At a young age, Zappa bought a copy of The Rite of Spring and loved every note:
The second 33 1/3-RPM record I bought was by Stravinsky. I found a budget-line recording (on Camden) of The Rite of Spring by something called ‘The World-Wide Symphony Orchestra.’ (Sounds pretty official, eh?) The cover was a green-and-black abstract whatchamacallit, and it had a magenta paper label with black lettering. I loved Stravinsky almost as much as VarÃ¨se.
Much of my research relies primary sources. Lyrics, liner notes, bootlegs, interviews, and The Real Frank Zappa Book (FZ’s autobiography) make up the bulk of these sources. Along these lines, Avo Raup’s fantastic website Zappa Books–with its search-able database of interviews and zine articles–and RomÃ¡n GarcÃa Albertosâ€™ IINK (Information Is Not Knowledge)–a huge, cross-referenced database of lyrics and other album information–have been a tremendously helpful resources. But occasionally, I need to get right to the source. Such was the case with finding Zappa’s copy of Stavinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
In my current chapter (which examines cases of musical borrowings from Stravinsky in Zappa’s music), I make the argument that much of Zappa’s understanding of Stravinsky is influenced by the mythology surrounding the older composer. I wondered if there might be any juicy details on the liner notes that would provide some insight regarding the idiosyncrasies with which Zappa viewed Stravinsky. Armed with Zappa’s description I set out to find a copy of the same record…
As it turns out, Camden was a budget label for RCA Victor records, first introduced in 1955 (right about when Zappa would have been buying the record). Some quick Googling revealed that the Camden catalog did include a recording of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring! (I express surprise here due to prior aggravations brought on by tracing comments from The Real Frank Zappa Book…) CAL 110 features World Wide Symphony Orchestra performing The Rite!
Further research revealed some interesting facts about the record. The World Wide Symphony Orchestra, it seems, was a pseudonym for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. This particular record (CAL 110) was actually dubbed from 78 rpm discs of another recording by the SFSO conducted by Pierre Monteux. (Monteux, like the SFSO, isn’t mentioned anywhere on the record. Presumably, the motivation here was to re-release a back catalog of 78 rpm records in a more commercially-viable format using pseudonyms to avoid conflicting with sales of newer recordings of the same artists. It was, as Frank would say, strictly commercial.)
Monteux, as any responsible Stravinsky scholar will jump to tell you, premiered The Rite at the ThÃ©Ã¢tre des Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es in Paris in 1915 1913 (noted, of course, for the riot it incited). Zappa doesn’t seem to have been aware that his record featured such a prestigious conductor.
And–lucky me–a quick WorldCat search found a copy of the record at UC Santa Cruz! (Which means I could request it and get my grubby hands on it right quick.) This turned out to be a little more difficult that expected (frustrations with an inefficient interlibrary loan system), but the record arrived yesterday! Green-and-black abstract whatchamacallit and all!
Unfortunately, being the budget label that it was, Camden seems to have cut costs by not including liner notes. Oh well… The adventure wasn’t a total bust. I got to listen to the record and pretend to be a young Zappa listening to “The Augers” for the first time.
I snuck off to a remote corner of the library and took a few pictures of the record as well. You can see where some helpful librarian has scratched out “World Wide” and entered the correct performer data. (I would have ripped the vinyl to mp3s, but it was “in library use only.”) Here are some scans of the sleeve and label. Enjoy!
The first record Zappa bought, by the way, was The Complete Works of Edgard VarÃ¨se, Vol. I (EMS 401). And if Zappa played the Stravinsky as much as he played the VarÃ¨se, this disc got a lot of attention. (By one account, Zappa claimed to have listened to The Rite of Spring more than “any man in the world”!)