The Living Era imprint of Britain's Sanctuary Records label releases consistently delightful compilations of 78 rpm-era recordings, in genres ranging from classical to country. This Mock Mozart set of 23 tracks, many from before World War II, shows how familiar Mozart's melodies were in an era when a certain amount of classical music education was considered fundamental to cultural literacy. The music consists of popular treatments, classical butcherings, and just downright odd interpretations of Mozart melodies. The Rondo alla Turca from the Piano Sonata, K. 331, is the individual champ, being parodied five times on this album alone; Moe Zart's Turkey Trot by the outrageous faux cowboy band Red Ingle & His Natural Seven is probably the wildest one. Not all the selections are parodies. There are jazz versions of Mozart, Mozart-related items, and more or less straight versions of Mozart opera arias that appeared in films for one reason or another -- Nelson Eddy in 1942 sang a creditable "Se vuol ballare" from The Marriage of Figaro, while Deanna Durbin is less convincing in the motet "Exsultate Jubilate." There are fairly well-known Mozart-based comedy routines by Victor Borge and Peter Ustinov, but Living Era releases typically unearth some true curiosities, as well, and this one is no exception: the opening movement of Eine kleine Nachtmusik is rendered on the xylophone by Japanese performer Yoichi Hiraoka in a 1940 recording. Another oddity comes from Ezio Pinza's later career: he teamed with actor Dennis King for a 1954 LP called Arias Sung and Acted -- King speaks and dramatizes the text of the "Catalogue" aria from Don Giovanni, and then Pinza sings the aria itself. The sequence of tracks keeps the listener surprised, and the program opens and ends with very sweet tracks: bandleader Raymond Scott's salon version of the Piano Sonata in C major, K. 545, is a delightful curtain-raiser (and if you're worried that Living Era has cornered the market on Mock Mozart, don't be -- they missed Hank Snow's infinitely weirder country version of this tune), and the disc ends with Germany's doomed Comedy Harmonists (also known as the Comedian Harmonists) singing the de-authenticated Mozart Wiegenlied. From the cover drawing of Mozart with his hands over his ears to the music inside, this disc is both a lot of fun and an intriguing look back at a time when classical music was part of a common cultural frame of reference.
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