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A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music

tterrace here to report that in this, another unlabeled Kodachrome from the "Linda" series, our music-loving friend is about to enjoy (and unfortunately is touching the playing surface of) an LP of one of the top items in the classical hit parade, Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor. This performance, with Walter Gieseking, piano, and Herbert von Karajan conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, was originally recorded at Kingsway Hall, London, by EMI on June 6 and 11, 1951. It was licensed to USA's Columbia Records, which released this album in late December 1951 as ML 4431, selling for $5.45. His player appears to be a 1950 Steelman "Quartet" Model 515 portable, one of their "better buys," priced at $29.95. Definitely not hi-fi, but perhaps this is an example of the stopgap that many of the time employed, their older behemoth radio/phono consoles unable to accommodate the relatively new long-playing record, introduced by Columbia in 1948. I'd like to think this was a Christmas present. View full size.

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Night Hawk

This photo has an Edward Hopper quality about it.


We had a "stopgap" like that, only later. When I was young my parents had a Montgomery Ward radio-phono in a wooden cabinet. The radio would do AM, FM (which was almost nonexistent then) and shortwave. The phono would only do 78s. In about 1961, my father bought a used Zenith record player with the old Cobra tonearm (which looked like a snake.) It would play LPs and 45s, but only mono. A couple of years later they bought a Zenith stereo in a cabinet. By then, of course stereo LPs had been out for several years. I remember it had a flip feature on the tonearm--you turned a disc one way to play LPs/45s and rotated it to get a 78 stylus. The turntable would do all three speeds. If you set it for 78s, however, because the whole thing ran on a cam, the changer worked so fast that it would likely have smashed itself to bits if you did it very many times. I have bought more used vinyl than CDs in the past 2-3 years. There is some real treasure out there for very little money ($1 a disc at my store.)


As per the Consumer Price Index, that $5.45 record album would cost over $48 in today's money. The phonograph works out to a whopping $265.

[Originally the Masterworks price was $4.85 or $5.45 depending on length, later standardized to $4.98. In January 1956 Columbia reduced it to $3.98. - tterrace]


I love this picture. Dark, but not foreboding, it suggests comfort, if not luxury. The shadows invite speculation, as many Shorpy photos do, and the lamplight invites one into a warm, cozy room to enjoy an evening symphonic performance. Nice!

Not cheap

$5.45 for a record back in 1951 sounds pretty expensive. Were classical records more costly as a rule?

What It Is Depends

In those days the kids called it the record player. Mom and Dad called it the Victrola. When sober Uncle Ernie called it the phonograph.

Putting sound to the record

To add to Deborah's comment, here's the opening flourish of Grieg's Concerto in A Minor, played on a Steinway Duo-Art piano:

Reproducing pianos such as this were different from your normal player piano. The paper roll included markings for sustain, dynamics, etc. These pianos typically went for $2,000 on up in the 1920s ... so needless to say, not many had them.

Great picture. I have a LP collection of jazz from the 1950s and early 1960s. Reading the covers gives you an attachment to the music, something that sadly is lost today.

RE: Columbia Record "Club"

I think you may have reversed part of your comment: If you "kept" the record, they sent you a bill. Of course, in my case, it didn't matter if I sent it back or not; they ALWAYS sent me a bill for it.

Well, this was a coincidence

I clicked on this evening while I was listening to this week's New York Philharmonic radio broadcast.

What was playing at that moment?

Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet!

Dramatic or romantic?

Probably one of the most well known dramatic piano intro flourishes ever! The rest is pure romantic loveliness. (Though still nothing close to Ase's Tod or Peer Gynt.) The crop on this image is tantalizingly close. One more mm of image and we would see whether he wears a ring. The photo frame on the turntable is also just enough out of focus. Off to listen now. I love the art on the album cover.

Christmas season?

Small tree in the window.

In the 1960s my dad picked up a portable Motorola stereo phonograph player that had detachable speakers. You uncoupled them from the sides of the cabinet and could pull them out as far as the cable would allow, but that was easily 6-8 feet on each side.

Dad modified the amplifier so that he could plug a microphone into a jack he added on the side and use it as a PA system. He and mom then took the stereo to a few PTA parties and kids' dances and school functions. Flip the switch-- PA announcements. Flip the switch back-- play the dance music. My dad was a great improviser and quite handy with tools. Too bad I didn't inherit much of that.

Columbia Record "Club"

Remember the Columbia Record Club? They'd send a new recording (I belonged to the Classical Music option) once a month or so. I would send the record back and they would send me a bill, or I would accept the record and they wouldn't send me a bill. Finally quit sending the recordings back and they dropped me from their mailing list. Those were the days.

VTF in ounces, not grams

Considering the weight of the tone arm on that Steelman touching the records surface was the least of his worries.

Player and record

Steelman "Quartet" and Columbia ML 4431

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