Collection of Historic Orchestrations
Mr. Benjamin with a few of his discoveries.
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s performances are the product of serious historical research aimed at authentically recreating American orchestras of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At core of this work is the discovery and preservation of original orchestra sheet music from that period – the “orchestrations.” An orchestration is the vital blueprint through which composers and arrangers notate the sounds they want performers to play in order to create the music.
For over thirty years Paragon’s founder,
Rick Benjamin, has searched far and wide for historic American orchestra scores…
He has combed the attics and basements of ancient theaters, crumbling warehouses, and old barns, as well more comfortable places (archives and libraries) in a never ending search for rare musical scores. The creation of his Paragon Ragtime Orchestra was a direct result of Mr. Benjamin’s first such discovery – the 1985 rescue of the lost orchestrations of the Victor Talking Machine Company.
Through these efforts, today Mr. Benjamin’s collection contains 20,000 historic orchestrations spanning the years 1870 to 1930. This remarkable archive includes rare published scores and manuscripts by more than 700 American composers, including luminaries like Scott Joplin, Edward MacDowell, W.C. Handy, Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, and Irving Berlin. This material encompasses music for the theater (operetta, musical comedy, vaudeville, revue, and “silent” cinema), concert stage (and bandstand), and ballroom. The works of African-American composers are especially well represented. All of the Paragon Orchestra’s concerts, silent film screenings, and recordings are created exclusively using the orchestrations from this world-class collection.
The Benjamin Collection is made up of the following 19th and early 20th century orchestra libraries:
The Arthur Pryor/Victor Talking Machine Company Collection
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania & Camden, New Jersey, c.1900-1921)
The Mantia Arcade Orchestra Collection
(Asbury Park, New Jersey, c.1922-1926)
The Joseph Weyr Collection
(New York City, c.1905-1930)
B.F. Alart/Capitol Theatre music library
(Washington, DC c.1900-1927)
The Frank H. Wells collection
(Cohoes, New York, c.1890-1920)
Anthony Gasparro’s Society Orchestra collection
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, c.1895-1925)
Creighton’s Queen City Orchestra collection
(Allentown, Pennsylvania, c.1900- 1918)
The Andrew Stopper Orchestra library
(Williamsport, Pennsylvania, c.1880-1919)
The Strand Theatre orchestra library
(Erie, Pennsylvania, c.1913-1928)
The Lyceum Theatre orchestra collection
(Ithaca, New York, 1893-1927)
The Max Morath Collection
(U.S. touring, 1963-2007)
The George C. Horner Dance Orchestra collection
(Camden, New Jersey, c.1883-1920)
The BMI Radio Network Orchestra Collection
The Rex Spencer Collection
(New York, New York, 1900-1930)
The U.S. Soldiers’ Home Collection
(Washington, D.C., 1852-1930)
The Gunther Schuller Collection
(Newton Centre, MA, c.1965-1992)
The 1st violin part to Benjamin collection #7,348 – a 1914 medley of Jerome Kern Broadway songs as arranged by the legendary Frank Saddler.
A rare manuscript part from the original Broadway stage version of The Wizard of OZ (1902); the Collection includes orchestrations from hundreds of operettas, musical comedies, and revues of the 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, and early ’20s.
SILENT FILM MUSIC – Rick Benjamin has one of the world’s finest collections of original period orchestra music for the silent films (c1896-1928); it includes rare cue sheets, scores, and parts for hundreds of movies, as well as nearly a thousand “photoplay” cues. Here is the cover of the conductor’s part to the 1917 melodrama Within The Law. The film itself is apparently lost.
Of course, ragtime is the centerpiece of the PRO’s repertoire, because the Collection contains nearly 700 original orchestrations of rags. Some of these are arrangements of piano pieces, but many were composed especially for small orchestras, like this rare 1912 number, “A Greasy Rag.”
Scott Joplin’s music is very well-represented in the collection: holdings including many rare and a few “only know copy” items (several are in manuscript). Here is Mr. Joplin’s own orchestral arrangement of his “Euphonic Sounds: A Syncopated Novelty” (1910).