Saturday, 21 April 2012

Something from the East

Landon Ronald:  The Garden of Allah 
1. Prelude 2. In an Eastern Garden
3. Kyrie Eleison 4. Dance of the Ouled Nail

Royal Albert Hall Orchestra cond. by Landon Ronald
(Violin solo in '2' by Arthur Beckwith)

HMV D 488 & D 489 
[HO 4496'-1 af, HO4497-2 af, HO4498-2 af and HO 4499-1 af]
Recorded Saturday,17th July 1920
4 Flac files in a .rar file, HERE at Mediafire. [about 48Mb].

In 1920 Drury Lane put on one of its best and most spectacular melodramas. The bare bones of this ludicrous story that had been adapted from Robert Hichens book The Garden of Allah are thus.

A Trappist monk, Father Antoine, after nineteen years in a Tunisian monastery, breaks his vows and, under the name of Boris Androvsky, goes off in search of love and adventure. He meets a devout Catholic Englishwoman, Domini Enfilden, and, following a clumsy wooing, made more difficult by a remnant of religious scruples, be marries her and retires to the desert, where he and she live an idyllic life until Count Anteoni, himself in love with Domini, comes to trouble things. Anteoni discovers that Androvsky is the recusant monk and persuades him to tell the truth to Domini, who, although she is to become a mother, conducts her husband back to the monastery and leaves him there. Whatever the silliness of the plot the play was a great hit and three films came out in 1916, 1927 and the last in 1936 which starred Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer and Basil Rathbone. However by this time the music of Ronald would have seemed outdated and a new score was composed by Max Steiner.

The play included sheep, goats, donkeys, a white horse, five camels, and a baby camel for prancing about the stage, all apparently purchased in North Africa especially for the performance. Lasting four hours and included a sandstorm, the first night they forgot to bring down the gauss netting and the front ten rows had to be dug out and brushed down before the play could continue. Later in the run  the  RSPCA took the theatre to court over cruelty to camels but lost the case.

Landon Ronald was commissioned to write the incidental music for the play and the close proximity of dates  between the plays début on the 26th of June 1920 and the recording on the 17th of July may mean the music is actually much the same. A first concert performance was given at the Proms with the New Queen's Hall Orchestra on 14th September 1920, roughly about the same time as the records were issued by HMV. The music, to tell the truth, was a bit of a pot boiler and although the records would have had an initial success I would think sales dwindled once the play was no longer being staged. The records remained in the catalogue and where deleted in 1925.

Dutton have issued the second number 'In an Eastern Garden' but the other three sides I don't think have ever been reissued and the only other recording of the work I am aware of is this same excerpt played by Dan Godfrey & The Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.

Only the last side needs some elucidation as it takes place in a Dancing House in the Street of the Ouled Nails in Beni-Mora.

The Dancing House from  the 1911 play

According to a synopsis of the play from 1911 the music accompanied the scene when a 'dancing woman had observed Father Antoine, and presently she began slowly to wriggle towards him between the rows of Arabs, fixing her eyes upon him and parting her scarlet lips in a greedy smile. As she came on, the stranger evidently began to realize that he was her bourne. A dark flush rose on his face and even flooded his forehead to his low-growing hair. His eyes were full of a piteous anxiety and discomfort, and he glanced almost guiltily to right and left of him as if he expected the hooded Arab spectators to condemn his presence there now that the dancer drew their attention to it. The dancer noticed his confusion and seemed pleased by it, and moved to more energetic demonstrations of her art. She lifted her arms above her head, half closed her eyes, assumed an expression of languid ecstasy and slowly shuddered. Then, bending backward, she nearly touched the floor, swung round, still bending, and showed the long curve of her bare throat to the stranger, while the girls, huddled on the bench by the musicians, suddenly roused themselves and joined their voices in a shrill and prolonged twitter. The Arabs did not smile, but the deepness of their attention seemed to increase like a cloud growing darker. All the luminous eyes in the room were steadily fixed upon the man leaning back against the hideous picture on the wall and the gaudy siren curved almost into an arch before him. The musicians blew their hautboys and beat their tom-toms more violently, and all things, Domini thought, were filled with a sense of climax.'

Well that all sounds pretty amazing.


  1. This is great fun! I've seen one of the early silent movies and I love to hear records with Ronald directing, so thanks a lot for this rarity! I'm curious to hear Ronalds compositional gifts...

  2. I have to say, the description of the scene sounds a lot sexier than the photo looks.

    Thanks for the rarity!

  3. Yes, and it's a lot sexier than the music, too - but thanks, this is a fascinating contrast to Holst's vision of the Ouled Naïls in Beni Mora! Thanks for all the rich background, too. Best wishes, Nick

  4. I enjoyed this - fine transfer!

    1. Thank's Buster

      As far as I am aware this is the only composition by Ronald that was conducted by the composer, odd considering his association with HMV. More so considering the output of material conducted & composed by Ketelbey, who held a similar roll to Ronald, at Columbia.