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FastNotes

  • Mosolov, a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, is identified with “Constructivist” music, notably with the suite from an unproduced ballet, Steel, Op. 19. Iron Foundry, subtitled “Music of the Machines,” is drawn from the ballet’s first act, “Factory (A Strike)”.
  • Constructivism, according to Wikipedia, was a… “philosophy that…was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art… The movement was in favor of art as a practice for social purposes.”
  • With the advent of Stalin a more ear-pleasing, “socially constructive” music was in demand: if factories were still a theme, then they were places where happy workers lived to glorify the state. Dissonance, of Mosolov’s kind, was hardly encouraged.
  • Iron Foundry was heard at the 1930 festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Liège. “We have... a kind of lyrical theme [can you hear it?], the song of steel, or possibly of man, the ironmaster... It is an essentially musical idea carried out with convincing skill,” as one critic observed. All this in under three-and-a-half minutes: a two-ton tidbit.

Composed: 1926-1927
Length: c. 4 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, thunder sheet), and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 28, 1931, Henry Svedrofsky conducting

Mosolov, a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, is identified with “Constructivist” music, notably with the suite from an unproduced ballet, Steel, Op. 19. The suite was commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution by the Moscow Association of Contemporary Music in 1927. Iron Foundry, subtitled “Music of the Machines,” is drawn from the ballet’s first act, “Factory (A Strike)”. The other three movements of the suite are lost.

Constructivism, according to Wikipedia, was a… “philosophy that originated in Russia beginning in 1913 by Vladimir Tatlin. This was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art… The movement was in favor of art as a practice for social purposes. Constructivism had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th century, influencing major trends such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. Its influence was pervasive, with major effects upon architecture, graphic design, industrial design, theater, film, dance, fashion, and… music.”

Mosolov and like-minded composers were all the rage at the time, but with the advent of Stalin a more ear-pleasing, “socially constructive” music was in demand: if factories were still a theme, then they were places where happy workers (and happy machines) lived to glorify the state. Dissonance, of Mosolov’s kind, was if at first not specifically banished then hardly encouraged.

Iron Foundry was heard at the 1930 festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Liège, where it was positively received. “We have... a kind of lyrical theme [can you hear it?], the song of steel, or possibly of man, the ironmaster... It is an essentially musical idea carried out with convincing skill,” as one critic observed. All this in under three-and-a-half minutes: a two-ton tidbit.

The Hollywood Bowl’s 1931 season was the occasion for the American premiere, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by its assistant concertmaster, Henry Svedrofsky, with choreography by Adolf Bolm, and under the title “The Spirit of the Factory.”

Other conductors who took to Iron Foundry were Sir Henry Wood (at the 1931 Last Night of the Proms; Ernest Ansermet; Victor de Sabata (who made the first recording); and most memorably, in 1932, in a performance by the Toronto Symphony, where Sir Ernest MacMillan began the second half of the program dressed in overalls and conducted with a monkey wrench.

 (Was Charlie Chapin familiar with Iron Foundry?)

Herbert Glass has written for many publications in the U.S. and abroad and was for 15 years an editor-annotator for the Salzburg Festival.