"The Genesis SuiteSCHOENBERG:  Prelude "The Earth was without form."  SHILKRET:  Creation.  TANSMAN:  Adam and Eve.  MILHAUD:  Cain and Abel.  CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO:  Noah's Ark.  STRAVINSKY:  Babel.  TOCH:  The Covenant.
Janssen Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles/Werner Janssen, cond. with Chorus directed by Hugo Strelitzer and narration by Edward Arnold
ANGEL 67729 (F) (ADD) TT:  49:57
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From the EMI/Capitol vault comes this Angel-labeled exhumation of a curiosity when it was new, and even more a curiosity now. Libraries ought to be glad if not quite rejoice: the contents aren't treasure from a pharaoh's tomb, despite the participating composers' credentials. How many individuals will want it in their collections, to hear more than once (as opposed to Collect for the Sake of Collecting), is moot. In any case, the credit page in the program book is hilarious - a geneological labyrinth that begins by crediting The Genesis Suite to"Nathaniel Shilkret (1945)," followed by a listing of the work's seven sections, six of which were written by other composers then living in California (although Polish-born Alexander Tansman returned to Paris in 1946, where he died four decades later at the age of 89).

What especially fascinated me about Genesis—to digress for a moment—is the longevity of several connected with the project: Shilkret, who was born on New Year's Day 1889, died on Christmas Day 1982 (both dates are wrong in Angel's liner), one week shy of his 94th birthday. The conductor, Werner Janssen, made it to 91. Igor Stravinsky survived for 88 years, Darius Milhaud for 81, Arnold Schoenberg (whose birth year is misprinted as 1894 instead of 1874) and Ernst Toch each lasted 76 years, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco eked out 72 years and 50 weeks.

Although the music was completed by 1943, it waited two years for a first performance on November 18, 1945, by Janssen (New York born) and his eponymous Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles, comprised mainly of studio players. Backtracking to the program book's credit page, it was "Recorded by RCA in Hollywood...in 1946. Originally released on 78 RPM discs by Artist Records [JS 10] in 1946. 'Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.' Later released on LP by Capitol Records [P-8125] in 1951. Digital remastering 2001 Angel Records. The copyright in this sound recording is owned by Angel Records 1951.©2001 Angel Records." (Note, by the way, that Angel was not created by Capitol/EMI until 1953, to release British Columbia recordings; American Columbia still had that name copyrighted stateside, and didn't change to CBS Records until 1970 or thereabouts. It was bought later on by Sony, which has a history of the company from 1902 through 1992 on a website.)

Backtracking even further, the liner lists"Narration by EDWARD ARNOLD [2-6]," except anyone familiar with that actor's orotund voice -- TNT Classics and AMC rerun his films frequently -- will know immediately that it isn't Edward Arnold reading excerpts from the 1597 King Jamesí version of the Bible ("translated out of the original tongues" - note the plural). It seems, thanks to a consumer review of the disc on by Niel [sic] Shell of Jackson Heights, NY, that "the instrumental track was recorded...on December 11, 1945 [while] Arnold recorded an accompanying narration in 1946" for the Artist JS-10 release." Due to problems with Artist [the company], the album was to be reissued, "Janssen hoping with new narration by either Roosevelt or Churchill, both of whom sensibly declined. Fast forward a couple of years: "Capitol Records chose a clergyman, Ted Osborne, and in December 1950, he recorded a new narration," but"asked to remain nameless, in reverent tribute to the word of God which he has spoken," according to the LP note of 1951. I should have thought he sought anonymity because of a puny, not to say pusillanimous tenor voice.

Remember, this was the era when Biblical Hollywood was dominated by Cecil B. DeMille's retoolings of Scripture (along with the Crusades, Cleopatra, early Indian wars, and Ringling Brothers' Barnum & Bailey Circus). The only music to emerge with character was Schoenberg'ís serial Prelude - The Earth was without Form. Also, along with the concluding Covenant by his fellow Viennese, Toch, it is the only music without a voice-over. Stravinsky's neo-Classic, pre-serial, literal Babel (No. 6) could have been composed by any of several doting imitators at the time. An overreaching Shilkret, credited on the jacket with "Creative Direction," assigned Creation to himself, and, one suspects, sent the others a stylistic prompt-book, which only Schoenberg tossed. The Genesis Suite is '40s studio film music by some Big Names in the music as well as movie business, five of whom sound pretty much alike and not very interesting.

Having said as this, you could find The Genesis Suite campy enough to play at parties. In fairness, one must add that mono sound "recorded by RCA in Hollywood, California" was a first-class job, and has been refurbished digitally by real pros in the business working under Robert LaPorta, whose head was guillotined by Angel/EMI in the industry's latest bloodbath.

R.D. (Nov. 2001)