Concertgebouw Lollipops

Small or big, the deliciously naughty lollipop goes Dutch for a unique collection on Eloquence.

There is no question about the literal meaning of the word ‘lollipop’: a piece of hard candy, mounted on a stick, which is held in the hand while being licked. But what is a lollipop in musical terms? Lollipops were a specialty of the English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who described them as ‘delightful little pieces’. On the origin of their role in concerts, he remarked: ‘In London it has become quite the fashion for a large number of people to come to our concerts for the purpose of sleep. It’s very popular. They obtain a certain rest. They glide naturally into the arms of Morpheus, without any effort, without any sedative or drugs. The music is quite enough.’ To awaken the public, Beecham and his band played a short, lively orchestral work ‘to send the audience away in a happy mood’. According to Sir Thomas lollipops do not always have to be quick and cheerful: ‘If the program ends with a rousing noise, like the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, we play a soothing little piece to restore the audience to a more tranquil condition of mind’. These lollipops, played at the end of Beecham’s concerts, became so popular that many in his audience anticipated them. ‘At the conclusion of our concerts the audience refuses to go,’ Beecham remarked. ‘I have used, over a period, many arguments as to why they should go home. None of them are effective.’ This shows how moreish his lollipops proved to be!

The repertoire from which Beecham chose lollipops was not only suitable as an encore for a concert, but also very effective for record companies to make maximum use of the time reserved for their recording sessions. The Concertgebouw Orchestra worked for Philips with a standard recording session length of three hours. As a rule these three-hour sessions were meant to produce fifteen minutes of recorded music. For example, Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony was scheduled over four recording sessions. It often happened that, before the end of the last session, the producer still had twenty minutes or half an hour to fill. That was valuable time, it had been reserved for the record company and had to be paid for anyway, regardless of use. In order to use this time up until the very last minute, short ‘reserve pieces’ were planned. The management of the orchestra ensured that the parts for the reserve pieces were distributed to the musicians and they were often rehearsed too.

Whether or not the reserve music was actually recorded depended obviously on the course of the session. In principle there would be time for their inclusion following the recording of larger orchestral works, if the latter had progressed well. Although they were no more than padding, the playing of these short pieces had an important psychological effect, which explains why they were often recorded with great success. After an orchestra had worked intensely during several sessions on a symphony by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner or Mahler, it could be a relief for the musicians to express themselves with a brief and often exuberant orchestral work. Thanks to the many remaining quarters of an hour, the microphones recorded lots of good performances of popular pieces. Many of these remained relatively unknown because they had little priority in the company’s release policy. Even when deciding on the contents of an LP, the lollipops were in fact no more than fillers which sometimes could not be used immediately. In some cases, the reserve pieces were only released on a 45rpm record, which sometimes disappeared from the catalogue after a short period.

This highly appealing collection of light-orchestral classics gathers up eighteen years in the history of one of the Concertgebouw Orchestra during the golden age of the LP. Ever since its foundation in 1883, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam has been blessed with a hall that, to all intents and purposes, belongs to them. Unlike many of their rivals, they not only perform but rehearse and record in the hall. The hall’s own superb acoustic has always been a further attraction for record companies, and between 1950 and 1968 microphones were frequently set up to record the orchestra.

Those microphones mostly belonged to Decca and to the fledgling local Philips company, and on the podium were not only its music directors – during this period, Eduard van Beinum and, from 1961, Bernard Haitink – but also celebrated guest conductors. There were long-established maestros and friends of the orchestra such as Eugen Jochum, Paul van Kempen and Willem van Otterloo, but also younger, dynamic maestros including Antal Doráti.

Many of those recordings, often made on the hoof with a delightful spontaneity that shines through even now, are gathered on this set for the first time. Typical of them is The Stars and Stripes Forever. This was put on tape one day in September 1958 without rehearsal, played straight through, and at the end Van Beinum addressed the orchestra: ‘Now that, gentlemen, is a recording!’

Sometimes the juxtapositions of conductor and repertoire are immediately arresting: not only Van Beinum in Sousa but Haitink in Glinka and Verdi. The waltz-suites from Der Rosenkavalier play to Jochum’s under-rated strengths as an operatic conductor. Igor Markevitch conducts the Polovtsian Dances and Russian Easter Festival Overture to the manner born.