"Music With An Ayn Rand Connection"
I have have had an interest in the popular music from the early decades of the 20th Century since childhood. When I was in my early 20s I discovered and became an admirer of the writings of Ayn Rand - the author of the philosophically provoking best selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. A few years later, I was amused to learn that Rand enjoyed a type of turn of the century popular music that she called "Tiddlywink Music."
Of course, there is no such formally recognized musical genre. "Tiddlywink" seems to have been the name that Ayn Rand gave to music that she responded to in a certain way. The music does not seem to come from from any one particular genre: Canadian Capers is an example of ragtime; El Choclo is a tango.
When I discovered that Rand enjoyed music from the same era that I do, I became very curious as to what specific tunes she liked and classified as Tiddlywink music. Unfortunately, only a few examples have been cited in books and lectures about her. Because I find it fascinating when different interests of mine meet, I always try to keep an eye open for recordings with an Ayn Rand connection. There are two obstacles that I face in doing so. One is the previously mentioned limited information. The other is the fact that locating specific vintage recordings can sometimes take a lot of time. As I find them, however, I will transcribe them to Real Audio and place them on this site.
Important Information About The Recordings
The recordings presented here are of songs that I am told that Ayn Rand either liked or had some connection with - such as through one of her movies. As someone with extremely strong musical opinions, I think it is important for me to mention that, just because someone likes a particular song, it does not mean that they will like every rendition of it. For example, every so often I will be hear one of my favorite songs resurrected and played in a dreadful "easy listening" style. Whenever this happens, my usual reaction is revulsion over what I consider to be aesthetic vandalism. When I listen to music, how something is played is often more important than what is being played. I think it is reasonable to assume the same was true for Ayn Rand as well. Please keep this in mind when listening.
Unlike today where most popular music stars use material written exclusively for them, in the early decades of the 20th century the music industry was dominated by "Tin Pan Alley" publishers. When a new song showed signs of becoming popular, record companies tried to get as much mileage as they could out of it by having several artists record it in a variety of styles. In the 1920s, an especially popular tune could have been recorded by a "hot" jazz band, a "sweet" society band, a Hawaiian guitar duet, a novelty vocalist, an organ soloist, a "popular concert" orchestra, a "salon" orchestra and, for the rural markets, a "hillbilly" group. A fan of a particular hot jazz rendition would probably not care much for the hillbilly or Hawaiian versions - and perhaps may not even like versions by other hot jazz bands.
The majority of the selections presented here come from my personal 78 rpm record collection. A few come from subsequent reissues or from the generosity of other music collectors who have been credited. The music on this page does not necessarily present a representative view of the popular music of the era or of my own personal musical tastes.
If you enjoy the music presented here, you might want to visit my musical website, Dismuke's Virtual Talking Machine, which features a variety of music from my collection recorded between 1900 and 1940. I also publish Dismuke's Hit of the Week which is updated every Thursday. Also check out my Internet radio station Radio Dismuke which is devoted to popular music from the decade 1925 - 1935
About The Images On This Site
Anyone familiar with Ayn Rand's writings already knows how she much she loved New York City and its skyline. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to decorate the site with New York City skyscraper pictures from roughly the same era as the recordings. Included are all of the New York buildings that were, at some point in the 20th century, the tallest in the world. The images come from either my personal collection or from the United States Library of Congress.
To download a free Real Player, click here
This is one of the songs that Ayn Rand first heard in a Crimean park as a child on summer vacation. The song was published in England in 1912. It was especially popular a few years later with the British troops in World War I. Of the two recordings included here, the American Quartet version features the words. The Victor Military Band version - once you get past the lengthy drum intro - is done up in dance tempo.
A Long Long Way To Tipperary
It's A Long Long
Way To Tipperary
I found out that this was one of Ayn Rand's favorite songs when I saw the film Ayn Rand: A Sense Of Life. I was already familiar with the song and was honestly a bit scandalized! In the 1900s and 1910s, jokes and songs making fun of the automobile were very popular. Usually the focus was on how unreliable they were. This one is no different. Imagine Ayn Rand enjoying a song poking fun of the latest technology! Actually, the story that the words tell is kind of funny. This recording is NOT from my collection. I recorded it from a public library copy a few years ago. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the notes I took on the artist and recording date. If my memory is correct, it was recorded around 1912. If I ever locate the notes, or even better yet, come across a copy of the actual record, I will immediately put that information up. A brief excerpt of a different version of this song was featured in Ayn Rand: A Sense Of Life.
I have had this tango in my collection for a few years now. I did not realize that it was an example of Tiddlywink music until I heard it - the exact same version - on the Ayn Rand Institute's hold music. As the Institute's recordings are presumably from Ayn Rand's actual records, on that basis I think it is reasonably safe to say this is the version she liked. Choclo is a Chilean word meaning "corn."
Shortly after this song, written by Sydney Baynes, was published in London in 1912, it was played by Wallace Hartley's White Star Orchestra on the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic.
Destiny Waltz is specifically mentioned in We The Living in the scene where Kira attends Vava Milovskaia's party. Andrei asked Kira to dance while her sister Lydia played "Destiny Waltz" on the piano:
My understanding is that this is
the version that Rand had in her collection. Arden and Ohman were an extremely
popular piano team throughout the 1920s both on records and piano rolls.
The record label characterizes this selection as a "tap dance." If
you listen carefully, about 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the recording,
you can hear what sounds like a tap dancer in the background. Of
course, it may have simply been a sound effect from the percussion
section. It took me many months - as well as a nice chunk of change
- to locate this recording.
Here are some additional versions of Canadian Capers performed in a variety of styles.
Burnswick Records billed Snodgrass as "King of the Ivories." I think the Arden -Ohman version is better. Unfortunately, this poor record has been subjected to quite a bit of abuse over the decades and is not in the best of shape - though it is still listenable.
This is a jazzy British dance band recording that comes courtesy of Michael Herklotz, a German record collector I occasionally correspond with. I really like this arrangement; it is guaranteed to put you in a good mood! Herklotz, by the way, has an excellent website, Die Shellack-Seite , that regularly features British and German dance band recordings from the 1920s & 1930s.
For most of his career Donahue had a society band. However, in the late '30s and early '40s, he adopted a swing format - of which this recording is an example.
Welk was just as schmaltzy in the 1940s as he was in that ghastly television show you may remember. This is the first Lawrence Welk record I have ever intentionally bought. What little I do have by him was obtained in bulk purchases and was quickly relegated to its proper place: my "junk record" pile in the garage! Back in the '30s and '40s, jazz and swing enthusiasts had a derogatory term for bands such as Welk's: Mickey Mouse bands.
Paul Whitman led the 1920's most successful dance band. He helped make the newly emerging jazz music "respectable" and introduced Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue in a now famous 1924 Aeolian Hall concert. In the late 1920s, his band featured many of the era's top white jazz musicians and provided the start for the singing careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey. One of the most influential names in the 20th Century music industry, he is mostly forgotten today.
Here is an interesting bit of trivia: Ayn Rand was buried one grave over from Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey was one of the top white jazz sidemen of the late 1920s. After an ill-fated attempt to run a band jointly with brother Jimmy in the early 1930s, he took over the Joe Haymes band and became one of the biggest stars of the swing and big band eras.
-- Ayn Rand on her 1926 arrival to New York from Russia as quoted in Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life.
When I first read The Letters of Ayn Rand and came to the June 10, 1936 letter that Rand wrote to broadcaster Ev Suffens, I broke out laughing. In it she jokingly complained that it had been a while since she had heard certain tunes, including "Down South," on the broadcast. I laughed because the song was used as a theme for some 1930s radio broadcasts I have copies of. The broadcasts were sponsored by Crazy Water Crystals - a popular 1930s laxative that was promoted as a miracle cure-all. To hear "Down South", all Rand needed to have done was tune in to the weekly nationwide Crazy Water broadcasts! The thought of someone like Ayn Rand actually listening to them is laughably absurd: the programs were extremely hokey and filled with bizarre testimonials of how people felt better after taking the product. I looked through my record collection to see if I had another version of the song and, somewhat to my surprise, it turned out that I did. This particular version is done in what was then called "popular concert" style. I have included both the popular concert version as well as a brief excerpt from one of the Crazy Water broadcasts.
Click here to see Crazy Water Company memorabilia from my collection.
The label credits W.H.Middleton as the composer. I do not know if the name for the group had anything to do with the Eveready Battery Company, but it would not surprise me if it did. Bands sponsored by companies were not uncommon at the time. I have records of bands named after Goodyear Rubber, Remington Typewriters, Ipana Toothpaste and Clicquot Club Soda Water. Nat Shilkret is the conductor on this.
In her article "Art and Cognition" (reprinted in The Romantic Manifesto) Ayn Rand wrote:
Tap dancing is completely synchronized with, responsive and obedient to the music - by means of a common element crucial to music and to man's body: rhythm...[Tap dancing] looks, at times, as if it is a contest between the man and the music, as if the music is daring him to follow - and he is following lightly, effortlessly, almost casually. Complete obedience to the music? The impression one gets is: complete control - man's mind in effortless control of his expertly functioning body. The keynote is: precision. It conveys a sense of purpose, discipline, clarity - a mathematical kind of clarity - combined with an unlimited freedom of movement and an inexhaustible inventiveness that dares the sudden, the unexpected, yet never loses the central integrating line: the music's rhythm.Ayn Rand considered tap dancing to be her favorite form of dance saying that "it cannot express tragedy or pain or fear or guilt; all it can express is gaiety and every shade of emotion pertaining to the joy of living." She cited Bill Robinson and Fred Astaire as its best exponents.
Sadly, tap dancing has for decades been a dying art. Ayn Rand was right: it is a form of art that celebrates the joy of living. And since it is synchronized with and obedient to the music, this implies the necessity for music that is equally joyous. But unrestrained joyousness in popular music was dealt a severe blow when jazz turned "modern" in the mid 1940s and lost its popular following. Some elements of joyousness tried to resurface during the early rock and roll era - but they were destroyed by the nihilism of the late 1960s. The result is that the popular music of today that is not outrighly nihilistic has been, to a large degree, emotionally sanitized. Turn on your radio and listen to some of the popular stations. You will be hard pressed to find a song that is appropriate for a tap dancer.
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson
Born in 1878, Robinson started his dance career at the age of 6 performing "pikaninny" roles in restaurants and in minstrel shows. During the first quarter of the 20th century, Robinson's reputation as a dancer grew as he traveled the nightclub and Vaudeville circuits. His Broadway debut came at age 50 when he introduced the song featured here in the review Blackbirds of 1928, which had an all-black cast. He went on to appear in over a dozen motion pictures and in other Broadway productions. To celebrate his 61st birthday, Robinson danced 60 blocks down Broadway from above Columbus Circle to the theater in which he was performing. He died in 1949.
If you enjoy the sound of the orchestra
on this selection, Don Redman's recordings from the early 1930s are highly
recommended as are recordings by McKinney's Cotton Pickers, which Redman
presided over as musical director from 1927 -1931. Happily, recordings
by Redman and other Harlem Renaissance artists are increasingly available
on CD reissues.
The New Low Down
Astaire, along with his older sister Adele, entered show business when he was 5 years old. Their childhood was spent taking singing and dancing lessons and struggling their way up from small time to big time Vaudeville circuits. By the 1920s, their brother-sister act had paid off and they were highly successful stars on Broadway and in the London theaters. In 1929, however, Adele married a British nobleman and decided to retire from show business. Forced to look for a new routine, Astaire decided to give Hollywood a try. The response to his first screen test was less than encouraging: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." He did, however, manage to land a cameo appearance in the Joan Crawford/Clark Gable picture Dancing Lady. His second film appearance, Flying Down To Rio, paired him with Ginger Rogers and was so successful that on subsequent films he was able to ask for and receive complete artistic control over all musical sequences. This control gave him the artistic latitude to revolutionize both dance and the movie musical.
Can't Be Bothered Now
Work If You Can Get It
Ayn Rand was
fond of his operettas. Lehar was extremely popular on both
sides of the Atlantic at the turn of the century. I highly recommend
Lehar's music. Happily, it is widely available on CD.
Merry Widow Two Step
This is a selection in dance tempo
from Lehar's most famous operetta, The Merry Widow
Dein ist mein
These are selections from Lehar's operetta The Land of Smiles. Lehar himself is conducting the Orchestra of the Berlin State Opera House. The singer is famed tenor Richard Tauber, about whom Lehar said: "As a singer he is tremendously gifted: it is his voice that I hear as I compose."
Ayn Rand was also fond of Kalman's operettas. In a letter, she specifically asked radio host Ev Suffens to play selections from Countess Maritza and Czardes Fursten.
For whatever reason, until recently, recordings of Kalman's works have been difficult to find. For example, my 1948 edition of The Gramophone Shop Enclycopedia of Recorded Music, which cataloged all currently available classical music recordings worldwide, had an entry for Kalman but was unable to list any available recordings. It advised readers to check with individual record companies' most recent catalogues.
In the 1920s, American librettist Harry B. Smith adapted two of Kalman's operettas for the Broadway stage: Countess Maritza in 1926 and The Circus Princess (Die Zirkusprinzessin) in 1927. As a result, selections from these productions were recorded in America - but they seem to have been mostly performed as fox trots by dance bands.
Selections from Countess Maritza
Gems From 'Countess
This recording was part of the Victor Talking Machine Company's "Gems From" series featuring selections from various operettas and musicals. This version is from the adaptation in English by Harry B. Smith
- Dance Gypsies
This is the most famous tune from Countess Maritza. Another tune from the operetta, "The One I 'm Looking For," can also be heard on this recording. Carl Fenton's dance band had a large output of recordings on the Brunswick label in the 1920s. In reality, there was no Carl Fenton - the name was fictional and used as a pseudonym for the Brunswick studio band.
Selections from The Circus Princess
Eyes That Haunt Me
This is an instrumental version
done up in dance tempo. Nat Shilkret's name appears on several recordings
on this site. In the late 1920s Shilkret was the music
director for the Victor Talking Machine Company and led many recording
sessions ranging from classical to jazz with the company's excellent in-house
This too is an instrumental version. When this recording was made, Paul Whiteman had the most successful and highest paid dance band in the country with around 30 musicians on its roster - large even for the time. Later that year, after the breakup of the rival Jean Goldkette Orchestra, several of the top white jazz musicians of the 1920s joined the Whiteman band. The result was a combination of the lush orchestral sound heard on this recording with lively "hot" jazz solos by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. Whiteman appropriately referred to the style as "symphonic jazz." Modern music critics tend to look down on it as being "too commercial" and insufficiently improvisational. But the result was incredibly beautiful and it is sadly long gone from the landscape of popular music.
In an April 6, 1936 letter to Ev Suffens, host of Midnight Jamboree on radio station WEVD, Ayn Rand asked if he would play Serenade by Franz Drdla.
Drdla was born in Saar, Moravia in 1868 and died in Vienna in 1944. He wrote several operas, but was best known for his violin composition Souvenir.
Until I read the Letters of Ayn Rand, I had never heard of Drdla or this song. Now that I have found a copy of it, I am glad I discovered it. This is an acoustical recording, but nevertheless, it sounds great.
The Ayn Rand connection for this song is a mention in her essay "The Comprachicos." "The best illustration of this process [learning by means of repetition and concrete-bound association] is a song that was popular some twenty years ago called 'Mairzy Doats.' Try to recall some poem you had to memorize in grade school; you will find that you can recall it only if you recite the sounds automatically, by the 'Mairzy Doats' method; if you focus on the meaning, the memory vanishes." You will know what she was talking about when you hear the words. This particular recording was the top selling version. The Merry Macs were a vocal group that started in the late 1930s and reached the peak of their popularity during World War II.
[But] The tune sang a promise, calmly, with the calm of an immeasurable strength, and then, tense with a restrained, but uncontrollable ecstasy, the notes rose, trembling, repeating themselves, too rapt to be held still, like arms raised and waving in the sweep of banners.
It was a hymn with the force of a march, a march with the majesty of a hymn. It was the song of soldiers bearing sacred banners and priests carrying swords. It was an anthem to the sanctity of strength. . . .
Kira stood smiling at the music.
"This is the first beautiful thing I've noticed about the revolution" she
said to her neighbor. . . . "When this is all over. . . . when the traces
of their republic are disinfected from history - what a glorious funeral
march this will make!"
Despite its name, the Minute Waltz occupies the first one minute forty seconds of this recording. The rest features the Butterfly Etude.
The Minute Waltz
- Intr: Butterfly Etude
Made in Fascist
Italy in the early 1940s without Rand's knowledge or approval, this film
was able to get past the initial censors because Italy was then at war
with Soviet Russia. But, once the movie was released and had become
a big hit, Mussolini's government ordered it withdrawn and destroyed
- it finally occurred to them that the story was not merely anti-communist,
it was anti-totalitarian. Years later, a surviving copy was discovered
and purchased by Ayn Rand's attorney. The restored version, with some changes
suggested by Rand herself, was released in the late 1980s.
(Songs Without Words)
This selection is a violin solo from an old Edison Diamond Disc and comes courtesy of R.A. Friedman. This song is featured in the scene where, after hearing Lydia play this tune, Andrea asks her to continue. Instead, Lydia refuses and walks away.
When the We The Living movie was reissued, I thought this tune was incredibly beautiful and attempted to learn its name for years. Fortunately, Mr. Friedman, who remembered hearing it on a tape he had made of some of his records, told me about it and sent me a copy - but he could not recall the name of the composer. Finally, after after posting it here on the site, a number of visitors kindly informed me that it was written by Tchaikovsky.
One of the things that had for so long frustrated my search for the song's name was the fact that the novel describes the tune Lydia played as being by Chopin. My guess is that the producers of the movie substituted one by Tchaikovsky on the premise that it was more appropriate for the story's Russian setting.
I am keeping my eye out for a piano version on 78 rpm for future inclusion.
This selection also comes from R.A. Friedman, who informs me that this is the song that was played in the bawdy bar scene.
Out Of Nowhere
Out Of Nowhere
Rand's love of Rachmaninoff's music is well known. Rachmaninoff was also a talented pianist and his solo recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company sold well. I have read that before he went to Victor, Rachmaninoff briefly recorded for the Edison label. Edison may have been a brilliant inventor, but sometimes he lacked business sense when it came to running a record company. Despite being almost deaf, for years Edison insisted on personally listening to and approving every record that was produced under his label. To hear the music, he had a special machine that he bit into and thereby used the bones in his skull to amplify the sound. To make matters worse, Edison had rather narrow and old fashioned tastes when it came to music. Much to Victor's gain, Rachmaninoff's piano playing did not meet with Edison's approval.
Another bit of interesting trivia: Ayn Rand and Rachmaninoff are buried in the same cemetery.
Prelude In G
Major ( Op. 32, No. 5)
Because this recording is low in volume, you will hear quite a bit of surface noise. It sounds much better when it is played as it was intended on a wind up phonograph. If you are interested in hearing more recordings by Rachmaninoff, most of his output has been reissued on CD using state of the ar technology to remove most of the surface noise.
Rachmaninoff Player Piano Rolls
In the early decades of the 20th
Century, the player piano was serious competition to the wind-up phonograph
for space in the parlors of middle and upper class households.
The pianos - "programmed" by a series of holes punched in a roll of paper
- offered one major advantage over acoustical recording: more accurate
sound reproduction. Indeed, thanks to the player piano, we can today
hear the piano greats from the past exactly as they sounded live.
Like the record industry, the player piano industry was nearly wiped out
by the Great Depression. But, unlike records, piano rolls never made
a substantial comeback - largely due to the advent of improved recording
technology as well as radio and, later on, television. All player
piano selections come courtesy of Gabe of Gabe's
Piano Player Page - a site that is definitely worth a visit.
All selections here are played on Gabe's restored 1925 Lexington Simplex
Straightline Player Piano.
Second Piano Concerto Number 2
This selection is seven and a half minutes long - something that, with the exception of a short-lived attempt by Edison, was not possible on the commercially available records of the time.
Impromtu Op 90 Number 4, A Flat
This was composed by Schubert -
but it does provide an opportunity to hear Rachmaninoff play.
Would This Have Been An Example Of
This is a British recording that I loved the moment I first played it. It reminds me a lot of Canadian Capers and the Minute Waltz. I would be very interested in knowing whether Rand was familiar with it and, if so, what she thought of it. It sounds like something that she might have enjoyed. Now that you have an idea about the music she liked, you be the judge.
When I first heard this - especially the first half of the recording - I immediately thought of Ayn Rand and her Tiddlywink music. It is yet another song I wonder what she would have thought of. Regardless, I think it is very beautiful. While this particular recording is more recent, the song itself dates back to 1908.
I took this photo of the Woolworth Building framed by the World Trade Center's twin towers in the distance during a visit to New York in 1999. To Ayn Rand, New York City and its skyscrapers were a symbol of "achievement and of life on earth." It is precisely achievement and life on earth that the modern day savages desperately hate and seek to destroy. It is no coincidence that the tallest skyscraper in New York City was chosen as the target of their murderous attack.
There is talk of rebuilding the World Trade Center - but, so far, the plans are to replace it with several much smaller buildings. It is said that potential tenants would be afraid to locate in another tall, high profile building. Not long ago, had someone expressed such a fear, they would have been laughed at. We will know that our war against savagery has been won when such a fear is once again considered absurd.
In the final chapter of The Fountainhead,
architect Howard Roark signs a contract to build the Wynad Building, which
was to be New York City's tallest:
If you consider the behavior of the world at present and the disaster toward which it is moving, you might find this undertaking preposterous. The age of the skyscraper is gone....This will be the last skyscraper ever built in New York. It is proper that it should be so. The last achievement of man on earth before mankind destroys itself.
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