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Étienne-Nicolas Méhul’s "Overture Burlesque" is performed by Raymond Lewenthal on his "Toy Symphonies & Other Fun" record (Angel S-36080). The liner notes say the following:
"Our grand finale is grand in several ways. First of all, it introduces probably the most intrinsically important composer on our roster. Nicolas-Étienne Méhul (1763-1817) was a fecund writer of operas (and much else). He had a big reputation during the French Revolution and is occasionally revived today. Sir Donald Francis Tovey, a gentleman not giving to passing out vain compliments, has much of interest to say about Méhul’s music in his ever-fascinating and important essays. Méhul’s Ouverture introduces yet another new sound to this record... a sound being heard perhaps for the first time on any record: The Mirliton.
A venerable instrument of ancient origin, the mirliton has had many other aliases: eunuch flute, Tommy Talker, onion flute, bigophone, etc. It has had many resurgences of popularity. At the moment it is at a low ebb. Dare we hope that this recording will bring about a renaissance of interest in this complicated, treacherously difficult but so rewarding instrument? We may yet see a return of the degree of popularity it had in 1910 Paris, that most musical of cities, when large reunions of bigophonistes were frequently to be contended with. The French have long been addicted to the instrument. Street vendors in that country, instead of crying out their tunes (different for each trade) used to send them forth on the ether waves by means of the mirliton. If I were pressed for a description of the elusive timbre of this instrument I might say that it is not unlike the dulcet sound of medieval krummhorns or regals (and just as difficult to play in tune) but actually, I suppose, the nearest I could come to verbalizing about this exquisite invention would be to compare its wonderful nasality with what friends of his remember aas being the sound of Fred Allen singing in the shower. We Are Dealing With None Other Than The Kazoo. Caveat emptor.
In Méhul’s score, fourteen bars before the end there appears the word (or should I say warning?) Charivari. Those of you familiar with the term know that it means a mock-serenade of discordant noises such as is played as a practical joke on newly married couples. That really is not enough to prepare us for the hell that breaks loose at this point, during which the composer instructs our little band to play in six different keys at the same time.
No Clarissa, we have not spliced in the gizzard from an Ives symphony."
- Notes by Raymond Lewenthal
- piano & conducting: Raymond Lewenthal
- violin: Nathan Ross
- toy instruments & percussion (in this case: 3 mirlitons, triangle, toy trumpet, drum, ratchet and whistle): Tom Raney, Dale Anderson, Hubert Anderson, Larry Bunker, Richie Lepore, Wally Snow, George Sponhaltz
P.S. It’s highly improbable that this recording of the kazoo is "a sound being heard perhaps for the first time on any record" given the commoness of its use by folk musicians.