Charles Schlotter produced this wonderful, tongue-in-cheek posting:
THE THESPIS DISCOGRAPHY Second Edition Copyright 1997, Charles J. Schlotter Member, Royal Society of Prevarication
Introduction to the First EditionThe recent, ever-to-be-regretted passing of Albert Flowers reminds me that the otherwise invaluable discography in the G&S Archive does not have a comparative study of the many commercial recordings of Thespis. Here is a case unprecedented, considering that Thespis is (with Pinafore and Mikado) one of the Big Three operettas. Indeed, Americans were often disappointed that the D'Oyly Carte company insisted upon bringing Thespis year after year, when a rarity, such as Pirates could have been tried.Some recordings have proven elusive and I'm sure I have missed a few versions. I would like to thank the Tarzana Friends of Thespis for their help as well as the Pocatello Foundation for Pencil Pushing for its generous research grant. I should also acknowledge the almost limitless patience of my wife, Gretel, who said, just before she slammed the door behind her and drove away, "I never want to hear that goddam Thespis again as long as I live." Though my efforts may be only a point of departure for further study, I hope I have provided corroborative detail etc.Preface to the Second EditionIn the months that have passed since the First Edition of this invaluable discography, I have benefited from the invaluable suggestions of fellow Savoynetters as well as my own further invaluable researches. As a result, this Second Edition contains many more errors, misleading insinuations and outright lies than the original.I should be remiss should I fail to pay tribute here to the late Albert Flowers, to whose lifework my own work is but an invaluable extension. Though his lifespan was regrettably short (April 1, 1997 - 1 April, 1997), he is still remembered fondly by his friends, whoever they may be. Without him, the original manuscript of Thespis should have been irretrievably lost, and the piece should have been subject to relentless speculation instead of becoming the tiresome commonplace that it, in fact, is.I therefore desire to be remiss and NOT pay tribute to the late Albert Flowers.I do, however, wish to acknowledge the efforts of Messrs. Douglas Whaley and Jerry Bunge, who were touchingly devoted to Albert Flowers in his old age as well as at his birth. Practically, they ARE Albert Flowers and if they ARE Albert Flowers, why not say so?Preface to the Third EditionThere is no Third Edition. Be gone with you!
1898 Zonophoney Thespis
Conductor Sir Arthur SullivanThe only known copy of this extremely rare set on 47 wax cylinders was reported to be in the collection of the late Mr. Flowers. Sound technicians are attempting a 20-bit digital super-dithered, Tri-Ambiosonic (TM reg) reconstruction utilizing a surviving puddle of wax found at the fire scene but results have been, to date, inconclusive. (2)(1) Some sources suggest that the gentleman's forename was Salton.(2) The digital reconstruction continues apace. The latest experiments have resulted in something like a continuous "Whumpa-whumpa-whumpa" sound. Commercial issue appears to depend upon the location of a press agent who can make this appear to be a good thing.
1906 Grodeon Thespis
Conductors Too numerous to mentionPassmore's contribution is the highlight of this set, which is otherwise performed by singers with no particular Savoyard credentials or even birth certificates. Parts are shuffled aimlessly among the singers, resulting in confusion and occasional impromptu duets. The orchestration for banjo and harmonium ensemble does not sound authentically Sullivanian to my admittedly inexpert ears.
1908 HMN Thespis
The His Master's Nose recording is principally of historical interest, in that it is the first to boast a degree of consistency in the casting, perhaps even a degree too much of consistency in the casting.
Conductors P[?] Dawson, A[?] Augarde
1918 Acoustical HMN Thespis
Conductor Arthur WoodIn the First Edition of this Discography, I regrettably conflated two different HMN acoustical sets. This, the earlier one, features few actual members of the D'Oyly Carte Company and continues the old tradition of splitting parts. (A notation in the HMN files reads, "Radford and Ranalow both absent today. Stopped a chap in the street and forced him to sing the part of Cymon at gunpoint." This accounts for the cries of "Help, I am being held against my will" on side 17.) Baker's Thespis is most reliable, though one must wonder what Hobbs would have made of the part, given the opportunity. (Frustratingly, Hobbs' sole vocal contribution is confined to making train sounds.)
1925 Acoustical HMN Thespis
Conductor George W. ByngThough many of the roles were sung by HMN studio singers, there is a strong D'Oyly Carte contingent in this January, 1925 recording. None of the parts is doubled and no singer takes two roles. Bertha Lewis surpasses all other recorded Venuses and Sheffield is a very droll Cymon. Baker improves on his earlier effort and the orchestration, though still altered for the acoustical horn, seems closer to Sullivan's original. However, the set had a very short life in the catalogue, as will be seen by the emergence of the...
1925 electrical HMN Thespis
Conductor Harry NorrisThe new electrical process doomed HMN's acoustical set to obsolescence almost instantaneously and a new set was recorded in December, 1925 "beneath the notice of Rupert D'Oyly Carte" as the labels state. The experienced Baker is the only non-D'Oyly Carte singer in the splendid cast and many consider it to be the Thespis of choice to this day. It is not known why Bertha Lewis was unavailable for the sessions and Walker, while good, is no threat to Lewis (or Ella Halman, for that matter.) Avoid the Pro Bono CD transfer which is noisy, incomplete and an octave and a half sharp.
1930 HMN Thespis (Excerpts)
Conductor Dr. Malcolm Sargent. The public demand for Thespis recordings was scarcely satisfied even in the grim Depression days, hence this series of excerpts under the direction of Sargent, apparently a surgeon or dentist or possibly a veterinarian of some sort. He may be a cousin or other relative of the better-known "Sir" Malcolm Sargent-information on this obscure point would be appreciated. As the Company was on tour, the cast is filled out with former members and HMN contract artists. Once again, a chance was missed to record Bertha Lewis. Unfortunately, nobody takes the role of Nicemis and therefore the thrice-familiar "I am the Moon, the lamp of night" number is missing! What the point may be of recording highlights from Thespis and leaving out "I Am the Moon" is beyond my comprehension.
193? FPO Loser Thespis (Excerpts) Cast: Unknown
Conductor: Al GoodmanThis selection, entitled "Gems from Thespis" had a short life in the American catalogue, first as a "Puce Seal" 78 rpm set, then on red vinyl '45's. The orchestrations would be very well suited to a burlesque show on some of the seedier circuits.
1949 Docka/Southampton Thespis
Conductor -- Isidore GodfreyThis monophonic version is generally considered inferior to the second 1925 recording, though it has several attractions. Green is the best Thespis on records; his articulation and musical accuracy both surpass Lytton, though old-timers claim Lytton has more personality and even older-timers maintain that Toole knocked them both into a cocked hat. Halman is almost a match for Bertha Lewis. However Osborn has his familiar foible, an attractive mid-range matched to a precarious top. Godfrey's pacing is forward-moving, much like Norris, in fact. On the downside, it must be acknowledged that, through the entire length of "Oh I'm a Celestial Drudge" the second violin section is playing "Poor Wandering One." Surely, this should have been corrected.
195? The Be-Bop Thespis
I have never heard this set, which may have appeared on the Savoy label.
1957 Martyn Green [sic] Sings Excerpts from Thespis Cast: ????
This set appeared on a variety of cheap labels with confusing and contradictory cast listings. Whoever may sing Thespis, it can't be Green. For starters, the fellow is a basso profundo. Furthermore, he sings with a thick Hungarian accent and, most telling of all, he collapses noisily to the floor (and dies?) during the First Act Finale. None of this conforms to the known facts about Martyn Green. The Venus is rumored to be Friedhilde Garstig-Ottoman but she will not confirm it, claiming to have been in an alcoholic blackout at the time. Finally, half the tracks seem to come from an instructional record for hula dancers. All in all, not an adequate representation of the score.
1959 ENI Thespis Cast
Conductor Sir Malcolm SargentThe first stereo recording was made by Electo-Nosical Industries, successor company to His Master's Nose. THIS Malcolm Sargent obtains an accurate performance from the Pro Party Orchestra but he is a much more stately conductor than the other fellow. A good deal of the fun of the score is missing, particularly since Evans, a splendid opera singer, is miscast in the title role. For sheer quality of voices, this set stands above the others. Muir, most notably, has a voice straight out of the Golden Age. Despite its lukewarm spirit, it IS well-engineered and still competes strongly with the other stereo recording.(1) Correspondent David Duffey suggests that the cast list is inaccurate and that David Franklyn played this role. A careful search of ENI records indicates that Franklyn did not, in fact, participate in this recording, having retired from singing some years earlier. However, he would have been invited to record the role of Thespis in a projected Thespis Society recording in 1937, had the work been performed at Glyndebourne. That project having fallen through, ENI producer Walter Arme scheduled a 1939 German-language recording under Sir Thomas Beecham with Wilhelm Strienz as Thespis, Helge Roswaenge as Apollo, Tiana Lemnitz as Nicemis and Margarete Klose as Venus. It appears that some sort of diplomatic dust-up or other intervened, though what, exactly, was so important as to have precluded any new "Thespis" recording from 1939 to 1945, I have been unable to ascertain. Further information on this point would be appreciated.
1967 Docka/Southampton Thespis Cast
Conductor Sir Malcolm SargentI at first assumed that the previously-mentioned "Sir" Malcolm Sargent was the same chap who undertook this recording but this point has not been confirmed. Thus I am obliged to assume that a third, and different Sargent was involved. Upon mature reflection, I realize that they could hardly be the same men, as this recording features a Sargent yet more prone to slow tempi than his predecessor. Even taking into account the addition of all the spoken dialogue, the performance should not have required 6 LP's. Furthermore, in an odd casting choice, Elizabeth Harwood replaces John Reed, thereby bumping him down to Sillimon, which bumps Alan Styler down to Timidon and so forth until the poor chap playing Cymon, yes it was the unlucky Fred Hobbs, wound up sobbing in the green room. As a souvenir of the old D'Oyly Carte company, it has its moments.The 1972 Fulham performance (the only one currently covered in the G&S Discography) regrettably did not utilize the Flowers manuscript and is therefore not truly competitive with the other recordings. Note, however, that a "Malcolm Sargent" sings on that set. Whether it is the medical man or the knight or the other knight or yet another Malcolm Sargent is not specified.Just before the demise of the old D'Oyly Carte company, a new recording of Thespis was mooted. The recording would have been in the "Out-of-Phase4" series and tapes of authentic Greek mountain birds were completed for this purpose. ("This will be the first recording of Thespis in which the dialogue is entirely drowned out by caws and plopping noises," boasted a Docka executive.) Unfortunately, the project was cancelled when it was discovered that nobody could locate a fifth Malcolm Sargent to conduct it.Mr. Philip Sternenberg alerted me to the following two Thespis parodies:1)Allan Sherman's explanation of his obesity: "Oh, I love celestial fudge!/From morning to night I eat lots of it!"2)"The Capitals," in which Tom Lehrer sings to the melody of "I once knew a chap who discharged a function" all of the national capitals in the world (but only for countries that existed in 1959). [Not to be confused with "The Capitol Steps." - CJS]I am seeking details on the following:(a) Nelson Eddy's 78 rpm record of "I Once Knew a Chap Who Discharged a Function."(b) Excerpts by the "Gilbert and Sullivan for None" organization(c) The rumored Peter Pratt broadcast recording. Ms. Sara Kane, in particular, voiced dismay at:"...the inexcusable (and, I may add, inexplicable) absence from your Thespis Discography of that greatly underappreciated and unjustly uncelebrated Titan (if I may so term him) of the D'Oyly Carte-the late, lamented Peter Pratt."So far as I know, there are no official tapes of Peter Pratt in what was his signature role, more's the pity. I am ever on the lookout for any private tapings that might have taken place during American or Australian tours but none has, to date, surfaced. However I do have tantalizing news: Rumors persist of a broadcast, perhaps in the mid-sixties, by the JOEBC (Jolly Old English Broadcasting Corporation) in which Pratt reprised his celebrated Thespis.The obscurity of this production is owing (again according to rumor) to the fact that it was broadcast at two or three in the morning between "Knitting News" and "Calling All Sheep Shearers." I am attempting to locate a tape in hopes of verifying Pratt's participation and also to determine which of several dozen Malcolm Sargents may have been involved.(d) A television broadcast with all the roles performed by American soap opera celebrities.(e) A Peter Sellers production which makes the piece relevant to modern audiences by moving the action from Mount Olympus to a rendering plant.(f) Any news on the rumored Mackerras recording.
Gordon Pascoe, overwhelmed by all of this, responded:Dear me,
The remedy for the long suffering Mrs. Schlotter's overdose of Thespis is, of course, to obtain the highly regarded SavoyNet recording. This is not easy, however, because it was never posted to the list since most of the singers were professional lurkers who wished, with considerable justification, to remain that way. Those members of the SavoyNet who did take part in the recording have been reluctant to admit to their participation. It is my understanding that some of the lyrics and dialogue were altered to fit the sensibilities of modern audiences and the participants have feared that they would be consigned to a fiery flaming pit.It may also noted that one of the notes of the overture was changed and, more scandalous yet, an entire chord in the Act One Finale was changed from the minor to the Major. An abiding fear of the perpetrators of this crime is that Bruce Miller might discover which note (and even which chord) was thus altered. However, even the die-hards of purity among the Inner Brotherhood will be astonished at the quality of the orchestral playing. This has been faithfully captured on MIDI files and with brilliantly recorded vocals using the latest digital techniques. You can just imagine the sonic feast that results.Despite the enormous drawbacks of the two musical changes I urge you, on Mrs. Schlotter's return, to allow her the rare honour of hearing this fine SavoyNet effort. I understand that Albert Flowers had a pristine copy kept safely in a fire-proof vault hidden in his cellar. Tom Shepard enthused: Once again, a remarkable piece of scholarship from Mr. Schlotter. Although he omits the foreign versions: The Spanish Thespis (Thespith), the Yiddish (Chespich) and the German (Das Sullivanisch-Unbekannte Scheisswerke.)But let us praise him for what he did. Speaking seriously, I found it hilarious.Bruce Miller exclaimed: Caught you in an error, Tom. Don't you realize it was Thethpith? Did you check the G & S Archive to see what their "definitive" version is (FWIW)? And what did they do in Argentina - did they adopt the Spanish or the German version? Really, you have to sweat the details in matters of this significance.David Duffey complained to the media:To the editorSirWhile applauding the assiduity of Professor Schlotter's research on recordings of Gilbert and Sullivan's great masterpiece, and congratulating him on an otherwise excellent example of scholarship, I must once again take issue with him on the identity of the person representing Timidon on the ENI 1959 recording.As Professor Schlotter rightly points out, David Franklyn had retired from active operatic singing some years before 1959, in fact in 1951. It is of course well known that Miss D'Oyly Carte asked Franklyn to assume the 'Fancourt' roles at that time, and Franklyn refused. There is, however, compelling evidence to suggest that he undertook some vocal work in collaboration with Messrs Wallace, Muir and Norden during the late fifties and all through the sixties. What is beyond dispute is that John Amis, whom Schlotter credits as Timidon, had not begun the singing phase of his career in 1959, and in fact did not do so until after Franklyn's death in 1973. Professor Schlotter may have become understandably confused as John Amis was in fact very influential in the 1959 recording, as can be deduced from Amis' biography. On the practical level, he set out all the music stands and made sure all the pencils were maintained at concert pitch sharpness. In the pursuit of his goal of authenticity, he even polished up the handles of the silver shovels.Amis was most useful, however, in his role of go-between to Sir Malcolm and Ben English, who had been commissioned to re-realise the score from the only existing authentic source, a Ms band part for trombone. English's orchestration of ÉTacit 389 bars' was masterly. English's only other Sullivan work being of course his arrangement of The Pears Chorus for boy soprano, cor anglais and glass harmonica.I remain, sirYour humble servantDouglas Whaley put things in perspective: Charles Schlotter's wonderful Thespis Discography makes mention of the saga of Albert Flowers. For those who missed the original thread on this, perhaps the archives of Thespis should include these two posts by way of explanation:-[Ronald Orenstein wrote: "Try not to make any major discoveries till I return, and if I can find the score of Thespis in Hatchard's I'll let you know."]This posting followed:-"I am only recently subscribed to SavoyNet, and I really know very little about Gilbert and Sullivan, but Arthur Sullivan was my great, great uncle, and on my father's death I inherited many of his papers. One of these is a musical score labeled Thespis. Is this the one Mr. Orenstein is talking about? The copy I have is all hand-written, and not professionally published. Does this make it less valuable? I have a whole suitcase full of old music that belonged to my great, great uncle. Albert FlowersTarzana, CA"[This produced a minor sensation, though almost everyone understood it to be a joke ("Hand-written manuscripts have no value---go ahead and burn it," for example). Three days later I sent the following:]Sadly, The Tarzana Daily Grapevine reports the tragic death of Mr. Albert Flowers, who perished in a fire at his home brought on by smoking a cigar while exploring 100 year old musical manuscripts. On a brighter note, the suitcase in which they were kept survives untouched.O.K. We're sorry for dashing your hopes (but wasn't it fun for a moment to think it was true?). Last month, I said to Jerry that we ought to post an April Fools' Day message to SavoyNet, and he replied that we had to have someone find the score for Thespis. We talked through the message and dummied up the post you saw, and Jerry figured out how to send it to Savoynet using a phoney name (we cleared all of this with Rafe, who said, "Sure. Why not?").The responses were great fun to read. We had a ball.But we somehow envy you the momentary thrill of thinking that Thespis HAD been found. We all believe (in our heart of hearts) that someday that post will be real. Surely this treasure has not been lost forever.
Updated 6 Dec 1997