Over 35 years after his death, conductor Arthur Fiedler is still known to people who can’t name a single living conductor of any major orchestra. During his five decade tenure as maestro of the Boston Pops Orchestra, that institution practically became the unofficial national orchestra of the US, thanks to bestselling recordings, frequent appearances on TV (particularly PBS), and Fiedler’s commitment to proving that classical music had life in it, and needn’t exist solely as a posh trifle for the uppercrust. He took some guff for pandering to the masses, and while I’m usually all for a nice bit of snobbery, leveling such a criticism at a pops orchestra seems to miss the point by miles. His work as a popularizer introduced generations to orchestral music.
So it seems entirely fitting that his final work before his 1979 death was a disco album. From the conductor’s own liner notes:
One thing I have always believed in is music as a universal language, and my years with the Boston Pops reflect the range and scope of this interest as we work our way through a vast repertoire from Country to Classics.
Young people are always a key to the success of the Pops season, and keeping up with the forward motion of their tastes and preferences is both a challenge and a great privilege for me to pursue.
From the moment I conducted the “Saturday Night Fiedler” suite on Television this May, I knew that the youngsters had done it again: disco—a marvelous, insistently rhythmic dance form to which all manner of music can be adapted from Bach to the Bee-Gees. And this span of musical poles truly accents the universality of music.
Saturday Night Fiedler was of a type with plenty of disco cash-ins of the late ‘70s; Fiedler’s own eventual Boston Pops successor John Williams already saw a disco-fied version of his Star Wars theme music threaten to eclipse the sales of his original, and everyone who could sing and plenty of people who couldn’t rushed to release disco albums during the few years that the fad utterly dominated popular music. The Boston Pops’ album contained only two side-length tracks. The B side was “Bachmania,” which, as you surely guessed, is a Bach medley tarted up with bass and beats.The A side was an 18-and-a-half minute medley of songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, with two Bee Gees songs segueing into two pieces of David Shire’s instrumental music, the rather durable “Manhattan Skyline,” and “Night on Disco Mountain,” which was surely familiar to Fiedler, as it was itself a lift from Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.” The suite closes out with the Trammps’ classic “Disco Inferno.”
Weirdly, the mandatory oon-tss oon-tss disco beats seem to drift in and out of sync with the music rather a lot, leading me to wonder if they weren’t added in after the fact by the producer, John Davis, of John Davis and the Monster Orchestra semi-fame. Here it is, see what you think:
And of course, here’s “Bachmania.” I suspect the works disco’d up here will be perfectly familiar even to those of you who don’t know classical music—“Toccata And Fugue in D Minor” is the distinctive organ music you’ve heard in a zillion movies when creepiness needs to be evoked.