Written by Mason Vander Lugt, Syracuse University catalog librarian and proprietor of  the historical music blog Dinosaur Discs.

Eroica - Eroica Beethoven title
The original manuscript with dedication struck out

The grand drama of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was born in a complex meeting of the composer’s notorious temper and an internal conflict between his republican sentiments and aristocratic ambitions.

Bonaparte was born in 1769, only a year before Beethoven. His father was the consulate of the newly-french Island of Corsica, and he began military training at age nine. He quickly ascended the ranks of the Revolutionary army after proving his talent for military strategy in the 1793 siege of Toulon.

Beethoven was born into a similarly tempestuous musical milieu. He also showed unusual promise early in life, and was making public performances in the court musical traditions of his father and grandfather by the age of seven. He studied counterpoint with Joseph Haydn beginning around 1792, and by 1800 was well known for his quartets, piano concerti, and sonatas, including the “Moonlight sonata”, completed in 1801.

Fortunately, he was as confident as he was talented, and in spring 1803 left his post at the Vienna opera to spend the summer in Döbling, determined to compose his masterwork. His pupil Carl Czerny recalls him saying “”I am not satisfied with the work I have done so far. From now on I intend to take a new way”.

Beethoven’s third symphony, the “Eroica”, was a work of revolution in itself. In it, the composer abandoned the comforts and confines of his formal music education and embraced and expanded the radical developments in the symphonic form made by Mozart and Haydn. When Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte, the French ambassador to Austria, suggested that the ambitious work be dedicated to the freshly appointed First Consul (Bonaparte), Beethoven must have understood his unique opportunity to align his work with the progressive leader of a new era¹. He may not have understood the scope of Bonaparte’s own ambitions in his chosen field.

Napoleon’s Consulate seemed to represent a marked departure from the decade of bloody revolution that preceded it. The relatively peaceful coup of 18 Brumaire (Nov. 1799) consolidated French republican interests under a single democratic leader. In the same year, he made first steps toward a peace with Britain that would eventually become the treaty of Amiens (though he betrayed this relationship soon after the treaty was enacted). His concordat with the Catholic church in 1801 suggested that he was interested in diplomatic solutions between radically opposed groups of the population.

I imagine Beethoven felt double-crossed by the Consul’s apparent change of heart and direction, and acted in anger in tearing the first manuscript of the Eroica. The first published version in 1806 bore the inscription “per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo” – “to celebrate the memory of a great man.” His later comments reflect an eventual change of heart – he is later quoted as saying “”Napoleon! … Formerly I disliked him. Now I think quite differently” ².

  1. W.A. DeWitt – Beethoven’s Eroica Historical Overview.
  2. Christopher T. George – The Eroica Riddle. Napoleonic Scholarship, Dec. 1998.



Written by Mason Vander Lugt, Syracuse University catalog librarian and proprietor of  the historical music blog Dinosaur Discs.

Shenandoah - shenandoah
Illustration - Edward A. Wilson, from "American Sea Songs & Chanteys

By the time “Oh Shenandoah” was first mentioned in print in 1882, the sea shanty was a dying breed. Steam ships had been sidling sail-ships (and thereby sailors) into obsolescence since the turn of the century. The article, in “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine”, begins by saying “The sailor is not as yet totally extinct” and seeks to “preserve the memory of his [the sailor’s] songs”.

If you don’t think ‘cross the wide Missouri’ (river) sounds like a ‘sea song’, you’re right. The song probably originates from French-Canadian or English-American voyageurs, colonial merchants who shipped goods up and down American rivers. From here, the song was spread across the eastern United States, making it one of the most popular, and one of the most varied shanties. In fact, Robeson’s version entirely skips the common verse in which the white settler attempts to “woo” the “Indian maiden” along with him on his voyage. I’ll presume this omission was intentional on Robeson’s part, who was an educated gentleman who spent much of his later life promoting civil rights and speaking against imperialism.

Shenandoah - shen2 668x1024
Illustration - Veronica Whall, from "Ships, Sea Songs and Shanties"


Sound Beat Blog: Reboot

Sooo…we haven’t written lately.

We’ve had a tremendous response from stations and listeners, and are so grateful to be reaching so many folks. The blog has suffered a bit, but no longer! Mason Vander Lugt, a Catalog Librarian at Syracuse University’s E.S. Bird Library, will be bringing his talents to our site. He became interested in early American records in his years as a radio DJ at the University of California, San Diego’s student-run station, KSDT.  Mason has taken up the task of assembling an accessible history of early recording and popular American music. You can find his independent writing at www.DinosaurDiscs.com

And you can read his very first Sound Beat post right now. Without any further ado:


The Sound Beat Class Partnership Project

Each semester, students in various programs at Syracuse University are taking part in The Sound Beat Class Partnership Project. They’ve followed our script production process: selecting recordings, planning a programming schedule, researching and then writing: starting with longer papers and arriving at Sound Beat-sized scripts.

It’s been a great experience on our end! We’re sure the students have loved us prattling on and on about “our craft” too. The real value has been getting students involved with Belfer Archive and the absolute treasure trove it contains. Four classes have taken part in the Partnership to date, examing these historic recordings from diverse disciplinary lenses: writing, African American studies and music history among them.  The cream of the crop are edited, tweaked and made into living, breathing Sound Beat episodes, for which the students get a publishing credit and hear their words broadcast across North America and the web.

We couldn’t have done any of it without the work of Rachel Fox von Swearingen, librarian for Music, Dance and Musical Theater, and Patrick Williams librarian for, (are you ready?) American Literature, Communication & Rhetorical Studies, Composition & Cultural Rhetoric, Drama, English/Textual Studies, Linguistics, Writing Program, (Acting) Philosophy, Research, Collections & Scholarly Communication. Phew.  Check out this amazing research guide they’ve compiled. Dr. Jenny Doctor, new Director of Belfer Archive, has made it her goal to increase student access to the building, and has taken a hands-on role in the Partnership.  And big thanks indeed to Professors Steve Meyer, Theo Cateforis, Paul Steinbeck and Jason Luther.   Want to hear some student episodes? Click below!

Ryan Lu – Begin the Beguine by Art Tatum

Sarah Detweiler – Big Stuff by Billie Holiday

Brent Kelley – Lester’s Savoy Jump by Arthur “Prez” Young 

Mark PerkinsAint It The Truth by Count Basie


Winter Tales

December is, perhaps above all, a time for storytelling. For example: the baby Jesus born amidst barnyard animals, and jolly old Saint Nick’s physics-defying ride. Most everyone knows about those, but how about  the Maccabees giving the Greeks their own Spartan impression, centuries after Leonidas and company? Christmas carols and other holiday tunes serve as timeless, ageless retellings of these holiday tales. But what about the stories behind the songs themselves? Who will tell them?

We will! Here are a few of our favorites:

Baby It’s Cold Outside (1949)

Frank and Lynn Loesser

(Listen to episode)

Composer Frank Loesser included this song in the score for 1949’s Neptune’s Daughter.  The tune netted him industry-wide acclaim, an Academy Award, and one very angry wife.You see, Loesser wrote the song four years earlier for his wife Lynn.  They performed it together by request at star-studded holiday parties. Lynn’s reaction to Frank’s use of the song in the film:

I felt as betrayed as if I’d caught him in bed with another woman.”


Schirm und Schutz (1919) on Edison Gold Cylinder

Selmar Cerini

(Listen to episode)

Hanukkah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev.  You probably know the story: how the Maccabees triumphed over the Greeks (Seleucids) and that one jug of oil lasted for eight days.  What you probably don’t know is that the war took over a quarter-century.  You see, the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem after three years of fighting, leading to the purification of the Temple and the miracle of the menorah.  But for 22 years after that, roughly 10,000 Maccabees battled a Greek army estimated at 40,000 strong.  So, no, they weren’t exactly up against the might Xerxes, but then, they weren’t holing up in expertly-constructed phalanxes.  There were more shepherds than trained soldiers in that army. Persistent shepherds: eventually, the Greeks surrendered and left. It’s believed to be history’s first ideological war.

Santa Hides In Your Phonograph (1922)

Harry Humphrey

(Listen to episode)

He has been described as both jolly and kind… he’s based on a saint for crying out loud.  But you might picture him differently if this were your first introduction to Santa Claus.  You’re listening to “Santa Hides In Your Phonograph” an Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder from 1922.  You’ve got to think Harry E. Humphrey meant for his portrayal to be somewhat jovial, though he comes off more like a supervillain.

Humphrey was a prolific performer for Edison’s studios.  Among his other roles were George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Otello.  But none of them rank as high on the Creep-O-Meter as his portrayal of Old Saint Nick.  Maybe Mr. Humphrey came across some coal as a young man? Give yourself an early present and watch this clip.

All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth (1948)

Spike Jones

(Listen to episode)

Donald Gardner was a second grade teacher, charged with coming up with a tune for the school’s Christmas program.  To draw out inspiration, he asked his students what each wanted for Christmas.  It wasn’t long into their list of demands before he noticed that 16 out of the 22 kids were missing one, or two, front teeth.  Inspiration struck alright, and Gardner wrote one of the most memorable, at least, holiday tunes of all time.Spike Jones and His City Slickers  from 1948, with George Rock on vocals.Gardner didn’t quite share Jones’ vision for the song:

Horrible” he said, upon first listening. “That will never sell.”

But it sold… 1.3 million copies in just seven weeks.  Pretty amazing…considering Gardner initially offered it free to a publishing house.

The Christmas Song (1946)

Nat King Cole

(Listen to episode)

Bob Wells didn’t set out to write a classic when he envisioned “The Christmas Song”. He was just trying to stay cool. He started writing the lyrics on an unbearably hot summer day and hoped to employ a little wintry mind over matter.  Co-writer Mel Torme noticed snippets of the now iconic sentences in Well’s notebook.  They got to work and completed the song forty minutes later.  Today it is one of the most recorded, and most loved, holiday tunes of all time.

You’re listening to Nat King Cole, of course, but this version may not be the one you’re familiar with.  The 1961 recording is usually considered definitive.  This one, however, was recorded fifteen years earlier in 1946.

Listen to more episodes on all things wintry (e.g. Poinsettia Day, Santa’s evil counterpart Krampus and a Santa-less trip to the North Pole) in our Archive. We’ve even got an episode about Clark Griswold’s Aunt Bethany. And, of course,  plenty of non-holiday fare spanning the history of recorded sound.



They Banned What?!

Censorship remains a hotly-contested issue in music, not to mention many facets of American life. One one hand, of course, you’ve got the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech constitutionally. And on the other hand, turn on the radio, and the double (and sometimes single) entendres seem to come pouring out. We’re all for freedom of expression here at Sound Beat, and we’re not going to draw the line in the sand. (Now the pre-WWII BBC: they knew how to draw a line in the sand.) All that said, we know silly when we see it. Check out this week’s episodes to see some of the most intriguing, quizzical and downright absurd banned songs in history.

Got some more for us? Post them below, or on our Facebook page.


Murder Ballads

Murder ballads have been long been part of the Folk Canon. Their origins lie in broadsides, one-sided printings depicting advertisements, poems and, in this case, ballads. The songs were brought here from Continental Europe, Great Britain and Scandinavian nations. They’re sometimes apologetic and mournful, sometimes blatant and pointed.  Moreover, the songs reveal a fascination with violence, lust and nefarious deeds that has been a part of the American psyche for as long as there’s been one. And they’re not going anywhere…the songs have continued to be performed and recorded in great numbers. Here are some links to alternate versions to those you’ve heard during Murder Ballad week:

Frankie and Johnny

Elvis Presley and Donna Douglas from the 1966 film “Frankie and Johnny”.

Cocaine Blues

Who could it be but Johnny Cash? Slickly-produced video here.

Pretty Polly

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley with Patty Loveless.

The Wilburn Brothers

Time-out for trivia: The Wilburn Brothers were given a crack at Heartbreak Hotel before The King himself. They passed, calling the lyrics “strange and almost morbid”…unlike The Knoxville Girl, of course. In which the protagonist clubs a girl and promptly deposits her into a river.

Stagger Lee

Lloyd Price performing his hit live. Decades earlier, his record became the first censored one to hit number one on the charts.

Though it’s a bit racy, and quite probably NSFW,  there ‘s an incredible version out there by Samuel Jackson from the film Black Snake Moan. We won’t link to it right here, but you know how to use the internet.



Meet the host of Sound Beat

 Each weekday, Brett Barry’s voice brings Sound Beat to thousands of listeners nationwide. Barry’s a voice-over performer whose long list of credits includes national television and radio commercials, promos, and audiobook narration. (We’re still waiting on his Dan LaFontaine impression to fit a Sound Beat episode. “In a world where the Andrews Sisters…”) But he’s not all dulcet tones and golden pipes. He’s also the co-owner of Silver Hollow Audio, an independent production company and publisher of audiobooks.

The other half of Silver Hollow ownership is Brett’s better one; his wife Rebecca is a confessed bibliophile who has worked with books for over a decade – in a publishing house, in a library, and as a freelance book reviewer. She is the editor of Fine Books & Collections.

The Barrys live with their two daughters in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Want to learn more about Brett, or contact him? Check out brettsvoice.com.


New stations on the Beat!

We’re only weeks past our launch, and absolutely thrilled to announce that Sound Beat has been picked up in over 50 markets! If you can’t hear Sound Beat in your neck of the woods, contact your local radio station and ask them to “get on the Beat!” Until then, you can hear each and every episode here at soundbeat.org, and follow us on FB and Twitter at #onthesoundbeat.

Thanks to all stations and listeners!


Happy Birthday Twitter! (with 117 characters to spare!)

Happy Birthday Twitter! 5 years old…we remember your first tweets! Actually, the first one was “Inviting Co-workers”, sent 5 years ago by co-founder Jack Dorsey. And in case you think it’s just tech-ies, sports stars and Charlie Sheen, there are over 200 million accounts out there. And it’s growing…a year ago, twitterers sent out 50 million tweets a day. A month ago, that number was 140 million, and barely a couple of weeks ago, on March 11, 177 million! But waaaaay before that, Provol’s Golden Birds were tweeting away.

Nathan Provol of Syracuse, NY taught his canaries to accompany classical recordings, and brought the act to Vaudeville. They spent 25 years entertaining audiences on stages throughout the country. After his career, Provol nested in Chicago, where he opened a canary store/training center/hospital. For more on Provol’s Golden Birds, click here.