by José Manuel Araque
The Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) names Alfred Lennartz as the cellist that played with Osvaldo Fresedo in the Orquesta Tipica Select’s Tango recordings for Victor of late-August 1920. The Típica was missing a bass, and Victor provided a local studio musician to play the part. But very little information is known about Lennartz, and it’s hard to come by any pictures of him. In other writings, one Herman Meyer has been named as the cellist. The career of Lennartz illuminates the context under which Osvaldo Fresedo traveled from Argentina to record in Camden, NJ.
When Alfredo and Flora Gobbi arrived in the United States to record the Tango La Morocha in 1906, the Victor Studios were located in the City of Philadelphia. Having Victor around contributed to the conditions for the ascent of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Since 1900, German Fritz Scheel, a man of exacting standards, had been the Orchestra’s first conductor.
After his first year, Scheel fired half the musicians and brought Germans to replace them. Among those replacements was Alfred Mathias Lennartz (b. 1878), who played in the Cologne Imperial Orchestra before traveling to Philly. He arrived in Ellis Island on October 14, 1903, from Kreuznach, Rhineland-Palatinate. Lennartz played a Stradivarius, but he was never quite principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, it seems he was second or an alternate of sorts. Lennartz played with the Philadelphia Orchestra until 1916.
Fritz Scheel died in 1907, and was succeeded by Karl Pohlig. On the night of February 13, 1908, the Philadelphia Orchestra traveled to Wilmington, DE, for an engagement at the Grand Opera House. As was customary, a special train was arranged to bring the Orchestra back to Philadelphia after the concert, about a 1-hour ride. The night was foggy, and around Chester, PA, the train missed a signal and a collision ensued. Many of the Orchestra's musicians were hurt in the accident, for the next two weeks the Orchestra suspended its presentations while Pohlig himself recovered. Among the injured was Lennartz, who suffered a concussion. The list of injured shows that Rosario Bourdon was there too, and so was one Harry Meyer, a violist.
Joseph Charles Rosario Bourdon (b. 1885) was a cellist, pianist, child prodigy, multi-instrumentalist, and an extraordinary musician from Longueuil, in Quebec, Canada. He was recording since 1903. Rosario’s official career with the Philadelphia Orchestra was short, soon after the accident he moved to Minnesota. But around 1910 Rosario returned to Philadelphia, this time with a Victor contract to become a Studio musician and more. The Victor Studios had moved to Camden, NJ, across the Delaware river from Philadelphia. Rosario Bourdon had an incredibly prolific career with Victor, for the next two decades he had his hands on thousands of Victor recordings. He appears to have been instrumental in the formation of the Victor “house bands”, in particular the Victor Orchestra, the Victor Concert Orchestra, the Victor Symphony Orchestra, the Victor Salon Orchestra, and other variations of the same name. Rosario knew recording technology as well as the best engineers, he was constantly in the Victor Studio. And it seems he was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s man in Camden, as much as he was Victor’s man while in Philly.
In March 1911, Alfred Lennartz joined John K. Witzemann, F. Wilson Cook and William Diestel and formed the short-lived Philadelphia String Quartet. Both Diestel and Witzemann were distinguished members of the Philadelphia Orchestra too. From this time comes the only certified photograph of Alfred Lennartz, and one can barely see his facial features. In June of the same year Lennartz went to the Victor Studios for the first time to record two tracks, but these takes were destroyed and never printed.
In 1912, Karl Pohlig was replaced by legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski took the Philadelphia Orchestra to new heights, he changed their playing, and gave the orchestra its “characteristically sumptuous sound”.
The next year, in 1913, Lennartz joined Rosario Bourdon and Francis Lapitino, a harpist and member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, in a handful of recordings with the Venetian Trio and the Florentine Quartet. These Classical ensembles rarely played outside the Victor Studios or the Philadelphia area. But their repertoire was not quite Classical, the covered mostly popular songs. Rosario’s fingerprints are all over these ensembles, he must have started them, and likely arranged their scores too.
And this seems to have started Lennartz in his career as an accompanist, he went on to play on more than 200 recordings for Victor. For the next 15 years Lennartz played for famous sopranos like Alma Gluck and Sophie Braslau, and along notable instrumentalists like Fritz Kreisler and Efrem Zimbalist. But his Discography is not half as long as Lapitino’s, and is merely a fraction of Rosario’s. In fact it seems Lennartz was Rosario’s backup: when Rosario's management responsibilities in the Studio grew, Lennartz played more frequently with these ensembles, in particular in the 1920s. And when Rosario needed an additional cello for his ensembles, he called Lennartz. In some recordings half the takes were done by Rosario, the other half by Lennartz.
Through 1914 the Philadelphia Orchestra kept winning the public in the United States
The Philadelphia Orchestra played 3 nights, and 3 different pictures were taken of this extraordinary event. The Mahler work called for an enlarged orchestra, and we presume Alfred Lennartz and other musicians from the Victor Studio were there.
But while Philadelphians and others marveled at the Orchestra, it’s notable that the Orchestra did not enter the Victor Studios until October 1917. This was probably related to the limitations of the medium, the acoustical recording technology would not quite do justice to the Stokowski Sound. This is their first ever recording, playing Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5.
Since 1916, Rosario Bourdon had been sharing conducing roles for all Victor orchestras with Joseph Pasternak. A well known photograph taken “between 1920 and 1925” shows Rosario conducting one of the Victor Orchestras in the Studios, and demonstrates that the idea of using a cello as bass was not unique to the Orquesta Típica Select recordings, and possibly came from Rosario himself. In fact, we think that Alfred Lennartz is the man playing the cello on a high chair in this photograph.
Rosario Bourdon was busy in the Victor Studios in August 1920. But just before Fresedo arrived, Rosario went to Quebec on holiday. This is when Lennartz stepped in to assist Fresedo. The DAHR is unequivocal in this point, only Lennartz is credited. In Fresedo’s well-known interview with Oscar Zucchi, Zucchi himself name-drops Herman Meyer, and clarifies that Fresedo "could not remember [the cellist's] name". Fresedo did mention that the cellist was a quick study. And there is no Herman Meyer at all in the DAHR. Was Herman related to Harry Meyer, the violist in the 1908 train accident? In the picture below, taken in the Victor Studios during the recording sessions of the Típica, from right to left we have: Enrique P. Delfino (who played the piano), Luis Alberto Infantas Arancibia (violin), Tito Roccatagliata (violin), and Osvaldo Fresedo. Lennartz would have been more than 40 years old and Harry Meyer was even older, none of them would seem to be as young as the man to the left of this picture, and whose identity remains a mystery.
In a revealing interview a few weeks later, Rosario Bourdon talked to The Montreal Star about recording technology. He spoke about the challenges (E Flat), the position of the players with respect to the acoustic horn and others. He also mentioned he was playing less and conducting more those days. Rosario ran the Victor Orchestras until he retired from the post around 1926, towards the end of the era of acoustic recordings. He left Victor for good around 1931, directed small ensembles for NBC, in Central Park and others. Rosario Bourdon died in the East Village in New York on April 24, 1961.
Alfred M. Lennartz was very active in the 1920s and played until around 1940. He died on March 6, 1957, in Bywood, a suburb of Philadelphia.
1. Here's some details of the pics of Mahler's 8th
2. Here's Ethelbert Nevin's Narcissus, as played by Lennartz and the Florentine Quartet in 1927, 14 years after their original recording with Rosario Bourdon. Rosario played the intro in the 1913 recording, and only Lennartz played in the 1927 version, different styles of playing the cello.
3. Here's two gratuitous, unnecessary, but gorgeous recordings of Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne by Kindler (with Rosario on piano) and Sandby.
4. Stokowski did not record Mahler's 8th until 1950, and then, not with the Philadelphia Orchestra. But we had to include it for completeness.
5. When Fresedo returned to Buenos Aires, he showed a new interest in conducting. In the interview with Zucchi he spoke of his dream of conducting a large Classical orchestra.
6. The Uuniversity of Pennsylvania has a collection of papers from the Philadelphia Orchestra that we could not get our hands on... yet.
7. The University of Wyoming, in Laramie, has inherited Rosario Bourton's papers... [sigh]
archive.org for all the Rosario/Lennartz/Stokowski tracks. I would embed their contents directly, but their embedding widget is not as flexible as YouTube's, sorry.
1. Frances Anne Wister's 25 Years of the Philadelphia Orchestra
Edward Stern and Co., 1925
2. Larry Huffman's website The Stokowski Legacy
3. Oscar Zucchi - Orquesta Típica Osvaldo Fresedo
4. Société d'Histoire de Longueuil - Rosario Bourdon (1885-1961)
Cahier no. 20 - Longueiuil - 1990
To my beloved brother Iván, whith whom I have shared a passion for Classical music all our lives.