Sunday, February 13, 2011

Through Deems' Looking Glass

If people today remember Deems Taylor (1885-1966) at all, it is as the master of ceremonies for the groundbreaking Disney motion picture "Fantasia" (1940), a role parodied by Elmer Fudd in the Warner Brothers cartoon "A Corny Concerto" (pictured above).  Here is what he really looked like (pictured in 1930 with his four-year-old daughter, Joan Kennedy Taylor, while working on his opera "Peter Ibbeston"):

Even in his lifetime, Deems Taylor's work as an advocate for classical music in various roles (broadcaster, journalist) overshadowed his composing.  He served as intermission commentator for the New York Philharmonic radio broadcasts, was music critic for the New York World, and was a best-selling author - "Of Men and Music" and "The Well-Tempered Listener" are written versions of his radio talks and remain witty and entertaining today.  Yet his work as a composer is not without merit.  Judge for yourself: I present the first recording of his Suite, "Through the Looking Glass," based, of course, on Lewis Carroll's immortal "Alice" books.  This delightful work was once quite popular, but has disappeared from the repertory; there is no recording currently available on CD, which is a great pity.  The second movement in particular ("Jabberwocky") is as fine a piece of tone-painting as I know.

Deems Taylor: Through the Looking Glass - Suite, Op. 12
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow
Recorded November 9, 1938, under the supervision of the composer
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-350, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.69 MB)

This was the first recording by Howard Barlow and the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony; there would be quite a few more over the next two years before Columbia signed up major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony.  Among these was the recording of the Vaughan Williams English Folk Song Suite which I uploaded last October.  This is still available at the previous post here.


  1. Thanks Bryan - I like this work; I believe I have the Howard Hanson - Eastman version on the shelves.

  2. Damn Bryan!

    You beat me to another one :-)

    I was planning to do the sides in the summer. Looking forward to hearing this myself...had the 78's for at least 10 years but never played them...

    And thanks for the Elmer Fudd photo!

    - Bill

  3. Many Thanks! This recording was a particular favorite among the students of Robert Marcellus at Northwestern University. I can't recall the name of the CBS Symphony clarinetist, but there was a connection of some type with Marcellus. Does anyone know?

  4. This is fabulous! It's a tremendous performance. Thank you very much.

  5. Thank you! I love all this hard-to-get American classical.

  6. You may be interested - there is a new CD entitled "The Lost Music of Deems Taylor, Volume I" available at

    It has a two piano arrangement of Through the Looking Glass on it, as well as early hitherto unrecorded songs by Taylor and several short piano pieces.

  7. Many thanks, Bryan. I only knew Taylor through "Fantasia", but he was obviously a very talented composer. Let's hope Naxos record this in their American music series.