Various Artists

The Golden Age of Light Music: Four Decades of Light Music, Vol. 1 - 1920s & 30s

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The Golden Age of Light Music: Four Decades of Light Music, Vol. 1 - 1920s & 30s Review

by James Manheim

The light music series issued by Britain's Guild label has offered a consistently delightful overview of the genre usually referred to as easy listening in the U.S.; it was an international phenomenon, and it would be interesting to know what it was called in Germany or Italy -- countries represented on this disc and on a parallel release devoted to music of the 1940s and 1950s. It was during those decades that the music began to take on a generic classification, and what's most interesting about this disc is that one can hear the various strands out of which the genre took shape -- this is a more musically varied release than others in the series. The foremost influence was probably the new language of film music, with a piece like In a Clock Store by the New Light Symphony Orchestra (1926) seeming as though it could have come straight out of a relevant silent film scene. Other influences are American jazz and popular song (the underestimated Nat Shilkret and his Orchestra are represented by a nifty little portrait called Flapperette), British marches and short classical pieces (those of Eric Coates are crucial to the early versions of the style), and older Central European waltzes and other dance music. All of these coalesced into a new music. Yet some of the music on the album fits none of these classifications: hear none other than the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, in 1928 while it was still allowed to do such a thing, perform a movement called "Blues" from the Dance Suite of Eduard Künneke, a German operetta composer and sometime disciple of Paul Whiteman. One may wonder exactly where the blues lie in this composition, which seems to take its name more from a general mood than from any musical procedure, but that's part of the interest. Each composition filled either one side or both sides of a 78 rpm record, but the variety within these constraints is striking, and the entire album both holds the attention of the listener and offers invaluable documentation of a neglected chapter of musical history in the twentieth century.

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