Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Gamelan Orchestra from Pliatan Bali - live at The Wintergarden Theatre in London 1952

The Gamelan Orchestra - Music from Bali 
- Record One
Argo Records - ARS 1006 - P.1952? - (Westminster - XB 100 - 1, 2)

(there is a stamp of arrival dated 1955 on the sleeve)

Gamelan orchestra from Pliatan, Indonesia led by Anak Agung Gde Mandera recorded live at Wintergarden Theatre, London 1952

This LP was also released as: [Westminster XWN 2209 - P.1957] = Argo Records - RG-1 - P.1952

Side A

1-A1 Overture 'Kapi Radja' 3'17
1-A2 Tumililingan 11'08
1-A3 Ketjack 5'42

Side B

1-B1 Classic Legong 21'19

I suppose none of you will have a hard time imagining the rarity of this LP! It is the only copy I have seen in all years. I guess I must have been very lucky at the time to come across a copy and I remember thinking... Why do I want to have this one? Even though it was in perfect condition visually there were quite a lot of pops. A very loud intro is also, Hm, how shall I put it, not optimally recorded and surely there are better recordings of both gamelan music and ketjak.
I am very glad I did not discard it and it seems obvious that we change and with us also the priorities. But, this is really a historical document and the visit of The Gamelan Orchestra surely must have left an impact performing like they did. If not for the very first performance of Gamelan in Europe so at least one of the very first ones so I am glad I gave it the attention it now seems so obvious that it deserves! Before the concerts of this troup the gamelan and dancers from the Balinese village of Peliatan 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!

"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."

Don't miss the rest of the worthwhile reading about this record on the very excellent blog by Folkcatalogue. And hopefully he can shed some more light into the confusing catalogue number to appear on the label of this record that does not exactly tally the ones he mention there.

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.

Music From Bali - Record One

It is a commonplace of musical history that Claude Debussy was considerably influenced by the Gamelan which appeared at the Exposition Universelle in Paris during 1889. But, with the exception of a number of Dutch musicologists — notably Dr. Jaap Kunst—few Western music lovers have any knowledge of Balinese music and the opportunities of hearing it-such records that do exist being almost unknown in Great Britain and the U.S.—have been few. Indeed, so far as London and New York are concerned, the recent appearance of the Gamelan from Pliatan, Indonesia, under its brilliant director, Anak Agung Gde Mandera, is the first opportunity the music lover has had of assessing this fascinating and highly organised musical art. Unlike much Eastern music, Western ears have no difficulty in appreciating the music of Bali, and it is certain that with the issue of these, the first long playing records, made in collaboration with the Indonesian Government, many will wish to become more closely acquainted with what, is, quite clearly, a folk art in the highest stage of development, In the opinion of those but qualified to judge these records present an adequate survey of Balinese music as it is today and can safely be said to serve as a comprehensive introduction to this neglected-so far as Western ears are concerned-branch of music.

The Overture, ‘Kapi Radja’ shows off — Indeed it was composed for this purpose — the main characteristics of the Gamelan. Sonorous opening chords form a prelude to the statement of a typical Balinese motif which is repeated by the various instrumental groups-sometimes solo, sometimes in consort, punctuated by cymbals; this in turn leads to a modified restatement of the principal motif on the full Gamelan followed by a solo passage of great rhythmical ingenuity on the kendang, or principal drum. A further tutti passage heralds a series of variations on the main theme which are a feature of Balinese music in this genre and a short coda recalling the brilliant opening brings this vigorous toccata-like piece to a close.

Tamililingan (Bumblebees). The music to this beautiful dance, has a quality which Leonhard Huizinga has described as “pure and mysterious like moonlight; it is always the same and yet always changing, like running water. This music does not create a song for our ears ; it is a ‘state,’ such as moonlight pouring over the fields.” A softly languorous theme played on the saron barung leads to an exciting outburst on the full Gamelan, heavy syncopated chords on the benong playing the principal part which, following a climax, leads to a beautiful variation on the full saron; this is repeated fortissimo at a faster tempo and the effect of the constantly repeated motif becomes almost hypnotic. Composed by Anak Agung Gde Mandera to accompany the dance devised by Bali's leading dancer Sampih, this work may be said to represent Indonesian music at its best.

Ketjak. (Monkey Dance.) This work for unaccompanied male voice chorus is one of the finest examples of Balinese choral composition. It concerns an episode from the Ramayana in which the Army of Hanuman, the Monkey Prince, comes to help Rama rescue his kidnapped wife. The entire work Is Imbued with an extraordinary rhythmic vitality and it is hardly surprising to learn that Balinese choral music has influenced a number of the younger European composers, notably Olivier Messiaen, whose Cinq Rechants is an outstanding instance.

Legong. As in most examples of the Legong, this work, following a short solo introduction, is based on a simple motif forming the nucleus of a series of variations which, in the main, exploit the quieter timbres of the Gamelan with a subtlety that is a distinguishing characteristic of this branch of Indonesian classical musical art. The dance to which this work forms the accompaniment tells of the capture of the Princess Rangkesari by King Lasem. Though Lasem promises to give up his attacks on her father if she will yield to him. Rangkesari repulses his advances. Enraged, the king threatens her father with death. During the ensuing battle a black-bird, a bad omen, flies in front of Lasem who is killed.

Cyril Clarke.
quoted from the record sleeve

Technical Credits. Recorded during actual performance at the Winter Garden Theatre in association with Mr. Derrick de Marney  for and on behalf of The Indonesian Government. The original magnetic tape recording and transfer of the record to disc masters was mad. by Alec Herbage, Harley Usill and Cyril Clarke. The sleeve and label was designed by Victor Ross. Photographs by Dennis de Marney.

Music  +


Unknown said...

Hey bolingo, how cool that you didn’t pass it by and have now posted it.

there are two stories I’ve read about the actual recording of it - one that the microphones were slung over a fence, the other that they were under the stage...

whatever. Argo had only been going six months or so as a label and were pretty much still enthusiastic amateurs.

as far as i've been able to work out, the London concert got issued by Argo in 1952 as ARS 1006 and ARS 1007 and then re-issued as RG 1 and RG 2 the following year when the label decided they had to rationalise a pretty crazy mess of numbering that had got the industry all confused. So it looks like you've got the new sleeve and the old labels of the first LP! Nice.

They did a better quality studio recording in New York on the same tour issued on Columbia ML-4618 (and re-released in 2006 on Arbiter Records), which may give a hint of what's on the second Argo LP.

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 to Western audiences. 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 your 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!

It’s like the singer in the folk club who goes: “I learned this song from a farmer up in the hills...and he learned it from A. L. Lloyd’s latest album.”

Thanks again.

bolingo69 said...

That was really very nice information to get! I appreciate it very much. A bit busy the following days so the coming posts for the following days are "pre pared" in "ad vance" I will be back in the weekend so I will read comments but won't have much time to fiddle with my thumbs on the mobile to write any replies but I hope you shall find also them worthwhile listening to!
Again, I was very happy to read your informative comment.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I know this album as Musical Memories of Bali on London Records (TW 91308). Bought it as a cutout in the bargain bin at a local discount store in, I believe, 1971. Best 49c I ever spent in my life. The Arbiter re-issue is called Dancers of Bali.
The story of the tour is told in Dancing Out of Bali by John Cast. This was pretty amazing and I wish I'd ever seen it. They performed the Bumblebee dance on Ed Sullivan, but I can't remember seeing it. I did see the Topeng Dance Theater when they came through a few years later. Thank you for this. Luobaniya forever.