by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Adolf Tandler (1875-1953) was a violist, composer and conductor from Vienna who came to Los Angeles in his early thirties to lead an orchestra for Albert C. Bilicke at the city’s finest hotel of the day, the Alexandria.He then became conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra in 1913, replacing its founding conductor Harley Hamilton who stepped down after over fifteen years.
During his tenure of six years, Tandler introduced several dozen new works and offered concerts for schools, sunrise performances, and other innovations. When William Andrews Clark, Jr., namesake son of the powerful Montana senator, mining magnate and railroad owner, put up the capital for a new orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which debuted in 1919, Tandler turned to a new concept.
This was his “Little Symphony,” which was “founded to bring to the Universities, High Schools, Clubs and similar Communities who have neither space nor means for the larger Orchestra, the gospel of good music at a minimum cost, thus filling an essential need.” One such program consisted of “Saturday Morning Musicals” at the Biltmore Hotel across from Pershing Square “which will be devoted to the works of modern composers and the rarely played works of the old masters.” Otherwise, with other performances “melodious music, enjoyable for everyone will be featured”—this appears to mean no modern music.
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection is a program for a “California Night of Music” held at the Hollywood Bowl on 3 September 1926 and which featured Tandler and his Little Symphony. Curiously, the document makes no mention of the fact that the concert was a fundraiser to provide money for rehearsals for the orchestra in those weekend performances (including Sunday evenings) at the hotel, something, however, highlighted in advertising for the event.
For example, the Los Angeles Rxpress of the 1st noted the purpose for the concert, adding that the patrons of the musicales at the Biltmore were buying tickets. In its coverage the same day, the Los Angeles Times alluded directly to the theme by referring to a suite of compositions written by Tandler over a decade before called California Sketches. In its discussion, the paper used the copy put into the “Program Notes” on the back panel of the document. This Tandler work following the opening Symphony in G Minor by Mozart, in which it was observed in the notes that “his music is eternally young and as pure as crystal water,” while the listener “reaches the point of adequate appreciaion of his work” because of its subtle character.
The first part, “In the Mountains,” sought to capture in sounds “the rugged grandeur and solemnity of lof[t]y peaks, the different calls of the birds. the trembling of the air in the sun.” Part two, “On the Ocean,” represented “the ebb and flow of the ceaseless tide, the shimmer and glint of the sun, swoops and cries of the sea gulls, [and] rolling pebbles on the beach.” For “Moonlight,” the third section, the idea was to emulate “a quaint serenade, almost a prayer of the crickets and frogs as they raise their voices to the beauty of the clear, cloudless sky of the summer night.”
These evocations are not unlike tone poems and other works exalting the natural world, especially among the so-called “Romantic” composers of the 19th century. In fact, the image of a youthful Tandler shows him sporting very long hair for the era, not unlike Franz Liszt and his flowing locks decades before. The fourth section, however, was “At the Mission” and was “a tribute to the courage and devotion of the Fathers who founded, built and peopled the old Missions, the last relics and memorials of the almost forgotten past.
Speaking of romanticism! As did so many who celebrated the missions and the work of the missionaries, Tandler appears to have given full musical voice to the view that this was heroic work, though the benign concept of “peopling” the missions makes no mention of the indigenous people whose societies were rent apart by decades in an imposed remaking of their communities, with a staggering death rate attending this work of “courage and devotion.”
Also highlighted in press coverage were the soloists, including Marjorie Dodge, whose vocals were part of the second selection of the evening, comprising an aria “One Fine Day” from Giacomo Puccini’s classic opera, Madama Butterfly (1904). She also sang “The Old Man’s Love Song” from Arthur Farwell, a striking figure who was in Pasadena in the first several years of the Twenties. This song, as many Farwell composed, was an “Indianist” piece among “Three Indian Songs” (1908) and was said to have been based a melody of the Omaha tribe from Nebraska. Finally, she performed “O Golden Sun”, written by Grace Adele Freeby, who is largely unknown though she did garner attention for composing “My Golden California” a few years earlier.
The other major soloist was violinist Calmon Luboviski, who performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had a trio with a cellist and pianist, and was the Little Symphony’s concertmaster since its inception. Luboviski was featured in the Concerto No. 1 of Max Bruch. whose best-known of some 200 published pieces were his pieces for chorus and orchestra and his three violin concertos of which this was the most popular. The violinist was particularly busy during the mid-Twenties having performed 146 times in 1925 alone and recording frequently in the studio.
Another prominent feature of the program was a performance of the Norma Gould Dancers with two works, the first being “Dance of the Nautch Girls” featuring music from the Rustle of Spring, a work for piano by Norwegian composer Christian Sinding and which featured an octet of dancers, with the second embracing “Dance of the Four Wings” utilizing music from Anton Rubinstein’s The Bride of Kashmir and featuring four dancers.
Most striking was the finale, comprised of an “Ensemble of Twenty-Four Pianos” and the sound, much less the sight, of three rows of eight grand pianos, all orchestrated differently, performing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Liadow’s The Music Box, the Polonaise in A Major by Chopin, and Grainger’s Country Gardens—this last was accompanied by the orchestra. This element was said to be historic as it was, apparently, “the first time that a piano ensemble has ever attempted a concert with separate orchestrations.”
Notably, despite publishing several advance articles promoting the concert, the Times does not appear to have reviewed it, though the Express did issue a lengthy analysis. It averred that the performance “brought high honor and advantage” to Tandler and the attendance, including the conductor’s friend, Charles Chaplin, who wrote music for many of his films, was remarked to have “told eloquently of the wide-spread admiration in which this devoted musician and his fellow artists are held by the music lovers of the Southland.” Gould’s troupe “won the full affection of a discriminating public,” while Dodge “won cordial plaudits with her finely toned singing and thoughtful interpretations.” Luboviski, accounted the best violinist on the coast, “captivated his hearers with a remarkable performance.”
As for the finale, the paper proclaimed that “especial mention must at once be made” of “this unique keyboard orchestra,” which, it added, “evidently had gone through ardent rehearsals” with the conductor. Tandler, it noted, “effectively divided the grouping of the various instruments in accordance with the melodic development of the selections.” The Express continued that “the Little Symphony is filling an important niche with the traditional works like that of Mozart “in its original miniature complement of instruments” but modern pieces which benefited from the use of “smaller bodies of instruments which can only be heard by a medium as Mr. Tandler.”
Emphasizing California talent alone justified supporting such concerts and Tandler’s schedule of performances for the season were expected to find plenty of support. It was added that lighting provided by the Bowl’s superintendent, H. Ellis Reed, was “very effective.” The conductor continued to be a prominent figure in local “serious music” for many years, but, sadly, his life came to a tragic end on 30 September 1953 when he and his 50-year old daughter, Hedwig, were found in his car, which was parked next to the famous Eagle Rock natural feature, a favorite spot of father and daughter. Hedwig Tandler suffered from her teen years from particularly aggressive arthritis and the 78-year old musician committed what was termed “a mercy killing” by running a garden hose from the exhaust into the vehicle. Some sources state that he left a suicide note lamenting that he could not make his wife happy, as well.
This program is a notable artifact concerning the development of classical music in 1920s Los Angeles with respect to the work of Adolf Tandler and the emphasis on local talent among the soloists, as well as the imaginative programming he brought to the performance.