We went on with that first lesson. I had been warned about him. He was death on any pupil who even hinted at using a vibrato. He was 100% opposed to the use of a vibrato for some reason. And any pupil of his was never allowed to use a vibrato in his presence. I had been warned so I never even hinted at any use of vibrato. You think I’m a dummy? Another thing he abhorred – the varying of pitch as one makes a crescendo and then a decrescendo. He tested me on this as his first act during that first lesson. “Mr. Lehman, would you play that Bb above the bass clef staff using a crescendo and then come back down again?” I knew just what he was driving at. I had been warned. I made sure that as I increased my volume my pitch did not rise. I made sure that, as my volume went back down, my pitch did not sag and Mr. Mantia was pleased. “You know, Mr. Lehman, most pupils who first come here for lessons rise in pitch as they increase the volume and sag in pitch as they decrease the volume. That is wrong.” He was, of course, exactly correct.
However, I found that Mr. Mantia was exactly the kind of teacher which all who knew him found him to be. Not very good at all. Yet, he could play everything. It was that he simply didn’t know how or what he did. He could not explain anything.
I used to, at that time, have a tough job playing octaves; especially going from a middle Bb, say, to the octave higher Bb. I could play it ten times and miss it five times out of ten. Hardly a thing to be desired. I asked Mr. Mantia how I could do this octave thing better. He thought for a moment or two, did something with his mouth to the mouthpiece, and said, “Blow down into the mouthpiece.” When I tried doing as he described, I couldn’t even make a sound on the horn. Nothing came out. Therefore, blowing down into the mouthpiece didn’t help me. Maybe it was the right thing to do but if so how come I didn’t make even a peep when I tried it? No, Mr. Mantia was a lousy teacher but what a performer. Best ever, in my own private opinion – given his own particular style, of course.
One thing I wondered about asking Mr. Mantia but I never got around to asking him about it was whether or not he used the movable DO system of transposition. I just have an idea that he did. He was known to be able to read at sight any part written for Eb, F, Bb, C and etc., instruments. Using the movable DO system makes it easy to do this, as I understand.
I know at least two other people who as very young players studied with Mr. Mantia. Each of us can kick ourselves in the butt for failing to follow up on something he told us to do but we failed to act upon it. Why do youngsters have to be so dumb?
One of these players also studied with Arthur Pryor and he has kicked himself for failing to heed Pryor’s sage advice in playing high notes. Pryor would plead with this young man to put more pressure upon his lip when going for high notes and Pryor’s admonition was, “Press! Press!” The young man could not bring himself to do that. Probably afraid to break a front tooth. Never happen and you ought to have followed Pryor’s advice. In my case I kick myself every time I think of it. During one lesson Mr. Mantia suggested that he teach me to play “All Those Endearing Young Charms”. I protested, perhaps correctly, that I wasn’t yet ready for that. How dumb that was. Here I could have learned what he did but not how he did it. It would have been a great boost but I was too rotten dumb to see it. All of us make boo-boos. Mine and the trombone player’s were real big boo-boos, as it turned out. Press, indeed.
During some of the years of WWII, I was working at an aircraft factory in the town of Bristol, Pennsylvania. This was right smack dab on the Delaware River. I used to swim for one summer ½ miles up the river and back down again. What a swim. Then, I got a skin disease and the physician who cleared it up for me advised against swimming in that heavily polluted river. I never swam there again.
During the years at the aircraft factory, I was talking lessons from a marvelous trombone player living in Trenton, New Jersey. This very tall man – 6’4” tall and always at the exact same weight of 212 pounds his entire life – was a truly gifted man in the area of music. He had a great brain and taught himself to speak several languages, make band arrangements, conduct, and etc. He could do it all and better than everyone else in Trenton. That’s why he became the long standing president of the local AFM. He helped get me in the musicians union and with his say so; I sailed right through, easy as pie.
He had played for 16 years in the Pryor Band, knew Mantia and Pryor very well, and he knew every story about each of these great players ever told. What a fount of information he was. A very kind and special teacher of young players. As many times as we spoke of Mr. Mantia, Arthur Pryor, and etc., this kind and considerate man never once mentioned that Mr. Mantia had a speech defect. He was tongue tied. I had no idea at all about that. So when I first saw Mr. Mantia in his tiny apartment in New York City, he apologized about how tight it was in the small living room. We stood up to play the lesson. He must have said something like this, “I am sorry, Mr. Lehman, that it is so tight in here.” What I heard was, “I’m so sorry that I am so tired in here.” Or something like that. His speech impediment made one word sound like some other word. He eventually made his meaning clear and we continued with the lesson. But, here was the world’s greatest living euphonium player and he was tongue tied. Amazing. Well it obviously had no bad effect on his playing. None whatever.
Mr. Mantia, I had heard, did play single tonguing and double tonguing but did not triple tongue. This was confirmed by his widow upon his death when she opined, “My husband did not triple tongue but his single tongue was faster than most others’ triple tongue.” This, I find hard to believe. In fact it is impossible. It does make me wonder whether or not Mr. Mantia actually used the flute players’ triple tonguing which is negotiated with the use of doublets not triplets. A slick trick if you can do it. I could do it and did do it in certain very sticky places otherwise difficult. Such sort of tricky methods sometimes clear the air very nicely when passages are miserable to negotiate. Flutes do a great job, incidentally, with this odd technique. How do they do it? Same as all of us do it. Practice!
We have a living legend, or so he was when I studied with him, and he was a nice guy who could do it all and with such ability and experience and fame, he remained a very modest and unassuming fellow who liked nothing better to do than chat with other musicians and discuss the world’s problems without ever touching on the subject of music. That is how he was described to me by several of his cronies, friends, and acquaintances. Just an all around good guy.
Do you know? When you look at the old concert band photos of the Pryor Band, Mantia did look just as he was known to be – very kind, very modest, and very unassuming to look at him; one would never dream that he was in fact the world’s greatest euphonium player. A title he probably abhorred but a title he had earned years before and a title he never was forced to relinquish. What a man – what an artist – what a player – what a first chair man – what a soloist. I doubt that there has ever been anyone to match him, position for position, in any phase of performance. None at all.
Sure, I know, I know. This one and that one was claimed to be “Mantia’s Equal”. That one had a better tone. This one had more expression. Another was this; another was that, another was more of the same. Nonsense. What we have there is a pack of unsubstantiated rumors. (What is an unsubstantiated rumor? A rumor is in fact of itself unsubstantiated.) Well, the double whammy is intentional. Such rumors mean absolutely nothing at all. I often was informed by some ill advised person or other that such and such a soloist with this or that U.S. Military band was a world beater of a soloist. “I must hear this artist for myself,” I would think. I’d go up to the Capitol steps and hear this great band whichever it was this time and listen to a dismal solo played by a rank beginner to big time solo work and the whole exercise would be a complete waste of time. I had been completely misinformed. The great artist was not then, nor would he ever be, an even halfway decent soloist. What a waste of time. Except, of course, that otherwise the band concert was a dandy and that part I really did enjoy. What does it say in the Bible? “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Mantia was one of the chosen!
But what I am telling you is that rumor means absolutely nothing. Unless you can hear a soloist with your own ears, you do not for sure know a thing about any euphonium player. But we do – how fortunate we are – have lots and lots of Mantia’s recordings to study. Some are just very short snippets taken out of some obscure solo or other and recorded not in complete form in the 1890’s. O-L-D. Yet that Mantia sounded better than anyone I have ever heard in those very rapid technical passages and with every note clear as a bell and right where it belonged. Very controlled but very fast. Amazingly splendid and noteworthy. As we in the USMC always say, “Outstanding!”
As I continue on in this article, I will soon be getting down into the nitty-gritty and then the fur will fly. “That old idiot does not know what he is saying.” Maybe yes, maybe no. But, I’ll bet that this idiot will get you to listening, to thinking, and to even doubting your ears. Betcha! I take no offense at criticism. I’ve been criticized by the best of the experts. I know a good criticism when I see one. Let them come. It just shows me that you are thinking and, after all, I must get your attention until I can teach you even one simple fact. Isn’t that right?
On to Mr. Mantia and his wizardry. We have as far as is known at this time, at least four recordings made my Mr. Mantia of his arrangement of the Picchi solo, “Original Fantasie”. Mantia does not simply play each performance exactly the same, as I, for instance, probably would – no doubt out of self defense. He played different cadenzas in slightly different ways. He varied this. He altered that. He even put in some very high notes here and there where none is written in the solo part. He improvised here; he did this and that elsewhere. What didn’t Mantia do? But all of this was in technical parts, not in melodies. We’ll get into this later.
Back to Mantia’s four known recordings of the “Original Fantasie”. You do realize that such long solos could not easily be put on any one disc of any size known in this country in those early times? Only 10 inch in diameter and 12 inch hard and brittle discs played usually at 78 RPM were used. “Original Fantasie” was much too long even for one 12 inch disc so that on a 10 inch disc as these only known ones were, only a small portion of this fine euphonium solo could possibly have been played. That was how the solo got to be so short via the small recording 78 RPM discs.
Now, let us don our very best listening caps. Each of us knows that he, alone, can listen better than everyone else. He is wrong. I feel that I am the best. You feel that you are the best. “John Doe over there feels that way, too, but I hear and listen better than he ever did.” Now, I don’t want to bust your bubbles or anything and I put myself right in your category, but I am firmly convinced that none of us is as good a listener as he thinks he is. Everyone can be a much better listener than ever before, but he must work on it.
Were I starting on triple tonguing, for instance, would a half hour practice a day be enough to master triple tonguing in say, a month? Not on your tin type, it would. It takes much more work and time than that. A lifetime is better than a few minutes a week. A lifetime to really learn one lousy technique out of many. And you think that a casual listen here and there once a month will make you (or me) a fine listener? You have got to be dreaming. That is not for real. No, my friends. Listening – good listening – is like triple tonguing. It takes a lifetime’s worth of hard work.
Let m tell you this. When I first got into the U.S. Marine band, I was a poor listener. I learned to hear and listen better in no time. When I started importing old 78 RPM discs from Europe of German, English bands, and other country’s bands, I just started scratching the surface of listening. Then, I just kept working at it year after year. Finally, I started using a graphic equalizer and divided the sounds into – as far as instrumentations go – roughly, the tubas and euphoniums, the horns and cornets, the woodwinds and the drums. What I heard then was a surprise. What I thought I had been hearing before was not what I was hearing now. I had been completely wrong, tied down by imperfect listening for years. And how I had to unlearn bad listening habits and take on new and improved ones. And that I did do. Since that time back, say 38 years ago, my listening is greatly improved and I can hear, I can hear, I can hear!
But I actually am very deaf. It is my hearing aids which hear for me. And with them on, I can hear things I never did hear before even with young ears. How is this possible? By modern high tech equipment. It all fits right into the ear. Invisible, almost. What a blessing. Approach this matter with an open mind and see how much you may enjoy yourself even if your aren’t so sure at first. Try harder to listen better. It will please you to no end. I promise. And now, back to Mantia and his recordings of “Original Fantasie”. Again, here we go!
Simone Mantia’s four known recordingsOf the Picchi-Mantia euphonium solo “Original Fantasie”, A simple list:
- Number 1 - Original Fantasie (Picchi-Mantia) - Simone Mantia with Sousa’s Band about 1902
- Number 2 - Original Fantasie (Picchi-Mantia) - Simone Mantia with Edison Concert Band about 1908
- Number 3 - Original Fantasie (Picchi-Mantia) - Simone Mantia with no band, name, or date listed
- Number 4 - Original Fantasie (Picchi-Mantia) – Simone Mantia with the New York World’s Fair Concert Band in 1939
These are the first and main recordings which we will discuss in this article. Believe me, they all contain many genuine musical gems. Wait until you hear. You will become a believer rapidly, I vow. It’s you and I together who will accomplish the impossible. We will bring old Simone back to life through these very old recordings. You will see… You’ll love it. Me too!
Here we start with the Sousa Band recording of Mantia and the “Original Fantasie” (Picchi-Mantia) recorded with the Sousa Band in about 1902. That would have been in close to his final year with Sousa. The speed/pitch is not quite right. Perhaps someone could get it into better shape for good listening one time. Please?
Using a manuscript solo part I copied out by hand (not by foot) in 1977, I think it was, for the Bob Hoe books he had me work on for him as he was preparing to publish and distribute them, I have marked this first solo part the way they apparently played the solo for the normal three and a half minute playing time for a 10 inch 78 RPM hard and brittle disc. Easy to break. Drop one and its history, baby!
The band starts to play and right as I have marked the spot, the solo goes on, unaltered right through the end of variation number one. Variation number two is omitted and the band plays starting three measures before the finale. That’s when Mantia really takes off at furious pace. He continues until the end. That is how the Sousa Band played the solo for this particular recording. They did the best they could to make a nice musical couple of cuts and for those early days, it worked well enough.
I wonder how Mantia viewed it. My gut guess is that for him it was another ho-hum day at the shop. A recording session was never ho-hum for me but then I was no Mantia, either. I may have been good enough, barely, to shine his shoes. Had I been given that job, that great artist would have had the shiniest shoes ever. Bet on that! What a soloist! Are you still with me on this?
Next comes Original Fantasie with Simone Mantia playing with the Edison Concert Band in 1908. This version also starts eight measures before the theme. The band isn’t too good. Does not give Mantia a good tutti at all. Very sloppy playing. Mantia, however, certainly sounds good and virtually unchanged from the Sousa Band recording. He is playing just about exactly the same as on the first disc. Strange in a way but so neat and clean. Let’s listen carefully to see if we can hear any differences. Ah, those lovely Ebs are still held deliberately long. I really like that nice touch. Splendid. Do you agree? One of his small and very rare blurps creeps in at one minute. Can you catch that? Listen carefully. See, that is what I mean when I say that we must learn to listen better and better, all of us. Every one!
Yes, he slips up slightly on that. Almost never does he do that. Variation one is exceptionally clean – a Mantia trademark. Clean he surely was in all of his early solo work. In this recording he did not go up to the final high Eb, however. Occasionally he did do this, but not here. The finale is also very clean. Again twice as many notes as written at that same spot. I never could do that in 100 years. I doubt that anyone else could do it besides Mantia. He did it regularly and for him it was easy. What a performer he was! Another straight forward ending with no frills whatever. A simple and plain ending. Still it was a splendid solo performance and it was a vintage Mantia. In 1908 he was about thirty eight years of age. Still in his absolute prime as a player. A player he was in every way, and soon we will get into that more and more, I promise. As he closes out the solo, Mantia hits the notes much harder here than usual for some reason. For emphasis, probably. Or he just felt like it or felt that the band needed help on a steady pace. Great speed and verve at the end but no frills whatever. Coasting along now on this one, is my opinion. Probably thinking of going home to a nice warm meal in his tiny apartment. Just think, that was exactly 100 years ago, a long time ago!
Aren’t we fortunate that we have a few old records of Mantia at our disposal for study purposes? Don’t we have fun listening and trying to make out just exactly what was the mystery of his artistry and wizardry? At least I surely am having fun. And at the age of ninety I enjoy fun like this better now than I ever did before. How is this? Am I in my second childhood? So what if I am? It’s my childhood and I will not share it with many, so there!
Back to Mantia. He was surely a wizard on the euphonium. And to that we will start analyzing his first record, the one with Sousa’s Band and his solo, “Original Fantasie”. Four different recordings of that one solo and a wonderful tool for study purposes.
As recorded here the solo starts 8 measures before the theme. Good starting place if the solo must be cut to the bone as it had to be for a 10 inch 78 RPM disc. All you got out of it was three and a half minutes of playing time, which is very short. His melody is kind of cute, I always thought. Mantia does it justice but he doesn’t really do much with it except keep it as clean as possible, a feat in itself. I have heard others slop all over it. Maybe it really is difficult but I never thought so, however. Note that as Mantia plays the melody, he makes a very deliberate attempt to play those Ebs at 1 and 2 (minutes) quite long. That’s a nice touch, I feel, what do you think? To me it sounds just right that way.
The cadenza is straight forward and uncharacteristic for any Mantia cadenza. He always surprised us, didn’t he? Never did the expected and the unexpected appealed more to him, it seems. Variation 1 starts with a bang. Lots of fast stuff – great fingering display – fine performance – but a bit tame for the usual Mantia touch. Wild for anyone else but played impeccable, as usual for that true artist. If you listen very carefully, you can hear his attack on certain notes – without articulation indicated – for clarity, I think. Good idea in helping clean up some possibly sloppy parts. He was very cleaver in his use of unusual spots for articulation not written. He made it all very, very clean and clear. Simply typical Mantia fare.
He gets the cadenza over in a hurry and he does it masterfully. Here he tongues those slurs and why does he do that? I believe just to be different for that recording. It does seem very effective that way, don’t you think? We cannot tell if or if he did not go up to the high Eb at the end of variation 1. Occasionally he did go up to an easy and clear high Eb. He appears to have a virtually unlimited high range, that old sneak. Who could know that? We hear it sometimes in his solos. Sometimes but not every time. Sneaky I repeat, sneaky is what it is.
Now, going into the finale, we skip that lovely variation 2 and go directly to the finale. That is some finale. Fast! When he begins the finale, those usual fireworks start and he can’t be held back. You get the distinct impression that he wants to go faster but the band holds him back. Oh, well, at that speed, who cares? It is fast enough for any normal player. Slow for Mantia? Perhaps, but too fast for everyone else.
Note that at 7 and 8 he does not play those notes staccato but longer than you would expect. A very nice touch, I feel, what do you say? Oh, boy! At 9 and 10 Mantia plays twice as many notes as I have written in the part. What masterful and impossibly fast tonguing! I never could do that in 100 years and he did it easily. From there to the end it was very, very straight. The solo was over so what was the point? He had done it all and was at the end so just end it fast. And that is how it concluded – a simple ending with no frills. For him, it was another day at the office and to collect another paycheck. Go home and eat supper, all in a day’s work, ho hum. Not for your listeners Mr. Mantia. We bow to you. Good solo job.
The third recording we will look at is Simone Mantia with band, but no name of band or the date. Strange that no date is given here and no name of band is listed. Sometimes in those very early turn of the century records this happened with no information given. It could possibly have been a low cut fly-by-night recording company. Just how Mantia got sucked up into this is a mystery. Well, he collected his check and was off to another concert or recording date somewhere else. All in a day’s work for Simone.
The version starts also at 8 measures before the theme. It was no doubt the most logical place to start in such a cut to the bone version of a rather long solo. Again, only three and a half minutes were available for playing time on those 10 inch 78 RPM discs. Here we again have the steady and mild cadenza. This was not a Mantia trademark and he may have been especially careful this day. Again he failed to go up to the high Eb at the end of the variation. His pyrotechnics in the finale is definitely a Mantia trademark and he really moves and what accuracy. He was really a great technician. He is also hitting the notes harder again especially at 3 and 4. There is great speed and verve and pep all at once in the finale but he seemed to be coasting along at the end.
Last is the 1939 recording with the official New York World’s Fair Band. Mr. Mantia 30 years later and would you believe it, I was listening to the radio, just scanning the stations, when I heard a band playing a march. It was the New York World’s Fair Band and I stuck with that station, WJZ, in New York City, until the end of the broadcast. During the broadcast, who should be the featured soloists but Simone Mantia. I was just a college kid at Pennsylvania State and got to hear that old wonderful soloist.
In this version, much more of the longish solo is heard and I really like that. It is nice to hear what treatment Mantia gives all of the solo, not just in the high spots. He gives it the works as much as he is able with his 69 years of age lip. I am afraid that his lip wasn’t that good that day. He no doubt wasn’t playing the euphonium very much then as he was playing trombone in the New York Metropolitan Orchestra.
He was in a big decline and it was really sad for me. I had heard his recordings made while in his prime and this Mantia I was hearing was not up to that excellence. Very sad, yet traces of his former genius crept in here and there. He was, alas, by then very sloppy and a lack of playing time could have contributed to it. Just plain old age was more like it. He did die of cancer in 1951 so perhaps he wasn’t really in great condition. I studied with him in 1946 and 1947 and he seemed just fine then. A bit stooped, a bit thin, but healthy. However we may never know the full story and this was not vintage Mantia.
So far we haven’t addressed the matter of Mantia’s tone. Sure, his technical skills were fantastic, we already all agree to that, but what about his tone? Was it up to standard? Well, he used absolutely no vibrato whatever, we know that but why was this? I firmly believe that he was so disgusted with hearing so many Italian-American brass musicians use the characteristic Italian “nanny goat” tone that he simply refused to use any vibrato at all so as never possibly to be associated with that mess in any way. He was quite successful with using no vibrato at all. He didn’t use it because he didn’t need it. Why even the opera singers of that day used that sort of nanny goat vibrato. It was very fast and very ugly, in my opinion. No wonder he got disgusted hearing it all over New York City at the turn of the century.
But back to Mantia’s tone, was it okay, good, very good, or splendid? What would you call it? As I heard this old cassette tape of various Mantia solos from small snippets to full length solos, I was amazed to hear, finally something which had escaped me for years. He had a fine tone. That, I had known about from his solos with the Band of America on the radio. He had a super solid, sonorous and fine euphonium tone even when he was 80 years old. It was a good power player’s tone, just fine.
But now comes the kicker, he also displayed some delicate and clever small devices in his melodic playing which made his playing interesting and attractive even without any trace of a vibrato. A vibrato doesn’t do all things to all players. Without vibrato he fared just fine – splendidly in fact. But how had I missed this entirely until just recently? I simply listened but did not hear – failed to comprehend. Well, I have cured that ill now and as I hear Mantia play songs and nice melodies, I am a greater fan of his than I was before. He was the best of the best in my opinion.
Now I have a question to put to you? Was Mantia a power player or a finesse player? I know the answer to that question but register you opinion here first and then I will give you the answer. Did you do that? Okay. This then is the answer. When Mantia was playing in the band and on first chair, he was a genuine power player, none better. When he played in the Sousa Band and was heard in some counter melody to complement H.L. Clarke’s solos, we could tell that he was sitting pretty far back but he was always able to make himself heard because he was a strong player and he could project beautifully. Sousa even hired Mantia for recording sessions and radio broadcasts long after Mantia had left Sousa to join Pryor and his band. Sousa knew a dependable power player when he saw one. So Mantia was a power player? But wouldn’t you have to say that he was really a finesse player? What about all of his great technical prowess? You are correct; up front on a standup solo, Mantia was indeed a finesse player. He was a double threat man who could also conduct. What a musician. Small pieces mostly for orchestra are found in his name here and there. Mantia was an amazing musician as complex as ever was on this earth, I think. None better as he was in euphonium solos. None even close to his excellence, I am sure, a one of a kind. Will we ever see his equal? In my own personal opinion, never.
Arthur W. Lehman, July 2008