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Gramophone Music


GRAMOPHONE MUSIC Gramophone music as a thing to be taken seriously by culti vated musicians has been a matter of slow growth and develop ment. Invented as a by-product of telephone research, reared in the atmosphere of booths, side-shows and acrimonious litiga tion, a horror to eye and ear, this crazy, ridiculous machine, . that contained none the less such remarkable potentialities, won its way to the recognition of the astute and the respectable through even longer years of ignominy and disrepute than the, at first, equally crude and grotesque motor car.

Even now, in 1928, the gramophone suffers from two major disadvantages which have dogged it from the start. It still can not reproduce sounds quite faithfully; and it (excepting a few electric record changing machines) requires mechanical attention, disadvantages that have caused the hostility of critics and teachers who, almost without exception—and the exceptions, Sir Walford Davies, Mr. Robin Legge and Mr. Percy Scholes especially in England, deserve the gratitude of millions—cast for long years a supercilious, perhaps sometimes a nervous, eye upon the gradual evolution of the present standard of gramophone reproduction. • The three outstanding landmarks in the past have been, first.

the records made by Caruso, and the other "celebrities" of the early catalogues of the Gramophone Company (H.M.V.) ; secondly, the adoption of the Columbia "silent surface" in 1922, which converted the music-loving public; and thirdly, the use of the microphone, which superseded the "acoustic" system of recording in 1925. It is probably just to anticipate a fourth landmark, the perfection of electrical reproduction in place of the present tone-arm and sound-box.

If the handicap of surface noise is ignored, it would be idle to suggest that the music lover in 1923 or even earlier could not collect a very substantial nucleus of good music on gramo phone records. Most of the celebrated conductors—Toscanini, Nikisch, Wood, Coates, Ronald—with singers such as Melba, Patti, Destinn, Bispham, Elwes, Caruso, Battistini, Santley and Edward Lloyd, and instrumentalists such as Kreisler, Kubelik, Casals, Paderewski, Busoni, Joachim, Ysaye, had made records; it was possible to procure at least fifteen more or less complete chamber music works played by such distinguished bodies as the Flonzaley, Lener and London String Quartets; and records of still wider scope, such as complete operas and oratorios (Elijah for example) were available.

It was about this period that the late Arthur Clutton Brock wrote one of his last essays entitled "The Psychology of the Gramophone," in which he confessed that "always with the Gramophone we have to make allowances; and these are most easily made when others help us to make them unconsciously. . . . There are qualities of the orchestra," he added, "that never survive on the gramophone, the sharpness of attack on the strings, the clearness of their different parts, and the full distinc tion between strings and wood wind; pizzicato is usually un pleasant, seeming to intrude between you and the rest of the music ; while all the bass parts are apt to be a mere rumble." Clutton Brock also added that sometimes by playing an orchestral record with the thinnest possible needle he could persuade him self that he had produced "a delicate. distant kind of fairy music, something not at all like the actual orchestra, but with an original quality of its own." From these quotations it is possible to perceive a kind of romantic despair, acquiescing in the limitations of the gramo phone and attempting to find a new quality of pleasure in its very imperfections. Against this tendency the "realists" op posed a feverish energy in experiments with soundboxes and gramophone design in general, coupled with a constant demand for the recording of classical masterpieces without "cuts" ; but it was not till the benefits of the research work done in radio laboratories were felt that the gramophone and the record as we know them today were developed by anything but the most empirical methods.

No one in his senses would claim that he no longer had to "make allowances" for the gramophone; but musical critics of high standing have been astounded by the rapid progress made.

At present the library of gramophone records has reached vast proportions, the Beethoven and Schubert centenaries adding a notable contribution. At least a hundred albums of symphonies and concertos and of chamber music are now available, and it is not uncommon to hear of record libraries containing from four to seven thousand discs of good music.

The educational uses of gramophone records are also becoming more and more widely recognised. The Gramophone Company has its own education department with a staff of lecturers; the Columbia Company publishes records for the International Edu cational Association ; research work in phonetics and anthropology is carried on with recording apparatus; "courses" in foreign languages have a large and eager public; and such institutions as the National Gramophonic Society of England, with similar bodies in the United States and in Japan, for the recording of unusual works for distribution to their members, are eloquent evidence of the part which the gramophone is able to play in the musical culture of communities and of the individual.

The only dangers that threaten are that the listener may in sensibly be trained to accept distortions for facts and that he may accept not quite perfect interpretations and performances of the great classical works as a standard of perfection ineradi cable from his mind. The limitations of recording hitherto have often led to faulty tempi, to the distortion of orchestral balance, and the like, with the result that the bottled fruit may some times have, not so much lost flavour, as acquired an exag gerated flavour. None the less it may be said that the stage of commercial barbarism and academic snobbishness has now been passed, and that the inherent disadvantages of the gramophone have been, if not completely, at any rate to a great extent, sur mounted. It is now possible to obtain satisfactory, if not abso lutely perfect, records of Wagner's works made actually at Bay reuth; of symphonies played by full-sized orchestras, not in studios, but in the leading concert halls; of the famous organists playing in their own cathedrals; of stage performances of opera or oratorio, and even of important open-air events, so that it is true to say today that wherever a microphone can be installed a gramophone record can be made. (C. MAC.; C. STO.)

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