I came to know of Denis Stevens (1922–2004) because he took up a remarkable amount of room.
I was going through the offices of Vanguard Classics a few months after the death of the co-founder Seymour Solomon, and I was inspecting everything the new owners had purchased and deciding what to keep.
I quickly learned that Seymour Solomon was not a man to dispose of much – I found quite a bit of personal correspondence regarding the early days of Vanguard, including a letter from early 1950 to his brother and partner that included a report on the number of eggs the family hen had laid (said modestly with tongue in cheek because the latest LPs were NOT selling well at all, and the family farm was the back-up plan should Vanguard sink into the swamp). Most artists and recording projects took up about the same amount of room in the walls of filing cabinets, but interspersed were enormous folders marked ‘Ambrosian Singers’, and almost an entire drawer labelled ‘Stevens, Denis’.
In the early classical music days of Vanguard and The Bach Guild, the Solomon brothers eagerly sought out the academics and the artists who were passing through what would become the historically informed instrument practice, and significant correspondence took place between pioneers like HC Robbins Landon, Gustav Leonhardt (who signed his letters ‘Utti’ and actually vacationed with the Solomon family), Alfred Deller, Anton Heiller and more. And there were also letters from John Hammond, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Clive Davis (referred to as Clyde), Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as well – other practitioners of a different historically informed practice.
Most of the artists’ letters are agreeing or disagreeing with artistic directions (or asking for money), most of the business people are looking for acquisitions or trying to make a few extra points on LP pressings (or asking for money).
Denis’s letters were omnidirectional and also omnivorous – he was quite interested in how the Solomons created (or nearly created) a ‘recording assembly line’ in Vienna, where recordings could be made every day for in house or for hire. … continue on Gramophone!