame Schwartzkopf was fully as acidic as her reputation. 26 October 1963 

  

BUSONI AT CARNEGIE HALL Daniell Revenaugh, Busoni scholar and performer, is interviewed by John Whiting, with excerpts from interviews with Philipp Jarnach and Benvenuto Busoni. 8 December 1965

 

A PIANO RECITAL BY JÖRG DEMUS Recorded at Hertz Hall, University of California, Berkeley. Commentary by the artist. 25 January 1964

 

Bela Bartok, Music for two pianos and percussion This is from one of the concerts presented at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Association at UC Berkeley; it took place in Hertz Hall on December 29, 1960. I was working in the Music Library at the time and recorded several of these concerts for the archives. This remarkable performance was by pianists Bernard Abramowitz and Nathan Schwartz; the percussion part, scored for two players, was performed single-handed by the athletic young Peggy Cunningham, who had a second career later in life as a swimming champion. [At 58, she died instantly in the pool of a heart attack, having just broken her own record ( in more than one sense).] I allow myself to include it here because, after I went to work at KPFA, I lent my copy to the station's music department for broadcast. The recording is almost half a century old, but it still sends shivers down my spine. I am listening to it again as I type. [For the technically minded, it was recorded on a full-track Ampex 601 with an Altec condenser 21D/50A type M20 microphone, on Scotch 111 tape; I kept the master, from which this digital transfer has been made.]

 

Ralph Kirkpatrick in a recital of modern music for the harpsichord. UC Berkeley, Hertz Hall, 26 Jan 61  Program notes available in jpeg: 001, 002, 003, 004  This was Kirkpatrick's first recital of contemporary harpsichord music in twenty years, and so he asked me to record it for the benefit of the composers. It was eventually broadcast on KPFA. A revealing footnote: At the beginning of his career, the great photographer Ansel Adams almost became a professional pianist. He was a great admirer of Kirkpatrick and asked me to introduce him after the concert. As we were going backstage, Adams confessed that he was nervous at the prospect of meeting such a great celebrity. This, at a time when Adams' name recognition would have been far beyond Kirkpatrick's!

 

GOLDEN VOICES, by Anthony Boucher. This program was devoted to Vocal Villainies, i.e. performances reaching both the apex of expertise and the nadir of taste. 1964

 

JAZZ ARCHIVES Phil Elwood presents Meade Lux Lewis at the harpsichord! 1964

 

THE BIRTH OF POP  When Ralph J. Gleason recorded this program for the BBC series America Since the Bomb in 1966, he was the jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was never broadcast on KPFA, but I include it here because I don’t have any of the similar surveys recorded by our equally knowledgeable Phil Elwood.  

 

HARD RAIN In 1963, The Committee, a San Francisco improvisational group that had splintered off from Second City in Chicago, gave a live performance before an audience in KPFA's recital studio. One of its members gave a spirited rendition of a new song by someone named Bob Dylan, whom none of us in the control room had heard of. It was, we all thought, the funniest thing on the program, and it brought the house down.

 

 IT'S MORNING IN BERKELEY!   During the years I was working at KPFA, this would have been played approximately 1500 times. It was KPFA's sign-on music, and was already in place when Alan Rich joined the station in the fall of '53, he tells me. I t's the duet for soprano and contralto, "Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten", from J. S. Bach's Cantata No 78, "Jesu, der du meine Seele", sung by the legendary Teresa Stich Randall and Dagmar Hermann, Anton Heiler at the organ, with the Choir and Orchestra of the Bach Guild [a pick-up ensemble drawn from the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra] under Felix Prohaska, Bach Guild BG537. For me, it's given an additional poignancy by the fact that years later a dear friend chose it before he died as a principle part of his funeral music.

 

. . . AND EVENING.   For years I remember KPFA’s sign-off music as Stravinsky’s early Pastorale, composed as a tribute to Rimski-Korsakof’s daughter Nadia. An accident with a tape spool changed all that. Charles Shere writes:

 

When I first began [at KPFA], as a volunteer, I was tested by being asked to wind a 12-inch reel of spilled audiotape onto a reel; it took me quite a while. The tape turned out to be a song recital from Radio Poland, and it ended with an encore, Chopin's The Maiden's Wish. When I took the job, and had a little authority, I changed the station's sign-off music from Stravinsky's early Pastorale, which still strikes me as somehow wimpy, to the Chopin song.

 

I was quite fond of the Stravinsky, which I thought had a gently soporific quality, but the Chopin was so ravishingly beautiful that, like a faithless lover, I shamelessly transferred my affections.

 

WILL OGDON TALKS WITH ALAN RICH, former KPFA music director and, at the time of their conversation, music critic for the New York Times. Alan discusses his daily routine and describes the paper’s status and the ability of its music critics to enhance the reputation and career of performing artists. 1962

 

JOHN CAGE CONSIDERED: An Introduction  A tentative introduction and preliminary remarks about the music, aesthetics, and phenomenon of John Cage. Recorded in 1965, this program of musical examples is framed by the comments of Charles Shere on the life and music of this most famous of American avant-garde composers. Technical production by John Whiting.

 

RANDOM RADIO  I have fond memories of controlling one of the radios in a 1959 KPFA broadcast of John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No.4 for 12 radios, 24 players and conductor.

 

THE GRILLER STRING QUARTET  Four very distinctive personalities who made up a totally unified musical entity, and yet were able to live their separate lives through thirty years of working so closely together.  

 

CHANCE MUSIC (December 13, 1962) Composers Ramón Sender and Robert Moran (then graduate students in composition at Mills College), talk with Will Ogdon and John Whiting of the KPFA staff. Also present was dancer Judith Wickware who had worked with Anne Halprin. The two composers discuss the role of aleatoric, or chance music, in their work.


The following three programs which I produced and presented almost half a century ago I found by accident on the rdiOM archival website. I have linked to them there. My wife Mary didn’t recognize the voice – “Much too American,” she insisted, particularly in its minimally inflected delivery. Nor did I recognize most of the information. Sometimes I suspect that, paradoxically, I've forgotten more than I ever knew. The descriptive texts are from their original KPFA Folio listings. 

 

Some of the performances, particularly of the choral music, are no longer to my taste, but don't miss the original recorded performance of Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings in the second half of the last program. It still has a unique and ineffable magic.        .

 

Treasury of the 78's: Early Recordings of Music by Béla Bartók (June 25, 1962) John Whiting presents some early 78 rpm recordings of works by Béla Bartók. Although the recordings suffer from the scratches and other distortions typical of old shellac discs, the quality and historical nature of the performances are such so as to allow for some imperfections in the recording medium. Of particular interest is Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra” performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, under the direction of Eduard van Beinum, in which the scratches during the soft intro quickly give way to a robust presentation of one of Bartók’s latter orchestral masterpieces. The recording quality of the following selections of piano music is more problematic, but given that they are performed by the composer himself, who introduces each piece in his native Hungarian, make them of some historical interest, while the pieces themselves are representative of his seemingly simple yet distinctly elegant style of composition and performance.

 

 

Treasury of the 78's: English Choral Music (July 27, 1962) John Whiting presents some early 78 rpm recordings of English choir music from the 16th and 17th centuries. Works by Henry Purcell, William Croft, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes, Orlando Gibbons, & John Blow are performed by the choirs of New College in Oxford, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, and King’s College. Most of these works feature arrangements by Edmund Horace Fellowes. Although these are early recordings and are at times a little scratchy, the music is of high enough quality to make all such distractions inconsequential to anyone interested in the best of early English Church Music. The added commentary by Whiting provides historical context on each composer, making the entire listening experience as informative as it is enjoyable.

 

 

Treasury of the 78's: Music for Horn (June 12, 1962) John Whiting presents some early 78 rpm recordings of music for horn, performed by Audbry Brain and his son Dennis Brain. The first selection heard is Johannes Brahms “Trio in E-Flat Major,” for piano, horn and violin. Long recognized as one of the finest classical chamber music recordings of the early 20th century this 1934 disc features the horn playing of Audbry Brain. Audbry was a member of a talented musical family that included his father and brother, both highly respected horn players in established English orchestras, and his two sons, Leonard, who bucked family tradition by becoming an oboists of fine repute, and perhaps the most talented of them all, Dennis, who continued the family custom of horn performance until his untimely death in an automobile accident at the age of 36. It is Dennis who is featured in the second musical selection of this fine program, Benjamin Britten’s “Serenade” for tenor, horn, and strings. “Serenade” is a song cycle that includes texts by Charles Cotton, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Blake, Ben Jonson, and John Keats. Although the recordings are a little scratchy by today’s digital standards, the quality of the performances more than makes up for any minor distractions caused by the early recording technique, and the unique opportunity to hear the work of two such talented horn players performing at the height of their careers is not to be missed.

 

                  

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