Category Archive 'Recordings'
01 Dec 2008

DGG Drops Chinese Pianist Yundi Li

, , , , ,

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.

28 Mar 2008

Earliest Known Sound Recording

, , , , , ,

David Giovannoni displays phonoautogram

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.

Read the whole thing.

Mp3 link

05 Jul 2007

Artur Schnabel Remembered

, , ,

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.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

12 Apr 2007

Steve Jobs Saves the Music Industry… Again

, , , , ,

Michael S. Malone explains in the Wall Street Journal.

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.

05 Dec 2005

Franz of Discophile Dies at 86

, , ,

Franz Jolowicz

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.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Recordings' Category.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark