a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted,
recorded and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2002 and 2006 by Fred Flaxman
MUSIC: “Lone Ranger theme” from the
William Tell Overture by Rossini [Telarc CD-80334, track 1] [down
and under the following]
Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred
When I was growing up in the 1940s, I learned to love Rossini, Liszt,
Gounod and their crowd from a group of nationally famous, inspired
instructors. I can still remember their names: One was called “The Lone
Ranger;” another, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon;” a third, “The
Each concentrated exclusively on teaching me just one part of one
composition. This same excerpt was played over and over again, every
week, at the beginning and end of each half-hour lesson. And all
instruction was given at home, coming to me with the switch of a button,
over the radio.
I was absolutely spellbound by these teachers and the fascinating
stories they told. Oddly enough, these instructors never talked about
sharps and flats or treble and bass clefs, and the tales they told never
had anything to do with music. Nevertheless “The Lone Ranger” taught me
Rossini’s William Tell Overture. “Sergeant Preston” introduced me
to the Donna Diana Overture by Reznicek. “The Shadow” scared me
with sections of Saint-Saën’s Le Rouet d’Omphale.
Then TV came along, and with it, a new set of exciting classical music
lessons. There was “The Big Story,” in which newspaper reporters solved
a different real-life mystery every Friday night, but which played the
same exciting theme from Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben
for each case. And there was “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in which his
hefty shadow appeared every week accompanied by Gounod’s Funeral
March of a Marionette.
I came to love this music more than the programs they introduced and
closed, though, at the time, I didn’t know the names of the pieces or
I came to love classical music the way I think everyone who loves
classical gets to appreciate it — by hearing beautiful pieces over and
over again until, finally, they want to hear more where those came
from... and they’re hooked for the rest of their life. Either that or
they’re hooked on Alfred Hitchcock and “The Shadow.”
On today’s Compact Discoveries program, I’m going to return to
the exciting yesteryears of radio and television, and play for you the
very pieces which first introduced me to the world of classical music.
Let’s begin with the work I first heard as the theme music to “Sergeant
Preston of the Yukon”: the Donna Diana Overture by Reznicek.
CLIP: Excerpt from the original radio program.
MUSIC: Reznicek’s Donna Diana Overture [Telarc CD-80116,
track 5] [6:01]
The Donna Diana Overture by Reznicek. It was performed by the Cincinatti
Pops conducted by Erich Kunzel on a Telarc compact disc.
I can’t remember the story from a single episode of “Sergeant Preston of
the Yukon.” On the other hand, I’ll never forget Reznicek’s theme music.
I once thought that the use of classical music themes in radio, TV and
motion pictures was a tribute to the good taste of the producers. I
realized, only when I started working in the media myself, that it was a
testament to frugality. It was much less expensive to use existing,
public domain compositions by deceased, out-of-copyright composers than
it was to pay a living composer to create new music.
Although “The Lone Ranger” used a part of the William Tell Overture
as its theme, and other parts of the music behind the action of the
story, the entire piece was never played from beginning to end. That, of
course, is what is going to distinguish Compact Discoveries from
the yesteryears of radio when the Lone Ranger rounded up outlaws in the
West with his faithful Indian companion, Tonto.
CLIP: Opening from the original Lone Ranger radio
MUSIC: Rossini: William Tell Overture [Telarc CD-80334,
track 1] [11:13]
The William Tell Overture by Rossini. Yoel Levi conducted the Atlanta
Symphony Orchestra on a Telarc compact disc.
“The Lone Ranger” also made use of a symphonic poem by Franz Liszt:
Les Préludes. We hear that work now in its entirety, as performed by
the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur.
MUSIC: Liszt: Les Préludes [Musical Heritage Society MHS
Les Préludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3, by Franz Liszt. The Leipzig
Gewandhaus Orchestra was conducted by Kurt Masur.
You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred
[optional one-minute break]
On Compact Discoveries today I am playing for you the pieces that first
attracted me to classical music. This was due to their use as theme music on
old-time radio dramas like “The Lone Ranger” and “Sergeant Preston of the
Yukon.” Another old-time radio drama that made extensive use of classical music
was “The Shadow.”
CLIP: Opening from the original The Shadow radio
That program’s music of choice was Le Rouet d’Omphale
— Omphale’s Spinning Wheel — by Camille Saint-Saëns. We hear it performed by the
Orchestre National de France conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
MUSIC: Saint-Saëns: Le Rouet d’Omphale [DGG 400 070-2,
track 4] [9:22]
Le Rouet d’Omphale by Camille Saint-Saëns. Leonard Bernstein
conducted the Orchestre National de France. Parts of this piece were used in the
olden days of radio drama, on a mystery program called “The Shadow.”
Early television drama continued the practice of using classical compositions as
theme music, and I learned to love Ein Heldenleben
by Richard Strauss due to its repeated use at the beginning and end of “The Big
Story,” the weekly dramatization of a front-page newspaper report. Ein
Heldenleben lasts about 43 minutes, but this exciting theme is only used
once in its entirety.
MUSIC: Excerpt from Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss
[London 414 292-2] [fades out after the excerpt]
The “Big Story” theme from Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss. The
Cleveland Orchestra was conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy on a London CD.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents taught me to whistle Gounod’s Funeral
March of a Marionette, though I had no idea who Gounod was at the time.
Does this bring back any memories for you?
MUSIC: excerpt: Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette
[London 436 797-2]
Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, otherwise known as the theme
music to the old “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV series. It was performed on a
London compact disc by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,
conducted by Alexander Gibson.
MUSIC: Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette [London 436
And that concludes this personal look at some of the radio and television themes
that first interested me in classical music. How did you
first find out about classical? What were the first pieces that you heard and
liked? Please respond to these questions by mail or e-mail. Write me in care of
this station or through the Compact Discoveries web site:
At compactdiscoveries.com you can find the titles of all Compact Discoveries
programs, brief descriptions of the themes, and complete scripts, as well as a
list of stations carrying the series, listener comments, Compact Discoveries
articles, and information on helping to underwrite the series’ low-cost
production and distribution costs. You can stream this and other Compact
Discoveries programs on demand at the Public Radio Exchange: prx.org.
Compact Discoveries is distributed internationally by the Public Radio
ANNOUNCER: Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story
Books, publishers of The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor, selected and
edited by Fred Flaxman. Samples and ordering available at bretnor dot com,
b-r-e-t-n-o-r dot com.
Educate Yourself for Tomorrow, an on-line guide to 37 different
Liberal Arts courses for personal development, including “Mozart and the
Evolution of Western Music.” On the web at onlinehumanities.com.
PROGRAM ENDS AT 58:00Return to Compact Discoveries Home