2003   MARCH 11   #070

Nicholas Slonimsky - Objets Trouvés/Castoria/And This Is What Her Doctor Told Her

It is very difficult to find recordings of ANYTHING by Nicholas Slonimsky (1894-1995), so this is a real treat. Back in the 80s, Keyboard magazine would routinely offer soundpages with their magazine. Usually they were pretty forgettable stuff, but not so for the November '88 issue. Somebody on the Keyboard staff had the inspiration to find Nicholas Slonimsky and set him down in front of a microphone. The result was a classic.

Slonimsky was a bona-fide musical genius with a warped sense of humor. He edited the monumental "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians", stuffing it full of his wit. He also compiled a "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns", an exhaustive compilation of literally thousands of different scales and permutations of them. He put together the hilarious "Lexicon of Musical Invective", a random collection of bad reviews of recognized classics, wrote learned papers such as "Sex and the Music Librarian", performed the right hand part of Chopins' black-key etude by rolling an orange over the keyboard, spoke only Latin to his daughter for the first five years of her life (would have gone on longer had she not come home from kindergarten one day complaining "Daddy, none of the other kids speak Latin at home!"), performed with Frank Zappa, was instrumental in discovering Charles Ives, as a conductor premiered many new works by contemporary composers, and, was one of the first composers of jingles.

For more info on Slonimsky, check out, http://www.otherminds.org/html/Slonimsky.html.

The first selection, Titled "Objets Trouvés in a Dodecaphonic Environment" is a collection of "found objects" surrounded by permutations of his so-called "Grandmother Chord", a Slonimsky invention that contains all 12 notes and 11 different symmetrically invertible intervals. In order, the found objects are (1) An imperial Austrian March called "The Double Eagle", (2) a popular German song from 1910 with the memorable lyrics "Zeppelin, what happened to your air balloon? It did not function. Therefore, let us take an automobile - it does not cost much, and goes straight to the goal.", and (3) An old fashioned Russian waltz circa 1903. The second and third selections are from his song cycle of Advertising songs. In 1924, Slonimsky, mostly to amuse his friends at the Eastman School of Music, set to music the text of several Saturday Evening Post advertisements. The result was a bizarre combination of Russian seriousness and dada whimsy.

Easily the best is the first of the two recordings, "Children Cry for Castoria". The fact that Nicholas was in his 90s when this was recorded brings a particular charm to his quavering voice as it belts out such lines as "Opens up the BOW-ELS!" In the second one, "And this is what her doctor told her", Slonimsky borrows a theme from Rachmaninoff's famous "Prelude in c# minor."

Apparently, the complete cycle of songs, however many there are, became somewhat famous for a time. Pepsodent threatened to sue him if he did not stop performing their toothpaste ad, so he changed the name to "Plurodent" and continued to perform the piece. Slonimsky actually tried to sell these to different companies but nobody bit. Too bad.

- Philip DeWalt

TT-4:24 / 5MB / 160kbps 44.1khz
from Keyboard Magazine Flexidisc

(Image courtesy of Philip DeWalt)