This scherzo is the most dramatic of the four. It was dedicated to Adolf Gutmann because, according to Wilhelm von Lenz, only Adolf could play the chords in the bass, which cannot be spanned by any left hand (D# F# B D# F# in bar 6). Adolf was one of Chopin’s pupil who could apparently punch a hole in a table. It is also the most ironic and forcefully constructed of the four scherzos, with an almost Beethovenian majesty. The Schezro opens with two mysterious questions that are answered by two striking octaves that even seem uncompromising. The scherzo is built upon two sharply contrasting elements. The first theme in C sharp minor starts with a series of strong accents and thundering scales and follows by a fast and heroic march. As soon as the second theme appears in D flat major, the calmness and serenity wipe out the whole tension. These graceful and luminous passages consist of richly harmonized chorale phrases with shimmering waves of falling notes. It is said that these chorale phrases echo songs sometimes heard at the monastery in Valdemosa. The first theme then repeats, not less striking as when it first appears, but ends in a more shocking way that leads to the second theme, which is now in E major, not D flat major. The second theme follows using the same motif as the previous part, but the transition to the repetition in E minor calls for a sad memory that does not even exist before. After several quiet questions, a silent moment, several waves of sound, and falling octaves, the coda finally comes with a lot of agitation and turbulence. When the coda reaches the high E, a series of rolling waves runs up to a high G#, falls down to a daring stroke A in the bass, and concludes the work with brilliant masterstrokes in C#.
For me, there are two kinds of Chopin players: Apollonian and Dionysian – those who aim at some ideal, unchanging interpretation and those who, like jazz players, allow themselves to ride the musical wave, to discover things while they play. Both players run risks. The Platonists can fall into stultification. The Bacchantes can become merely eccentric or the performance can simply break apart into chaos. The Platonist’s reward is a kind of “naturalness.” Perfect beauty seems to come from “just playing.” The Dionysian’s reward is ecstatic discovery. It forces the listener to “hear anew.” Argerich clearly belongs to the second group. That at so young an age she could bring off something so individual and so right amazes me. No wonder the Poles [at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1965] went nuts.
Nothing in the interpretation betrays the music. Still, the interpretation remains one-of-a-kind. Argerich chooses to emphasize the instability of the piece. The opening measures harmonically and rhythmically leave the listener up in the air. The confusion lasts only a moment, as she launches into the main strain. This unleashes a demonic energy, which runs smack into a chorale idea. This usually signals pianists to switch straight into their “nobilmente” gear. Yet, Argerich doesn’t take it straight, preferring to contrast the chords with a glittering arpeggio. Again, this destabilizes the texture, leading to (after the reappearance of the chorale idea) an inexorable rush to the end. What Argerich has done, in contrast to other pianists, is essentially extend the arch of the piece. Her command of dynamics and color here is superb.
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was written in 1984 for the back side of an album ultimately rejected by that performer’s label.
“Hallelujah” began being covered in early 1990s by Jeff Buckley, a young singer-songwriter performing in the East Village, who recorded it on his only album in 1994, three years before he drowned, getting caught in a boat wake, in a river in Tennessee. Buckley’s version was considerably more emotional and his voice more sympathetic than Cohen’s. Buckley’s early and romantic death brought attention to the song, and one thing led to another.
Today, “Hallelujah” is one of the most-frequently-performed rock songs and a staple routinely used elegiacally in movies and television shows. It has been covered by large numbers of renowned performers, including Bono, Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, Rufus Wainwright, and k.d. lang, and is used as a kind of secular funeral hymn around the world.
The classical recording industry is managing to experience sales growth despite the recession, and capitalist enterprise is gradually excavating the enormously valuable recorded repertoire lost to contemporary humanity in the cataclysmic media transition which eliminated the long-playing record.
Nielsen SoundScan’s report for the first half of 2011 indicates that classical music had the biggest gain in sales of all genres, 13%, over the first half of 2010, for a total of 3.8 million albums.
Granted, that’s still a small percentage of the total market (about 2.4%), but it shows that classical is holding its own and then some, with other genres up slightly or slipping.
Moreover, the majors are being supplanted by a swarm of activity from other, smaller, nimbler sources.
Many orchestras increasingly take matters into their own hands, no longer relying on the majors for exposure. The Chicago Symphony has its own label, CSO Resound, so do the Boston and St. Louis symphonies, as well as the London Symphony, London Philharmonic and several other foreign orchestras. With Telarc reduced to a shell of its former self after the takeover by Concord, its two once-regular orchestras, the Cincinnati and Atlanta symphonies, have just formed their own labels.
Probably the most successful and luxuriously packaged inhouse orchestra label is the San Francisco Symphony’s SFS Media, which in 2010 completed its decade-long Mahler project on 17 SACDs and just issued a capstone documentary, “Keeping Score: Mahler,” on DVD and Blu-ray. SFS Media claims to have sold more than 130,000 Mahler CDs worldwide at premium prices—a roaring success for a classical series.
Likewise, individual artists and small ensembles now routinely bypass the majors and minors alike in favor of their own boutique CD labels—like New York new music collective Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe, pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel’s ArtistLed, plus composer Philip Glass’ Orange Mountain Music.
Free of the old restrictions, these labels can offer as many choices to their fans as their markets will bear. In the prolific Glass’ case, Orange Mountain Music has issued at least 75 releases since its launch in 2003, and the Music@Menlo festival in Silicon Valley exhaustively documents its concerts in massive annual boxed sets.
Naxos, the budget label that upended the classical record industry in the 1990s with its no-frills, high-quality recordings, has turned itself into a big distributor of small labels, with 148 of them (mostly classical) now under its umbrella. Harmonia Mundi, once and still a specialist in early music, also distributes a long string of small labels.
If the majors don’t want to keep their rich classical catalogs in print, others are happy to step into the breach. The online retailer ArchivMusic, now owned by piano manufacturer Steinway, has been making deals with the majors that allow it to press custom copies of out-of-print classical CDs and sell them on its website (the titles now number well in the thousands).
I thought I ought to follow the example of my friends at Maggie’s Farm and, by way of sharing some personal knowledge of high points of the recorded repertoire, start making a regular practice of posting a link to particular performances and recordings.
This particular lieder performance by Elly Ameling is truly remarkable, indubitably the best single performance of Hirt auf dem Felsen ever. I found immediately, simply glancing through references on-line, that my own opinion is widely, and very articulately, shared.
The mp3 on YouTube is, alas! a pale shadow of the CD, which is, in turn, a pale shadow of the old LP version, but such is life.
Few, if any Schubert song recitals, have given me as much pleasure over the years as this one by the Dutch soprano, Elly Ameling. Originally… issued (on a long-playing record titled a) “Schubertiade.”... Ameling’s voice was perhaps at its very best at this time. ..
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen [features] the clarinettist, Hans Deinzer, playing an elderly instrument of unspecified provenance. ... Ameling is sensitively accompanied… by Jorg Demus whose intimate playing on a fortepiano tuned with exquisite imperfection has proved over the years an indispensable ingredient of the Schubertiade. Demus brings more expression to the accompaniment than most, with beautifully judged rubato and delicately shaded dynamics. Ameling, fervent and wistful, with faultless intonation, impeccable diction and a rare warmth of sentiment leaves an indelible mark on the sensibilities; it’s a performance to treasure for a lifetime.
Elly Ameling’s breathtaking performance of The Shepherd on the Rock just goes right through me. This may be my ‘island’ recording. You know, if you are banished to an island with just one recording forever, which one would it be? Maybe this one.
One of Schubert’s last and greatest songs (and that’s saying a lot for arguably the greatest songwriter of any era) was The Shepherd on the Rock (Der Hirt auf dem Felsen). This song, in which the soprano is joined by piano and clarinet, is very long and extremely challenging, because there are three distinct moods to be communicated by the singer, to say nothing of the sheer vocal gymnastics. I have long regarded the song as a bitterly unfair test for merely excellent sopranos, and I have great sympathy for any soprano courageous enough to attempt it in a live recital. It’s nearly impossible to bring off. I have purchased around 10 recordings of the song, all by famous sopranos, and all except one—Elly Ameling’s triumph on this CD —have notable shortcomings in one or another of the three phases of the song. When I listen in awe to Ameling’s glorious version, I sometimes imagine that Schubert, who died at far too young an age, has been granted a “second visit” to earth, and that he appears in the modern age, just there, on the sidewalk in front of my house. I run out and accost him on the street. “Mr. Schubert, there is something you must come to hear IMMEDIATELY. A soprano named Elly Ameling finally mastered every note and nuance of that (almost) impossible song!”
Elly Ameling, soprano; Jörg Demus, piano; Hans Deinzer, clarinet
Benjamin Ivry addresses Deutsche Grammaphon’s decision to stop recording Yundi Li with splendid indignation.
The question is whether the classical-music market has narrowed to the point where only a Chinese Liberace or “Chopinzee” (to adopt the term that James Huneker used to describe the 1920s exhibitionistic keyboard antics of Vladimir de Pachmann) can survive. Is it possible for fine artistry to coexist at a time when dazzling, if empty, display is exalted? In the era of the ubiquitous Hollywood star pianist José Iturbi (1895-1980), audiences still flocked to see sober, unflashy pianists like Rudolf Serkin or Benno Moiseiwitsch, masterly musicians who would never be mistaken for pop performers.
Deutsche Grammophon’s dismissal of Yundi Li is only the latest in a series of cases where musical achievement does not equal a recording contract. About a decade ago, Sony Classical dismissed the supremely refined Taiwan-born violinist Cho-Liang Lin (b. 1960), according to Mr. Lin himself, because he was unwilling and/or unable to record the quasi-pop “crossover” works that have kept the cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Billboard charts.
The New York Times reports on recent research in the history of audio recording demonstrating that the basic principle used by Thomas Edison in his phonograph was previously known and understood. Edison’s genius consisted of taking these kinds of ideas and making them practically useful, thus turning them into commercial products.
For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.
The 19th-century phonautograph, which captured sounds visually but did not play them back, has yielded a discovery with help from modern technology.
The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.
“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.
Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.
But the Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.
Terry Teachout pays tribute to Artur Schnabel (April 17, 1882 – August 15, 1951) in Commentary.
“You will never be a pianist,” Theodor Leschetizky (sic), Schnabel’s teacher, told him. “You are a musician.” Schnabel modestly claimed not to have known what that meant, but of course he knew perfectly well, repeating the bon mot on numerous occasions. (Nobody ever accused him of insufficient self-regard.) From childhood on, his musical instincts had led him away from the splashy virtuosity of late-19th-century composers. He played Chopin and Liszt early in his career—very well, too, by most accounts—but by the 20’s he had stopped programming their works. Instead, he played Mozart’s piano music at a time when it was generally thought to be suitable only for young children, and Schubert’s sonatas at a time when they were unknown to most pianists. As he later explained:
I am attracted only to music which I consider to be better than it can be performed. . . . Chopin’s studies are lovely pieces, perfect pieces, but I simply can’t spend time on them; I believe I know these pieces; but playing a Mozart sonata, I am not so sure that I do know it, inside and out. Therefore I can spend endless time on it. ...
The quality most immediately striking about Schnabel’s style—and the one recognized at once by his most perceptive contemporaries —is its rhythmic vitality. Leon Fleisher, his best-known pupil, described it as follows:
There would be this schwung, an irresistible swing to what he did, as though he were twirling you around in a dance. . . . The emphasis was that beats were never downward events, they were not like fence posts or the hammering of coffin nails—beats were upward springs that would spring you on to the next beat.
The impulsive forward momentum of Schnabel’s playing—it was so pronounced that he had a lifelong tendency to rush—helped ameliorate its other key feature. Like most Austro-German musicians of his generation, Schnabel used changes in tempo to delineate the structural features of the pieces he played, and his rhythmic flexibility was so pronounced that some musicians, Toscanini among them, felt that he slipped on occasion into outright exaggeration.
This latter quality is what Virgil Thomson had particularly in mind when he referred to the “late-19th-century romanticism” in Schnabel’s style.
Schnabel was the first to record Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas, a historic watershed for sound recordings. Later performances by other musicians are sometimes more perfectly polished, but Schnabel’s interpretations remain unsurpassed in warmth and musicality.
No performances of the Schubert piano sonatas come even close to Schnabel’s.
Napster, founded in 1999, was a pioneer in what would be called peer-to-peer file sharing. What made the company so popular with users was that it specialized in the new MP3 music files, it had an appealing user interface, and best of all, the music was free.
It was the last that drove established music artists and record companies nearly insane. It began with the lawsuit by Metallica, followed soon after by Dr. Dre, then Madonna, and culminated in 2001 when A&M Records was granted a preliminary injunction stopping Napster from allowing downloads of any of its artists.
By then, Napster officially had more than 26 million users, but may in fact have had twice that many. Just as important, Napster—and those imitators that tried to copy its success by working the corners of the law—had set off a social revolution. By the time the music industry began to contain the damage, tens of millions of songs had already been downloaded, and a generation of college and high-school kids had come to expect the free exchange of free music.
What the music industry did next was a case study in bad strategy, bad marketing and bad public relations. Not only did the industry crush Napster and any other company that followed in its path, but it also criminalized its own customers. We all got to watch as federal agents arrested college kids, music lovers and even a poor little girl living in the ghetto.
Needless to say, this program of applied troglodytics only managed to drive music downloading further underground, turn America’s children into small-time crooks, and make popular musicians and their record companies—those famous celebrants of maverick and transgressive behavior—look like the worst kind of freedom-crushing rich plutocrats. ...
For the next two years, until 2003, the music industry pursued the single dumbest strategy possible in the digital age: It tried to stop the progress of technology and deny users access to a new and more powerful industry standard. Instead, the major record labels dithered, unable to settle upon a single download standard, distribution system or pricing scheme. Instead, they devoted their energy to attempting to undermine each other. ...
Then in rode Steve Jobs to the rescue.
When Apple Computer first introduced the iPod in 2001 it had given tacit approval to illegal downloading with its notorious “Rip, Mix, Burn” advertising campaign. But as the iPod quickly became one of the most successful consumer electronics products in history—100 million units sold as of Sunday—it became obvious that the company couldn’t depend on content either from the underground or from a fractious, delusional music industry.
Thus, the Apple iTunes Music Store, which opened online four years ago this month. Only a technologist with the Hollywood cachet of Steve Jobs could have ever gotten the major players of the music industry together and, better yet, convinced them to agree to a single download and pricing standard. In doing so, Mr. Jobs very likely saved the music industry, which was on the brink of seeing its entire revenue model destroyed by the black market. Instead, at 99 cents per song, iTunes gave music lovers a means to escape illegality at a reasonable price.
Needless to say, it has worked brilliantly. With more than 2.5 billion songs sold by iTunes, Apple, with 80% of all music download revenues as well as nearly 75% of the devices sold to play those tunes, has deservedly been a huge beneficiary of this agreement. But the music industry, by being forced to actually accept a new industry standard and an attendant pricing structure, has arguably benefited even more.
But to get the music moguls around the table Steve Jobs had to make a Faustian bargain. The paranoid record execs, fearful of illegal copies, demanded that every iTune sold had to be freighted with Digital Rights Management (DRM) anti-piracy software. In practice, this meant that iTunes music could only be played on Apple iPods.
The need for absolute proprietary control over both hardware and software has always been Mr. Jobs’s Achilles heel. Twenty years ago that philosophy cost Apple Computer a similar dominance in personal computers against an army of competitors working under a common, “open” system. So one can imagine Apple’s CEO readily accepting the music industry’s demand for DRM, knowing that it would give Apple instant ownership of the online music business. ...
By all appearances, the Big Four, which control 70% of the world’s music, were unmoved by Mr. Jobs’s appeal. And then, last week, a breakthrough: Apple announced that it had reached agreement with Britain’s EMI to sell the latter’s music archives (which includes the Beatles) without DRM. Thirty cents more, but twice the sound quality—the first mass-market improvement in music fidelity since the death of the LP. A fair exchange. Good for EMI.
Is this a turning point in the story of digital music? Will the other Big Three follow suit? One can only hope so. The music moguls trusted Steve Jobs once and he saved them. It’s time for them to trust him again.
The Sunday Times remembers Franz Jolowicz, owner 1976-1984 of Discophile, New York City’s most illustrious classical record store, who passed away November 8th.
It may seem peculiar to some who did not live there then that the Times published a major obituary of the one-time owner of a small basement shop on St. Mark’s Place, officially 26 West 8th Street, which closed its doors more than twenty years ago. But in its day Franz’ subteraenean sanctum was one of New York City musical culture’s best-known and most important landmarks.
Franz, assisted by his partner Dominic (looked like Lorre, sounded like Capote), operated as passionate recording importer, pirate, retailer, and connoisseur. His piercing dark eyes glaring forth indignantly from beneath formidable Mittel-Europan brows, Franz would sit chain-smoking behind his counter, purveying carefully-selected benchmark recordings of astonishingly diverse international origin, while—assisted by a loyal clientele—carrying on a scathing critique of the ignorance and bad taste of the classical recording industry, and of the critics writing in England’s Gramaphone Magazine, at whose absurd fondness for the likes of Klemperer, Solti, and Sutherland, he particularly loved to jeer.
Strange docecahedronal speakers, which Franz himself admitted weren’t any good, but which did look hi-tech and could be suspended from the ceiling leaving more room for LPs, usually played softly in the background, but Franz would crank the volume up and rattle the windows of his little shop to demonstrate particular favorites. I can remember Franz playing a 1944 Berlin Gieseking performance of the Emperor Concerto, gleefully pointing out the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background, and then joking at an audible cough from the audience: “That was Goebbels!”
He knew his records. Franz sold us a marvellous set of Callas arias, many recorded at rehearsals, on the BJR label. Could BJR have been his own? He introduced us also to the extraordinary early performances of the Franco-Belgian Flonzaley Quartet, and it was Franz who prevailed on us to buy the Vienna Concerthaus Quartet’s unrivalled Schuberts, and the superb contemporary Tatrai Quartet Haydns. I could go on for pages. He will be missed.
I did not know that Franz was once a soldier, and served in La Legion Etrangere. I’ll have to find an appropriate version of Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden, and play it for Franz later. No Gerhard Husch unfortunately, I fear, no Schlussnuss. I might have Leo Slezak. Bleib du im ew’gen Leben, Franz.