MENGELBERG AND THE CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA

FILMED AT THE TOBIS KLANGFILM STUDIO AT EPINAY-SUR-SEINE

Illustrated weekly
'De Stad Amsterdam' (City of Amsterdam)
of May 8, 1931, Vol. 11, No. 8, has an appealing cover which shows what magazines look like in the early nineteen thirties. There is something else that deserves our attention.
It is the article on pages 2 and 3 describing a remarkable event which took place in the Tobis Klangfilm Studio at Epinay, north of Paris.

WILLEM MENGELBERG AS MOVIE ACTOR

That is the heading of the two-page article. The journalist writes that some readers would have thought that Mengelberg had given up his orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the article says. Now his ambition was to be an actor in movies. The readers might have thought that he had sold his soul to Mammon. It was not that serious. Fortunately.

The fact is that the man and the complete orchestra performed to be captured on film in the large Paris Studio of Tobis Klangfilm at Epinay-sur-Seine. Mengelberg conducted in front of the camera. There was a modest and mixed audience. It consisted of those who made the filming possible, several international journalists attended the concert, and there were the necessary studio people of course, cameramen, sound recording technicians and electricians.

Epinay is about 12 kilometer North of Paris. All persons involved had boarded big autocars on the Avenue des Champs Elysées and traveled full speed to the destination.

The article does not mention that the orchestra had given two concerts in Salle Pleyel on April 28 and 29 respectively, with a Beethoven program, The Song of the Earth of Mahler, and a few excerpts from Wagner operas.

Everybody was in for a surprise when they entered the studio at Epinay. Several months earlier, Russian architect Meerson had measured the stage of the Concertgebouw, the famous stairs included. Here it was rebuilt to serve as the set on which the orchestra would be seated.
The journalist wrote that it was no wonder that the musicians felt at home right away. The space in front of the set could be regarded as the hall or auditorium. But now it was filled with constructions for the cameras and for the many big lamps. High quality microphones were hanging from long beams at left and right of the orchestra, so the article says.

One of the best sound recording technicians, a man by the name of Storm, had witnessed a special rehearsal of the scores in Amsterdam in order to get an idea of the sound levels that were to be recorded. Operator was N. Farkas, from Hungary. The script was written by B.D. Ochse, managing director of Dutch Polygoon Film, together with Max Tak, conductor of the Tuschinski Theater Orchestra of the cinema with the same name in Amsterdam.

A massive flood of light was thrown over the orchestra. Then there was the call for "silence" and loud sirenes announced that cameras and sound film were ready to get into motion to record music and image of the 'Mengelberg Orchestra'. First the Overture to Oberon of Carl Maria von Weber was played. It had been performed many times before, but now it was captured on a lifeless material, the journalist wrote.

Yet the emotion of the moment was recorded. Even the electricians said when the piece had ended, "c'était épatant", in other words "it was awesome". After the Overture Oberon had ended, all those present applauded while Mengelberg took his bows. When the "Marche Hongroise" of Hector Berlioz had been played, Farkas, the Hungarian, said that he had never heard anything like it. The third and last film captured the "Adagietto" from the Arlesienne Suite of Bizet, now executed by an orchestra of 40 string players.


To be inserted in the film was the sound of the loud passages of the timpanist in the Berlioz piece which were recorded in close up. Therefor the recording device was positioned close to the timpani and in between the musicians. This was done with a special microphone that by its directivity suppressed surrounding and ambient sound.

Another singular fragment that was to be added to the film was Mengelberg descending the replica staircase. And there was the short sequence of Mengelberg in close up when he spoke his introduction in Dutch, and repeated it in French, German, and English.
The film will be distributed by N.V. Remaco and be represented in many countries. People who have never been in the position to visit the Concertgebouw can now view the orchestra in its "surroundings" and hear Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
V.
Paris, May, 1931.

The author does not mention the names of the hotels the orchestra members were staying in. Only 'Hotel de France' is mentioned in the caption under the photograph of Louis Zimmermann and his wife. The individual next to Mrs. Zimmermann is not named. At right in the picture is second solo cellist Henk van Wezel (1895-1968) to whom Hans Henkemans dedicated a Cello Sonata, and Henk Badings his First Cello Concerto. He formed the 'Concertgebouw Trio' with Jan Keessen (violin) and Gerard Hengeveld (piano).

A few more names and dates:

B.D. Ochse (Brand Dirk), 1892-1958
Farkas (Nicolas), 1890-1982
Max Tak, 1891-1967
Meerson (Lazare), 1897-1938
N.V. Remaco Advertising Agency, Herengracht, Amsterdam
Ned. Mij. Cinematografie Filmfabriek Polygoon, established 1919

The article was signed with the initial V. It is probable that the author is Matthijs Vermeulen (1888-1967), Dutch composer (self-taught) and journalist, who lived in France at the time of the Orchestra's visit at Epinay. The fact that his 1st Symphony was rejected by Mengelberg did not mean that he did not have ties with the orchestra and its musicians. He must have been one of the journalists present during the filming and it is likely that writing the article was an arrangement between him and DE STAD AMSTERDAM. After World War Two Vermeulen returned to Amsterdam and continued writing. He was music editor of 'De Groene Amsterdammer'.

Page published on the internet on September 13, 2015. Research and text Rudolf A. Bruil.

 

If you are interested in more early film and sound history:
http://www.soundfountain.com/mercury/trinaural.html

Back to the Mengelberg page:
Willem Mengelberg, Bach's St. Matthew Passion and the Philips Miller Sound Recording System


Audio&Music Bulletin - Rudolf A. Bruil, Editor - Copyright 1998-2015 by Rudolf A. Bruil and co-authors