Picture a recording session in Los Angeles in 1938 where many of those seated among the first violins had served as either concertmaster or assistant concertmaster at a number of prominent orchestras in the U.S. and Europe. Scanning the string section one could see the current concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; the co-founder of the London String Quartet, a recent transplant to Los Angeles; a female violinist who was on the verge of a career as a film actress; and many others with interesting life stories.
The names of these musicians, and other members of the Great Waltz Symphony Orchestra, are inscribed in parchment inside an outwardly unassuming leather volume whose cover is embossed, “Dimitri Tiomkin.”
Inside, a colorful scroll-like page bearing calligraphy cites the composer’s “sincere devotion to the best symphony-music in Motion Pictures” and expresses admiration for his “constant vigilance that only the highest form of music be expressed and accompany Motion Pictures.”
This is high praise coming from the eighty-three musicians who left behind a legacy of recorded music in the early and mid-20th century. These musicians regularly concertized and were fixtures at Los Angeles chamber music concerts, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Hollywood Bowl.
What we now call session musicians, studio musicians, or recording musicians, these MGM contract orchestra players came from around Western Europe and beyond: Russia, Italy, Germany, Holland, Poland, and Hungary. The American-born players were educated at elite music schools, such as the Eastman School of Music and Curtis Institute in the U.S. and, often, Europe.
Parting gifts bestowed by cast and crew at the close of principal photography or at wrap parties are not uncommon in Hollywood. This memento, presented to Tiomkin after recording the underscore for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Great Waltz, is the handiwork of Damase Beauchamp. The French Canadian–born artist, and self described “penman,” lived and worked down the street from Grauman’s Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.
First signature page, first column
Louis J. Previati
S. Noack [Sylvain Noack]
G. Pepper [George Pepper]
Russian-born Calmon Luboviski played violin in the Los Angeles Trio and led the Russian Quartet in the 1920s.
Violist Ray Menhennick went on to play first chair at 20th Century Fox.
Bassist Louis J. Previati, Italian-born but raised in the U.S., was employed by MGM for seven years during the 1930s after serving as principal bassist for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Harpist Lucia Laraia was one of the few women in the ensemble. In 1920 Laraia served as the harpist for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra and at Grauman’s downtown Million Dollar Theater. After she soloed in a harp concerto with the latter, Pacific Coast Musician critic Bruno David Ussher gave her a hard time for selecting a work he judged as “Musical Molasses!”
Polish-American violinist Bronislaw Gimpel, the younger brother of Jakob Gimpel, was later concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Henry Svedrofsky was assistant concertmaster of the Bluethner Orchestra in Berlin under Felix Weingartner. Before joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic he played with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
American violinist Albert Vertchamp, born in Philadelphia and educated musically in Berlin, was the founder of the Vertchamp Quartet. In 1934 the quartet performed music by Arnold Schoenberg soon after the composer arrived in Los Angeles. Vertchamp and Schoenberg became friends and tennis partners.
Violinist Sylvain Noack played with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, founded the Boston String Quartet, and served as concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl, and Grauman’s Million Dollar Theatre. Students from throughout the Western U.S. sought lessons at his Los Angeles studio, situated in the heart of present-day Koreatown.
When sound came to film, Rocco Barbieri was employed as a musician by the Vitaphone studio in Los Angeles. His father-in-law, Croce Margadonna, played trombone in the Great Waltz orchestra.
First signature page, second column
Louie E. Sarli [Louis Sarli]
H. van Veen
Anthony Briglio and two fellow orchestra members, Sylvain Noack and Nicolas Ochi-Albi, formed three-quarters of the Bartlett-Frankel string quartet. Founded to honor the memory of Los Angeles musical pioneer Albert G. Bartlett, the group played salon concerts at the swank Biltmore hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Hermann Seidel played second violin in the Brahm’s Quintet of Los Angeles in the mid-1910s.
The Russian-born violinist and teacher Julian Brodetsky served as assistant concertmaster for the San Francisco Symphony and played first violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was the conductor for the 1951 Pageant of the Masters in Laguna, California, where “living pictures” are underscored by moving music. He was the subject of Ah, Julian!: A Memoir of Julian Brodetsky by Leonard Wibberley.
Violist Reuben Marcus recorded tracks for Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Dean Martin, and others.
Prior to coming to Los Angeles, violinist Samson Noble’s motion-picture work included three years as assistant to Hugo Riesenfeld, director of the Rialto and Rivoli Theaters in New York; nine weeks as soloist at the Cameo Theater in Brooklyn, New York, where he arranged a music score for The Alaskan (1924); one year with the Balaban and Katz theater circuit in Chicago, and two years with Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel in New York, under whom he served as assistant conductor of the sixty-piece orchestra at the Capitol Theater. Noble also for two years was a first violinist in the New York Symphony Orchestra.
Henry Shostac served as concertmaster of the Dresden Symphony Orchestra and the Bologna Opera.
John C. Bingham
Paul Robyn (pronounced Ro-bine) was a violist in the Hollywood String Quartet and later served as first chair viola with the Warner Bros. studio orchestra.
Drummer Lou Erickson.
Jack Barsby played tuba for Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, and others.
Russian-born bass player Mischa Bakaleinikoff came from a family of musicians. His brothers were Constantin, Nikolay, and Vladimir. He was a noted music director and conductor at Columbia studios from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Clarinetist D.H. McKenney was “one of the most respected members of the orchestra next to [Philip] Memoli” according fellow MGM orchestra member bassoonist Don Christlieb. With the Los Angeles Wind Quintet, McKenney played on one of the earliest recordings of Paul Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusik,” Op. 24, No. 2, recorded a year or so after the score for The Great Waltz.
Born in Germany and raised in Montana, Fred Kuphal once played for silent films at one of Sid Grauman’s theaters in Los Angeles. Back in Montana, Kuphal’s father worked for William A. Clark and when Clark’s son founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Kuphal became personnel manager and librarian, a position he held for some 40 years. In 2005, the Montana Historical Society dedicated a plaque in honor of Fred Kuphal, who on Arbor Day in 1899 played music on the violin while local children planted evergreen seedlings in Mount Helena Park.
Check back next week for more signatures and thumbnail bios…