(1952) Gamelan Orchestra from Pliatan – Music from Bali – 2 vols
Argo issue numbers:
ARS 1006, ARS 1007 (1952), RG 1, RG 2 (1953)
in 1971 as Argo ZFB 73 (only RG1), and see notes below. Released as 2-record set in the USA by Westminster Records in 1957 as XWN 2209
(Click on highlighted track and it’ll play in a new window)
Tracks (incomplete list)
(don’t know yet what was on Record Two)
Although the gamelan and dancers from the Balinese village of Pliatan had been taken abroad “in the Dutch time” to the Paris exposition of 1931, these performances are the first modern recordings of a gamelan ensemble. The 1952 tour was organised by John Coast. Two recordings were made, one at the Winter Garden, the other in a studio in New York (Columbia ML-4618), where the orchestra played in September at the Fulton Theater on Broadway (see Billboard ‘Legit Line-Up’ below).
The New York studio recordings, plus one track from the London concert (Legong), were re-released on CD by the World Arbiter label in 2006. See the sleeve notes.
I’ve read two versions of how this recording was made – one that the microphone(s) was slung over a fence, another that it was under the stage…
A review in The Gramophone magazine at the time (December 1952) said: “The recent appearances of the Balinese dancers in London (under the auspices of the Indonesian Government) aroused considerable interest in their (to us) littleknown art; and Argo’s enterprise in recording a complete performance of the music—equally unfamiliar to us, and by no means so esoteric as most Oriental music— is greatly to be praised.” Read more.
Derrick de Marney
Derrick de Marney, who recorded the London concert, was an actor with a strong interest in Java. He presented a season of Javanese dancing at the Garrick Theatre in London in 1946. An article in the Guardian in 1947 said he was arranging a further visit by Javanese dancers and hoped to bring musicians as well. Maybe this was the visit – just a bit later than planned.
Best known for his role in Hitchcok’s Young and Innocent (1937), de Marney also produced a number of wartime documentaries about the Polish Air Force.
His connection with Argo will almost certainly have come through the world of British film. He worked, for example, with Ian Dalrymple (the man who inspired and bankrolled Argo in its formative years) on the first wartime propaganda film The Lion Has Wings.
It was a small world. In the 1947 Gothic thriller Latin Quarter (or Frenzy as it was alternatively titled), de Marney starred opposite Joan Greenwood. One of the scenic artists on the set was Olga Lehmann, who would turn up in 1954 doing record covers for Argo.
Benjamin Britten and Kapi Radja
Now here’s a funny thing. When John Coast was working with the ensemble in Bali on the concert repertoire ahead of the trip, he wanted them to come up with an overture that would be accessible, so Western audiences could begin by hearing Balinese music broken down into instruments and sections.
So he played them some of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. “Have you got anything like that?” he asked them (I’m paraphrasing). “Kapi Radja! Just the one!,” they said. So that’s what they played on the tour – track 1 on Side A of this album.
Strange but true, some years later, Britten used ‘Kapi Radja’ as a model for the gamelan music in his ‘The Prince of the Pagodas’. Happy full-circle coincidence or what?
Everyone thought he’d been inspired by the tune after hearing it on a trip to Bali in 1956. Not so. Turns out he’d got it off the Argo record!
(thanks and praise to lars/bolingo for letting me hear this record)