Imagine the 50s Without a Theremin

Leon ThereminOn this day back in 1771, the Scottish novelist Walter Scott was born. He is still quite worth reading, although people tend to forgetting him in favor of all the stars like Dickens, Eliot, and Austen. His work is nothing like theirs. Perhaps the most famous opium addict in history, Thomas De Quincey was born in 1785. Still, he lived to be 74, which is a lot longer than most English writers of that time, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice. Children’s author and socialist reformer E. Nesbit was born in 1858. Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo was born in 1872. British Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (A damned confusing name!) was born in 1875. His work is good, but rather typical late Romantic period stuff. He died tragically young; I think he would have gone onto write his best work. But here is his Romance in G for Violin and Orchestra that is still very good:

One of the greatest of the early 20th century composers, Marion Bauer was born in 1882. It is hard to accept her under-appreciation as anything but sexism. For example, I think she is a distinctly more interesting composer than Aaron Copland. Some of her work is very difficult. But the following Piano Concerto “American Youth” is just gorgeous:

The great American novelist and playwright Edna Ferber was born in 1885. She is probably best known for writing the novel Show Boat, which was turned into a hit musical that included the song “Old Man River.” French composer Jacques Ibert was born in 1890. He’s worth while, but I’m afraid you will find him difficult. Look him up if you want. One of the great minds in the development of quantum mechanics Louis de Broglie was born in 1892. He theorized that electrons (and perhaps all matter) had wave like behavior. This lead directly to Erwin Schrodinger’s work. I probably would have given the day to him, but I’m kind of overdosed on physicists.

TV chef Julia Child was born in 1902. And that same year, one of my favorite actors Wendy Hiller was born. She is so wonderful in Pygmalion. It has two major advantages over My Fair Lady: (1) no songs; (2) no Audrey Hepburn. Graphics designer Paul Rand was born in 1914. I bring him up only to note that he has a proper name. “Rand Paul” is just stupid. Greek composer and musician Giorgos Mouzakis was born in 1922. I bring him up only so I can present this song that absolutely will brighten your day:

The great playwright Robert Bolt was born in 1924. And the great Oscar Peterson was born in 1925. Here is just a little bit of him:

The great Rose Marie from The Dick Van Dyke Show is 90 today. Actor Tony Robinson is 67. Also 67 is the brilliant songwriter Jimmy Webb. He wrote any number of hit songs, but I want to mention one in particular: “MacArthur Park.” Look, I know: every time some radio station decides to put out a list of the worst songs of all time, “MacArthur Park” comes in at or near the top. There’s nothing to that. It is a great song. There are two reasons why people claim to hate it. First, it was such a big hit that people have heard it too much and so discount it. Second, it is sincere. And we today no longer admit to enjoying art that doesn’t signal that we’re all in on the joke and none of us takes art or anything else seriously. Well, fuck that! He also wrote “Up, Up and Away” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.” Here he is with Linda Ronstadt doing his song “All I Know” which also makes no excuses for itself and is heartbreakingly beautiful:

And Ben Affleck is 41.

The day, however, belongs to Leon Theremin, who was born on this day in 1896. He was an inventor who is best known for the totally electronic musical instrument the theremin. The science fiction and horror films of the 1950s would not have been the same without the theremin. And Howard Shore’s theremin laced score for Ed Wood is one of the greatest film scores ever. Here is the great man himself playing his own instrument:

Happy birthday Leon Theremin!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Imagine the 50s Without a Theremin

  1. Speaking of Rose Marie…
    [url=http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2013/08/lunch-with-sally-rogers.html]Lunch with Sally Rogers[/url]

  2. Enjoyed this very much; Thank You!
    But I’d like to point out that Edna Ferber was born in 1885, not 1985. She’s one of my favorite authors and I wish she was still here producing even more works but alas, that’s not the case.

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