first published on the web on August 11, 2010.
As early as 1950, Concert Hall Society, Inc., advertised in Schwann Long Playing Record Catalog, the new monthly publication for music lovers and record collectors published by W. Schwann (William). Initially the advertisements were on half pages but from December 1950 on these were full page ads on the first page of the catalog. The ads say that Concert Hall is located at 250 West 57th St, New York 19, NY. Concert Hall was the record company of two brothers, Samuel and David Josefowitz, two well educated people - David studied the violin.
the June 1952 issue of Schwann Long Playing Record Catalog, a full page advertisement
of the Handel Society appeared instead of the Concert Hall ad. The Handel Society
was located at the same address and was a sister label of Concert Hall and was
of course maintained by the brothers Samuel and David Josefowitz.
Chamber Music Society Licensed by Concert Hall Society
An oddity in the Chamber Music Society catalog, I found,
is the recording of cellist Janos Starker performing the Sonata for Violoncello
and Piano No. 1 in E minor Op. 38 of Johannes Brahms with, on Side One, Violin
Sonata No. 1 Op. 78, performed by Louis Kaufman. Kaufman is accompanied by pianist
Helene Pignari. Starker's pianist is Abba Bogin. Neither The Long Player nor editions
of Schwann Long Playing Record Catalog mention this record.
Hall existed already in the 78 RPM shellac era.
The 78 RPM records are not too many as David and Sam Josefowitz had just started their company (mail order business) and the listings in the Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (1948) are of the first year of the business. What is different is that the company will turn out only 2,000 copies of each album as it presses the records directly from the master matrix, eliminating the "mother" and "stampers" as was reported by Time Magazine on Nov. 25, 1946. Furthermore Concert Hall will specialize in uncommon, previously unrecorded material. The records can be obtained by subscribing to a series of 12 titles. An advantage of the plastic was of course that shipment was less hazardous if compared to sending shellac discs to subscribers. The great advantage for the brothers Josefowitz was that shellac was a scarcity in those days.
not easily spotted in the Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music, 1948
There is also pianist Ray Lev who recorded Brahms's Sonata No. 1 and Chorale-Prelude no. 11, "O Welt ich muss dich lassen", on A7. From her hands are also Prokofiev's Children's Pieces (AC) and Schubert's Unfinished Sonata in C Major (from 1825) on 4x 12" discs (B3). Russian cellist and Casals pupil Raya Garbousova (Garbusova) had been a Victor artist but now she recorded for Concert Hall. She is the soloist in Samuel Barber's "Capricorn" Concerto with the Saldenberg Little Symphony (A4). She plays Barber's Cello Sonata accompanied by Erich-Itor Kahn (B1), and Debussy's Minuet and Cello Sonata (A10), and Grieg's A minor Sonata (AD), accompanied by pianist Artur Balsam. Like so many recordings from the early years, also Garbousova's recordings were later reissued on the Concert Hall label and of Debussy's Cello Sonata on the Chamber Music Society label. Pianist Paul Loyonnet accompanies flutist René le Roy who blows Haydn's Sonata in G Major on 4x 12" discs with reference B8. Loyonnet also recorded Robert Schumann's Humoresque Op. 20, issued on 3x 12" discs, reference A1, and Couperin's Suite du Sixieme Ordre on B14. Symphony for Strings by American composer William Schuman is recorded by the Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra (whatever collection of musicians that may have been) conducted by Edgar Schenkman on 4x 12 inch discs, reference AL1. Schuman's String Quartet No. 3 is played by the Gordon String Quartet (led by violinist Jacques Gordon) on AB.
78 rpm Vinyl Records
78 rpm records generally were pressed on black shellac, the disks on the newly
founded Concert Hall label were pressed on vinyl. Samuel
Josefowitz recalls in an interesting article, written by Michelle Owens
and published in
Magazine, that his father was offered a load of plastic at a very low price.
That triggered the idea to make and distribute records.
An asset in this respect was the knowledge of David Josefowitz. He had not only studied the violin in Berlin (Europe), but after he had come to live in the United States he studied chemistry and chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT) and later at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. And Samual had received a degree from Rensselaer in industrial engineering.
The Long Playing Record
the introduction of the Long Playing record, Concert Hall switched to the new
medium and expanded the catalog with many recordings made in Europe as so many
American record companies did in those days. Vienna, Zürich, Winterthur,
and Hilversum became the recording venues where various orchestras and groups
of musicians were hired: Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra,
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra, Utrecht Symphony and Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra,
and on occasion Haarlem Symphony Orchestra (Haarlemse Orkest Vereniging). The
fact that these records are being listed in the editions of Schwann Long Playing
Record Catalog suggests that they were available in shops and therefor they were
reviewed in High Fidelity Magazine.
Editions of The Gramophone Long Paying Classical Record Catalogue show that -
as early as 1952 - Concert Hall Society issues were released in England on the
Nixa label by the company that also dealt with Vanguard recordings. The prefix
for 12 inch records was CLP, a prefix later used by HMV. Nixa stopped pressing
Concert Hall records in the second half of the 1950s, probably around 1956. From
then on Concert Hall was registered as a label. The Concert Hall editions differed
in style from the US issues. At right the label of a relatively late issue, reference
CM-LE-16, with works by Ernest Bloch (Four Episodes for Chamber Orchestra), Schönberg
(Begleitmusik), Berg (Seven Early Songs and Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano)
performed by conductors Thomas Scherman, Charles
Adler, Walter Goehr, soprano Kathryn
Harvey, clarinetist Herbert Tichman, and pianist
Ruth Budnevich. Seven Early Songs and Four Pieces
had earlier been issued in the US on Release C-12.
Concert Hall in The Netherlands
The recordings were also licensed to one or two record companies abroad. Many a Concert Hall recording appeared in France on the Classic label and the available records were listed in the French catalog "Disques de longue durée" published in the fall of 1955. Ready pressed records were exported to small foreign markets like the Netherlands. On the ochre Dutch cover of CHS 10 with pianist Noel Mewton-Wood playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 together with Walter Goehr conducting the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra, the following New York address is printed, 250 West 57th St. This means that this Dutch issue is from before 1953, before Concert Hall moved to 507 W 56th St. Name and address of the importer for the Netherlands is printed underneath the Concert Hall address in the US. The importer was M. Stibbe & Co., Amstel 222, Amsterdam-C, Telephone K 20-41260.
Note for Dutch readers: K meant "kengetal" = numerical code. So K 20 was Amsterdam (which is 020 today).
Enter Musical Masterpiece Society
1951 and 1952 when David and Sam Josefowitz launched their Handel Society and
Chamber Music Society labels, they had the brilliant idea to start the MMS subscription
label in the US. Potential clients were lured into buying a sampler disc at an
affordable introductory price, or were offered a selection of records at $ 1.00
a piece or even just one dollar.
Starting a subscription series In 1952 was not so much a new idea. Record Clubs and subscription series had existed all along and had been selling esoteric material (as Concert Hall did), or children's records, Billboard Magazine explained. But the idea of selling the standard repertory was quite new and it inspired many an American entrepreneur to start a record club: Greystone Press, Book of the Month Club, Music Treasures of the World, World Record Club, and various other series which had a longer or shorter life, came into existence. Even Columbia had a Record Club. At far right a Musical Masterpiece Society advertisement from 1954 offering 8 Masterpieces for $1.00. The ad reads, Send Coupon at Once, and the buyer will receive the Masterpieces on record and a brochure, Music in Your Home, written by famous critic and musicologist Olin Downes. The address, 43 W. 61st St., is obviously the warehouse from where the discs are being shipped.
MMS Goes Europe
An article in Billboard Magazine of March 26, 1955, says that "Concert
Hall with its Musical Masterpiece Society, Opera Society and Jazztone is operating
in virtually all European countries: Holland, France, Germany, Italy. The biggest
operation is in West Germany. There most of the records are pressed".
The Jazztone label followed the same marketing technique
In early 1955 the brothers Josefowitz bought the jazz catalog of Ross Russell's Dial label. Russel started making records in 1946 in the shellac era. The Dial label contained recordings of promiment jazz players Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Buck Clayton, Slam Stewart, Red Callender, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner, Billy Taylor and Jonah Jones. They all can be found on the fine grooved 10 inch Jazz Sampler with material that normally can be found on a 12" LP. The thinly pressed record was of course aimed at the jazz afficionados. They were invited to subscribe to the club and order from the Jazztone catalog more or less every month or whenever new and old releases were on offer.
The name Musical Masterpiece Society could easily be used in many countries, except in France, for the French are very culture conscious, and still are, even if they like speaking "franglais" today. If MMS would be translated into French, it would be called "La société musicale du chef-d'oeuvre" or something similar. That sounds rather haughty and is not very much inviting to join the club. However, the word "club" could not be used as in France there existed "Le club français du disque" and "Club national du disque" (CND). So a brilliant, yet somewhat similar label name was thought up and in France the MMS recordings were released on "Guilde internationale du disque", a name which had a nice flavor that suggested importance and quality. The license agreement with the Classic label was terminated. Yet the original Concert Hall recordings released on the Classic label were still listed in the French catalog "Disques de longue durée" issued in the fall of 1955. Nevertheless the establishment of the subscription series started already in 1954, according to Jean-Pierre Mathieu from Paris who grew up with the records bought by his parents and the gramophone offered by the "Guilde internationale du disque" which they acquired in 1958. The French subsidiary was opened in 1954. The records could also be bought directly in shops. Every important city had one or more Guilde du Disque shops. The most famous shop in Paris was at 222, rue de Rivoli, Paris 8ème. The success of La Guilde internationale du disque was immense and in 1967 it was decided to open a huge center in Evreux in Normandy. The Paris address was still operating in the early 1980s and in 1986 La Guilde merged with Edition Atlas, Mathieu told.
Ten Inch Records
The MMS discs had the small ten inch format and they were extremely thin if compared
to the heavy 12 inch Concert Hall pressings. So the MMS discs were cheaper to
manufacture as less plastic was involved. For the covers a standard lay out was
designed. Only the names of the composers, the titles, and the performers had
to be printed on this 'generic' sleeve. Thus another vast saving was made as no
additional well chosen art work had to be commissioned - as illustrated by the
Concert Hall cover of CHS 1155 with El Cid (Massenet) and Tzar Sultan Suite (Rimsky-Korsakov)
conducted by Henk Spruit and the Saint-Saëns
program on CHS 1178. Furthermore it was decided that no full color printing was
necessary as music lovers did not have to be persuaded through artistic covers
to buy this or that recording. The low price of the product and the convenience
of receiving the discs in the mail were the main incentives. At right label and
cover of MMS-30, the lightweight MMS release of the original heavy Concert Hall
Society disc of the Mendelssohn recordings with Frank Pelleg.
Starting the Handel Society label in 1951 was probably inspired by the existence
of the Haydn Society from Boston. The Handel Society was not a strict American
affair in that respect that only a few recordings were made with conductors Robert
Hull and Maurice Abravanel as the advertisement
at the beginning of this web page tells. Judas Maccabaeus with Maurice Abravanel
conducting the Utah University Chorus and Orchestra was issued on Handel HDL-12.
This recording was released in France on the Classic label and in 1955 in the
Netherlands on Concert Hall HDL 12. Alexander's Feast was recorded with Prof.
Robert Hull conducting the Cornell University Chorus and the 'Handel Society Orchestra'.
This issue was also released in France on the Classic label. Harpsichordist Frank
Pelleg performed the Handel concertos for harpsichord on the label. Pelleg
was accompanied by Walter Goehr conducting the Orchestra of Radio Zürich.
Forgotten Recordings and Unknown Artists
only all Handel Society recordings were deleted from Schwann, but also a number
of Concert Hall disks. At the same time new recordings were listed, like CHS 1501
with pianist Philippe Entremont and conductor Carl
Bamberger performing Symphonic Variations (César Franck) and Piano
Concerto No. 2 (Sergei Rachmaninoff) with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.
This one and other new recordings were also listed in the small catalog accompanying
the 12" Sampler from 1957. Such a sampler for the American market was quite
a luxurious item if compared to the light weight and flimsy Dutch sampler with
music of Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Berlioz. A thin 10 inch
disc was already much more than the usual 7 inch disc named "Klassiek Kompas"
with Szymon Goldberg conducting the Nethelands Chamber Orchestra in Mozart's Eine
Kleine Nachtmusik used by Philips for promotional purposes.
Nelson wrote to me that she had done research on the subject and had found that
the Concert Hall catalog was sold to Crowell-Collier Publishing Company according
to Billboard and New York Times. She writes that in July, 1956, Concert Hall Society
and its various American offshoots were purchased by the Crowell-Collier Publishing
Company (publisher of Collier’s and many other magazines as well as Collier’s
Encyclopedia) which had its own record club division. The following year, New
York’s Record Hunter advertised Concert Hall Society recordings at a reduced price
($1.97) noting, "These 12” singles and albums have been discontinued by the
manufacturer, and may never again be available from the manufacturer at any price
. . .” (New York Times, 24 February 1957, p. 119).
Roland Gelatt in High Fidelity Magazine
In High Fidelity Magazine of September, 1956, Roland Gelatt wrote on his Music Makers page about the sale of Concert Hall label and added that Concert Hall's chief fall program centered on its new series of binaural tape recordings. As several Concert Hall recordings appeared on the Musical Masterpiece Society's label, it is clear that not all tapes and plates were sold to Crowell-Collier. An example is the Mendelssohn-Pelleg recording.
High Fidelity Magazine of September, 1956, page 51.
Reviews in Record Magazines
Early on a number of MMS disks was reviewed, at least in the Netherlands. An example
was Paul Tortelier's recording of Dvorak's Cello
Concerto on MMS 13. The reviewer complained about the technical aspects of the
recording (bad microphone placement and "hard" sound), but in the end
he praised Tortelier. When it was clear that the records could only be obtained
through membership of the club, the MMS disks were no longer listed in record
catalogs and magazines. One exception is that they were listed in "Discopedie",
but this was a publication by a Dutch reviewer, not an official catalog issued
on a regular basis.
month a list of records was sent to each and every member of the club who could
chose recordings from. Then these records were sent to the member's home and even
then members were allowed to return some or all of the records offered. Only if
over a longer period of time no records had been bought, MMS would cancel a membership.
The small magazine featured also a few world music titles. Also jazz recordings
were offered from time to time.
The Opera Society
Opera Society was another label issuing the existing opera catalog and adding
new recordings. It is remarkable and amazing that so many standard repertory operas
were performed in front of the MMS microphones. Of course, some performances -
like the earlier Russian recordings - were remastered from tapes made available
by other record companies or were obtained from radio broadcasting corporations.
But most of the time they were performed by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
renamed for the occasion "The Opera Society Orchestra". At right the
2x 10 inch LP gatefold (reference M141-OP24, Guilde internationale du disque SMS
141) of Puccini's La Bohème from 1955. Singers were Marilyn
Tyler (soprano), David Garen (tenor), Leonardo
Wolovsky (bass), Corry Bijster (soprano),
Paolo Gorin (baritone), Gerard
Holthaus (baritone), and Henk Angenent (bass).
Conductor was Carl Bamberger who also led the Nord Deutsche Symphony Orchestra
and Radio Chorus in Fidelio (Beethoven) with Gladys Kuchta,
Julius Patzak, Heinz Rehfuss
and Melita Muszely (MMS 2120).
Sound Quality and Number of Pressings
In early advertisements Concert Hall Society promised that "This recording was issued in a LIMITED EDITION of only 3,000 copies, of which this is number ...." No more than 3000 copies will be pressed of a specific record. They obviously mean that for every new batch of 3000 records a new plate will be used. The statement suggests that other manufacturers press more than 3000 records using the same plate. There are of course companies that did so. Remington Records is an example. But the technicians and production managers of companies that produce quality records of classical music and jazz know that in principle no more than 1500 or 2000 records at the most should be pressed using the same plate. Quality control is the only way to determine if a plate can be used for another few hundred records. The rule is if more records are pressed, the matrix will get dull and the records will sound adequately. It is possible to compensate for the loss of high frequencies and detail by applying equalization, by boosting the high frequency content and cut a disc with restricted dynamics resulting in a lean bass. In that way more music can be engraved per side and the high frequencies will be more prominent. Choosing a vinyl compound with a specific hardness can also give the suggestion of high fidelity when played on simple gramophones. The measures taken are audible in the final product. Most certainly in the records of Musical Masterpiece Society with its 450.000 members worldwide.
Amplifier Tone Controls
Already in the early Concert Hall LP days, when the discs were listed in catalogs and were reviewed in magazines, the music critics had much to say about the quality of the recorded sound, the orchestras and the final product spinning on their turntables. Sometimes the quality of the work of the recording technician, the pressings and the quality of the playing of musicians were confounded. But in general most knew well what they were writing about and were not always pleased with the Concert Hall discs. However in those days amplifiers had tone controls for bass and treble which often had to be used generously. An example. When reviewing The Orchestral Suites of Tchaikovsky, well directed by Walter Goehr, High Fidelity Magazine's J.F. Indcox wrote: "Concert Hall's sound is rather undernourished, lacking in resonance, and the balance is not always ideal." Walter Goehr conducted Suites Nos. 1 (CHS 1121) and 2 (CHS 1122) with the Winterthur Symphony. There existed already a Westminster recording of Suite No. 3, therefor the Winterthur SO was renamed Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra for the Third Suite (CHS 1144). While the reviewer's description applied to the recordings of the Suites, the same quality could be encountered on several other Concert Hall discs with symphonic music and concertos. Chamber music recordings often favor a better sound. In High Fidelity magazine of December 1957 Harold C. Schonberg wrote about Schumann's Piano Quintet on MMS 41: "On a much cheaper 10 inch disc, Hannes Kann and the Pascal Quartet offer a well recorded, spirited performance that is without eccentricity. I would put this in a best-buy category." See also Dialing Your Discs.
1956 on the Concert Hall label is no longer available in Europe.
Shown above is the Japanese Concert Hall Society release of Hungarian Rhapsodies (Franz Liszt) conducted by Hans Swarowsky.
Binaural Stacked Reel To Reel Tapes
September 1956 on High Fidelity Magazine started publishing reviews of
pre-recorded reel to reel tapes. In that section Concert Hall tapes are
also mentioned and often get positive reviews in case the sound quality
is good and/or the performance is noteworthy. An example, in the issue
of July 1957, Symphony No. 2 of Brahms in the performance of the Frankfurt
Opera Orchestra conducted by Carl Bamberger, receives praise and is more
or less preferred over the RCA Charles Munch recording. The Frankfurt
Orchestra is less accurate, but Bamberger's performance is more individual,
provocative, and dramatic. The Concert Hall recording gives "a boldly
sculptured delineation" as the reviewer writes. Philippe Entremont's
recording of Piano Concerto No. 2 is another release on tape. It was recorded
before Entremont joint CBS (Columbia). There were other issues on tape.
A few will be added later.
This reel contains the binaural (stereophonic) Concert Hall edition of Piano Concerto No. 2 of Franz Liszt performed by Philippe Entremont and the Radio Zurich Orchestra conducted by Walter Goehr. The reference number is CHT/BN-6.
On an early MMS Light Music Series release with green label and reference POP-8 violinist Ricardo Odnoposoff plays Kreisler Favorites, accompanied by pianist Jean Antonietti.
The later Varieton edition of the same recording with the same reference number entitled KREISLER'S OLD VIENNA
Pascal String Quartet.
biggest operation is in West Germany.
Municipal Orchestra (Utrechts Stedelijk Orkest, originally written as "Orchest"
For several recordings the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra of the Dutch Broadcasting
Union (NRU) was renamed
Research and text by Rudolf A. Bruil.
first published on the web on August 11, 2010.
The paragraph about pianist Menahem Pressler was added on November 20, 2011.
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