Joshua Rifkin - The Baroque Beatles Book (1965)

The Baroque Beatles Book is a record album created by the American keyboardist and conductor Joshua Rifkin. Released by Elektra/Nonesuch in 1965, it takes musical themes of The Beatles and reworks them into Baroque style. The artwork on the cover, signed by illustrator Roger Hane, depicts classical composers reviewing the music to "I Want to Hold Your Hand," one of whom sports a Beatles t-shirt.

Created at the height of Beatlemania in the 1960s, the works on the album share many characteristics with the music of Peter Schickele and his alter ego P.D.Q. Bach. These characteristics include parodies of stereotypical classical music conventions, anachronistic touches, and musical in-jokes that are apparent primarily to other musicians. Rifkin also shares with Schickele a penchant for unusual names and catalog numbers for the pieces.

Rifkin explained in the liner notes to the CD that the idea for adapting Beatles music to baroque styles came from Elektra's president, Jac Holzman, and that he had suggested Schickele's name to the Elektra boss. With Schickele under contract to another label, Rifkin volunteered to undertake the task of creating the arrangements.

Despite the primarily humorous nature of the compositions, Rifkin also indicates in the liner notes (signed "1684" and written as a parody of a 17th Century composer attempting to curry favor and employment with a monarch) that one of his motivations was to demonstrate how the melodies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney can be favorably compared with those of the great Baroque masters.

The pieces on the album all call to mind similar works by Baroque composers. For example, the opening track The Royale Beatleworks Musique is, despite its name, an almost movement-for-movement parody not of Handel's Royal Fireworks Music, but of the Suite for Orchestra No. 4 in D by Johann Sebastian Bach, right down to the format and instrumentation. In addition to Bach, the notes make connections to Handel and to Georg Telemann.

Side one consists entirely of instrumental variations. The use of "MBE" to indicate the opus number naturally reminds Beatles fans of their having been made Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). On the second side, Rifkin connects the number 58,000 to a reference to the Beatles' concert at Shea Stadium, where reportedly 58,000 were in attendance. Of particular interest is the "Help!" aria, which begins with a recitative taken from John Lennon's two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. After three vocal selections, the album concludes with a sonata for oboe, thoroughbass, and violin.

The orchestra on the album is humorously credited as the "Baroque Ensemble of the Merseyside Kammermusickgesellschaft," though it was likely, in reality, an ad hoc group of session musicians.

The record was well received by Beatles lovers. An article in the November 27, 1965, issue of Billboard reported that station WMCA received "hundreds" of favorable calls after playing selections from the LP. A week later, the magazine reviewed it as "good chamber music and good Beatles music." The record debuted at #126 on Billboard's Top LP's chart on December 11, 1965. It slowly gained favor, staying on the charts into the new year. After gradually creeping into the Top 100, album sales receded, and Billboard authors labeled it successful for its niche, so that when the label released "Beatle Country" in December 1966, the introductory article recalled the "chart-busting" nature of this earlier Elektra release.

Baroque Ensemble of the Merseyside Kammermusickgesellschaft conducted by Joshua Rifkin


The Royale Beatleworks Musique, MBE 1963:
01. Overture: I Want to Hold Your Hand/You're Gonna Lose That Girl 6.00
02. Réjouissance: I'll Cry Instead 1.50
03. La Paix: Things We Said Today 2.02
04. L'Amour s'en cachant: You've Got to Hide Your/Love Away & Les Plaisirs: Ticket to Ride 4.24

Epstein Variations, MBE 69A:

05. Hold Me Tight 4.15

Last Night I Said," Cantata for the Third Sunday after the Shea Stadium, MBE 58,000:

06. Chorus: "Last Night I Said" (Please Please Me)/Recitative: "In They Came Jorking" & Aria: "When I Was Younger" (Help!) -- 5:34
07. Chorale: "You know, if you break my heart" (I'll Be Back) -- 1:40

Trio Sonata, Das Kaferlein, MBE 004 1/4:
08. Grave-Allegro-Grave: Eight Days a Week 2.27
09. Quodlibet: She Loves You/Thank You Girl/Hard Day's Night 1.12

(all compositions are a mix between Lennon/McCartney songs and ideas from Joshua Rifkin)

ARMU 2210
ARMU 2210 (zippyshare)