Let’s Start the New Year Right

Bing Crosby, Virginia Dale, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn.
Bing Crosby, Virginia Dale, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn.

 

Happy New Year!

The first day of January may be a time to sweep up the confetti and put away the party hats, but take a moment and listen to Irving Berlin’s Let’s Start the New Year Right. This suave melody, sung  by the golden-toned Bing Crosby, was written for the 1942 Paramount Pictures classic, Holiday Inn. (White Christmas became the smash hit from this film).

The attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent entrance of the United States into the Second World War occurred halfway through Holiday Inn‘s production. Berlin’s lyric suggests relief at the prospect of closing the door on the old year, while looking ahead with optimism at the possibility of something better.

A Snapshot of Music Across 400 Years

2016 will mark the following anniversaries:

1916 

completed works:

Births: Milton Babbitt, Alberto Ginastera, composers, Robert Shaw, conductor, Yehudi Menuhin, violinist.

The Baltimore Symphony presented its first concert.

1816

completed works:

  • Piano Sonata No. 28, Ludwig van Beethoven
  • String Trio in B-flat Major, Stabat Mater in F minor, Litanei aug das Fest Aller Seelen, Franz Schubert
  • The Barber of Seville, Gioachino Rossini

Violinists Louis Spohr and Niccolò Paganini met in Venice. Goethe gave Schubert permission to set his poems to music.

1716

completed works:

1616

completed works:

  • Peccavi super numerum, motet for 3 voices and basso continuo, Girolamo Frescobaldi
  • Tirsi e Clori, (ballet score), Le nozze di Tetide (lost opera), Claudio Monteverdi

Heifetz Plays “White Christmas”

Jascha Heifetz and his accompanist, Milton Kaye, having dinner with troops from the 21st General Hospital following a USO concert in Naples, Italy,  June 16,1944.
Jascha Heifetz and accompanist Milton Kaye (far Left) have dinner with troops from the 21st General Hospital following a USO concert in Naples, Italy, June 16,1944.

 

If you’ve never heard Jascha Heifetz’s 1944 recording of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, take a moment and listen.

White Christmas was first performed by Bing Crosby on Christmas Day, 1941. Crosby’s single sold 50 million copies and stands as the best-selling single of all time. The song resonated with soldiers stationed abroad during the Second World War.

Around the time this recording was made, Heifetz assisted the war effort by performing USO-organized concerts for troops stationed in Central and South America, Italy, and North Africa. Flying in U.S. Air Force planes, Heifetz performed 45 concerts in eight weeks. According to a New York Times account,

‘The Messrs Heifetz and Kaye played in theatres, opera houses, airplane hangers, battleships and right up at the front lines…For the front-line engagements, of which there were several, the concerts were given from an open truck which carted a small, olive-drab piano.

White Christmas ranks number two on the Songs of the Century listbehind Over the Rainbow. There’s a sense of melancholy lurking beneath the surface in both songs. In an article published yesterday at Smithsonian.com, Marissa Fessenden examines the sadness of White Christmas and personal tragedy in Irving Berlin’s life.

Irving Berlin, one of the twentieth century’s greatest song writers, couldn’t read or write music. He played the piano only in the key of F-sharp, which uses many black keys. Berlin dictated melodies to a secretary, who transcribed the musical notation. According to one story, after writing White Christmas, Berlin said,

Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!

Jazz miniatures arranged and recorded by Jascha Heifetz can be found on a compilation disk called, It Ain’t Necessarily So: Legendary Classic and Jazz Studio Takes.