College of Musical Knowledge | Page 55 | Newberry

College of Musical Knowledge

   Oh, I have a job like no one else’s.  I have mentioned this before.  People would PAY to get a job like this.  Of course, people pay for pizza with a fried egg in the middle of it, too, so maybe you can’t gauge it by that.

   What amazes me today is the unparalleled opportunity to learn new things, whether I want to or not.  I have been pricing records for this little shindig since 1986.  (At the first Book fair, they just put up a sign saying “All records twenty-five cents” and the results weren’t pretty.)  Before that, believe it or else, I spent some time studying music.  (There was this professor who thought I had it in me to major in Composition.  If the worlds had turned a little differently, you might now be listening to my work in the background of antacid commercials instead of reading it online.  Too late to wail about it now, though.)

   And yet, after all this time, I can turn up records which are entirely new to me.  I don’t mean those three 78s by the Silver Bell Orchestra or those two records which play at 16 2/3 RPM.  I mean twelve entire albums solely of music by a nineteenth century composer I’ve never heard of in my life.

   If you weren’t a music student—or were the kind that reads only the notes and not the words on the music—you may not understand this.  But in my entirely unsupported recollections, roughly ninety-seven percent of all the music they give you to play in your lessons is by nineteenth century composers nobody cares about.  These are the people who wrote pieces perfectly suited for play by first-year students.  And once you have gotten past them, not only you but most of your friends and family never want to hear about them again.  There are dozens of composers about whom I know nothing but the fact that they wrote that horrible piece with all the sixteenth notes that my piano teacher despaired of my ever getting right.  And I do recognize those names, all these years later.

   So when I turn up not one or two but twelve albums by a composer whose name rings no bells in my musical memory, it’s an event.  For one thing, I have learned a new useless factoid, which is a lot easier to annoy people with than piano lessons.  AND I can pass this factoid along to my greater blog-reading public, both to let you in on the knowledge and to alert any C.M. Ziehrer fans out there to this great bargain at the 2012 Book Fair.

   It was in that Viennese collection I keep complaining about: every operetta ever composed in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then some.  The masters of the waltz and the polka and every other form of pop music were the Strauss men, Johasnn Sr., Johann Jr., Josef, Eduard, etc.  Of course, they had competition, and chief of the competition was Carl Michael Ziehrer, in there every minute with another waltz, another march, another attempt to be as Viennese as his rivals.  He never managed it, but he was famous enough in his day to be invited to Chicago in 1893 to conduct some of his work at the World’s Fair.  He outlived the Strausses, but unfortunately also outlived the demand for Viennese waltzes.  He died not long after the Austro-Hungarian Empire went defunct, having composed over 600 “not quite Strauss” works along the way.

   If you knew all that already, you’re just the customer I’m looking for.  I may have as many as twelve boxes of Viennese operetta and other Merry Widow era music, some from Austria, some from Hungary (those are the ones with the German liner notes translated into Russian).  It may be that the world is bracing for a huge C.M. Ziehrer revival, and you can get a jump on the grand celebration.

   As a special bonus, I promise not to try to play any of his work on the piano.


I laughed, I cried, I had a Dr Pepper 10. But never had I thought there was a possibility of learning something. Dang.
I bet you thought the chances were Ziehrer.

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