The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Magnante Premiered in Fine Accordion Cadenza In Important American Orchestral Work by Harding

by Hilding Bergquist

Bergquist Says:

In my October 1948, and July 1950 (Teacher Edition), (also August 1950 Tutor Edition) articles, I wrote briefly of an interesting orchestral work which was composed by Franke Harling (born in England in 1887) which was premiered on May 14, 1927 at the Roxy theatre in New York, and in which our own Charlie Magnante participated. Following is further elucidation on this work.

With a view of encouraging serious American music, S. L. Rothafel ("Roxy") commissioned Franke Harling to compose this work especially for his theatre. It is dedicated to "Roxy". Harling himself called it "American Choral Symphony", and it was also called "Concerto for Jazz Band, Symphony Orchestra and Chorus". A symphony orchestra of 110 men was in the pit, while a jazz band of a dozen outstanding men was on the stage, banked on both sides by a huge chorus. Erno Rapee conducted the whole.

Composed in classical sonata form, the work has 3 movements sub-titled "Hot Bouillon", "Largo Religioso", and "Tear It Off". Harling used the jazz band as most composers use a soloist (like a "concerto grosso") in that it played solo-part to an accompaniment by symphony orchestra. A chorus was also used in the third part in a most original way, in that it was probably the first time a large chorus was employed to interpret intricate "stop" rhythms. The work was written in free style, but contained a fugue written in jazz rhythm.

The jazz band on the stage was scored for 3 trumpets, 3 saxes, 1 trombone, 1 tuba, 1 accordion, 1 banjo, timpani, and 2 pianos. A special cadenza was allotted each to the accordion and the banjo. Charles Magnante's execution of the accordion cadenza (which apparently was quite spectacular and of some duration) was described as "intended to introduce an entirely new technique for the accordion." This cadenza was in addition to his normal share in the score, of course, and is doubtless the first American instance of an accordionist's participation in such an exceptional orchestral presentation. Magazines reviewing the work were "Musical America," "Musical Courier," "Metronome," "Variety," and "Billboard."

I once asked Magnante if it could be revived and performed again, and he stated it was probable, although the score is possessed by Harling, who, at present is probably in Hollywood scoring for films.

The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. staff gratefully acknowledges volunteer Patrick Kiley, who assisted in the production of this article, as well as Stanley Darrow and the comprehensive American Accordion Musicological Society library.

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