Columbia Symphony Orchestra

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The Columbia Symphony Orchestra was an orchestra formed by Columbia Records strictly for the purpose of making recordings. In the 1950s, it provided a vehicle for some of Columbia's better known conductors and recording artists to record using only company resources.[1] The musicians in the orchestra were contracted as needed for individual sessions and consisted of free-lance artists and often members of either the New York Philharmonic or the Los Angeles Philharmonic, depending on whether the recording was being made in Columbia's East Coast or West Coast studios.

Early history[edit]

Some of the first recordings featuring the Columbia Symphony Orchestra were made in New York in February 1913.[a] Felix Weingartner made five acoustic sides in New York with the soprano Lucille Marcel (the third of his five marriages)[3] Only one take was subsequently issued, "Ave Maria" from Verdi's Otello on Columbia US A-5482, matrix number 36622. The other unissued takes included two of Weingartner's own songs, "Vergangenheit" and "Welke Rose", Schumann's "Die Lotosblume", op. 25, no. 7 and Olga von Radecki's "Frisches Grun".[4][5]

Frank Bridge made a single (unissued) take of Grieg's Shepherd Boy, op. 54 with the orchestra for Columbia UK on matrix AX 268, in London on 14 December 1923.[6][b]

The composer and conductor Robert Hood Bowers made around 15 double-sided 78 rpm recordings with the orchestra in September 1927.[8]

During a recording session in March 1932 with Weingartner and the British Symphony Orchestra in London's Westminster Central Hall, a single unissued take was made of the Waltz from Leo Delibes' ballet Naila, although the conductor is unnamed.[10]

Howard D. Barlow (May 1, 1892–January 31, 1972)[11] made a recording of Deems Taylor's suite Through the Looking Glass[12] with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in New York in November 1938. Released on Columbia Masterworks set M-350.[13]

Bruno Walter[edit]

Perhaps the most important recordings the orchestra made were with conductor Bruno Walter, who recorded highly regarded interpretations of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Mozart symphonies. With this orchestra, Walter made his only stereo recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 9, which he had conducted at its world premiere.[14]

Thomas Beecham[edit]

In 1949, Sir Thomas Beecham made a series of recordings in Columbia Records' 30th Street Studios in New York City with a completely different pickup group, which was also called the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Later reissued by Sony on CD, the recordings include Dance of the Hours from the opera La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, the overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai, Carmen Suite by Georges Bizet, and Capriccio Italien by Peter Tchaikovsky.[14]

Leonard Bernstein[edit]

Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra, and also played the piano solos, in Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. These were released by Columbia in stereo on LP and later reissued by Sony on CD.

Igor Stravinsky[edit]

Igor Stravinsky made many recordings of his own compositions with an incarnation of this orchestra, mainly musicians from the Los Angeles Festival Orchestra founded by Franz Waxman.[15] Among the works in which Stravinsky conducted the orchestra are Apollon musagète; Le baiser de la fée; The Firebird – suite and complete ballet; Mass; Mavra; Les noces; Orpheus; Perséphone ; Petrushka – suite and complete ballet; Pulcinella – suite and complete ballet; The Rake's Progress; The Rite of Spring; the Symphony in E flat; the Symphony in Three Movements and the Violin Concerto; as well as several shorter pieces.[16]

Robert Craft[edit]

From 1955 onwards, he made many recordings with the CSO, in CBS-projects that were intended to record the Second Viennese School for the first time integrally. In this period, Craft also produced most of the Varèse works with the Columbia Ensemble.

Other recordings[edit]

The term Columbia Symphony Orchestra was also used when, for contractual reasons, another orchestra could not appear under its own name. Many Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians also played under the Columbia Symphony name, and some reports mention that the entire Philharmonic frequently played as the Columbia Symphony when recorded on the west coast.

CBS Symphony Orchestra[edit]

There was also the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, sometimes called the CBS Symphony Orchestra. This group was formed to perform on CBS Radio broadcasts and also made 78-rpm recordings for Columbia Records during the 1940s. It was frequently conducted by Howard Barlow, who later became the music director of "The Voice of Firestone" radio and television programs.[11] One of the Columbia Records releases by the CBS Symphony with Barlow conducting was the "Indian Suites" by Edward MacDowell, recorded on May 15, 1939; this recording can be heard on YouTube.[17] The composer Bernard Herrmann conducted the orchestra for some broadcasts, especially The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The Campbell Playhouse programs presented by Orson Welles.[18]


  1. ^ The recording information in this section derives from Michael Gray's database available on CHARM.[2] For more information, see British Symphony Orchestra discography
  2. ^ The US operation of Columbia had been taken over by its UK subsidiary, the Columbia Graphophone Company in December 1922.[7]
  1. ^ Bruce, Eder. "Columbia Symphony Orchestra". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  2. ^ "Discography Introduction: Gray data". Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  3. ^ Arakelyan, Ashot (8 September 2014). "Lucille Marcel (Soprano) (New York 1877 - Vienna 1921)". Forgotten Opera Singers. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  4. ^ "In Springtime (Radecki, Olga von)". IMSLP. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  5. ^ Advanced search on CHARM (all lower case only) for Performer: weingartner, and Pperformer: columbia symphony orchestra.
  6. ^ Advanced search on CHARM (all lower case only) for Performer: bridge, and Performer: columbia symphony orchestra.
  7. ^ Brooks, Tim (ed.), Columbia Corporate History: The Early 1920s, Columbia Master Book Discography, Volume 1 (Online ed.), Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) See also Notes section.
  8. ^ Advanced search on CHARM (all lower case only) for Performer: bowers, and Performer: columbia symphony orchestra.
  9. ^ Advanced search on CHARM (all lower case only) for Composer: délibes [NB with accent, although this is technically wrong], and Performer: columbia symphony orchestra.
  10. ^ Columbia's contemporary matrix logs state "Columbia Symphony Orchestra", possibly to circumvent a recording contract.[9]
  11. ^ a b Eriksson, Erik. "Howard Barlow". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  12. ^ France, John (25 October 2012). "Deems Taylor: Suite, Through the Looking Glass". British Classical Music: The Land of Lost Content. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  13. ^ Advanced search on CHARM (all lower case only) for Performer: howard barlow, Sort Results by: Date. [NB This search also returns Barlow's recordings with the CBS Symphony Orchestra mentioned below.]
  14. ^ a b "Archived copy". Amazon. Archived from the original on 2016-02-17. Retrieved 2017-08-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Los Angeles Festival Orchestra". Naxos. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  16. ^ Notes to Sony Classical CD set 074646413623 (2000) OCLC 73722695
  17. ^ "MacDowell: "Indian" Suite (Howard Barlow, 1939)". YouTube. 16 May 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  18. ^ [1]