|Extra-Musical Memories #1 | HISTORY Page | Obituary Page ||
I'VE JUST BEEN NOSTALGICALLY wallowing in a noisy piece of music, a prime example of avant-garde dissonance that first assaulted my ears sixty-odd years ago - Alexandr Vasilevich Mosolov's Iron Foundry: Music of Machines, an orchestral episode from a ballet popular with the Soviet proletariat in the '20s, which went on to achieve notoriety in the West. It was issued here, before the war, on one side of a ten-inch 78rpm record which Arthur C. Clarke promptly added to his collection. You'll find a report in the March 1938 issue of Novae Terrae, of one of the record recitals he gave to the London Branch of the Science Fiction Association: a chilly February meeting started off with Wally Gillings reading Lovecraft's Colour Out of Space (that's how dedicated fans were in those early days!)...
"His audience sat enthralled, then interested, then passive, then replete, then a little fidgety. After 1½ hours heroic reading without a stop Mr Gillings drew his story to a finish. Grunts and deep sighs sounded from about the table, of ecstasy or relief. The big moment then arrived - a programme of sf music offered by Arthur Clarke. Several faces became stonily resigned as the handle was wound, and as the first notes of Things To Come thundered out, eyes wandered to papers and magazines. And then as the maddening rhythm of Mosolov's Steel Foundry slammed and roared across the frosty air eyes became expressive once more, but alas, only with amusement and disgust..."
Arthur took great delight in playing the Mosolov piece at full volume to impress unsuspecting visitors (I was one!) to the 88 Grays Inn Road flat that he shared with Maurice Hanson and Bill Temple.
A few years later I spent some time in Arthur's company at RAF Yatesbury, to find myself roped in to help at several wartime record recitals that Arthur busily organised as part of the camp entertainment. While Mosolov didn't feature in these programmes, I found that Arthur still liked to operate at maximum volume, blithely ignoring all protests from wilting listeners in the front rows...
Many years later, in the 80s, a Russian Melodiya LP featuring the music of Mosolov, revived these memories. It included a live concert recording of Iron Foundry, enthusiastically applauded by the audience, and so I couldn't resist adding it to the collection. The grinding orchestral rhythms and dissonances refreshed fading memories but I guess after a lifetime of listening, most of that first impact of encounter is now lost on me.
The music on this particular vinyl album later reappeared in CD format, to be included in the "New Penguin Guide to Compact Discs 1989" with a less than enthusiastic review... "a record for libraries and for those with a specialised interest in Soviet music". Later editions appear to have discreetly ignored the disc, but no doubt it's currently available among the vast amount of Russian recordings on the market, if you're curious and prepared to search for it.
George Antheil (1900-1959), an expatriate American, caused a sensation in Paris in 1926 with his Ballet mécanique, scored for eight pianos, eight xylophones, pianola, two electric doorbells and aeroplane propeller. Nearer to Russolo's concept, though Antheil dissociates himself from the Futurist aesthetic in autobiog Bad Boy of Music ... also see p.113 - says that the original title for Ballet was Message to Mars ! If he'd stuck to this, he would have certainly been highlighted in one of Arthur's recitals... ■
[See Bill Temple's British Fan in His Natural Haunt No.1 Eric C. Williams puts Mossolov piece on radiogram when Bill complains of headache...]
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