I’m not particularly plugged into things, so it may not mean anything that I haven’t seen any mention of the recent reissue, after thirty something years, of The Baroque Beatles Book, Joshua Rifkin’s arrangements of early Beatles’s songs not just in Baroque style, but as Baroque pieces. (I was told a story by somebody that at the time he did it Rifkin was a student at Princetone working with Arthur Mendel. According to the story he showed Mendel one of the arrangements, saying that it was some lost Bach piece he’d discovered; apparently Mendel’s suspicion was not aroused.)
It was done so Electra/Nonesuch could capture some of the Christmas Market in 1965; it worked, I guess. Not too long after The Baroque Beatles Book, Rifkin did the arrangements for two records of Judy Collins.
I first tried to get a copy of this a few years ago when I was teaching music history in a high school. I thought it might be interesting to the kids and give them some sort of way into Bach. I’m not teaching music history in high school anymore, and I now realize that, since most of the songs are early and not so well know by teenagers these days, it wouldn’t have worked, anyway. (As the Monty Python sketch says, “This is where my claim falls down.”) I’ve been enjoying listening to it alot, anyway. I particularly like the arrangements of Ticket to Ride, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and Eight Days a Week. It’s all really pretty brilliantly done and really nice to listen to. It makes one regret that Rifkin didn’t do more of it, or, for that matter, that he didn’t write more music in general. It’s too bad that in those days such undertakings were not taken so seriously; that attitude probably militating against his doing more. When I was first a student at Brandeis, Rifkin was on the faculty and he seemed to be (not that I had much truck with him, so I don’t really know) not at all anxious to aknowledge much, or any, of that kind of activity, including his recordings of Scott Joplin. Once during that time he announced that he would do a talk on The Beatles. I wasn’t able to go, but a friend of mine did. The talk was strictly analytical and Rifkin illustrated at the piano. My friend said that he kept thinking that there was something a little funny about how Rifkin was playing the songs; he finally realized that it because he was correcting all the parallel fifths. Knowing this disc puts that story in a different light for me somehow.