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Alfred Ketelbey and a 95 year old record

Updated: May 18, 2021

Robert Peacock, a member of our bass section, introduces us to the works of English composer, conductor and pianist, Alfred Ketelbey.

For over a year now, our pianist Gilmour has been entertaining us with a weekly recital of works both familiar and less familiar. These have ranged from Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin to Scott Joplin, Percy Granger and …. Ketelbey.

Although Alfred Ketelbey is almost unknown now, his music was very popular from about 1915 till the start of the Second World War. He was the first British composer to become a millionaire (worth roughly £60 million today).

Gilmour has played us piano transcriptions of two of Ketelbey’s most famous works – “In a Persian Market” and “In a Monastery Garden”.

Among my collection of 78 records (bought in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s from Dundee junk shops) is one of “In a Persian Market”, recorded October 1926, with the composer conducting. The sound isn’t bad for a 95 year old record! Even if we had not known when it was recorded, the style of string playing (loads of portamento) would give the game away. I presume the members of the band supplied the vocals. The more eagle-eyed may notice that the disc was recorded at 80, not 78 rpm. Fortunately I have a variable-speed turntable!

The work has been recorded in many forms including piano, organ, brass band and even musical saw! There are also several good jazz versions by, for example, Acker Bilk and Glasgow’s own George Chisholm.

There is a very comprehensive Wikipedia article about Ketelbey’s life and music.

To hear the 95 year old record described above, click on the image below.

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