What music did mandolin ensembles of more than a century ago perform? Whatever was popular at the time; waltzes, fox trots, mazurkas, marches, rag, classical, folk.
The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble took a time trip to the golden era of mandolin orchestras with a sampling of music unfamiliar to most modern listeners by composers all but forgotten to this day. The title song of this album was composed by Charles Brunover (1877-1948), a Wisconsin-born mandolinist, guitarist, teacher, and composer.(1) It is a march with the possible connotation of it being a football fight song.
A waltz bearing the name of the ensemble that started the stringed instrument craze, “Estudiantina,” was credited to Emile Waldteufel (1835-1912), a French-born classical composer of Jewish Alsacian heritage. (2) It was actually composed by Paul Lacome, but arranged by Waldteufel for orchestra.
The only female composer represented on this album is Kate Dolby, whose birth date is unknown but died in 1944. She had only one song to her credit, a galop called “The Flying Wedge,” which was originally composed for banjo in 1917.(3)
H.F. Odell*, who was profiled here previously, composed the track “Laughing Eyes,” and arranged two other tracks for mandolin ensemble; “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice,” composed by Camille Saint-Seans (1835-1921) and “Gallantry,” by Albert W. Ketelbey (1875-1959), an English-born composer of light orchestral music who also worked in vaudeville. (4)
These are just six of the notable tracks off this album, released in 1998. Paul Martin Zonn was the conductor for this recording. The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble released six albums between between 1995 and 2006, then disbanded in 2009 when its most notable player, Butch Baldassari, succumbed to brain cancer.
*In correction to the previous article, H.F. Odell was Herbert Forrest Odell, not Henry Forrest Odell. The article also misidentified Odell as the composer of the Saint-Seans and Ketelbey compositions when he arranged them for mandolin orchestra.
(2) Griffiths, Paul. The Penguin Companion to Classical Music. Penguin UK, 2004
(4) McKanna, Tom. “Ketelby, Albert William. “ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition).